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. – Galatians 3:7-9 ESV
In his defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Paul makes a somewhat surprising argument. Having rejected the idea that adherence to the Mosaic Law was a necessary requirement for salvation, Paul brings up Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrew nation. What makes this tactic so interesting is that Paul is using the one man that all Israelites revere, including the Judaizers, to support his argument against the need for Gentile conversion to Judaism.
Paul refers to Abraham as “the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9) and this will become the basis of his entire argument. The question becomes: Why was Abraham considered a man of faith? Was it because of something he did? In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul argued 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 the promises of God that led to God’s declaration of his righteous standing. It had nothing to do with Abraham’s behavior or his adherence to a set of laws. Even back in the days of Abraham, God had operated on the singular criteria of faith. His relationship with Abraham was based on a simple promise that stated, “All nations will be blessed through you” (Galatians 3:
the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:8 ESV). This is a direct quote from the promise God made when He called Abraham out of Ur.
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 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.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV
Abraham believed this promise and left Ur for the land of Canaan. There was no law involved because the law did not yet exist. Circumcision was not required because God had not yet instituted that religious rite. All that was required of Abraham was faith. He simply needed to believe God’s promise and obey God’s command. And he did.
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him… – Genesis 12:4 ESV
At this point in the story, Abraham’s “family” consisted of himself and his barren wife, Sarah. He had no children and, therefore, no heir. Yet, when God had promised to produce a great nation from him and his infertile wife, Abraham believed and set out in faith.
Paul uses Abraham’s faith-motivated actions as encouragement for the struggling Christians in Galatia.
So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. – Galatians 3:9 NLT
He is using the Hebrew patriarch as an example of what it means to live by faith. The Galatian believers were being told that faith was an insufficient means to receive salvation. The Judaizers were telling them that circumcision was required because it was a sign of the covenant commitment to Yahweh, the God of the Jews. It was the first step in a lengthy and legalistic process toward true faith. But Paul vehemently disagreed, using their own patriarch as the proof.
A few verses later, Paul points out that Abraham was deemed righteous by God long before the Mosaic Law was given. It would be 430 years before the law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, so there is no way that Abraham’s righteousness was tied to the law. When Moses received the promise that God would bless all the nations through him, he was 75 years old. It would be 25 years later before God instituted the rite of circumcision.
Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. – Genesis 17:9-11 NLT
So, there is no way that circumcision can be tied to Abraham’s faith. God declared Abraham to be 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 the Hebrews. It’s important to note that God’s original promise to Abraham was made before the Hebrew nation even existed. Isaac had not yet been born.
Later on in this same chapter, Paul divulges how God intended to make Abraham “the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5 ESV). It would be through offspring that God would bless all the nations of the earth. But Paul’s Spirit-inspired interpretation of God’s promise is the most important part of his entire argument.
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. all along, God’s plan had been to bless the nations through Abraham by making the Messiah one of his descendants. It would be through Jesus that the nations would be blessed by being restored to a right relationship with God the Father through faith in Christ the Son.
It would be through faith in Christ’s substitutionary death 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 ever save themselves, including the Jews. Yes, they had the law of God, but they were incapable of living up to its exacting standards. 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 keep 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. Nothing was missing 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.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.