Abraham, the Man of Faith

DNA testing has become a popular way of tracing ancestry. The false teachers in Galatia considered descent from Abraham important. In Galatians 3:9 Paul tells you the good news that the true descendants of Abraham are those who share in his faith—regardless of their physical ancestry.

Abraham believed God. Abraham was justified by faith. The Judaizers had appealed to Abraham’s example. Their pride lay in being Abraham’s children, John 8:33. Indeed, Abraham was the father of the Old Testament people of God. To him, in the history of redemption God gave circumcision as the sign of the covenant. Therefore, said these teachers, you must be circumcised in order to be God’s people. But, Paul counters, Abraham was not justified by what he did. The Old Testament covenant sign was important (as baptism is today), but as a sign and seal, not as a work that earns righteousness, Romans 4:11. God reckoned Abraham’s faith as righteousness, Genesis 15:6. This imputation (reckoning to an account) is described in Romans 4. All Abraham’s life was by faith: the promise of the land, his son, and the sacrifice of that son.

By faith, Abraham was a blessing to the nations. The true descendants of Abraham are believers, v.7. The Judaizers who looked to their own works, their own acts of obedience, do not belong among Abraham’s heirs (though they may have been biological descendants). The faith that Abraham had is required. There is a unity to the people of God. The promise made to Abraham is still valid today, see Acts 2:38,39. There is a unity of the way of salvation and of the covenant people in every age. Notice that Paul accepts the Scriptures as authoritative. He cites the Old Testament to prove his case. The Word is personalized in Galatians 3:8 because it is God’s Word. All who believe receive God’s blessing, v.9. Faith, not works, is the criterion. Abraham is faithful, not just in the sense of being loyal, but in being a man of faith. God’s Word calls you to share that trust.

The law condemns. By its very nature the law, as it comes into contact with sinners, can only pronounce judgment. It has no power in itself to redeem. The law curses all who disobey. Paul contrasts blessing and curse. Christ’s righteousness, received by faith is God’s blessing. The blessing includes union with Christ, adoption, and all the other benefits of his saving work. The law curses all disobedience, v. 10, as Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26, contrasting the blessings and the sanctions of the covenant. The law judges disobedience. The system of salvation by keeping the works of the law, advocated by the teachers in Galatia, and salvation by grace through faith, the good news proclaimed by Paul, are antithetical. The heresy taught in Galatia has become the popular religion in America—trust in the idea that one leads a pretty good life, and thus God has to look with favor on us. Our good deeds balance (hopefully) our failures. But this teaching is no less false for being found in America.

Christ was made a curse for you—so that you can receive God’s blessing. How can you receive forgiveness? How can you be redeemed? Christ was made a curse for you, Galatians 3:13. This shows how seriously God takes sin–and the depths of his love, Deuteronomy 21:23. Christ was cursed as the second Adam, the substitute for his people. The purpose is so that you might receive the blessings given to Abraham, Galatians 3:14. The blessing God gave Abraham was for all believers, for all the nations, Genesis 12. “Christ, accordingly, is the turning point of the times, the cross the focal point of world history. First, everything led in the direction of the cross; subsequently, everything was inferred from the cross. . . . Believers in Israel indeed knew that the Siniatic dispensation was merely temporary and therefore anticipated the the day of the new covenant with longing.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 223). “The righteousness of God as virtue or mode of conduct has manifested itself most gloriously when in Christ he granted another righteousness apart from the law, on the basis of which he can justify—that is, absolutely and completely acquit—those who believe in Jesus.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 185). The blessing has its focus in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the One poured out by the risen, ascended Lord. Throughout the ages God’s salvation is the same. You and I have the privilege of seeing it come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. You have the privilege and responsibility of trusting, not in yourself, but in the perfect work of your Savior.

God’s salvation is always by grace through faith. That was true for Abraham, the man of faith. It is true for you as you trust in the same Savior.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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