Lesson 4: Grace That Justifies

In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage. These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericlize the church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation.

– Pope Francis

Devotion: Read Galatians 3:1-14, 23-29. Paul is upset with the church at Galatia because they are teaching that Gentiles must be circumcised before they are allowed to be baptized. Paul believes requiring one of the “works of the law” nullifies the central teaching of justification by faith. Anytime we tell someone they must perform a particular action in order to be made righteous, be part of the covenant community, or receive forgiveness, we return to the idea that good works (“works of the law”) save us, not faith in Jesus. Why is it so tempting for church leaders to set requirements? What are some common “works” which churches require of people before allowing them to be baptized or join? How do we teach the importance of baptism or tithing if we do not make them requirements? Is it good or bad for a congregation to require newcomers to take classes before they are baptized? What do you believe people must do to be considered “children of God through faith? (3:26)?

Personal Worship Option: Pray for those wounded by the Church. If you have been wounded by someone in the Church, pray for strength to forgive them as God forgives you.

Dig A Little Deeper:

3:2 Paul asks the Galatians to reflect on their experience with the Spirit, and then he quotes scripture. We are to draw on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to understand faith. What are the dangers of excluding experience? Reason? Tradition? Scripture?  

3:3 “Flesh” specially refers to circumcision, but also includes other demands of the Law.

3:6 In these verses, Paul uses the same arguments he made in yesterday’s Romans 4 reading.

3:8 The covenant God establishes with Abraham comes long before the Law, and prophetically anticipates the “good news” of Jesus Christ. Since justification by faith is prior to and superior to the Law, so faith in God remains intact now that the Law has fulfilled.

3:11 Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4. The goal is not conformity but faith in God. Keeping the law is not bad, but it can be superficial, leading to the false belief that obedience earns salvation. This belief results in pride, which is the opposite of faith in what God is doing through Jesus.

3:13 Scholars disagree on the meaning of “the curse of the law.” It might mean the Law 1) creates a impossible burden to fulfill; 2) prevents expansion of God’s activity into the Gentile world, which works against God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12:3); or 3) Israel’s disobedience to the covenant, bringing a promised curse (Deut 28:1, 15-68; 30). Some believe Paul does not have any specific image in mind but is tying together various points about justifying faith by arguing Jesus’ sacrifice also fulfills the Deuteronomy 21:23 image of bearing a curse for us.   

3:24 “Disciplinarian” refers to a household assistant, often a slave, who cared for minor children. The implication is the law is there to prevent as much sin as possible for a designated period of time, until the child is mature enough to know what to choose. So, the purpose of the Law is to make us aware of our sin and provide a step-by-step path back to God when we did sin. However, now that Christ has come, we find justifying grace through faith.

3:27 Baptism is the sign that God’s grace is available and can be worn as a garment. Since justification by faith is available to everyone, all people of faith are descendants of Abraham and united as one, regardless of our outward differences.

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