Abraham Justified by Faith (Phil Johnson)

Galatians 3:6-9   |   Sunday, January 6, 2013   |   Code: 2013-01-06-PJ

      This morning and next week we're going to consider Abraham's faith through a New Testament lens, starting at Galatians 3:6. We'll try to cover about four verses this morning, and then next week we'll look at verses 10-14.

      Paul is finished with the personal and experiential argument he was making in the first five verses of Galatians 3, and now he takes up a biblical and doctrinal argu­ment that he will pursue all the way through verse 7 of chapter 4. It's an argument based on the book of Genesis and the Abrahamic covenantCwith a particular focus on the record of Abraham's justification in Genesis 15.

   And this biblical and theological argument is the very heart of the message of this epistle. So chapter 3, verse 6 marks the start of the most important and essential argument in the whole epistle. Paul is about to make a really long argument that goes through the middle of chapter 4. Fortunately, the portion we're looking at today is a pretty simple argument that is easy to grasp.

   One thing you'll immediately notice about this passage (especially if you're reading from the NASB) is that these verses are filled with quotations from the Old Testament. The NASB puts Old Testament quotations in all caps, and there are six of them in the span of eight verses. Paul quotes six distinct Old Testament texts: verse 6—Genesis 15:6; verse 8—Genesis 12:3; verse 10—Deuteronomy 27:26; verse 11—Habakkuk 2:4; verse 12—Leviticus 18:5 (or Ezekiel 20:11—both of those texts say the same thing); and verse 13—Deuteronomy 21:23.

      Paul quotes those verses and weaves them together to explain the relationship of faith and justification; to prove that justification is by faith alone; and to prove the impossibility of earning any part of our salvation by obedience to the law.

      He is writing, of course, to refute an error that was threatening to destroy the churches of Galatia. False teachers (the Judaizers) were telling them that certain Jewish ceremonial laws were essential to salvation.  The test issue was circumcision, but the Judaizers clearly also wanted Gentile converts to observe the dietary restrictions, laws about ceremonial cleansing, and a host of other symbolic features from the law of Moses. In short, they were teaching that you couldn't be a Christian unless you lived like an Old Testament Jew.

      And the Galatians were being led astray by the error, pursuing justification by works rather than faith. Paul writes this epistle to set them straight.

      And our text, starting at verse 6, is a pivotal point in Paul's epistle to the Galatians. Here is where he makes the key point of the whole epistle, and he does it by going back to Abraham. This passage is a classic example of how Paul handled Scripture, how he did theology, and how he understood the history of redemption. I hope to get you to look at this passage perhaps a little more closely than you ever have before.

      First some context. In Galatians 2:12, Paul refers to the false teachers as "the circumcision party." These guys were lobbying for the church to adopt the Old Covenant sign of circumcision. The same group is mentioned in Acts 15:1, where Luke writes, "Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'" Acts 15:5 connects this doctrine with "some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees" So the Judaizers were led by a group of men who had been schooled all their lives in the doctrine of the Pharisees. They had professed conversion to Christ, and now they were trying to impose Pharisaical doctrine on the whole church. Paul, who was himself a former Pharisee, understood the deadly spiritual danger of that kind of legalism—how it undermines faith. So he devoted himself to refuting their error. That's what this whole epistle is about.

      The Judaizers undoubtedly believed they were making a sound biblical argument. They reasoned that since the gospel is the fulfillment and the final revelation of a promise that was first made to Abraham, all the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant ought to apply to all Christians. It seemed like a simple point. They were essentially saying that you can't be a real Christian unless you also become a Jew, because Christianity is Jewish. The gospel is the fulfillment of the original promises God made to Abraham, and he was the father of the Jewish nation. So if you want in on those promises, you need to become Jewish.

      Paul responded by saying that's a damnable false gospel, because it obscures the perfect freedom of grace, and it eliminates the central principle of the gospel—which is the truth that faith (not any kind of work or ritual, but faith alone) is the instrument of justification.

