4 October 2012

Galatians 3:1-14

"The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?" (v. 2)


Sometimes promises are so long in being delivered that you forget about them as well-meaning-but-empty words (eg I'll come and visit you again soon; One day I will get that garage tidied). Long ago, at the start of God's family of faith, God made a promise to Abraham. The promise was that through Abraham's family all the nations (Gentiles) would be blessed (Genesis 12:3 - "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed"). It seems that (in the thousands of years that followed) this promise was forgotten by the people of Israel. It was for them as if God had replaced that promise with something more important: giving them circumcision as a sign of their covenant relationship (Genesis 17), and later revealing the whole law. But deep within Paul's faith was the memory of that promise, and the faith that God always keeps his word.

The Galatians would have known little of the history of Israel, but Paul calls them "foolish" (v. 3) because they've known something even better than history: the Spirit moving among them, right there and then! God's Holy Spirit (as often with new converts to the faith) had been working wonders with the young churches of Galatia. The opponents to the gospel, however, may well have been claiming that unless they followed the whole Law they were not truly children of Abraham. So in verse 5 Paul asks them a question: this Spirit - this life of God living in you - how did you get it? By following traditions and doing certain religious things? Or by believing the good news of Christ? The Spirit is the true sign of a person's relationship with God, and their faith (the very thing Abraham was famous for) is the mark that they are indeed a child of Abraham.

Paul goes on to show how, in the Scriptures, "the works of the law" (v. 12) are described as demanding, all-consuming, and not sufficient to create that relationship with God we call 'justification'. The law (on its own), he suggests shockingly, can be summed up in one word: "curse" (v. 13). God promised a blessing for the world, and instead Israel was labouring under the opposite. What was needed was someone who could live up to the law - to take the curse and turn it inside-out and release the blessing that was promised all along - the blessing that only comes through faith. On the cross, hanging on behalf of us all, Jesus did just that. 

By faith we know you strong to save -
save us, O Saviour always near!
All that we hope, by faith we have,
future and past subsisting here.
(StF 457, Charles Wesley)

To Ponder

  • What other promises of God can you think of? Many people find that remembering these promises and trusting in God's faithfulness helps them when life or faith is difficult. To what extent can you relate to that?
  • Can you remember times when you have experienced God's Spirit? What happened? What 'other things' sometimes come in and get in the way?
  • How do you understand what Jesus did on the cross? How do you think it releases God's blessing for us?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!