The Example of Abraham

Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (v. 6).

- Galatians 3:6–14

Paul’s third argument is that the Judaizers are not following the example of Abraham. Salvation was by faith in the Old Testament, says Paul, and the example of Abraham proves it. Abraham did not earn salvation by works but believed God and received salvation by faith. If you Galatians want to be part of the true Old Testament community, says Paul, you need to imitate Abraham. The true Old Testament community lived by faith and has now been transformed into the New Testament community. Even in the Old Testament, says Paul, God promised the day when the Gentiles would be joined with Israel and all nations would become children of Abraham. The false Old Testament community continued to add laws to the faith, all of which accumulated to such an extent that any possibility of truly knowing God was obscured.

Was Abraham a unique case? Not at all. “The children of Abraham are those who believe.” “Those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham” (3:7, 9). Paul’s fourth argument is that all those who are children of Abraham are to imitate Abraham’s faith, which means that they are saved by faith, not works.

It is interesting to consider how Paul’s experience is repeated in church history. Paul was standing squarely in the middle of the biblical tradition of faith. Claiming to be the true traditionalists, the Judaizers positioned Paul as a deviant to the Old Testament revelation. In fact, though, the Judaizers were advocating rabbinic innovations that were not very old. Jesus, who stood firmly on the true tradition, repeatedly attacked the Jewish pseudo-traditions, and now Paul was facing the same evil.

Luther was forced out of the Roman Catholic church because he stood in the middle of the tradition of the historic church. Salvation by faith had always been the church’s teaching. Calvin argued that the Reformation teachings were those of Augustine and all the great teachers of the historic church. Calvin demonstrated the continuity of Reformed thought with that of the church fathers and the apostles. Yet the Roman Catholic leaders rejected the true tradition of the church in favor of late innovations that they falsely called “tradition.”

Coram Deo

Abraham’s exemplary faith is mentioned in Genesis, Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews. His faith is the pattern for all believers. How does your faith compare? Do people speak of your faithfulness as an example to follow or hypocrisy to be shunned? Purpose again to live by faith, a faith which holds firmly to the whole counsel of God.

Passages for Further Study

Romans 4:23–25
James 2:20–23

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343