[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]
Paul argues that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise because he took on the curse of the Law (3:13-14) in order to redeem the seed of Abraham – all those who by faith are in Christ (3:29). To return to the reason of this letter, to go back under the Law is to re-enter a covenant which has been finalized in Christ’s death. That covenant could only end in death, but since Christ died on behalf of those who were under the curse, those who believe and are in Christ can obtain life.
This is a new life which is confirmed by the Spirit of God. This is consistent with the Hebrew Bible, since it is the Spirit of God who would bring life to dead Israel, restoring them as a nation and making them alive again in the coming Kingdom (Ezek 37 is a vivid illustration of this fact). The present age of the Holy Spirit is the “already” to the “not yet” future kingdom established by Jesus the Messiah.
While the idea of a future restoration of the people of God is found throughout the Hebrew Bible, there are several things here are unique to Paul in the Second Temple Period.
First, Gentiles will be included in this restoration apart from Law. The fate of the Gentiles was an important question to the Jews of the first century, Paul offers a solution to the “Gentile problem” which is not found anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible or Second Temple Period. The Gentiles are not converted to Israel, nor will they be the totally annihilated as enemies of God.
Second, Israel is not excluded in favor of the Gentiles. There is no replacement theology here, Paul is still Jewish and there is much advantage to being Jewish. But the “body of Christ” is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal 3:28). The old “us versus them” categories do not apply in this new age. There is a single people of God, and it cannot be called “Israel.”
Third, the life-giving Spirit does usher in a new “age of the spirit,” but it is not messianic kingdom expected by some Second Temple Period writers. Paul does not deny a future for Israel (Rom 9-11), but that is not the point in Galatians. This present age of the Spirit is a foretaste of what the coming messianic kingdom will be like.
Fourth, because of the purpose of the Law, it no longer has an application in the present age of the Spirit. This is what the problem is in the Galatian churches, they are trying to live in a age which no longer exists. It is not just that is of no benefit, but it is actually counter-productive to life in the Spirit to try to live under the Law.
Fifth, and looking ahead to the last two chapters, life in the Spirit, or a life of freedom in Christ means that one is free from the constraints of the Law. But there are still ethical and moral duties as a member of the family of God. One is not “free from the Law” so that sin may abound. One is “free from the Law” in order to serve others (5:13).
It is this last point, I think, that got Paul into trouble. Legalists would say he has gone too far in freeing Gentiles from the Law (“these pagans need to learn how to behave!”), but there were some who embraced freedom in Christ to the point that they committed sin to show they were in fact “free from the Law.”