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Galatians 3:6 & Genesis 15:7 by Robert Dean
Series:Galatians (1998)
Duration:1 hr 6 mins 49 secs

Abraham's Faith; Justification; Gal. 3:6; Gen. 15:7

 

In verse 6 we move into a very critical discussion, an illustration that is going to bring home the point that salvation and the spiritual life, no matter which issue we are speaking of, are both based on faith. He goes back to one of the primary figures of the Old Testament, Abraham, to derive from his life the principle that undergirds everything else in the New Testament and undergirds the salvation of all peoples, Jew and Gentile alike.   

 

Galatians 3:6 NASB "Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." This passage has been misunderstood in some ways. It is quoted in three passages in the New Testament: Romans 4; James 2 and Galatians 3. We have to go back to the Old Testament and accurately exegete the passage there in the Hebrew because it is usually mistranslated in the English versions. Because of that mistranslation it has been poorly understood and poorly interpreted, so that when we get into the New Testament in Romans 4 and James 2, which are controversial passages if we don't accurately understand the Old Testament situation, they will be misinterpreted and even end up, as some writers do, making Paul in Galatians 3 and James 2 contradict James in James 2. This creates all kinds of distractions and problems and misunderstandings, ending up in legalism and lordship salvation because of that.

 

Galatians 3:6 begins with the comparative adverb kathos [kaqwj]. It is going to introduce a parallel, an analogy, an illustration. It is usually used in Greek to mark similarity between events and states with the possible implication of something being in accordance with something else.  It should be translated "just as" or in comparison to." "Just as Abraham" – the Old Testament figure, the father of the Jewish race, and also the recipient of the Abrahamic covenant which is given in Genesis 12:1-3. This is what is called in terms of ancient Near Eastern covenants a royal grant. A royal grant differs from the other major treaty form, the suzerain-vassal treaty form, in that this was a gracious bestowal of land, usually by a king. God is the King, Abraham is the subject. The king would often grant to the subject a reward of land, of privilege, of power, of position, and the Abrahamic covenant is written or couched in royal grant terms, and royal grant loudly speaks of grace. It is unconditional; it is not something that is based on somebodies obedience. The Abrahamic covenant was based on grace, not upon works.

 

So, "Just as Abraham believed God." Here we have an aorist active indicative. The aorist is one of the past tense forms in the Greek. Here it looks on the action not only in terms of past time but without respect to its duration. A constative aorist looks at all of the action without respect to its beginning, its end or it progress. It just summarises everything in a whole so we look at that event, as it were, as one event without respect to its duration. So it is past time, active voice, indicating that Abraham is the one who performed the action of the verb. It is Abraham who believed. It is up to our volition to take the step of faith. So it was Abraham who operated on positive volition and he believed God. The verb pisteuo [pisteuw] here is very important. It is the standard Greek word translated "faith, belief, trust." It is non-meritorious. The object of faith has all of the merit. Abraham accepts the promise of God and "it was reckoned [logizomai] to him as righteousness." logizomai is a word that describes a certain kind of thinking. It is a thought word, not an experiential word or an emotive word. It means to think, to consider, and it means to impute or reckon, to charge something to somebodies account. It takes us to the doctrine of imputation. This is the judicial imputation of righteousness to Abraham.

 

Genesis 15:6 NASB "Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." Abraham was born in the city of Ur of the Chaldees. He is a wealthy aristocrat. It is obvious from the things we learn from Abraham later on that he was not a commoner. In chapter fourteen of Genesis we are told that there is an invasion of Canaan by foreign princes from the east under an alliance with Chedorlaomer and Abraham, in order to protect his own holdings and his own investments, he gets all of his servants together to form an army, and he goes out and defeats the invaders. That means that in comparison to today he would have to be somebody who had large enough wealth and a vast resource of personnel in order to go out to battle. God appeared to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 and established a covenant with him. He made three promises that relate to a future land, a seed (singular) through whom all the world would be blessed. So there are three parts to the covenant: a land, a seed and a blessing. Then there were a couple of different episodes in the life of Abraham in Genesis 13 and 14, part of which is the victory over the invading armies, and then God comes to Abraham in chapter fifteen.

