Consider the question: 'What must I do to be saved?' Time has revealed various answers. Some think they do not need saving because they do not believe they are lost. They reject the idea of a God that we are responsible to. They do not believe in something called sin and that unforgiven sin is punished. For such people, the question is meaningless.
For many years, the Roman Catholic Church answered this question by saying through the church. To be sure, salvation came through Christ, but the church managed this grace of God through the sacraments they administered to people. If a person or region disagreed with the doctrine of the church, they simply excommunicated them or issued an interdict against the region. They even carried out inquisitions that ended the life of heretics.
Martin Luther, a German and leader of the Protestant Reformation, said all one must do was believe. A person did not need the priest or the church they represented. The Catholic Church called on him to recant this heretical belief, but he refused. Friends hid him to save his life.
John Calvin, a Frenchman and also a leader in the Protestant Reformation, also claimed faith was the way to salvation, but he believed the only ones who could believe were the ones God chose before the foundation of the world.
Others try meditation or Eastern mystical practices for salvation. Some follow the religions of Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism trying to find salvation. The different denominations, cults and occults all prove that people are trying in different ways to answer the question of how one is saved.
It was the question asked of Paul by the Philippian jailer. Paul and Silas were put in jail for advocating customs that were not acceptable to the Romans. Before being thrown in jail, they were attacked, stripped of their clothes and beaten with rods. About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns. Suddenly, there was an earthquake that opened the doors of the prison and loosed the chains that bound them. When the jailer woke up, he saw the prison doors open. Assuming the prisoners had escaped and that he would lose his life because he allowed them to, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. Paul stopped him just in time. He rushed in, fell before them and asked the question.
Paul goes to great lengths in the letter to the Galatians to prove that faith is the answer. It may seem he overdoes the message, but repetition is the best teacher, and Paul obviously realized this. The message that faith is the answer to the question of how one is saved was being undercut by the Judaizers. So terrible was the situation that many of the Gentiles and Jews that had once accepted Paul's message were deceived. Whereas they had believed that faith was the means of salvation, now some were believing that they could work for their salvation. Paul now appeals to the Old Testament, what the Judaizers proposed people must still believe, to prove that faith was the way even in that time period.
Perhaps we do not face the exact same set of circumstances today, but we are still subtly tempted to believe that salvation comes some other way. We may profess that we believe faith is the way, but we live as if something we do helps. It might surprise us to know how many deep down inside trust in other things such as how active they are at church, their membership at some church or how many good works they do. We would never admit it outwardly, but deep inside surely some trust in these things. We must again hear the message of the Bible that faith is the only way.
Faith has always been the way God accepts people. This has not changed. God accepted Abel over Cain because of his faith. Noah and his family were saved when all others perished because of their faith. Moses was selected by God for a great task because of his faith. Paul has already shown the Galatians that they were justified by their faith by appealing to their experience. Now he will appeal to Scripture, the very thing the Judaizers trusted in.
I. POSITIVE PROOF FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
What better person to appeal to in proving this doctrine than Abraham. He was the father of the faithful. He lived before God gave his law to Moses at Sinai. If Paul could prove that God accepted Abraham because of his faith, he could disprove the arguments of the Judaizers. They said a person must observe rites, circumcision and ceremonies. These only came with the giving of the Law, and Abraham lived before that happened.
The Judaizers taught that Gentiles needed circumcision for God's acceptance. They certainly must have used Abraham as an example of this. Abraham was not circumcised when God called him to leave his homeland to go to a land he would show him. Some time later he and his descendants underwent the rite. It was a sign of God's covenant with them and an illustration of the need of continual cleansing of sin. The cutting away of the skin was a symbol designed to teach the need to cut away sin from the heart.
Using the Old Testament and Abraham, the Judaizers taught that the Gentiles must share in this rite to share in the blessings promised to Abraham and his descendants. Paul disagreed. Paul shows them that God declared Abraham righteous not because of this practice but because he believed God. God called him to leave his homeland, go to a land he had never seen and promised to bless him and make him a great nation. Abraham obeyed, and this is why God declared him righteous. This all happened before God ever commanded him or his descendants to be circumcised. Thus it was his belief or faith not his obedience to circumcision.
God promised Abraham and his wife Sarai a son in their old age. He further promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens. The Bible then says; “Then he (Abraham) believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) It was some fourteen years after this that God commanded Abraham and his descendants to undergo circumcision.
Paul also shared this same teaching in his letter to the Romans. He wrote; “Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say; Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:9)
The Judaizers and other Jews completely reversed this setting. They said circumcision and then salvation while Paul argued the gospel said salvation and then circumcision. It was only a physical sign to separate God's people from the pagan world around them. Paul also wrote to the Romans; “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” (Romans 2:28)
Abraham is not only an example of saving faith but also obedient faith. His faith justified him, but he also obeyed by faith when God called him to go to an unknown land. He also showed this obedience when God called him to give back the son of promise, Isaac.
The Jews loved to appeal to their descent from Abraham to prove that they were God's children. Paul reminded them that only those who exercised faith as Abraham did are truly his descendants. Being a physical descendant would not help them as they thought. One must be a spiritual descendant, and this comes by following Abraham's example of faith in God.
Paul continues by saying that this gospel message was preached beforehand to Abraham. God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed in him. This included the Gentiles, the ones who for many generations Jews thought could not be saved without adopting Jewish ways. Paul says the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. The gospel is good news, and the good news is that God accepts us through faith and no other way.
We must be careful to avoid the example of so many of the Jews and especially the Judaizers whom Paul rebuked. It is only human that we try to save ourselves. We want to pat ourselves on the back and think it is something we have done. We pride ourselves in thinking it is something we have done or said that pleases God. The Jews put great stock in circumcision and physical descent from Abraham, but many are guilty of placing their trust in other things in addition to or besides faith. It does not matter how godly our parents or grandparents were or how rich our physical lineage is, if we have not faith God does not accept us. God saves no racial, ethnic or social group because of their identity. Faith saves all, and the example of Abraham proves this.
II. NEGATIVE PROOF FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
Paul said that those who labor under the Law-trusting in it for salvation, are cursed. To be saved by the law, one would have to perfectly obey it. This is impossible because of our sinful nature. This sinful nature causes us to have the propensity toward sin. To obey the law of God perfectly, we would have to be perfect, and this we are not. Thus what the Judaizers were trusting in for their salvation they could not accomplish. Not only did God declare Abraham righteous fourteen years before circumcision, but it was over 500 years later before God would give the Law to Moses at Sinai.
The ancient rabbis were so convinced that salvation came by obeying the Law that they tried to prove God somehow revealed the law to the patriarchs and other saints who lived before Moses. These people found favor with God because they obeyed the Law, but they could not really prove such a belief.
Paul tells them that all who labor under the law are under a curse. The curse is that they must keep all the law for God to accept them. The history of the Jews themselves should have proved that this was impossible. The Judaizers were placing themselves under the wrath of God rather than his blessings by teaching one must obey the law for God's acceptance.
Paul quotes from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk to prove this is false. Habakkuk wrote; “The righteous person shall live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) The way of law and faith are mutually exclusive. They cannot happen at the same time and place. It is either one way or the other, and Paul says it is by faith.
Imagine the ship moored to the dock by a chain. It is only as secure as the weakest link of that chain. If a storm comes and causes even one link to break, the entire ship breaks away.
It is the same for those who try to come to God some other way than faith. That way is a weak link that will never secure us. Faith is the answer as Paul proves by appealing to the Old Testament.