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How not to live as Christians Galatians 2:21-3:6

Jan 30, 2010

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Galatians 2:21-3:6

“How We Don’t Live the Christian Life”



Last week we learned what God says about how we are to live the Christian life.  We only live by the fact that Jesus died for us, and our self-righteous self died with Him.  We only live by Him living in us, by faith in Him.  This week Paul makes that positive teaching clearer with a negative:  How we don’t live the Christian life. 

Basically what we have here is a warning against backsliding.  Paul addresses the Galatians as Christians who have had a genuine experience of God’s grace.  They have seen, with the eye of faith through the preaching of the Gospel by Paul, Jesus Christ as the One who was crucified for them.  They have received the Spirit of the Living God into their hearts.  But Paul has to ask them, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you knowing being perfected by the flesh?”  The word “perfected” means “completed”.  In other words, you started your Christian life well, through the work of God’s Spirit in your hearts.  Do you think that you can move forward by relying on your old, human, fleshly nature?”

Over 150 years ago, the great Bible scholar Albert Barnes pointed out how so many Christians begin their Christian life with a great spiritual commitment, but how as life goes on we become entangled with the good things that the world has to offer.  And we seem to think that God’s blessing on our lives is made up of the blessings of earthly enjoyments and possessions.  He writes of those who have backslidden:

They are brought under the influence of worldly appetites... They forget the spiritual nature of their religion; and they live for the indulgence of ease, and for the gratification of the senses. They … surrender themselves to the luxury of living: and it seems as if they intended to perfect their Christianity by drawing around them as much of the world as possible. … The blessedness of those moments when they lived by simple faith has fled. The times when they sought all their consolation in God are no more; and they now seem to differ from the world only in form. I dread to see a Christian inherit much wealth, or even to be thrown into very prosperous business. I see in it a temptation to …collect around him all that constitutes luxury among the people of the world. How natural for him to feel that if he has wealth like others, he should show it in a similar manner! And how easy for the most humble and spiritually-minded Christian, in the beginning of his Christian life, to become conformed to the world (such is the weakness of human nature in its best forms); and having begun in the spirit, to end in the flesh!

Well, this is a thought that ought to give us pause.  It is a thought that is expressed by our Lord in some of his parables, especially about the seed that fell among the thorns, representing the person who seems to believe the word, but whose faith is choked by the cares and riches of this world. 

  1. Here is talking not about people who drop out on the faith but about those who misuse God’s Laws and try to live the Christian life, to be made better Christians, or to secure their eternal hope, by means of things that our flesh – our natural, human selves – can do.

There are two ways in which the Law is misapplied.  The first is to demand that people keep certain ceremonial regulations that are no longer required at all.  This is the main concern that Paul has in this letter.  The Galatians are being told that they must conform to Old Testament regulations and ordinances, especially circumcision and the calendar of feasts and holy days, as well as dietary rules (kosher).  These are things that are not commanded at all for New Testament Gentile Christians; in fact they are no longer binding on Jews either.  They are things that were intended to prepare the way for Christ.  They represent and external, ceremonial kind of religion, the very thing that Jesus denounced – substituting the tithing of “mint, dill, and cumin” for the “weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faithfulness.”  In addition, to impose commandments on believers in areas where they have freedom to follow their own consciences – and even their own preferences – is unjust and imposes on the Lordship of Christ.   Most importantly, to tell Christians that they must add ceremonial compliance to their faith in Jesus not only adds to faith but destroys it by taking away trust in Jesus and replacing it trust in doing religious deeds.

This is what Paul is directly concerned with in his letter to the churches of Galatia. It is still very much with us today.  There are whole religious systems that confront Christians today with a very similar message as the promoters of the Galatian heresy.  They say something like this:

            It is a good thing that you have cone to believe in Jesus.  It is good but it is not enough.  If you really want to know that you are saved, you need to do this:

and then they add a list of religious things that you must do, so that you can please God and know that you are being a good person.  So repeating certain prayers, or praying in a certain way, or observing religious days or seasons, or being baptized in a certain church, or not eating certain foods, or having religious pictures in your home, or any number of other religious things that you can do, are put in place of faith in Jesus Christ.  And just as it was in Paul’s day, the claim is made that these things are not replacing faith in Jesus, they are just adding to it and completing it.  Hear Paul’s question again: “Having begun in the Spirit, are you knowing being perfected by the flesh?”  He wants to know if we really think that our salvation, which began by the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts through the Word of God, is brought to completion by things we do.  The truth is that when you add trusting in the performance of ceremonies to trust in Jesus Christ, it is no longer trust in Jesus. 

