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 XVII)

Martin Luther was known for having a sharp tongue, but he also possessed a sharp pen. On what Paul says here about those who live by faith will be blessed by Abraham’s faith, he saw in his day the Jews exhibited a working Abraham, not a faithful Abraham. The Catholic Church exhibits a working Anointed One or an exemplary Anointed One. The Church quotes the Anointed One’s saying “I gave you an example, that you should do as I did for you.”[1] No one denies that Christians ought to imitate the example of the Anointed One, but mere imitation will not satisfy God. And bear in mind that Paul is not proposing an imitation of the Anointed One, but the salvation offered by the Anointed One whose model of behavior and dedication we then follow.[2]

John Bunyan exhorts on the term “Saved by Faith.” He notes that although salvation begins as part of God’s eternal purpose, and comes to us through the Anointed One’s righteousness. Nevertheless, faith is not exempted from having a hand in saving us. Not that it merits anything, but it is given by God to those He saves, that they may embrace and put on the Anointed One’s righteousness as someone who is now saved. Therefore, this faith is that which distinguished them that shall be saved from them that shall be damned. That’s why it is said, “He that believes not, shall be damned;”[3] and later it is recorded that the believers are called the children, then heirs, then blessed by the faith of Abraham. In that way, as Paul says here in verses six through nine, the promise by faith in Jesus the Anointed One might be given to them that believe.[4]

Charles Simeon (1759-1836), makes the point that the Gospel does not need to be complicated. Yet, in its simplicity, it must be clear and understandable without losing any of its saving power. That’s because the excellency of the Gospel appears no less than in the fruit it produces. Abraham was justified the first moment he believed. And seeing how that worked, no longer had any interest in doing good works to get God’s approval. That’s why he immediately left his homeland in Chaldæ and started out for a city he never visited before. All because God told him to go and he put his faith and trust in God to get him there. In every place where he stopped, he built an altar to his God and, even when called to sacrifice his beloved son with his own hands, he did not hesitate.

That serves as a model for all of us who truly believe in the Messiah, Jesus, says Simeon. We will hold nothing back, we will not hesitate, we’ll do whatever it takes, we will give up anything we need to give up in order to be found doing His will. Our number one interest is that our God will be glorified by doing what He’s called us to do. For anyone who doubts our claims, we have a list of heroes recorded in the Epistle to the Hebrews,[5] and the Acts of the Apostles to show how true faith works together for those who love and are the called according to His purpose.[6] But the key principle is that they accepted their call by faith, acted upon it by faith and accomplished it by faith. They were able to do so by faith because they believed everything God said, everything Jesus taught, and everything the Holy Spirit prompted them to do. When you talk to the people of this world, they have nothing like that to compare with.[7]

J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889) has an interesting note at the end of his commentary related to how Abraham’s test of faith made him a standout for others to imitate. From his research, he found that in Abraham, the father of the chosen race, this attitude of trustfulness was most obvious. By faith, he left home and extended family and settled in a strange land; by faith, he acted upon God’s promise of a son and an inheritance, although it seemed unheard of at his age; by faith, he offered up his only son, in whom alone that promise could be fulfilled. That’s why this one word “faith” sums up the lesson of his whole life.

Lightfoot goes on to say that during the long silence of prophecy between the close of the Biblical Jewish era to the birth of Christian Scriptures, the Hebrews were inspired to reflect and comment on the records of their race, and this feature of the faith of their great forefather’s character did not escape their notice. There were two languages which replaced the Hebrew. They became the vehicles of theological teaching by both supplying words to express their meaning. In the First Covenant the Aramaic noun ’emuwnah was used for “faith,”[8] while the Final Covenant uses the Greek noun pistis for “faith.” [9] But in between, there was much said about Abraham’s faith.

In the first Book of Maccabees our attention is directed to this lesson: “Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness?”[10] That is only one brief mention, but there is sufficient evidence to show that at the time of the Christian era the passage in Genesis relating to Abraham’s faith existed as standard text in the Jewish synagogues and schools, variously discussed and commented upon, and that the interest given to it prepared the way for the fuller and more spiritual teaching of the Apostles of the Anointed One. This appears, says Lightfoot, to have been the case in both the great schools of Jewish theology in Greek-Jewish Alexandria, Egypt and in the fully Jewish Rabbinical schools of Israel. It is also possible to include the teaching of the Jews during the Babylonian exile as well as of Palestine.

