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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Rely on Faith


"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.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Galatians 3:7-9

This is now the third and final message in the short summer series we’ve spent considering the covenant God made with Abraham of old.

In that first message we saw how God came to Abraham with blessing, and promised him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky in spite of the barrenness of his wife Sarai.

We saw that God promised to bless all the peoples of the earth through Abraham.

And we saw him ratify that covenant with a solemn and binding oath.

The terms were his and the execution was his. So that everything Abraham received was a gift - not a wage.

In the second message we came right up to Jesus’ day and saw him disputing with some of Abraham’s descendants – Jewish teachers.

We saw Jesus making a distinction between their physical lineage and their spiritual lineage. He seemed to be saying that, to be a true heir of Abraham was more – much more – than merely tracing descent back to Abraham.

Rather, he seemed to be saying that to be a true heir of Abraham means to be one who exercises the faith of Abraham. And what was reallysignificant was that Jesus made the sweeping inference that theirrejection of him was their failure to exercise the faith of their father Abraham. And, that that failure made them illegitimate children and true sons of Satan, not of God.

And now here we are at message number 3 and we want to see what the apostle of Jesus, Paul - himself, a descendent of Abraham - has to say about Abraham, and what that means for us.

So, that’s why we’re in Galatians 3.

Paul introduces Abraham in order to correct the Galatian Christians in their waywardness.

They were mistakenly returning to unbelief. They were looking to observe the law of Moses; they were considering circumcision; and they were distancing themselves from those amongst them who didn’t live in a way that outwardly conformed with rules and regulations.

Paul wants to confront them on this, and there are at least 5 reasons I see, why the Apostle Paul introduces Abraham and the covenant God made with him here to do that.

So, I’ll briefly state what they are, and then show you why they are important.

The first and main reason he introduces the Abrahamic covenant is because of another covenant God made with Israel. He made it on mount Sinai, after the Israelites came out of Egypt. In the new testament it is repeatedly referred to as the ‘old covenant’.

Moses received the terms of the covenant in the form of the ten commandments on the mountain, and those terms went with the Israelites in a box called the ‘ark of the covenant’.

In total, 613 laws were laid down for them to obey. And it was this lawthat the Galatians were looking to put themselves under.

That is the first and main reason Paul introduces the Abrahamic covenant: because of the Law covenant.

The second reason is that the Abrahamic covenant contained the gospel– the good news about being made right with God – being justified - through a gracious act worked by God himself.

The third reason is, that Jesus was in the promise God made to Abraham. When God said to Abraham in Genesis 22:18, ‘and through your seed all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me’, he was saying they would be blessed through Jesus.

The fourth reason is, that the inheritance comes to the people of God via the Abrahamic promise through faith like that of Abraham’s.

And the fifth reason is, that the Holy Spirit is received by the same faith Abraham exercised, and without the Spirit there is no spiritual life.

Trying to keep the law is to live by means of the flesh. But to receive the promise is to live by means of the Spirit of God.

So, let’s unpack each one a bit and see the glories that are ours through the Abrahamic covenant if we are heirs of his promise.

The overriding message Paul is trying to convey here is that despite the fact that God made another covenant after the one with Abraham, that does not, in anyway, invalidate or supersede the one he made with Abraham.

Verse 17: ‘What I mean is the Law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise’.

If that were the case then we would all be in significant trouble.

The reason we would be in trouble is that the covenant made on mount Sinai, introduced 430 years after Abraham was not a good-news covenant!

Anyone who depends on it or the ‘spirit’ of it is cursed according to verse 13. Why are they cursed? They are cursed because of what verse 19 says: the law-based covenant was introduced because of sin.

According to verse 21, the law covenant could not produce life. Why? Because of sin. The law covenant required full and perfect obedience and performance on the part of both parties.

Not a problem for God!

But a massive problem for people - people who are controlled by one thing – sin according to verse 22.

So, what that all means is that the law covenant was introduced for onemain purpose: to show that no relationship between God and human beings could ever be established on the basis of bi-lateral performance. Human beings are sin-sick to the core. They simply cannot remain faithful to the covenant relationship.

God can. We can’t.

But, in spite of the fact that the law covenant is bad news – bad news because of us - it does have a gracious function. It was established by God to teach us something first hand.

Like little children, we can’t simply be told something is a certain way, we have to learn by experience.

The law covenant acts like a teacher from God – a 'guardian' verse 24 calls it – to show us our great-sin-problem and to show us the massive gulf sin produces between us and God.

But the Abrahamic covenant is not like the law covenant. It was notintroduced to teach us the problem, it was introduced to solve the problem. It is not a covenant that depends on the performance of bothparties, it is unilateral and depends on the performance of one party – the God party – and he cannot fail!

That’s good news!

So that’s the first reason Paul introduces the Abrahamic covenant. These Galatians were seeking to place themselves under the law covenant and Paul is saying unless you are relying on the promise covenant of Abraham, you are cursed.

Know this: you cannot remain faithful and you will perish because of your sins.