This is true even if the ceremonies in question are based on the commandments of God.  This was the case in Galatia.  It is true that the Jewish regulations were not commanded for New Testament Christians, but they were commandments from the Old Testament.  They were not just made up.  But they were being dangerously misused in ways that dishonored God by being added to His way of salvation in Christ.

I said that there are two ways in which the Law is misapplied, and that the first is when you are told to keep certain ceremonial rules that are no longer required.  But there are some ceremonies that we are commanded them to keep.  We are commanded to be baptized, and we are commanded to participate in the Lord’s Supper.  But we can only participate in these things as God intended after we have been born again by God’s Spirit and after we are made right with God.  They are not things that can cause us to be born again, and they are not things that can add to our right standing with God.  They are things that are intended to affirm and increase our faith in Jesus Christ.  It is only through the word of God, the Gospel, the Good News of God’s salvation, that we are born again.  It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved and justified before God. If you try to be justified through baptism, if you rely on your obedience to the command to be baptized, or on your taking part in the Lord’s Supper, to be saved, then you are indulging in superstition and in an attempt to be justified through a work of the flesh, and not on Christ, and you are misusing these ordinances of God, and you are not exercising faith. 

The same thing is true of joining the church, or attending church, or anything else that you might do that is a good thing and a right thing.  If you do it with the belief that your doing it will save you, you do not understand what these commandments are for, and you are in a very dangerous place. 

The 2nd way that the Law is misapplied, then, is when we try to do things that are commands of God, that are required – like the Ten Commandments, or even like loving our neighbor – but when we try to do them as a way to be saved, or to stay saved, or to gain God’s approval.  When Paul says that we cannot be justified by works of the Law, he is not only talking about the ceremonial law.  He is dealing with our idea that we can be good enough, moral enough, righteous enough, by trying hard to be good people. 

And when he speaks of the Galatians having started out with the Spirit and trying to complete their Christian life by the flesh, he makes clear that this is not just about how you “get saved”, as we like to say.  He is talking about how many Christians try to live the Christian life, and completely miss what it is all about.  Many people who have made a profession of faith in Christ, who seemed to be sincere at the time, and who may or may not appear to be really earnest about their faith, are living their lives still hoping to be good enough, if not for heaven, then at least for the approval of God.  They think that if they try hard – or maybe, in the 21st century, not so hard, but with a certain depth of sincerity and feeling – they can achieve a higher level of goodness, or spirituality, or acceptability before God.  The reality is that they are only partly trusting Jesus.  More and more they are being tempted to trust themselves.  It fits so easily with what the world says:  believe in yourself, make yourself what you want to be, hope in your dreams, and God helps those who help themselves – which is the opposite of the truth you learned in Jesus, which is that God helps the helpless, and gives hope to the hopeless, and saves the ungodly.  But you’ve been taken in by the lies, and you’ve gone back to trying to make it with God by keeping the law. 


Listen to him, first, with the stern reminder from the end of chapter 2:  If you could make it by obeying the rules, then Jesus went to the cross for no reason. 

Then hear his questions again.  They are an expression of his heartfelt dismay.  But they are all important:

1-   Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was portrayed as crucified?  You were clearly shown that Jesus Christ was put to a cruel and shameful death to reconcile you to God:  who is it that took your eyes off Him?  Paul is saying that the Galatians had been tricked, in a very real sense, by smooth-talking religious hucksters. This may seem like strong language to use against one’s opponents.  But the religion that these people preached, and that some still preach today, is more similar to magic and paganism than its own followers may realize.  It says two things that are basic in magical religions:  Look inside yourself for salvation, and do these things to manipulate God to bless you.  It is as old as the Egyptian Book of the Dead and as recent as the last email you got telling you to pray this pray because it works, and to keep this prayer wheel going.  If this is the kind of message you are listening to, you need to stop paying it any attention, and look back to Jesus.  Again:  If you have heard and understood the story of Jesus, and are still trying to be saved or improved by your deeds, then somewhere somebody said something or offered something that got us looking away from Him and at ourselves and our performance.

