Old Testament Faith
Alittle boy had made a little boat, all painted and fixed up beautifully. One day someone stole his boat, and he was distressed. In passing a pawnshop one day he saw his boat. Happily he ran in to the pawnbroker and said, ‘That is my little boat.’ ‘No,’ said the pawnbroker, ‘it is mine, for I bought it.’ ‘Yes,’ said the boy, ‘but it is mine, for I made it.’ ‘Well,’ said the pawnbroker, ‘if you will pay me two dollars, you can have it.’ That was a lot of money for a boy who did not have a penny. Anyway, he resolved to have it; so, he cut grass, did chores of all kinds, and soon had his money.
“He ran down to the shop and said, ‘I want my boat.’ He paid the money and received his boat. He took the boat up in his arms, and hugged and kissed it, and said, ‘You dear little boat, I love you. You are mine. You are twice mine. I made you, and now I have bought you.’
“So it is with us. We are, in a sense, twice the Lord’s. He created us, and we got into the devil’s pawnshop. Then Jesus came and bought us at awful cost—not silver and gold, but His precious blood. We are the Lord’s by creation and by redemption.”—William Moses Tidwell, Pointed Illustrations (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press, 1951), p. 97.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 29.
Several modern translations have tried to capture the sense of Paul’s words in verse 1 about the “foolish” Galatians. The actual word Paul uses in Greek is even stronger than that. The word is anoetoi, and it comes from the word for mind (nous). Literally, it means “mindless.” The Galatians were not thinking. Paul, though, does not stop there; he says that, because they are acting so foolishly, he wonders if some magician has cast a spell on them: “Who has bewitched you?” (Gal. 3:1, NKJV). His choice of words here may even suggest that the ultimate source behind their condition is the devil (2 Cor. 4:4).
What baffles Paul so much about the Galatians’ apostasy on the gospel is that they knew salvation was rooted in the cross of Christ. It was not something that they could have missed. The word translated “portrayed” or “set forth” (KJV) in Galatians 3:1 literally means “placarded” or “painted.” It was used to describe all public proclamations. Paul is saying that the Cross was such a central part of his preaching that the Galatians had, in effect, seen in their mind’s eye Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23, 2:2). In a sense, he’s saying that, by their actions, they are turning away from the Cross.
Paul then contrasts the current experience of the Galatians with how they first came to faith in Christ. He does this by asking them some rhetorical questions. How did they receive the Spirit? Or how did they first become Christians? And from a slightly different perspective, Why did God give the Spirit? Was it because they did something to earn it? Certainly not! Instead, it was because they believed the good news of what Christ already had done for them. Having begun so well, what would make them think that now they had to rely upon their own behavior?
So far, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul has defended his gospel of justification by faith by appealing to the agreement reached with the apostles in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1–10) and to the personal experience of the Galatians themselves (Gal. 3:1–5). Beginning in Galatians 3:6, Paul now turns to the testimony of Scripture for the final and ultimate confirmation of his gospel. In fact, Galatians 3:6–4:31 is made up of progressive arguments rooted in Scripture.
It is important to remember that at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians there was no “New Testament.” Paul was the earliest New Testament writer. The Gospel of Mark is probably the earliest of the four gospels, but it likely was not written until around the time of Paul’s death (a.d. 65)—that is, about fifteen years after Paul’s letter to the Galatians. So, when Paul refers to the scriptures, he has only the Old Testament in mind.
The Old Testament scriptures play a significant role in Paul’s teachings. He does not view them as dead texts but as the authoritative and living Word of God. In 2 Timothy 3:16 he writes, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” The word translated “inspiration” is theopneustos. The first part of the word (theo) means “God,” while the second half means “breathed.” Scripture, therefore, is “God-breathed.” Paul, then, uses the scriptures to demonstrate that Jesus is the promised Messiah (Rom. 1:2), to give instruction in Christian living (Rom. 13:8–10), and to prove the validity of his teachings (Gal. 3:8, 9).
It is difficult to determine exactly how many hundreds of times Paul quotes the Old Testament, but quotes are found throughout all his letters, except his shortest ones, Titus and Philemon.
Abraham was a central figure in Judaism. Not only was he the father of the Jewish race, but Jews in Paul’s time also looked to him as the prototype of what a true Jew should be like. Many not only believed that his defining characteristic was his obedience but that God had declared Abraham righteous because of that obedience. After all, Abraham forsook his homeland and family, accepted circumcision, and was even willing to sacrifice his son at God’s command. That’s obedience! With their insistence on circumcision, Paul’s opponents certainly argued along these same lines.
Paul, however, turns the tables by referring to Abraham—nine times in Galatians—as an example of faith instead of law-keeping.
Whereas justification was a metaphor taken from the legal world, the word counted, or reckoned, is a metaphor drawn from the domain of business. It can mean “to credit” or “to place something to one’s account.” Not only is it used regarding Abraham in Galatians 3:6, but it occurs another 11 times in connection with the patriarch. Some Bible versions translate it as counted, reckoned, or imputed.
