Galatians Part 7: Who’s Your Daddy?

God chose a man named Abram, told him he would be the father of many nations, and renamed him accordingly, Abraham, which means “father of a multitude.”  Humanly speaking, it was joke, because Abram was ninety-nine years old.

Abraham didn’t laugh, but his wife did, so when their miracle child was born, they named him Laughter, the meaning of the Hebrew “Isaac”.

God also announced that, through Abraham, “All nations will be blessed” (Galatians 3:8).  In what way?  Specifically, “those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (3:9).  In other words, the singular blessing for the nations through Abraham is the message of salvation by grace alone through faith.

Abraham believed God, and his faith counted for righteousness.  He wasn’t “saved” by good works.  Instead, he became a child of God by faith.  His faith made him right with God, not anything he had done.  Abraham just “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (3:6).

Thus Paul argues,  “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.  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'” (3:7-8).

God “announced the gospel in advance”!  What is the Gospel, the Good News? That Gentiles, people outside God’s covenant with Abraham, people who don’t practice circumcision or observe the laws of Moses, people who have no right whatsoever to the love and blessings of God, can be totally right with God by simple faith!

Paul adds, “So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (3:9).  Incredible! And in that ancient context, incredibly offensive and controversial, that uncircumcised people could know and be loved by God.

What is the Gospel, the really Good News?  Faith plus nothing.

Paul continues to explain:

15  Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Paul’s argument here is simple.  He’s telling us that no human contract can be voided by another.  The first agreement always stands.  Thus, the law, which came to Moses on Sinai nearly five centuries later, does not nullify or overrule the initial agreement:  salvation by faith, which is counted as righteousness.

Furthermore, Christ is the center of Paul’s argument.  The covenant of promise was from and through Abraham to his seed (singular), which Paul interprets to be a reference to the Messiah, Jesus.  The covenant of grace leaps over Sinai from Abraham to Christ.  The covenant God made with Abraham prevails.

This raises a question:

19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

If the covenant of promise to Abraham trumps the covenant of Moses, why would God give the law at all?  Because until the promise came fully in Christ, God’s fickle people needed boundaries.  The law was added (it came after­ the gospel) because of transgressions.  Hey, boundaries are good.  They keep us in line, but they don’t “impart life.”

Paul explains this:

21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

The law isn’t in conflict with grace.  Law and grace aren’t matter and antimatter.  It’s not one or the other.  Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17).  But the law has limits.

Rules aren’t essentially bad.  They just don’t have power to transform people inside out.  If you work in the criminal justice system, you know this.  If you have raised or are raising children, you know this!

Verses 20 and 22 are obtuse, hard to understand, but Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase helps:

Obviously this law was not a firsthand encounter with God. It was arranged by angelic messengers through a middleman, Moses. But if there is a middleman as there was at Sinai, then the people are not dealing directly with God, are they? But the original promise is the direct blessing of God, received by faith.

If such is the case, is the law, then, an anti-promise, a negation of God’s will for us? Not at all. Its purpose was to make obvious to everyone that we are, in ourselves, out of right relationship with God, and therefore to show us the futility of devising some religious system for getting by our own efforts what we can only get by waiting in faith for God to complete his promise. For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time.

So the law is not primary.  It follows faith.  It’s necessary as a babysitter, but it doesn’t transform anyone.  Paul refers to the law as a temporary guardian:

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Paul concludes grandly:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Wow!   By faith …

  • We are children of God, part of God’s family
  • We have been clothed with Christ.  His righteousness covers every square millimeter of our nakedness, an image that takes us back to God covering Adam and Eve with the skins of sacrificial animals.  Blood was spilled.
  • We are all equal in the sight of God:  Jews and Gentiles, slaves and slave owners, men and women, Catholics and Protestants.  Jesus+nothing levels the playing field.  No one is any better than anyone else, least of all because they are more righteous or more religious.  We are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • We are Abraham’s seed.  Because Jesus is the Seed of Abraham, and we are in Christ, we are Abraham’s offspring.  He’s our daddy!
  • We are heirs of everything promised to the members of God’s family, not because we’ve earned, but because we are his children.

Or instead of living by faith, you can just spend the rest of your life learning the rules and trying as hard as you can to be as good as you can!

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