It is a historical fact that some of the biggest battles fought by the church of Jesus Christ were not against the non-religious world, but against those who professed to have a belief in the Lord God, yet denied that salvation comes only through faith. Augustine fought this battle in the 4th century, as did John Wycliffe in the 14th century. Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, and Latimer all fought against the prevailing and popular belief that God would accept the works of man for righteousness. A man need not abandon himself to Christ alone. He could continue to find acceptance with God on the basis of his religious practice, his good works, his participation in the sacraments, his acts of service, his giving. Just as the Judaizers in Galatia appealed to the Old Testament examples, so have many through the centuries, appealing to the skewed interpretation that God accepts us on the basis of our works. To this, the Apostle rose in defiance. He begins his argument that shows "faith has always been the God-required response that brings salvation (Eph. 2:8-9)" [John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 72].
At the beginning of chapter 3 the Apostle tackled the tragedy of slipping into legalism. His first argument, recorded in verses 1-5, was an argument from experience; he asked them to look back at their own conversion: "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" They would have had to answer: "By the hearing of faith." Then Paul asks, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" In other words, both justification and sanctification (i.e. both salvation and spiritual growth) come by grace through faith, not by works.
Starting in verse 6 we find Paul offering a second argument for salvation by grace alone through faith alone. This one is not from personal experience, but rather an argument from the Old Testament Scripture itself. Paul turns to Abraham to prove his point of justification by faith alone.
Now remember that we only have Paul's response to the problems at Galatia, so we don't know for sure what the Judaizers were teaching. It is like listening to someone talk on the phone - you only hear half the conversation. With that in mind, we are using conjecture when we talk about exactly what the Judiazers were teaching.
One way of looking at this text is to see the Judaizers' hero as Moses. They were steeped in Moses and the Law he gave to Israel. They believed the epitome of one's relationship with God was the keeping of that Law.
So Paul stages a real theological coup by leaping over Moses and going back hundreds of years in history to the very first Jew, namely Abraham. His purpose is to show that the first man ever to be specifically declared a justified man attained that standing long before the Mosaic Law was even given, and he attained it on the basis of his faith, not his works. Thus he is going to demonstrate that salvation by grace through faith is not a recent invention of his - indeed, it's the way men have always been saved.
Another view is to suggest that the Judaizers who troubled the Galatians were using Abraham for an example to prove the necessity of circumcision for salvation. They were declaring that faith alone in Jesus Christ and His atoning work was not enough. For the salvation of the Gentiles to be complete, they had to embrace the ceremonial aspects of the Law, and, in particular, they had to be circumcised. They needed a proof-text to establish their point, so what better character than the patriarch, Abraham? Here we see how Paul corrects the misuse of Scripture and offers a sound interpretation of biblical truth.
Proof-texting is not a new idea. It has been the tool of multitudes of false teachers, dating all the way back to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. It is the practice of lifting a verse, or a few verses, of Scripture out of its biblical and theological context in order to prove one's point. The Judiazers no doubt used proof-texting. They applied a false hermeneutic or interpretation to the Old Testament Scriptures. They spoke of the "righteous Abraham" and made the deduction that he became righteous due to his circumcision and his strict observance to the Law.
Let me give you a little history of what the first century reader understood about Abraham. The majority of rabbis who lived during the time of Christ believed that Abraham was made right with God - was saved, forgiven of his sin, received eternal life, and was chosen by God for salvation - because of his character. They thought Abraham was the best man in the world during his generation. Therefore, he was chosen by God to be the father of His people, Israel. They said that God chose Abraham because he was a righteous man.
The Jewish religious leaders thought that Abraham was righteous, because they twisted certain scriptures to come to that conclusion. For example:
Genesis 26:5 (NASB) because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws."
The religious leaders note that Abraham obeyed God. What they don't notice is that God saved him and made him righteous first, then he obeyed God.
The apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus taught that Abraham was given justification and circumcision, because he earned it by keeping the law (44:19-21).
