You can begin by recapping what Paul said in Galatians 2:19-20: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This describes the Christian life as a supernaturally transformed life—a life not based on law-keeping but based on identification in the death and resurrection of Christ.
He resumes this theme in Galatians 3 by discussing Christ’s crucifixion, law-keeping and faith.
3:1-5: O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain– if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
Ask the Witnesses what Paul means by this. Isn’t trying to keep God’s law a good thing? What exactly were the Galatians doing wrong? How does this differ from what the Watchtower says people are supposed to be doing during Christ’s 1000-year reign in order to obtain God’s approval?
To Paul, trying to please God by law-keeping seems to be the opposite of living by faith in Christ and his sacrifice.
3:6-9: just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Ask the Witnesses, “What does Paul mean by God declaring people righteous through faith? How does that different from people being declared righteous by keeping God’s law?”
Let them wrestle with this issue. If they want to jump to what James says on the issue, agree to set aside a time to do that, but focus on what Paul says here.
3:10: For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the law, and do them.”
Ask, “Why are those who depend on works of law under a curse?” You can follow up by asking, “If we rely on keeping the law, how much of the law do we have to keep and how well do we have to keep it?”
3:11: Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
This is a key verse. God will not declare any of us righteous by how well we keep his law.
Ask, “Are there two separate paths for being declared righteous by God—by faith for the 144,000 and by law-keeping for everyone else, or is there only one way?”
3:12-15: But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall 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 hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Ask, “Why does Paul call the law a curse we have to be redeemed or released from?” (Because we can’t keep it well enough. Relying on works is the opposite of relying on faith.)
Ask, “When Paul talks about receiving the promised Spirit through faith, do you believe that is something only for the 144,000 or is it for anyone who will put their faith in Christ and his sacrifice?” If they say it is only for the 144,000, ask where Paul says there is another way of salvation for everyone else? Make clear that you aren’t asking about destination (heaven or earth); you are asking about on what basis Jehovah declares people righteous.
3:15-18: To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Ask the Witnesses to explain what Paul is trying to tell us. If they get stuck, ask them which came first—God’s promise to Abraham or the giving of the law to Moses. Clearly, the promise came first. Then ask if the giving of the law to Moses was intended to provide a different way of being declared righteous. Paul says it wasn’t. If the purpose of the law wasn’t to give us a way of salvation, then why did Jehovah give the law?
Ask the Witnesses to read the answer in verse 19 in the New World Translation:
3:19-20: Why, then, the law? It was added to make transgressions manifest, until the offspring should arrive to whom the promise had been made; and it was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator.
Ask, “What does ‘make transgressions manifest?’ mean?” (It means that in our failures to keep God’s law perfectly, our sinfulness is exposed. In other words, the law isn’t the way of salvation; it shows us our condemnation and our need for a Savior.)
From these two verses, you can point out that the promise is superior to the law in two ways:
- God’s law was temporary (“until the offspring should arrive”)
- With the death and resurrection of Christ, the purpose of the law was fulfilled; the righteous demands of the law are met through the work of the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:1-4: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
3:21: Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.
Ask, “Was God contradicting his promise when he added the law?” They will have to say no.
Also ask, “Was the law given so that by keeping God’s law well enough we could merit everlasting life?” Paul’s answer is no. That’s not the purpose of the law. If it were, then why did Christ have to come and make his sacrifice?
3:22-24: But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
Some versions say that the law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. In what way? It showed us how sinful we are, how the natural man is unable to keep the righteous requirements of God. We all need a supernatural transformation, which God gives us as a result of our faith in Christ and his sacrifice.
3:25-26: But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
The purpose of God’s law has been fulfilled once we come to Christ by faith. God changes our identity from sinner to son.
3:27: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Ask the Witnesses if they received this spiritual transformation when they were baptized. (They didn’t. They don’t claim to. They didn’t know they had to. They probably think it is only for the 144,000.)
3:28-29: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Ask, “Does Paul make any distinctions at all here? Is there one way of salvation, involving law-keeping for some class of people but a different way involving transformation by God’s Spirit for others?” (It should be clear that the answer is no.)
Ask the Witnesses what they see as the key points of Galatians 3. In your own comments, you can make the following points:
- God’s promise is superior to God’s law
- God’s law was not given to make us righteous
- God’s law was given to show us our unrighteousness and hopelessness
- God’s law is fulfilled when it has served its purpose by bringing us to saving faith in Christ
- Saving faith in Christ involves a transformation by God’s Spirit in which our identity is changed from sinner to son