Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Promise Kept

Part 9 of a series through Galatians

Text: Galatians 3:15-25


“A covenant is an unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship.” [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 515]
  • “Agreement”: Two parties are represented, God and man.
  • “Divinely imposed”: Man can never negotiate with God or change the terms of the covenant. He can only accept or reject the terms of the covenant. Probably for this reason, the NT authors do not use the ordinary Greek word for contracts or agreements in which both parties were equal (syntheke), but rather chose a less common word, diatheke, which emphasizes that the provisions of the covenant were laid down by one of the parties only. (In fact, the word diatheke was often used to refer to a “testament” or “will” that a person would leave to assign the distribution of his or her goods after death.)
  • “Unchangeable”: The covenants between God and man may be superseded or replaced by a different covenant, but they may not be changed once they are established.

In this passage, we see three of God’s covenants with man:
  1. The Abrahamic Covenant: This covenant was a covenant of promise. (1) It would bring blessing to all nations through Abraham (Genesis 12:3). (2) It was dependent on God alone (Genesis 15:12, 17-18). (3) It would be fulfilled by Abraham’s ultimate Offspring (v. 16; Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 24:7). The promise was believed by Abraham, resulting in his justification (Genesis 15:6).

  2. The Mosaic/Old Covenant: This covenant was a covenant of law. (1) It did not change the Abrahamic Covenant (v. 17). (2) It was inferior to the Abrahamic Covenant because it was temporary (vv. 19b; 24-25) and given through a mediator (v. 19c). (3) It showed man his sinfulness (v. 19a). (4) It showed man his need of a Savi0r (v. 21). The law was broken by man, resulting in his condemnation (v. 22a).

  3. The New Covenant: This covenant is a covenant of grace. (1) It is based on the cross of Christ (Matthew 26:28). (2) It promises eternal life with God (Revelation 21:3). (3) It fulfills the promise of blessing for all nations (Revelation 7:9). God in His grace invites us to put our faith in Christ, resulting in our justification (v. 22b).


The Old and New Covenants give us very different perspectives on life:
  • The Old Covenant showed us that, on our own, we are hopeless.
  • The New Covenant shows us that, through faith in Christ, there is hope!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Redeemed from the Curse

Part 8 of a series through Galatians

Text: Galatians 3:10-14


Five times in this passage the words “curse” and “cursed” are found. People are fascinated by stories of curses: (1) the curse of King Tut’s tomb, (2) the curse of the Bambino, (3) the curse of the Hope Diamond. In this passage, two curses are mentioned:
  • The curse of the law. In verse 10, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
  • The curse of the cross. In verse 13, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:23: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Several times in the NT the cross is called a “tree” (Acts 5:30; 13:29; 1 Peter 2:24).


Paul shows why blessing comes from faith in Christ, not observing the law:
  1. You’re cursed if you do. If you rely on the law, you are cursed. "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law'” (v. 10; cf. Deuteronomy 27:26). The Judaizers were probably using Deuteronomy 27:26 to argue that those who don’t observe the law (circumcision, dietary laws, etc.) are accursed. Paul quotes the same verse to argue that those who don’t perfectly observe the law are accursed. The Judaizers were focusing on the word “do”; Paul is stressing the word “everything.” God requires nothing less than total obedience to the entire law. James writes, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). In verses 11-12, Paul quotes the Old Testament to show: (1) Justification (being righteous before God) is based on faith. "Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith'” (v. 11; cf. Habakkuk 2:4). (2) The law is based on performance. "The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, 'The man who does these things will live by them'” (v. 12; cf. Leviticus 18:5). The performance that the law demands (perfection) is beyond human possibility.

  2. You’re cursed if you don't. If you reject the law, you are cursed. Four philosophies are prevalent in our society: (1) postmodernism: there is no truth; (2) moral relativism: there is no authority; personal freedom: there are no rules; humanistic atheism: there is no judge. But the Bible says that one day, every person unrighteous before the law will have to stand before God. The verdict will be, “Guilty” (Revelation 20:11-15). They will be condemned whether they relied on the law or rejected the law.