With convincing arguments, the Judiazers applied this to the modern need for "works" in order to be justified. But they neglected making a right interpretation. For Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith in the promise of God many years before God commanded him to be circumcised! And his obedience to God came about without a codified Law, which did not come until over 430 years later!
So Paul says to them, "Okay, you want to talk about Abraham let's talk about Abraham."
Galatians 3:6 (NASB) Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
This verse begins with the words "even so," integrating verses 6-9 with the argument of verses 2-5. Were the Galatian saints saved and sanctified by faith? So, too, was Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15:6 (years before Abraham or his son was circumcised, cf. 17:22-27). Moses, who wrote the Law, also wrote that Abraham was justified on the basis of his "hearing of faith," just like the Gentiles had been.
Abraham was the first Jew. No Jewish person would argue with that. It was Abraham whom God called to father a new nation. It was to Abraham that Matthew traced the Jewish genealogy of Jesus. But Abraham was not only the father of a new race, he was also the father of a new faith. He had been an uncircumcised son of pagan idolatrous parents, but when God called him to leave his home, abandon his polytheism, and trust in the Lord God alone, he did so. So Abraham was universally recognized as the first Jewboth racially and spiritually.
As we have already seen, the ancient Rabbis did not really admire Abraham's faith. They believed he was so loved by God because he was thought to have kept the law hundreds of years before it was given. For these and other reasons, when Paul brought up Abraham, it would have been a complete surprise to his opponents, who believed that Abraham proved their point. "Paul's emphasis on Abraham's faith must have come as a complete surprise to the Galatians. In Galatians 3:6 Paul is quoting from:
Genesis 15:6 (NASB) Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Let us consider what this verse is saying. First, it records not one thing which Abraham did in order to be "accounted righteous." God had taken Abraham, who was having a real problem with God, because he had no heir in his household, and had shown him the stars of the night sky. Then, He told Abraham to count those stars. Then, with Abraham's attention on the night sky, God told this childless man, whose wife was barren, "Count the stars... so shall your descendants be." We are not told what mental processes Abraham went through when he heard that promise, but we are told what the conclusion of that was: Abraham believed God. Abraham did not do anything (he didn't join a church, walk an aisle, speak in tongues, submit to baptism, or anything else). He simply believed the statement which God made about him and his seed. God accepted this believing in the stead of legal righteousness.
Abraham was a sterling example of a man of faith. He lived several hundred years before any part of the Bible had been written. When God told him to leave his family and go to a strange land, he obeyed. Later, when he was told to kill his son Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering, he obeyed. Regarding that second testing, Hebrews explains:
Hebrews 11:17-19 (NASB) By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED." 19 He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type.
He was convinced that even if he had killed Isaac, God would raise the boy up because God had promised that many nations would eventually be blessed by his seed through the line of Isaac. God made him a promise, and he believed it - that is faith.
Paul also quotes Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4, let's look at that passage:
Romans 4:3 (NASB) For what does the Scripture say? "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."
As you can see, this verse addresses the same point - Abraham's faith. So let's read the next verse:
Romans 4:4 (NASB) Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due.
This verse teaches that had Abraham done some work to become saved, then his salvation would have been a reward, not the grace of God; God would have been indebted to Abraham to provide salvation.
Romans 4:5 (NASB) But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
So, here in Romans, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 and then goes on to explain that faith and works are mutually exclusive. And it is the one who does not work, but believes, who is counted as righteous.
Paul says, "Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." The Greek word translated "reckoned" here is logizomai. Paul uses it 19 times in Romans. It is a courtroom word used 11 times in Romans 4. It means: "a judge looks at the evidence, and in light of the evidence, regards something as true." It was a book keeping term used of writing down in the ledger the finances available. He would record as a fact in the ledger what he had counted in cash in the register. Reckoned means: "to regard or consider something as true." Abraham's faith was placed on his account before God as righteousness. It was not his works, but his faith that God accepted.
