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Galatians 3: Faith or Works?

Kristi Gibson12/12/2014
Seek The Truth Blog

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After catching the Galatians up on what he had been doing lately and what was happening in the greater assembly of Christian believers, Paul turns his attention in verse 3 directly to the happenings in the churches of Galatia.  His verbiage is aggressive, but in it we can see his love for the people and his even greater love for God and the truth:

Verses 1-5:

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Paul reminds the Galatians that they all came to believe upon the Lord by faith FIRST.  What an important reminder for us all! To all of those out there who are committed to serving the Lord, we can likewise testify that it was by simply faith—believing Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be and that He had the power to save us from our sins—that we came to the Lord in the beginning. That might have been before we came to the message for those of us who converted to it.  It may have been while in the message, and it may have been after leaving. But our journey as a Christian began simply by believing upon Jesus Christ—we started out with nothing more than faith in the Lord.

We too should carefully guard ourselves from leaving this first conviction and forgetting how we came to it—it wasn’t by works that we were saved, and it wasn’t by works that we came to believe upon the Lord. It was simply by faith.  It was this simple faith that identified us with Abraham—as Paul explains in the following verses:

Verses 6-14

6So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. 10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

That small portion of scripture absolutely abolishes the idea that we are somehow saved by our ability to uphold the Law or some portion of the Law!  It is not the lineage—the bloodline of Abraham that saves, but the faith of Abraham that saves. Verse 8 summarizes this point: “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announce the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All the nations will be blessed through you.” And how true that was! Abraham’s lineage—the ‘seed of Abraham’ produced the nation of Israel, which in turn produces the law, which demonstrated the need for a savior to mankind. Abraham’s lineage produced the prophets, which foretold the solution to the sin problem of mankind.  And in the culmination to the promise of a blessing to all mankind, God saw fit to also send the Savior—Jesus Christ, The Son of God, from the Lineage of David, from the Tribe of Judah. 

God did all of this in order to justify the entire world and to impute righteousness for our unrighteousness, and give us the Holy Spirit. It’s amazing to think about—all that God asks in that we have faith and believe that He is who He says He is and has proved He is throughout time, and in return, we are saved from our sins.  The law, Paul says, cannot make us righteous and give us eternal life—in fact, following the law can only result in earthly life and blessings—the underlying sin our wicked hearts will still be there. We needed a savior, and I’m so thankful God provided!

Continuing in Galatians 3:15-18:

15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Here it is—the answer to the question of the law in black and white:  the promises made to Abraham were to his seed—not seeds, as in the entire lineage of Abraham, but to his promised seed—the one by which all the nations would be blessed—Jesus Christ! Just as Eve was promised a seed that would destroy Satan, Abraham was promised as seed too—and that seed was the Messiah.  The law does not change this covenant with Abraham and do away with the covenant—instead, as we will see in the next portion of this chapter, the law was given in order to demonstrate transgression and to point the Jews and all the nations to the fulfillment of the promise:

Verse 19-22:

19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

So, it was transgression that caused the law to be given, and the law was never intended as a means for us to obtain righteous standing before God. The plan was always to send Jesus Christ in order to save the world by faith—just like Abraham was saved by faith.  The law came 430 years after Abraham received the promise, and it was given in an attempt to free the Israelites from the hold—idolatry,  wickedness, and uncleanness before God were forbidden, rewards for obedience and curses for disobedience assigned. God followed through, and the nation of Israel was known for their blessings in all the world, and when they disobeyed, it was abundantly clear that those people were not believing God’s word. The nation of Israel had a turbulent existence, but in all of their captivities, their wars, and their internal troubles, they were being drawn to faith in God—and it was only by faith all along that the Israelites were saved.

But, as Paul explains in the following section, the law was the guardian unto the promise to Abraham was made manifest in Christ:

Verses 23-29:

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

At one time, we were under the law. The nation of Israel and the nations of the World alike were responsible to the law. This was done in order to demonstrate the need for faith in God, the need for a Messiah.  But, when Jesus Christ came and paid the penalty for sin, He set us free from the need for this guardian. Instead of the letter of the law keeping us in line, we are now filled with the Holy Spirit, and through the example of Christ we can truly know the requirements of God—which is faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

We are free in Christ, and the divisions between us are gone! There is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman—we are all One in Christ, saved by the same blood, and justified before God to the same extent. There is no ‘super Christian’, no ‘elect bride’ that has more importance or more blessings from God than the ‘nominal Christian’, and ‘big Christians’ and ‘little Christians’.  We are justified and saved by faith in Jesus Christ—we continue to walk in the Light of His Word and grow into good works and better understanding and maturity, but salvation comes solely by faith.

Coming from a belief system based upon performance it can sometimes be hard to shed the mindset that says, “I’m not good enough, smart enough, holy enough, or special enough.” Understanding that God saves by faith alone was hard to wrap my mind around when I first left the message. Surely, there must be more to it! Faith seemed far too simple—surely I had to demonstrate that faith first—surely I needed to study and prove my devotion through proper understanding. Surely I needed to make right all my many wrongs first, and surely I needed to figure out what holiness looks like post-message first, commit myself to proper behavior first before I could actually be sure of my salvation.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize that all of these things were secondary! Yes—when we’re saved by faith we want to KNOW the Lord and truly understand His Word—but coming from a works-based movement with tons of unscriptural teachings is going to take time. There’s a lot to learn—and I believe that God’s desire is that we do learn it—but that’s not where salvation is found, even though the saved most certainly will pursue Truth and find it. We are saved by faith—the understanding follows.

God does desire us to do good works—feed the poor, take care of orphans and widows, and spread the love of God. In the message, ‘works’ meant holiness standards set by William Branham, and holiness meant salvation.  Now we realize that works are done as an outpouring of love from a sincere desire to do good to those whom God places in our lives and within our ability to help.  Salvation doesn’t come from these things—salvation is first, the works follow.

Lastly, holiness. I do believe God calls us to live holy lives and to obstain from the unprofitable things of the world. But holiness does not save us, and our perfect adherence to a holy lifestyle doesn’t make us ‘more saved’.  Faith comes first—a better understanding of how God wants us to live our lives before Him comes later. 

I encourage those who have left the Message or any other works-based system to appreciate the free gift of God—salvation is absolutely free and requires nothing from you besides your faith in Jesus Christ’s ability to give it. Don’t allow yourself once again to be chained in bondage to a rulebook that promises something it has no power to provide. Don’t allow anyone to steal the joy of your salvation from you by telling you that your faith in Jesus Christ was not enough—because it absolutely was and is.

Acts 16:31

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

1 John 4:15

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.

Romans 10:9-10

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.