Just as Abraham believed God and that [meant he] was accounted as [one with] right standing, so also [we say] the children of Abraham are those who have [such] faith. And the Scripture, in the anticipation that God was going to put the nations in right standing [with Himself], proclaimed the Gospel beforehand [in these words given] to Abraham: "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.
     For all who would rely on works of the law are under [the law's] curse; it goes like this: "Cursed be everyone who does not keep everything written in this book and do them." And so, it is plain that no-one is in right standing with God by the law for [as it says] "the righteous person shall live through faith." But the law is not [a matter] of faith, for [as it says] "He who does these shall [indeed] live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us - for it is also written, "Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree" - that in Christ Jesus the blessing [promised] to Abraham might come to the nations, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. - Galatians 3: 6-14/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne

Right standing

Paul's exposition in Galatians was all about right standing with God, says Bruce C Wearne. PICTURE: Alessandro Erbetta/Unsplash.

 

IN A NUTSHELL

It is all about right standing with God Himself. Paul's appeal is to the promise made to Abraham.

Paul states it baldly. Those of faith are specially cared for as Abraham's offspring. God has all along proclaimed Himself as the One who keeps His promises. He promised to work with Abram and grant right standing to all the people of faith of all the nations of the earth. So the question comes: who are these people of faith?

The answer has been identified earlier - they are those whose eyes have been opened, whose ears have been awakened, those "before whose eyes Jesus Christ was demonstrably crucified" (3:1), those who have had the new life of the Spirit of Jesus Christ breathed into them. And it is as if Paul says to the Galatians: "That's you - that's you who have now, by faith, inherited the promise made to Abraham. This explains how you have 'been set on this path [to begin the new life] through the Spirit' " (verse 3).

God not only made a promise with Abraham - He walked with Abraham and worked with Abraham's seed, having given Abraham things to do which would show that he was indeed the recipient of the Promise. God's way of working with Abraham was to tell him, from the outset, of His plan for the blessing of all families, tribes and nations. Throughout his life God told Abraham that He wanted to walk with him and work with him (see Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:1-8). Abraham was given an open declaration of God's love for him when he was still Abram, and that set him on his way. "Get going" (12:1), and "Don't be afraid; I am your shield and great reward" (15:2), and "Continue to walk before me and be without blame" (17:1).

It was indeed a new beginning - and it was given to Abraham by the Lord before He set him on the path to become a distinctly circumcised people. When the Lord changed his name from Abram ["exalted father/ ancestor"] to Abraham ["ancestor/father of a multitude"], Abraham was required to initiate a rite of circumcision for himself and all his male offspring. Thus he also then took his first-born Ishmael and had him circumcised (17:23). And later Isaac, the child of the Promise, arrived. The people who would come out of that line, Isaac's descendents, were children of Abraham's circumcision. Some 430 years later they received Torah (the Law) from Moses (Galatians 3:17).

That Law, says Paul, was but part of the ongoing work of God with those who inherited the Promise. It is not the Promise. Nor is it the condition for the reception of the Promise. It is a bequest to the offspring of Abraham's circumcision, a distinctive people, with whom God was working in order that "in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (verse 14).

What is astounding here is not only that the Gentiles receive the Spirit but that Paul stands resolutely "in Christ" - the "we" is quite unashamedly those whom Christ Jesus has redeemed and justified. Now, with the coming of Christ, the Promise has been fulfilled, and right standing by faith has come to all who believe. Jew and Gentile are completely united in the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham.

Why then, from verse 10, is Paul so "hung up" about the "curse" of the law. Remember what he had repeated initially in 1:8-9 - let those proclaiming another gospel be "anathema", which some translate as "accursed". Here, though we read the same English word, but it is a different term referring to a Scriptural denunciation of any violation of the Law. Paul might announce that those proclaiming an alternative Gospel were subjected to his "anathema", he yet leaves it to the Scriptures to proclaim a "curse" for those who violate the Law - however "righteous" those who, violating at one point, might be at all other points. At this point we recall God's promise to Abram: "And those who wipe you off as so much rubbish I will curse" (Genesis 12:1-3).

Paul's pronounced "anathema" has the effect of re-directing the Galatians to what they had overlooked, ignored or forgotten. His letter is a definitive reply to their implied suggestion that Christ's redemption from the "curse" of the law was not completely sufficient for them. And so, by going beyond the Promised One they are, in fact, calling down upon themselves the Law's curse.

The "foolish Galatians" had ignored the true significance of what they had initially believed. Let me repeat what is astounding here. Not only do the Gentiles receive the Spirit, but Paul stands resolutely with them "in Christ" - "we" are unashamedly those who Christ Jesus has redeemed and justified, a new humanity completely united in the fulfilment of the Lord's promise to Abraham. In Christ we, throughout all the nations, are blessed. Our Father in Heaven is our "great reward". To walk with Him is nothing less than life itself, life in His presence. We now walk with the One who walked with Abraham, Who brought His promise to Abraham to fulfillment. Indeed, in Christ, that promise had come to its definitive fulfillment.

Israel's Messiah, according to the Scripture, was the One who alone could suffer the Law's curse in order to fulfil God's promise to Abraham that in His blessing the nations of the earth would be blessed with right standing. Galatians is the further exposition of the teaching of the Old Testament that was reaffirmed by Jesus to Cleopas and his associate on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27).