Home Bible Study©
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
I want to welcome y’all back to HBS and I thank you for your faithful attendance.
When we ended last week’s lesson, Paul was rebuking the Galatians because they were forsaking the true gospel of God’s Grace and slipping into legalism. Many Christians are falling into this same trap today. “The times they are a changing…” but people seldom do. Most people will believe just about anything that’s put in front of them and history* reveals this to be true. This is why I mention repeatedly the need for true Believers to study the Word of God, the only source of divine truth in the world, paying particular attention to our Apostle Paul’s teachings (Ephesians 3:1-13).
The vast majority of people begin their day with a regular routine, but few think of God, and fewer still consider adding “the right view of God” to their morning wake up. God is gracious. He’s not just the God of Grace, speaking of salvation; this book says He is always a God of Grace; meaning God deals with the human race through Grace.
Every true Believer already has God’s favor because of their expressed faith in Christ, i.e. His Grace, and their position in Christ is permanent – you can’t lose your salvation! God accepts the true Believer when you perform and when you don’t. If you could make it through one entire day without committing one, single sin God wouldn’t love you any more than if you fumbled the proverbial ball a dozen times… You see, no one can earn God’s favor by what they do. Our acceptance in Christ had nothing to do with our performance but everything to do with our faith in the righteousness of Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21-22, 11:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:9).
*It’s a historical fact that some of the biggest battles fought by the church of Jesus Christ were not against the non-religious world, but against those who professed to have a belief in the Lord God, yet denied salvation comes only through faith. Augustine fought this battle in the 4th century, as did John Wycliffe in the 14th century. Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, and Latimer all fought against the prevailing and popular belief that God would accept the works of man for righteousness. The belief that the individual could continue to find favor with God on the basis of his religious practices, his good works, his participation in the sacraments, his acts of service, his tithing, etc. Just as the Judaizers in Galatia appealed to the Old Testament examples, so have many through the centuries, appealed to the skewed interpretation that God accepts us on the basis of our works. To this different gospel, the Apostle Paul rose in defiance. He begins his argument that shows "faith has always been the God-required response that brings salvation (Eph. 2:8-9)” [John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 72].
Please open your Bible at Galatians 3:6.
Galatians 3:6: Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD (demonstrating faith), AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Genesis 15:6)
Because the Galatian churches were “sliding into legalism,” in verses 1-5 our Apostle Paul intended to clear their heads, hopefully, by asking a series of rhetorical questions. He started with this one, “did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Please remember, Paul’s letters are like listening to a one-sided telephone conversation. So, if they would have responded honestly they would have said, “by hearing with faith.” Then Paul asked them, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul’s point is this, justification and personal sanctification, (spiritual growth) is achieved through GOD’s grace, by faith, not by works (Hebrews 11:6).
Beginning at 3:6, Paul offers a second argument for salvation by grace through faith (alone) and long before there was any law at all (Romans 5:13). Paul has used a lot of ink referencing the Mosaic Law, but take note, he doesn’t mention Moses here; the most prominent and respected figure in the Old Testament and in the lives of every Jew; a man known as a friend of God (Exodus 33:11). Instead, he passes over Moses and chooses Abraham the patriarch of the Jewish nation (Genesis 12, 17:5). Paul’s present argument stems from the Old Testament long before the Mosaic Law was given to the nation of Israel. In doing this, Paul is proving Abram obtained salvation, by grace, through faith (Genesis 15:6). Paul didn’t conceive the idea. God has always acted to save people through their expressed faith in what He said (Genesis 3:20-24; Psalm 119:105)!
