Galatians Sermon 5: Jesus, the Law & Abraham

May 26, 2019 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Galatians

Passage: Galatians 3:7–3:29

This sermon inevitably is going to be a little more heady.  And if you are new to the Bible and the teachings of Christianity, sometimes we come to portions of the Bible that go deep.  This is one of them.  So if you are new to the faith and Christian teachings, I have sought hard to make this sermon accessible.  But don’t let this scare you off at the beginning - the content of this chapter is one of the most important teachings of Christianity.  So please try to follow along as Paul carries us through a theological journey this morning.  At the beginning, your head may be swirling, but have patience, because Paul brings it all to clarity at the end.

By way of introduction, I want to recap where we’ve traveled thus far.  This is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to churches in Galatia, modern day Turkey.  The problem among these churches was bad teaching: people came over from Israel and said “If you want to be a Christian, you need to keep the Old Testament Law and also inherit Jewish culture and customs.”  Paul, knowing that the Christian faith is not began by Law-keeping but rather by faith, writes a pretty angry letter to be circulated among the churches.  He reminds them of how their faith began, through faith.  He reminds them that when you become a Christian, you actually experience a spiritual death to dependence on self and experience a spiritual rebirth - a new life - totally being lived in Jesus by the help of his Spirit.  And today, we are going to hear of the true purpose of the Old Testament Law.  God gave us a long list of rules to obey if we were to find life.  What happens to us if we were to attempt to do so?

Now, Christianity is a gift to this world because if we allow the Bible to speak for itself, it communicates realism.  Reality about humans.  It doesn’t shy away from speaking the truth about the human condition.  And I’m afraid that in modern times, we are attempting to move farther and farther into the silliness of thinking that humans are generally good people, and that to say otherwise is actually to be considered mean spirited or even “hate speech.”  Don’t be a downer!  Why tell someone they are a sinner?  People are good!  Let’s encourage people, and if we can pull the good out of people, then our world can be a better place. If this is our belief system, then there is ultimately no room for faith, and only room for works.  Yet this will only bring wreckage to us and wreckage to our story.  Embracing your sinful state is actually the surest path to Christian joy.  The quickest path!  Our world desperately needs to hear that they are sinners.  And I’m about to spend the next 30 minutes telling you that.  And now you’re really excited about it, I’m sure.  Let’s dive in.  Here is our road map:

 

 

1)  Faith in God’s promises (3:7-9)
2) The difference between Law and Faith (3:10-14)

3) The reason the Law was given (3:15-27)

4) Becoming heirs of the promises through faith (3:28 - 29) 

Galatians 3:7–29

[7] Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. [8] And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” [9] So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.  

 

Last week Pastor Eric did such a good job last week in leading us through 3:1-6, and reminding us of the origins of the Christian faith - which was FAITH - and if we are indeed trying to continue on today through the same means as the beginning.

Paul, as we see here, begins a new section of the book that brings us back to Abraham.  Why Abraham?  This reveals Paul’s genius in his argument: Abraham, as we will see, was before Moses.  In fact, he lived 430 years before Moses.  So can we learn something of the necessary means of salvation by looking at Abraham, who lived before Moses?  Were there promises given to Abraham before the Law of Moses was given that will help us understand how we are to relate to God and to be in relationship with him?  Indeed there is, according to Paul.  Let’s dive in:

Way back in Genesis 12, we meet Abraham, a pagan man from around where modern day Iraq is.  God appeared to him, and made a special and unique promise to him:  Genesis 12:1–3, the Word of the Lord:  

 

[1] Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. [2] And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. [3] I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)

