From curse to blessing. 3:1-14
From 3:1 to 4:11 Paul sets out to show, from scripture, how the gospel, of itself, apart from law-obedience, facilitates new life in Christ. In our passage for study he outlines three arguments in support of his proposition. First, experience shows that the renewing presence of the Spirit is a product of Christ's faithfulness, not our own, v1-5. Second, those who inherit God's promised new life are the spiritual children of Abraham, and like Abraham, they are people who rely on the faithfulness of God, v6-9. Third, it is simply not possible to inherit the blessing of new life, in all its fullness, through obedience to the law. The blessing of new life is a product of Jesus' faithfulness to God's will, not our own, v10-14.
v1. In the first of a series of rhetorical questions, Paul asks "who hypnotized you Galatians", who took away your capacity to think? Of course, Paul is referring to his law-bound brothers and sisters who have made it their goal in life to correct Paul's law-free gospel.
v2. In his second question, a question repeated in v5, Paul asks, "by what means did you Galatians receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit?" Paul asks them to think for a moment about the reception of the Holy Spirit; did they receive the Spirit on the basis of their law-obedience, or their faith-response to the gospel?
v3-4. Paul's third question, supported by another in v4, asks, "Are you Galatians so stupid, that having commenced your Christian walk with the gift of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, you now rest on law-obedience to access what is freely yours in Christ."
v6. Paul now asks his readers to consider the example of Abraham. Abraham's true descendents are, like him, children of faith; they rely on the faithfulness of God and not works of the law. To settle this issue Paul quotes Genesis 15:6. Abraham put his trust in God's promises, and this was "credited" (counted) to him "as righteousness".
v7. Paul's law-bound opponents have implied that God's "blessing" of new life, evidenced in the gift of the Holy Spirit, comes only to those who, through circumcision and obedience to the law, align themselves with the patriarch Abraham. As far as Paul is concerned, this path leads to God's "curse". The children of Abraham are the children of faith, and it is they who are blessed.
v8. And as for these faith-based children of Abraham who stand approved before God possessing all of God's promised blessings, they include believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews.
v9. So, it follows that those who imitate Abraham's faith are the ones who are blessed.
v10-12. Paul now quotes three Old Testament passages (Deut.22:26a, Hab.2:4b, Lev.18:5b) in support of his proposition that a person who is set right before God on the basis of Jesus' faithfulness, appropriated though faith, freely receives the blessing of new life in Christ, and this apart from obedience to the law. Law-obedience for blessing serves only to evoke God's curse (expose sin and thus prompt condemnation). It is the righteous by faith who live.
v13-14. Paul concludes his argument by explaining how Christ has delivered us ("us" = we Jews, and by implication, Gentiles also) from the curse of the law and so has enabled us to share in the blessing promised to Abraham, the blessing of new life realized in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Delivered and blessed
Four important statements are made in verses 13 and 14 which detail how Christ, through his death, has delivered us from the curse of the law, and has obtained for us the totality of God's promised blessings:
i] Christ submitted to the curse, pronounced by the law of God, on those who do not render perfect obedience. Although Jesus was actually the obedient son of God, he suffered as if he were a disobedient son.
ii] Christ's submission to the curse was "for us" (for our sake). He suffered the consequence of the curse on our behalf - instead of us. As Luther put it, "forsaken for me".
iii] By means of his submission, Christ has "redeemed" those under the condemnation of the law's curse. By fulfilling the law's demands on our behalf, both keeping it and submitting to its punitive punishment ("curse"), we are set free, liberated, from its punitive claims over us. We are no longer under the condemnation of the law.
iv] In v14 Paul describes the ultimate purpose of Christ's redemptive work. Its purpose is that the promised "blessing", once offered to Abraham, might now extend to all the world. This blessing is encapsulated in one word, "life", which Paul describes here in terms of our reception of the Holy Spirit. Our right-standing before God, by grace through faith, carries with it the fullness of God's blessings, even to the indwelling of his being. Standing approved before God involves experiencing his loving acceptance for eternity.
Thus we sing, "Amazing grace", for in Christ Jesus there is now no condemnation, just life eternal.
1. There are many theories on how to gain God's blessings during our Christian journey. List them and discuss the "theory" outlined in this passage.
2. Discuss the substance of the "blessing". In what sense is the "promise of the Spirit" a fulfilment of this blessing.
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