Faith and Abraham

September 3, 2018

Text: Galatians 3:6-9

 

Date: 13 May 2018

 

Introduction

 

As it’s been a little while since we last looked at this fascinating letter of Paul’s to the churches in Galatia; it’s only fair that I remind you where we are. Galatia was a fairly large region with quite a few churches, and many who attended those churches were Gentiles intermingled with a handful of Jews. They had heard and accepted the gospel and come to faith as a result of hearing Paul’s preaching. We already know that Paul only ever preached the gospel of Jesus Christ; that salvation came through faith in Jesus Christ and by the grace of God alone. Paul also preached that there was no room for good works as a way to earn salvation nor the need to follow any particular rules and customs. As Habakkuk put it so well, “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV). In the main the new Christians in Galatia were from a Gentile background and having accepted Christ as their Saviour they happily settled into their new Christian lives. They lived together, worked together; and happily shared meals and hospitality together. On one occasion Cephas the Apostle visited and joined with them in all that they did. We need to remember that although Cephas came from a strict Jewish background he too went on to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Everything was fine within this fledgling Christian community until “certain men came from James” (2:12). Unfortunately these men visited and stirred things up somewhat. Paul regarded them as Judaisers since they made it very clear that for Gentiles to become “true” followers of Christ more was needed than simply their faith; they needed to become Jews first by being circumcised and following the numerous Jewish laws and rituals. Sadly the activities of these men caused a rift within the community and led Cephas to draw away from the very people with whom he had happily been sharing fellowship. This situation absolutely appalled Paul and led to a major argument between him and Cephas; an argument that we’ve been following closely. In the last sermon I gave which was from 3:1-5 we saw Paul speaking directly to the Galatians and asking them a number of rhetorical questions as a way of reminding them of the true source of their salvation; faith in the risen Christ. In asking those questions Paul not only shared his own beliefs with the Galatians but also emphasised the truth that everything they had came from their faith in Jesus Christ and not as a result of them following the law.

 

Wherever he went Paul only ever preached Christ crucified and the way he preached about that momentous event illustrated it so well that the people listening to him could almost believe that they were there as it happened. In these next few verses Paul’s argument moves on to talk about Abraham and to examine his role in the history of faith. Abraham went on to become the patriarch of the Jewish people and the Jews regarded him as being very special and extremely close to God. In these four verses, 3:6-9, Paul has some interesting, and perhaps challenging, comments to make with regard to Abraham; comments which may or may not have gone down well with some of those he was talking to. We’ll see what unfolds as we work our way through these next four verses.

 

Abraham

 

The first and probably most important thing that we read and learn comes in 3:6 where Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6 when he says Abram, later called Abraham, “believed the LORD”, i.e. he believed God. In the NIV and NJKV translations this verse is translated as “believed God” whilst other versions, wrongly in my view, translate it as “believed in God” which is not the correct way of thinking of Abraham’s relationship with God. All of the commentaries that I have consulted support my view! When we read some of Paul’s other letters we see that he obviously regarded this verse in Genesis as being so important that he quoted it in Romans 4:3, and then quoted parts of it in Romans 4:9-10 and 4:22. It is vitally important to notice that Paul doesn’t say Abraham believed in God but that he “believed God”. There is a huge difference between those two statements. Satan believes in God as do his workers; they know exactly Who God is; they know that He exists; but, and it is a very big but, they don’t believe Him; they don’t believe that He is the supreme being; the One Who created the universe and all that is in it; the One Who is the Father of Jesus Christ. Nor do they believe that He is with us at all times in the form of His Holy Spirit. Satan doesn’t believe any of that; he only believes in God. Writing in his epistle we see that James supports that view when he says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” (James 2:19). There are many in the world today who say that they believe in God whilst not actually believing Him in any way, shape or form. How about you; where do you stand; do you believe God and all that He has done, is doing and will do or do you just believe that there is Someone Who is known as God? I’ll leave you to think carefully about that question.   

 

The next important thing we read in 3:6 is that believing God “was credited to him as righteousness”. Writing in his commentary, Steve Brady says of this verse: “So faith here is taking God at His word, trusting what He says, relying upon what He promises.”[1] Abraham believed God, he trusted Him and he obeyed Him. All that happened after that was for the simple reason that Abraham had faith in God. He knew that whatever happened God would never let him down, He would always be there for him and with him. Consequently Abraham’s faith was credited to him and he was accepted by God as being in a right standing before and with God; in other words, God regarded him as being righteous and justified. That is what coming to faith is all about; God forgives us all our sins, accepts us in faith and thus regards us as being righteous.

 

How did all this come about? How did we reach the point where Abraham believed God and was counted as being righteous as a result? Well, we can see from Genesis 12 that Abraham, then known as Abram, had a close relationship with God. In Genesis 12:1 we read that “The LORD said to Abram...” before going on to promise that He would not only bless Abram but would make him “into a great nation” (12:2). In 12:3 God added that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. Notice that, not just a few people but all peoples. God then led Abram and the people to Canaan where God once again appeared to Abram and promised him that “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7). At this time Abram was 75 years old and had no children and yet here was God promising that his offspring would be given the land in which they stood! As a way of paying tribute to God and honouring Him, Abram built an altar. When Abram eventually “pitched his tent”, he “built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD” (12:8). Abram believed what God said to him and trusted that He would keep His promises; at no time did Abram question what God said to him. 