 

The promise was that even though Abraham was old and Sarah was old Abraham would have a child and through him there would be descendants. Then v. 6: "Then he believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." The first word is "then" and that makes it sound as though as if his belief in this verse is a consequence of hearing this promise of a descendant in v. 5, but that is not correct. In Hebrew normal narrative construction showing sequence is called a waw, which is the normal conjunction translated "and," and normally plus an imperfect form of the verb. In this case the verb is aman (from which we get our word amen). This is in the hiphil case which is the causative case an means trust, reliance, belief, or confidence. But here there is no imperfect tense which is the normal way of showing progression in a narrative. There is a waw plus a perfect tense. This is important. If the writer, Moses, intended us to understand that v. 6 was a consequence of v. 5 he would have used the normal sequential progression of a waw plus the hiphil imperfect. He doesn't do that, he makes a break in the text by using a waw plus a perfect tense. In other words, Moses is stepping back here and we see the insertion by the author of an applicational principle based on the narrative to this point. This is common in Genesis.

 

When does Moses write Genesis? He writes it when the children of Israel have come out from the bondage of Egypt and are getting ready to go into the land that God has promised them. They have a future that God has promised based upon a past. They want to know why God is doing this for them and what there basis was for their future as a nation; and so all of the Pentateuch is written in order to answer that question and to give the people a national identity. Moses goes all the way back to the beginning and says, "In the beginning Hod created the heavens and the earth." Then in tens short chapters he covers over three thousand years of history, leaving out a tremendous amount, and it is all there to bring everybody to Genesis chapter twelve and all of a sudden the action slows down and about 15 chapters is spent on Abraham, about eight or nine chapters on Isaac, eight or nine on Jacob. Four individuals—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph—are covered from chapter 12 to chapter 50. Chapters 1-11 are the introduction to get to Abraham. Moses is talking to Jews and saying: "This is where you are now." He is going to make certain applications now and then to the people's present situation based on what happened in the past.

 

The way Genesis 15:6 should be translated is: "He believed in the Lord and he [God] reckoned[imputed] it to him as righteousness." Because it is a perfect tense it is past action. So this text is not saying that it is in Genesis 15 that Abraham is saved. This is not the point Abraham was saved, he was saved back in Ur of the Chaldees. Abraham was saved before God gave him the covenant in Genesis chapter twelve. Moses is simply reminding us at this point (and that is the thrust of the Hebrew grammar) that Abraham had believed God and it was imputed to him as righteousness, and it is on the basis of that imputed righteousness that God is continuing to bless Abraham. God's blessing in the life of the believer is not based on what he does. That is legalism. God's blessing toward the believer is not based on his obedience, it is on the perfect righteousness he possesses. This is logistical grace. God is going to supply everything we need to live physically and to advance spiritually (Bible doctrine) on the basis of what we have in terms of perfect righteousness. But there is also experiential righteousness, and that is that as we advance in the spiritual life God has already decreed X-number of blessings to us, but He is not going to bless us beyond our capacity. He doesn't bless us because of what we do but as we advance in the spiritual life in terms of experiential righteousness then God is going to at that point distribute those blessings to us because now we are ready for them. Illustration: Parents don't give certain things to their children until they are ready. If they give them too early either they won't appreciate them, they will misuse them, because they are just not ready for them. So they wait until that child reaches a certain level of maturity before they give to them.

Back in Ur of the Chaldees Abraham trusted Christ and was saved. He trusted in the promise of the Messiah; it was future. Then he advanced spiritually and did what God told him to do, and he continued to trust God and grew by means of faith—Romans 4:19, 20 NASB "Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God." So God comes to him as he reaches a certain point and says: "Abraham I am going to give you a covenant. I am going to promise you three things: land, seed and blessing. Then in Genesis 15 He becomes more specific with that promise and said the seed is going to come from Abraham's own loins. And Moses reminds us that back in Ur Abraham has believed God and it was imputed to him as righteousness, and that is the basis for everything else in Abraham's life.

