Gen. 15:6; Galatians 3:1-9 “Paul’s Use of Genesis in His Doctrine of Justification”

Posted on November 22, 2009. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School

Genesis Class Sunday 11-22-2009

Gen. 15:6; Galatians 3:1-9

“Paul’s Use of Genesis in His Doctrine of Justification”

Bryan E. Walker


Read Genesis 15:1-6; Galatians 3:1-14


After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue  childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son  shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.


Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by  the flesh? 4 Did you suffer  so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 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.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 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.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”  12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit  through faith.


Introduction: We have been in Genesis 15 for a few weeks and we have seen that verse 6 is a key verse in all of Scripture for understanding how we are to be saved. This morning I want us to take a different approach by going to the New Testament to examine one of the three key NT texts that quotes this Genesis verse. One of the great principles of Bible interpretation is allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, so today we shall see how Paul interprets Gen. 15:6 in the book of Galatians.  What we will find is that Paul drives home the doctrine that works do not, cannot save us from our sins, but we are justified through faith alone.


  1. I.                   The Message of Galatians
    1. A.        Background
    2. 1.            Saul of Tarsus, the former Pharisee, now Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus is the author of this letter to the churches of Galatia, which he founded in his first missionary journey in AD 46-47, covered in Acts 13-14. Paul had been a strict Pharisee and zealous in persecuting the Church until he was confronted by Christ on the Damascus Road in Acts 9. Blinded by the encounter with Christ he is led by the hand to Damascus where he is confirmed in the faith by Ananias, and then baptized. He spends some time under the disciples in Damascus and then begins preaching Christ until he is run out of town. Paul eventually goes to Jerusalem and is initially feared by the disciples until Barnabas takes him in, and soon he is preaching in Jerusalem too.
    3. 2.            Apparently sometime after Paul had started the churches in Galatia some Judaizer heretics came in behind him and led the Galatians astray with a heresy involving a salvation by works. They were basically telling the Gentile believers that they needed to keep the OT law in regards to circumcision and even some of the food laws. In Gal.2:11-13 he details some of the personal confrontations that he had with Cephas and Barnabas on this issue.
    4. 3.            Paul hears of this false gospel being preached in the churches and writes this letter in response. We believe the letter was written before the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 took place, so this letter was written most likely in AD 48 because the Jerusalem Council was in late AD 48/49. If the letter had come after the Jerusalem Council then Paul would likely have used that proclamation as part of his attack on the heresy.

                  B.     Argument

  1. 1.               Paul’s approach in this letter is to start off with a greeting but them he gives them a stern rebuke in 1:6-9. He then gives a defense of his Gospel in contrast to the Judaizer’s heresy by explaining his authority as an apostle called by God in 1:11-24 and then he explains that his Gospel and ministry were accepted by the Apostles in Jerusalem in 2:1-10. He next goes into details of his confronting Cephas/Peter in 2:11-21, but it is in this last portion that he proclaims the great doctrine at the center of the controversy, Justification by Faith, in 2:15-21. In chapters 3-5:12 Paul makes direct appeals to the Galatians to stop believing the heresy by expounding some OT passages and using some strong arguments from their own experience. He concludes his letter in 5:13-6:10 with some practical application and then in 6:11-18 he gives a final warning.


