In the final days of US President Bush’s term of office, he has been trying to reconcile warning factions in the Middle East. Conflict between the Israelites and their neighbors has been hostile from their first existence. Many negotiators and presidents before them have tried and failed to broker peace to the middle east. The Israelites to this day consider themselves God’s people because they occupy a piece of real estate and descend from an ethnic lineage. Romans 11 indeed indicates a future for those who are ethnically Jews, but it comes as it always has: Belief in God though the Lord Jesus Christ.
After having shown the Galatian believers from their own experience that they were justified by faith and not by works of the law (Gal. 3:1–5), Paul now defends that doctrine from Scripture.
The Judaizers doubtlessly quoted many passages from the Old Testament in support of their legalistic claims. And because their interpretations of those passages were based on long-accepted and revered rabbinical tradition, many believing Jews in Galatia and elsewhere found the claims persuasive.
In Chapters 3–4 of Galatians, Paul explains the relationship between law and grace. Three words that are repeated frequently are faith (fourteen times), law (nineteen times) and promise (eleven times). Paul presents six arguments, three in each chapter, seeking to prove that salvation is by grace, through faith, apart from the works of the Law (Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (521). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.)
Galatians 3:6–14, Paul exposes those misinterpretations, showing that the Judaizers were heretical in their doctrine because they were mistaken in their understanding of Scripture. His first line of argument from the Old Testament is 1) positive, showing what true biblical faith does, and his 2) second line of argument is negative, showing what works cannot do. He concludes with 3) Positive Hope in Jesus Christ
1) POSITIVE PROOF FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT: (Galatians 3:6–9)
Galatians 3:6-9 just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 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." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (ESV)
To understand the nature of the confusion of the Jews and how God exactly acted, we will focus on verse six a great deal before moving on.
Paul’s positive proof that the Old Testament teaches salvation by faith rather than works revolves around Abraham, father of the Hebrew people and supreme patriarch of Judaism.
The Judaizers doubtlessly used Abraham as certain proof that circumcision was necessary to please God and become acceptable to Him. After first calling Abraham to leave his homeland of Ur of Chaldea, the Lord promised: “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2–3). Abraham and his descendants were later commanded to be circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant and a constant illustration of the need for spiritual cleansing from sin: “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gen. 17:10). (The cutting away of the foreskin on the male procreative organ signified the need to cut away sin from the heart-sin that was inherent, passed from one generation to the next; cf. Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4; Col. 2:11.)
Putting those two accounts together, the Judaizers argued, “Isn’t it obvious that if the rest of the world, that is, Gentiles, are to share in the promised blessings to Abraham, they must first take on the sign that marks God’s people, the Jews? If all the nations of the earth will be blessed in Abraham, they will have to become like Abraham and be circumcised.”
Please turn to Genesis 15
“But that doesn’t follow,” Paul replied in effect. Quoting Genesis 15:6, he asked, “Don’t you know that just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness?
The patriarch Abraham, who is mentioned nineteen times in Paul’s letters, is the pivotal figure in all of Paul’s arguments from Scripture in Galatians (George, T. (2001, c1994). Vol. 30: Galatians (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (216). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)
The Greek tense describing how Abraham believed God, the dative does not mean, “in, about or on God,” but believed what God said,
Genesis 15:1-6 [15:1]After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (ESV)
It was at least fourteen years after that occasion (see Gen. 16:16; 17:1) before the command for his circumcision was given.
The Galatians and the Judaizers conveniently ignored the fact that Scripture precisely ascribed righteousness to Abraham by faith and that God commanded Abraham to be circumcised many years after He had counted/reckoned Abraham to be righteous because he believed God?”
The Judaizers, like most other Jews of that day, had completely reversed the relationship of circumcision and salvation. Circumcision, like water baptism today is only a mark, not the means, of salvation. God established circumcision as a physical sign to identify His people and to isolate them from the idolatrous, pagan world around them during the time of the Old Covenant. Circumcision is an external, physical act that has no effect on the spiritual work of justification.
