Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 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.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:7-9 ESV
In his defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Paul appeals to the patriarch of the Jewish people: Abraham. As he did in his letter to the Romans, Paul argues that Abraham was deemed righteous before God because of his faith.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:1-3 ESV
Paul contends that it was Abraham’s belief in God and the promises He had made to him that led to God’s declaration of his righteous standing. It had nothing to do with works. In fact, it would be hundreds of years before the law would be given. And God declared Abraham as righteous long before He commanded the rite of circumcision. Paul clarified this point as well in his letter to the Romans.
For 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. – Romans 4:9-11 ESV
You can see why Paul was so upset with those who had shown up in Galatia representing the party of the circumcision. They were demanding that all the Gentile converts be circumcised as a non-negotiable requirement for their acceptance into the fellowship. And yet, in his letter to the Romans, Paul clearly revealed the fallacy behind this belief. He made it perfectly clear that God declared Abraham righteous long before the requirement of circumcision had been given.
The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him 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. – Romans 4:11-12 ESV
Abraham was to be the father of many nations, not just that of the Jews. Later on in this same chapter, Paul will divulge how God intended to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations and become a blessing to the nations. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV). Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, unpacks this familiar Old Testament passage and reveals that God’s plan all along had been to bless the nations through Abraham by making the Messiah one of his descendants. It would be through Jesus and by faith in His finished work on the cross that the nations would be blessed. The Jews (circumcised) and the Gentiles (uncircumcised) would discover the blessings of God through faith in His Son. Paul was adamant in his belief that righteousness was available through faith alone in Christ alone.
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. – Romans 4:13-14 ESV
No one could save themselves, including the Jews. Yes, they had the law of God, but they were incapable of keeping it. All the law could do was expose their sinfulness and condemn them as unrighteous and unworthy of God’s goodness. The law revealed God’s righteous expectations and man’s incapacity to live up to them. The law made the holiness of God tangible, but also unattainable.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. – Galatians 3:23-24 ESV
Paul wanted the Galatians to realize that their salvation was solely based on faith in Jesus Christ. There was nothing missing. There was nothing that needed to be added and there wasn’t anything more they needed to do. It was the finished work of Christ and their complete dependence upon it that had resulted in their salvation. And Paul reminded them that “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9 ESV). Faith is foundational to all that we are as believers. Without faith, we have nothing. Without faith, we are nothing. “In walking with God, a man will go just as far as he believes, and no further. His life will always be proportional to his faith. His peace, his patience, his courage, his zeal, his works – will all be according to his faith” (J. C. Ryle, Holiness). We are saved as a result of faith. We grow spiritually in proportion to our faith. We live our lives according to faith. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Our works, devoid of faith, are worthless. And our faith, if not placed in the finished work of Christ and kept there, can easily transform into self-reliance – a kind of faith that seeks to earn favor with God through self-effort. At the heart of biblical faith is a God-dependence that recognizes self as insufficient and Jesus as the only solution to our sin problem.