As I shared at the end of the last message, the letter to the Galatians could have been concluded at the end of chapter two, such is the grand climax there. Yet, Paul is not done...in fact, he is really just getting started in his message to them. Paul begins this chapter in a shocking way, continuing with some strong words, (as we have seen earlier) -- "You foolish Galatians. Who has bewitched you?" Why does Paul say this at this point? It is because there is so much at stake, and Paul realizes just how important it is that he not only make his case, but that he win it, for the sake of the Galatian Christians. He has to garner their attention. He must, by the power of the Holy Spirit, convince the Galatians of the false nature of the Judaizers' teaching. He must also convince them of the true spiritual nature of the Christian walk.
He begins his introduction concerning what should be the genuine spiritual reality for the Galatian Christians...as well as for all Christians. It has to do with the Holy Spirit sent to them when they believed and were converted to Christ. The reality is that it is the Holy Spirit who helps them to understand spiritual life and living...it is not the law, and it is not their own human reasoning or understanding, either. In fact, as we will see in the next chapter, the law hinders, squelches believers' understanding of the Spirit...and the leadership of the Spirit Himself. This runs contrary to the message that the Judaizers have been giving to the Galatians. They have been proclaiming that true spirituality comes from understanding Christ and the law, but this is not the case, as Paul has already shared. The regulations that the Judaizers are enforcing are hindering their spiritual walk and the Galatians' walk, as well. Once again, it is how the Spirit helps to develop our relationship with the Son and the fruit that is born in our lives as the result that is going to make the genuine spiritual difference in our lives (which we will discuss further in chapter five). Believers are made alive according to what the Spirit is doing in their lives, which is a prominent theme seen in the letter to the Romans, the Corinthian correspondence, and in other places, as well.
The irony that Paul is making "a legal argument" in order to prove the critical importance of spiritual freedom in Christ is not lost on me :-)...and I am certain that it was not lost on him either. But it is important...and he appeals to Abraham in order to make his case. Paul stresses that Abraham was justified by his faith, and not law. Why is this? It is because Abraham was living according to faith in God before the law even existed. Paul says that the Gentiles are justified by faith, just as Abraham was justified by faith. It is a message that never changed...justification was never intended to be through the law, all it could do was be a teacher and a revealer of who people truly were -- sinful people in need of forgiving God (v.19). The law did not replace the covenant that God made with Abraham...the covenant of promise through Isaac, that all mankind would ultimately be saved through Abraham's Seed. It pointed toward the Seed, Jesus Christ. Indeed, justification has been, and is according to faith, and this thought is captured in v.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." As if this was not enough information to win the argument, Paul goes to their own Scriptures to pull the trump card for his argument. He appeals to their own law in order to show that justification is by faith and not the law. Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, Leviticus, as well as Habakkuk in order to make his case. (Once again, it is important to understand that Paul knew the law better than most, if not all, of these Judaizers. Some of them probably had even sat at Paul's feet to learn about the law at one time. He likely knew the subject that he was discussing better than anyone, which would have been impressive in its own way).
Paul concludes his argument by saying that if the law was able to bring life, then justification could have come by means of it. But, instead, he says that that the law made men prisoners -- there could be no spiritual justification. And it is no different today. Christians cannot be justified by keeping law, regulations any more than the Galatian believers. Our justification is in the same Seed, Jesus Christ, as it was for the early believers. In fact, holding on to traditions, regulations too tightly makes believers into prisoners just the same as it did them. The Judaizers were putting the Galatians into a "spiritual prison," and there are church leaders, teachers today that do the very same thing. Spiritual freedom is a powerful principle...and it is frightening to those who have tasted it, but have not grasped it. It leads to what I call "spiritual recidivism." Often when a prisoner leaves prison, he will commit a crime that lands him right back in prison. This is his comfort zone, or his "law" if you will. When believers begin to experience...to get a whiff of..."spiritual freedom in Christ," Satan attackes with a mighty, negative spiritual version of "the fear factor," which causes said believers to retreat. This makes it very difficult for genuine spiritual seekers to get any real understanding in relationship to spiritual freedom. In fact, many of these people go to other places, that is churches, in order to find it. It doesn't help that there is usually a tremendous peer pressure that comes from people who are like-minded in their "recidivism," that is if they have ever tasted freedom in the first place. The fear factor is very strong, as anyone who might "think or do something outside of the accepted uniformity standard" is reprimanded for such thinking or behavior. In short, they are brought right back into prison. As Paul says, someone has to break the cycle...the model must be broken and thrown away. We must be able to taste of freedom, or our spiritual growth will be stunted, if it even is able to exist at all. The Spirit of God sets us free, but we must be willing to trust by faith to live according to His guidance in order to break out of the prison of self-righteousness, regulation.