2-   Paul says, “I want to learn only one thing from you.”  Paul was their teacher:  now he says, you people teach me something, but just one thing:  How did you receive the Spirit of God?  Was it by what you did for God or what He did for you?

3-   Then he says, “Are you really so foolish?”  There is a time for a little shaking, when we start getting stressed about our own goodness and start thinking that maybe we can do something to improve on what Jesus has done.  It is at a time like that that we need to be asked, as Christians, “Are you really that stupid?”

4-   The fourth question is the one we’ve been focusing on:  If you started out through the sovereign, undeserved mercy of God, and the supernatural, miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, do you really think that the way to make it to the end is by adding the work of your own flesh?

5-   Everything you’ve been through as a Christian, as a person who has put all your trust in Jesus – was it really for nothing?

6-   And then finally, Paul repeats himself:  Did God work all the great things He has done in your life through you struggling and working and trying, or through you hearing His Word with faith?

The last thing:  This isn’t just an OT/NT thing.  Even Abraham, the greatest man in the Old Testament, the father of the faithful, was made right with God through faith.  There has never been any other way. 

I plead with you today to let go of your pride.  Surrender your idea that you are going to advance in your Christian life by trying. 

  1. The way to go forward in your Christian life is the same way you began: by just trusting in His Word and in the supernatural work of God’s Spirit, the same Spirit who gave us the Word and opened our hearts to receive Christ a our only hope, our only Lord, and our only Savior from the condemnation of the Law.    

Leon Morris translation:

      I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness were through law then Christ died needlessly.

      O foolish Galatians, who bewitched you before whose eyes Jesus Christ was placarded as crucified?  This only I wish to learn from you; did you receive the Spirit from works of law or from the hearing of faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having made a beginning in the Spirit, are you now being perfected in the flesh?  Did you experience so many things in vain? – if indeed it is in vain.  Does therefore he who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you do this by works of law or by hearing of faith?  Even as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness; …


Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.  (Romans 10:1-4 ESV)


Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? (Deuteronomy 32:6)

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it." (Matthew 7:26-27)

And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:25-26)

And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:7-9)



In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)


which is a figure for the time present; according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect, being only (with meats and drinks and divers washings) carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:9-10 ASV)



What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, (Romans 4:1-5 ESV)

 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." (Romans 9:30-33)

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:20-25)


John Gill:

Gal 2:21 I do not frustrate the grace of God ... Or "cast it away", as the Vulgate Latin version reads it; or "deny it", as the Syriac and Arabic; or "despise, reject, and make it void", as other versions; meaning either the grace of the Son of God in giving himself for him…; or the …doctrine of … justification [by] the righteousness of Christ; or the whole Gospel, all and each of which would be denied, despised, rejected, made null and void, be in vain, fallen and departed from, should justification be sought for by the works of the law: but this the apostle did not do, and therefore did not frustrate the grace of God: which to do would be … most ungenerous and ungrateful part to God, and Christ, and to that love and grace which are so largely displayed in the free justification of a sinner.

Gal 3:1  O foolish Galatians ... Referring not to any national character, as some have thought, by which they were distinguished from others for their rudeness in knowledge, their ignorance and folly, as the Cretians for their lying, &c. nor to their former state in unregeneracy, it being common to all men, to God's elect themselves, before conversion, to be foolish in a moral and spiritual sense; but to their present stupidity about the article of justification, it being an instance of most egregious folly to leave Christ for Moses, the Gospel for the law, and the doctrine of free justification by the righteousness of Christ, which brings so much solid peace and comfort with it, for the doctrine of justification, by the works of the law, which naturally leads to bondage. Now this was said, not rashly, nor in anger, or on purpose to reproach and provoke, and so not at all contrary to Mat_5:22 but in like manner as Christ said to his disciples, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe", &c. Luk_24:25. So the apostle here, as pitying the Galatians, grieved for them, and as one surprised and astonished that ever people of such light, that had had the Gospel so clearly preached to them, should ever give into such a notion.   


then Christ is dead in vain; there was no necessity for his dying: he died without any true reason, or just cause; he died to bring in a righteousness which might have been brought in without his death, and so his blood and life might have been spared, his sufferings and death being entirely unnecessary; which to say is to cast contempt upon the wisdom, love, and grace of God in this matter, and to offer the greatest indignity to the person, character, sufferings, and death of Christ. Wherefore it may be strongly concluded, that there is no righteousness by the law of works, nor to be attained that way, otherwise Christ had never died; and that justification is solely and alone by his righteousness.


