Paul began chapter 3 explaining that the Spirit is the one at work in our conversion. We could trust Him to do a complete job of converting us and drawing us into faith. Furthermore, having now been brought into the family of faith, we don’t need to get “more converted” by following the things in the law. Paul then explained that it was by faith that Abraham was declared righteous in Genesis 15. Similarly, all those who would come after Abraham could be justified or declared righteous in the same way – by faith.
From there, Paul moved from a positive argument to more of a negative argument. From a “this is how it is possible,” to a “this is why it is impossible” argument. Paul turns his focus to the law itself. The Judaizers sought to attach law-obeying as a precursor to true conversion. After arguing that conversion was a work of the Spirit apart from human effort, and giving the historical demonstration that Abraham was justified by faith alone, Paul took the Judaizers to task by inspecting the law itself. Deuteronomy 27:26 says, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” In essence, “You are cursed if you do not follow every word of the law perfectly.”
A curse is a condemnation or a pronouncement of judgment on someone. What Moses said in the Law was that if you did not fully obey the law, then you were under a curse. The only way that you could get out from under the curse was if you followed the law perfectly. So who has followed the law perfectly? No one. At some point, everyone has violated some aspect or many aspects of God’s law. Paul’s point then, is that everybody who tries to fulfill the law is simply self-deceiving and living under a curse. No one can live perfectly. There isn’t a single person that can follow the law perfectly. Paul then presses on to the make the point, that if no one follows the law perfectly, then to say that God justifies people and accepts them based upon their ability to perfectly keep the law means that God has never justified people or accepted them.
But scripture has taught us that God has declared people righteous. Scripture shows us that God accepts people and communicates with them. But why? Paul continued on, quoting this time from the prophet Habakkuk. “The just shall live by faith.” This phrase was a key phrase of the Reformation can be reworded, “Those that will be justified and will receive eternal life, will do so through faith.” Any who said that God expected the Galatians to follow the law perfectly as well as have faith had missed the testimony of the Scriptures.
Paul finally explains that you pick one or the other, faith or works. You can’t say that you have both. The Judaizers claimed that you needed works to bolster your faith. Paul had just explained that if you were doing works, you couldn’t claim that you had faith. Your attempts at self-justification had demonstrated that you did not have faith in the sufficient work of Christ, but rather in your own ability to obey the law of God perfectly. Sadly, since no one can obey the law of God perfectly, any who would seek to justify themselves by the keeping of the law would find themselves under the eternal curse and not justified.
Food For Thought: Why is law-keeping a horrible way for mankind to seek to be justified before God?