The Gift of the Spirit
“Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (v. 5).
- Galatians 3:1–5
Paul’s assertion that it is sin to build up the Law as a means to secure our own justification (Gal. 2:18) assumes his teaching in Romans 5:20–21; 7:7–25 and Galatians 3:10–14. We will focus on the fact that the works of the Law cannot be the basis of our justification because the Law curses and condemns everyone who fails to keep it perfectly (Deut. 27:26; James 2:10). This Law is the Mosaic law, which was given only to the Jews, although the moral law of God known to the Gentiles also curses those who do not obey it completely (Rom. 1:18–32). Jew and Gentile alike (apart from Jesus) are under a curse: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
More good works of obedience cannot lift the curse; it goes away only after it is executed. This is what is meant when Paul says in Galatians 2:19–20 that we die “through the law…to the law” (to its curse) through being “crucified with Christ.” Jesus bore the Law’s curse upon sin (3:13), and all those who identify themselves with Him by faith are freed from the curse because, having been executed on Christ, it is no longer in force. We find here the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. When Jesus was cursed on the cross, He bore the curse of His people. We are not destroyed because Christ felt God’s wrath; by grace we get the freedom that comes once the curse has been executed and lifted as well as the declaration that we are righteous before the Father.
Along with the lifting of the curse comes the gift of the Holy Spirit, which the Galatians experienced, according to our passage (Gal. 3:1–2; see Joel 2:28–32). Tragically, they had forgotten that the Spirit, and thus justification and freedom from the curse, came from believing on Christ crucified, not works of the Law (Gal. 3:1–2). Evidently, the false teachers had convinced the Galatian churches that the Spirit was not enough; obedience to the Mosaic law was needed to make them a real part of God’s people (v. 3). But to view one’s justification as dependent upon one’s own works is to look to a Law that will bring with it the curse. Paul’s audience had heard his gospel and knew better, and his harsh rhetoric is designed to wake them up from their spiritual stupor.
Good works are not wholly absent from the Christian life. They do not earn God’s favor, but they do prove that we have faith (James 2:14–26). Martin Luther says good works “ought to be done not as the cause, but as the fruits of righteousness. When we are made righteous, we ought to do them, but not contrariwise, to the end that when we are unrighteous, we may, by these, be made righteous. The tree makes the apple, but not the apple the tree.”
Passages for Further Study
- Genesis 22:1–18
- Leviticus 1:1–9
- Ephesians 2:8–10
- Titus 3:3–7
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