October 16, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Galatians 3)

Submitted by Hannah Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

Read the following passages in Genesis and reflect on Abraham’s trust in God’s words.

Genesis 12:1–4 (ESV)

 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Genesis 15:1–6 (ESV)

 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.” 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?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 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.” 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.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

As I reflect on Abraham’s trust in God through these passages, I am reminded of what it means to really trust God.  I used to think about “trust in God” as somewhat of a last ditch effort to “hope for the best” since there is nothing that I can do to help the situation or know the turn of events.  Most of the time, there is still anxiety, fears and almost a sense of restlessness to make things happen in my own timetable.  Trusting in God grates against that desire for control and desire to know how things are going to pan out. Abraham had a very different way of trusting in God’s words.  First he held on to the promises of God and believed it as something that will happen.  He believed it to the extent that it caused him to take action and to obey what God commanded.  It wasn’t just wishful thinking, and just sitting back and seeing how God will work.  There wasn’t a “let go and let God” mentality.  In Gen 12:4 says, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” Abraham’s trust in God’s words ended in obedience to what God commanded him, to leave his country and his kindred and his father’s house to the land that God was to show him.  Another thing that I noticed is that God isn’t very specific in terms of timing and how everything is going to happen, but Abraham still trusted in God’s words without asking all the details.  There wasn’t a sense of anxiety and a sense of control that Abraham clutched on to, but just a surrender of his life to God to work out the details as he obeys and goes.  Of course, as we read in gen 15:1-6, Abraham probably did have some uncertainties and fears, which he communicated to God.  But in the end, Abraham still believed that God would carry out his promise and was faithful to obey God to the very end.  This is another lesson that I have learned as I reflect on Abraham’s trust in God’s word.  God’s promises were fulfilled through time and it was a journey that Abraham took with God.  Often, people don’t see God’s promises coming to fruition because they end up quitting in the middle or turning to other ways through their own means to make something happen.  I have learned that trust in God’s word is to journey with God in obedience and to see how God has led me through the years to bring about what he promised in the beginning.  As I look back on the past 12 years since I became a Christian, I see how through the years, God has indeed fulfilled his promises and continues to do show me that He is still in the process of showing me all that He wants to do in my life.  Knowing this, there is a sense of eager anticipation and also a trust in God’s Words and promises that is much stronger that it was back when I first became a Christian.

“When we speak of ‘faith’ as a central theme of this letter, however, we must observe carefully how Paul actually uses this concept.  The meaning here is ‘trust’.  Abraham is a paradigm of faith because he trusted in God’s promise.  Abraham’s faith was not a matter of believing a list of propositions or a system of doctrines about God; rather, it was a matter of primal trust in the bare, direct promise of God to bless him and to give him many descendants.  Abraham heard God’s word and trusted it.  That is the picture of faith that Paul evokes in Gal 3:6-9.  This sort of trust is the model for the trust that the Galatians also demonstrate when they believed Paul’s proclamation of the good news of the gospel, God’s blessing upon them as Gentiles outside the Law, by sheer grace.  Faith is not a matter of mustering a heroic capacity to believe the odd or the miraculous; it is simply a matter of receiving gratefully a gift that God has chosen to give us, completely without regard to our deserving.  It is a matter of reliance on the Word of God as the one truth upon which we stake our lives.” [Richard B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 275.]

  • What are the promises of God given to me in the gospel?

There are so many promises of God that have been given to me in the gospel.  Some of the promises that I have clung to over the years that have been given to me in the gospel are:

…That I am God’s own possession, part of his royal priesthood and He has given me the task of proclaiming what He has done in my life.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

…That God is doing a good work in my life and will complete this work to the end of my days, sanctifying me and cleansing me through Christ.

Phil 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

…That God will not fail to supply my needs.

Phil 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

…That God is for me and He will not fail to be gracious and give me all things.

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

…That nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus

Romans 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

…That God is with me always.

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

That God will give me rest when I am burdened and heavy laden.

Matthew 28:11 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

…That God will provide and supply all that I need as I seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

  • What do I need to fundamentally trust God for?

