Being good never justified anyone. Only faith does that.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 March

Galatians 3.5-12.

Dispensationalism—the belief God saved people one way (or various ways) in the Old Testament, but saves us by grace in the current era—is far too common in Christendom. Pretty deeply embedded, too: Every so often I’ll talk about where we see grace in the Old Testament, and somebody will pipe up, “But grace came through Jesus Christ.” Jn 1.17 They won’t mean, as John did in that reference, that Jesus is the one who made grace possible throughout all of human history. They mean grace didn’t even begin till Jesus came around. That people in the OT never experienced grace. Obviously they missed the entire point of the Exodus.

Nor have the really read Paul. He never taught dispensationalism. Doesn’t matter how many proof texts dispys use from Paul’s letters to back their ideas: They’re not using a one of them in context. Paul taught salvation always came by grace. Comes by grace today; came by grace in Old Testament times. True, how salvation works was a mystery before Jesus—meaning we didn’t yet have the details of how God saved people. But Jesus came to earth and revealed it, so now we do. And grace was always the center of the plan.

As proven by the fact whenever Paul used proof texts, he didn’t quote Jesus: He quoted the Old Testament. Yep, the part of the bible dispys claim is entirely out-of-date old-covenant stuff. In fact a whole lot of Paul’s quotes actually come from the Law. The Old Testament scriptures “testify of me,” Jesus said, Jn 5.39 KJV so why shouldn’t we quote ’em for evidence? Hence Paul made reference to them repeatedly.

As he does in today’s text.

Galatians 3.5-11 KWL
5 So is giving you the Spirit, working power among you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
6 Like Abraham “trusted God and was deemed righteous by it.” Ge 15.6
7 So understand this: These “children of faith” are like Abraham.
8 The scripture, foreseeing how God justifies gentiles by their faith,
fore-presented the gospel through Abraham—that “all gentiles will be blessed through you.” Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18
9 Hence those who act by faith are blessed with Abraham’s faith.
10 Whoever works the Law is under its curse, for this is written:
“Everyone who doesn’t persevere in doing all this book of the Law’s writings, is cursed.” Dt 27.26
11 Clearly no one’s justified under the Law: “The righteous will live by faith.” Ha 2.4
12 And the Law isn’t based on faith, but “One who does them must live by them.” Lv 18.5

Y’see, legalists were trying to teach the Galatians they had to follow the Law to be saved. You know, exactly like dispensationalists claim people in Old Testament times were saved. But if that were true—if the Law actually had been the way to salvation in the time before Christ Jesus—Paul would’ve presented an entirely different argument. He’d have used the very same line “New Testament Christians” regularly try to use on me: “That’s the old covenant. We live under the new covenant.” (Oh, and don’t forget the condescending tone. I may have been a Christian decades longer than these “New Testament Christian” folks, but somehow they know it all.)

Y'see, the legalists had told the Galatians they had to follow the Law. And if the Law had legitimately been the way to salvation under some previous dispensation, Paul would've presented an entirely different argument. Namely the one “New Testament Christians” try to use on me: “That's the old covenant. We're under the new covenant.” (Don't forget the condescending tone, 'cause even though I've been Christian decades longer than they, somehow they know it all.)

But you’ve been reading my Galatians posts, right? (Hope so.) So you know Paul didn’t take that tack whatsoever. Not even close. He didn’t tell the Galatians, “Those guys are operating out of the old dispensation; Christ inaugurated a new one; get with the program.” It’s “I’m wondering at how you so quickly switched from your calling in Christ’s grace to another “gospel”—which isn’t another gospel.” Ga 1.6-7 KWL It’s the order that whenever anyone teaches other than grace, ban them. Quit letting ’em teach! Ga 1.8-9

You don’t get supernatural power by following the Law.

Lemme quote verse 5 again.

Galatians 3.5 KWL
So is giving you the Spirit, working power among you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?

