Paul argues in Galatians 2 & 3 that righteousness cannot come through good works. One is made righteous by God; one cannot become righteous through what one does. We are by nature sinners and the Law cannot change that. The Law is like a medical doctor in that it cannot give life, but it can preserve life from deteriorating at too rapid a rate.
In chapter three of his epistle Paul again specifically addresses the Galatians. However, I believe he had been addressing them generally from Galatians 2:15 onward concerning the Gospel he first preached to them. Paul was by nature a Jew and not a sinner of the gentiles—that is, by nature only Jews were taught about the true God. Gentiles had no foundation in their various religious systems that would point to God and his truth. Knowing this, what was the truth Paul was trying to convey? The truth is the Law—whether obedience to the Law, the religious rituals pertaining to the Law, even the traditions of men that men use in an effort to support the Law—is unable to justify anyone. That is, the Law cannot declare anyone righteous. All the Law is able to do is declare a transgressor a sinner and thereby require that one’s life (Galatians 2:16).
Paul’s argument is, since we are sinners, and we agree the Law claims our life—we are as good as dead. Now what? Is it over for us—is there no hope? Of course not! Jesus loves us and gave himself for us. We live by his faith which is deposited in us through his presence within, encouraging us to act according to God’s will (Galatians 2:16; cp. Habakkuk 2:4). So those who trust Christ for righteousness live through him rather than according to their old nature which they received from Adam. Paul addresses this argument in Romans. Notice:
Romans 6:6 KJV Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
Romans 7:1-6 KJV Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? (2) For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. (3) So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. (4) Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. (5) For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. (6) But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. (emphasis mine throughtout)
Paul differentiates our “old man,” which has become dead to the Law, from the one to whom we have become married—elsewhere Paul calls him the “new man” or Christ in us (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10; cp. Colossians 1:27). We no longer have to obey our “old man” who had been held captive by the sin principle within us, which we inherited from Adam. He has become dead to the Law that claimed his life. We now obey the “new man” within who is Christ in us, our new husband, according to the Romans 7 analogy. We live by his faith expressed in our daily lives. In light of this, Paul then asks of the Galatians: who has bewitched **you** (Galatians 3:1). The word you is emphasized, in that before them Christ was so clearly crucified, as if it were in their very presence. This was the picture Paul had painted for them during his first missionary journey. Who had so “magically” removed the truth from them without any apparent protest on their part?
Paul then asks if they are so foolish as to believe that what they had begun in the Spirit they are now able to finish through their own efforts (Galatians 3:3). The whole idea is a misnomer. If they received the new life within them through faith (Galatians 3:2), how could it be perfected by acting according to the efforts of the “old man” who has been reckoned dead by the declaration of the Law? All the “old man” is able to do is keep from deteriorating too quickly by obeying the Law. He has no power at all over the “new man,” who lives not by the law, but by faith. Even the miracles done among us (Galatians 3:5) witness to the fact that they do not come to us because God owes us what we ask (as though by law), but they come by grace—through our trusting him to answer, because he loves us. We are righteous, because God makes us righteous, through his presence dwelling within us and not through any effort on our own part.