You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.Galatians 3:1-14 (NIV)
For the longest period in the history of our nation, the principles and ethics of society were based on the Puritan code of conduct. One principle that governed the everyday lives of the people was the importance of self reliance. As our nation expanded to the west, self reliance aided settlers in establishing new homesteads in unsettled territories. Like all principles, there are good and bad aspects when it comes to self-reliance. The positives include independence, pride in our achievements, and obtaining a variety of skills and knowledge. Some of the negatives include an unwillingness to accept assistance, an arrogant or boastful attitude, and failure to acknowledge the contributions of others.
Paul writes to the believers in Galatia expressing disappointment in them. He is disappointed because they have begun to adopt the idea that by their own works they are justified before God. Paul reminds them that they began to believe in Jesus Christ not because they were following Jewish law but because they heard of the saving acts of Christ. Paul points out if they choose to take a self-reliant path of using their works to be justified, they will fail. Only by believing in salvation through their faith in Jesus Christ can they succeed.
Even today there are still individuals who follow an understanding that only self-reliance based on their own work can guarantee the favor of God. This leads to a constant effort to do better, be better in actions, and an adherence to a prescribed set of standards. Time and time again disappointment and a sense of constant failure accompanies the efforts of these Christians. Paul reminds us of a better way. By having faith in Christ, we can be relieved of the burden of living “good enough.” Our reliance on Christ and his saving actions eliminated our need to rely upon ourselves. Then our good works become a response of gratitude instead of a way to justify ourselves.