In Galatians 3-4, Paul is exploring the critical question, “How can we be right with God?” His answer is simple: in one word, “faith.” Whoever has faith in Jesus is made right with God.
Not faith plus circumcision.
Not faith plus the law.
Not faith plus baptism.
Not faith plus the Catholic mass.
Not faith plus membership in the church.
Not faith plus rules and standards.
Faith plus nothing. Sola fide. Faith alone.
The book of Galatians is Paul at his most passionate because false teachers convinced his beloved Galatians that we are right with God “by the law” or “by faith plus the law.”
In the introduction of Galatians, Paul says up-front that this gospel of the law is “no gospel at all.” It is “another gospel,” and those who depart from Christ for another gospel are “anathema,” devoted to destruction (presumably in hell).
The Galatians were torn between two voices. Paul says, “Faith!” The Jewish teachers say “Law!” That’s why in chapters 1-2, Paul retells how God made him an apostle and how God gave him the gospel. Paul spoke like a courier delivering a message from a King. Paul’s inspired words and the words of the whole Bible are authoritative in our lives. The biblical gospel of faith is the true gospel.
At the end of chapter 2, Paul says that accepting this true gospel by faith and seeking God’s approval through the law are not compatible. As Jonathan Edwards said, “our good works cannot stop the wrath of God any more than a spider web can stop a falling rock” (“Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” paraphrase). We must die to the works-based system of the law and live by faith in order to be justified by Jesus.
This brings him to chapters 3-4, the vital organs of the book. In chapters 3-4, he peels back the gospel layer by layer and makes a compelling argument for salvation by faith in Jesus.
If I were to ask you, “When was the first time that this gospel was preached,” what would you say? In Galatians 3:6-9, Paul gives an answer that would puzzle even a serious Bible reader.
6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 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.
God preached the gospel to…Abraham? But isn’t the gospel a New Testament thing? When we think “gospel,” we think Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This begs the question, “what is the gospel?” if it was preached to Abraham in the first book of the Bible.
Abraham Knew Someone Was Coming — and Believed (v.8)
Verse 8 gives us an important clue: God announced the gospel in advance to Abraham when he said to Abraham, “In thee shall all [people] be blessed.” Paul is quoting from Genesis 15.
Earlier, in Genesis 12, God had said to Abraham, “Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).
Then, in Genesis 15, “the word of the Lord came to [Abraham]: …[he said,] ‘your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then [God] said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And [Abraham] believed the Lord, and [God] counted it to him as righteousness.”
Abraham believed God!
Finally, in chapter 22, God put Abraham’s faith to the ultimate test by asking him to do the unthinkable: sacrifice his son, his only begotten son, Isaac, the one through whom the promise would be fulfilled. Again, above all circumstances, Abraham believed that God would keep His promise to bless all of the world through his offspring — even if it meant resurrecting Isaac from the dead! (Hebrews 11:19).
In the end, God spared Abraham’s son and reaffirmed His promise: “Because you have…not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of the heaven and as the sand of the seashore…and in your offspring shall all the [peoples] of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:16-18).
Like shadows on a wall, the gospel takes a familiar form.
In Genesis 12 and 15, Abraham knew that someone was coming. He knew that through his seed, all of humanity will be blessed. Surely his mind went back to the promise of the seed in Genesis 3:15. When Adam and Eve sinned, God promised that a seed would come as the Savior of mankind, dealing a deadly blow to Satan.
It didn’t take much to put the pieces together: Abraham’s seed was the seed. His offspring was the Savior of the world! Through this Messiah-Savior, the whole world would be blessed! Abraham’s faith must have been stretched to unimaginable levels.
Then, in Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith was deepened on Mt. Moriah as he began to understand the need for a sacrifice. Looking back, we see Isaac as a type of Christ: the only begotten son of the father, offered as a sacrifice. In the New Testament, James writes that Abraham’s faith was “completed” on Mount Moriah (James 2:22).
The words of Jesus are the check mark that assures us we are on the right track. Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Abraham saw the day of Christ! From Ur to Moriah, the good news about Jesus was being deeply rooted in Abraham’s heart.
All of the Old Testament Saints Were Saved by Faith in the Coming One
There is no doubt about how Abraham and the Old Testament saints were saved. They were not saved by animal sacrifices, for Hebrews 10:4 is clear that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” The Old Testament saints were saved in the same way that we are—by faith in Jesus. Their faith looked forward to Jesus while our faith looks backwards.“Abraham’s faith was faith in God and God’s promise of a Seed; the Christian’s faith is faith in God and God’s promised Seed. One is incipient and anticipatory, the other developed and retrospective (in the sense of looking back to the completed work of Christ). Yet both Abraham and his spiritual descendants express faith in God’s promise.
Abraham’s faith was faith in God and God’s promise of a Seed; the Christian’s faith is faith in God and God’s promised Seed. One is incipient and anticipatory, the other developed and retrospective (in the sense of looking back to the completed work of Christ). Yet both Abraham and his spiritual descendants express faith in God’s promise. (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
The Old Testament saints were saved in the same way that we are—by faith in Jesus.
