For the Love of God, Volume 1/September 27
From Gospel Translations
2 Samuel 23; Galatians 3; Ezekiel 30; Psalm 78:40-72
GALATIANS 3 COULD USEFULLY occupy us for an entire book as long as this one. But here I shall restrict myself to two observations.
First, in the first five verses Paul appeals to experience. He asks the Galatians whether their conversion and all their experience of the grace of God and the power of the Spirit came to them as a function of their observance of the Law of Moses, or as a function of their faith. After all, Christ had been placarded before their eyes as the crucified Savior (3:1). They believed what they heard (3:2), and they received the Spirit. This stance had cost them: they had suffered persecution (3:4). Moreover, they had witnessed miraculous, transforming works of the Spirit, all in function of their God-given faith (3:5). Why, then, should they think that, having begun with the Spirit, having begun by faith, they should now try to attain their “goal”—presumably further steps of maturation and knowledge of God—by carefully observing the law? That approach, Paul implies, is in contradiction to their conversion, a slur on the suffering they have endured, and in antithesis to their own experience of the power of the Spirit of God.
What this means is that the path to the Christian’s “goal” is faith and the life and power of the Spirit, not observance of multiplied law. To think otherwise is to be “foolish,” to listen to those who have “bewitched” us with false notions of spirituality that tear us away from Jesus crucified (see 3:1).
Second, the argument in the rest of the chapter focuses not on the individual Christian’s experience, but on the history of God’s redemptive purpose. In other words, Paul is not saying that the law of God must operate in each unbeliever’s conscience if that person is to come to Christ. That may or may not be true, but it is not what Paul is addressing. Rather, Paul seeks to establish the priority of faith for our justification as far back in history as Abraham (3:6-9). That immediately raises the question as to why the Law of Moses was “added” at all. Paul does not here offer a complete analysis of the various purposes served by the Law, but emphasizes certain points: it was not added to overturn the principles already established at the time of Abraham, nor to offer an alternative path to salvation. Rather, it made human sin clear and undeniable as it exposed it as transgression; thus it drove people, across the redemptive-historical time line, to Jesus Christ. One of the ways in which Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament differs from that of his Jewish colleagues is that he insists on reading it along its temporal axis: Paul is explaining how the Bible fits together.