We are continuing our look at Galatians this week though this is my last Sunday evening until the end of May. The passage can be read here and for those with problems getting off to sleep, the sermon can be downloaded here.
There are a few details to consider in order to put things into context. The Galatians are making a choice between trusting in the finished work of Christ for their salvation or trusting Christ and then making sure by trusting certain Jewish practices. Since this is the main theme of the epistle I’m not going to reiterate how important this, suffice to say that Paul is clear; there is one way and his name is Jesus.
I find it very telling that passages that speak of the experience of the Spirit (3:5 & 4:6) are linked by a passage loaded with Old Testament scriptures. Christians today will often speak of understanding the scriptures and the experience of the Spirit as if there is a choice to be made between the two. The bible makes it clear that the church needs the word of God and the power of the Spirit.
Paul uses an alternating argument for the middle section of his epistle.
We saw last week that the passage contained a number of questions. This week as we have seen the passage is dominated by Old Testament scriptures which Paul uses to make his point and it’s around these scriptures that we will focus our thoughts today.
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
- “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
- “All nations will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)
- “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Deuteronomy 27:26)
- “The righteous will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
- “The man who does these things will live by them.” (Leviticus 8:5)
- “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Deuteronomy 21:23)
“He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
The Jews believed that Abraham was righteous because of what he had done but Paul quotes this verse four times to illustrate that Abraham was justified by faith. The other occasions are found in Romans chapter 4, where Paul points out that Abraham was credited with righteousness before circumcision was introduced. He knows that salvation comes not from being descended from Abraham but by following his example in believing God
Abraham believed against the odds, when the evidence of eyes and his experience of life were telling him one thing, Abraham believed God’s promises and held on to them. His faith was also accompanied with action, he moved in obedience with God’s call. Abraham’s true seed are those who believe God’s promises.
In Romans Paul writes;
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 3:28-29)
There are two real dangers when we think about the Jewish nation. The first is to say that God has finished with Israel and now he has plans only for the church. God still has a plan for Israel (Romans 11:25-26). The second danger is say that as God’s chosen people everything that they do is blessed by God. We should pray that the Jews will be saved (Romans 10:1). They like the rest of humanity need to be saved since they are living in rebellion to God.
“All nations will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)
What a wonderful promise given to Abraham (four times). All nations are blessed by Abraham’s example of faith and blessed by Abraham’s descendant Christ. God had a plan of salvation in Genesis and in eternity to bless all nations.
That the nations will be blessed means that God planned to bring in the nations and not just have a greater Israel. God so loved the world, we are commissioned to go to all nations.
“Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Deuteronomy 27:26)
The Law required total obedience. Obeying a few laws would not suffice it is never acceptable to pick and choose with parts of the Law should be obeyed. Yet total obedience is impossible, no one can keep the Law completely. The very people who were urging the gentile Christians to start obeying the Law had themselves fallen short of its requirements.
“The righteous will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
We are called to walk by faith; it’s the message of the Old Testament as well as the New. In the words of the song that we often sing, “In Christ alone my hope is found.” When we think of the cost, Christ bearing our sin on the cross, how could there be another way?
“The man who does these things will live by them.” (Leviticus 8:5)
There is a choice between trusting in what Christ has done and trusting in what we have done. The obvious question for us is to ask ‘what are we living by?’ It’s easy to get distracted and start to rely on our efforts to please God.
In the Old Testament God is described as a jealous God. When Israel fell into idolatry, it was often a case of bringing in these false gods to add something to faith in god. In a sense it would seem to have some logic, like the funny scene in the film “The Mummy” where the villain Beni, is confronted with the terrifying mummy. He begins to pray and then when the prayer is not answered moves on to another religion and prays fervently to another god before he switches again when that prayer isn’t answered and so on.
God is the only true God and he will not share his glory with another. Satan constantly sought to tempt Israel with false gods, as we’ve said before he’s a big fan of religion. The relationship between God and his people was a covenant relationship often likened to a marriage. In chasing after idols, Israel was being unfaithful and betraying the Lord’s covenant.
I do not believe that Satan’s plan consists of tempting the Church into worshiping Baal or Asherah, but it is easy to see how he would try to get Christians relying on their own efforts as well as the cross. The problem is just as there is one God; there is one mediator and one way of salvation.
“Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Deuteronomy 21:23)
Paul is making a point in his use of quotations. First he says “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Then later, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” The repetition of ‘cursed is everyone’ is significant. He has already stated that no one is justified by obeying the Law (three times in 2:16) he has gone on to say those who rely on observing the Law are under a curse (3:10) since they are obligated to completely follow the Law, something that simply cannot be done.
All of this seems pretty desperate and in a way it is but God has taken the initiative in sending Jesus. He, though fully human, was also completely without sin, yet he was cursed for us. The sinless Son of God became a curse for us that we can be justified before a holy God. The writer to the Hebrews asked “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” When we think of this great salvation, thoughts of finding our own way to God are not only ludicrous they are blasphemous.
The clip below is my favourite part of “The Passion of the Christ.” I’m very keen on the title that the uploader has given it but it is well worth watching. It shows Christ praying in the garden the night before the cross and it is in Aramaic with subtitles.