  1. II.                The Galatians Experience of Salvation, 3:1-5
    1. A.        Vs.1- Paul confronts
    2. 1.            O foolish Galatians!- Paul gets very passionate and personal here, harking back to 1:6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him…” Here we see a holy anger mixed with the love of a father for his children. In 1:11 he refers to them as “brothers” and in 4:19 as his “children”. His love shows in this letter, but so does his surprise and disappointment, even anger. The word for “foolish” is anoetos which means being mentally lazy, it is sinfully failing to think through what had been preached to them by these heretics. They took the easy way out and failed to have the will to challenge, confront and dispute the false gospel of the heretics. They just went along to get along. They perhaps gave in to their soft emotions because it sounded so good to them. A gospel of good works appeals to the flesh and prided. Hendriksen writes, (p.111) “The Galatians, in lending a listening ear to the arguments of the legalists, must not be considered not necessarily dull but thoughtless, not ignorant but senseless, not stupid but foolish. And is not everyone foolish who barters the truth of God for the lie of Satan, peace for unrest, assurance for doubt, joy for fear, and freedom for bondage?”  This foolishness has the idea of a wrong heart attitude. Jesus used this word to rebuke the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:25 “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!…27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” The Galatians had neglected to use their faith and brains together to properly identify the heresy and fight it with the Gospel. In not paying close and careful attention they slipped into error. John MacArthur writes,(p.64) “The Christian life is neither entered nor lived on the basis of good feeling or attractive inclinations but on the basis of God’s truth in Christ. Christians who rely on self-oriented emotions instead of Scripture-oriented minds are doomed to be ‘tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming’ (Eph.4:14). Timothy George writes, (NAC, p.206) “The Galatians were not lacking in IQ but in spiritual discernment.”
    3. 2.            Application- have you ever studied any of the major cults of today, like Jehovah’s Witnesses or the LDS? When you look at them and what they believe, so much of it makes absolutely no sense. The LDS and the book of Mormon are so anti-historical and illogical it is appalling. It is foolishness.
    4. 3.            Who has bewitched you?- bewitched-baskaino– to charm or fascinate, mislead by flattery, false promises or the use of the occult. Basically this can be demagoguery, deception, playing on your emotions without using any facts; feelings over truth. Does this sound like what we hear in the news media and by some politicians? Well, it is well practiced by many preachers too. The use of this word would cause the Galatians to gasp, because of its being related to witchcraft and the occult.
    5. 4.            How much of modern day religion is built upon feelings instead of the facts, logic and proper interpretation of Scripture? In a lot of churches do you have to check your brain at the door? And that can be conservative or liberal churches.
    6. 5.            The Galatians had allowed themselves to be swayed by the smooth talking heretics into believing that they had to practice Judaism in order to be saved. This is going backwards!


  1. B.        Salvation By Works Goes Against Their Salvation Experience
  2. 1.            Vs.1b It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.- Paul’s preaching of the crucifixion was accurate and vivid, compelling. Publicly portrayed is prographo a word used of official government billboards, placards or posters. The Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified had been boldly, plainly and openly proclaimed before their very eyes. Again, Paul is using language here to express his feelings of, “I can’t believe you have done this!” Crucified is a perfect passive participle meaning that it was a historical fact that has ongoing, continuous results in the here and now, and forever. Jesus paid for sin on the cross and if we put our faith in him we will be continually forgiven forever.
  3. 2.            Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? The Galatians did not have to go through any ritual or keep any laws before receiving the Holy Spirit at salvation. The gift of the Spirit is the seal of our salvation; he is the greatest proof of our salvation as he indwells each believer. Look at Rom. 8:16 and 1John 4:13. Some Christians today believe that you don’t get the full blessing of the Holy Spirit until some later point after salvation. But Scripture never shows that; you either have the Spirit or you don’t.
  4. 3.            Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Here is a chiasmus structure that goes this way: A-having begun, B-by the Spirit, B1-by the flesh, A1- are you now being perfected? This sentence provides a double contrast to make Paul’s point. He contrasts Spirit with flesh and begun with being perfected.
  5. 4.            Did you suffer so many things in vain- we have nothing to support the idea that the Galatians had suffered a persecution for their faith, so the word is likely used here to mean simply ‘experienced’. In other words, Paul is asking them to remember their salvation experience when he was with them preaching the gospel of faith alone, and in remembering, to make an evaluation- was it all in vain? Was it not real?
  6. 5.            Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith- this appeal is now with the Galatians experience with the Father. Notice the Trinitarian formula used by Paul here. It is the Father who sends the Spirit. The word for supplies is epichoregeo which means to provide with great abundance and generosity. This Spirit sent by the Father is working miraclesdunamis meaning powerfully. Timothy George writes, (p.206) “As these opening verses of chap.3 indicate, the Galatians were obviously enthralled by the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit in their midst. At the same time, their grasp on the fundamental truths of the gospel was woefully inadequate. One of the most dangerous dichotomies in the Christian life is for the spiritual to be divorced from the doctrinal, experience from theology….Paul did not say that the Galatians had had less than a fully genuine experience of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he argues from precisely the opposite premise: since they had certainly received the Holy Spirit and witnessed his mighty works, why were they now retrogressing back from the Spirit to the flesh? The answer is implied in Paul’s critical word of address: somehow the balance between sound doctrine and Spirit-filled living had gotten out of kilter among the churches in Galatia. Not being firmly grounded in the faith, they had been led astray by undisciplined thinking and careless theology to the point where they were now on the verge of embracing dangerous doctrines.”
  7. 6.            Paul’s argument then, for justification through faith, not of works, is that if you have received salvation by trusting in the crucified Savior, and you have therefore received the Holy Spirit whom the Father has sent and He is working powerfully in you, of what benefit could it be to, at this point, go back to a works oriented salvation?