Adam and Eve were saved by faith in Jesus, the seed in Genesis 3:15. Moses was saved by faith in Jesus, the rock in the desert. All of the Old Testament saints were saved by faith in the coming Christ, although they saw him from afar. According to 1 Peter 1:11, the prophets knew about the “sufferings of Jesus and the glory that would come.” King David referred to his descendant, Christ, as his Lord. Some suggest that Isaiah 53 offers the clearest gospel message in the entire Bible, New or Old Testament.
It is not a stretch to say that the gospel was preached to Abraham!
Abraham Left an Example of Faith for Us to Follow (v.6)
In verse 6, Paul reminds the Galatians that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
Judaizers were duping the Galatians into thinking that circumcision and the law could save them. Paul says, “no way!” Abraham, the very father of the Jews, was made right with God through faith! Abraham didn’t even have circumcision or the law when God accepted him. The law wasn’t given until 430 years after God preached the gospel to Abraham. And Abraham was not circumcised until 14 years after he believe God’s promise. Are we better than Father Abraham? How ridiculous to think that by keeping God’s commandments and being a “good person” it is enough to earn God’s favor.
Abraham’s life is an example of how all people are saved. He is the prototype believer. First comes faith, as in Genesis 15, when Abraham believed God. Then comes action, as in Genesis 17, when Abraham was circumcised. Faith, then works! “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Anyone Can Be a Son of Abraham by Taking Abraham’s Example of Faith (v.7)
In verse 7, Paul makes an astonishing statement: “They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” Step aside, you law-keeping Jews who carry around your birth certificate that says “son of Abraham!” “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring” (Romans 9:7) and “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:28-29).
The Judaizers tried to use the Old Testament to teach salvation by circumcision and the law, but Paul turned it around on them and said, “those things didn’t come until much later; look at Abraham and you’ll see what the Old Testament really teaches: God’s true people are faith-people.”
According to verse 8, it was because “the Scripture [foresaw] that God would justify the [Gentiles] through faith, [that God] preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.”
Through faith, “whosoever believeth” (John 3:16), Jew and Gentile, can become sons and daughters of Abraham. Through faith, alcoholics, gossips, porn-addicts, white-lie tellers, and self-centered money-grabbers can become sons and daughters of Abraham. Through faith, men and women, boys and girls, African American, Indian, Asian, and Hispanic, can become sons and daughters of Abraham. Through faith, anyone reading can become a son or daughter of Abraham. “Whosoever surely meaneth me.”
The Blessings Promised to Abraham Flow to the Sons of Abraham Through Christ (v.9)
Verse 9 says, “They which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” According to Clarke, “All who believe, as Abraham has believed, are made partakers of Abraham’s blessings.” If we are in Christ, the seed of Abraham, all of the blessings promised to Abraham’s seed flow to us.
The blessings promised to Abraham trickle down through Christ, not to his Jewish descendants but to those that are his true sons by faith. Paul is clear that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (v.29).
The promises made to Abraham and his descendants, the Jewish people, were made so that all peoples could be blessed. Their destiny was to be a channel of blessing for Christ to reach the nations. The promise is for you, and for me, and for all of those who are outsiders to God’s family! All we have to do is take Abraham’s example of believing the promises of God given to us through Christ.
The Sons of Abraham are Heirs to the Blessings of Redemption, the Spirit, Eternal Life, and All God’s Promises
As sons of Abraham by faith, we have a rich inheritance. Verses 10-14 point to our being “redeemed…from the curse of the law” and receiving the “Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14).
When the Gentiles received the inheritance of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, it was the “light bulb” that signaled to Peter, “these Gentiles are the sons of Abraham, too. They have been redeemed. They too are heirs to the promise.”
Earlier, in chapter 2, when Paul was writing about his run-in with Peter at Antioch, he said, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:15).
Later in Galatians 6:8, we learn that “he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” In addition to the blessings of salvation and the Holy Spirit, we are heirs to eternal life! All of God’s “precious and very great promises” are “yes!” for the sons of Abraham.
In short, to be a son of Abraham is to be blessed “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).
We are chosen to be holy — We are blessed!
We are adopted into God’s family — We are blessed!
We are accepted in the beloved — We are blessed!
We are redeemed by His precious blood — We are blessed!
All of this is because of Jesus. He connected me to the blessing! “Standing on the promises, I cannot fall… Resting in my Savior as my All in All.”
The Nature of Our Blessing is Spiritual
Today, people talk a lot about being blessed. But being #blessed on social media is typically a hoax. Being blessed is not about owning a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a golden retriever. True blessing is far greater than the American dream.
A blessed person is someone who recognizes that he was hell-bound when Christ plucked him like a brand from the fire, redeemed him by His blood, shed the Spirit abroad in His heart, and adopted him into the family of God. Truly blessed people are children of Abraham.
The children’s song has it right! “Father Abraham had many sons, and I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord!”
- Carter, Kelso R. “Standing on the Promises.” Sing to the Lord. 687.
- Clarke, Adam. “Clarke’s Commentary: Galatians 3.” Bible Hub.
- Tremper, Longman III, and David E. Garland. (2008). “Galatians.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans – Galatians.
- MacArthur, John. “Blessed or Cursed?” Grace To You.
- McConnell, J. Edwin. “‘Whosoever’ Meaneth Me.” Sing to the Lord. 402.
- Piper, John. “Those Who Have Faith Are the Sons of Abraham.” Desiring God.