How Is Salvation Received?
Abraham was saved by faith (Galatians 3:6-9)
Paul quotes Genesis 15:6. The Jews (including the false teachers) see Abraham as the founder of their heritage. Abraham had obeyed God’s call to leave his family and travel to Canaan, in returned God promised Abraham children (Genesis 12:2). Years later, that promise of children had not been fulfilled. Abraham brings up the issue with God (Genesis 15:2-3). God had Abraham go outside and stated that his descendants would be like the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:5). And Abraham, we are told believed God (Genesis 15:6). Abraham was declared righteous by God in response to Abraham’s faith. Abraham’s faith was not his righteousness. God made faith a condition before granting righteousness.
Thus, Paul argues that what was available to Abraham is available to others who also demonstrate a faith like Abraham. Paul strongly states that the Galatians should know that this is certain – just as Abraham had accepted what God had promised. In demonstrating faith, they become sons of Abraham – legal heirs of the promise (Romans 8:14-17). It is not the physical lineage that is important but the spiritual behavior (John 8:39).
It wasn’t limited to the lineage of Abraham because Abraham was told repeatedly that all nations would be blessed in him (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18). This adoption of believers from the nations was God’s plan all along (Isaiah 49:6). Long before the New Testament was written, Abraham had received the joyful news of the coming Savior (John 8:56). Therefore, those who have faith like Abraham join Abraham in the blessing (Romans 4:16).
The Law placed all under a curse (Galatians 3:10-14)
The Jews, who place their hope of salvation on the works of the Old Law, are under a curse. The Law requires that the laws be kept perfectly (Deuteronomy 27:26; Jeremiah 11:3; Ezekiel 20:11). But no one keeps the laws perfectly because everyone sins (James 2:10). Thus, the Law condemns those who attempt to live by it.
Paul also quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to prove that justification comes by faith and not by the law itself. Habakkuk is dealing with how a righteous God could allow His people to be destroyed and God’s response is the righteous man lives by faith. You have to trust that God is doing the best things for you and guiding you in the right direction. Quoting Leviticus 18:5, Paul proves that the Law states that the obedient man lives by the Law, but this doesn’t justify a man or make him righteous.
This creates a dilemma. Those under the Law were expected to live by the law; yet, no one is able to keep the law perfectly. It was Christ who freed men from this trap by becoming a curse for us. This happened when he was crucified. The Law declared that all who hang are cursed (Deuteronomy 21:23). The Jews in Jesus’ day included crucifixion under the category of “hanged.” Yet, Jesus committed no sin (II Corinthians 5:21). Thus, in the case of Jesus, the Law was wrong and therefore broken.
The law requires perfect keeping in order to live, but through faith in Jesus, even though we are imperfect at keeping the law, Jesus purchased with his death so that we can be justified anyway.
Since the Law was for the Israelites only (Deuteronomy 4:7-8; 5:2-3), the ending of the Old Covenant allowed Jesus to establish a New Covenant that allowed the Gentiles to share in the blessings promised to Abraham. As a result, we (including the Galatians) can receive the Holy Spirit’s promise through faith.
Salvation came by promise (Galatians 3:15-18)
It is known that once a covenant is established it cannot be annulled or modified, even if it is just a covenant between men. However, Abraham and, through Abraham, his Seed received promises.
The promises involved Abraham’s Seed (singular), so the promises were not to the nation of Israel, who are the seeds (plural) of Abraham. The reference is to Genesis 22:17-18 (WEB), “that I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your seed greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your seed will possess the gate of his enemies. In your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” “Seed” and the pronoun “his” are all singular. Zacharias, talking about the Messiah whom John would announce, stated that promise was being fulfilled. “The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days” (Luke 1:73-75). The prophecy is that Jesus would conquer Satan’s dominion. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).
The promises to Abraham and his Seed were made long before the Law existed, so these promises were not based on the Law. Yet, Abraham was declared to be righteous. You can’t even claim it was based on circumcision because the declaration in Genesis 15 came over thirteen years before Abraham was circumcised in Genesis 17. Nor could the Law, which came later, nullify the promises in the earlier covenant with Abraham since a covenant cannot be annulled or modified after being made.
Paul mentioned that the Law came 430 years after the covenant with Abraham was ratified. At first glance, this causes an apparent conflict with Exodus 12:40-41, which states, “Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” Israel entered Egypt over 200 years after Abraham died. What should be noted is that Paul said the covenant was ratified. “Ratified” means to confirm. There were several confirmations of God’s covenant with Abraham, the last being with Jacob just before he entered the land of Egypt (Genesis 46:2-4). Thus, Exodus 12:40-41 and Galatians 3:17 are in full agreement, since the Law was given a few months after Israel left Egypt.
If the inheritance of the promise was based on the Law, then it would depend on men to keep the Law. But inheritance is based on a promise. A promise is only dependent on the one who made the promise – God (Hebrews 6:13-18).
The purpose of the Law (Galatians 3:19-25)
If the Law is ineffective to bring justification, then why did God give it? It was given because of mankind’s sins. The Law clarified what was sinful (Romans 7:7-11). The Law came through angels (Hebrews 2:2; Acts 7:38) by means of a mediator (Moses - Deuteronomy 5:5). Its duration was to last until Abraham’s promised Seed came (Romans 10:4).
Mediators typically negotiate between two groups of people. Moses was a mediator for Israel and not for God. In other words, Moses helped the children of Israel understand and accept the terms God was offering, but there was no negotiating with God. God knew what He was doing. He was of one mind about His terms. However, when it comes to God’s promises, there is no need for a mediator.
The Law was not contrary to the promises. This is often what various denominations have lapsed into believing, that somehow obedience to any law is contrary to faith. Here is Paul’s answer: “May it never be!”
Law is unable to do what faith does – impart life. If it were possible for a law to justify people, God would have done it with the Old Law. Instead, the Law condemns people as sinners making it all the more important that we receive the promise gained by faith in Jesus. But before faith, it was necessary to show mankind their need for a savior.
This then was the purpose of the Law, it was given to lead us to Christ so that we could be justified by faith. The Greek word, paidagogon (pedagogue, tutor, or schoolmaster) refers to a servant entrusted with the care of a boy from childhood to puberty. His duty was to keep the boy evil and balance his play with a focus on his studies. The Old Law was put in place until mankind matured enough. But now that we have arrived at the destination, we no longer need the guide.
We receive the promise through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29)
Every Christian became a son of God through faith in Jesus (John 1:12). Every Christian was baptized into Christ, and in so doing has changed his appearance to be like Christ (Galatians 2:20). He has been adopted into Christ’s family.
In Christ, there is no distinction in regards to salvation. Everyone is treated the same regardless of nationality, social status, or gender. In Christ, we are one people.
And if we belong to Christ, then we are the descendants of Abraham and able to inherit the promises given to Abraham (Romans 8:17; 9:7-8).