      We're not saved by any works we perform—not even the ceremonial works God Himself commanded under Old Testament law. Those things served a purpose in the Old Testament, but only as symbols that pointed the way to faith. Under the New Covenant all the Jewish symbols and ceremonies are obsolete, because they were fulfilled by Christ—and they should never be imposed on believers from Gentile cultures. Because if a Gentile has trusted Christ, he is a member of the New Covenant by faith alone, and the symbols of membership in the Old Covenant (which was a Jewish Covenant) are irrelevant. Try to import those Old-Covenant symbols into the New Covenant, and you pervert the gospel itself, which is only about faith in Christ.

      So Paul is writing this epistle to urge believers in the Galatian churches not to be influenced by the Judaizers, not to embrace them as brethren, and not to compromise the purity of the gospel by blending Pharisaical legalism with the simple truth they had heard from the apostle Paul.

      What made the Judaizers so dangerous is that they seemed like genuine Christians. Not everything they taught was wrong. They began with a few premises that were true and sound and biblical. It is true, for example, that Christianity has Jewish roots. As Jesus Himself told the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:22, "Salvation is from the Jews." Paul himself points out in Romans 3:2 that historically, the Jews have enjoyed every spiritual advantage throughout all of redemptive history, because they "were entrusted with the oracles of God."

      It is also absolutely true that there is an important thread of unbroken continuity between the very first hint of a salvation-promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 and the unfolding of the gospel in the first century. Christ is the Seed who was promised in the Abrahamic Covenant. In that sense, Christianity is Jewish, and the gospel also represents the fulfillment of the salvation-promises given in the Abrahamic Covenant, including the repeated promise that "in [Abraham and his seed] all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

      But the Judaizers were completely wrong in their application of those truths. They were too concerned with the external and symbolic features of the law, and not concerned enough with the real truth that lay at the heart of the Abrahamic Covenant. They were (like all Pharisees) too concerned with the appearance of things and not concerned enough with what really matters. By trying to drag the church back under the legal requirements of the Old Covenant, they were missing the greater truth of the New Covenant. Paul was right to condemn them in the strongest possible language. Their teaching did undermine the gospel at the most important point. It wasn't just a minor error on an issue that didn't matter to the salvation of a soul.


      Now in Galatian 2, we see that the apostle Paul understood what a serious threat the Judaizer-doctrine was to Gentile believers long before any other apostle. In chapters 1-2, he describes the history of his conversion and his long battle against this pseudo-Christian brand of Pharisaism. Chapter 2 suggests that for a while, there was tension between him and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, until he met with them and explained his position. At the end of chapter 2, he describes how he once even had to confront Peter publicly and rebuke him in front of everyone, because Peter was compromising with men who were peddling this kind of error.

      Then at the start of chapter 3 Paul rebukes the Galatians themselves by reminding them of their own experience. They came to Christ by faith alone. Faith in Christ had revolutionized their lives. Why would they now want to depart from living their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit and by faith alone in order to adopt a system of outdated ordinances and ceremonies? And Paul fires a series of questions at them, culminating in verse 5: "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" The sense of that question is captured best, I think, in the New International Version: "[Did] God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe[d] the law, or because you believe[d] what you heard?"

      Now, notice: verse 6 is a sentence fragment. It's an extension of the question Paul asked in verse 5. The question prompts the thought of Abraham, and Paul suddenly changes, mid-sentence to a whole new line of argument. Forget Paul's experience. Forget the Galatians' experience. As decisive as those arguments are, there's a still more powerful argument yet to come: What does the Scripture say?

      So the end of Paul's sentence is an appeal to the text of Genesis 15:6: "Just as Abraham 'believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'"

      In a few minutes, I'll have you turn to Genesis 15:6 and look at that verse in its original context, but first let me point out that this is one of the key texts in Paul's theology, if not his very favorite verse in all the Old Testament. Just about every time Paul mounts a major defense of the doctrine of justification by faith, he refers to Genesis 15:6 either by quoting it or by alluding to it.

