A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate
- the Human Condition
- God’s Revelation of His Plan
- God’s Fulfillment of His Plan (Current location of study)
- Our Response
“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” – Galatians 3:16
This passage is part of a rather complex theological argument that Paul is making to the Galatians. I relied heavily on a sermon from nearly 40 years ago by John Piper posted on the Desiring God website in the writing of this post. You can read his sermon or listen to the audio if you wish. It is called “The Law Does Not Annul the Promise“. I also cross-checked Piper’s interpretations with a few other sources.
In his letter to the churches in Galatia Paul is combatting teachings that are infiltrating the church from Judaizers. This is a group of people who claim that the Gentile believers who have come to faith in Christ must now convert to Judaism and follow all their laws and regulations. Paul ends Chapter 2 with the statement, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” He then uses Chapter 3 to further analyze that statement and we need to follow his train of thought from the beginning of Chapter 3.
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith –” (Galatians 3:1-5)
In Galatians 3:3 he says, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” In other words, if your salvation (justification) came by grace through the Holy Spirit, then the working out of your salvation (sanctification) also comes by grace and not through your works, lest anyone should boast that God owes them their salvation because of something they’ve done (e.g. following the letter of the law).
Paul then turns, in verses 6-9, to the specific question of Gentile believers.
“just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 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.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.“
He argues that Abraham’s righteousness came through his faith and belief in God’s promise and that all who are saved are saved in the same manner – through faith and belief, not by works. It follows then that not all of Abraham’s physical descendants are children of God – only those who believe God and follow Him in faith. He further illustrates this by contrasting with those who try to rely on their works to gain God’s favor in verses 10-14.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Think back to the question Paul posed in verse 3 – “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul reiterates that no one who seeks justification with God is able to do so through obedience to the law – we just aren’t able to do that. In 1 Corinthians 1:28-31 Paul stated, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”” Our confidence for redemption can only come through faith in God, not faith in our own efforts.
verses 15-18, including our key verse 3:16 for this week’s study.
“To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”
God’s covenant promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Jesus met the requirements of the law by living a sinless life – something no other human was or is able to do – and then willingly suffered the consequence of sinfulness (death) in our place. When he rose from the dead, he conquered death and demonstrated God’s power over death. Our faith in him and the sufficiency of his sacrifice for us enables us to enjoy God’s covenant promise to Abraham that through his offspring all peoples of the world would be enabled to receive God’s blessing.
Next time we’ll look at 1 John 3:16 to finish this third section (God’s Fulfillment of His Plan) of this Bible Study series.