WHO GOD IS: Promise Maker & Promise Keeper

“For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” Galatians 3:18

God is both a Promise-Maker and a Promise-Keeper, which assures us that he is totally trustworthy.

One of God’s most incredible promises was the one he made to Abraham: “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Paul calls this promise “the gospel beforehand” (Gal 3:8).

How so, you may ask?

In its earliest usage, “gospel” referred to the reward given to a messenger of good news and eventually simply to the “good news” itself. By the first century AD, it became connected to the emperor cult, whose birthday, accession to power, or upcoming visit were all hailed as “good news.” For Paul, however, the meaning of “gospel” was firmly rooted in the Old Testament, where the “good news” of salvation included God’s universal reign and the blessings which would come from it (Isa 52:7). 

This is why he calls God’s promise to Abraham “the gospel preached before it’s time.” Because the promise was the good news that God was King over every nation and he had a plan to bring them all back into his blessing.

God kept this promise when he sent Jesus: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman…so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). This is the gospel: in Jesus, the blessing of Abraham made available to all nations through faith in his work on the cross (Gal 3:13-14).

God promised to bless the world through his kingship and 2000 years later he proved himself trustworthy by keeping that promise. He can still be trusted to keep every promise he has ever made…even the ones we are still waiting to see fulfilled. 

WHO WE ARE: Not Slaves, But Heirs

“So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:7

In Galatians, Paul explains that the blessing of Abraham was never intended to come through the Law of Moses, but through the promise believed by faith (Gal 3:18).

His Gentile readers then wondered, “Why the Law? Was it even necessary?” (Gal 3:19). So Paul explains to them the purposes of God’s Law, one being its role as a Guardian until the coming of Christ (Gal 3:24). 

In Roman times, the Guardian was the slave responsible for the children’s education. This slave raised the children under his charge until they reached the age of maturity. Since the years a child had a Guardian were years of being under control, Paul likens this time of childhood to slavery (Gal 4:1). Though the Law was a Guardian for good and for protection, God’s children under its control were basically slaves. 

But when the fullness of time came, Christ freed the children from this slavery (Gal 4:4-5). This was why Paul vehemently opposed the message of the Judaizers to the Gentile Galatians: that they needed to be circumcised and follow the Law in order to be saved (Gal 5:2-6). Not so! For with the coming of Christ, the children were freed from their short-term Guardian and Manager…free to receive the full benefits of being heirs according to the promise.

If you belong to Christ, then you too are a child who is no longer under the control of the Law. You are an heir. A son or daughter of the King of the Universe. Beloved. Free.  

WHAT WE BELIEVE: Saved by Faith, Not Works

“…a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ…” Galatians 2:16

Justification is an important word in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Not only that, it’s an important word in every Christian’s life, whether or not they know exactly what it means.

The concept is complex and not easily explained. However, at least three things can be said about it. 

First, Paul’s understanding of justification is grounded in the Old Testament concept of tzedek or “righteousness.” Specifically, justification is legal recognition that someone is righteous. In other words, when a judge in a law-court setting pronounces a person to be in the right.

Second, righteousness is not simply about ethics (that is, behaviour that is characterised as good and right). More than that, it is about conformity to the divine order God established in creation. Thus, righteousness is more about meeting a standard God has placed on creation than about doing good deeds and avoiding wrong ones. 

Third—and most amazing—Paul communicates that someone has met God’s standard and is declared to be righteous by faith in Jesus and not by works of the law. Paul loves to use Abraham as an example of this. Before the law was even instituted, God declared Abraham to be righteous. And it wasn’t because of any good work, but because of his faith in God’s promise that would ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus. 

Being declared right in the eyes in God, being justified, only comes through faith in his Son. What—or who—do you look to for your justification?

HOW WE LIVE: Free to Serve 

“But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13

Paul passionately pleads with the Gentile believers in Galatia: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to [the] yoke of slavery, [that is, to the Law of Moses]” (Gal 5:1). 

Freedom is what Christ freed us for. 

The Bible, however, does not define freedom as living without restrictions. Instead, biblical freedom is understood as being released from the grasping power of sin, the slave-master intent on driving us only to our deaths (Rom 6:15-23).

The Law was just another kind of slave-master. Although a good-intentioned one, it was ultimately powerless to free humanity from sin’s bondage. This freedom would come simply through trust in the promise of God. By faith in Jesus. It is for this reason Paul didn’t want the Galatians to look to the Law for assurance that they were right with God. That was just another form of slavery. And Jesus had already set them free from it all! 

From this place of freedom from sin, of divine acceptance apart from works, God invites his people to humbly serve one another in love. To use our freedom for the benefit of others. 

Have you ever felt the freedom of serving another person? Does that even make sense to you?

When you are no longer under the control of both sin and the Law, it becomes a joy to find ways to love others sacrificially. To lay down your life for them as a pale reflection of the Life that was laid down for you and for your freedom.