NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXI)
3:11 So it is clear that no one can succeed in being made right with God by trying to keep all the Law’s religious rituals and regulations. The Scriptures also say, “The only way a person can spiritually come alive is to get right with God through faith.”
The Apostle Paul picks up the scroll of Habakkuk again and tells the Galatians what it says. Let’s see where Habakkuk came up with this idea. Back when King Solomon dedicated the new Temple to the Lord, in his prayer he made mention that there is no one who does not sin. An old wise man who lived before Abraham once said that no one can stand right before God on their own merits. That’s because, as King David noted, no one can see all their mistakes. And another Psalmist said that if the Lord were to write down all our mistakes, no one would be able to stand as being right with Him. And a different Psalmist in his prayer said that no person alive can stand right and good before Him on their own virtues. And King Solomon, as a preacher, stated that there is not one right and good person on earth that never sinned. And the prophet Isaiah confessed that all of us like sheep went the wrong way. Each of us turned to follow our own way. But Isaiah finishes by saying that the Lord put all of our sins on Him, meaning, Yeshua on the Messiah.
But was Paul the only one of the Apostles to pick this up? No! the Apostle James stated clearly that we all make many mistakes. And in his Epistles, the Apostle John is even more emphatic: “If we say that there’s no sin in us, we lie to ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we tell Him our sins, He is faithful and we can depend on Him to forgive us of our sins. He will make our lives clean from all sin. Therefore, if we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His Word is not in our hearts.” So not only was Paul correct in repeating this here but in sharing the same truth with the Romans, and the recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews. Why can’t the Galatians understand that the only way to be right with God is by faith in His grace and mercy to redeem and save those who are lost by trying to get to heaven through obeying the Torah’s ceremonial laws?
I must believe that the Jewish members of the Galatian churches understood Paul’s way of thinking better than we do today. You would need to be immersed in their ancient customs and ways to pick up on the nuances of Paul’s words. What in the world did he mean by telling them they could be rendered powerless by faithfully observing the Law given by God to Moses? Most translations use the English word “curse” or “cursed,” which is hard to define. Some think it may mean to put a hex on or placed under a spell. But the Hebrew gives more emphasis on it reducing someone a powerless state, even annihilation – made extinct. In other words, treat them as though they don’t even matter or exist.
A contextual examination of the source for Paul’s quote takes us to Deuteronomy, Chapter twenty-seven. Beginning in verse fourteen the Levites were to declare to all people that their lives will be made worse and not enjoy God’s approval if they made cast iron images; removed their neighbors’ landmarks; let the blind wander around without help, etc. At the end in verse twenty-six, we find this final statement: “Anyone who does not agree to and obey all the terms of these instructions will not matter at all. And all the people will reply, ‘Amen’.’’
The Gentiles may not catch the subtlety in Paul’s words, but the educated Jews certainly did. Paul was not referring to those specific laws written there in Deuteronomy, but to the enforcement of any law, especially those given by God. Here’s a little secret behind what Paul calls “being bound for extinction:” Anyone who decides to achieve a righteous standing with God by only obeying religious rituals and regulations, must obey each and every one of them to perfection. You can’t keep 9 out of 10, or 99 out of a 100 and pass the test. You are obligated to obey and successfully comply with them all in order to gain your goal.
It would be like telling a Christian today: if you want to make it to heaven based on obeying God’s Word, then you must read the whole Bible, all 31,103 numbered verses; you must obey to perfection every rule or command you find in those verses, otherwise you can never fulfill the Bible’s demands. And since you are trying to gain everlasting life that way, just failing to correctly perform one ritual or obey one regulation – yes, just one, it will send you straight to hell.
Now Paul knew, and the Galatians were aware, and the Judaizers agreed, that Abraham was not perfect. He conceived a son with Hagar when God told him to do it with Sarah; he lied about his wife being his sister in Egypt. So, if Abraham could not make it that way, how can they imagine they will? Who do they think they are? Besides that, if God knew mankind was capable of obeying every dot and title of Mosaic Law, then why did He authorize offerings and sacrifices to obtain forgiveness for failing to do so? How many sacrifices were performed in the First Covenant? Whatever the number, it coincided with an equal number of sins and failures. Come on, you guys says Paul, don’t you get it yet!