Who hath bewitched you? …as sorcerers and enchanters cast a mist before people's eyes, or, by some evil arts or juggling tricks, deceive their sight, and make objects seem to appear which do not, or in a different form than they really do, so these deceitful workers, who had transformed themselves into the apostles of Christ, as Satan sometimes transforms himself into an angel of light, had set this doctrine in a false light before them, thereby to corrupt their minds from the simplicity that is in Christ.


before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth; meaning in the ministry of the Gospel, in the clear preaching of it by the apostle; Jesus Christ was the sum and substance of his ministry, in which he was set forth and described, and, as it were, painted to the life by him; the glories and excellencies of his divine person, the nature of his office, as Mediator, the suitableness of him as a Saviour, the fulness of his grace, the efficacy of his blood, sacrifice, and righteousness, were so fully, and in such a lively manner expressed, that it was as if Christ was personally and visibly present with them; yea, he was so described in his sufferings and death, as hanging, bleeding, dying on the accursed tree, that he seemed to be as it were, as the apostle adds, crucified among you: the clear Gospel revelation of a crucified Christ, in the preaching of him by the apostle, which was such that no picture, no image, no crucifix would come up to, and which, where such preaching is, are altogether vain and needless; and the clear view these saints had, by faith, in the glass of the Gospel of Christ, and him crucified, which so realized the object, as if it was present and before the natural eye. Now this was an aggravation of their weakness and folly, that after such clear preaching, and clear sight, they had of the Gospel, and of Christ in it, that they should in the least degree depart from it.

 [2] by the hearing of faith - Now in this way the Spirit of God is received; while the Gospel is preaching he falls on them that hear it, conveys himself into their hearts, and begets them again by the word of truth: and in this way the Galatians came by the Spirit, and which is another aggravation of their folly, that they should enjoy so great an advantage by the Gospel, and yet be so easily removed from it.

 [3] are you now made perfect by the flesh? or "in" it; not in carnality, in the lusts of the flesh, as if they now walked and lived after the flesh, in a carnal, dissolute, wicked course of life; for the apostle is not charging them with immoralities, but complaining of their principles: wherefore, by "the flesh" is meant, either the strength of mere nature, in opposition to the Spirit of God, by which they endeavoured to perform obedience to the law; or else the law itself, in distinction from the Gospel; and particularly the ceremonial law, the law of a carnal commandment, and which consisted of carnal ordinances, and only sanctified to the purifying of the flesh; and also their obedience to it; yea, even all their own righteousness, the best of it, which is but flesh, merely external, weak, and insufficient to justify before God. This is a third aggravation of their folly, that whereas they begun their Christian race depending upon the Spirit and grace of God, now they seemed to be taking a step as if they thought to finish it in the mere strength of nature; and whereas they set out with the clear Gospel of Christ, and sought for justification only by his righteousness, they were now verging to the law, and seeking to make their justifying righteousness perfect, by joining the works of the law unto it, which needed them not, but was perfect without them.

 Gal 3:4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? ....These Galatians had suffered great reproach, many afflictions and persecutions for the sake of the Gospel, as all that embrace it must expect to do… and this is another aggravation of the folly of these persons, that they should suffer so much persecution for the Gospel, which, if not true, they must have suffered in vain…

if it be yet in vain; by which words the apostle does, as it were, correct himself, and expresses his hope of them, that they would see their mistake, revoke their error, and abide by the truth of the Gospel.

