In Galatians 3 Paul emphasizes the fact that God’s benefits of salvation come by faith, not works. It’s an extended argument that Paul had to repeat more than once in his missionary travels. Some Jewish people followed him around and harassed him and tried to refute his teaching of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. They said you also needed to do certain things to receive God’s saving benefits (e.g. be circumcised, obey the law, etc.). But Paul strongly opposed their teaching by explaining from the OT that salvation comes by faith, not works.
Speaking of Galatians 3, I appreciate John Stott’s comments on it in his short but helpful commentary in the BST series. Here’s part of Stott’s commentary on Gal. 3:1-9.
a. What the gospel is -The gospel is Christ crucified, His finished work on the cross. And to preach the gospel is publicly to portray Christ as crucified. The gospel is not good news primarily of a baby in a manger, a young man at a carpenter’s bench, a preacher in the fields of Galilee, or even an empty tomb. The gospel concerns Christ upon His cross. Only when Christ is ‘openly displayed upon his cross’ (neb) is the gospel preached. This verb prographein means to ‘show forth or portray publicly, proclaim or placard in public’ (Arndt-Gingrich). It was used of edicts, laws and public notices, which were put up in some public place to be read, and also of pictures and portraits.
This means that in preaching the gospel we are to refer to an event (Christ’s death on a cross), to expound a doctrine (the perfect participle ‘crucified’ indicating the abiding effects of Christ’s finished work), and to do so publicly, boldly, vividly, so that people see it as if they witnessed it with their own eyes. This is what some writers have called the ‘existential’ element in preaching. We do more than describe the cross as a first-century event. We actually portray Christ crucified before the eyes of our contemporaries, so that they are confronted by Christ crucified today and realize that they may receive from the cross the salvation of God today.
b. What the gospel offers -On the ground of Christ’s cross, the gospel offers a great blessing. Verse8: ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ What is this? It is a double blessing. The first part is justification (verse8) and the second the gift of the Spirit (verses2–5). It is with these two gifts that God blesses all who are in Christ. He both justifies us, accepting us as righteous in His sight, and puts His Spirit within us. What is more, he never bestows one gift without the other. Everybody who receives the Spirit is justified, and everybody who is justified receives the Spirit. It is important to notice this double initialblessing, since various people nowadays are teaching instead a doctrine of salvation in two stages, that we are justified at the beginning and receive the Spirit only at a later stage.
c. What the gospel requires -The gospel offers blessings; what must we do to receive them? The proper answer is ‘nothing’! We do not have to do anything. We have only to believe. Our response is not ‘the works of the law’ but ‘hearing with faith’, that is, not obeying the law, but believing the gospel. For obeying is to attempt to do the work of salvation ourselves, whereas believing is to let Christ be our Saviour and to rest in His finished work. So Paul emphasizes both that we receive the Spirit by faith (verses2and5) and that we are justified by faith (verse8). Indeed, the noun ‘faith’ and the verb ‘to believe’ occur seven times in this brief paragraph (verses1–9).
Such is the true gospel, the gospel of the Old and New Testaments, the gospel which God Himself began to preach to Abraham (verse 8) and which the apostle Paul continued to preach in his day. It is the setting forth before men’s eyes of Jesus Christ as crucified. It offers on this basis both justification and the gift of the Spirit. And its only demand is faith.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015