Way of Grace Church
Sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-18)
When Jesus Isn’t Enough (Galatians)
Sons of Abraham
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
July 22nd, 2012
I. Simeon’s Appeal
The conversation might have gone something like this:
Simeon: Who is the overseer here?—Tertius: I am an overseer. I am Tertius.—Simeon: I am Simeon, and we have come from the church in Jerusalem to assist you, Tertius.—Tertius: We welcome you Simeon.—Simeon: Have all of your men been circumcised, Tertius?—Tertius: No, that is not our custom.—Simeon: Well aren’t you now servants of the living God and of His Son Jesus?—Tertius: Yes, we believed the Good News brought to us by Paul and Barnabas.—Simeon: Well those men should have taught you that circumcision is required if you want to inherit the promises given to our father Abraham. I can show you that from the Torah. What about your meals? Are you staying away from unclean foods?—Tertius: No, we were not told about any unclean foods.—Simeon: Well frankly that isn’t surprising. We’ve heard that this Paul is presenting a very incomplete picture to you Gentiles. Tertius, were you told about how God chose the Jews to be His people?—Tertius: Yes, we were told how the Christ came from the Jews to save his people and people from all nations.—Simeon: That’s right. But to the Jews were given the promises and the Law. As sons of Abraham, God has called us to keep all the commandments He gave to his servant Moses. Don’t you want to be a son of Abraham and an heir of the promises, Tertius? Don’t you want to be righteous before God?—Tertius: Yes…yes, I do.—Simeon: Then come with me to the synagogue, and I will show you what Moses taught when he said, “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’ (Deut. 6:25)
That, of course, is not a real conversation from history. But in light of what we know from clues in the book of Galatians, conversations like that were most certainly taking place in churches in the Roman province of Galatia, in the middle of the First Century. And when you hear something like that, you can understand the appeal of Simeon’s message to a guy like Tertius. Why else would the Scriptures contain all these rituals, rules, and regulations?
As we have seen in the previous weeks, these are the very misunderstandings Paul is trying to correct in this letter. Turn in your Bibles this moring to Galatians chapter 3. Let's pick up where we left on last time, and try to remember the argument that Paul is building here in order to counteract the influence of these misguided Jewish-Christian teachers..
II. The Passage: “Those Who are of Faith” (3:7-18)
As we saw last time in the first six verses of chapter 3, Paul is astounded that the Galatians have believed this false message, a message that clearly implies Jesus isn’t enough;
that faith in Christ isn’t enough. Paul has begun to highlight the absolutely central role of faith in the absolutely critical issue of being made right with God through Jesus Christ.
God has given the Galatians His Spirit through faith, not through keeping the Law of Moses. And so in verse 6, Paul begins to connect their experience to the absolutely central role of faith in the life of Abraham.
A. The Promise Given (3:7-9)
Look at how Paul expands on this example in verses 7-9:
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.
Do you see what Paul is saying here? In verse 6, he has just cited Genesis 15:6, which reveals the amazing truth that God counted Abraham's faith as righteousness. Men and women in the OT might be declared righteous because they performed some righteous deed. But the only thing Abraham does here is trust God. He hears God's word and believes.
And because of this OT precedent, Paul is able to make this astounding statement in verse 7: it is not those who share Abraham's blood who are truly his sons. It those who share Abraham's faith. Circumcision will not make the Galatians Abraham's children. Abraham heard the promises of God and put His trust in God. The Galatians heard the promises of God and put their trust in God. For this very reason, they are already sons of Abraham by virtue of their faith.
Paul backs this up by again quoting from the Old Testament. This time he goes three chapters earlier in Genesis to Genesis chapter 12, where God promises Abraham that He will bless Abraham AND (v. 3) “in you shall all the nations be blessed”.
And as we'll discover, Paul sees a couple of key things going on here in terms of the fulfilment of this promise. The first one is presented right here in verses 8 and 9. The word “Gentile” is the same word in Greek as the Hebrew word for “nations” from Genesis 12:3. Therefore, we could translate the quote in verse 8 this way: [God] preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, “In you shall all the Gentiles be blessed.”
How will the Gentiles be blessed in Abraham? Because he established this example of righteousness through faith. If we have faith in God's promises as Abraham did, we will be blessed, just as God's promise to Abraham foretold. So way back at the beginning of the Bible, God gave us a preview of the gospel of grace through faith.
B. The Promise Perverted (3:10-12)
But look at how Paul comes back the stumbling block that has been placed in front of the Galatians. In light of what we've just seen, look at verses 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.”
So Paul tells the Galatians, even though they have received the blessing of Abraham through faith in Jesus, they are foolishly putting themselves back under a curse. How? By “rely[ing] on works of the law” in order to be righteous before God. If you rely on works of the law, you are under a curse because the Law itself tells us, in Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
Some people think they are right with God because, as they would express it, they are basically 'good people'. But in order to use that word “good”, you have to have a standard. And yet almost every person who believes this about themselves uses a standard that sets the bar much, much lower than God's standard.
An accountant for the Mafia might consider himself a good person because he only does the books and doesn't throw people in the river. The only red on his hands is red ink. But we know his standard is faulty, don't we? In the same way, God's standard is expressed in the Law of Moses, and that standard demands the we do everything single thing God call us to do, for the right reason, all the time. Nothing less than that is acceptable.
But based on that standard, every single one of is under a curse, because none of us can live up to that. As Paul says in verse 11, no one is justified before God by the law. In contrast to this kind of righteousness, Paul quotes from one of the OT prophets, Habakkuk. Habakkuk 2:4 says “the righteous shall live by faith”. Just Abraham did, Habakkuk wanted God's people to cling to God's promises by faith.