I need to fundamentally trust God for my eternity and my salvation.  Ultimately, the fact is that I am a sinner through and through and I fall short of all His standards.  Before God, I do not stand a chance before His judgment and I deserve the full penalty of my sin which is eternal death and separation from God.  But I need to trust God in the work that He has done through Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus, I can have a righteousness that is by faith, not by works.  The ultimate promise that I need to trust in is in today’s dt text.

“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.” 

The greatest problem in my life is this fact that I am a sinner and I have been separated from God the only source of life and love in my life.  I need to trust God that through Christ, He has redeemed me from the curse of the law and in turn I can receive the blessing of Abraham, the blessing of being reconciled to God through faith and not by works.

  •     What does it mean to “rely on works of the law”?

The Galatian Christians were being taught that they needed to abide by all the laws in the Torah in addition to having faith to be saved.  They had this idea that they could perhaps prove to have greater faith or achieve perfection if they follow all the commandments of God prescribed to them in the Law. They were relying on their ability to abide by all these laws to be able to seen as righteous before God.  In our context, I can see how this mentality of “relying on works of the law” is still so prevalent because we live in such a merit based, performance oriented culture.  We hear sayings like “there’s no free lunch” and if there is anything we receive without working for it, we feel uncomfortable or suspicious.  When it comes to our salvation, this mentality can also transfer over.  Instead of trusting in God’s promise of salvation through faith in Christ, we feel hopeless and fall into despair when we sin or when we don’t follow through with our commitments.  We think that we need to do something to make up for our sin, we feel that we need to do everything right and clean up our lives in order to saved, we feel the need to prove our identity as a Christian by doing good works.  I think this would be the modern version of relying on works of the law for salvation instead of achieving righteousness through faith.

  •      How has trusting in Christ for salvation given me freedom from relying “on works of the law” (v. 10)?

Over the years, trusting in Christ for salvation has given me freedom from relying on works of the law.  Naturally, I am such a performance-oriented person.  Before I became a Christian, I worked very hard to get what I wanted.  I thought that as long as I try with all my effort to get what I want, I can attain and achieve what I wanted.   To a certain extent, this motto for my life worked for me because for the most part I achieved what I worked for.  I found that I brought this mentality into every area of my life:  gaining friends, getting good grades, finding a good job and building up my resume, climbing up the corporate ladder, being accepted in different groups, etc.  But after becoming a Christian, though I knew that my salvation was given to me because of nothing that I done but what Christ had done for me, I started to rely on “works of the law” (i.e., keeping up with all religious activities and being competent and active in doing good works) to gain security in my salvation and feel better about myself.  The more I tried this, the more miserable I felt because I found that I could not live up to standards that God set for me.  I knew that I had somehow distorted the Gospel I originally received.  I found myself feeling unsure, guilty and hopeless about my identity as a Christian.  However, after much struggle and prayer and just coming back to the basic Gospel message, God broke through this mentality and over the years I have found so much freedom in trusting in Christ for my salvation.  It has given me freedom from trying to perform, and freedom from striving and feeling constant unrest.  Now, instead of focusing so much on myself and what I can give and contribute, I come to God’s word which tells me that I am a sinner but that Christ paid for my sin and I can trust in His work on the cross to save me.  When I stumble, fail and sin, I can come to the cross and be honest, revealing my true self and receive the amazing grace of God and experience joy in being cleansed again by the blood of Jesus.

Submitted by David T. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

Read the following passages in Genesis and reflect on Abraham’s trust in God’s words.
From these two passages, there are many things that we can observe about Abraham’s faith in God; through observing Abraham’s faith we can learn about the nature of having faith in God in general.