  3. Christ became cursed so you won't. If you put your faith in Christ, you are redeemed. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'” (v. 13). To “redeem” means to free someone by paying a ransom. We were held captive by the curse of the law. A ransom needed to be paid in order to free us. The only acceptable ransom was the blood of the One who was free from the law’s curse—Jesus Christ. He said that He came to earth “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). When Jesus was crucified, He became accursed. He took our sin upon Himself and suffered the punishment we deserved. This helps us to understand why Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Joshua 10:26; 2 Samuel 21:6). This is why "the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath” (John 19:31). “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4). Most people thought Jesus was being punished for his own sins. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” (v. 5). The enemies of Jesus mocked Him, saying, “Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42). They couldn’t believe that the Christ could be accursed. But if Christ had come down from that cross, we would still be under the curse of the law. Martin Luther called this the “fortunate exchange.” Christ became accursed; we became blessed. In verse 14, Paul mentions two blessings that come to us through faith in Christ. "He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit."


In this passage, Paul mentions two curses: the curse of the law and the curse of the cross:
  • The law shows us that God is holy, but we are sinful.
  • The cross shows us that we are sinful, but God is love.
As the hymn says,

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Children of Abraham

Part 7 of a series through Galatians

Text: Galatians 3:1-9


Have you ever done something really foolish? “You foolish Galatians!” The Galatians weren’t stupid. But they were acting foolishly. He calls them “foolish” twice (vv. 1, 3). What the Galatians were doing was so foolish that Paul wonders (not seriously) if they had been “bewitched”—if a spell had been cast on them!

Paul had clearly presented the message of justification by faith in the crucified Christ. Now he is astonished that they are embracing a different gospel—a gospel of faith plus the law.


Paul’s enemies (the Judaizers) were saying that Gentile believers could not be justified unless they believe in Christ plus follow the law (circumcision). So Paul uses the example of Abraham, the father of the Jews, to prove that justification is by faith alone.
  • Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (v. 6; cf. Genesis 15:6; 17:10-11; Romans 4:9-11). Three times in Scripture we find God crediting (imputing) sin or righteousness to someone else: (1) When Adam sinned, his sin was credited to us; (2) when Christ died, our sin was credited to Him; (3) when we put our faith in Christ, His righteousness was credited to us. “God made [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • Abraham is the prototype of the Gentile Christian (Romans 4:11b-12).


In Sunday School, we used to sing a song called “Father Abraham”:

Father Abraham had many sons,
And many sons had Father Abraham;
And I am one of them, and so are you,
So let’s all praise the Lord!

What does it mean to be a child of Abraham?
  1. Being a child of Abraham doesn’t mean physically descending from Abraham (John 8:39).
  2. Being a child of Abraham means having the faith of Abraham (v. 7).
  3. Being a child of Abraham means being blessed through Abraham (vv. 8-9; Genesis 12:1-3; 17:3-5). The ultimate blessing through Abraham is justification by faith. Justification removes two great fears: (1) the fear of standing before a holy God and (2) the fear of death.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Crucified with Christ

Part 6 of a series through Galatians

Text: Galatians 2:17-21


In his letter to the Galatians, Paul emphasizes that justification is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

You Do The Math from Igniter Media on Vimeo.

  • Faith is not irrational confidence. Example: "I believe the Edmonton Oilers can win the Stanley Cup this year. It doesn’t matter that they’re in last place. I have faith!”
  • Faith is more than intellectual belief. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). Paul: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” (Acts 26:27). Agrippa: “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (v. 28).
  • Faith is personal trust. You may believe that a bobsleigh driver can get to the bottom of the course without crashing (150 km/h). But do you have personal trust? Would you get in the bobsleigh?


"If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!" (v. 17).

Does grace promote sin? And do we need to add works to faith in order to be justified? Paul gives three reasons why the answer is, “No."

  1. Because the law condemns us. "If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker (v. 18)."

  2. Because grace changes us. "For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God…" (vv. 19-20a). Faith unites us to Christ. In his writings, Paul often uses the phrase “in Christ.” (a) My old life has ended. I have been crucified with Christ. (b) A new life has begun. I have been raised with Christ. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17; cf. Galatians 6:15).

  3. Because Christ’s death alone saves us. "…who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (vv. 20b-21).