Every section of this epistle is marked with the contrast between: Spirit and flesh and faith and the works of the law. As we move into a more formal teaching section Paul continues with this juxtaposition.
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
In the previous study we saw that Paul brought the Galatians back to their beginnings in the things of God, and demonstrated that they as they had begun in the Spirit, and by faith, they could not then expect to live the Christian life in the flesh and by the works of the law. Paul now goes one step further and takes us back to God’s beginnings with Abraham, for he is declared here and elsewhere that he is the father of the faithful. In his argument, both here and in Romans, Paul demonstrates that justification by faith was before the Mosaic law, and has always been God’s way of salvation, whatever the dispensation.
He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God
Paul compared those who minister the Spirit in Galatia as having faith even as Abraham believed God, so to have a better understanding of Paul’s teaching we need to consider Abraham’s life and highlight those parts pertinent to our theme. So we will briefly consider the main parts of his life as they relate to our subject.
B1.1 The call of Abraham
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
The first question we can ask is: why did Paul single out Abraham’s faith as the example, and not say Enoch, or Abel? These other men were men of faith as the Hebrew epistle tells us, so why Abraham? The answer lies in the plan God had for him. Up until the latter parts of Gen. 11 God was dealing with individuals, Abel, Seth, Methuselah, Noah to name a few, but with Abraham there was something new. God called him to be the father of a multitude, God had not made this promise to any of the previous saints, there was something different going on here.
God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, this was of God’s doing and not by any works of the flesh. Abraham didn’t decide to uproot and seek God by himself and make up the promise he received, how could he? As far as we know he was a heathen in that land. God chose to appear to him and called him out of from his family. Now we know Abraham’s obedience at this stage wasn’t perfect, but he responded believing God. There was no effort of the flesh at all, just simple obedience to the spoken word of God.
Abraham was learning from God. At one stage in his walk with God, Abraham parted with Lot, and gave him the choice of the land being quite happy to trust God wherever he had to go. Later on Abraham had to rescue Lot from some invading kings, and refusing to take any earthly reward from the king of Sodom. He then met a mysterious priest to whom he gave tithes. But then God appeared to him once more.
B1.2 Abraham believed God
After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
The problem for Abraham (of course he was still called Abram at this point) was that he had no son to inherit the promise of being the father of a great nation. God was teaching Abraham that His ways are not man’s. Abraham wanted to fulfil God’s promise by his own efforts, here he wanted his servant’s son to be the heir; but God said no, he was to have a child from his own body, his own seed.
And then we have the declaration that Abraham believed God, and it was counted for righteousness. Abraham believed the word of God to Him despite the impossibility of it on the natural level. We note that there was no work on Abraham’s part, no effort of the flesh, he didn’t have to stir himself up and say ‘ I must believe this’; God spoke His word and faith was created in this man. It took many along year for him to see God’s fulfilment in bringing forth Isaac, but here right know his faith was counted for righteousness.
3. Not of the law!
Faith has always the been the basis by which God has dealt with men and women, the eleventh chapter of Hebrews makes this clear. Notice in the opening verses of the Hebrews chapter that the saints before Abraham were declared righteous by faith, and pleased God by it. And then it says it is impossible to please God without faith, just as in the sixth chapter of Hebrews the writer says it is impossible for God to lie. It can not be clearer than that! Faith is the basis of ‘doing business’ with God.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Now these saints were before the giving of the Mosaic law, so it is quite clear that Abel, Enoch and Noah could not please God by keeping the law! So we can conclude that we can please God without the works of the law. Paul takes up a similar argument in Romans.
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
To be part of the congregation of Israel one had to be physically circumcised Lev. 12:2-3 and no one could partake of the Passover lest they were. So important was this ritual that no one was considered a part of the nation of Israel unless they were circumcised. And to be part of the nation circumcision was essential.
So Paul’s analysis of Abraham is vital. He shows that Abraham’s belief came whilst he was uncircumcised, that is when he wouldn’t be considered a part of the nation of Israel! Now let us think clearly here: circumcision is a work of the flesh. If Abraham could only believe after he were circumcised it would have been as a result of a work of the flesh, for he would had done something in order to believe. Yet that wasn’t the case he believed BEFORE he was circumcised, before he received anything, he believed just because God spoke to him. In other words Abraham believed simply what God said, he trusted that God did not lie.
His faith and pleasing God was not the result of the law.
4. Not of works!
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness…(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Rom. 4:15; 17-25
Paul’s point in the first few verses is clear, Abraham either obtained the promise by works, or by faith. If he had been justified by works then he would have obtained the promise by his own effort and would therefore have something to boast of, and God would then have given him something because He would have been in debt to Abraham – but this was not the case.
Now this is important because it is vital to explain that faith can not be worked up. To hear some preachers one would think one has to stir oneself up in the flesh in order to believe and have true faith. Some say if you don’t have healing, for example, it’s because you don’t have enough faith, consequently people strive to work themselves into a frenzy in order to ‘gain’ this faith! This is a work of the flesh, and if it worked this way then healing would a work of the flesh, with God as our debtor!
Abraham had no heir, and God had forbidden him to take children of anyone else to be the heir; he and his wife had gone well past the natural age of child bearing, all hope had gone. There was no way he could have a son as God had promised, impossibility was written all over the page. Even if Abraham had stirred himself into a frenzy, that would have been to no avail, how could working oneself up reverse the natural processes of age? (cmp. Mtt.6:27-28) Unless God fulfilled his own promise Himself all would have been in vain. Abraham though staggered not through unbelief; whatever the outward circumstances Abraham stood firm, he did not waver at what God had promised he just trusted God and believed that what He promised he would perform it.
And it is this sort of faith that identifies us with Abraham if we are born again. Just simple trust in God and what He has promised. No works of the flesh involved, no self effort, no trying to gain credit in God’s eyes. Once God has spoken the word to us faith is created in us and we just simply believe God. And that is how we are to continue in the Christian life: not by the works of the law, nor by the works of the flesh trying to gain credit with God We are to walk in the same way we came into new life – by faith.
If we are truly born again we are sons of Abraham, in this sense. And it is this that we shall take up in the next study.