It tends to get skipped as redundant, ’cause Paul said a very similar thing in verse 2,

Galatians 3.2 KWL
I only want to know this from you: Is the Spirit given to you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?

with the minor addition of καὶ ἐνεργῶν δυνάμεις ἐν ὑμῖν/ke energón dynámeis en ymín, “and working power among you.” The KJV goes with “and worketh miracles among you,” ’cause the Holy Spirit’s acts of power are obviously miracles.

Except this is not a minor addition. Well, unless you’re cessationist, one of those Christians who claim God turned off the miracles in this present dispensation. The reason Paul repeated this phrase, but added “and working power among you,” is because the Spirit was working power among them. And the only way to interpret this verse correctly requires us to understand the impact of having the Spirit‘s power. But if you don’t believe the Spirit does such things anymore, and dismiss any miracle stories you hear, of course this verse has no such impact on you.

When the Galatians became Christian, they received the Holy Spirit. Same as every Christian does. How’d they know they had the Spirit? He interacted with them! When they prayed, he talked back. When they asked, he did miracles. When they requested his power, he granted it. He didn’t just passively indwell them; he doesn’t do that with anyone. If you imagine he does, it’s probably because you stopped listening long ago.

The Spirit visibly, demonstrably did stuff among the Galatians. And, lemme add, despite any wrong beliefs they held, like legalism. Because like Paul said, y’don’t receive the Spirit and power by earning him. We don’t earn God whatsoever. We don’t earn his grace. We don’t earn the things he graciously does for us. Not just the common-grace stuff he provides everyone, like air, food and water, good health; not just saving grace and salvation; the uncommon-grace stuff like prophecy, healing, and miracles too. We put different labels on God’s different acts of grace, but it’s all the same grace.

And yeah, that includes empowering wrong-minded people, even heretics, to perform miracles. No I’m not kidding. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen unitarians pray for God to cure the sick, and he did. Because he will.

I know. Plenty of Christians—including continuationists!—claim God would never do miracles for heretics, and won’t do miracles for sinners. Just yesterday I read a little something by E.M. Bounds in which he claimed God won’t answer prayers when we’re sinning. Does he have any bible to back up his belief? He didn’t offer any; I could think of a few verses which might suggest the idea, like when the LORD wouldn’t return Saul ben Kish’s messages. 1Sa 28.6 But Saul’s an extreme example; the king had ignored and disobeyed God for so long, what’s the point in God telling him anything? He wouldn’t listen. Dude was apostate. Whereas we Christians, I would hope, are far away from apostasy when we sin. Our relationships with God may suck, but we didn’t quit him.

But this just goes to show how deeply karma is embedded in humanity. We insist everything be based on merit, and pitch a fit when it’s not. And we even insist God’s kingdom run on merit as well. Not grace—which is the only way he runs it. We don’t deserve God’s kingdom any more than a spoiled trust-fund kid deserves to squander her dad’s hard-earned money on cocaine and parties. But we have much the same relationship with our Father, who grants us much the same grace as a father who unconditionally loves his spoiled daughter no matter what she does. Complain all you want about how he’s far too lenient with her. Lk 15.25-32 But don’t forget he's just as lenient to you.

Contrary to what karma-based thinking would insist, answered prayer and miracles do not mean God endorses the petitioner or miracle-worker. God has his own will. He’ll do what he does either with us, or in spite of us. Paul indicated in 1 Corinthians it’s entirely possible to do miracles without good fruit, and more than likely you’ve seen fruitless Christians of all sorts who can nonetheless act in the Spirit’s power. I’ve met prophets who were downright jerks. It did, as Paul warned, drive people away from listening to them, 1Co 13.1 but it doesn‘t negate the fact the Spirit can and probably did speak through them.

Y’see, every human is a flawed creature. Us included, naturally. If the Spirit couldn’t bring himself to empower anyone but perfect people, he’d empower no one. And while we humans might have standards and levels for whom we’d deem worthy of miracles (based on karma, of course), the Spirit lumps us all in the same bunch. Every last one of us is a screw-up in one way or another. But the Spirit’s willing to work with screw-ups to achieve his will. Redeeming us is his speciality.