But, if you rely on the promise covenant, then God will fulfil it perfectly, and you have every reason to be confident that you will find favour with him.

The second reason he introduces the Abrahamic Covenant is that he claims it contains the gospel.

When Paul uses the word ‘gospel’ he consistently means: the good news of reconciliation and peace with God for all kinds of people – not just Jews.

Here is no different, he declares that, ‘scripture foresaw that God would justify the gentiles and announced the gospel [God’s good news for all peoples] in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you”’.

So, according to Paul, when God told Abraham that all the nationswould be blessed through him, he was saying that he would justify the gentiles.

Now, ‘all nations’ clearly meant to Abraham the people groups beyondthat one group that would come from his own line.

But, what wasn’t clear was what that blessing would look like.

Here Paul tells us what God had in mind: and it’s justification. What does that mean?

It means a legal rightness before God. It means, so far as God is concerned, you possess moral credit. It means to be blameless before a perfect, holy and just God.

Now we already saw, that God introduced a whole covenant to showthat we are by nature not that. People do not do blameless. People do not do legal uprightness.

Which is why, God said to Abraham that the nations would be ‘blessed’.

Justification, according to Paul, comes via the Abrahamic covenant to the nations as a blessing, conferred.

Paul also says that scripture foresaw this blessing – that is: anticipated it ahead of time. In other words, it did not come in Abraham’s day. Indeed, it did not come in the 430 years between Abraham and Moses. And, it did not come out of the law covenant because that was teaching time. So, when did it come?

That brings us to the third reason Paul introduces the covenant with Abraham: Jesus!

The answer to our question, ‘when did it come?’ is that the blessing on the gentiles, that brought justification for sinners, arrived with Jesus. It was promised to Abraham but appeared with the arrival of Jesus on the scene.

Verse 15 says that even though so much time elapsed between the promise and the fulfilment of it, nevertheless the promise could not be set aside – God had ratified it with a solemn oath – an oath thatcannot be broken.

In verse 16 the apostle Paul tells us that the promise was spoken to Abraham and one of his offspring not to Abraham and all of his offspring. It was spoken to Abraham and his seed not his ‘seeds’ – meaning many people – but to ‘seed’ meaning one person.

And then he says, that person was Jesus Christ – the Messiah. A physical descendant of Abraham - yes, but also the one descendent of promise.

What is the significance of this one-person, Jesus? Verse 29 gives us the answer: ‘if you belong to Jesus then you are Abraham’s seed’.

So now we’ve arrived at where Jesus was last time with the Jewish teachers. In their thinking they were Abraham’s seed because they had his blood coursing through their veins.

No problem – that’s what it means to be a descendant.

Except, that Jesus, a true seed of Abraham and the truest seed of Abraham according to Paul, becomes the means by which the blessing flows to gentiles, who are not physical descendants.

According to Jesus and Paul, to be counted the seed of Abraham, you don’t need his blood coursing through your veins, you need Jesuscoursing through your heart!

In the language of verse 27, you need to be baptized into Christ; you need to be clothed with Christ; and verse 29, you need to belong to Christ.

We saw a few minutes ago that the law covenant was a curse because of people’s performance. Sin prevents that covenant from being a blessing. Verse 10 says, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’.

The remedy for that problem is found in verse 13 and look what the remedy is: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law [that is sin and death] by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.

And this applies to us all, even though we have never been under the yoke of the law covenant. It applies because the curse of the covenant issin. The covenant is the tool for pointing up the curse, but whether you’re a stranger to the covenant or not, you’re not a stranger to sin. Therefore, you’re not a stranger to the curse that puts distancebetween you and God.

In other words, you need the remedy as much as anybody. You’re like every gentile – a foreigner to the covenants, but not a foreigner to the curse.

So, you need this redemption – this buy-back from the curse - as much as anybody. Verse 14, ‘He [Christ] redeemed us [hung on the cross and became a curse for us] in order that [here’s the reason] the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus’.

So, suddenly, you who were foreigners to the promises God made to Abraham, through Jesus, can be counted seed of Abraham and receive the blessing of the promise of Abraham – namely justification and relationship with the one true and living God who was estrangedfrom you, and you from him, by the horrors of sin.

This is the glorious good news of God!

No more enmity. No more shame. No more distance. But: Friendship. Inclusion. Family. Adoption. No condemnation. Heirs forever!

Now we’ve said that the nature of the law covenant is that it demands performance on the part of the individual – God too – but it’s bothparties not just one.

Paul calls this performance ‘works’ and he perpetually sets it against faith in chapter 3. No less than 16 times, he refers to ‘faith’ or ‘believing’ in this chapter. Which means that faith is prominent in his mind.

The reason faith is so prominent in his mind is that it is the characteristic nature of the Abrahamic covenant.

The law covenant demands performance, but the promise covenant demands belief.

Verse 5 says, ‘does God give you his Spirit and work miracles amongst you by works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Rhetorical question. It’s not by works!

Verse 6, ‘So also [in like fashion] Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”’. And, verse 7 nails the link home, ‘Understand then that those who have faith are children of Abraham’.