The Jewish religious leaders (the rabbis) thought Abraham was righteous, and often used him as an example, because of his character. They actually believed he was the most honest man in the world when the LORD selected him, i.e. this is why the LORD chose him. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, scripture points us toward the truth. The world had turned to idolatry even the household of Abram. But they went so far as to twist certain scripture verses (proof-texting) to arrive at this conclusion. Here’s one of the verses they chose to manipulate: because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Genesis 26:5). But here’s the thing; the majority of the rabbis thought Abraham was righteous because he obeyed the LORD God. The thing they failed to notice, or failed to report, depends of one’s perspective, is God saved him and made him righteous first, his obedience followed God’s grace (Romans 4:3-5). Abraham believed God’s promises; then he left the city of Ur, in faith. His faith reckoned him as righteous not his obedience to the LORD’s instructions.
7: Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
This statement from Paul contradicted the Judaizers’ claim they were “special,” or they held religious advantages over the Gentiles since they were born Jews; circumcised on the eighth day, and sons of Abraham. In short Paul said, “That’s not true be sure that it is those who are of faith who are (more) sons of Abraham than the Jews who were circumcised and are trying to keep the Law.” Put plainly, Paul’s saying anyone who believes the gospel is a child of Abraham in the same sense when Abraham believed the LORD; he became a child of God. God accept us on the basis of our faith (alone).
Paul’s opponents were stunned by this assessment. They deeply believed they already had a right standing before God because they were genetically descended from Abraham. Some of the Jewish rabbis, the religious leaders of the people, at that time actually taught Abraham stood at the gates of Hell to make sure none of his descendants slipped by accidentally. John the Baptist dealt with this errant teaching saying: and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham (Matthew 3:9). Paul is arguing against the Judaizers steadfast reliance on their genetic relationship to Abraham by speaking the truth; Abraham is the father of the faithful. Therefore what really matters to God is our faith (plus nothing else) in Christ.
8: The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”
With this statement Paul’s saying God has always planned to save every human being from eternal condemnation by faith (Genesis 3:15, 12:3, 18:18; Exodus 19:5-6; Ephesians 1:4). This fact is revealed here as a portion of the gospel or the good news preached to Abraham at that particular time was: “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”
So, this book is saying the Old Testament and the New Testament Believers were treated equally in that they were all saved by God’s Grace through faith, starting with the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden: Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living (neither of them died after their transgression; but they would eventually die just as the LORD said they would. But they were saved by believing in the promises of God). The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them (in His righteousness) Genesis 3:20-21.
Then we have the account of Noah and his family in Genesis 6, which occurred in the Dispensation of Conscience. Noah’s name means to bring relief or comfort and LORD God’s message to the people contained bad news and good news just as it does today. First, the devastating bad news: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth” Genesis 6:13). Then came the blessed good news: “Go into the ark, you and all your household” (Genesis 7:1).
But here’s the thing, God’s good news didn’t arrive at the last minute. Noah and his family of eight received the initial warning about the cataclysmic, world-wide flood 120 years before the invitation was given (7:1). This book doesn’t say if Noah spent any time warning the people about the LORD’s message, but I would think he did when the situation arose. In any case, Noah and his sons spent 120 years building the ark; and all this activity stood as a visual warning to the scoffers around them. Noah put his trust in what the LORD had said; this was his testimony. Every nail he drove into the wood reinforced his faith; every sound his hammer made echoed his faith saying, “I believe God!” The people thought Noah was a fool for believing it would rain a flood and they continued in their unbelief. The LORD left the ramp into the ark down for 7 full days, in case anyone wanted to accept His invitation, by faith. But only 8 people entered the ark of safety and were saved.
9: So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Salvation is all about an individual’s belief or faith in what God has said. Abraham trusted in the LORD God’s promises and he was reckoned as righteous for that (alone). However, I need to point out Abraham’s faith was not perfect. He stumbled more than a few times after that initial high point. In one instance he tried to assist the LORD fulfill His promise by having a natural child with Hagar (Genesis 16; 1 Corinthians 15:46), obviously against God’s will. There were negative consequences to this action that are still being realized to this very day, but the LORD didn’t abandon Abraham or His covenant with him. Likewise, our faith may wax and wane, determined by circumstances and our feelings, but a true Believer’s salvation is not dependent on such things. This is true “because when we believed, He secured us in Christ with the seal and pledge of the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Since Abraham was considered righteous because he had the faith to believe the LORD God; and since all true Believers are, in God’s eyes, the children of Abraham, whether or not they are his blood descendants, all those who are saved out of the faith of Christ are blessed with eternal life along with believing Abraham.
