Consistency is a character trait we would all say we admire.
People who are predictable in their virtues and convictions resonate with us as an example to follow or as people to praise God for.
The greatest example of consistency we can find in all of human history is how God reveals himself to humankind.
In Galatians 3:1-14, Paul outlines this consistency and why it matters so much.
1 – The Gospel the Galatians Forgot v1-5
Paul has strong words for the Galatians from the very start of this letter (1:3). He calls them foolish twice (3:1 & 3:3). He is astonished at their acceptance of anything other than Christ, after all it was Jesus whom Paul clearly preached and portrayed to them (3:1b).
Paul’s charge against them was that they were not thinking or reasoning clearly. They had known the joy and freedom of God’s grace operating in their lives. Now, they were being deceived ( bewitched 3:1) by the Judaizers, and were giving up that freedom to live under the structures of the law in order to be accepted by God.
There is nothing more fundamental to the Christian faith than Christ crucified, and that is the exactly what Paul displayed to the Galatians, but they have forgotten.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone asks you questions but doesn’t think you know the answers, so answers for you and fires another question in the same breath?
Paul is not being a snappy quiz show host. He is not being arrogant. He is not being prideful. Paul in asking all these questions is seeking to drill into the Galatians a reminder of the things that are actually true about the Gospel.
The answers are meant to self-evident, even to foolish people, and they should be to all who trust in Christ as the only way to be saved and for assurance of that salvation.
He talks of them being ‘bewitched’,implying they have fallen under a spell, or a curse (3:10).They are not seeing clearly because they have allowed evil influences to blind them to the truth.
Paul effectively states:
“If you are not under the Gospel, you are under a spell.”
The problem at Galatia was that the deception had taken such a hold, the Spirit and faith had been forgotten (3:2). The Spirit is mentioned in tandem with hearing with faith (3:2 & 3:5) and is held in contrast to the works of the law, suffering in vain, and trusting in the flesh to get and retain favour with God. (3:2-5).
“The Spirit works as Christians don’t rely on their own works, but rather consciously and continuously rest in Christ alone for their acceptability and completeness. Paul links the Spirit and the gospel in the most inseparable terms. The Spirit works as you apply and use the gospel.” – Tim Keller
Only pride would lead me to say that have received the Spirit by my own works. Only pride would say that I although the Spirit revealed Jesus to me, I will now be made perfect by what I do.
The Spirit can do no work where works take precedence to the Gospel.
These are heavy words for believers, and as we hear the questions echo in our own mind, it would be very appropriate to ask if we too have been deceived by works of the flesh that blind us to the necessity of the Gospel of Christ crucified.
Answering them the right way is one thing, but this is not just an intellectual exercise. The answers are meant to be lived, not just affirmed.
When we do not live out the Gospel of Christ crucified in our lives, we are destined to live inconsistent lives and will soon lose sight of Jesus.
“We are not only saved by the gospel, but we also grow by the gospel. Paul is saying that we don’t begin by faith and then proceed and grow through our works. We are not only justified by faith in Christ, we are also sanctified by faith in Christ. We never leave the gospel behind.” – Tim Keller
2 – The Gospel That Was Preached to Abraham v.6-9
If the Judaizers were going to place such an emphasis on the necessity of keeping the law to be fully righteous in God’s eyes, Paul is going to tackle that on two fronts.
- the actual definition of the law and it’s true purpose (3:19-29)
- the fact that Abraham was counted as righteous before the law (3:6-9 & ff)
Abraham’s faith in God was not only counted as righteousness (3:6, Genesis 15:6), but it was counted so before the law was given.
So it is not those who follow the law who are children of Abraham, but those who have the same faith that he did (3:7).
Abraham was promised the same justification that would one day be offered to the Galatians and all Gentiles (3:8) and he accepted by faith the Gospel that was preached to him.
The blessing of Abraham is that faith in a faithful God and accepting his promises leads to justification.
