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. 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.” Galatians 3.7-10.
My attention was caught in this morning’s reading first by the Greek phrase ek pisteos which occurs twice in this passage and is both times translated as “of faith”, and then by the contrasting phrase ex ergon nomou translated as “rely on works of the law”. In both phrases, the preposition ek (ex before a vowel) denotes origin, cause, motive or reason. It speaks of the starting point … of (to use an expression very much in vogue today) where someone is coming from. So Paul’s contrast here is between those whose starting point is faith and those whose starting point is law-keeping … between those who take faith as the basis of their approach to God and those who take law-keeping as the basis of such an approach. “I think you know where I am coming from,” says one — “Faith.” “And I think you know where I’m coming from,” says the other — “Law-keeping.”
That “other” represents, of course, the Jews/Judaizers who were attempting to turn the Galatians back into law-keepers. So entrenched were they in their belief that there could be no right standing before God on any basis other than the keeping of the law that they actually maintained that Abraham, 430 years before the law was given, complied with it. Ben-Sirach (the author of the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus or Sirach around 180 BC) wrote, “Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory; he kept the law of the Most High” (Ecclesiasticus 44.19-20 NRSV). How did ben Sirach figure that out? Well, simple really; if the covenant at Sinai established (as ben Sirach thought it did) that only those who kept the law could have a right standing with God then Abraham (who clearly did have a right standing with God) must have kept the law! It was a kind of reverse logic.
But Paul was having none of it. Genesis 15.6 (“And he [Abraham] believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness”) expressly and unequivocally stated that it was Abraham’s faith that gave him a right standing with God. Faith was where Abraham was “coming from” when he heard the call of God and responded to it. His actions were rooted in his deep trust in God, and it was that deep trust in God that mattered. And Paul saw clearly that the law given on Sinai had never changed that principle. Law-keeping had never been intended to replace faith or stop it being what mattered. Rather it should have engendered faith as it exposed God’s people for the law-breakers they were and made them realise their need for God’s grace and mercy. Law-keeping should have established faith even more firmly as the only basis for approaching God, but for many it became a substitute for faith and on them it drew only the curse that the law itself promised.
Lord, you know where I’m coming from this morning …
I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus, trusting only Thee;
trusting Thee for full salvation, great and free.
I am trusting Thee for pardon, at Thy feet I bow;
for Thy grace and tender mercy, trusting now.
I am trusting Thee for cleansing in the crimson flood;
trusting Thee to make me holy by Thy blood.
I am trusting Thee to guide me; Thou alone shalt lead,
every day and hour supplying all my need.
I am trusting Thee for power, Thine can never fail;
words which Thou Thyself shalt give me must prevail.
I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus; never let me fall;
I am trusting Thee for ever, and for all.
Frances Ridley Havergal