Of the Alexandrian school, Philo, a Hellenized Jew, is almost the sole surviving representative, but he represents it so fully as to leave little to be desired. In Philo’s writings, the life and character of Abraham are again and again commented upon.[11] The passage of Genesis 15:6, familiar to us from the applications in the Final Covenant, is quoted or referred to at least ten times. In his “On the Migration of Abraham,” Philo remarks that as a testimony to the faith with which the soul believes in God, showing its gratitude not by what was already done, but by its expectation of the future; for being kept in a state of suspense and eagerness by good hope, and thinking that even what was not present would beyond all question be present immediately, on account a most certain faith in Him who promises, it finds a reward, the perfect good; for it is said that “Abraham believed in God.”[12]

Once or twice Philo, like the Apostle Paul, comments on the clause of Genesis 15:6, the imputation of righteousness to Abraham, but for the most part, the coincidence is confined to the remarks on Abraham’s faith. Sometimes, indeed, faith is deposed from its sovereign throne by being coordinated with righteousness, or by being regarded as the reward rather than the source of a godly life. But, far more generally, it reigns supreme in Philo’s theology. It is “the most perfect of virtues,” “the queen of virtues.”[13] [14]

Jakob Arminius offers some interesting thoughts on predestination by posting Theses by Dr. Francis Junius Sr. (1545-1602), a French Protestant reformer and Reformed scholar. In Thesis One, Junius defines Predestination, according to the origin of the word, as a determination toward an end. But in common usage, it is equivalent to the Greek word protagh and signifies the relation of the whole arrangement toward the end. Destination is, therefore, a determination of an existing object toward its end. Also, the particle prae, prefixed to the word, denotes that the act of destination comes before the actual existence of the object.

He then goes on to say in Thesis Two, predestination, therefore, is an act of divine good-pleasure, by which God, from eternity, prepared His multitude of blessings in the Anointed One for those, who were to be heirs of salvation, to the praise of His glorious grace. This then refers to the favorable and benevolent inclination of God towards its object, not to the precise and determinate will of God in reference to any of His own purposes. In fact, Catholic scholars us the term “good-pleasure” when they distinguish the Will of God into His revealed will, and the will of His good pleasure prepared in Christ. No blessings are prepared in Christ for people except those which are sinners seeking salvation. Christ himself; the Savior of mankind, is called Jesus because “He shall save His people from their sins.[15] No one is blessed in the Anointed One if they are not a believer. That’s what Paul meant when he says here in verse nine; “So then, they, which be of faith, are blessed with faithful Abraham.”[16]

Benjamin W. Bacon (1860-1932), sees Paul taking a world-wide view of redemption. Its historic stages to his mind are three: (1) Adam, in consequence of whose fault lost the birthright of humanity to be the dominate creation,[17] and lost eternal life to become limited in their stay on earth;[18] (2) Abraham, in consequence of whose faith it was conditionally restored; (3) the Anointed One, through whose victory and gift of the Spirit believers became joint-heirs of the eternal inheritance. The Law of Moses was a temporary interlude adapted to special requirements; it merely “came in alongside” to expedite sinful mankind’s trek toward salvation.[19]

But to prove that the Law was not a superior privilege of the “holy seed” of Abraham that enabled them as “children” who know and “do the will” of the Creator to secure their “inheritance” for themselves to the exclusion of others, Paul advances the startling contradiction that the Law only resulted in a “curse” instead of “salvation,” and was intended to do just that.[20] In other words, just like a life-raft was not intended to be a permanent vehicle of transportation on the sea but a temporary object to stay afloat until rescued, the Law was only temporary to keep humankind out of sins deep waters until a Savior arrived. However, the Jews were still holding on to the life-raft and refused to get into the ship with Jesus!

[1] John 13:15

[2] Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit, loc. cit., p. 67

[3] Mark 16:16

[4] John Bunyan: Vol. 7, Ch. 1, Saved by Grace, p. 10

[5] Hebrews, Chapter 12

[6] Romans 8:28

[7] The Complete Works of Charles Simeon: Discourse (#2060), Text: Galatians 3:8-9, The Gospel Preached to Abraham

[8] Habakkuk 2:4

[9] See Romans 4:16

[10] 1 Maccabees 2:52

[11] J. B. Lightfoot: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 346-348

[12] Many of these resources noted by Lightfoot are still in Greek or Latin and not available.

[13] Philo: On the Migration of Abraham, IX. (43-44)

[14] J. B. Lightfoot: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 346-350

[15] Matthew 1:21

[16] Jakob Arminius: op. cit., Vol. 3, pp. 236-237, 279

[17] Genesis 1:26

[18] Ibid. 6:3; cf. Wisdom of Solomon 2:23

[19] See Romans 5:20; cf. Galatians 3:19-22

[20] Bacon, B. W, On Galatians, op. cit., p. 77

About drbob76

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