  • Abraham took God’s Word at face value: When God gave a promise to Abraham, Abraham simply accepted God’s Word and believed that God would actually accomplish it.  He does not have any worries that God is trying to deceive him or trick him.  He does not think that God is going to add some extra hidden conditions – “I will do this … as long as you accomplish A, B, and C.”
  • Abraham believed that God could accomplish what he promised: The reality is that the odds were stacked against God’s promises coming true in Abraham’s life by natural means.  Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Ur; he was well advanced in years, and it seemed very unlikely that Abraham and Sarah would have a child.  However, although such things seemed quite impossible by natural means, Abraham believed that with God it was certainly possible – and thus he is willing to go with God.
  • Abraham’s trust drove him to action: I think that the true mark of the genuineness of Abraham’s trust in God is that, when he received the promise, he didn’t just give verbal assent.  But, his subsequent actions and the way that he lived show that he actually believed that God’s promise was true – he didn’t just have an intellectual belief that God was preparing this promised land for him – he actually packed up his bags and went.
  • Abraham did not need to know all the details about how God was going to work: This is an idea that is related to the idea that Abraham took God’s words at face value – he did not need to ask God for all of the details of how he was going to work.  I think this is most evident in Abraham’s encounter with God in Genesis 15 – by this point, it might have made sense for Abraham to ask God for his timetable of how he was going to work.  Knowing the schedule that God was going to work would have given Abraham some assurance and it would have also been something that he could have held God to – but Abraham did not need that.  It was enough for God to repeat the promise.
  • Abraham had doubts: Abraham had doubts, and he was able to honestly verbalize those doubts before God – he was able to admit when it was hard to believe God’s promises.  The reality is that we are going to have doubts – but we are not going to be condemned for our doubts.  Rather, we can bring them honestly before God, we can be real with God, and ask for reassurance.

Thinking about the trust that Abraham has in God challenges the trust that I have in God.  One specific way that I am challenged is in the area of taking God’s Word at face value and letting that simple trust in God drives me to action.  The promises that God has given to me are clear –he promises salvation, he promises freedom from sin, and I know that the life of following him is the life that I was created for all along.  But, there are many voices of doubt that reverberate in my mind as well – voices like, “Are you sure you can really handle Christian life?  Maybe you better have a backup plan of taking care of yourself, just in case.”  Or, “In these ways you really don’t measure up to the standard – so maybe these promises really don’t apply to you.”  These voices come from my prideful and selfish and sinful nature.  But, these voices also ignore the great reality that God is God – he is powerful and sufficient to fulfill his great promises for my life, he is trustworthy and his words can be counted upon, and he is loving and delights to love us, his children.

Reflect on Abraham’s faith.

Abraham was not the “Father of Faith” because he had such incredible character, or because he was able to psyche himself up to believe anything, or because he was able to do so much for God.  This was not the kind of guy that Abraham was.  He was not so righteous – he lied on many occasions to protect himself, and that led to a lot of tragedies or near-tragedies.  He was not devoid of doubts, as we see from his questions to God in Genesis 15.  He was not able to do all that much for God.  But, we honor him as the “Father of Faith,” because, despite all of these other flaws, he believed God and he continued to believe God even when things did not seem to be going as planned.  When God made a promise to Abraham, Abraham trusted that God actually meant it, and he lived as if he believed that God meant it.  And ultimately, that’s the kind of faith that I want to emulate.

What are the promises of God given to me in the gospel?

At the very core of the Gospel is the promise of forgiveness for sin and restoration of a right relationship with God – and the conditions for this promise have already been fulfilled.  It does not rely on me to do anything, but rather it relies on what Christ has already done for me.  There isn’t anything left for me to do except to accept by faith what Jesus has done.  Forgiveness, salvation from my sin, and restoration of a right relationship with God are already freely offered to me.  But this is not the only promise that God gives to me through the Gospel – his Word is full of these different promises that I need to hold onto.  God’s promise in 1 John 1:9 is that when I confess my sins, God will forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.  God’s promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is that we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear and that God will make sure that the church is sufficient to overcome any temptation in our lives.  God’s promise in Mark 10:29-30 is that no one who has sacrificed for the sake of the Gospel will fail to receive a hundredfold return on his sacrifice and eternal life in the age to come.  God’s promise in Matthew 6:33 is that God knows what we need, and when we seek first his kingdom, he will also supply our needs.  We have received so many of these promises from God through the Gospel.

What do I need to fundamentally trust God for?

There are a lot of things that I need to fundamentally trust God for.  Of course, I trust God for my ultimate salvation for all of eternity – he is the only one who can alter my eternal destiny.  However, that is not the only thing to trust God for.  There are so many ways in the day-to-day where I need to trust God.  I need to trust God’s promise that when I confess my sins that there really is healing and forgiveness and salvation, instead of just shame and condemnation – I need to trust this promise of God every time I am tempted to hide my sins and to keep it under wraps and to preserve my pride.  I need to trust that God really can take care of me in this life.  I need to trust the promise when I seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness that he will be able to address all of my other needs.  I need to trust the fact that I really was created to serve God and to relate with God whenever I am tempted to hold back or pull back from ministry – when the desire to not engage the new guy is strong, or when the desire to turn back from the dining halls is strong.  Ultimately, I need to trust God for everything – I need to trust him with my eternity, but also the life that I live on this earth.