This is known as the Abraham covenant.  God promised Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through the nation that would come out of him - meaning, apparently he is going to have a lot of children.  And through these children all the world will be blessed.  Paul says that this was the Gospel - the Good News - that was preached beforehand to Abraham.  We’ll learn how that was the case as we proceed.  The basis of this promise?  Did God say “Abraham, be good.  Be a good person.  And I’ll do this through you.”  Or, did God look down and find the most righteous person on earth, and find Abraham, and say, “Ahh, because you are so righteous, you have earned my promises - I’m going to do something amazing through your family.”  No - if you read the story, Abraham literally appears out of nowhere in the story, seemingly by random selection by God - but it was not random, but it was by selection.  God looked down due to his sovereign purposes, chose Abraham, who wasn’t even worshipping God at that point but rather was a pagan worshipping the moon and the stars, and said, “I’m going to make your family a great nation that will bless this entire world and use you to bring about my plans and purposes in this world of salvation for humankind.”  This is a promise.  And Abraham clung to these promises by faith.  He relied on these promises.  He believed them.  And thus, when we believe in God’s promises, we find ourselves following Abraham’s footsteps, being adopted into family to be including among his offspring, becoming his children, receiving the Good News just as he did - all by believing God’s promises and relying on them with our whole heart.  Faith is indeed how we are counted righteous before God.  Paul is going to spend many verses explaining exactly why this is crucial for the Galatian church to understand this.  We need to understand the difference between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Old Testament Law, or what is usually called the Law of Moses, or the Mosaic Covenant.  The Law of Moses has another name - Torah.  It is the first five books of the Old Testament.  So, let’s proceed:

 

[10] For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” [11] Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” [12] But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” [13] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

 

Paul needs these churches to understand the true purpose of the Law in God’s story and dealings with humanity because of the false teachers that entered the churches - Also simultaneously, we need to understand the nature of promises, and the two are not to be fused together as if God’s promises of blessing and salvation for the world is God’s law - the exact problem the Galatian churches were facing.  

Paul begins by retuning to an explanation of the Law.  

 

[10] For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

 

Paul is stating something very clearly: if you are relying on God’s Law to find an open door of relationship with its giver, in other words, if you are relying on obedience to be right before God, you are placing yourself under a curse.  He then quotes from the book of Deuteronomy to prove his case - if anyone does not abide by all the things in the Law, they are cursed.

We’ve established numerous times thus far in this series that there is indeed a curse awaiting us by a reliance on obedience to be in the right before God.  This curse takes on various forms - before God, we are counted as sinners.  Sinners should not be in the presence of God.  Sinners, or law-breakers, were continually exiled from God in the Garden of Eden, exiled from the land of Israel - sinners, whenever in the presence of God, feels an acute and heightened since of the almighty holiness and purity of the Sovereign God of the Universe.  And thus, like Isaiah can only cry out in anguish and fear “woe is me!  I am undone.”  

This curse manifests itself within our conscience as well.  Great fear, anxiety and insecurity can fill our life if we are hoping that we are doing enough, or doing the right things, if we are to justify our life.  The reality is that our lives are filled with many things that we have not done right - many things we’ve messed up entirely.  And we will find ourselves constantly hoping that we’re doing enough right if we are to balance out the scales of wrong.  This is how we actually feel the curse of law-breaking in our own lives.  If you rely on that way of life, you’ll feel the curse. That way of life in and of itself is indeed a curse.  Paul continues on:

[11] Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” [12] But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

 

The Bible, though, even in the Old Testament, gave us clarity on this.  The Law was actually never intended to bring us in the right before God, because the Old Testament also teaches us that those who are righteous are not considered righteous because of their long list of good deeds and law-keeping, but rather they are righteous because of faith.  Paul quotes Habakkuk, another book in our Old Testament, to tell us this.  This is a different way of life than the life of the Law, for the Law was intended to be obeyed by your actions and your motivations in life.  The Law and works wasn’t something you believed in.  The Law was something you did and accomplished.  

God’s promises given without condition to be received by faith alone - that is how the righteous are to find righteousness.  There is a stark difference between the two.  Two entirely different ways of life before God - two entirely different roads to travel to find God.  How do we find God?  How do we get to God?  How can we be in the right before God?  Through works or through faith?  Ultimately this is the question Paul is answering for us.  And he continues with clarity:

 

 

[13] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

 

Paul goes to Jesus, and shows us his role within this grand story of redemption.  Jesus redeemed us - meaning, he purchased us from the slavery of our sin.  How?  By becoming a curse for us.  To be hung on a tree, on wood, was not the curse in and of itself.  Rather, to be hung on wood showed that you were cursed by God.  Jesus became before God, cursed, as if he were a law-breaker.  But he was not a law-breaker.  Paul has already explained this to us in Galatians, and he is circling around his same argument: Jesus Christ was treated as if he was a sinner, like you and I, even thought he wasn’t.  

