by Pastor David Groendyk
When I was in college, the phrase “You foolish Galatian” was one our favorite insults to call one another. As far as insults go, it’s pretty tame. Plus it comes right from Scripture, so it’s biblically-sanctioned (right??). Paul, however, is not playfully joking with the Galatians. He’s warning them of something serious. The letter to the Galatians is, in part, a defense and argument for the gospel Paul preached. The main point of the letter comes in 2:15–21: you can only be saved by having faith in Jesus Christ who was crucified for you; you cannot be saved by doing good works! Chapter 3 is Paul proving that his main point is true.
The Galatians were foolish because they started believing that you only keep your justification and salvation if you do good works (vv. 1–9). These foolish Galatians might say something like, “Maybe right off the bat you need to have faith, but after that it’s all about what you do!” How foolish! Why would God begin your salvation through faith but finish it through your own power? As the saying goes, Jesus + nothing = everything. We can never add anything to the salvation Jesus gives us. Even back in the time of Abraham, way back in Genesis 15, God’s people were justified by believing and trusting God. Though Christ had not yet walked on the earth, even those ancient Old Testament believers were saved by believing the gospel. If that sounds impossible, remember that even back in Genesis 3:15 God had promised that Christ would come to conquer sin and Satan. Faith in Christ has always been the only way for salvation.
Being saved by works and being saved by faith are utterly opposed to each other (vv. 10–14). You can only pick one. You can’t rely a little on faith and a little on good works. You can’t sometimes rely on faith and other times on good works. They’re mutually exclusive. And anyone who relies on their own law-keeping is under a curse and owes God a penalty, because everyone is a sinner, and no one has ever kept the entire law perfectly. But praise God that Christ became a curse for us (v. 13)!
Do you see how important verse 13 is to what we believe? You and I deserve to be cursed for any and every sin we commit. That’s why we can never ever rely on our own law-keeping ability. If you choose to rely on your own good works, you have to rely on them fully, and when you really start looking at your own record—no matter how decent you think you might be—it’s full of holes. And if you have ever committed even one sin, you deserve a curse. I’m harping on this point on purpose. We need to see our total hopelessness. Because then we can find a true and firm and lasting hope in Christ! He becomes your curse for you and gives you his life. Punishment turns into reward. Mourning turns into joy. Darkness turns into light. Hopelessness turns into assurance.
So, are there times you find yourself relying on your own law-keeping? Do you ever find yourself thinking what a good person you are? Do you bristle and get defensive if someone calls you a sinner? Beware of boasting. But on the flip side, beware of despair. Do you ever think your sin is too big or too frequent or too disgusting that Christ won’t or can’t or shouldn’t save you? Let me gently admonish you: you’re still thinking you have to be good enough to be saved! Most of us tend to fall off into one of these two ditches at one time or another: boasting or despair. The solution to both is to remember that in Christ alone you find a sure salvation.
Now we haven’t even touched verses 15–29 yet. Pages and pages could be written on them. But here’s the gist. God promised Abraham in a covenant that salvation would come from an offspring—Jesus. Then another covenant came 430 years later where God gave all his laws to Moses on Mount Sinai. But that later covenant doesn’t nullify or change the first covenant. Just because God gave laws to his people through Moses doesn’t mean we’re not saved through faith in that promised offspring. In fact, the law was not ever meant to give life (v. 21)! The law was meant to instruct God’s people while showing them that they were unable to keep it and thus drive them to find salvation in Christ.
The upshot is that God’s promise is sure and certain. God will never change his mind and make you earn your own salvation. He does not ever revoke the salvation found in Christ. May that cause us to go forward in the Christian life confident, assured, and full of peace.