Romans 2:28-29 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (ESV)
Please turn to John 8
Abraham believed the promise God made to him in Gen. 15:4, 5. He believed the promise about the Heir (Christ) who was to come from his birthline via Isaac who was as yet unborn; he believed that through this Heir his (spiritual) seed would be in number like the stars of heaven. Abraham believed in Christ (John 8:56), in the gospel (Lenski, R. C. H. (1937). The interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (133). Columbus, O.: Lutheran Book Concern.)
Recall how the Jews confused who their Father was:
John 8:31-45 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ’You will become free’?" Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father." They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did." They said to him, "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father--even God." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (ESV)
To reemphasize the absolute importance of what he was saying, Paul added in verse seven:
Galatians 3:7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (ESV)
He was making the same point to the believing Jews in Galatia that Jesus made to the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem: Only genuine believers, those of faith, have any claim to a spiritual relationship to Abraham, or to God. Jews with no faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are not true sons of Abraham, whereas Gentiles who believe in Him are.
• It is not a sexist mistake that the reference here is to sons (huioi)of Abraham. In the first century, sonship was a prized position. It denoted full inheritance rights and status.
• Abraham’s heirs are not of blood, but of faith. In God’s eyes descent is not reckoned genetically or ethnically, but spiritually. Abraham’s children are not those who share his genes, but those who share his faith. (Edgar H. Andrews. Free in Christ. Evangelical Press. 1996. p. 140
Illustration: Often music illustrates a theological point. Remember the kids song “Father’s 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!
If the Judaizers got there hands on this one, they might have twisted it like this:
Father Abraham had many sons,
And many sons had Father Abraham;
And I am one of them, but you are not,
So let’s all get together for a little procedure we like to call circumcision
(Philip Graham Ryken. Galatians: Reformed Expository Commentary. P&R Press. 2005. p. 95)
Please turn to Romans 4
In relating the imagery of circumcision and sonship through Abraham, Paul explained:
Romans 4:1-16 [4:1]What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin." Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring--not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (ESV)
The words counted in Galatians 3:6 and counted in Genesis 15:6 mean the same as imputed in Romans 4:11, 22–24. The term “counted” (logizomai, Gk.) is a bookkeeping term which means “to credit to someone’s account.” Because of his faith in God, Abraham was considered “righteous” before God and therefore acceptable to God, based on God’s grace. .(Believer’s Study Bible. 1997, c1995. C1991 Criswell Center for Biblical Studies. (electronic ed.) (Ga 3:6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)
Illustration: The meltdown in world wide economic markets is seen by many economists over the issue of the sub-prime mortgage failure in the United States. Basically, it revolves around giving credit to those who did not deserve it.
• You may have received in the mail those tantalizing notices of “Pre-approved Credit—Immediate Acceptance” as advertisements for charge cards. Someone is assuming your trustworthiness to pay your debts (plus a substantial interest fee), so they extend you credit. The gospel, on the other hand, offers us “righteousness credit” based on Jesus Christ and his faithfulness. We have not earned this righteousness that is credited to our account, nor is it based on our weak or imperfect faith. It is by God crediting or imputing his righteousness to us that we are saved. If it weren’t for his imputation, our faith wouldn’t be enough to save us. When we feel our faith is small or weak, remember that Christ’s perfect faith saves us, not our own faith. (Barton, B. B. (1994). Galatians. Life application Bible commentary (94). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.)
• When the sinner trusts Christ, God’s righteousness is put to his account. More than this, the believer’s sins are no longer put to his account (see Rom. 4:1–8). This means that the record is always clean before God, and therefore the believer can never be brought into judgment for his sins (Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire ’BE’ series"--Jkt. (Ga 3:6). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.)
Personifying God’s Word, the apostle goes on to say in verse eight:
Galatians 3:8 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." (ESV)
This is an exposition of Genesis 12:3: “All the nations shall be blessed in you.”
• The great commission and promise is not first from Mt. 28, but Gen. 12.
Recall from our previous discussions, that Gospel means “good news”, and God’s good news to humankind has always been salvation by faith alone, prompted by the power of His grace.
• Paul is making clear here that preaching the Gospel is not just a New Testament event but what Abraham was called to: that people become right with God through faith in God.
When Paul refers here to All the nations, Jews and Gentiles alike, he is referring to being justified and blessed for the same reason Abraham was justified and blessed: their faith.
