[The following article is the lecture I gave at our Women's Bible Study on 10/11/12 at V7 Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. Several asked to have a copy to read so I am putting it here. Preparing this lecture on the Abrahamic Covenant once again led me to understand a little more about just what God did for us because He knew our inability to ever keep our part of the covenant he made with Abraham and his descendants. My prayer is that you also will be able to grasp in some small way what God has done. It is amazing and astounding when we think about it.I am also going to add some pictures (not all taken by me), simply because that not only breaks up the text but helps us see all our Father gives us to enjoy and praise and thank Him for.]
I have an idea when you were reading this passage, you were wondering what exactly Paul was trying to say. And then after you studied the lesson, answered the questions and have now gone through your small group you understand to at least some extent that Paul was once again is trying to undisputably help these Galatians understand that the gospel he had preached to them, the gospel they had believed by faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. But now he comes at it from yet another angle using the covenant, the promise God made to Abraham long before the law was given to show them that their faith in Christ, their belief in God and what he had done for them could be trusted without question.
And also you might have asked yourself, “what does this have to do with me? How can what Paul is talking about today have application in my life?”
Those are questions I asked and hopefully I have found some truths here that can help us in our daily walk with Christ.
- Covenant. First let's begin with the Abrahamic covenant made back in Genesis 15 and see just what God said and what he did that make it so remarkable.Both last week and this week we looked at several passages in Genesis that talked about the Abrahamic covenant and what God had promised Abraham.--We learned that he promised him land (he would make him a great nation), an offspring or son from his own body, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham.--We also learned that Abraham believed God and that belief was counted as righteousness.
*I do find it interesting that Paul is using this explanation to these Gentile Christians who undoubtedly don't know the whole story of Abraham and how this covenant transpired back in Genesis. The Gentiles had probably heard about Abraham, after all he was held up as the Father of the Jewish nation and was referred back to often--”Father Abraham.” I'm sure the false teachers had told the Galatians (Gentiles) about Abraham and how God had instructed him to circumcise all the men and boys in his household. But we also have to know that there were some Jews in this congregation also who really did know about the covenant and all it meant. They knew what had happened back there and this must have been very convicting to them while helping the Gentile Christians understand this remarkable promise/contract God had entered into with Abram and his descendants, God's people made up his chosen people from ALL nations.
It is important that we see what Paul is trying to help these confused Gentile Christians understand by using this example. He wants them to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that:
- Their faith comes through Christ and Christ alone.
- Christ is the fullfillment of the promise God made 430 years BEFORE the Law was given.
- The promise given to Abraham could not be broken because it was a covenant given and executed by God Himself.
To understand that, I think we need to look at Genesis 15 again and some verses we haven't covered in our lessons. I will tell you that every time I have heard or read about God's covenenant and how He sealed it with Abram, I am filled with thanksgiving and praise for my God.
[Read Genesis 15:1-19]
--Now let's talk about this.
A. First of all we will look at Abram in this passage. We think the Galatians were confused, so was Abram. When God first spoke to Abram back in 12:1, He had told him to leave his country, his family and his father's house and go to a land God would show him. God said, “Get out of here and don't look back!” Why? Because God would make him a great nation, make his name great so that he would be a blessing. God said then, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse, and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” And Abram did exactly what God told him to do. He left.
Time has passed, years have passed since then and now in chapter 15, we see that Abram has some questions, things he doesn't understand. He has no offspring, just Eliezar, his servant but no son to inherit what he has. He asks “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold you have given me no heir...”
And so God takes him outside and tells him to look at toward heaven and number the stars, if he can. And then he says, “So shall your offspring be.” and Abram believed and God counted that belief as righteousness.
Isn't that amazing?? All Abram did was believe and God gave him that ability to believe and God counted it as righteousness for Abram. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Thank you, Jesus.
But once again Abram has a question when God says, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”
Abram's question? “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” [isn't that just like us?? We want writing on the wall. We want a picture, something we can hang our hat on.]
You see Abram had faith, but his faith just like ours is imperfect. Remember the man who came to Jesus and wanted him to heal his son, but he said to Jesus, “If you can heal him?” and Jesus said "Do you believe I can do this?" And the man said, “I do believe but help me in my unbelief.”
We also believe, but... and that is where God comes in. His Spirit within helps our unbelief. One man said that when we are going through circumstances that we don't understand, instead of asking “why?” we need to say, “WHO?” We must rest on WHO he is, Who it is that has promised his steadfast love and faithfulness to us no matter what, no matter where, no matter how much we doubt. The God who gave us his Spirit to help us believe.
And now God gives Abram a real picture, a picture that takes us down the road hundreds of years to Christ's death on the cross. God did a lot of that in the OT. He teaches his people over and over about sacrifices, about sacrifices for sin, imperfect sacrifices that don't pay the ultimate price for sin but pictures of what will happen through the final sacrifice of his own Son.