 Gal 3:5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you; doth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? … these extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and these miracles done among them, did not attend the preaching of the law, or the doctrine of justification by works, taught by the false apostles, but the doctrine of faith, of justification by faith in the righteousness of Christ…

 [6] believed God. The object of faith is God, Father, Son, and Spirit; here Jehovah the Son seems principally intended, who in Gen_15:1 is called the "Word of the Lord"; the essential Word, who was with God from everlasting, and was God, and in the fulness of time was made flesh and dwelt among men…


Matthew Henry:

The apostle is here dealing with those who, having embraced the faith of Christ, still continued to seek for justification by the works of the law; that is, who depended upon their own obedience to the moral precepts as their righteousness before God, and, wherein that was defective, had recourse to the legal sacrifices and purifications to make it up. These he first sharply reproves, and then endeavours, by the evidence of truth, to convince them….

Several things proved and aggravated the folly of these Christians.

  1. Jesus Christ had been evidently set forth as crucified among them; that is, they had had the doctrine of the cross preached to them, and the sacrament of the Lord's supper administered among them, in both which Christ crucified had been set before them… The consideration of the honours and privileges we have been admitted to as Christians should shame us out of the folly of apostasy and backsliding.
  2. He appeals to the experiences they had had of the working of the Spirit upon their souls (Gal_3:2); he puts them in mind that, upon their becoming Christians, they had received the Spirit, that many of them at least had been made partakers not only of the sanctifying influences, but of the miraculous gifts, of the Holy Spirit, which were eminent proofs of the truth of the Christian religion and the several doctrines of it, and especially of this, that justification is by Christ only… To convince them of the folly of their departing from this doctrine, he desires to know how they came by these gifts and graces: Was it by the works of the law, that is, the preaching of the necessity of these in order to justification? This they could not say, for that doctrine had not then been preached to them, nor had they, as Gentiles, any pretence to justification in that way…
  3. He calls upon them to consider their past and present conduct, and thence to judge whether they were not acting very weakly and unreasonably (Gal_3:3, Gal_3:4): he tells them that they had begun in the Spirit, but now were seeking to be made perfect by the flesh; they had embraced the doctrine of the gospel... And thus they had begun well; but now they were turning to the law, and expected to be advanced to higher degrees of perfection by adding the observance of it to faith in Christ, in order to their justification, which could end in nothing but their shame and disappointment: for this, instead of being an improvement upon the gospel, was really a perversion of it; and, while they sought to be justified in this way, they were so far from being more perfect Christians that they were more in danger of becoming no Christians at all; hereby they were pulling down with one hand what they had built with the other, and undoing what they had hitherto done in Christianity…
  4. He puts them in mind that they had had ministers among them (and particularly himself) who came with a divine seal and commission…

 Geneva Bible Notes:

[1] The … argument taken of those gifts of the Holy Spirit, with which they were endued from heaven after they had heard and believed the gospel by Paul's ministry. And seeing that they were so evident to all men's eyes, that they were as it were graphic images, in which they might behold the truth of the doctrine of the Gospel, just as much as if they had beheld with their eyes Christ himself crucified, in whose only death they ought to have their trust, he marvels how it could be that they could be so bewitched by the false apostles.

 [2] If the Law is to be joined with faith, this were not to go forward, but backward, seeing that those spiritual gifts which were bestowed upon you are more excellent than any that could proceed from yourselves…  By the "flesh" he means the ceremonies of the Law, against which he sets the Spirit, that is, the spiritual working of the Gospel.

 [6] …Abraham was justified by faith, that is, by free imputation of righteousness according to the promise apprehended by faith.

 Robert Jamieson:

[1] Reference to the “eyes” is appropriate, as fascination was supposed to be exercised through the eyes. The sight of Christ crucified ought to have been enough to counteract all fascination.

Gal 3:2 “Was it by the works of the law that ye received the Spirit (manifested by outward miracles, Gal_3:5; Mar_16:17; Heb_2:4; and by spiritual graces, Gal_3:14; Gal_4:5-6; Eph_1:13), or by the hearing of faith?” The “only” implies, “I desire, omitting other arguments, to rest the question on this alone”; I who was your teacher, desire now to “learn” this one thing from you.  …hearing of faith — Faith consists not in working, but in receiving (Rom_10:16-17).

