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Faith or Observance of the Law February 1, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 3:1-14.

Summary: Paul begins by reproving the Galatians and asks them – rhetorically – who has tricked them; although he vividly depicted Christ by his preaching, they have effectively crucified Him again. He then challenges them to consider their own experience – did they receive the Holy Spirit when they were under the law and observed it, or did they receive the Holy Spirit when they heard the Gospel message and believed it? He warns them that their attempts to be justified by the law – again – are causing them to forego their good beginnings. They had been painfully afflicted for the sake of the Gospel message – and now they could lose their glory; he then gently corrects them in order to heal them. Indeed, God – by the power of the Holy Spirit – had transformed their lives through his preaching; moreover, their lives had not been transformed by their observance of the law.

Paul then bolsters his argument by citing the example of Abraham in Genesis 15:6; Abraham’s faith in God allowed him to be righteous before Him. Thus, those who have faith in Christ are the true children of Abraham. Moreover, the Old Testament states that:

  • God would make the Gentiles righteous by the blessing of Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ
  • all nations – including Gentiles – would be an inheritance for Abraham, as stated in Genesis 12:3.

Thus, those who have faith in Christ – including the believing Abraham – are declared righteous before God.

Now Paul notes that those who are under the law are subject to a curse, as it is stated in Deuteronomy 27:26 that those who do not do the law truly and perfectly are under a spiritual curse. He then quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 to support his assertion that the righteous will live by a faith that lays hold on Christ. Moreover, the law is separate – and set apart – from faith, as it is stated in Leviticus 18:5 that those who truly obey the law will be declared righteous before God. Now Christ took the sins of all mankind – including those of the Galatians – upon Himself and became a cursed sinner, as the law of Moses asserts that anyone who was hanged was a criminal. Paul concludes by stating that Christ became a cursed sinner so that all nations – including Gentiles – could receive the righteousness and life that Abraham received; thus, by faith they could receive the promised Holy Spirit and be freed from the curse of the law.

Thoughts: In this passage, Paul uses several Old Testament quotations to prove that people are declared righteous by their faith in Christ – not by observing the law. Luther offers some thought-provoking notes on this point in his commentary on verse 7:

Some people will here object, as the Jews do, that the passage in Genesis is talking about something physical – namely, the promise of posterity – and therefore Paul is not right to apply it to faith in Christ. Similarly, they may object that the passage from Habakkuk, which Paul refers to in Galatians 3:11, speaks of faith regarding the fulfillment of the whole vision, not just faith in Christ. They may also twist the whole of Hebrews 11 in this way, which speaks of faith and the examples of faith. By these things such arrogant spirits seek praise as wise and learned spirits, though they deserve it least of all.

I tried to view the two quotations from Genesis in this passage from the Jewish perspective; in particular, perhaps it could be asserted that “all nations will be blessed through” Abraham in that:

  • Abraham is the forefather of the Jews
  • the Jews received the law from God and so they were especially blessed as His covenant people
  • moreover, any foreigners who chose to join the nation of Israel would then receive the blessings of God’s original covenant with the Jews
  • thus, the Jews – as God’s covenant people – would be a blessing to all nations, i.e. the foreigners who joined their community and received God’s covenant blessings.

Of course, one challenge to this argument relies on the first quotation from Genesis: Abraham’s belief in God’s promise “was credited to him as righteousness.” This occurred before God established His covenant with the Jews, and so, at the very least, Abraham did not have to uphold his end of a divine covenant to be declared righteous by God. The more interesting debate in this regard, as Luther notes above, centers on Paul’s application of that quotation “to faith in Christ.” As Christians, we believe that Paul was divinely inspired in his interpretation of Genesis 15:6; any thoughts on this point – especially from the Jewish perspective – are welcome.

In verse 13, we see that Christ freed us from condemnation by the law by allowing Himself to be condemned by the law. Luther offers some insights on this point:

No doubt the prophets all foresaw that Christ would become the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, and blasphemer that ever was or could be in the world. Being made a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, he is not now an innocent person without sins, not now the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary, but a sinner who carries the sin of Paul, who was a blasphemer, an oppressor, and a persecutor; of Peter, who denied Christ; of David, who was an adulterer and a murderer and caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord. In short, Christ bears all the sins of all people in his body.

One can only imagine the pain that God the Father endured when He had to lay the sins of all mankind for all time – including those of murder, adultery, theft, rebellion and blasphemy – to the account of God the Son. Even though God the Son had never committed any of these sins, He was still charged with having committed them by God the Father and found guilty. Now on a somewhat-related note, Christian praise songs typically refrain from stating that Christ had the specific above-mentioned sins charged to His account; some songs mildly note that Christ “became sin”. If more praise songs actually listed these specific sins as having been charged to the account of Christ, would that sharpen our understanding of the pain that the members of the Trinity endured at that time?

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