      It's safe to say Paul's whole theology is grounded in a principle we first meet in Genesis 15:6—the principle of imputation. Bear that word in mind—imputation. It's an important one—really a key word whenever you talk about the principle of justification. You hear me use that word or one of its derivatives almost every week. If you're not sure what it means, hang on, and we'll talk about it.

      But first, I mentioned that Paul goes to Genesis 15:6 a lot. He quotes it, for example, in Romans 4:3. He builds a major argument about justification by faith on that text there in Romans 4. (Starting in Romans 4:3 and going through verse 22. So most of Romans 4 is essentially a commentary on the same verse from Genesis that Paul quotes here in Galatians 3:6.) Same verse from Genesis, but in Romans 4 Paul makes a whole different theological argument from the one he is about to give us here in Galatians 3—even though in both passages he is defending roughly the same point about the doctrine of justification by faith. In Romans 4, Paul's point is that Abraham was justified years before God commanded him to be circumcised. It's a point about which came first—Abraham's justification, or his circumcision. Here, Paul is making the point that justification by faith itself is not a new doctrine; it's always been the central point of biblical soteriology. He has another point to make as well. We'll come back to this. Hang on.

      By the way, Genesis 15:6 is also cited in James 2:23 to make a completely different point there. James quotes the verse to make the point that even though good works are not instruments of justification, practical righteousness is still the natural and inevitable fruit of justifying faith.

      So Genesis 15:6 is an important text about a vital doctrine, and it's one of the most closely-dissected texts from the Old Testament in the New Testament. That one verse is quoted in three separate contexts to make at least three distinct points about doctrine of justification by faith.

      Watch what Paul is doing here, and I think we can learn something from his methodology. He starts with a quotation from Genesis 15:6, and that's the anchor for the point he is making. But he isn't reluctant to grab truths from other contexts and apply them to the point as well. In verse 8 he quotes from Genesis 12:3, an earlier promise to Abraham. And in verse 10 he quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26, a text that comes from the time of Moses. This is a classic systematic approach to making an argument, and the fact that Paul did theology this way is proof this is a valid way to understand Scripture.

      Now, bear that in mind as we work through this passage. Here's how Paul's argument is constructed, and then I'll read the whole passage so you can see it: He starts by quoting Genesis 15:6, and with that as his starting point, he makes three foundational truths about the gospel. One is that Abraham was justified by faith alone. The second is that Abraham's true children are those who share his faith, not necessarily those in his genealogical line. And the third is that the gospel itself was contained in embryonic form in the promise of the Abrahamic covenant.

      We'll go over those again in detail, because those are basically the points of my outline this morning, but first let me read the passage (vv. 6-9):

. . . just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"?

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."

9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Now, let's follow the logic of Paul's argument here. He goes back to this simple statement from Genesis 15 about Abraham's justification, and he uses it to make three doctrinal and biblical points about justification by faith. The first is—


1. A Point about the Instrument of Justification

      Paul's primary argument with the Judaizers was a dispute about whether faith alone is a sufficient instrument of justification, or whether some work, or ritual, or sacrament, or ceremony is also essential to salvation.

      Now, I don't know of anyone these days who teaches precisely the same error as the Judaizers. I've never heard of any sect that calls itself Christian that tries to enforce the ritual of circumcision on converts.

      But the principle that lies behind this error is alive and well. There are lots of Christian and quasi-Christian sects that teach baptism is a prerequisite to justification. In effect, they make baptism the instrument of justification. Roman Catholicism teaches explicitly that baptism and the other sacraments are instrumental in justification. Many of the Campbellite sects that call themselves Churches of Christ likewise teach that baptism is an essential prerequisite for justification. Their teaching in effect suggests that faith alone is not a sufficient instrument for justification. Paul's argument here demolishes their system, too.

