A BIBLICAL THOUGHT—1
“So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.”—Galatians 3:5–7
In the previous biblical thought, part 3, the text focused on the two religions of the Bible: the religion of human works (seen in the legalism of the Pharisees, in paganism, and in idolatry) and the religion of God (it is God who acts for humanity, and not the other way around). Once we receive the Spirit we grow in love and freedom. We do not grow in legalistic rituals and sacrifices that undo the validity of the sacrifice of Christ for us. Because at the end of the day, our recurrent temptation to “sacrifice ourselves” for God could be a symptom of our lack of trust and confidence in what Jesus did for us.
In this text we find Paul asking even more questions to the church of Galatia and using Abraham as an example of those who trust in God and live by faith. The miracles God works for us and through us are not done because of our good works! They are accomplished by God’s own initiative, and perfected in the heart of those who open themselves for His action. Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Why? Because he believed the word of God concerning his future. Any actions Abraham performed after this were not to guarantee some added favor from God, but were acts of love that took place in the context of a faith that trusts without sight!
Faith is a present reality which has a double orientation. It looks to the past, and to the future. In his walk, Abraham looked to the past and remembered God’s words and promise, but he also looked forward and lived as if the promise were true. Faith looks back and forward. And as it was with Abraham, so it is with us! Jesus sacrificed Himself for us at the cross. We look back to the past by faith, and we believe that this is a reality. But faith does not leave us in the past. Faith casts us into a future shaped by our trust in what happened in the past. So if it is true that Jesus sacrificed Himself for us and that in this sacrifice He fulfilled everything the law demanded of Israel, then let us live by this faith! Let us live knowing that there remains no more sacrifices. Let us live in the freedom of the Spirit and in the trust that God acts for and through us because of what Jesus has done, and not because of our own good works. Let us live knowing that God works for us not because we are good but because He is good.
One final and important observation: legalism also has a double orientation. It looks to the past and does not trust that Jesus sacrificed Himself for us, and it shapes the future around this false truth. Why do you think even today, just like in the times of the Galatians, some religious people believe they need to please God through works? Because their future is shaped by a distorted vision of the past. For these, Jesus did not accomplish everything at the cross, so they feel they need to contribute to their salvation through their own works.
But, friends, Paul reminds us that only those who live by the true faith—by the faith that looks to the past and to the future of what Christ did—are the true children of Abraham. It is not by blood, it is not by lineage, it is not by how long we have been in church, and it is not by how faithful we are to Adventism, but only and exclusively by faith in the completed sacrifice of Jesus that we are counted as children of Abraham. May you embrace this faith, the true faith, a faith that looks to the past and shapes the future around it, a faith that allows us to live by what Christ has accomplished, in freedom, joy, and love.
A BIBLICAL THOUGHT—2
“Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”—Galatians 3:8–9
In this text Paul continues to use the example of Abraham in order to give the church in Galatia a clear vision of what Christ had done. What Paul is teaching the church is not a new teaching. If the new converts from Judaism had noticed what was already written in the Torah, if they paid close attention to what God had done in the past, they would have seen glimpses of the gospel there. Abraham was a Gentile! God called this Gentile so that all nations—everyone on the face of the earth—would be blessed through him! This was the plan all along; this was the gospel, all along.
There are two things to focus on in this text: what does blessing and election mean?
When Abraham was called by God, he was promised blessings. In human religion, everything revolves around and ends in us humans. So when we read that God blessed Abraham, we may be tempted to think that this “blessing” was nothing more than a favor God bestowed on Abraham just because Abraham was good, or obedient. In human religion, blessings are an end. We ask for them, and when we receive them, we thank God. The end. But notice what God says to Abraham and what Paul repeats here: “In you all nations will be blessed.” In other words, any and every blessing Abraham received from God was not an end, but a means to bless people! Blessings are never about us; they are always about others. The blessing we receive, we share. And if this was understood by all who believe, every single person on the face of the earth would experience the blessing of interacting with the true children of Abraham: those who did not turn blessings into ends for themselves.
This leads to the next point: Knowing that being blessed is not an end but a means to bless others, now we can have a better grasp of the nature of the “elect.” The elect, in human religion, would be some favored person, some good person, some obedient person. We will always look for a reason as to why God elects particular individuals, and the reason is always some inherent goodness in those people. But Abraham was a Gentile. Right after his call in Genesis 12, we find him lying and offering his own wife to others to save his own life! But here lies the power of God’s calling: God may call many, but only chooses those who respond. Even with their brokenness and problems, the elect respond to God. So it was with Abraham, David, and every single follower of God in every age. The elect are elect not for anything great in themselves, but for their willingness to respond, and for their willingness to be elect for others, and to serve others and not themselves.
My dear reader, has your life and religion been a continuation of the life of Abraham? Has your life been a blessing to others, or has your religion been an end in yourself? May we be willing to respond, may we be willing to be chosen, may we be willing to serve and bless, and in this movement, may we become true children of Abraham.
Tiago Arrais, PhD, is a district pastor in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.