Galatians 3:1–18. Paul Teaches Us About the Holy Spirit and Abraham.
The Curse and the Covenant.

Key Notes: The primacy of the Holy Spirit in beginning and continuing salvation. Abraham as a faith-model. The curse of works-religion. The transferability of God and Scripture. Setting spiritual goals. How much must we know of the Holy Spirit?

In Galatians 1–2 we were given the background to Paul’s message to the Galatians. He declared his independence from Judaism, confronted the social compromise of Peter and Barnabas, and gave testimony of his own new life in Christ. He now begins his teaching of freedom from the OT Law. He speaks first of the Holy Spirit, and then of Abraham, the OT hero of faith and concludes with the purpose of the Law.

3:1–5 On the Holy Spirit.
“O foolish Galatians!” The word  “foolish” is not the Greek word for stupid (moros), but for mindless. They are not using their heads. Who has succeeded in fascinating them with  OT legalism? That would not be difficult. The truth is that people are more comfortable living by rules, than depending on Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Christ was “placarded” before their eyes on the Cross, as if pictured on a big poster.

Paul begins with the Holy Spirit. That is the reverse of his approach in Romans, where he introduced Abraham first (Rom.4) and the Holy Spirit much later (Rom.8). In Romans, he is building his case from the ground up. In Galatians, the foundations had been previously laid, and the Holy Spirit had already come upon the Galatians. He asks them three important questions on the Holy Spirit and when he does, he touches the nerve.

3:2 Did they receive the Holy Spirit by legal obedience?
3:3 They were  initiated in the Holy Spirit. Will they go on in the flesh?
3:5 Does He {God} who supplies the Holy Spirit do so in response to doing Jewish laws?
{Galatians 4:6 confirms that it is God who sends the Spirit into their hearts.}

To rephrase the questions:
Did they start the Christian life by doing good works? [In the past].
Will they continue the Christian life by their own efforts?[ In the future.]
Does God depend on their good works to do miracles among them? [In the present.]
The answer to all three questions is ‘no.” The Holy Spirit is the main-spring of their action at all times.

3:6–18 On Abraham.
To 21st century Christians, the idea of going back in history to focus on a man who lived 4000 years ago (2000BC) seems absurd on the face of it. But Abraham is the OT progenitor of faithful Jews,  and through them of Christ, and a model of faith to be followed. Teaching faith using Abraham is a strange process, one which we would not have thought of.

In order to follow Paul’s argument, we  need to review what  he and his Jewish audience considered common knowledge.

*God promised Abram a great nation--Israel. Gen.12:2
*All nations of the world would be blessed through his lineage. (Gen.12:3). Peter said this blessing was forgiveness of sins through Christ, the principal offspring of Abraham. “God, having raised up His Servant, sent Him to you first, to bless you in turning everyone of you from your wickedness.” (Acts.3:26)
*Abraham believed God’s promises. “And he believed  the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen.15:6). Abraham obeyed God’s commands. (Heb.11:8,17)

*His justification happened before he was circumcised, and hundreds of years before the Law was given. (Rom.4:10,13). So circumcision as a rite of passage and obedience to the Law as a way of life had nothing to do with Abraham’s salvation. Abraham was saved by faith.
*God promised that Abraham would be the father of a multitude of nations. (Gen.17:1–8). Paul said
“…he is the father of us all, as it is written ‘I have made you the father of many nations….’” (Rom.4:16–17).
So the "many nations" are the believers from many nations, through Christ, through Abraham. Paul says of his descendants “…that they should inherit the world.” (Rom.4:13)

To repeat, the plan of salvation was outlined and demonstrated 2000 years before Christ.
*Abraham was given a son and through him, a nation (Israel).
*God declared him righteous because he trusted God and he becomes the model to believers everywhere. Jesus said Abraham “rejoiced that he was to see My day....". (Jn.8:56). Abraham perceived the plan of redemption through the future Messiah.
*Abraham, and after him the nation of Israel, was  the cradle of the Messiah, who would bless Israel and people of all nations with salvation. With that background, we read the text.

3:6–9  First he quotes Gen.15:6 “[Abraham] believed the Lord and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
“So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham”, following his model faith. (We could not come to Paul’s conclusion without the background information.)