      Here's how they typically argue: They point to verses in the New Testament that speak of baptism for the remission of sin and conclude that baptism is necessary in order to be justified.

      The Judaizers made a similar mistake. They had plenty of texts in Scripture where circumcision was commanded, and they cited those as proof texts for their position. Paul in effect sets sound systematic doctrine against their selective proof-texting and actually makes his case that way.

      It's possible, by the way, to discern a lot about the Judaizers' doctrine just by looking at the way Paul dismantles their error. Paul was a great defender of the faith, so it's safe to assume that he is dealing with their strongest arguments. You can piece together their argument by paying attention to the ideas Paul refutes. And it's significant, I think, that he goes straight to the case of Abraham.

      Remember, Paul is writing to a mostly Gentile audience. These were people who had grown up pagan, and if the same thing was true about them that Paul said of the Corinthians (in 1 Corinthians 1:26), there were "not many . . . wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish [and] what is weak in the world." So these weren't scholars of world religions. What did these converted pagans know about Abraham?

      But Paul brings up the subject of Abraham as if they were intimately familiar with the story. Paul doesn't need to fill in any blanks for them. He just deals with Abraham as if they already knew all about him.

      So where did these Gentiles learn so much about Abraham? I think it's safe to surmise that the Judaizers had taught them enough about Abraham to make them practically experts in the story of his life.

      And that makes perfect sense. The first time circumcision is mentioned in Scripture is in Genesis 17, in connection with the life of Abraham. In fact, there's little doubt that Genesis 17 was the Judaizers' favorite go-to passage, because it contained one of the key proof-texts for their position.

      Turn there, and let's take a look at it. Keep a bookmark here in Galatians, because we need to come back, but I want you to see what I think was their key passage, and then we'll look at the text Paul says is even more decisive.

      First, Genesis 17. This is where God changes Abraham's name from Abram and formalizes the covenant by instituting the sign of circumcision. That's what the whole chapter is about.

      Now, look especially at verses 10-14:

This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.

12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,

13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.".

Now, let's imagine for a moment that we are Gentiles in one of the Galatian churches, confronted for the first time with the Judaizers' doctrine. Consider their argument.

      In the first place, this passage makes clear that circumcision was instituted by God Himself as the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. This is not Moses' Law; circumcision was an ordinance that was established many generations earlier, as the sign of God's covenant with Abraham. This was the pivotal covenant where the promise of salvation and the promise of the Messiah are first formally included.

      The Abrahamic covenant was given in several stages across the middle chapters of Genesis—starting with Genesis 12, the precise point where Abraham becomes the key person in the narrative. So Abraham's whole life is dominated by this covenant God made with him. God kept making him promises, then the Lord would later renew and expand those promises again and again, and the whole covenant finally culminates in the words of Genesis 22:18: "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." (In Galatians 3:16, Paul cites that verse and says that "Abraham's Seed" is a reference to Christ. And the promise of blessing for all the nations of the earth entails a promise of salvation. Keep that in mind, because that promise plays a vital role in Paul's argument.)

      But the Judaizers themselves taught that the Abrahamic Covenant was pivotal. They were absolutely right about that. They would have even agreed with Paul that "the Seed of Abraham" was a reference to Christ and the promise of blessing was the promise of salvation.

      So consider the strength of their argument: They would point out that God Himself instituted circumcision. He imposed it on all Abraham's household and all his descendants—no exceptions. The instructions were specific about how and when it was to be done. And the requirement even applied (v. 12) to "any foreigner who is not of your offspring."

      In fact, verse 14 demands that any Jew or stranger living in Israel who remains uncircumcised is to be cut off from his people.

      So this was a serious issue, and a the Old Testament makes a major point of it. If time permitted, I would show you several incidents where God expressed His severe displeasure and even threatened punishment against anyone within Israel who remained uncircumcised—including Exodus 4:24, where the Lord threatened to kill Moses because Moses had left his own son uncircumcised.