  1. III.             Justified By Faith
    1. A.        The Doctrine Proved from the Old Testament
    2. 1.            just as Abraham believed God- just as– this would be like saying it is recorded in Scripture. Abraham believed God– no doubt the Judaizers were boasting of their relationship with Abraham and using his circumcision as proof that the Galatians needed to do this too. Paul also refers to Gen. 12:3 when he says, “In you shall all the nations be blessed”. This likely means that the Judaizers were linking these two references to Abraham, his circumcision in Gen. 17 and the promised blessing for the Gentiles in 12. They would have said something like, “Trust in Jesus and be circumcised to truly be saved. You must become a Jew before you can become a Christian.”
    3. 2.            But Paul is pointing our Gen. 15:6, which comes after the promise of blessing yet BEFORE Abraham’s circumcision in ch.17. There is an obvious problem in the chronology for the Judaizers. The covenant and Abram’s faith come prior to the sign of the covenant! This very basic and obvious fact blows away their argument and demonstrates that, as in Gal.3:1, it was foolishness and “witchcraft” that led them astray.
    4. 3.            In Gen. 15:6 the Lord counts or reckons Abraham as righteous solely on the basis of faith. Faith is placing your complete confidence, trust and hope in God alone. It implies a turning away from dependency on anything else, so the doctrine of repentance is inherent. It is necessarily exclusive, Abraham believed God, not God plus other things that he himself had done. It would be 13-14 years before Abraham would be circumcised, but Abraham’s being counted as righteous was already a done deal. Paul explains this again, later, in Romans 4:7-12. See also Rom.2:28f.
    5. 4.            It will always appeal to the flesh of fallen man to seek some way that we can save ourselves, or contribute to our own salvation. Jesus + whatever. It is always easier to look at the sign as being the source because the sign is visible and tangible whereas God is invisible. The Jews were trusting in being literally descended from Abraham and these Judaizers, willing to admit Gentiles in, yet were requiring a physical act as being necessary for salvation.
    6. 5.            Vs.7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. John 8:31-59 is an account of a dispute between Jesus and the Jews based upon their claim of Abraham as their father. Paul is saying, “Look, you can be a physical descendant of Abraham, but without faith, you are not the spiritual descendant of Abraham; and it is those who have faith who are truly saved.” In the Abrahamic narrative, Ishmael was cast out of the camp and God explicitly states that, while he shall be blessed, he is not the chosen seed. Ishmael was not born by Abraham and Sarah’s faith. He was born by their lack of faith and reliance upon a cultural process that was natural. God did a miracle in the bodies of Abraham and Sarah to enable them to have Isaac, the child of faith.
    7. 6.            Vs.8 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”- again, this refers us to Gen.12:3, and so Paul is now explaining that passage as being a “preaching of the Gospel”. All people are saved the same way, by faith alone. This is the good news. There is no other way, no other gospel.
    8. 7.            Vs.9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. There is both an exclusivity and an openness to the gospel. The exclusivity is that you can ONLY be saved by trusting in Jesus alone. Every other religion is based upon man’s efforts to do something to please a false god. You must trust in Christ alone to be saved. The openness is that race, nationality, color, gender, does not matter. The true child of Abraham is the one who has faith.
      1. B.        The Doctrine Applied
      2. 1.            What are some common things that various religions or even Christian denominations DO or Require, for salvation? Is Baptism sometimes required for salvation?
      3. 2.            What are some things in Baptist churches, or Evangelical churches in general, that we may commonly corrupt into being necessary for salvation?
      4. 3.            What are some things in the way I live my life that practically deny salvation through faith alone? Do I ever live a performance based life for Christ?
      5. 4.            Read James 2:14-26, Is James using the phrase, “justified by works and not by faith alone” in the exact same way as Paul discusses it? What role do works have in faith?
      6. 5.            What are some common “works” that should be visible if someone has a genuine saving faith? If there is no change in someone’s life after they profess faith in Christ, even with great tears and emotion, if they continue in sin as before, how should we treat that person? How much change is enough change to be evidence of a genuine saving faith? What about those who profess Christ, yet have sat in church for years, and are moral but not really spiritual, and in a lot of instances seem to fight against the things of the Spirit?
      7. 6.            What is Civil Religion?