Now with this being true for the Jewish believers, how much more for the Gentile converts? Good grief, when Paul told the Gentiles all they needed to do was accept Jesus the Anointed One as the perfect sacrifice for sin under the Final Covenant, and to obey His Gospel by being faithful in their calling, what in the world did they think when the Jewish members came to them and said, “I’m sorry, but in order for you to really be a first-class citizen of heaven, you must join us in keeping all the laws of the original covenant.” No wonder Paul’s head was spinning around in disbelief because of what was going on up in Galatia.
I remember when I moved to the Philippines, I discovered that most of the converts came from the predominate Roman Catholic Church. Their new freedom in worship and expression was so exciting it gave birth to a revival that continues to this day. But in speaking to several of them, they told me that even after being born again they continued to attend mass, say the rosary, go to confession, and do penance because it was so ingrained in them from birth. They were afraid to trust their salvation to a personal relationship with the Anointed One when all along it was guaranteed by the Church if they followed the rules and partook of the sacraments to receive grace. The Jewish converts in Paul’s day seemed to suffer from the same misgivings and found it hard to let go of something they thought secured their salvation out of obedience to Mosaic Law, for something that offered salvation out of faith in the work of the Anointed One.
So how do we make this applicable to us? Here’s a simple concept that I believe makes Paul’s message to the Galatians relevant for real Christian living today. There are two basic processes of grace when one becomes a born again Christian and a child of God. First, there is salvation by faith in the work of the Anointed One. Think of grace as a coin, with the icon of salvation one side; let’s imagine it to be a cross. Secondly, there is our sanctification in being set apart to live for God and do His will in our lives. So, sanctification is the icon on the other side of the coin. So just like a single coin, grace has two sides, and each side represents a work of grace, which tells us its value.
We can also look at it another way. Imagine that over the one gate that leads to salvation are the words “Come unto me.” The Holy Spirit guides us to that gate but we must make the decision to go through. However, once we pass through and turn around, we see words over the gate on the other side that reads, “You did not choose me, I chose you.” There’s only one salvation gate, but our lives receive a double transformation by passing through. We go from being what we once were – a child of the devil, to what we are now – a child of God. As we grow in grace, the light of our salvation grows brighter as we mature in sanctification, becoming what God wants us to be, a faithful servant.
Too often, once a believer passes through salvation’s gate and gets on the sanctification side, they tend to start depending on their own efforts to qualify them for God’s service. Some even depend on the Church to sanctify them through its rituals and sacraments, and others depend on keeping all the rules and regulations of the Church to do the job. It’s like they made the decision to get saved, not that it was God’s decision to save them. So, they want to be holy and do everything they are taught to maintain their holiness. But the object is not self-sanctification, rather, to seek and learn and do the will of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light of salvation and sanctification.
If you go to church faithfully, read your Bible regularly, participate in ministry with dedication, and pray with consistency, you should not expect to get applause. That’s the normal life of a new creature in the Anointed One. You are not doing it to get recognized or rewarded; you are doing it out of the natural impulse of the new spirit within you. It doesn’t add to the value of the Anointed One’s work that led to your being born again. At the end of our Christian journey, we will lay down our cross and accept a crown for being faithful. Not being greater than anyone else; nor more spectacular than others; but faithful in our calling. You certainly are permitted to accept an award from your church for perfect Sunday School attendance, but refuse any offer to be named, “Christian of the Year.”
Paul adds one more solid point to his argument by quoting the Prophet Habakkuk who said, “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” Even in Habakkuk’s day people were trying to make it on their own by keeping all the moral laws and ceremonial laws but were failing badly. I can imagine, as Paul penned these words, he muttered to himself: Lord help them understand because if You don’t, nothing I can say will open their eyes. If this principle was required in Paul’s day, it is still a necessity today. Just like you cannot save yourself, you cannot sanctify yourself. This is the sole work of the Holy Spirit. So why not let Him do God’s work on you so that you can live your new life to His glory, honor, and praise?
 Habakkuk 2:4
 1 Kings 8 46
 Job 9:3
 Psalm 19:12
 Ibid. 130:3
 Ibid. 143:2
 Ecclesiastes 7:20
 Isaiah 53:6. To put this in context, read 53:1-5, 7-12
 James 3:1-2
 1 John 1:8-10
 Romans 1:17
 Hebrews 10:38
 Habakkuk 2:4