What does it mean to “rely on works of the law”?

It means to rely on the works of the law for salvation.  It is the belief that salvation comes from what I do – that I have to earn my own righteousness through my own acts.  And it is an impossible task because we have all sinned – we cannot even perfectly fulfill our own personal standards of righteousness, let alone fulfill the standard of righteousness that God has given to us.

How has trusting in Christ for salvation given me freedom from relying “on works of the law” (v. 10)?

But there is no requirement for my own righteousness in receiving the righteousness that comes from Christ.  The salvation that we receive – it was all accomplished by the work of God and the work of Christ.  Christ came to our broken world and he lived a perfect and sinless life.  He died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  And God has decided to count the sacrifice of Christ as sufficient to cover over our sins – and now, instead of seeing us covered in our sins, God chooses to see us clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  And in order to receive this salvation, we only need to trust in God’s promise and accept it.  There is nothing that we have to do to earn it or make ourselves worthy of it or eligible for it.  It is freely given to those who would receive it.  And thus, there is now freedom from relying on works of the law – I don’t need to depend on my own righteous acts for my own salvation, because all that needs to be done has already been done by Christ on the cross.

Personal Prayer

Father God, please help me to emulate the same kind of faith that Abraham had.  Lord, I confess that it is hard – there are a lot of voices of doubt and a lot of voices of self-will that try to drown out your promises.  Please help me to silence those voices, and to hear the clear words of your promises – that I am forgiven, that it was all accomplished on the cross, and that I am now invited to a life of living for you – the life that I was meant for and created for all along.  I believe that these are true, and I want to live my life reflecting that belief.  Lord, your promises are trustworthy and true and they are solid enough to build my life upon – please help me to do so.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Submitted by Allen C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

  • Reflect on Abraham’s faith.

Abraham’s faith led him to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house and go on this journey with God to a yet unknown land. Even at an old age of seventy-five, he trusted God enough to leave all that he knew, especially during an age where people didn’t simply travel or go on journeys. He left all that was familiar, all that he could have relied on, and his source of security because he trusted in God’s promise to bless him and make him a blessing to others. And so began his journey of faith, with nothing other than God’s promise to make him a great nation and turn him into a source of blessing. It wasn’t always smooth, and Abraham failed at times, like pretending that his wife, Sarah, was his sister so that foreign kings would not kill him on account of her. But through the setbacks and failures, Abraham learned that God was determined to make good on His promises, not because Abraham deserved it, but because God was faithful and wanted to be generous toward Abraham.

Later on, after rescuing his nephew Lot from four kings and rejecting the king of Sodom’s protection, while he was still feeling vulnerable, Abraham cried out to God again that he was still childless even though God had promised that his offspring would inherit the land. When God came to speak to him and reassure him of His promises and show him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, all Abraham had to go on were God’s words. It must have been such a lofty vision and encouraging statement, but Abraham still had no children, he still owned no land, and Eliezer of Damascus was still (at that point) going to be the one who inherited all of his property. However, despite how bleak things looked, Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” God was pleased to consider Abraham as righteous simply because he held on to God’s words and believed them to be true. What a childlike trust that Abraham had! He certainly held on to God’s promises and lived as if they were true. Because Abraham trusted God, he was able to draw near to God and experience the adventure of following God. It wasn’t always easy, but because Abraham held on to God, he became the father of faith and an example for how God wants us to relate to Him—trusting that God is faithful to keep His promises simply because He is trustworthy and not out of our own merit or ability to offer anything to Him.

  • What are the promises of God given to me in the gospel?

