Summary: The life of Abraham shows that justification is by faith, not by works.
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Have you ever done something really foolish?
“You foolish Galatians!” The Galatians weren’t stupid. But they were acting foolishly. He calls them “foolish” twice (vv. 1, 3).
What the Galatians were doing was so foolish that Paul wonders (not seriously) if they had been “bewitched”—if a spell had been cast on them!
Paul had clearly presented the message of justification by faith in the crucified Christ. Now he is astonished that they are embracing a different gospel—a gospel of faith plus the law.
Paul’s enemies (the Judaizers) were saying that Gentile believers could not be justified unless they believe in Christ plus follow the law (circumcision). So Paul uses the example of Abraham, the father of the Jews, to prove that justification is by faith alone.
• Abraham was justified BEFORE he was circumcised.
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (v. 6; cf. Genesis 15:6; 17:10-11).
“Is this blessedness only for the circumcision, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:9-11a). (Abraham’s circumcision was sort of like our baptism. Abraham was circumcised after he believed the promises of God; we are baptized after we put our faith in Christ.)
Three times in Scripture we find God crediting (imputing) sin or righteousness to someone else:
(1) When Adam sinned, his SIN was credited to us.
(2) When Christ died, our SIN was credited to Him.
(3) When we put our faith in Christ, His RIGHTEOUSNESS was credited to us. “God made [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Justification is a gift, not a reward. “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:2-3).
• Abraham is the PROTOTYPE of the Gentile Christian.
“So then, [Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:11b-12).
In Sunday School, we used to sing a song called “Father Abraham”:
Father Abraham had many sons,
And many sons had Father Abraham;
And I am one of them, and so are you,
So let’s all praise the Lord!