The result is verse nine:
Galatians 3:9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (ESV)
To be blessed means to be the recipient of all that divine love, grace, and mercy bestows on those who are in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:3; 2:6–7).
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (ESV)
We have seen: 1) POSITIVE PROOF FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT: (Galatians 3:6–9) and now:
2) NEGATIVE PROOF FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT: (Galatians 3:10–12)
Galatians 3:10-12 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." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." (ESV)
The Judaizers also strongly advocated the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. But here again, simply the sequence of Old Testament events should have shown them the foolishness of that belief.
• Abraham not only was declared righteous about 14 years before he was commanded to be circumcised, but more than 500 years before God revealed His law to Moses at Sinai.
Just as the Judaizers and their Galatian victims should have known that justification is by faith and not circumcision, they should also have known it is not by the Law. Therefore after showing what faith can do, Paul now shows what works cannot do. As in verses 6–9, his argument is based on the Old Testament.
But Paul turns the tables on them again. “Don’t you realize,” he says, “that all who rely on the works of the Law are under a curse?” That question would have utterly perplexed the Judaizers, who would have responded vehemently, “We know no such thing. How can you speak such foolishness?” “Have you forgotten Deuteronomy, the last book of the Law?” Paul states; “for it is written, ‘Cursed be/is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them’” (see Deut. 27:26).
• A curse is a divine judgment that brings the sentence of condemnation.
• From this section we see three requirements of the law: the obedience to be paid to them must be perfect (“by all things”); personal (by “everyone”); and perpetual (we must “do them/continue in” it, from the first to the latest hour of our life). It is not sufficient that we wish to do them: we must “do them;” do them “all;” “every one of us;” and “continue” so to do, even to the end (Simeon, C. (1832-63). Horae Homileticae Vol. 17: Galatians-Ephesians (70). London.)
The apostle’s emphasis in the quotation was on the requirement to abide by all things. In other words, the fact that those who trust in the works of the Law are obligated to keep all things in the law, without exception, which then places them inevitably under a curse, because no one had the ability to abide by everything the divine and perfect law of God demands.
Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (ESV)
Paul reminds his readers again of more teaching concerning God’s way of justification in verse 11:
Galatians 3:11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." (ESV)
Here he is quoting from Habakkuk 2:4. The passage from Deuteronomy proves justification cannot be by the Law, and the passage from Habakkuk proves it must be by faith.
The concept that the righteous shall live by faith is an admonition that underscores the inseparable relationships between righteousness imputed by God and the righteousness (right-living) of the person who is justified and who lives by faith (Dunnam, M. D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 31: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 31 : Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon. Formerly The Communicator’s Commentary. The Preacher’s Commentary series (60). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.)
This statement is so important that the Holy Spirit inspired three New Testament books to explain it. Romans explains “the righteous/just” and tells how the sinner can be justified before God (see Rom. 1:17). Galatians explains how the just “shall live”; and Hebrews discusses “by faith” (see Heb. 10:38). Nobody could ever live “by Law” because the Law shows the sinner is guilty before God (Rom. 3:20; 7:7–11). (Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire ’BE’ series"--Jkt. (Ga 3:6). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.)
The ways of law and faith are mutually exclusive. To live by law is to live by self-effort and leads inevitably to failure, condemnation, and death. To live by faith is to respond to God’s grace and leads to justification and eternal life.
Quoting another Old Testament text (Lev. 18:5), Paul again turns Scripture against the Judaizers by showing them that salvation by works and salvation by believing are mutually exclusive in verse 12
Galatians 3:12 But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." (ESV)
God’s written law itself marks the danger of trying to live up to its standard, which is perfection. If you are relying on works of the law as your means of salvation, then you have to live by them perfectly.
As we saw in our series on the Christian’s High Calling, pointing up that same truth in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus destroyed the very foundation of legalistic Judaism. Because God’s standard is perfection, He said; “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Showing with the elements of anger and murder (v.22) with adultery and lust (v.28), He had already made clear that God’s standard of perfection is inner virtue and perfection, not simply outwardly respectable behavior.
Whether consulting the texts in Deuteronomy, Habakkuk, or Leviticus, the message is the same: perfection allows no exceptions, no failure of the smallest sort. To break the law in one place is to break it all:
James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (ESV)
Illustration: A ship that is moored to a dock by a chain is only as secure as the weakest link in that chain. If a severe storm comes and causes even one link to break, the entire ship breaks away. So it is for those who try to come to God by their own perfection. They will be lost and forever wrecked.