Romans chapter four expands much of the thought that is found in Galatians 3:6-9. Three times in that chapter the apostle Paul references Genesis 15:6. It is fundamental to understand everything that Paul has to say in Romans chapter four. Romans 4:2 NASB "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God." This is a hypothetical position. Notice something: Paul is not saying that there is no justification by works here, he is saying that if Abraham was justified by works he has something to boast of, but not before God. He is not saying there is not something for Abraham to boast about. Abraham has been obedient, and that is good; it has a role to play but not before God. This is not the basis of his standing before God. James is going to say there is a justification by works and we have to understand what that means. Paul is saying here that justification by works has nothing for the person to boast about before God; it doesn't relate to our eternal standing before God. Our works don't give us any credibility before God. God does not give us approval based upon our works. It is a basis for our testimony before man, but that is a different issue. James is not contradicting Paul in Romans because they are talking about two different aspects of man's relationship.

Romans 4:3 NASB "For what does the Scripture say? 'ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED [imputed] TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS'." Then the text goes on to explain what this means. [4] "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due." He has earned his payment. The Greek word here for "favour" is charis [xarij] which is normally translated, and should be translated here, "grace," to get the point. Paraphrase: The payment he receives is not considered grace, but what is due. It is what is earned. If that is the basis of acquisition of anything from God then it is not grace; it is earned. [5] "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies [declares righteous] the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness." So there is a contrast between works and faith. The Bible knows nothing of a faith that is meritorious. Romans 4:6-8 NASB "just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT [impute to him]."

Romans 4:9-11 NASB "Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them." Circumcision was the sign that he had already received justification and now received the Abrahamic covenant and was in a special relationship with God. What is the point? If Abraham was declared righteous before he was circumcised then no one has the right to come along and say you have to be circumcised or use or apply the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. Abraham was saved 600 years before there was a Mosaic Law. Salvation is not related to circumcision or the Mosaic Law. Salvation justification comes prior to any of that. This illustrates the fact that Abraham can be the father of all who believe, i.e. Jew and Gentile.

Romans 4:12 NASB "and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised." Gentiles become heirs of Abraham by following in his steps of faith alone in Christ alone. [13] "For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of [which comes by] faith. [14] For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified." Two options: law and faith. If it is law it nullifies faith and nullifies the promise. [15] "for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation."

Romans 4:16 NASB "For this reason {it is} by faith, in order that {it may be} in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all."

The most critical issue facing conservative Christians today is understanding grace, understanding the free grace offer of salvation. We have a major battle fighting today with "lordship salvation" that is dominating the air waves and the printed word of Christian literature. People are so afraid that if you commit some particular sin you weren't truly saved. We have to understand these issues, they are fundamental to everything else in the spiritual life. Everything flows from this. We have to have both feet firmly planted in grace orientation or we will never progress in the spiritual life. This has been distorted time and time again in church history and it is rearing its ugly head again, and we must make these things absolutely clear.

James 2:14 NASB "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" The first question we have to ask ourselves is what kind of salvation are we talking about in this passage? We tend to use the word "saved" in only one sense, and that is at the cross. "Are you saved, brother?" And what we mean by that is, are you going to spend eternity in heaven or in hell? But the Bible uses the word "saved" (the Greek word sozo [swzw]) in three different senses. We can be saved [phase one] the penalty of sin, which means that our eternal destiny is in heaven and not in hell. Phase two salvation is salvation from the power of sin, and that is sanctification. Under the filling of the Holy Spirit and the application of Bible doctrine we can advance spiritually by putting to death the deeds of the flesh—Romans 6. That means that if we have positive volition then instead of sinning when we go through tests and taking the easy way out through temptation and yielding to the lusts of the flesh we are going to apply Bible doctrine and advance. So we are free from the power of sin as we advance spiritually. Then phase three salvation is that we are saved from the presence of sin because we are glorified, absent from the body and face to face with the Lord in a resurrection body. There is no sin nature so we are saved and in the presence of the Lord. So "saved" is used in one of three tenses and we have to always address the passage and ask what salvation is this?

