“Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ so you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham... For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.” ~Galatians 3:6-7, 9 (NRSV).
Four hundred and thirty years before the Law was proclaimed through Moses, Abraham was justified by faith. He is, therefore, a compelling illustration for Paul; God did not need the Law to justify Abraham as blessed—though it is clear Abraham would no doubt have met the requirements of the Law.
Faith Easily Meets The Law
As love is a higher law, and superior, than the pure requirements of the Law, faith has a way about it that exceeds the rulebook.
Faith and belief are synonymous. Perhaps these two are more rooted in action than we might suspect, having previously aligned the requirements of the Law with works. But faith and belief are known by their works.
Abraham was known by what he did. He left his homeland at the call of the Lord, not sitting on his haunches thinking, “Was that really God’s voice?” When he placed Isaac on the altar, with a thorough will to go through with the sacrifice, he never doubted the voice of God that tested him (Genesis 22:1-2), or the voice of the Angel of the Lord to dissuade him (Genesis 22:11-12).
On both occasions God blessed Abraham’s faith. These were action-oriented deeds of trust. Not only did these actions meet the requirements of the Law, they proved Abraham’s faithfulness; he went well beyond his own insight.
Abraham’s faith far exceeded the requirements of the Law. When we, too, act by faith as we’re led, we prove our belief and are, hence, also justified.
Only Faith Can Justify
Where faith steps up into another realm is in the field of salvation.
There are no two ways to be saved. We cannot choose between the works of our own strength and the faith of trust in God. The former requires none of God; the latter is completely reliant on Divine revelation and intervention toward decisions of action; the placement of faith.
We cannot make it to, or reconcile, heaven—as an experience in the here and now, or ultimately—by praying the ‘right way’ or by reading our Bibles every day or by attending church every Sunday for the whole of our lifetimes; never skipping one, or by being a Christian for ten, twenty, thirty or forty consecutive years. Justification just doesn’t work that way.
We cannot prove ourselves worthy; we can’t ‘improve’ salvation; we can’t gain this gift of God by human feats.
If we are to be ‘reckoned’ as righteous, God has ‘calculated’ us that way. We are counted righteous or our ‘accounts’ are valued thus, without question. This adjudication is never in dispute and it can’t be removed from us—as if we didn’t keep the Law, for instance.
For what Christ established on the cross, we can afford to believe in God guilt free. We are granted sonship and daughtership; we are heirs of the Promise; because we believe, we will be glorified with God in heaven one day. This is not a conditional reality.
We are the fully fledged kin of Abraham.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
Leon Morris, Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom (Downers Grove,
A. Lukyn Williams, D.D. (ed), The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians: Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (London, England: Cambridge University Press, 1914), pp. 59-62.