 

It is when we move on to Genesis 15 that we see Abram really placing his faith and trust in God. Abram was an old man with no children and yet God said to him, “’Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’." (Genesis 15:5). On hearing that promise from God Abram didn’t laugh or question God in any way since we can read in the next verse “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6). The NLT version makes that verse a little easier to understand when it says, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” It is that step of coming to faith that is important. There is no mention of circumcision or customs, laws and rites to be followed simply faith in God for someone to be counted as being righteous in God’s eyes. It was only after this that God made His covenant with Abram; something that we can read about in Genesis 17. By that time Abram had already come to faith in God and been counted as righteous.

 

God regarded Abram as being righteous simply because of his faith and not because he did good deeds or followed any special prescriptive laws and customs. Since then the only way for anyone to be regarded as righteous in God’s eyes has been to “believe God” in the way that Abraham had: that is, by having faith in God. There is no mention here of works of any form and so even at this early stage in the gospel story there was no way that anyone could earn their righteousness, it was all down to faith alone. Abraham came to faith in God and that is exactly what we should do. Because Jesus had not yet come Abraham believed God whereas now we are in the post-Jesus era we are counted as righteous and receive our salvation by coming to faith in Jesus as the risen Lord and Saviour.

 

Faith

 

In 3:7-9 Paul moves on to link Abraham’s faith with that of all who followed him and who had the same faith as him; meaning that they were regarded as children of Abraham. God had said in Genesis 17:3b that Abraham “will be the father of many nations”; a promise that God most definitely kept as we frequently hear of the Abrahamic faiths as the collective name for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All of this of course happened before God made His covenant with Abraham meaning that Abraham wasn’t circumcised nor did he have the Law to follow. As I’ve just explained Abraham was already regarded by God as being righteous and justified simply because of his faith in God. He had no Law to follow, no Jewish customs and rites to adhere to, nor did he do any good works as a way to “earn” his righteousness. Abraham’s righteousness was all of God through His grace and through Abraham’s faith.

 

When Paul said in 3:8, “Scripture foresaw that God would justify Gentiles by faith” he was referring to Genesis 12:2-3 and 18:18 where we can read “all nations on earth will be blessed through him”. Paul quoted that verse from Genesis 12:2 when he also said, “All nations will be blessed by you”. Paul then went on in 3:9 to add that “those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith”. Notice in that verse Paul makes no mention of Law or works; only faith. In saying that Paul was trying to reinforce his argument against the Judaisers who were very much of the opinion that Abraham was patriarch of the Jewish nation and therefore must have been an observer of the Law through which he was justified.

 

A very important point to note from 3:8b and Genesis 12:2 is that word all. Paul quoted from Genesis when he said, “All nations will be blessed...” There is no mention of exclusivity here; no mention of separate nations or groups of people. Everyone is welcome into God’s family and kingdom purely on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. The Jews to whom Paul was speaking seemed to believe that by being Jews and following the Jewish rites and customs meant that they were special and therefore the only people allowed into God’s kingdom. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only qualification, if you can call it that, for righteousness in God’s eyes is faith in Jesus Christ, something that is regardless of race, colour, creed, nationality, religious leanings gender or any other factor. Paul reinforced that point in 3:9 when he said, “... those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Again whilst we see no mention of exclusivity we do see mention of faith. Paul makes this thought even clearer in that great verse from Romans 1:17 where he said, “For in the gospel a righteousness of God is revealed - a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

 

That was the essence of Paul’s message to the Galatians; that righteousness and salvation came through faith alone and nothing else. They didn’t need anything in addition to the message that Jesus died on the cross to pay for their sins. Believing that message and accepting Christ in faith was, and still is, the only way to salvation, and we should always remember that being a Christian starts and continues as a matter of faith.

 

Conclusion

 

The Jews regarded Abraham as the patriarch of their faith; he was after all the one who received the original Covenant from God and in the eyes of all Jews that Covenant was the be all and end all of their faith. They felt that to be regarded as righteous in God’s eyes they had to follow every single edict contained in that Covenant; including circumcision, food laws, and the rites and customs that had been followed down the centuries. Now Paul had come along and preached a message of salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ; a message that was directly at odds with what the Judaisers had been saying. That is why Paul now explains very carefully how Abraham came to be counted as righteous: by believing God, in other words, through faith. The Jews believed that the Law would lead them to righteousness which is why Paul had stated quite clearly in 2:21 that “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing”.

 

That same message of faith still applies today: righteousness and salvation come only through faith in the risen Jesus Christ and nothing else. For anyone seeking to know God the temptation is to look at a variety of spiritual alternatives. As is hopefully very clear from what Paul has been saying here, the only way to a relationship with God is through faith; and faith alone. I’ll leave you to meditate on that thought.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Brady, Steve, All You Need is Christ – Studies in Galatians, Authentic Media: Milton Keynes, England, 2007, page 76

 

 

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