One of the major issues among Jewish people today is the question, "Who Is a True Jew?" Generally, a Jew has been defined as a person who has a Jewish mother. This has important ramifications in Israel as to who can immigrate and hold public office. It also has ramifications for social acceptance in Jewish society. But the argument over "Who is Jew?" is not just a political and social one; it also has important spiritual ramifications. Nor is it a new argument; in fact it is over 2,000 years old.
The official Jewish position in New Testament times was that the essence of Jewishness was simply being a descendant of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob. In order to be considered part of the family of God, one had to have Jewish blood, and if one had Jewish blood, he was ipso facto part of the chosen family of God. (Oh, technically it was possible for a Gentile to convert to Judaism, but it wasn't easy, and rarely was a proselyte considered equal to those with Jewish blood).
Paul, however, rejects the official view and redefines the essence of Jewishness when he writes:
Galatians 3:7 (NASB) Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
That is quite a statement. The Jews were saying, "We are Jews, and that gives us a certain advantage. And then we are circumcised, so we are the top of the heap. We are sons of Abraham." Paul says, "No, that is not true. Those who are sons of Abraham are those who have believed; therefore, those Gentiles who believed were more sons of Abraham than those Jews who had been circumcised."
Paul is saying that anyone who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ is a child of Abraham in the same sense that when Abraham believed the Lord, he became a child of God. This would have been a shocking change of thinking for these particular opponents of Paul. They deeply believed that they had a standing before God because they were genetically descended from Abraham. At that time, some Jewish Rabbis taught that Abraham stood at the gates of Hell just to make sure that none of his descendants accidentally slipped by. John the Baptist dealt with this same thinking when he said:
Matthew 3:9 (NASB) and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Paul is knocking down their blind reliance on genetic relationship to Abraham, and showing that what really matters is faith in Jesus.
Why is it important for the Galatians, and for us, to know who are the "children'' of Abraham? The answer, fundamentally, rests upon the singular importance of the man, Abraham. He is the key to the issues of life and eternal inheritance. Why?
First, from this verse, it is rather obvious that being a child of Abraham is a crucial matter. Paul has written this letter to folks who need to know the bedrock doctrine concerning how a man comes to be justified before God. Indeed, there is no doctrine more critical to men in view of the inevitability of judgment. Therefore, it stands apparent from this verse in its context that being a child of Abraham is of fundamental importance in this issue of how a man can come to be just in the eyes of God.
Remember, we become believers because Christ faithfully endured the wrath of God on our behalf and has also given us the faith to trust Him. Now, God declares that we, who are of the faith of Christ, are the children of Abraham. We are the inheritors of what God promised to give to Abraham and his seed.
Therefore, the only Jews who can legitimately claim full kinship with Abraham are those related to him spiritually; i.e. who are believers as he was. A person may have 100% Jewish blood in his veins, but he's not a true son of Abraham; i.e. he's not a member of God's chosen people, unless, like Abraham, he has believed God and has been declared righteous by faith. In fact, friends, this conclusion was pressed home by Jesus Himself in a sharp debate with a Jewish crowd.
John 8:37-39 (NASB) "I know that you are Abraham's offspring; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 "I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father." 39 They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said^ to them, "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham.
Thus, Jesus was telling the Jewish religious leaders that even though they were blood descendants of Abraham, they were not, in God's eyes, Abraham's children. If they were, they would have followed the patriarch's footsteps in trusting God; instead of trying to kill Him. The Lord actually told the Pharisees that they were the children of the devil:
John 8:44 (NASB) "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies.
Do you know what kind of a blow that was to the Jews of Christ's day? Jesus essentially told them that they are not children of God, no matter who they were descended from. Unless they did the things of Abraham; and by this, Jesus meant believed on the Lord as did Abraham; they only had one father, who was the devil himself.
By the way, when he talks about "sons" of Abraham, I know that in this gender sensitive culture, everybody wants to make the language gender neutral. "Sons of Abraham" is not a reference to your gender or to my gender. It is a reference to the fact that a son was a legal heir to the inheritance. It is a reference to the fact that we are legal heirs to the blessing of Abraham. So we are sons, legal heirs, of the blessing of Abraham.
