Monday, July 20, 2009

Galatians 3:6-9

6Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ [Genesis 15:6]. 7Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8The 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’ [Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18]. 9So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

In v6, Paul notes that Abraham was justified by faith, just as he later elaborates in Romans 4:1-3, 9-24. It is not a requirement but certainly helps when a theological assertion is given historical narrative support from Scripture. Paul did not have to bring Abraham into this discussion, for facts related to experience are adequate in value, but it positively helps that he does. In fact, it is likely that the Judaizers – and if not them, then certainly Jewish Rabbis – used Abraham to attempt to prove works righteousness, even as if to say that his faith was the meritorious work that brought him favor with God. But Paul refutes that concept using the very text his opponents preferred. Kim Riddlebarger says, “
Abraham’s right standing before God is given to him…through the means of faith, not because of faith.” Therefore, Abraham serves as additional proof for upholding Paul’s claim that justification is by faith, through the imputed righteousness of Christ. As Paul will say in v14, “By faith we…receive the promise of the Spirit.”

Paul also uses Abraham here to negatively reverse the charge that he was undercutting the covenant God made with Abraham, which is actually what the Judaizers were doing by trying to enforce Jewishness on Gentile converts to Christianity. Paul is saying that the true heirs of God’s covenant promise to Abraham are his offspring, not by ancestry or by works of circumcision, but by faith, those who share belief in Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides (in Christ), in hope against all hope, as Paul notes in Romans 4. It’s not that circumcision was unimportant; rather, it was to serve, as baptism now does, as a sign and a seal of the covenant promise that comes by faith. Calvin ponders faith here:

“But why does faith receive such honor as to be entitled a cause of our justification? First, we must observe, that it is merely an instrumental cause; for, strictly speaking, our righteousness is nothing else than God’s free acceptance of us, on which our salvation is founded. But as the Lord testifies his love and grace in the gospel, by offering to us that righteousness of which I have spoken, so we receive it by faith. And thus, when we ascribe to faith a man’s justification, we are not treating of the principal cause, but merely pointing out the way in which men arrive at true righteousness. For this righteousness is not a quality which exists in men, but is the mere gift of God, and is enjoyed by faith only; and not even as a reward justly due to faith, but because we receive by faith what God freely gives. All such expressions as the following are of similar import: We are “justified freely by his grace” (Romans 3:24). Christ is our righteousness. The mercy of God is the cause of our righteousness. By the death and resurrection of Christ, righteousness has been procured for us. Righteousness is bestowed on us through the gospel. We obtain righteousness by faith.”
The Judaizers certainly taught that one had to become a child of Abraham in order to be a child of God. And Paul doesn’t disagree with that assertion, but he qualifies it by explaining how one becomes a child of Abraham. It’s not through circumcision, but through faith. As Paul says in v9, “Those who have faith [in Christ, in the gospel] are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” And “In this context,” says Cheung, “The blessing relates to how God justified Abraham through faith, and that since the principle is extended through Abraham to all nations, that ‘God would justify the Gentiles by faith’ as well… Therefore, God has always intended to save the Gentiles since the beginning, and faith has always been the only way [see Hebrews 11]. Paul even calls God’s promise to Abraham ‘the gospel’ in v8.”

Lastly, and quite an amazing point to mention, in v8 we see Scripture personified as God Himself (see Romans 9:17). Vincent Cheung concludes, “This carries great significance for both the doctrine of biblical inspiration and inerrancy, and the doctrine of justification by faith. Of course, the Scripture, as in the Bible or the book, is not identified with God in the ontological sense. But when the intellectual contents of the Scripture is considered, then there is no difference between what it says and what God says, since the Scripture is what God says (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21)… The implication for the doctrine of justification by faith is straightforward. Because this doctrine is what the Scripture teaches, and because what Scripture says is what God says, it follows that God is the one who insists on the doctrine of justification by faith. It is taught and supported by God’s own authority and wisdom, and cannot be faulted. Anyone who affirms or teaches something different becomes an enemy, not only of Paul, but of God. Naturally, such a person would be eternally condemned (Galatians 1:6-9). The same verdict is pronounced against anyone who opposes the doctrine today.”

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