As we move forward through this letter, we should keep in mind Chapter 2:16: “Yet we know that a person is set right not by deeds based on Torah, but rather through … [the faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua]. So even we have put our trust in Messiah Yeshua, in order that we might be set right based on trust in Messiah and not by deeds based on Torah—because no human will be justified by deeds based on Torah.”[i] Sha’ul will now use several examples to demonstrate this premise: examples from our own experience, examples from Scripture and, examples from human experience.[Read Gal. 3:1-14]
Examples from Our Own Experience
(Vs. 1-5) These first five verses remind the believers and remind us of our own experience. When we came to Yeshua, did we have our lives all put together? I know that I did not. I rededicated my life to Yeshua when I was 14 years old, but at that time I accepted Him as fire insurance because I did not want to go to hell. It took the next four years of following Yeshua for me to finally humble myself and realize that I was a broken, hypocritical, proud sinner who desperately needed to trust in God’s mercy.
Sha’ul reminds the congregations in Galatia, that their receiving the Ruach had nothing to do with their own goodness, but simply because they had trusted in the Messiah Yeshua after hearing from Sha’ul. If that is how we come to Adonai, then why would we think that we would become more righteous by following the Torah? Am I saying that we should deliberately break the Torah? Of Course NOT. But following the Word of Adonai, is the result of the Ruach making us righteous, not the cause.
Sha’ul then asks an interesting question, “The One who gives you the Ruach, and works miracles among you – does He do it because of your deeds based upon Torah or your hearing based on trust and faithfulness?” I thought on this point. For everyone who has been used by Adonai to perform miracles: did the miracles happen because of your good deeds, or because you stepped out in faith? The times I have seen God work through me, it has been through the laying on of hands, and a prayer based on trust in God. It has had absolutely nothing to do with how holy I was, or how good I had been.
Examples from Scripture
Sha’ul now moves to examples from Scripture. The first and most obvious example is Abraham. Abraham “believed God, and it was accredited to him as righteousness.” This is a quote from Gen. 15:6. This is the time that Adonai cut a covenant with Abram. God considered Abram righteous because of his trust in Adonai. All who trust in Adonai are considered spiritual children of Abraham. This story of Abram is also important, because Abram was considered righteous by Adonai at least 13 years before he was circumcised. Sha’ul shows the Gentile believers that being made right before God is based upon trusting in Adonai and not physical circumcision.
I need to tread carefully through the next four verses, because they have been used to justify anti-Semitic conclusions. I wish to quote from David Stern’s commentary on four of these harmful conclusions:
- According to v. 10, since the Jewish people depend on the Torah, but (by assumption) no one is capable of doing everything written in it, the entire Jewish people lives under God’s curse.
- According to v. 11, by trying to obey the Torah, Jews are condemned to the impossibility of being considered righteous by God.
- According to vv. 11b-12, the Torah itself is defective, because it is not based on trust, but on legalism, on “doing these things,” as proved by quoting one of the Torah’s own verses. (Logically, this reasoning impugns God himself; but antisemitic illogic arrives at a different consequence: that if Jews obey a defective Torah, then Jews themselves must be defective.)
- Finally, according to v. 13a, Jews are cursed already just by having to live under the Torah.
Fortunately, very few who claim to be Christians hold all of these false views, stated here in their most blatant and offensive form. But to hold even one of them, even in a weaker form, and even unintentionally, is a sin.[ii]
(For David Stern’s translation see footnotes)[iii]
So, starting with (Vs. 10) we see that the problem is not with Torah, but rather the problems is relying on our ability to keep Torah. All other religions in the world are 100% based upon our ability to do what is right and good. However, David writes in (Ps. 14:1-3) that all of mankind has turned away from Adonai and become corrupt, there is no on who does good – not even one. Therefore, the curse of breaking the commandments of Adonai, is on all of us. Not even the legalist of Sha’ul’s day were keeping all the commandments because Adonai requires that keeping the commandments must be done with trust in Him. Legalism which is attempting to religiously keep all the commandments in order to be made right before God, is not trust in God, but rather it is trust in our own ability.
Sha’ul now quotes (Hab. 2:4). The context of that verse is, “Behold, the puffed up one— his soul is not right within him, But the righteous will live by his trust. Indeed, … a proud man never rests.” All of the legalists in Sha’ul’s day, and all people who think that their good works will get them into God’s presence are guilty of one of the worst sins, pride. The Torah itself acknowledges that we are sinful and do not measure up to the requirements of Adonai by providing the sacrificial system. The sin and the guilt offerings were established because Adonai knew all along that we could not meet His righteous requirement. Therefore, the Children of Israel had to demonstrate their trust in Adonai, by bringing an innocent animal, shedding its blood, and having that blood cover their sins.
What Sha’ul does here by pointing to Abraham, is show that it was not just the sacrifice that justified us before Adonai, but more specifically it is the trust in Adonai’s provision for atonement. Atonement refers to the way that Adonai would cover and deal with our sins. In the Hebrew Scriptures, it was the blood of a spotless lamb, but the Tenach always pointed toward the coming of Messiah. Now, just as Sha’ul mentioned in (Vs. 1), Messiah has been crucified, and his blood has become the atonement, the way that Adonai has provided, for our sins. By hanging on the tree, Messiah became the curse, and took on that curse that we deserved. Therefore, when we trust in the covering of Yeshua’s blood, we are made right before God, and can receive the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh.
As I was reading through this passage, what stuck out to me the most was in (Vs. 3). Sha’ul states, “After beginning with the Ruach, will you now reach the goal in the flesh?” Adonai took us in a broken, sinful state and salvaged our lives. I still find myself, from time to time, trying to gain God’s approval by doing things for him. As I read this passage, I felt a weight lift off me, with the realization that Adonai is looking for trusting faithfulness, not more things for us to do. Sha’ul writes to the congregation in Philippi, “I am sure of this very thing—that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua.” Not only are we forgiven and set right by what Yeshua did, but even the process of making us holy is by the power of the Spirit of God.
[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.
[ii] The Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern, pg. 545.
[iii] For everyone who depends on legalistic observance of Torah commands lives under a curse, since it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the Scroll of the Torah.” Now it is evident that no one comes to be declared righteous by God through legalism, since “The person who is righteous will attain life by trusting and being faithful.” Furthermore, legalism is not based on trusting and being faithful, but on [a misuse of] the text that says, “Anyone who does these things will attain life through them.” The Messiah redeemed us from the curse pronounced in the Torah by becoming cursed on our behalf; for the Tanakh says, “Everyone who hangs from a stake comes under a curse.” Yeshua the Messiah did this so that in union with him the Gentiles might receive the blessing announced to Avraham, so that through trusting and being faithful, we might receive what was promised, namely, the Spirit. (Galatians 3:10-14, Complete Jewish Bible)