This was done in substitution - for us, in our place.  Why?  So that in Jesus, the very righteousness that Abraham was gifted by God - through mere faith - may be made available for the whole world.  That is, in Christ, everyone’s curse and sin can be washed away.  It was paid for in Christ.  And thus, like Abraham, to simply believe on Jesus Christ and to rely on him with all your hope provides us with a credited righteousness - we will be made right before God just by believing on Jesus.  The idea of credited righteousness can be described as me calling my mortgage company to make a payment, and being told “someone has paid it all on your behalf.  Your account is fully credited and you owe nothing.”  Before God, because of Jesus, our sin is washed away, and God now has given us a “full-rightness” before him as a gift, credited to our account.  We can’t add more right-ness to it, or do more right things to continue to raise the bar.  Nor do our bad actions remove any of the rightness.  It is a gift to us, and the right-ness belongs to Jesus.  

Thus now, all families in the earth can be brought near to God by faith through Jesus.  This is how the “Gospel,” the Good News, was preached beforehand to Abraham.

Maybe you are thinking… I’m think I’m following you Paul, but I still feel a little confused.  Why the Law then?  Couldn’t we just simply be told that we need to believe and rely on God, believe his promises, trust that he really will follow through with them, and like Abraham, be credited righteousness?  What’s up with the whole Law thing?  If God’s message can be summed up with “Believe on Jesus and you will be saved” - why couldn’t God had just skipped the whole Moses/Law part, fast forwarded a thousand years in biblical history, and brought Jesus to the world and made this path a little simpler and the Bible a little smaller?  

Here is a crucial part to the story that many people, including the Galatians, kept getting wrong  They don’t understand the purpose of the Law.  If you’ve read the Bible, like myself, you’ve probably had times in your life that you think “What do I do with the all these commandments on how to live?  Can’t I just have faith?  If I just have to believe in Jesus, why do I need to even read those Old Testament books after all?  What’s the point? Can I just not read those books and move on to the New Testament?”  The Word of the Lord:

 

[15] To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. [16] Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. [17] This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. [18] For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. [19] Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. [20] Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. 

 

God promised Abraham that he would bring about these things.  Abraham believed God.  God gave him a record of righteousness before him that he did not earn - it was a gift.  Then, 430 years later, God gave a Law through Moses - 613 of them - and asked Israel to keep all the laws if they were to find life.

Is God contradicting himself?  Didn’t he show us through Abraham that all you need is faith to be given the gift of being made right before God?  Paul carefully makes the point that an old promise is not voided out by a new promise. If I promised  to make a contract to give my house to my daughter Lydia after I die, only then for her to realize after my death that the house was worthless because of structural damage - it doesn’t void the contract.  It still stands.  That is how it is in the world - and the same before God.  

The promises given to Abraham still stand even to this very day.  Believe and rely on God’s promises.  All of God’s promises were only pointing toward Jesus - he was Abraham’s true child and offspring that God would use to grand a wide open door of faith for salvation of all who believe and cast their utter reliance on Jesus.  That is the ultimate fulfillment of Abraham’s faith.  And it’s available even now.

So why the Law, asks Paul.  Why was the Law given 430 years later?  Because of transgression.  Because of sin.  See, in God’s perfect timing, he knew that the Law had to be given in between the life of Abraham, and the life of Jesus in order to teach his people, and us, something so very important.  He gave us the law to reveal our sin.  He proceeds to explain what he means.

Now, verse 20, lets be honest - it doesn’t make any sense.   It happens from time to time if you are reading one-side of a two-way correspondence between two people, which is what we’re doing here.  Paul was probably addressing some other issue in the Galatian church that we don’t know about.  If you’d like, dive into some commentaries, they all have their own opinions as to its meaning.  So, let’s shrug our shoulders, and as Peter said, “Some things Paul writes are hard to understand,” and move on as Paul explains why exactly the Law was given - and how it doesn’t cancel out the covenant made with Abraham.  The word of the Lord:

 

[21] Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. [22] But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. [23] Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. [24] So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. [25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 

 

