CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

 CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XIII)

Now, asks Paul, is what God did for Abraham just for the Jews, or are the Gentiles, like those of you in Galatia, included? There is no doubt that Abraham was credited with a right standing before God, but under what circumstances and conditions did Abraham receive such credit. Was it before he was circumcised, or after he was circumcised? Guess what? It happened before he was circumcised! So then, Abraham is the spiritual father of all believing Gentiles. Circumcision was given as a sign to show that, in fact, he was credited with a right standing with God on the basis of the trust he exhibited while he was still an uncircumcised Chaldean. This happened so that he could be the father of every uncircumcised person who trusts and thereby is given a right standing with God. But at the same time, he became the spiritual father, in addition to the forefathers, of every believing Jew who follows in his footsteps in trusting God, not trying to convince God to give them a right standing with Him through good works.

For that reason we must conclude that the promise of a right standing with God is based on trust so that it may come as God’s free gift, a promise that can be relied on by all believers, not only those who live within the framework of the Torah but also those with the kind of trust Abraham exhibited. This harmonizes with what God told Abraham because of such trust, “I have appointed you to be a father of many peoples.”[1] His trust did not waver when he and Sarah were well passed the time of producing children by the normal process. As far as Abraham was concerned, his 100-year-old body long ago passed that stage. On the contrary, by the trust he put in God’s promise, he was made potent so that he could impregnate Sarah, for which he gave all glory to God. He was fully convinced that what God promised he could also accomplish with God’s help. This is why he was credited with a right standing with God because of his trust and obedience.[2] [3]

No doubt the Judaizers and misled Galatian believers were hoping Paul would run out of subjects. But just when they thought he was through, here he comes with the most revered and honored ancestor in Jewish history, Abraham. He was every Jews’ ancestral father. How dare Paul bring this Patriarch into the discussion?  If anything, Abraham represented what Judaism became, God’s chosen people to whom He gave the Torah. They were sure that Abraham was on their side and would bless them for being so devoted to the religious rituals and regulations given to them by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

However, Paul reminds them that Abraham did not possess the Law, later given to Moses; not even the Ten Commandments; nor was circumcision required before God credited him with righteousness. Saul of Tarsus – who was to become known to the world as Paul, the leading spiritual ideologist of early Christianity – made considerable use of Abraham as a model to support his own belief that the observance of laws is not advantageous to receive spiritual salvation.

However, one modern Jewish writer questions Paul’s argument that Abraham lived before the Torah was given?  If he did, then he could not observe its laws. Even so, God still deemed him right to stand forgiven before Him. In what is called a typical, “Midrashic” (the way Jewish scholars comment on Hebrew Scriptures for exposition), Paul notes that the verse in question took place before the account of Abraham’s circumcision. The Jewish writer, however, believes that Paul did so in order to emphasize that circumcision (which Paul represents as the core of all ritual observances) is not a requirement for righteousness or salvation to be earned through belief and trust in God. The writer goes on to say, that in view of such claims made by early Church Fathers about Abraham, it is perfectly understandable that the Rabbis would feel it essential to assert that Abraham was truly a Jewish figure who found a way to observe the precepts of the Torah even before they were made mandatory by its revelation on Mount Horeb in Sinai.

Now, since there’s no record of Abraham being a devotee of certain rituals and customs meant to please God, except animal sacrifice,[4] then what made Abraham follow the voice of God and do what God asked him to do? Paul hammers home the deciding factor, it was faith in the God of Noah. Abraham acted by faith; his faith in who God was and faithful to what He said.

We know from Acts 8:1 that Paul witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen by stoning, therefore it must also be accepted that he heard Stephen’s final message to his persecutors as found in Acts of the Apostles 7:51-53. “You stubborn people who shut tight your hearts and ears just like your forefathers. You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And even though you received Mosaic Law through the compassion of angels, you disobeyed it by betraying and murdering Him.”

Can it possibility be that this stirring message from Stephen was on Paul’s mind as he struggled with the Judaizers to recognize that they were just as stubborn as those who stoned Stephen, and their ears and hearts were boarded shut against who Jesus really was – the Righteous One; the One who came to pay the price for sin, thereby satisfying God the Father who in turn approved the payment for everyone?

In describing Abraham’s act of faith, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6. He points out that God credited Abraham’s faith and obedience to him as “righteousness.” The word in the Greek verb logizomai, translated as “accounted” (KJV) “credited” (NIV)” refers to something real; not just hoped for or a supposition. It’s more than God just saying: You know what Abraham because you’re such a nice guy, let me think about it. I’m going to lay down some laws in about 430 years on how to do things right and see if you qualify under those. No! No! Abraham did it right, and got it right, for all the right reasons; therefore, God said, “Abraham, everything you did is right with Me, I gave you My guaranteed approval.”