So, as Paul asked, did the Spirit’s power happen among ’em because they obeyed the Law, or because they heard and believed? Did the Galatians get his power on merit?—because they were good and obedient, and earned it, and deserved it, and it was their power to own and wield and have by right? I could go on, but hopefully you’ve seen how ridiculous the idea is. Nobody earns God’s power. We get it, as Jesus taught us, for one reason alone: Faith. We trust God, and when we do so God considers us righteous. So stuff happens.

The faith of Abraham.

The LORD empowered Moses to do miracles and mighty acts of power. Not because Moses was deserving; he was a murderer hiding out in Midian. Yet the LORD sent him to free Israel from Egyptian slavery—again, not because Israel was deserving; they proved throughout their trip to Canaan they totally weren’t. Israel didn’t earn God’s favor, and it wouldn’t be grace if they could. But their salvation wasn’t based on merit. It was never, ever based on how well they held to the Law—no matter how dispensationalists claim God worked back then.

The LORD saved Israel for one reason: He promised Abraham ben Terah he would. Ge 15.13-14 And the foundation of the LORD’s relationship with Abraham? Faith. Abraham (in this particular part of Genesis, called Avram) trusted God.

Genesis 15.6 KWL
Avram believed in the LORD, and to the LORD this was considered rightness.

The apostles pointed to this proof text more than once. Because they knew—because everybody in ancient Israel knew—it’s foundational to Abraham and the LORD’s covenantal relationship. It wasn’t a perfect trust; Abraham still had to work on it. (Fr’instance God promised Abraham a son, and initially Abraham figured God helps those who help themselves, so he made a son with a concubine. But God had something more supernatural in mind.) Fits and starts aside, Abraham trusted God. And the LORD justified his relationship with Abraham by Abraham’s trust.

Likewise every human who enters into a relationship with God: We believe him. We trust him. That’s faith, and not only can God work with that, it’s what he wants to work with. Our faith makes us right with him. And God’s gracious salvation, and the indwelling of his Holy Spirit, follow right after.

So how’d the Galatians get the Holy Spirit? They believed, so God gave ’em the Spirit. If they thought it was ’cause they obeyed… well clearly they hadn’t been reading their bibles. (Which, back then, was only the Old Testament. Galatians is arguably the first book written of the New Testament! Yep, even before the gospels.) The foundation of God’s relationships with anyone is faith. Not Law, not obedience; faith.

For anyone who still insisted the Law was a factor, Paul pointed out the Law kinda bones them:

Deuteronomy 27.26 KWL
“Whoever won’t stand by the Law’s words and do them: They’re cursed.”
“Amen,” say all the people.

That’s all the words, the apostles point out.

James 2.10-11 KWL
10 For whoever’d keep the the entire Law could stumble in one command
and become guilty of breaking the whole.
11 He who said “Don’t adulter” Ex 20.14 also said “Don’t murder.” Ex 20.13
If you don’t adulter, yet you do murder, you become a Law-breaker.

It’s not impossible to follow all 613 commands perfectly. I’m doing it right this minute. Not sure I can keep it up all day, but still. Thing is, I’ve broken the Law in the past, probably will in the future, and if I depend on it to merit anything from God, I’m an idiot. Job was particularly good at following it, Jb 1.8 yet God still let Satan take a dump all over him. Not that Job’s example should discourage anyone from striving to follow God, but of all the guys you’d expect to “live his best life now,” it’d be the boil-covered guy cursing his own existence and wondering why him. But the Law didn’t save Job either. God did. Because Job, like his ancestor Abraham, trusted God.

So: You wanna be right with God? You wanna see power, miracles, get your prayers answered? Then you need to trust him. Not just obey him—and definitely obey him, and keep obeying him. But don’t put your trust in your own obedience; that’s the path to legalism and unfaith. Trust God. He’s the one who saves, cures, and empowers.