A People of Faith.

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.

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Justifed By Faith.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. – Romans 3:27-31 ESV

When it comes to righteousness or right standing before God, does anyone have any grounds on which to boast? Is it possible for a Jew to claim righteousness because his adherence to the law? If it was, then Christ died in vain. If righteousness is available to men through their own effort, through the keeping of the law, then the Gentiles are hopeless, because God did not give them the law. But Paul asks, “is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also?” (Romans 3:29 ESV). Then he answers his own question. “Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one…” (Romans 3:30 ESV). There are not two plans of salvation – one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. God did not set up two means of attaining righteousness – one through good works and the other through faith. God “will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Romans 3:30 ESV). In this last sentence, Paul uses two different prepositions: by and through. One is the Greek word ek and the other is dia, and they both mean essentially the same thing: “by means of.” Most likely, Paul used two different prepositions in talking about Jews and Gentiles to illustrate that God chose to deal with each in two distinctively different ways. To the Jews He gave the law. But it was to show them His holy expectations and their inability to live up to them. The Gentiles did not receive the law. They were essentially outsiders. In writing to the Gentile believers in Ephesus, Paul reminded them, “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT). Then he gave them the good news: “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 NLT). They were near to God, made right with Him, through the blood of Christ and through faith. Both Jews and Gentiles are made right with God by and through faith. What looked like two different paths was essentially one and the same. The gospel of God, His plan for man’s salvation, was always going to go through Jesus. That is why Paul can so confidently and emphatically state, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28 ESV). He doesn’t say, “in conjunction with” or “alongside” works of the law. In other words, justification stands completely based on faith, and that faith must be placed in a single source: God’s offer of salvation made possible through the death of His own Son. In his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul gives a synopsis of the gospel, the good news in which we are to place our faith: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…(1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV). He came. He died. He was buried. He rose again. And Paul says, “so we preach and so you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:11 ESV).

It is belief in God’s gospel that brings about our justification. We are made right with God through faith in His redemptive plan, not our own futile efforts to live a righteous life. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV). It is our belief in that reality that makes us right with God. In the very next chapter of Romans, Paul will state, “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right [justified] with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). That is what we must believe. It is in that truth we must place our faith. 

So does faith eliminate and invalidate the law? Not in the least. Paul claims that when we are justified by faith, we actually uphold the law. Paul uses the Greek word, histēmi and it means “to uphold or sustain the authority or force of anything” (Outline of Biblical Usage). Our ability to keep the law is made possible through our faith in the redemptive work of Christ. Our capacity to live righteously or rightly is given to us by God through our faith in Christ. Paul summarizes our new relationship with the law in chapter eight of Romans:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:2-4 ESV

Through His gospel, God has made it possible for men to live in harmony with Him, having placed the desire to keep His commands in their hearts. No longer do we serve Him in the flesh or through our human effort. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8 ESV). But we live according to the Spirit. And “if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10 ESV).