Righteousness is also a word often used by ministers and teachers of the Bible, but few people in the pew know its full meaning. Some think that a righteous person is someone who’s perfect in their Christian walk, and that gives them the right to judge others. Some even equate righteousness as being on a higher level in one’s relationship with God because they always outdo everyone else in pleasing God and getting His applause. In its broadest sense, righteousness means knowing the difference between right and wrong and always choosing what is right in order for God to be pleased with them.

In Genesis,[5] the Hebrew verb chashab involved what we call ethics. You see this illustrated in Isaiah where the women of Jerusalem are told because of their disrespect for God, everything they own will be ruined, they will wrap themselves with rags, the land will be overgrown with thorns and thistles. That is until God’s Spirit is poured out on them. Then their desert will become fertile fields, and the crops in their fields will be chashab, treated, or counted, like a forest.[6]  In other words, although the crops could measure up to be considered a forest, God would give them the honor of being “a called one.” So even though none of us might feel that we deserve being called one of God’s chosen children because we don’t possess the talent and abilities of others, when God sees that we are giving Him all that we possess with all our heart, we may find our name on that list anyhow.

Here in Galatians, the Greek verb logizomai is given as the equivalent to the Hebrew verb chashab. The Greek, logizomai, means, “to take into account.” That means it is given the same quality as something it is replacing. For instance, today, there are many universities that recognize a student’s life experiences in some art or science as being the same as though they earned that credit by completing courses in the same art or science at the university. Both chashab and logizomai involve ethics and express some of the same qualities: integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting, especially when passing judgment on others. The German word for this is Gerechtigkeit. That places the emphasis is on being “just and fair.”  Simply put, it means doing the right thing for the right reasons at the right time. So, in other words, it’s a believer’s intent and purpose, not how they do it as much as why they do it that receives God’s approval.

This involves doing what God wants us to do to reflect our attitude and actions that satisfy Him. A quick look at what God expects of His children tells us that He desires all of us to be truthful, live by the highest moral standards, always doing the right thing, not being biased or discriminatory in our feelings and actions toward others. We are to be just and fair in our thinking, respect others for who they are, not what they are. The reason Abraham qualified as righteous before the Messiah came, was that he had faith in God’s promise that he would father a son who then would become the one through whom the Messiah was to be born. So, when the Messiah did come, Abraham was included in those who trust Him as their Lord and Savior.

We clearly see that faith by itself is not righteousness, nor does righteousness bring salvation; but acting on one’s faith brought by salvation in obedience to God’s Word, is righteousness. If you attempt to do those things out of obligation or a feeling of duty in order to obtain God’s favor, it will be a waste of your time and God’s time. So, it is obvious that we are not righteous simply because we say the sinner’s prayer or join a church, but when we by faith accept what the Messiah did on our behalf and become obedient to God’s Word and His instructions, then our righteousness will show in our behavior. In other words, doing what God tells us to do so we are in His will, fulfilling His purpose for our lives in a way that’s in line with His Word – that’s living righteously.

Therefore, we see that Paul connects two things: faith and righteousness. Paul repeats this concept in his letter to the Roman believers.[7] So now Paul reminds the Galatians, I came to you teaching and preaching about the righteousness of Jesus the Anointed One, doing what His Father asked Him to do in order to completely fulfill the requirements for salvation. Therefore, if Abraham was considered righteous in that same way; and if you claim to be Abraham’s children then you must follow his example. Accept God’s Word by faith and become obedient to that Word.

And I’m telling you, Paul says to the Galatians, that the Word of God I brought to you is this: God sent His Son into the world so that through His obedience and doing His Father’s will, anyone who believes in Him and becomes His disciple will also be counted as righteous and pleasing to God. So why in the world are you throwing this away and trying to please God some other way?  “Many of you,” says Paul, “claim to be descendants of Abraham, but I’m telling you that’s only in the flesh.  If, however, you want to be the spiritual descendants of Abraham then accept Jesus the Anointed One as the basis for your faith.”

[1] Genesis 17:5

[2] Ibid. 15:6

[3] Romans 4:1-22

[4] Genesis 15:9ff

[5] Genesis 15:6

[6] Isaiah 32:15

[7] Cf. Romans 4:18-25

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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