The justification we need so badly comes by faith, verse 8.

The blessing that was given to Abraham – namely peace with God – comes to Gentiles by faith, verse 9. Righteousness – uprightness before God – comes by faith, verse 11.

But the question becomes, faith in what? Abraham believed God for the promises he had made. What do we believe, in order to receive the blessing?

Verse 22, ‘so that, what was promised, being given through faith inJesus Christ, might be given to those who believe’.

Now observe this. Verse 19 says the law was added until, or up to the point that, the Seed to whom the promise referred to had come.

Verse 24 says, ‘so the law was our guardian until Christ came’.

Those two verses are saying the same thing.

But now look, in verse 23. The same idea is in view: held under the custody of the law until something comes. What? Faith!

Before the coming of this Faith, we were held’.

And, ‘locked up until the Faith that was to come would be revealed’.

Verse 25 does the same thing: ‘Now that Faith has come we are no longer under a guardian’.

Why is Paul substituting Christ – the true Seed of Abraham with faith? It is because the nature of reconciliation with God comes not by works, but by faith – and emphatically faith in only one thing – one man – Jesus.

Faith in Jesus is the conduit along which, flows peace with God. Just like Abraham received the blessing through faith, so we receive the blessing through faith.

Just like God ratified the oath with the broken bodies and shed blood of animals and Abraham believed him, Christ Jesus supplied his own body and blood on the cross for our sake.

And we receive that sufficiency for us by Faith!

Faith has come in place of work.

Promise has come in place of curse.

Verse 26 says you are children of God through faith!

The contrast between the law covenant and the promise covenant couldn’t be more stark, but there’s another contrast. Verse 3 makes it plain: There is a contrast between the law covenant and promise covenant in terms of power – power of the flesh vs power of the Spirit.

Paul says, in verse 14, that the Spirit was promised under the Abrahamic Covenant. He says, that the faith we were just considering a few moments ago – the faith in Jesus that makes us right with God – thatfaith, is the means by which the Spirit of God is received also.

And we know it is the Spirit of God he has in mind because in verse 5, he says it’s God who ‘gives you his Spirit’. And he gives it by you believing what you heard.

What the Galatians had heard is clear from verse 1 – ‘Christ crucified’.

So, they believed the message about Christ crucified for them. And because of their belief they received the promised Holy Spirit.

That was their beginning according to verse 3. That was how they started out as Christians – by means of the Spirit of God.

In other words, the driving force in their lives was the Spirit of God. Christ had saved them, but not to unchanged lives. To changed lives. Christianity is not dead, but living. It changes all – root and fruit, notjust root.

But, by returning to the law covenant the Galatians were returning to the flesh verse 3 says.

This turning is serious in Paul’s mind. Twice he calls them ‘foolish’ (verse 1 and verse 3). And in verse 4 he even wonders if they have ‘believed in vain’.

There’s a question mark in his mind about them.

Paul exhorts them in chapter 5, ‘walk by the Spirit and you will notgratify the desires of the flesh’.

And, ‘if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law’. So, he says, ‘let us keep in step with the Spirit’, ‘bearing the fruit of the Spirit’. The fruit of Spirit, according to Paul is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Now, I doubt there are any of us who are playing with the idea of circumcision, or the idea of subjecting ourselves to the law covenant – although it is possible for some of those things to creep into the church - observance of special days and the like.

But it is very possible for us to return to the ‘spirit’ of the law covenant.

A spirit like that would display fruit that is the opposite of what you would expect from the Holy Spirit.

So, where you would expect to find love for enemies, like Jesus had, you would find hostility towards enemies.

Where you would expect to find joy in the midst of trial, you would find bitterness.

Where you would expect to find peace and contentment, you would find unrest and striving.

Where you would expect to find long suffering and patient endurance, you would find short temperedness.

Where you would expect to find kindness, you would find mean-spiritedness.

Where you would expect self-control, you would find license.

Where you would expect to find faithfulness, you would find ruthlessness.

These are the fruits of unbelief. The opposite of Abraham’s approach. The fruits of the Spirit are produced when we trust God’s all-wise, all-good plan for our lives.

So, when God says, ‘Abraham, I command you to sacrifice your only son Isaac’, faith trusts in that moment and produces the fruit of the Spirit – faithfulness to God’s command; peace in God’s judgment; goodnessin God’s action; and patience in God’s promise.

Therefore, we must live by the Spirit and not indulge the desires of the flesh. The flesh is contrary to the Spirit. Those who belong to Jesus, Paul says, have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

This is what it means to be the seed of Abraham and children of the living God. So, may we live in step with who we are – heirs of Abraham and heirs of the promise.

So, what we have, is all the pieces we need for a relationship with God. We have a covenant promise from God.

We have the good news that we can be partakers of the promise of Abraham even though we’re not physical descendants.

And we have Jesus – the one who makes us righteous before God.

And, we know what our part is – it is simply to believe on Jesus for all that God has promised us.

And, finally, we have the power to live in relationship to God – thatcomes by his Spirit that he has given us. We have everything we need!


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