We have seen: 1) POSITIVE PROOF FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT: (Galatians 3:6–9) 2) NEGATIVE PROOF FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT: (Galatians 3:10–12) and finally:
3) POSITIVE HOPE IN JESUS CHRIST: (Galatians 3:13–14)
Galatians 3:13-14 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"-- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (ESV)
Turning again to the positive, Paul reminds the Jewish believers in Galatia of the fact that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, by becoming/having been a curse for us.
Redeemed is from exagorazô, a word commonly used of buying a slave’s freedom. Christ justifies those who believe in Him by buying them back from their slavery to sin. The price He paid was the only one high enough to redeem:
1 Peter 1:18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, (ESV) but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (ESV)
The curse of the Law was the punishment demanded because no one could keep from violating its demands, but Christ took that curse upon Himself as a substitute for sinners and became a curse for us in His crucifixion, for it is written (Deut. 21:23), “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”
In ancient Judaism a criminal who was executed, usually by stoning, was then tied to a post, a type of tree, where his body would hang until sunset as a visible representation of rejection by God. It was not that a person became cursed by being hanged on a tree but that he was hanged on a tree because he was cursed. Jesus did not become a curse because He was crucified but was crucified because he was cursed in taking the full sin of the redeemed upon Himself:
1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (ESV)(cf. Acts 5:30).
That truth was extremely hard for most Jews to accept, because they could not imagine the Messiah’s being cursed by God and having to hang on a tree. First Corinthians 12:23 suggests that “Jesus is accursed” was a common, demon-inspired saying among unbelieving Jews of that day. To them, Jesus’ crucifixion was final and absolute proof that He was not the promised Messiah.
But for those who trust in Him, the two words for us become the two most beautiful words in all of Scripture. Because God sent His Son to bear the penalty for man’s sin, every person who puts his trust in the crucified Savior has had the curse borne for them.
Jesus’ sacrifice was total and for all who would trust in Him, as our final verse, verse 14 explains:
Galatians 3:14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Here Paul summarized in a concentrated conclusion the entire train of thought he had developed thus far in chap. 3 (George, T. (2001, c1994). Vol. 30: Galatians (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (242). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers)
For the redeemed, the curse is lifted by faith, which God, by grace, counts as righteousness on the believer’s behalf, and the river of blessing begins to flow as the rushing water of God’s grace engulfs the believer. Jesus Christ bore the curse, Paul affirms, to bring the blessing of Abraham … to the Gentiles.
Please turn to Ephesians 1
All that God desired for and promised to Abraham of salvation and its benefits would spread to the nations. A coordinate purpose clause is added-so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (cf. Acts 1:4–5; Eph. 1:13), who comes as the resident, indwelling Person to bless us with power.
Ephesians 1:11-13 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (ESV) so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (ESV) In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, (ESV) Please keep your place in Ephesians 1
When a person receives Christ as Lord and Savior, one receives the promised blessing and the promised Spirit, which Paul describes:
Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (ESV)
Please turn to Ephesians 2
Ephesians 2 summarizes our condition and what God does:
Ephesians 2:1-7 [2:1]And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
All of this blessing is through faith. Justifying faith involves self-renunciation, putting away all confidence in one’s own merit and works. Like the Israelites who had Pharaoh’s pursuing army behind them and the impassable Red Sea in front of them, the sinner must acknowledge sinfulness and total inability to save oneself When we sees God’s justice and judgment ahead, and through the work of the Holy Spirit we realize our helplessness in ourselves and that we have nowhere to turn but to God’s mercy and grace.
• When a sinner sees no way to escape and no power in our own resources, we know we must rely on God’s provision and power.
• Finally, justifying faith involves appropriation, as the sinner gratefully receives the free gift of pardon Christ offers and submits to His authority.
• Justifying faith does not have to be strong faith; it only has to be true faith. And true faith not only brings salvation to the believer but glory to the One who saves.
(Format note: Outline and some base commentary from: MacArthur, J. (1996, c1987). Galatians. Includes indexes. (71). Chicago: Moody Press.)