“Saving faith is faith in God’s provision, not our performance.” – Tim Keller
3 – The Gospel of Available to Us v10-14
Attempting to be saved by works will lead to a bondage of anxiety and insecurity, as well as pride and boasting. It is a contradiction by definition, so even it’s results are contradictory and inconsistent.
When I trust in my own efforts, I can never quite be sure I am doing enough. At the same time, by comparing myself to others, know that I am doing better than them. It will make me sensitive to criticism, while being envious and intimidated by others one day, and looking down on others the next.
Either way, this life focused on self is a curse (3:10). No matter what I do, I can never do enough, and even if I do so much better than the next person, I am guilty of all of the law if I fail in one part. It is a crippling way to live. It is a life of condemnation.
If any person is going to base their identity and salvation in keeping the law, there can be no exceptions. A curse of damnation is upon anyone who fails in any regard in the keeping of the law.
Paul’s aim for the Galatians is not that they would face condemnation, or remain under the curse, but that they would again see Jesus clearly.
In order to do so, Abraham is an example, but all of Scripture testifies to the fact that the righteous shall live by faith, and that faith must be an active acceptance of the promises of God. Paul stresses this point by saturating his letter with scriptural quotes and examples, not only of what the law requires, but of what real faith is, and how those who have it, live.
“There is an inseparable relationship between righteousness imputed by God and the right living of the person who is justified and who lives by faith.” – Maxie Dunnam
The law does not require faith to live by it. It just requires work and total perfection.
Living by faith simply means we trust in a faithful God who provided all we need to be perfect despite our imperfections.
If the sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ died on the cross, it follows that God is not a legalistic judge who demands what cannot be done. Instead, he is the only God who gives himself on our behalf, who suffers to the ultimate display of love.
Our redemption from the curse cost something.To redeem something, you must pay a price.
Paul doesn’t say that Jesus redeemed us by taking our curse from us, but by becoming a curse. He who knew no sin, became sin.
If Jesus became the curse for us, then by believing in him and trusting in him alone for salvation, we have become righteous in the same way. If his taking our sin on himself meant that he was cursed by God for us, then our receiving the blessing of salvation means that we are regarded by God as perfectly righteous and flawless (3:14).
The consistent Gospel of Christ crucified is not just the hallmark of Paul’s writings. He commands that it should be the sole distinctive of every Christian and every church. The church at Galatia forgot this Gospel and became inconsistent because they focussed on works they could do rather than the work Jesus had done.
It is easy to become distracted. Distracted people soon become inconsistent people. Inconsistent people often become self-justifying people.
I make excuses when I am distracted by my phone at the meal table. That leads me to be inconsistent when my wife is looking at her phone when we are driving somewhere. I justify my actions by making all manner of excuses, either mentally or verbally, and all the while, knowing I am a hypocrite and have been distracted from what really matters.
In what ways are we inconsistent in our Christian walk?
When we forget the gospel, it’s not because we have never heard it, but because something else had captured our attention.
We would rather be identified sometimes with what we have grown comfortable with rather than the things that will actually lead us to be fruitful.
Where do we find our primary identity as believers?
If it’s not found in the Gospel, we are in danger of being deceived or of even deceiving and distracting others.
Do some of my actions as a child of God prevent others from sharing in the promise of Abraham?
It is easy to place barriers in the way of the gospel that are unnecessary and lead to hypocrisy and inconsistency. We must seek to reorientate ourselves with the gospel constantly.
Have I been distracted from the message of Christ crucified by my own desires and agendas?
How can I recapture the picture of the Gospel in my heart and life?
Surround yourself with people who speak the gospel to you and live the gospel around you. Gospel consistency on display leads to effective discipleship and fruitful living.
“This message is the proclamation of what has been done for us before it is a direction of what we must do…A Christian is not someone who knows about Jesus, but one who has ‘seen’ him on the cross. Our hearts are moved when we see not just that he died, but that he died for us.” – Tim Keller
When we see him clearly, we see our redemption, and our response is living a life of faith in the promises of God.