 [3] “Having thus begun” with the receiving His spiritual gifts, “are ye now being made perfect” (so the Greek), that is, are ye seeking to be made perfect with “fleshly” ordinances of the law? [Estius]. Compare Rom_2:28; Phi_3:3; Heb_9:10. Having begun in the Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit ruling your spiritual life as its “essence and active principle” [Ellicott], in contrast to “the flesh,” the element in which the law works [Alford]. Having begun your Christianity in the Spirit, that is, in the divine life that proceeds from faith, are ye seeking after something higher still (the perfecting of your Christianity) in the sensuous and the earthly, which cannot possibly elevate the inner life of the Spirit, namely, outward ceremonies? [Neander]. No doubt the Galatians thought that they were going more deeply into the Spirit; for the flesh may be easily mistaken for the Spirit, even by those who have made progress, unless they continue to maintain a pure faith [Bengel].


[4] Have ye suffered so many things — namely, persecution from Jews and from unbelieving fellow countrymen, incited by the Jews… in vainfruitlessly, needlessly, since ye might have avoided them by professing Judaism [Grotius]. Or, shall ye, by falling from grace, lose the reward promised for all your sufferings, so that they shall be “in vain”.

 Gal 3:5 He ... that ministereth — or “supplieth,” God.  He who supplied and supplies to you the Spirit still, to the present time… doeth he it by the works of the law — that is, as a consequence resulting from (so the Greek) the works of the law. This cannot be because the law was then unknown to you when you received those gifts of the Spirit.


Gal 3:6 God supplies unto you the Spirit as the result of faith, not works, just as Abraham obtained justification by faith, not by works. Where justification is, there the Spirit is, so that if the former comes by faith, the latter must also.

 Albert Barnes

Gal 3:1 O foolish Galatians - for having embraced doctrines that tended to subvert the gospel of the Redeemer. The original word used here (ἀνόητοι) denotes void of understanding; and they had shown it in a remarkable manner in rejecting the doctrine of the apostles, and in embracing the errors into which they had fallen. The word rendered “hath been evidently set forth” (προεγράφῃ), means properly to write before; and then to announce beforehand in writing; or to announce by posting up on a tablet. The meaning here is, probably, that Christ has been announced among them crucified, as if the doctrine was set forth in a public written tablet - Robinson’s Lexicon. There was the utmost clearness and distinctness of view, so that they need not make any mistake in regard to him… This has been done chiefly by preaching. I see no reason, however, to doubt that Paul means also to include the celebration of the Lord’s supper, in which the Lord Jesus is so clearly exhibited as a crucified Saviour…The doctrine taught in this verse is that a faithful exhibition of the sufferings and death of the Saviour ought to exert an influence over our minds and hearts as if we had seen him die; and that they to whom such an exhibition has been made should avoid being led astray by the blandishments of false doctrines and by the arts of man. If we had seen the Saviour expire, we could never have forgotten the scene! Let us endeavor to cherish a remembrance of his sufferings and death as if we had seen him die.

 Gal 3:2 

This only would I learn of you - The design here, and in the following verses, is, to prove to them that the views which they had at first embraced were correct, and that the views which they now cherished were false…  The word “only” here (μόνον) implies that this was enough to settle the question… They had been converted. They had received the Holy Spirit. They had had abundant evidence of their acceptance with God, and the simple matter of inquiry now was, whether this had occurred as the regular effect of the gospel, or whether it had been by obeying the Law of Moses? …Every Christian has had ample proof, from the influences of the Spirit on his heart and around him, that the system which is attended with such benefits is from heaven.  His own renewed heart; his elevated and sanctified affections; his exalted hopes; his consolations in trial; his peace in the prospect of death, and the happy influences of the system around him in the conversion of others, and in the intelligence, order, and purity of the community, are ample proof that the religion is true. Such effects do not come from any attempt to keep the Law; they result from no other system. No system of infidelity produces them… [nor] can produce them. It is only by that pure system which proclaims salvation by the grace of God; which announces salvation by the merits of the Lord Jesus, that such effects are produced. The Saviour promised the Holy Spirit to descend after his ascension to heaven to apply his work; and everywhere, under the faithful preaching of the simple gospel, that Spirit keeps up the evidence of the truth of the system by his influences on the hearts and lives of people.

 Gal 3:3 Are ye so foolish? - Can it be that you are so unwise? The idea is, that Paul hardly thought it credible that they could have pursued such a course. They had so cordially embraced the gospel when he preached to them, they had given such evidences that they were under its influence, that he regarded it as hardly possible that they should have so far abandoned it as to embrace such a system as they had done.

