by Rev. Jesse Burns

In the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed we are taught to confess that “the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.”[1]

Perhaps something that we can often forget in this confession is that not only is faith initially a gift which the Holy Spirit works in us in order that we believe in Jesus Christ, but that it is also the Holy Spirit’s work to preserve that faith in us through the means of grace, “the Gospel” and “His gifts.” The Holy Spirit is not simply the initial cause of faith but continues to be at work in the life of the Church keeping us in the faith by the proclamation of the Word and through that faith the Lord declares us to be righteous and heirs of eternal life.

Read Galatians 3:1-9.

  1. How does St. Paul address the Galatians in verse 1? Why might he call them this? Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” How might this verse help us to understand what Paul means by calling the Galatians foolish? How are his words to the Galatians faithful and friendly, even fatherly?
  2. In verse 2, Paul directs the Galatians to remember how they first received the Spirit, that is, not “by works of the law” but “by hearing with faith.” Compare what Paul says here to the event recorded in Acts 10:34-44. When and to whom was the Holy Spirit given?
  3. Luther writes, “Therefore a man becomes a Christian, not by working but by listening. And so anyone who wants to exert himself toward righteousness must first exert himself in listening to the Gospel. Now when he has heard and accepted this, let him joyfully give thanks to God, and then let him exert himself in good works that are commanded in the Law; thus the Law and works will follow hearing with faith.”[2] Why is it important to rightly understand the distinction between justification – “that we are pronounced righteous and are saved solely by faith in Christ, and without works”[3] – and the works which follow justifying faith? What is the danger in reversing the order of faith and works? How had the Galatians fallen into that danger?
  4. How does Paul show that the Spirit continues to be at work among the Galatians in verse 5? Note the use of the present tense. How does this help us to understand that the Spirit continues to be at work through the preaching of the word? Why is this important for us?
  5. In verse 6, Paul transitions from speaking about the Galatians’ experience to the example of Abraham. He quotes from Genesis 15:6, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Abraham’s faith in God’s promise was “counted to him as righteousness,” that is, he was declared righteous by faith in God’s promise! The Galatians had been troubled (1:7) with the teaching that the old covenant of circumcision was necessary for them to be true children of Abraham. However, the faith by which Abraham was counted as righteous came even before the covenant of circumcision. How, then, does Paul’s appeal to Abraham demonstrate that justification is not received by the works of the law but through faith?
  6. Luther writes, “For, as I have said, these two things make Christian righteousness perfect: The first is faith in the heart, which is a divinely granted gift and which formally believes in Christ; the second is that God reckons this imperfect faith as perfect righteousness for the sake of Christ, His Son, who suffered for the sins of the world and in whom I begin to believe. On account of this faith in Christ God does not see the sin that still remains in me. For so long as I go on living in the flesh, there is certainly sin in me. But meanwhile Christ protects me under the shadow of His wings and spreads over me the wide heaven of the forgiveness of sins, under which I live in safety.”[4] Every Christian struggles against unbelief while they remain in this life. What great comfort do you have, as Christians, in your daily struggle against doubt and the sinful flesh?

Saving faith is a gift worked by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who hear the Gospel. By that faith you are made a true child of Abraham. Yet, as we live in the fallen flesh we still struggle with unbelief (consider the words of the father in Mark 9:24). We are often tempted, like the Galatians, by our natural inclination to seek righteousness before God through our works. Yet, dear Christians, the same Spirit whom you received through the hearing with faith continues to be at work for you in the Gospel and gifts to preserve you in the one true faith unto life everlasting.

The Rev. Jesse A. Burns is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ventura, IA.

[1]              Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991., page 17. (emphasis mine)

[2]           Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963., pages 214-215

[3]              Ibid., 223

[4]              Ibid., 231-232