The next sentence is amazing.
            “The Scripture ( God is speaking to Abram in Gen.12:2)
            foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith
            preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying
            ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’”
*Paul says Gen. 12:2 is the Gospel. in embryo. He emphasizes its impact on the Gentiles. “So then, those who are men of faith (all families of the earth) are blessed with Abraham who had faith.”
*Paul equates God and Scripture: “the Scripture”…”preached the Gospel….”
That is why we say  “Scripture is God speaking.”

The Curse
3:10–14 It would be a shock to Jews of Paul’s day to hear that "...all who rely on works of the law are under a curse."  The Pharisees said “But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed.” (Jn.7:49). Paul says the opposite is true: the curse is on everyone who tries faithfully to obey the law and does not succeed. The curse is spelled out in Deut. 27. The last word is
“'Cursed be he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them’ And all the people shall say ‘Amen’”. (Deut.27:26). The curse is elaborated in Deut.28, 29.
Paul quotes Hab.2:4
            “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” ...not he who does the law.

Christ was hung on a tree, becoming a curse for us. The Israelites did not hang people, but might leave the dead body tied to a tree as an additional disgrace.
“If a man has committed a crime punishable by death…and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God.” (Deut.21:22–23)
Jesus was indeed “hanged” on the cross, bearing the curse for us. His body did not remain on the cross overnight. Joseph of Arimethea claimed the body and gave it a proper burial.

The Will.
3:15–18 A will is a legal promise to gift an offspring. In Greek the word “will” and "covenant” are the same. Both uses of the word are expressed in Heb. 9:16–18. A will is not subject to change once it has been publicized. The recipient of Abraham’s covenant  or will is his Seed, Christ, not generic Israel. Although the word “seed” or progeny usually implies many people, Paul makes the point here that only one, the Messiah, is intended.

The Law was  given ~1550BC—more than 400 years after Abraham (2000BC). The Law cannot annul the covenant / will or cancel the Promise. The Law is the law; the Covenant is a promise.

Paul starts his case with three questions about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the fulcrum, and the power source of the Christian life.

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit by works of the Law?”
Did you try to become a good person so that God would accept  you? Or did you come to Him in your spiritual rags and receive salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
"By One Spirit we were all baptized into one body...." (I Cor.12:13)

“Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?”
The second question is arresting: do most Christians, born in the Spirit and baptized in the Spirit,  live their lives depending on the flesh, their old natures? Some Christians describe the dwindling of spiritual energy with age, and feel that they are left to do their spiritual exercises by sheer discipline, grinding on, as it were, in the flesh. We know the standard spiritual disciplines—church attendance, Bible reading, prayer,  offerings and witness—and we can focus on these duties as the main things of the Christian life. We may do them grudgingly and with low energy. At various times in our lives they can become a boring routine.

We need to think of the disciplines as tools for accomplishing spiritual work, and not ends in themselves (prayer excepted). We may have limited expectations for our lives,  such as happiness, prosperity, a sense of well-being and a clear conscience. Only the clear conscience is promised in Scripture. We must reach higher.

If we draw a  line for our limited expectations, and make another set of goals of the Christian life above the line, let them include the nine fruit of the Spirit, a consuming love of God, conformity to the image of Christ, and submission to the Holy Spirit. These are higher objectives of the Christian life and they depend on the Holy Spirit’s power. Without Him we cannot accomplish these higher and most important goals.

“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?” (3:5). Does God supply the Holy Spirit to you because you are spiritual, or are you spiritual because God gives you His power? Certainly the latter.

If you do not know anything about the Holy Spirit, and live your Christian life without Him, as it were, what will be the outcome? I confess that I grew up believing that I must do the spiritual disciplines, but I had no awareness of the Holy Spirit and assumed that most of my Christian life would be mechanical  and dull. Only the ministers have fun! But God blessed my work without any conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. And my awareness of the Spirit’s work, and my dependence on Him slowly deepened over the years. We need more of the the Holy Spirit’s power as we age,  not less.

I believe that we do not need to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in order for Him to work effectively in our lives. We will never completely understand, anyway. I think Paul’s concern about ending in the flesh is a reversion of the Galatians back to Jewish legalism, not their ignorance of the Holy Spirit.