Do you realize that, in a very real sense, you and I are true Jews? Why? We are Jews inwardly because our circumcision is one which is inward; a cutting away of the sinful man and the penalty of death, and having it replaced with a new nature and life, which only God can give us by faith in Christ. We have a circumcision of the heart, and it was God who did the circumcision from above.
Abraham performed his own circumcision of the flesh. But long before that circumcision, Abraham had also been circumcised in his heart by God Himself. Abraham's outward circumcision of the flesh was just a symbol of what God had already done in Abraham's heart as He gave him a promise of life.
Galatians 3:8 (NASB) And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU."
Here, the Bible is giving us a tremendous statement. It is saying that it has always been God's plan to save the heathen, the non-Jewish people, through faith in Jesus Christ. Foreseeing that, or anticipating that, the word of God announced in advance the Good News to Abraham by telling him, "In thee shall all nations be blessed."
The Bible is thus saying that there is no difference between Old Testament and New Testament believers. They are all saved by the same gospel of grace; they all have "obtained a good report through faith." Hence, when we read in Genesis 6, for example, that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, we know that he was saved by the grace of God.
What was the "gospel" that was preached unto Abraham? It is identified in the specific quote of the Scripture that Paul gives: "All the nations shall be blessed in you." Paul says that this quote means that God was telling Abraham that all nations would have some in them that would be justified through faith.
Did Abraham understand what God meant by; ""ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU?" God evidently explained to Abraham that through his decedents a righteous one would come who would redeem man from the curse and satisfy the justice of God. How do I know that? Jesus told me:
John 8:56 (NASB) "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."
Abraham believed that God would provide a redeemer to deal with man's sin:
Genesis 22:7-8 (NASB) And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 And Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
I think that Abraham may have understood far more than we give him credit for.
There are many who teach that salvation by grace is a dispensation only for the New Testament period; it was offered to Gentiles as an interlude after the Jews had rejected Christ. Before the cross, they say, God had a different salvation formula for ancient Israel; and after the church age ends, God will offer Israel yet another dispensation - making it into a great kingdom of God again.
Well, this verse in Galatians 3, along with what we have just gone through, is effectively saying to them, "No way." That both the Old and the New Testaments offer the same gospel, is such an important doctrine in the Christian faith that I think we should also look at it a bit closer.
Genesis 17:11 (NASB) "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.
What covenant was that sign of circumcision a token of? We find the answer in:
Romans 4:11 (NASB) and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them,
It says there that Abraham had "the righteousness of the faith" - that is, he was saved - when he was yet uncircumcised. And he was given that sign as a token that "he might be the father of all who believe, though they be not circumcised." You see, God promised Abraham even back then that he would be the father of all believers, including those who are not of Jewish descent.
Romans 4:12 (NASB) and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.
Here, God makes it clear that national Israel is no exception. Abraham is the father of circumcision, the people of Israel, only to them who not only are circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of Abraham in having faith before he was circumcised. This statement belies those who claim that God had promised that He would save all of national Israel someday.
We can thus understand why God said:
Genesis 17:4-5 (NASB) "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 "No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.
The only way for Abraham to be the progenitor of many nations is for him to be the spiritual ancestor of the people of many nations. God further told Abraham:
Genesis 17:7 (NASB) "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
The word "everlasting" immediately tells us that "thy seed" refers to those who are in Christ because they are the only ones who will inherit the new heaven and the new earth. The Romans 4 parallel to Genesis 17:7 is verse 16. It reads:
Romans 4:16 (NASB) For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
Here, the word "promise" is a synonym for "covenant." Having seen such a weighty commentary of Genesis 17 in Romans 4, we can safely conclude that from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible offers only one gospel - salvation by grace through faith, which is the gift of God. Any suggestion that God has different dispensations for different peoples in different periods of history is altogether at odds with what God teaches.