10: For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written: “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.”
The Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem didn’t abandon the Mosaic Law immediately after they were converted and this was especially true of the Pharisees. They still believed living under that religious system brought them God’s favor. As you can see, in the verse above Paul declared something quite different, instead of a blessing, attempting to live under that works-based system actually put them under a curse.
It isn’t hard to see where these folks got the notion that living under the Law and obeying it brought them blessings. They were reading God’s Word. Please turn to Psalm 1:1-2: How (what) blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the (what) law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
Here’s one more: How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD (Psalm 119:1).
If I mention the Ten Commandments, most of you know what I’m referring to. However, I wonder how many of you are aware there were 613 commandments laid down in the Torah and the Jews had to keep them all! In addition to that, the Pharisees made up their own complicated regulations called Midrash. This added thousands of new commandments, i.e. a yoke to the weighty religious load already placed upon the Jews. These man-made commandments were meant to clarify the original 613 commandments. Most of the Jews didn’t bother trying to keep these additional commandments the original 613 were challenging enough. Do you recall Peter’s statement at the Jerusalem Council? “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples (the Antioch Gentiles) a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15:10-11).
I’ll give you one example of those man-made commandments: the Mosaic Law commanded the Jews to keep the Sabbath Holy! This meant the Jews were not to work on Saturdays. Well, the Pharisees clarified this further by creating 39 separate categories of what “work” means, and within those 39 categories there are many sub-categories. So, the Pharisees had the Jews go from obeying the LORD’s single command of not “working on the Sabbath” to having to obey literally thousands of these sub-rules.
One sub-rule said it was unlawful to take more than a “few steps” on the Sabbath; the penalty for breaking this man-made commandment was death (Exodus 31:14-15; Ezekiel 18:4, 20:21). Now that we know this it helps us understand Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:20 as He speaks of end time events: But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. If the end comes on a Sabbath, a law-keeping Jew could only walk a few steps. They would be forced to make a decision: break the law or run for their life!
As I stated above, the average Jew didn’t even try to keep all these additional man-made laws, but the Pharisees did. They prided themselves on not only following the letter of the Law but the additional laws too. Jesus Christ held a critical view of the Pharisee’s leadership, saying they were legalistic – only concerned with the external appearance, i.e. keeping the Law (Matthew 15:1-9, 23).
We know circumcision was one of the Big 3 for the Jews of the Diaspora. Circumcision is an everlasting covenant the LORD made with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:10-14). No specific reason for this surgical procedure is given in the text. All we have to go on is it’s a command from the LORD God. Most people agree it was an external sign; it meant submitting to God’s will, something most people at this time were reluctant to do, and it marked the individual as a Jew.
However, this book goes much deeper than that for it teaches us the spiritual significance of circumcision is a matter of the heart (Deuteronomy 30; 1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 22: 36-40; Romans 2:29). God wasn’t looking for a nation of religious, law keepers; He was interested in relationships. Jesus Christ taught His disciples to love God and to love one another as He had loved them! He said the Pharisees did not have the love of God in their hearts (John 5:42); this was the issue then and it still is today (John 14:6, 14:9) and not just for the Jews…
The Bible makes its own case for the Law being extremely burdensome and harsh, and not just because the Pharisees took it to the nth degree. The original 613 commandments didn’t need the Pharisee’s interference to worsen the nation of Israel’s situation. The Law had two purposes basically; they revealed sin and then condemned the sinner to death. The Law could not provide God’s righteousness; there was no power in the Law to save anyone. The Lord Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, is a perfect replica of what God’s law teaches; it was meant to point the nation of Israel to Him, their Redeemer, and His work as the end of the law (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4).