      And the Judaizers also could have pointed out that the rite of circumcision even preceded Moses' law. Again, this was not something instituted during the Mosaic economy that pertained only to Moses' law. Circumcision was the symbol of the Abrahamic covenant, and it was explicitly upheld and carried through the Mosaic covenant as well. So the rite of circumcision had a long history that went back to the dawn of the Jewish nation. Belief that circumcision was the mark of God's true people was deeply ingrained in the Jewish culture, and from a purely human perspective, it's easy to see why the Judaizers taught what they did. They believed they had biblical support for it. They had what they considered an insurmountable proof text.

      It's easy, also, from a human perspective, to see why the Galatians were so confused by this. With so much biblical support for the practice of circumcision, and most of them novice believers. Assuming (as I believe) that the Judaizers were Pharisees who had entered the church, it was hard to answer this much Old Testament scholarship.

      Paul was a scholar, too, and I think it is highly significant that he didn't answer the Judaizers in typical scholarly fashion. He doesn't quote other scholarly authorities who are on his side. He doesn't come against the Judaizers with deep philosophical arguments and arcane doctrinal terms that only other scholars would understand.

      Notice, he doesn't even answer the Judaizers directly. He doesn't offer to dialogue with them. He doesn't congratulate them on whatever they got right before offering a different perspective on one or two points he wishes they would reconsider. It's crystal-clear that he has already written them off, and he is writing to the Galatians about them.

      He also makes all his arguments with plain truth, common-sense logic, and biblical arguments so simple that anyone can understand him. A typical scholar might accuse Paul of dismissing his opponents' arguments too easily. But Paul wasn't trying to win the Judaizers to his point of view; he was writing as a pastor trying to protect his flock from grievous wolves.

      Look at Paul's argument: He doesn't start in Genesis 17, where the Judaizers started. He goes back two chapters and some fourteen years earlier in the life of Abraham. Genesis 15:6. Turn there now.

      This is one of those times when the Lord was renewing His promise to Abraham. The earliest covenant promise had come years before. (By the way, his name was still Abram at this point, but for the sake of simplicity, I'll call him "Abraham,"  because that's what Paul does.) Abraham has just returned from rescuing Lot at the battle of the kings in Genesis 14, where he met Melchizedek. And in chapter 15, the Lord comes to him and renews the covenant promise: Verse 5: "He brought him outside and said, 'Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness."

      Notice: it doesn't say Abraham performed an act of righteousness. It doesn't say he achieved righteousness or that he was righteous. It says righteousness was reckoned to him. God justified him. That's precisely what it means. God counted him righteousness—and it uses an expression that speaks of a legal reckoning—or a calculation like you would make on an accounting ledger.

      That, by the way, is what we mean by imputation. I mentioned the word earlier and said I would define it. There it is. Imputation is a legal reckoning where guilt or righteousness is put to a person's account. In other words, God declared Abraham righteous, not because of anything righteous he did, but simply because God graciously credited righteousness to Abraham's account. He imputed righteousness to him.

      Now, in Romans 4, where Paul cites this same verse, he makes a major point of the timing. Abraham was justified 14 years before he was circumcised, so circumcision could not be the instrumental cause of his justification. Romans 4:9-11 "We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised." If Abraham was justified before being circumcised, circumcision could not be instrumental in his justification. That's a negative argument based on logical inference.

      Here, Paul's argument is slightly different. It's a positive argument based on what the text actually states: Abraham's faith was the instrumental cause of his justification. Faith is the only reason given by the text for Abraham's justification.

      So that's Paul's first point here: Genesis 15:6 says faith was the instrument of his justification. It's a simple, plain, straightforward point from the text itself.

