Galatians 3:6-14: Abraham's Seed

Galatians 3:6‑14  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 6
“Just as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
“Know then, that the ones on the principle of faith, these are Abraham’s sons! But the Scripture foreseeing that on the principle of faith God justified the nations, announced the good news beforehand to Abraham, that all the nations shall be blessed in thee. So that the ones on the principle of faith are blessed with believing Abraham [or, ‘the having faith Abraham’]. For whoever are on the principle of works of law, are under a curse; for it is written that, Cursed (is) every one who does not remain constantly in all the things written in the book of the law to do them. But that in virtue of law no one is justified with God, (is) evident, because the just shall live on the principle of faith; but the law is not on the principle of faith; but the one having done them, shall live in virtue of them. Christ has redeemed us out from the curse of the law, having become a curse on behalf of us, because it is written, Cursed (is) every one hanging on a tree; in order that the blessing of Abraham might come unto the nations, in virtue of Jesus Christ, in order that we might receive the promise of the Spirit by means of faith.” ch. 3:6-14.
A new paragraph began with ch. 3:1, but we have seen that the first words of ch. 3 reach back to ch. 2 just as truly as they reach forward to the first verses of ch. 3. Paul’s heart is so full that it seems as though he could not stop to divide his subject into paragraphs, or subjects. So the present paragraph we hope now to consider begins at v.7. “Know then, that the ones on the principle of faith, these are Abraham’s sons.” But the subject of Abraham in v.6 closed the last paragraph. So we must remember the argument flows straight on from that verse. Though we have divided our book into chapters, Paul’s letter was very little divided. One subject flowed naturally into the next. So we must go back to v.6, which we have quoted above with our present paragraph. “Just as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Paul quotes this verse from the Greek translation of Gen. 15:66And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6). We find it also in Rom. 4:33For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Romans 4:3) and almost the same words in Rom. 4:99Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. (Romans 4:9). We should take notice that in this verse in Genesis the words “believe” or “had faith in,” “reckon,” and “righteousness” are used for the first time in the Bible. In this paragraph, including the verse just quoted, we find six quotations from the Old Testament. The Jewish teachers were insisting on circumcision and the law, because they were taught in the Old Testament. Paul replies, We will see what the Old Testament does teach with regard to the law. How was Abraham reckoned righteous? By law? Surely not! The Old Testament is clear: “Abraham believed, had faith in God.” That was how Abraham was reckoned righteous.
The Jewish teachers had said, You must become as Jews. You must live like Jews; keep the Jewish law, the Jewish feasts; receive circumcision, which is the special mark that distinguishes the Jew; then you are proselytes and can be reckoned as Jews. Know then [or, Be it known to you], says Paul, that the ones who are on the principle of faith, these are Abraham’s sons. It is not the outward marks that make a man a son of Abraham; it is not even the natural birth: but the ones who follow in the steps of Abraham and have faith in God, these are the ones who (in God’s sight) are the true sons of Abraham. How completely Paul answers every argument of these false teachers!
But the Galatian Christians were Gentiles; they belonged to “the nations,” and what right had Paul to say that they could be counted as “sons of Abraham” (Heb. 7:55And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: (Hebrews 7:5))? Again Paul goes back to the Old Testament and shows that God had promised Abraham that all nations should be blessed in him. This verse also is quoted from the Greek Old Testament—Gen. 12:33And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:3). It is quoted again in Acts 3:2525Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. (Acts 3:25). So according to the Old Testament that had been committed to the Jews, the Galatians had a right to expect blessing from Abraham. How could this blessing come? Surely in the same way that Abraham himself received the blessing: Faith, all of faith, and only faith. “So that the ones on the principle of faith are blessed with the believing Abraham.” If we could say, “So that the ones on the principle of faith are blessed with the `having faith Abraham’,” it would be nearer to the Greek. It was faith that marked Abraham. It was faith that brought the blessing to Abraham. So the ones on the principle of faith are marked out as being in the likeness of Abraham, and these are blessed just as Abraham was: the one who was famous for his faith. The Old Testament makes this abundantly clear. The subject of law is never mentioned in this part of the Bible. Abraham never heard of the law. There are those who try to prove that the Ten Commandments were given to Adam in the Garden of Eden. This is just the foolishness of men. The Bible teaches no such thing; on the contrary it plainly says that the law did not come until four hundred and thirty years later than Abraham. (Gal. 3:1717And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. (Galatians 3:17).) Faith brings blessing. The law brings a curse.