Notice carefully what verse 8 says, "...the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham..." To say that Scripture foresaw and preached the gospel beforehand is to personify Scripture. The written text is treated as a person who sees and speaks. Paul's personification of Scripture means that for him the written text expresses the voice of God: What Scripture says, God says. We must grasp this! When we spend time in the Word, we are spending time with God. God speaks through His Word. Since this is true, shouldn't we be spending more time with God's Word? Let me encourage those of you who are reading through the Bible this year; by just spending 15 minutes a day, you can read through the whole Bible in a year. Christians, if you don't have 15 minutes a day to devote to God....there is seriously something wrong with your priorities!
Sidebar: God's plan to include the nations means there is no room for racism, bigotry, or prejudice in the church of Jesus Christ. There is no room for excluding people on the basis of racial heritage, ethnic origin, language, appearance, skin color, or any other secondary issue. God has always intended to save people from every tribe, tongue, clan, kindred, and nation. If a person has faith in Christ, they are our brother or sister in Christ; and we are commanded to love them.
Galatians 3:9 (NASB) So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
This application in verse 9 of verse 8's quotation from Scripture is parallel to the application in verse 7 of the Scripture quotation in verse 6. Both applications have as the subject those who have faith. Two related descriptions are given of those who have faith: They are children of Abraham (v. 7), and they are blessed along with Abraham, the believer (v. 9). The point Paul is making from his exposition of the Old Testament narrative of Abraham is that the Galatian believers are Abraham's children and recipients of Abraham's blessing.
Since Abraham was considered righteous because he was given the faith to believe God; and since all believers are, in God's eyes, the children of Abraham whether or not they are his blood descendants, therefore, all those who are saved out of the faith of Christ are blessed with eternal life along with believing Abraham.
The KJV translated verse 9 like this: "So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." This seems to imply that Abraham was "blessed" because he was "faithful." The NASV translates this as: "So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer." In my mind, there is a vast difference between the two. The Greek doesn't help us much - the word used here for "faithful" or "believer" is pistos, which means: " trustworthy; trustful; believe, faithful, sure, true." In modern English, we have come to understand "faithful" as a word which describes consistency between what a person has said he will do and what he actually does. But, that is not the meaning of the term in Paul's language. In Paul's day, "faithful" meant: "having faith." Though there was an implication that having faith would cause certain behavior changes, so that there was a difference in action between one who had faith and one who did not, the basic meaning of the term did not mean "consistent in behavior." It simply meant that one believed a certain thing.
For instance, Abraham, who "believed" God's promise, "In thee shall all nations be blessed," also twice deliberately mislead kings concerning the identity of his wife out of fear for his life, which he could not lose while childless because the promise of God required a child. This was not consistent behavior with the truth that he 'believed' - yet Abraham was called "faithful." Also, Abraham yielded to the subtlety of Sarai's suggestion that he commit adultery with Hagar in a personal attempt to make God's promise come true. This was contrary to the principle of:
Genesis 2:24 (NASB) For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
Jesus quotes and adds that the two shall become one:
Matthew 19:4-5 (NASB) And He answered and said, "Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, 'FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'?
Abraham's behavior was inconsistent for one who 'believed.' Yet, Abraham did such a thing and was yet called "faithful." So we must conclude that the word "pistos" simply meant: "one who believed." It did not mean one who was consistent in the relationship between what he believed and what he did. And, it certainly did not mean one who was consistent in what he said he would do and what he did.
The point I am trying to make here is that men are saved by believing the gospel promises, not by their consistency of behavior. Am I trying to encourage sin by this? No, I'm simply trying to clarify the faith that saves: It is one which is fixed in the promises of God and not the actions of men.
Faith has been the emphasis in this section. Noun and verb forms of faith occur seven times in verses 1-9. It is "Those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham." And "Those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer." Those of faith from all nations enjoy the blessing. Abraham is now the prototype of the universal people of faith, not simply the progenitor of the Jewish race. So it is not necessary to belong to the Jewish race to participate in the blessing of Abraham. All that is necessary is faith like Abraham's.
John 20:30-31 (NASB) Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
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