      Now, again, we know from Romans 4 that Paul could have developed the point even more by showing that Abraham's justification was affirmed at least 14 years before he was circumcised. But he doesn't even bother making that argument here, because it doesn't speak directly to the confusion of the Galatians. No doubt some of the Judaizers would have stipulated that sometimes justification comes before circumcision, but they still insisted that the Gentiles needed to go ahead and get circumcised, the way Abraham did.

      And Paul seems to want to keep the argument as simple as possible. Besides, the real issue with the Galatians was about whether circumcision was necessary at all. So he just makes his point from the text: Abraham believed God, and he was justified.

      That's Paul's first point. Here's a second one. It's—


2. A Point about the Scope of the Covenant

      Paul want to underscore the truth that the salvation promised in the Abrahamic covenant is not automatically inherited by physical descent. A right standing with God is not a birthright. It is not an ethnic or national privilege.

      And this is a brilliant, two-pronged argument. First of all, Paul gives them a dogmatic principle (v. 7): "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham." The true, spiritual descendants of Abraham are not those who inherit his genes, but those who share his faith. The verb is an imperative, by the way: "Know this." You're not a true heir of Abraham unless you share his faith. And if you share his faith, you're his spiritual descendant, even if you descended from some other ancestor.

      Now this idea is not an invention of the Apostle Paul. It was implied in the Old Testament, in several ways. The Old Testament made clear, for example, that circumcision was a symbol for heart-cleansing (You'll find that principle spelled out in Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4). Circumcision meant nothing if you still had a hard heart and a stiff neck.

      Also, in Hosea 1:9-10, the prophet warned Israel that God would cast them off as His people and graft in others, so that "in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' it shall be said to them, '[You are] Children of the living God.'"

      Furthermore, this was a major theme of the preaching of John the Baptist. In Matthew 3, when a bunch of Pharisees came to be baptized and John the Baptist called them vipers and sent them away, telling them to bring the fruits of their repentance, the next verse (Matthew 3:9) says this: "And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham." You can't claim Abraham's legacy unless you share his faith.

      Jesus said the same thing. In John 8, He's preaching to some Jews who followed Him and to some degree it says they believed in Him—meaning they apparently knew He was the true Messiah, and He says (John 8:31), "'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'

      They answered him, 'We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, "You will become free"?'" And Jesus then launched into a discourse about what it means to be a true son of Abraham. It culminates in this (v. 37): "I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you." Note the word "offspring." He acknowledges that they are Abraham's physical descendants, even as he declares them spiritually disqualified.

      So they press it in verse 39: "They answered him, 'Abraham is our father.'"

      This time Jesus uses a different word: "children." Second half of verse 39: "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did." He makes a clear distinction between Abraham's offspring and Abraham's true children. The real children of Abraham are those who share his faith.

      By the way, this is a common theme in Paul's teaching. We looked at it when we studied Romans 4 several years ago. Romans 4:12 says Abraham is "the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised." And Romans 2:28-29: "No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God."

      We don't really have time to review it in any more detail this morning. But understand that throughout his teaching, Paul makes this stark dichotomy between Abraham's physical descendants and His spiritual children, and he consistently teaches that only the spiritual children are saved.

      That, by the way, is the very lesson that is so often lost in the doctrine of infant baptism. But we'll leave that discussion for another time.

      I said this is a two-pronged argument about the scope of the covenant. The first part of it is this dogmatic statement that echoes the teaching of Christ and John the Baptist before Him—the only true heirs of Abraham are those who share his faith. And all true believers are Abraham's children whether they descended from him or not.

      Here's the second facet of the argument. Back to Galatians 3. Verse 8: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.'"

      He's back now to an explicit statement of Scripture. This, by the way, is a direct quotation from Genesis 12:3, which is the very first promise of the Abrahamic covenant: "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

      Here's the point: From the very beginning, the Abrahamic covenant had a provision of blessing for the Gentiles. It was the subtlest of hints, but there it was—all the nations (the Gentiles) would inherit a blessing through Abraham. The promise of blessing that drove the whole covenant was never exclusive for Jews only. And since the rite of circumcision was a specific sign that distinguished Abraham's immediate offspring, here's a blessing in the Abrahamic covenant that clearly is not limited to those who were circumcised.