Now Paul turns to the opposite side of the question. What about the law and the Old Testament? Again he turns to the Old Testament itself to bear witness. “Whoever are on the principle of works of law, are under a curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one who does not remain constantly in all the things written in the book of the law to do them.” Gal. 3:1010For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (Galatians 3:10). (See Deut. 27:26, Jer. 11:33And say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant, (Jeremiah 11:3).) All the law can do to a man is curse him. The law did suggest bringing blessing to men, but found it impossible, for if they turn aside in the smallest degree from its commands, it curses them. It is very remarkable that in Deut. 27 God commands Israel to stand on the two mountains, six tribes on Mount Gerizim to bless and six tribes on Mount Ebal to curse. We find many curses in this chapter. In v.12 we read of the six tribes to bless. But we find no blessing, for the law cannot bless: and though blessings are mentioned in the next chapter (Deut. 28), all depend on “If thou shalt hearken diligently...” (Deut. 28:11And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: (Deuteronomy 28:1)). Note also, the Old Testament which gives us the law ends with “a curse”; but the New Testament ends with these words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Phil. 4:2323The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. <<To the Philippians written from Rome, by Epaphroditus.>> (Philippians 4:23)).
We must remember that James says, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:1010For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10)). What man loves the Lord his God with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength? (Deut. 6:55And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:5).) Who loves his neighbor as himself? If a man sees a house on fire, who hopes it is his own house that is burning, and not his neighbor’s? Who has never coveted something that is not his? Every honest man knows that he never has, and never can, keep these commands. But the law is like a mighty chain. If you break one link, the whole chain is broken. But “Cursed is every one who does not remain constantly in all the things written in the book of the law to do them.” Every man, woman and child who has ever lived (except our Lord) must come under that curse if he puts himself under law. Remember, not only can the law not bless, neither can it forgive. All the law can do to man is curse him and condemn him. The law said, “This do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:2828And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. (Luke 10:28)). (See also Lev. 18:55Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:5).) But no man yet, except our Lord Jesus Christ, could claim life by this method; so we read in the Old Testament: “The just [or, righteous man] shall live on the principle of faith.” Hab. 2:44Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4). Why does the Old Testament say this? Because “it is evident that in virtue of law no one is justified with God.” There must be another way to justify man; there must be another way to bring life to man, or else every living soul must perish. So, God says, “The just shall live on the principle of faith” (vs. 11). Thank God for this word! This little word was the mighty sword that God used to free Martin Luther from the bondage of the law and the rules of men. You perhaps know the story. He had gone to Rome to try and find salvation by works. He had worked hard for it in Germany without success. But salvation is no more possible to obtain by works in Rome than it is in Germany or in China. Luther was climbing a very long flight of steps on his knees in order to accumulate merit, to give him righteousness. He was about halfway up, when it seemed as though a mighty voice from heaven cried in his ear, “The just shall live by faith” (vs. 11). Martin Luther sprang to his feet and ran down the steps, knowing full well that works could never, never justify him, but only faith.
These are precious words. Paul quotes them from Hab. 2:44Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4) (from the Greek Old Testament). Paul quotes them, rather should we say the Holy Spirit quotes them, again in Rom. 1:1717For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. (Romans 1:17); and the Holy Spirit quotes them a third time in Heb. 10:3838Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. (Hebrews 10:38). “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:1212And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)). Yes, dear reader, my only hope of life, and your only hope, lies is these words. You and I can never obtain life by the law. “The just shall live by faith” (vs. 11). Do not think this means that it is only the just men who may put in a claim for this verse. Remember Abraham became a just man because he believed God. So any poor sinner may also be reckoned a just man, a righteous man, simply by having faith in God. And, “The just shall live by faith” (vs. 11). The words of our Lord Jesus confirm this verse: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life” (John 6:4747Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John 6:47)). And again: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation [or, judgment], but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)). Reader, have you this everlasting life? Do you know that you will never come into judgment? Forsake your own works: turn from the law and its curse: put your trust in the Lord Jesus alone, and instantly you have these greatest of all blessings. You have the “verily, verily” of the Lord Jesus Himself to make you know that this is true. Can the law offer anything like this? No, never! The law can only curse. The law is not on the principle of faith: but (the most emphatic “but” that the Greek Testament can use) “the one having done them [or, having done these things] shall live in virtue of them.” And nobody has ever done “these things,” except our Lord, and the law curses all who come under it.