In the sociology of religion, civil religion is the folk religion of a nation or a political culture.

Civil religion stands somewhat above folk religion in its social and political status, since by definition it suffuses an entire society, or at least a segment of a society; and is often practiced by leaders within that society. On the other hand, it is somewhat less than an establishment of religion, since established churches have official clergy and a relatively fixed and formal relationship with the government that establishes them. Civil religion is usually practiced by political leaders who are laypeople and whose leadership is not specifically spiritual.


Such civil religion encompasses such things as:

  • the invocation of God in political speeches and public monuments;
  • the quotation of religious texts on public occasions by political leaders;
  • the veneration of past political leaders;
  • the use of the lives of these leaders to teach moral ideals;
  • the veneration of veterans and casualties of a nation’s wars;
  • religious gatherings called by political leaders;
  • the use of religious symbols on public buildings;
  • the use of public buildings for worship;
  • founding myths and other national myths

Professional commentators on political and social matters writing in newspapers and magazines sometimes use the term civil religion or civic religion to refer to ritual expressions of patriotism of a sort practiced in all countries, not always including religion in the conventional sense of the word.

Among such practices are the following:


  • crowds singing the national anthem at certain public gatherings;
  • parades or display of the national flag on certain patriotic holidays;
  • oaths of allegiance, such as the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States;
  • ceremonies concomitant to the inauguration of a president or the coronation of a king;
  • retelling exaggerated, one-sided, and simplified mythologized tales of Founding Fathers and other great leaders or great events (e.g., battles, mass migrations) in the past (in this connection, see also romantic nationalism);
  • monuments commemorating great leaders of the past or historic events;
  • monuments to dead soldiers or annual ceremonies to remember them;
  • expressions of reverence for the country or the Constitution or the King;
  • public display of the coffin of a recently deceased political leader.
  1. 7.            Is Civil Religion dangerous to the doctrine of justification by faith alone? Is there a sense amongst many Americans that they are “saved” by virtue of being moral Americans? Do you think that may be common in the church going population too?
  2. 8.            How can we as Christians be patriotic yet also confront this false doctrine of salvation by virtue of being American and moral?
  3. 9.            Should we as Christians seek to impose our biblical worldview, our moral values, upon society? Is that fostering a false idea of justification by works? If we do not stand for biblical morals in our law codes, then aren’t we allowing evil to grow un-opposed?

Conclusion: Paul uses a very strong series of arguments to counter the “salvation by Faith plus” Judaizers. He points the Galatians to their original exposure to the Gospel and their response, that was faith based, not works based. He points to the work of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Father in a Trinitarian basis for justification by faith alone. He continues his attack on this heresy by looking back to Abraham and destroying the argument of the Judaizers by simply looking at Abraham’s chronology. He was declared righteous by his faith years before being circumcised. He points to the Call of Abraham and the promise to be a blessing to all the nations as a sign that being Jewish is not the key to salvation. Salvation is open to all peoples because faith is all that is required. Gentiles and Jews are both justified only through faith in Christ alone.


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