      That's a pretty definitive refutation of the Judaizers' doctrine. Paul is saying, in essence, that they have limited their understanding of the Abrahamic covenant to an overly-narrow context. You cannot isolate Genesis 17 and hang everything on that; you have to see the covenant in the larger context of all Scripture. And when you look at the covenant through that wide-angle lens, you see that it was never meant to exclude Gentiles.

      Now, Paul is going to develop this further in the upcoming verses, and we'll see some of that next week. But before we move away from this text, I want you to take note of a third point Paul makes almost in passing. He has made a point about the instrument of justification. He followed that with a point about the scope of the covenant. Now notice that he also makes—


3. A Point about the History of the Gospel

      Look at verse 8 again: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.'"

      A lot of important doctrine rides on that phrase in the middle of verse 8: "God . . . preached the gospel to Abraham." Paul is saying that the promises of the Abrahamic covenant contained the whole gospel message in embryo. And if you think about it, that's absolutely true. All the essential elements of the gospel were there, not spelled out explicitly, but implied, and hinted at, and concealed in mysterious promises.

      Who, for example, was the Seed of Abraham in whom all the nations should be blessed? Paul says in verse 16 that was a reference to Christ, who was not only the Messiah of Israel but also the Savior of the world. Abraham couldn't have known the full meaning of that, but the essence of the promise was nevertheless there.

      The fact that salvation is wholly by God's grace was also clear. The Abrahamic promise was given unconditionally, and when God formally ratified the covenant in 15, just after we're told Abraham was justified by faith, verse 12 says the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall on Abraham and God passed through the parts of the sacrificial animal alone, signifying that this was a covenant of pure grace. God was pledging Himself to Abraham, and no requirement whatsoever was made of Abraham when the covenant was ratified.

      This was the gospel promise in its initial, incipient stage. It wasn't yet completely clear, but Abraham believed it. And there's a hint in the words of Jesus that Abraham must have had some rudimentary knowledge that everything depended on a Deliverer who would come. Because Jesus said in John 8:56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad."


      Now, Paul will go on from here and develop this argument about Abraham. In chapter four, he makes a major contrast between Old and New Covenants, showing how they differ. Here in chapter 3, however, is emphasis is on the continuity of justification by faith across all the covenants. He is expressly arguing that there has only ever been one plan of salvation in the economy of God. By going back to the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant here and referring to its grace promises as "the gospel," He's making the point that one promise of salvation ties all the covenants together. The message gets fuller as each new covenant unfolds, but the way of salvation never changes.

      Even when the law was given at Sinai, that did not overthrow the promise of salvation by grace through faith that goes back to Abraham and even before him. There is one thread of redemption running through all the covenants. It is unveiled and made clear with the coming of the New Covenant, but it's really the same gospel that was preached in embryo to Abraham.

      And above all, Abraham was justified by faith alone. His justification is the model for justification in every dispensation. It is by grace alone, through faith alone, wrought by Christ alone. And that, Paul says, is why the Judaizers' doctrine was deadly and dangerous. By trying to mingle the gracious promise of salvation by grace with the harsh demands of the law, they destroyed grace and nullified the heart of the gospel in the process.

      That's is no minor discrepancy. It's a whole different gospel. He sums up with the words of verse 9: "So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith."

      You don't get in on the covenant promise of salvation by following the rituals of the Old Covenant system. The entryway to salvation is by faith alone in Christ, who fulfilled on our behalf everything God requires for justification. Faith alone. If you try to gain justification by any other means, you have corrupted the simplicity of the gospel and you need to repent of that and trust Jesus Christ alone. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."