I’ll try to sum this up in the simplest terms I can.  In one really important aspect, we need the Law.  We need to be told by God the standards by which we need to live if we are to find true life before him.  Why?  Because we need the exposure to the reality that we can’t do it.  The Law was given to us by God after the promises given to Abraham in order that we may become aware of our sin.  We need the Law to expose to us our sinful state.  And in that way, says Paul, it served as our guardian.  The idea behind a guardian in Paul’s days was a slave or employee of a family that would help to watch and take care of their children.  Just yesterday I was trying to have this conversation with my seven year old daughter, and I think she even understood it.  I asked her, “Lydia, what can you learn about yourself if you realize you need to have mom and dad watch after you when you play on the playground?”  “It means I need someone to help me,” she said.  “Why?”  “Because I need someone to tell me if I am about to hurt myself.”  

Of course every analogy always breaks down eventually, but it is a very helpful analogy that Paul uses.  The Law watches us in the playground of life.  It tells us what we should or shouldn’t do - if we’ll do this, climb the monkey bars upside down, we’ll experience consequences. If we don’t do these things, then things will go better for us.  The Law didn’t enable us to be free - it actually created a tight barrier around us that kept us from being free.  

And in doing so, we learn something very important about ourselves:  we can’t actually do right all the time.  We’ll find ourselves climbing upside down on the monkey bars as soon as mom and dad turns their back on us.  Like a child at the playground, the guardian, the Law, will simply expose that you can’t do it and that you don’t event want to do it.  It’ll always remind you that you are about to hurt yourself.  Or, when you do fall off the monkey bars because you were climbing them upside down, that scrape or that big bruise that you just got will be a harsh reminder of why you are a sinner, and the results of not listening and obeying by the rules.  

And the funny thing is the one scrape or bruise is never enough.  We’ll find ourselves trying to climb up the slide from the bottom right afterwards just to have someone else slide down and double kick you in the face.  This is what the Law does.  It is a constant reminder of your sin, and a constant temptation on our end to break it.  

The Law is, nevertheless, the greatest entry point into Christianity.  CS Lewis once said that if you want to feel good about yourself, there are certainly better options out there than Christianity.  The first thing you need to know if you are interested in Christianity, the first reality that you need to embrace, is that you are a big ol’ sinner.  You’re spiritually crooked.  You’ve aimed your arrows and missed the mark continually your whole life.  Yes, you are not the most evil person in the world, nor do you do wrong all the time in every opportunity.  But still you are not morally upright before God, and it is all your fault, and you know it.  

Maybe you are sweating right now, thinking, “Man this pastor really wants to have a small church forever, does he now know how unpopular it is to tell people today that they are not inherently good?”  Look at our current popular conversations and the popular beliefs of the day.  We’re actually good, they say.  One of my favorite lyricists wrote a song around ten years ago called, “All the world is mad.”  Listen to some of his words as we describes the reality of human history and humankind, the realities that no one likes to talk about, the realities that are even to an extent true for all of us. Let the somberness of its content hit you like a hammer:

We can’t educate sin from our souls, it’s been there from the start.  But the blind lead the blind into bottomless pits, still we smile and deny that we’re cursed.  But of all of our iniquities, ignorance may be the worst.”

 

Ignorance may be the worst.  One of the best messages that we can accept is that we are sinners!  One of the loudest messages Christianity preaches is: you all are cursed!  And when we embrace this reality, Jesus says congratulations!  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God”  Those who realize their need of grace in their life are in a position to receive the very blessing Abraham received. Abraham knew he was inadequate for the task.  And whenever he quit relying on God and relied on himself, he immediately brought in a train of wreckage into his life.  At one point he still doubted God’s promises, and he had the bright idea of, rather than waiting on God to do the miraculous and give his wife of advanced age a healthy baby boy, he was going to take on a second wife, one of his young beautiful servants from Egypt, have a baby with her, and give the baby to his wife Sarah as if it were hers.  Now, let’s just guess how that one went over with Sarah, and how much peace that brought into Abraham’s household.  It turned into a Jerry Spring extraordinaire.  Good job Abraham.  Well done.  

But isn’t that all of our stories?  We constantly look to ourselves and rely on ourselves to fix and repair our own problems, to bring us that final happiness, to bring about all that missing in your life, we look to ourselves to rebuild the bridges we burned, we look to our own hands to labor to finally make God happy, and we think “now if I can only get this accomplished, then all will be well.”