According to Paul’s metaphor, what is placed into our accounts is righteousness. The question is, however, On what basis does God count us as righteous? It surely cannot be on the basis of obedience, despite what Paul’s opponents claimed. No matter what they said about Abraham’s obedience, Scripture says that it was because of Abraham’s faith that God counted him as righteous.
The Bible is clear: Abraham’s obedience was not grounds for his justification; it was, instead, the result. He didn’t do the things he did in order to be justified; he did them because he already was justified. Justification leads to obedience, not vice versa.
“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’ ” (Gal. 3:8, ESV). Paul writes that not only was the gospel preached to Abraham, but it was God who preached it; so, it must have been the true gospel. But when did God preach the gospel to Abraham? Paul’s quotation of Genesis 12:3 indicates he has in mind the covenant God made with Abraham when He called him in Genesis 12:1–3.
The basis of God’s covenant with Abraham centered on God’s promises to him. God says to Abraham four times, “I will.” God’s promises to Abraham are amazing because they are completely one-sided. God does all the promising; Abraham promises nothing. This is the opposite of how most people try to relate to God. We usually promise we will serve Him if only He will do something for us in return. But that is legalism. God did not ask Abraham to promise anything but to accept His promises by faith. Of course, that was no easy task, because Abraham had to learn to trust completely in God and not in himself (see Genesis 22). The call of Abraham illustrates, therefore, the essence of the gospel, which is salvation by faith.
Some mistakenly conclude that the Bible teaches two ways of salvation. They claim that in Old Testament times salvation was based on keeping the commandments; then, because that did not work very well, God abolished the law and made salvation possible by faith. This could not be farther from the truth. As Paul wrote in Galatians 1:7, there is only one gospel.
Paul’s opponents were no doubt stunned by his bold words in Galatians 3:10. They certainly did not think themselves to be under a curse; if anything, they expected to be blessed for their obedience. Yet, Paul is unequivocal: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them’ ” (NKJV).
Paul is contrasting two completely different alternatives: salvation by faith and salvation by works. The covenant blessings and curses outlined in Deuteronomy 27 and 28 were straightforward. Those who obeyed were blessed, and those who disobeyed were cursed. That means if we want to rely on obedience to the law for acceptance with God, then the whole law needs to be kept. We do not have the liberty to pick and choose what we want to follow; we also should not assume that God is willing to overlook a few mistakes here and there. It is all or nothing.
This is, of course, bad news not only for Gentiles but for Paul’s legalistic opponents as well, because we “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). No matter how hard we try to be good, the law can only condemn us as lawbreakers.
Paul introduces another metaphor to explain what God has done for us in Christ in Galatians 3:13. The word redeem means “to buy back.” It was used to refer to the ransom price paid to release hostages or the price paid to free a slave. Because the wages of sin is death, the curse of failing to keep the law was often a death sentence. The ransom paid for our salvation was not insignificant; it cost God the life of His own Son (John 3:16). Jesus ransomed us from the curse by becoming our sin-bearer (1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23). He voluntarily took our curse upon Himself and suffered in our behalf the full penalty of sin (2 Cor. 5:21).
Paul cites Deuteronomy 21:23 as scriptural proof. According to Jewish custom, a person was under God’s curse if, after execution, the body was hung on a tree. Jesus’ death on the cross was seen as an example of this curse (Acts 5:30, 1 Pet. 2:24).
No wonder, then, that the Cross was a stumbling block for some Jews who could not fathom the idea that the Messiah was accursed by God. But this was exactly God’s plan. Yes, the Messiah bore a curse, but it was not His own—it was ours!
Further Thought: “Upon Christ as our substitute and surety was laid the iniquity of us all. He was counted a transgressor, that He might redeem us from the condemnation of the law. The guilt of every descendant of Adam was pressing upon His heart. The wrath of God against sin, the terrible manifestation of His displeasure because of iniquity, filled the soul of His Son with consternation. All His life Christ had been publishing to a fallen world the good news of the Father’s mercy and pardoning love. Salvation for the chief of sinners was His theme. But now with the terrible weight of guilt He bears, He cannot see the Father’s reconciling face. The withdrawal of the divine countenance from the Saviour in this hour of supreme anguish pierced His heart with a sorrow that can never be fully understood by man. So great was this agony that His physical pain was hardly felt.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 753.
“Luther now entered boldly upon his work as a champion of the truth. His voice was heard from the pulpit in earnest, solemn warning. He set before the people the offensive character of sin, and taught them that it is impossible for man, by his own works, to lessen its guilt or evade its punishment. Nothing but repentance toward God and faith in Christ can save the sinner. The grace of Christ cannot be purchased; it is a free gift. He counseled the people not to buy indulgences, but to look in faith to a crucified Redeemer.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 129.
Summary: From start to finish in the Christian life, the basis of our salvation is faith in Christ alone. It was because of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises that he was counted as righteous, and that same gift of righteousness is available for anyone today who shares Abraham’s faith. The only reason we are not condemned for our mistakes is that Jesus paid the price for our sins by dying in our place.