Some of the promises of God given to me in the gospel include the promise of being completely forgiven of my sins, the promise of eternal life, the promise that death will not have the last word in me, but that Christ will be victorious over death and raise me on that day. Romans 6:3-5 says that we have been united with Christ in death, and we will be united with him in his resurrection. God also promises to be with me to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20). Romans 8:38-39 says that nothing—death, life, angels, demons, the present, the future, height, depth, or anything else in all creation—can ever separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. In John 14, Jesus says that He is preparing a place for us in heaven and will come back to take us to be with Him. Also, Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit to be with us, to guide us in the truth, to remind us of what we’ve learned, to dwell with us and be with us. Philippians 1:6 says that God has began a good work in us and will bring it to completion in Christ Jesus. 1 John 3:2 says that we shall be like Christ when he appears. And in 2 Timothy 4, Apostle Paul says that all who have longed for his appearing will receive the crown of righteousness from God.

  • What do I need to fundamentally trust God for?

Fundamentally, I need to trust God for life—for both my life now and in eternity. He is the Creator, and I am a creature who has been given the gift of life. As the Creator, God is the one who is responsible over my life, including basic provisions, protection, the ability to lead my life, for my future, for the promise of forgiveness, and for the eternal life He promises. At the most basic level, I need to trust that God exists, that He loves me, that He is powerful enough to secure my life, that His Words and gospel are true, that He is gracious enough to forgive my sins, that the cross indeed proves His forgiveness, and that He has power to deliver me from death and usher in eternal life. I am not alone as an orphan in this universe; instead, God is my Creator and my heavenly Father who wants to dwell with me. This reality needs to form the foundation of my life.

Do I really trust Him in all these ways? Intellectually, it’s easy for me to say yes as I know these things are true, but there are moments when I feel so fearful and think that I know best, and these moments reveal how I still fundamentally rely on myself and my strength to lead my life, rather than relying on God’s grace, provision, power, and promises. So each day is an opportunity to believe God, to come back and acknowledge the truth that He is God and I am not, to ask for forgiveness, to receive His righteousness and accept His gift of salvation from sin, to be made right in my relationship with Him, and to surrender my life entirely to Him.

  • What does it mean to “rely on works of the law”?

For a person to rely on works of the law is to trust in his own obedience to the law as the basis for which God justifies him. Instead of accepting God’s offer of forgiveness by grace alone, this person is relying on his own efforts to be righteous. This is exactly what the Pharisees did—they tried to keep the commandments of God and thought of themselves as righteous because of their obedience.

In our context, this can mean thinking we are justified and pleasing to God simply because we do what good Christians are expected to do–do our DT, go to all of our church-wide meetings, never skip a Bible study or Sunday service or prayer meeting, make time to have personal prayer, act in a nice and considerate way to our roommates and friends, call our parents regularly, work hard at school or in our jobs, tithe faithfully, serve in some capacity at church, and avoid sins such as lying, lust, envy, anger, or cursing. However, v. 10 says that those who rely on works of the law are under a curse. Why? Because we cannot possibly abide by all the things written in the law. We are either deceiving ourselves or are blind if we believe that we can please God perfectly and earn salvation by doing good works. The end result of this is one of a few options: I become hypocritical and deceptive; I lower God’s standards; or I give up trying altogether.

  • How has trusting in Christ for salvation given me freedom from relying “on works of the law” (v. 10)?

Trusting in Christ for salvation has given me freedom from an effort-driven, works-based approach to God that is tiring and ultimately futile. I am free to admit that I cannot uphold the law, that I am sinful, and that I am in need of mercy and grace. I am free to admit the truth and not have to hide under a mask or pretend to be someone I’m not. I can acknowledge my need for forgiveness instead of pretending that my efforts are good enough. I don’t have to worry whether I’ve done enough good works or fulfilled enough requirements of the law to be counted righteous. I don’t have to compete against other people, measure myself against others to get a gauge for how “righteous” I am, or somehow try to prove my worth. Instead of working to deserve my place in heaven or worry if I’ve done enough to earn a seat at the banquet table, I can simply trust that my inclusion is not based on what I can do or offer. I can be free to say that though I’ve fallen short, Christ has clothed me with His righteousness. I can give thanks to God that wretched sinner as I am, His grace is greater still. I can sing the words of the hymn, Rock of Ages, especially the first and second verses which go:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy wounded side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure,

Save from wrath and make me pure.

 

Not the labors of my hands

Can fulfill Thy law’s commands;

Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears forever flow,

All for sin could not atone;

Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Because Christ has brought salvation through the cross, I can come to God and hide myself in His promises to forgive me, save from wrath, and make me pure. Praise the Lord for this amazing grace!

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