Paul continues to build up his first theological argument by questioning the Galatians how they are sanctified or brought to spiritual perfection (Galatians 3:3). His question is rhetorical. The obvious answer is that we are being brought to maturity through faith. We grow in Christ not by works but through our trusting him to guide us in our new life. It is obvious that the works of the Law are fleshy matters in that anything that requires effort on our part is innately physical and therefore a matter of the flesh. On the other hand, trusting Christ is a spiritual matter Faith is not a physical exercise, because it is accomplished by waiting not working. Faith is completely dependent upon someone else to act. Activity is something done by another, not the one who trusts for the thing to be done.
Paul’s inescapable point in Galatians 3:3 is that, if the Galatians began their new life in Christ by trusting God and letting him work in them, how can they perfect the work of God through their own effort (cf. Philippians 1:6 “he who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ)?
Paul’s question in Galatians 3:4 implies that the Galatians received Christ through a great deal of persecution. The presence of God will bring persecution to those who embrace him. Up until this point in time in the first century AD, the persecutors of the Gospel were almost always Jews (cf. Acts 6:12; 13:45,50; 14:2, 19; 17:13; 21:27; Galatians 5:11; 6:12). Paul’s point in bringing up their tribulation that faith in Christ brought them is: if the Galatian gentile believers had been circumcised, would they have been persecuted? Why would the Jews persecute anyone who embraced the Law? Jews preached one had to be circumcised and embrace the Law in order to be saved! If the Galatians would now embrace circumcision, what value would their suffering for Christ have? By embracing Judaism the Galatians were repudiating what they suffered when they embraced Christ as their Savior. By embracing the Law, they devalued the Gospel of Christ.
Moreover, the presence of God among his people will bring miracles to those devoted to him. Do those miracles come because someone obeyed the law or because of faith in the Gospel? Miracles are done through faith—because we believe the Gospel and receive Jesus as our Lord or Messiah. Miracles come, because we look to God, trusting him to come to our aid when we are in trouble (see Acts 14:3, 8-10). If a great work were done because a person worked for it, it would be done as payment for what is owed. Yet, it is very clear that God is not indebted to anyone. He never works miracles among us as payment of a debt. If a great work is done among us, it is simply because someone trusted it would be done or simply depended upon God who does great works. Miracles are not wages God owes us but gifts born out of his love for us.
In Galatians 3:1-5 Paul appealed to the Galatians personal experience of salvation. What does our personal experience of salvation tell us? Is God more interested in our performance or our trust in him? God is not looking for performance in the sense that we are required to act a specific way before he is pleased with us. God wants us to trust him for our salvation from beginning to end. In other words, faith is more important than performance. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t care what we do (James 2:17-22). Rather, it means that our faith in God causes us to hope in him, and when he demonstrates his love for us, this causes us to love him and want to be like him. Our desire to be like God (bear his image – cf. Genesis 1:26-27), is the cause of the good works we do out of compassion for others. Therefore, our good works are traced not to an obligation to the Law, but to our trust in God and our desire to be like him in all we do.
It is God’s presence in us that brings us to maturity in Christ. It is his Spirit (or presence) in us that identifies us as his children. Our devotion to him is expressed in our working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God’s presence in us that prompts our desires and empowers our labor to do that which pleases him (Philippians 2:12-13). Therefore salvation by faith alone is proved first by the presence and the labor of God in us to work out his will in our lives from the beginning of our faith in Christ until that faith becomes sight.