In one online resource [click on this to see the full article] I looked at, an article written by Pastor Charles A Biggs on the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 15, he said this,
“Abram knew that if any of God's promises were to come to pass, it would not be based upon his own wisdom and efforts, but it must be dependent on the LORD who had revealed himself to Abram and will continue to be faithful to him. God has sovereignly and graciously revealed himself to Abram by promising him a great reward and inheritance, and all Abram had to do was believe. This can be quite amazing when you think about it. The LORD, the Sovereign Creator of heaven and earth appeared to a simple and sinful Chaldean man to bring him knowledge of himself and to even reward him with a great inheritance- -all because of faith!
God tells Abraham to participate with him in a covenant ceremony. Biggs said, “The LORD was not only gracious enough to promise Abram a great inheritance, he was willing visually to show Abram just how great his grace and promises are to him. The LORD God of heaven and earth is about to not only reveal himself but to “cut” a covenant with him as well to assure and confirm that all of his promises to him are “yes” and “amen”.”
So what exactly is a covenant? There are dozens and dozens of definitions out there but the one Biggs gave is easily understood.
“In the Old Testament, one of the principal ways of describing God's dealing with his people is that of covenant. A covenant is simply the formal expression or establishment of a relationship ... In the Old Testament, almost all references to covenant are to God's formal relationship to his people. The covenantal form in the Old Testament is patterned after other ancient Near Eastern covenants, so that Abraham, and later Moses and the rest of God's people could grasp what God was doing. It was unbelievable."
God tells Abram to bring him a 3-year-old heifer, a 3-year-old female goat, a 3-year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon. So Abram did exactly that and then he split the heifer, goat and ram in two and laid them open with a little room down the middle that would have had blood from the animals covering the path.
Covenants at this time in history, typically had 4 parts:
- An historical reference that showed the relationship of those involved (I am the God who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees).
- A statement about the nature of the relationship (to give you this land).
- Stipulations about what the parties in the covenant were to do (Abram's part was faith or belief, and of course we understand even the faith was given by God).
- The sanctions, blessings and curses that would happen upon the fulfillment or violation of the covenant.--note that covenants were usually sealed by an oath-taking ceremony which represented the curses that could happen if the covenant wasn't kept.
Once again remember that this ceremony followed “Abram believed the Lord and he credited that belief to him as righteousness.” So Abram divided the animals and then God sent a deep sleep on Abram, but in his sleep he hears God repeat all the promises God had given him plus even more specific future events that would happen. But NOTE that Abram was in a deep sleep, he wasn't moving. But God was, “behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.”
What God did here was “cut” the covenant himself, without Abram's taking part.
You see at this point in history, when a king went into a covenant with his people, he was promising them something if they would do their part. After the king gave his “promise”, the people would have to walk through the blood between two portions of an animal. What the people were saying was that if they failed to keep their promises to the king, they would be cut in half---killed for disobedience and failure to keep their oath.
Abram would have been familiar with what his part should be in this covenant...he would have understand that be would be the one to walk between the cut animals.
But what happens here with Abram is unbelievable. Biggs says, “The Sovereign LORD of heaven and earth has not only revealed himself by his grace to sinful man in spite of what they deserve; he has not only promised, literally the world to Abram and his seed; he has not only reckoned Abram righteous because of his faith and belief in God's promises; but God covenants with Abram that if the promises are not kept, God himself would be cut in half, God would have to die!
Even more amazing is that the covenant promise was fulfilled in Christ. God cut the covenant while Abram slept, and then when God came to earth in the flesh through his only Son, he would take upon himself the covenant curses that we owed because of our sin, our failure to keep the covenant, in order to keep his promises to his people. What a God we have!!
- The Law leads us to faith.--What we need to understand is that the false teachers were trying to tell the Galatians was that the Law was an addition to the promise given to Abraham. That it wasn't by faith alone but by faith in Christ plus the law. They were trying to convince these Galatians that the Law had made the promise better, more effective, complete.--and of course Paul has told them over and over in this letter that there is absolutely no need to add to the promise. He says the addition of something to the promise God gave actually nullifies it. So now he talks about the law and why it was given. He does not say the law was bad, he says it was necessary, it was actually good, but it could never replace the promise of God, the covenant cut by God because the Law only reveals sin and because of sin we are in desperate need of God's grace--we can never ever do enough to save ourselves. The law was necessary to hold us captive, the law was our guardian. I love how Paul sums it up in verses 24-29.(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. (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.
So in contrast to the law what does faith do? What does having faith, given us by God through Jesus Christ mean in our lives?
Paul goes into a lot of detail about faith and what it means for the Galatians, the Jews and us here in chapters 3 and 4. So let's review what he says.
1. 3:2 “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”
- John 14:15-17 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”“Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;We need to understand that the fruit of the Spirit is not things/skills/deeds we make ourself do, or improve ourself to the point of having these things. The fruit of the Spirit is just that....attributes that the Spirit brings to us, enables us to have, works in us. Believe me the Spirit is building the fruit of patience in you whether you pray for it or not.Eph 4:20 It is through the Spirit that we are“....sealed for the day of redemption”.