But, blessed, thrice blessed message! “Christ has redeemed us out from the curse of the law.” The word means to buy us out from the curse, just as a man, in days of old, could buy a slave out from the slave market. The word is used especially in connection with buying out slaves from their slavery to set them free. So Christ has bought us out from the curse of the law and set us free. What a price He paid! We read in ch. 1:4 that He “gave Himself for our sins,” and we read in ch. 2:20 that He “loved me and give Himself up for me.” This was the price He paid to buy us out—even “Himself.” Could He have given more? “For our sakes He became poor” (2 Cor. 8:99For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)); but this is even more than that: “He bought us out from the curse of the law, having become a curse on our behalf.” Think, reader, what this means: The holy, spotless Son of God became a curse on our behalf! Eternity will be too short to ever fully understand all that this means.
There are three Greek words used in the New Testament for “redeem.” The first really means “I buy,” or “I buy in the slave market.” We were slaves of sin. Our Lord Jesus bought us with His own blood. So, now we are slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ, bought by Him. “Know ye not that... ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price.” 1 Cor. 6:19, 2019What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:19‑20).
The second word is the one we have been looking at. (Gal. 3:1313Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (Galatians 3:13).) “I buy a slave out from the slave market.” I buy him to set him free. The Lord Jesus has not only bought us to be His slaves, but He has bought us out of the slave market to set us free, never to be a slave of any other: never to be put up for sale again in any slave market. We are His slaves for now and forever.
The third word is from a noun that means the ransom price for a slave. (See 1 Peter 1:1818Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; (1 Peter 1:18); Titus 2:1414Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14).) So the meaning is to release a slave on receipt of a ransom. We who are believers in the Lord Jesus have been set free from our former slavery to sin, to be the Lord’s freemen.
We were hopeless to redeem ourselves. We had brought the curse on ourselves, but we had no way to escape from it. Then “Christ redeemed us out from this curse, being made a curse for us, because it is written, Cursed (is) every one hanging on a tree.” Gal. 3:1313Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (Galatians 3:13). (See Deut. 21:2323His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:23).) The word used for tree is sometimes translated “gallows.” Christ hung on the gallows for us: this, according to the law, made Him a curse. The law had no claim against Him. The law could not curse Him. He had never broken it. He had always remained constantly in all the things written in it. But of His own voluntary will He went to the gallows for us; of His own voluntary will He became a curse to buy you and me out from the curse that lay upon us.
Perhaps it seems a contradiction to say that we are slaves of Jesus Christ, and yet He has bought us out of the slave market to make us free men. There is an old story about a slave market in the south of the United States of America many years ago. An Englishman was walking past the slave market when he noticed that there was a sale of slaves taking place. He went over to watch, as they did not have slaves in England, and he had never seen such a thing before. As he watched, a very fine young man was brought out for sale. He was young and strong, and had a fine head and face. The bid went high for him, and as the Englishman watched, his heart was stirred with great pity for this man. At last he also began to bid; the price went higher and higher, but the Englishman determined that he should buy that slave. At last his bid was the highest, and the slave was handed over to him.
The slave came to him with chains on his hands and his feet, and a look of fury in his face. He cursed the Englishman with all the power he possessed. He said, “You call yourself an Englishman. You say you do not believe in slavery, and yet you buy me. Curses be upon you!” The Englishman did not say one word, until at last the man, having no more breath to curse, stopped.
Then the Englishman stepped forward, unlocked the chains on his hands and his feet, and threw them away, saying to him, “I bought you to set you free. You are a free man!” The slave fell down at his feet and cried out with tears, “I am your slave forever!” He became the faithful slave of that Englishman, but he was also a free man.
In v.10 we read that we are “under the curse” (vs. 10). Then in v.13 we read, “Having become a curse on behalf of us.” This literally is “over” or “above” us. He is made a curse “over us,” and finally in the same verse, Christ has redeemed us out from under the curse. Think of the curse as a great sword hanging by a thread over my head. It may fall at any moment and destroy me. Christ came above me, between me and the sword. The sword fell on Him; He received the blow that should have taken us down to hell; He took us out from under the curse. This preposition translated “on behalf of,” or “over,” or “above,” is really the preposition of substitution, used already in ch. 1:4; 2:20 to show that the Lord Jesus Christ is our Substitute.
It is true that the law was given to Israel, and so these verses apply in a special way to the Jews and to those who, like the Galatians, have put themselves in the position of Jews, under law. But in a wider sense it applies to every one of us, for in Rom. 2:14, 1514For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) (Romans 2:14‑15) we read: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.” And again, “That by the law every mouth is stopped and all the world is guilty before God.” Rom. 3:1919Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Romans 3:19). Every man by nature turns to law or good works for salvation. So every one of us may put in our claim for that redemption (without works) out from under the curse.
Redeemed out from under the curse, the blessing of Abraham, in virtue of Jesus Christ, may now flow out freely to all the nations. We may put in our claim as part of those nations indicated long since in God’s promise to Abraham in Gen. 12:33And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:3).