When James asks, "What use is it, my brethren" he emphasising the point that they were all saved; they were brethren, brothers in Christ. This is a term that he uses again and again throughout James, emphasising that he is talking to believers. So he is not talking about phase one salvation, he is talking about phase two salvation and asks: What benefit is the phase one salvation to you in phase two? Is it a benefit or is it useless? That is what he means by a dead faith—is it useless? He is going to illustrate what means by useful faith and a dead faith with two people from the Old Testament, one of which is Abraham.

James 2:21 NASB "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?" Before Genesis 12 Abraham is in Ur of the Chaldees. In Genesis 12 he is called out of Ur of the Chaldees and is given the threefold promise of land, seed and blessing. In Genesis 15 the promise of the seed is given in a fuller way and Abraham trusts God and it is counted to him as righteousness—it is quoted there but it is a reminder that way back before Genesis 12 Abraham had been saved, phase one salvation. So Genesis 15:6 is a reference back to his prior salvation but it is not until we get to Genesis chapter 22 that Abraham offers up Isaac. This is a return to the basic issue in James which is how do you handle trials and tests of your faith? Because this is the major test of Abraham's faith. It is the phase one faith that James is talking about and how is that vital now to spiritual growth? James says you have faith; Abraham had faith when he was justified by God before he left Ur of the Chaldees. Now through one instance after another he is maturing as a believer until he reaches this ultimate test in Genesis 22 to advance him to spiritual adulthood. The is whether he is going to trust God and offer Isaac as a sacrifice, the seed that was promised, or not. Of course, God stayed his hand before he killed Isaac and God provided a substitute in the ram that was caught—a picture of Christ as our substitute. So when James says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works? He is not talking about phase one justification before God but is talking about the development of that justification faith in phase two as the basis for our spiritual life and growth. It is a justification or a visible, outward evidence before man of that inward faith that was there from the moment of faith alone in Christ alone.

James 2:22 NASB "You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected [teleiow, brought to completion/maturity]; [23] and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,' and he was called the friend of God." The begetting faith that got him saved, phase one salvation/imputed righteousness, as he advanced he matured by one test after another (James 1:2-4) until it is brought to completion by the ultimate test.

Romans 4:17 NASB "(as it is written, 'A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU') in the presence of Him whom he believed, {even} God, who gives life to the dead [Abraham's sexual death here] and calls into being that which does not exist. [18] In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, 'SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.'" The point of "hope against hope" is here, there, here, there—he is advancing from one situation to another where he has the opportunity to use faith and trust God and to grow incrementally as he advances through the use of the faith-rest drill, mixing the promises of God with faith. His confidence is based upon the Word of God. [19] "Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; [20] yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, [21] and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform."

James says his faith is matured in the incident in Genesis 22 with the sacrifice of Isaac, but Paul in Romans chapter 4 is looking at the events around Genesis 15 and saying that it is growth by means of faith. It culminates, is brought to completion, James says, in Genesis 22, but we sees his advance referred to by Paul in Romans 4.

22 NASB "Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED [imputed] TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."  Here is our third reference to Genesis 15:6. It is that righteous standing at justification, on the basis of our positional righteousness in Christ that comes by faith alone that gives us the impetus to go forward in the spiritual life. It is not works, it is all on the basis of faith. That is what Paul is saying right here. What is it that gives the believer the basis to advance in the spiritual life? Paul says it in verse 22; James says it; and Paul says in Romans 4:23, 24 NASB "Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead." So the whole point in all of this is that it is faith alone; it always has been faith alone; it always will be faith alone. And it is the faith alone at salvation that gives us that standing before God because of our positional righteousness, and it is that which is the basis to use that faith as a living faith, to continue to see its role by mixing faith with the promises of God, using the faith-rest drill, learning and applying doctrine, and then we pass the tests as Abraham did, and we advance to spiritual maturity. That is how all of this is brought together and we see it through this one verse, Genesis 15:6, and how it is used in these three important passages of Romans 4, Galatians 3 and James 2.