- 3:7-9 Here we see that all the nations are blessed because God in fulfilling his promise to Abraham God justifies his people through faith. Paul pointedly says in very 9 “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Faith brings us blessings, or holiness.
- 3:11 “the righteous shall live by faith.” there is no better picture of living by faith than in Hebrews 11 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."
- 3:22 “...so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” The promise, the covenant made, kept and fulfilled by God through God in the flesh paying our penalty for sin is given to us by faith in Jesus Christ.In verses 23-25 we see that we are freed us from the law, our prison keeper and guardian through faith.
- 3:23 “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed”
- 3:24-25 “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”And then we come to verse 26 which gives us some of the greatest practical pictures of what we have because of faith.
- 3:26 “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
-You see if it weren't by faith, faith from God, we would not have the Spirit.
We have to know that having the Spirit means the very life of the Christian. It is the Spirit at work in us that bears witness with our spirit that we are indeed sons of God.
--He also talks about this in verse 3:14 “so than in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” The blessing of Abraham comes when we receive the Spirit, his indwelling presence.
Some other verses that help us understand a little of what we have because of the Spirit being given to us through faith include:
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law (but the only one who could keep the Law perfectly), to redeem all of us who were also under the Law and couldn't keep it. Why?? So we might receive adoption as sons. SONS Of GOD.
Sons and daughters of the perfect Father, a Father works out everything for the good in the circumstances of our lives. Who has plans for good, not evil, a Father who loves us with a divine love. We are Sons/Daughters of the King of Kings.
And not only are we Daughters of the sovereign creator and sustainer of this world and everything in it, but he helps us live as sons and daughters because, “He also sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, “Abba! Father!”
Let's talk about the term here “crying.” It is a strong word, expressing deep emotion. According to Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, the verb crying originally represents the sound of a croak or harsh scream, generally an inarticulate cry; and exclamation of fear of pain. The cry of an animal. Here the Spirit is represented as uttering the cry, because the Spirit gives the inspiration of which the believer is the organ. Please understand that the believer only cries out under the power of the Spirit. If it weren't for the Spirit in us, we would not, nor could not cry out to God.
And the words the Spirit is crying out is, “ABBA! Father!”
As most of you know, the name Abba is an endearing term used in many cases by children when they call out to their fathers. It is like “Daddy.” We love knowing that we can call out to the God of creation, the sovereign God of the Universe as our “Daddy.”
But the word “Abba” was also used during this time by adults to show deep respect for their fathers. It is a difficult thing to keep those two ideas in balance.
--We need to realize that when it is the Spirit crying out “Abba! Father!” through us, it is used correctly, in perfect balance. The respect and adoration due our Heavenly Father is there along with the intimacy afforded us with our Abba, our Daddy.
One more phrase I want to talk about is the last one in 3:26 “But as many of you who were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.”
Vincent says that baptism here does not mean in relation to Christ, but rather into spiritual union and communion with him. He says this baptism is not a mere symbolical transaction, but as an act in which believers are put into mystical union with the crucified and risen Lord.”
Paul follows with the phrase “have put on Christ.” Here we have a picture that we should cement in our minds. After giving all kinds of examples of the use of this phrase Vincent concludes by saying that “To put on Christ implies making his character, feelings and works our own.” In many of Paul's letters he talks about “Christ in you.” Ephesians uses this phrase over and over.
So we not only put on Christ but he is in us.
Kendra talked about that last week, when she talked about how for years she knew she had the Christ's robe of righteousness over her but she was always afraid that her sin, which she thought was still underneath or in her, would stain the robe, would ruin things. Then she realized that she was clean, her sins her been forgiven all the way to her inner self. She not only had Christ's righteousness covering her but she had Christ in her. She was clean from the inside out. She could never do anything or not do anything that would stain Christ's robe of righteousness put on her. What a glorious truth that we need to firmly hold on to. It will change how we live. Instead of doing things to be sure we don't ruin what Christ did for us, we can rest in what he did. Instead of working so hard to "look" like a Christian we can live as a daughter of our heavenly Father thanking him, loving Him and sharing what he did for us with others by loving them as he loved us.
And so when we put on Christ we are like him, we are brothers and sisters of Christ and brothers and sisters of all God's sons and daughters. Which is why he goes on to say there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female. It is interesting that Paul uses the male and female distinction because that can't be changed. We are one with Christ. All the differences disappear as that unity brings us together through our adoption as sons.
And because of that we can live in close intimacy with our Father knowing His love, His power, His grace, His mercy, His provision, His faithfulness no matter what.
And so once again we are left amazed at what God has done for us, in us, and what he continues to do everyday through the Spirit of Christ who teaches us, who helps us remember what we know to be true, who produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;.in our lives. I do not, I cannot produce those things by my effort, I cannot do anything to be better, to earn one single brownie point in God's eyes...
BUT HE CAN and HE DOES and HE WILL continue to work in me by his Spirit until the day I stand before my God and He sees Jesus in me. Praise God!!!
Through Christ alone
Through Faith alone
Through Grace alone.