Having begun in the Spirit - That is, when the gospel was first preached to them. They had commenced their professedly Christian life under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and with the pure and spiritual worship of God. They had known the power and spirituality of the glorious gospel. They had been renewed by the Spirit; sanctified in some measure by him; and had submitted themselves to the spiritual influences of the gospel.

Are ye now made perfect - Tyndale renders this, “ye would now end.” The word used here (ἐπιτελέω) means properly, to bring through to an end, to finish; and the sense here has probably been expressed by Tyndale. The idea of perfecting, in the sense in which we now use that word, is not implied in the original. It is that of finishing, ending, completing; and the sense is: “You began your Christian career under the elevated and spiritual influences of Christianity, a system so pure and so exalted above the carnal ordinances of the Jews. Having begun thus, can it be that you are finishing your Christian course, or carrying it on to completion by the observance of those ordinances, as if they were more pure and elevating than Christianity? Can it be that you regard them as an advance on the system of the gospel?”

By the flesh - By the observance of the carnal rites of the Jews, for so the word here evidently means. This has not ever been an uncommon thing. Many have been professedly converted by the Spirit, and have soon fallen into the observance of mere rites and ceremonies, and depended mainly on them for salvation. Many churches have commenced their career in an elevated and spiritual manner, and have ended in the observance of mere forms. So many Christians begin their course in a spiritual manner, and end it “in the flesh” in another sense. They soon conform to the world. They are brought under the influence of worldly appetites and propensities. They forget the spiritual nature of their religion; and they live for the indulgence of ease, and for the gratification of the senses. They build them houses, and they “plant vineyards,” and they collect around them the instruments of music, and the bowl and the wine is in their feasts, and they surrender themselves to the luxury of living: and it seems as if they intended to perfect their Christianity by drawing around them as much of the world as possible. The beautiful simplicity of their early piety is gone. The blessedness of those moments when they lived by simple faith has fled. The times when they sought all their consolation in God are no more; and they now seem to differ from the world only in form. I dread to see a Christian inherit much wealth, or even to be thrown into very prosperous business. I see in it a temptation to build himself a splendid mansion, and to collect around him all that constitutes luxury among the people of the world. How natural for him to feel that if he has wealth like others, he should show it in a similar manner! And how easy for the most humble and spiritually-minded Christian, in the beginning of his Christian life, to become conformed to the world (such is the weakness of human nature in its best forms); and having begun in the spirit, to end in the flesh!


Gal 3:5 He therefore that ministereth ... - This verse contains substantially a repetition of the argument in Gal_3:2. The argument is, that the gift of the Holy Spirit to them was not imparted in consequence of the observance of the Law of Moses, but in connection with the preaching of the gospel. By the word “he” in this place, Clarke… Locke and many others, suppose that the apostle means himself. Bloomfield says, that it is the common opinion of “all the ancient commentators.” But this seems to me a strange opinion. The obvious reference, it seems to me, is to God, who had furnished or imparted to them the remarkable influences of the Holy Spirit…


Gal 3:6 Even as Abraham believed God ... Abraham believed God, and was justified, before the Law of Moses was given. It could not, therefore, be pretended that the Law was necessary to justification; for if it had been, Abraham could not have been saved. But if not necessary in his case, it was in no other; and this instance demonstrated that the false teachers among the Galatians were wrong even according to the Old Testament.

 W.E. Vine:

[2] The hearing of faith (ἀκοῆς πίστεως) For hearing, render message.

[3] Are ye made perfect (ἐπιτελεῖ&s igma;θε) The active voice, always in N.T. with the object expressed, means to bring to completion.  [Vine believes the verb here is in middle voice] …It implies more than bringing to an end; rather to a consummation. Rend.: having begun in the spirit are ye coming to completion in the flesh? The last phrase has an ironical tinge, suggesting the absurdity of expecting perfection on the Jewish basis of legal righteousness. The present tense indicates that they have already begun upon this attempt.

[4] If it be yet in vain (εἴ γε καὶ εἰκῇ) The A.V. misses the force of the particles. Καὶ should be closely joined with εἰκῇ, with the sense of really. If, that is, it be really in vain.