October 25, 2015 | text: Galatians 3:1-14
Paul wrote his letter to the Galatain churches to address a crisis; after he had been there and preached the Gospel, which many received, a group of Jewish Christians identified as “the Judaizers” had come behind him and corrupted the Gospel message. They taught the new Christians of Galatia that in addition to receiving Christ they needed to be circumcised and keep the Law. Paul considers their version of the Gospel to not be the Gospel at all. The point of the entire letter is that salvation through Jesus Christ is sufficient. To make his case in chapter 3 Paul goes back to a time before the Law was given to Moses to when the promise was made to Abraham.
Abraham was made righteous by faith. In Genesis 15, God repeated promises to Abraham* that he had stated previously, about becoming the father of nations with descendants beyond number. Gen. 15:6 says that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Nothing since then has changed – if we believe that Jesus is who he says he is, and will do the things he has promised to do, then we will be saved. Salvation is matter of faith and always has been. Paul’s point in Galatians 3 is that Abraham was made righteous by faith before the Law was even given. The events in Genesis 15 take place about 430 years before Moses led the Children of Israel to Sinai. Before the Law, the 10 commandments, the tablets, the tabernacle, the Levitical priests, the animal sacrifice; before Israel tried and failed to keep the Law, Abraham was made righteous by faith. In the strictest of terms Abraham was a gentile. He would become the ancestor of all Jews but in Genesis 15 there was no nation of Israel! There were no Jews, there was no Judaism, but there was a man declared by God to be righteous – because of his faith.
The Promise is greater than the Law. Paul goes so far as to say that the scripture preached the Gospel to Abraham. While the Judaizers were bragging about the Law, Paul went back to the promise. The Law could not make one righteous and the Judaizers could not argue that point with Paul. They had been observant Jews, like Paul and the other Apostles had been, that received the Gospel of Christ and became Christians. If the Law had been sufficient for salvation they would not have needed Christ. If the Law were sufficient for salvation, Christ would not have needed to live on the earth and die on the cross, and his death would have been in vain. If they (the Judaizers) had realized the Law was insufficient and they needed to accept the Gospel of Christ, then why were they telling gentile Christians they needed anything besides the Gospel? They had lived under the Law and then been saved by Christ. They wanted those saved by Christ to learn and apply the principles of the Law to their lives. But Paul went back to a time before the Law was given to demonstrate that the Law does not make one righteous and is not required where faith has already done the job. There is a purpose for the Law; it teaches us what God requires and shows us by how much we fall short. Paul considers the Law elementary; it’s like teaching someone the ABC’s when they are first learning to read and write. The Galatians had “graduated” to salvation and didn’t need to be drug back to kindergarten.
The promise is more than descendents. God told Abraham his descendants would be innumerable and given the land as far as he could see in every direction. But the promise went on to say that through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the world would be blessed. Paul argues in Gal. 3 that seed is singular and refers to Christ. Seed is definitely singular when mentioned in Genesis 3:15. Even if we interpret seed to be all the descendents of Abraham, the entire nation of Israel, then it is still through the nation of Israel that Christ is born into the world. It was in Jerusalem that Peter preached on the day of Pentecost to Jewish worshippers and from this group of 3,000 believers that the Gospel quickly spread through the entire known world. John 12:24 says that a seed must fall and die in order to bring forth fruit. Jesus died and was buried – the seed was planted – that rose and brought forth much spiritual fruit. Through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the world are blessed because of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Jews were (and are) the descendents of Abraham in the flesh. Those of us that have received the promise through Jesus Christ are the spiritual children of Abraham. We are adopted into the family of God and heirs to the promise.
*Sometime after the account of Genesis 15 God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram means father and Abraham means father of many. We often use just the name Abraham to avoid confusion.