Getting back to 3:10, when Paul said, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse,” because it had to be kept perfectly: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10).
Paul’s not saying the Law or God’s Word is imperfect. No way! He means to say God never meant for the Law to be the vehicle or the means of our righteousness before Him. God knew the Israelites could not keep the Law this is why He instituted the atoning system, i.e. the priesthood and the entire sacrificial system. Millions of animals died; they were sacrificed in God’s Temple for the sins of the Israelites. But with all that blood being shed and offered up to a Holy God in heaven, not one Jewish sin was removed or taken away: For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).
All those religious rites and rituals, the ceremonial washings, the blood sacrifices were mere shadows of what was to come. They looked forward to Jesus’ one-time sacrifice for all; His ultimate victory over sin and death, through His shed blood, for those who choose to believe (Hebrews 9; 10).
To prove God’s point, Paul quoted Deuteronomy 27:26: “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.”
I underlined two words to focus on in this passage all and perform. If God would approve the sinner on the basis of the Law, they would have to ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK. Not just know about it, not just simply want to do it, the individual had TO PERFORM THEM. Some of you may have been introduced to the simple Pass/Fail system while you were in school. In this system there is no middle ground, you either gain favor or you do not. Well this passage is saying the same thing. There’s no wiggle room. You break one law and you’re done!
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; (1 Corinthians 15:56).
For the law of the Spirit is life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).
The curse of the Law is death, this is the second death mention in scripture, it’s eternal separation from a loving God for all of eternity. How long is eternity; as long as God exists! And God has always exited…
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
No one has to swim a raging river or climb a high mountain to earn God’s Grace; all they need to do is accept it by faith. However history reveals the majority of mankind has chosen to scorn God’s Grace, choosing instead a life lived under a curse, not because they failed to perform the works of the Law, but because they try to.
11: Now that no one is justified (declared righteous) by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
If you’re thinking we’ve been here before, you’re right. Paul brought this point up when he examined the life of Abraham (3:5-9). But hey, why not “hit it” again; some people, namely the Pharisees, need to hear things more than a few times before the information sinks in. Paul’s point, again, is no one can become justified in the sight of God by trying to obey the Law, because the Law itself states a person is justified by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).
The prophet Habakkuk complained to the LORD God about Israel’s (Judah’s) sin. Their wickedness resulted from the Law being ignored (1:2-4). Therefore, the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore, justice comes out perverted (Habakkuk 1:4).
The LORD’s response to His distressed prophet is He is going to chasten His people with the Chaldeans (1:5-11). Habakkuk is horrified by this news. He objects saying the Chaldeans are more wicked and violent than God’s people. How can a righteous God use a nation so wicked to do His will (1:12-17)? God answers him in chapter 2 saying the pride of the Chaldeans is sinful and it will eventually be punished (2:4a). In contrast, the righteous will live by faith (2:4b).
Bible students ask questions, remember? How could an Israelite live righteously in the days of Habakkuk when the LORD’s people ignored His Laws, and when Israel’s prideful and violent enemy would soon conquer them? Habakkuk could not expect the LORD”s blessings on the basis of their obedience to the Law; the people were unfaithful to it. All he, or any Israelite, could do was to trust in the LORD God and to live by faith, i.e. faith in the LORD”s promises to obtain righteousness.
This book says certain men obtained God’s righteousness without explaining how it was achieved (Enoch, Noah, Seth, etc.). Abraham was the first individual to be declared righteous and have the method explained to us, and the scriptures do not change this example from then on; not even after the Law is implemented. For Paul says, no man is justified by the law in the sight of God. He just used verses from Habakkuk to prove this.
(To be continued)
© Copyright 2011
GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
All Rights Reserved