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What does it mean that the law is not of faith (Galatians 3:12)?

the law is not of faith

In Paul’s great defense of salvation and growth by faith rather than by works, Paul asserts that “the law is not of faith” (Galatians 3:12, ESV).

Paul rebukes the Galatians for acting as if their growth (or sanctification) would come from works or obeying the law. He challenges them with a rhetorical question: “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2). They knew the answer. They had been born again and received the Spirit of God by grace through faith.

The next step in Paul’s defense of faith-over-law is a series of logical follow-up rhetorical questions. If they had begun their new walk by the Spirit of God (whom they had received by faith), then why are they expecting their growth and maturing would be accomplished by the works of the flesh (Galatians 3:3)? Had everything they had been through to that point been in vain (Galatians 3:4)? Does the One who provides the Spirit of God accomplish His work among them by works of law or by faith in the gospel (Galatians 3:5)? The point is that it is contradictory to acknowledge the role of faith at the beginning only to turn back to works and obedience to law. The law is not of (or from) faith (Galatians 3:12).

In case the Galatians had forgotten, Paul reminds them that Abraham, who lived long before the law was given, was justified by God by faith. Abraham believed in God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6; referencing Genesis 15:6). Those who share Abraham’s faith are his “children” (Galatians 3:7). The Galatians were counting themselves as Abraham’s children, perceiving their need to uphold their ancient heritage. Paul reminds them that the legacy of Abraham was not obedience to law or works of the flesh; it was faith in God.

Paul adds that salvation by faith is nothing new. God had announced it long beforehand to Abraham (Galatians 3:8). Just as God had promised, people from all the families of the earth would be saved by faith and would ultimately be blessed with Abraham (Galatians 3:9). On the other hand, all who try to obey the law are under a curse, because they have to obey all of the commandments perfectly (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10). In fact, the Law of Moses was never intended to provide righteousness—which has always and only come by faith (Galatians 3:11).

Paul points out that the law is not of (or from) faith (Galatians 3:12). The law was about works to demonstrate the need for faith. Paul explains that “the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:22, NLT). Before people believed, they were in the custody of the law, as a child is under a guardian (Galatians 3:23). Law, then, helps make clear the depth and severity of our falling short of God’s glory. The Law of Moses, in particular, serves as a tutor to show us the need for salvation by faith in Jesus (Galatians 3:23). The law is not of faith, but the law helps us to see the need for faith. By the works of the law no one can be righteous in God’s sight. We must rely on His righteousness, which He freely gives to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

One way we recognize that the law is not of faith is in the fact that the Law of Moses was a conditional covenant requiring obedience from the people of Israel to receive God’s blessing on the nation (Deuteronomy 28—29). All of the other covenants God made with humanity are unconditional. The gospel pre-announcement that Paul cites in Galatians 3:8 was part of God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:2–3). The good news of righteousness has always been by faith and never by conditions of obedience. The law is not of faith.

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What does it mean that the law is not of faith (Galatians 3:12)?
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This page last updated: February 22, 2023