In Galatians 3:1, Paul asks a question designed to challenge the Galatian Christians’ thinking about their own salvation. It appears that someone had been trying to persuade these (mostly) Gentile Christians that they first had to become proselyte Jews, before they could actually be saved through Jesus. Paul confronts this doctrine in verse two by asking how these believers had become Christians in the first place. By emphasizing that the keeping of Moses’ law had played NO part in their salvation, he is able to show the fundamental weakness of the false doctrine that was causing them trouble (verses 2-5). In verses 6-7, Paul goes a step further in showing that not even the great patriarch Abraham was justified by Moses’ law, but by his faith before God, and that those who follow his example of faith are his spiritual “children!” It is important to point out here, however, that Paul never says that Abraham’s faith was “faith only;” indeed, his example is one of consistent obedience to the Lord’s instructions (Hebrews 11:8-10). In fact, the sole mention of “faith only” in the entire bible expressly says that it cannot save us, James 2:24! In the context of Galatians 3, Paul is not distinguishing between “faith only” and “all lawkeeping,” but between faithful obedience to God and “blind” obedience to those trying to impose their interpretation of Moses’ law on these Gentile Christians. He goes on to make the point in verse 13 that Jesus, by His sacrificial death, “redeemed us” from the curse of that law, so that “we” (Gentiles included, verse 14) may receive the salvation promised to Abraham (verse 16). It is important for us to note Paul’s explanation of the purpose of the Ten Commandments, in verse 19 – they was NOT given to provide salvation (that had already been promised to Abraham on the basis of faith, Genesis 15:6, cf. Habakkuk 2:4), but to keep national Israel – the “conduit” through which the Christ would come into the world – on a righteous path that would lead them to Him (Galatians 3:21-24).
In chapter 4:4, Paul (continuing his explanation of how the Christ is the fulfillment of Moses’ law) makes the point that God had kept to His own “timetable” in sending the Savior into the world. The expression “fulness of time” simply means when the time was right according to the Lord, and it shows that God has acted (and continues to act) according to His own “master plan,” and not according to the whims of humanity. The facts that Jesus was “born of a woman” and “born under the law” show us that He is perfectly related to us, experiencing fully what it is to be human, and that He was required to perfectly observe every detail of Moses’ law in order to maintain the sinless perfection that would allow Him to offer Himself as the sacrifice for our sins.
Notice next in Galatians 4:16 that just as Paul had sharply challenged and condemned misguided practices among the Galatian Christians, he now pauses to emphasize that his motive was not merely to hurt or offend them; “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (ESV). The natural tendency when we are corrected (especially when one is shown to be wrong on a large scale!) is to resist and “fight back” in order to protect our ego, but Paul’s words here agree perfectly with Solomon’s, in Proverbs 27:6 – “Faithful (i.e., supportive, or beneficial) are the wounds of a friend.”