Embrace it!  You are a sinner.  And you are in need of help.  You must also face that the help you need isn’t going to come from inside of you, waiting to hear some golden word of counsel from your own heart.  Nor will that ultimate help you need come from somebody else in your life.  Leaning on anything else other than Jesus for that help is going to be like leaning on a sharp spear - it’ll pierce right through your hands.  And only then, when you open your eyes and see the holes in your own hands from all the sin you’ve wrought on yourself, will you then see the pierced hole in our savior’s hands, feet, and his side, and exclaim “Those holes were mine!  He didn’t deserve to be pierced, but he was in my stead.  What blessed grace!  He was perfectly righteous!  Oh Jesus save me from my sin!”

The Law, then, serves those who are outside of the Christian faith as the primary entry gate.  A humbling realization of your need.  What about for the Christian?  Is there a purpose for the Christian?

It serves as a reminder of your sin continually, and serves as a reminder of how your Christian life began: by faith, and not by works.  Oh its always good news to hear that!  You don’t need to do the right things to impress God and be saved, Jesus did so on your behalf.  What rest and freedom it is!  That is such Good News.

Secondly, you should now, because of Jesus, have a deep desire, hunger and love for the Law. This is what I mean.  The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, is nothing but a massive love song to God’s Law.  It is someone writing with deep, love filled emotional language concerning their knowledge and love for God’s law.  Your love for the Law is not because you need it to make God happy.  But now, since God is already happy with you, you should be filled with utter joy to say “Yes!  Thank you for telling me how to live God.  I want to do these things, I want my life to be marked by them!  I want my very existence to shine and carry the fragrance of the one who perfectly kept the law on my behalf - Jesus.   You now get to keep the Law.  

Now, that we’ve dove into perhaps the deepest and most profound theological text yet of our time together as a church plant, lets finish off our sermon with these final verses:  

 

[27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (ESV)

 

We find ourselves at the beginning one again, finishing off Paul argument.  Through Abraham’s children, particularly one of them, Jesus, a blessing was made available to the world. And this blessing, one someone who realizes they are a sinner and in need of grace receives the Good News of Jesus by faith - they have become one of Abraham’s offspring.  And these churches in Galatia, who were former brown skinned pagans, not Jewish like Jesus or the apostles, when they believe on Jesus and “put on Christ” - they are numbered among God’s people.  They are numbered among Abraham’s spiritual offspring.  And it no longer matters what skin color you have, what ethnic origin you have, or what language you speak.  It no longer matters where you are on the economic scale - rich or poor - everyone is one big happy family in Jesus.  

 

As we close our time, a few questions that will be of help to bridge this over to us:

  1. Are you OK with admitting that you are imperfect, as God’s Law reveals?  Embrace it!  The sooner you embrace this, as Jesus said in the sermon on the mount - Congratulations!  This is a huge step in your spiritual growth.  A big one.  In fact, it is the first and most important step.  If you are young and just beginning the Christian journey, this step you must embrace.  For the seasoned Christian, you must never forget this, lest you live as if it is not true and bring wreckage into your life.  Our sinful state as humans have placed us on permanent need for God’s Spirit who lives within the Christian to be our help, our need, our guide at all times.  

2)  It is OK to confess sin, and to be open about it.  If you’re here, smiling as if everything is OK, worried about what others may think of you if they only heard the truth - were you listening?  Did you not just hear that we’ve all messed up?  Sure, maybe some messes up worse than others.  But we’re all sinners before God, an we’re all in need of grace before God.  Maybe your sin is just a reaction to a very difficult situation you find yourself in, and you’ve responded poorly, lacking faith.  Maybe your sin is for too long guarding hidden secret sins that need to be exposed.  Listen, there should be no shame in confessing them.  Sin is a giant heavy burden that Jesus can remove and release.  It’s paid for, and he was judged for it.  He was cursed because of it, so you don’t have to be.  Release the burden of sin, repent of it, turn from it, grab someone next to you and say “I don’t care what you may think of me, but I need to confess this.”  Please!  And Church, how dare you even be tempted to judge others - remember the grace you’ve received.  Extend the same grace to others, and pray for them.  

 

We’re about to enter into communion, which is the perfect time to do so.