But the law (v. 12), the law, that is, law-based righteousness is not about faith. It is about DOING. But faith is about trusting in what has already been DONE.
C. The Promise Secured (3:13, 14)
But this is precisely where Paul has to jump in and remind the Galatians of what he and Barnabas first taught them. Yes, we are all cursed under the Law's demands, but faith alone can save us. And there is only one reason it CAN save us. Look at verses 13 and 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.
The righteous shall LIVE by faith, not because faith has some kind of power in and of itself. No, we LIVE by faith, because we trust that Christ DIED to set us free from the curse of the Law. Christ “redeemed” us. The word Paul uses here in Greek is related to the Greek word for marketplace. The idea is of someone buying someone out of slavery. Through His death on the cross, Jesus has bought us out from under the curse of sin.
And He accomplished this by taking the curse upon himself. In fact, as Paul tells us here, Christ became a curse for us, because Deuteronomy 21:23 declares that anyone who is hung up on a tree or a wooden pole is marked as a cursed man. This is referring to the ancient Israelite practice of hanging up the corpse of an executed man for public display. Because such a man was cursed by God, the body could not be left up overnight.
Christ became a curse for us in order to bring us the blessing of Abraham. And here that blessing is described in terms of the gift of God's Spirit, which connects us right back to verse 2. In the OT prophets, the blessing of the Messiah was often connected with the promise that God would pour out His Spirit on all His people. Isn't that amazing? The curse of Eden drove us away from God. But the blessing promised through Abraham brings us close to God through God's own Spirit.
D. The Promise Stands (3:15-18)
But in verses 15-18, Paul wants to give the Galatians one more idea to chew on, one more idea related to RIGHTLY understanding the promises God gave to Abraham in light of the Law God gave to Moses. Look at what he writes...verse 15:
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.  Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward [that's the time from the patriarchs to the Exodus], does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Those who were troubling the Galatians were most likely telling them that the blessing of Abraham comes through circumcision and obedience to God's law. How Jesus fit into their system is not really that clear. But as Paul argues here, this teaching is completely off-track, because that would mean conditions (i.e. the Law) were now a prerequisite for something God gave as a promise.
For example, if I said, “I am going to throw a party for you at my house on Friday”, the only thing you have to do is believe me. And if you believe me, you will do what? You will show up on Friday at my house. But if on Wednesday, I tell you to come at 7:00pm, does my promise now hinge on your ability to get there? No! But that's what these men were teaching. And the joy of believing the promise was becoming replaced by the burden of thinking about what I have to do to get to the party.
The big question of course is “Why did God even give the Law then? What is its purpose?” But that question will have to wait until next week. For now, Paul wants to make absolutely sure that the Galatian Christians understand that they are already sons of Abraham through faith in Christ. And so, when God promised, “in you all the nations will be blessed”, he was referring to both Abraham's example of faith AND the fact that in Abraham's family tree there would come one who would bring the promised blessing to all the nations.
III. Humbled by Our Heritage
As we conclude this morning, I want you to think about the staggering truth that Paul has revealed here about our spiritual family tree. It’s so easy for us to define ourselves according to our earthly family tree isn’t it, either to feel trapped by the failings of our family, or to feel puffed up with pride because of some family achievement, or to cling obsessively to our distinct cultural roots because they represent a link to the past.
You see the false teachers who came to Galatia were capitalizing on the desire among these Christians to belong. They were in essence saying, “Are you willing to do what it takes to be on the inside, rather than the outside…to belong to God’s special, covenant people?” And because they took the bait, the Galatians were putting themselves under the crushing burden of making their relationship with God all about what they would try to DO, rather then resting in what Jesus had already DONE for them.
Paul reminds them, and he reminds us here: “If you are in Christ by faith, you do belong! You are on the inside! Your heritage is the most glorious heritage in all of human history! Abraham is your ancestor! To your family were given the promises of new life and a new world. As Paul wrote in Romans 4:13, 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. (Romans 4:13)
About two and a half weeks ago, on July 4th, Yvonne Marie Middleton-White, born in Belize, became an American citizen in the East Room of the White House. In light of this momentous occasion she said this: “being an American citizen means everything in the world to me…I will be a part of something bigger.” Do you feel that way about your spiritual family tree? By God’s grace, through faith, He has made us a part of something so much bigger than the often trivial things we allow to define us; something so much bigger than even the greatest earthly cause. Doesn’t that humble you? And it’s all by simply believing, just as Abraham did.
Listen to the words of John the Baptist recorded in Luke 3: He said therefore to the crowds [of Jews] that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Luke 3:7, 8)
You see, John knew it was easy to get comfortable if you, for the wrong reasons, believe yourself to be an ‘insider’. It’s easy to forget what it’s really all about. Instead of being a source of paralyzing pride, instead of breeding spiritual apathy, the ancestry of this crowd should have humbled them. Instead of saying, “It’s our birthright!”, they should have said, “It’s all by grace.”
Do not let YOUR history define you. Instead, let GOD’S history define you. The Bible is your family history! If you have trusted and are trusting in Jesus Christ as your only hope, you are a son or a daughter of Abraham. And you are part of a family that is defined by faith. God HAS raised up children from stones! By grace, he took our hearts of stone, and made them hearts of flesh in Christ (cf. Ezekiel 36:26).
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles… Isn’t that good news?
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