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Faith and Works

by Danny Mihailovic last modified Feb 23, 2014 12:54 AM
The role of faith in the Justification of Abraham’s Children

We know already from the previous study that faith is a gift from God. It is the immediate fruit of regeneration and is the instrument by which we can trust the Scriptures as they record the promises of God. In fact, Paul states in v8, that the Scriptures foresaw the stage upon which faith would play out its major theme in the salvation of the Gentiles. This is important because here we have the verification of just how important the written word is now to the church, just as it was then to the Old testament Church. Back then, the Patriarchs had special revelation through the Holy Spirit in verbal or visual forms and presumably some written forms as Moses and the prophets compiled them. They were recorded for our instruction and for the purpose of feeding faith with infallible truth. It is the word of God that must remain the supreme standard in matters of doctrine and faith. So then when Abraham received revelation about the nations and their inclusion into the salvation plan of God, being blessed by Grace, Faith was the operative means. The Gentiles who did not have the scriptures as such, would believe the word of the Apostles as Jesus sent them out, and the Holy Spirit just as He did for Abraham, by instilling faith into an otherwise godless man, would do the same for them. The same principle was at work, otherwise why would Paul say that those who are of faith, are blessed with believing Abraham? None the less, the word of the Apostles was to be deemed as the Scripture, or the word of God.

It is interesting to note that Paul gives a human face to Scripture by attributing to it, the ability to preach. But that’s exactly what he means by this. The Prophets preached the Scripture — i.e. the word of God. 2Tim 3:16 would certainly confirm this because “All Scripture” as Paul refers to it in this reference, includes everything that God chose to record for our understanding, and in this particular case regarding the Galatian issue, it was important that they understood how the Law fitted into this special revelation category. Could it save anyone? Would it save anyone? As delicately as a Surgeon would sew nerve endings together so that movement and sense is restored to the body, so too Paul must now sew the intricate “nerve endings” that connect Law and Grace because a wrong connection would then leave God’s people more confused than ever while simultaneously losing grounds of assurance for their salvation. The works of the Law or what the law requires of man has nothing to do with salvation. Works in this sense are obligatory. That is, humanity is defined not by evolution, or by social engineering, but rather it is defined in that God has made us in His image; inclusive in that image is that He has written His law on our hearts. Therefore you and I who are made in the image of God, although now fallen and corrupt at every level, we know what is obligatory in so far as what God expects from us, yet doing them does not save us. Even though doing the works of the Law benefits humanity, it cannot save it, simply because it does not restore the image of God acceptably. God is only satisfied with His re-creation of the human being, in Christ, because the works of the Law find their fullest expression and satisfaction in Christ alone. That’s where the works of the Law become important to us. By faith, (remember, God’s gift to us), we rest in Christ’s finished works of the Law….it is in that sense, we saved by the Faith of Christ; meaning also faith in Christ. The KJV translates Gal 2:16 in such a way that forces this point, that we are saved by the faith of Christ:

Gal 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Without venturing too far into areas filled with conjecture, it would be quite acceptable to say that, obviously, the faith of Christ saves us in that His obedience satisfied every demand of the Law. The Greek text would have us understand it this way: We have been included into the faith of Jesus Christ, and out of the works of the Law. To have faith in Christ means exactly that, being included into the grace of God and out of the slavery of the Law. Anyone who is not “In Christ” being included into His saving faith by the grace of God, is still in the programme of works which cannot deliver that person. These are the sensitive nerve endings mentioned earlier, which need to be joined correctly if the “blessing of Abraham” is to be understood. The implication of Pauls’ argument is that the Gentiles who are part of the covenant plan of salvation, who did not have the law, and therefore without hope of knowing God, are obligated to do the works of the law because God has written His law on their hearts. But they can only be saved by being included, into the faith of Christ, and “rescued out of” the works of the law.

Therefore the false teachers had a poor argument in that they insisted true holiness comes from a rigid application of law, rather than sanctification through the work of the Holy Spirit. In that sense, the Law cannot be of faith, that is, part of the regenerative work of the Spirit, because it cannot regenerate or cause us to be born from above. (v12). The Spirit and the Law have different functions. The task of the Law is to curse us or confirm our absolute depravity because we can’t fulfil it to God’s satisfaction. In contrast to this, the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the blessing of Abraham to Jew and Gentile (i.e. the whole of elect humanity) through the work of the Spirit. (v14). Faith appropriates this work because with the promise of blessing comes the promise of the Spirit. As Paul stated earlier, did we receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith? The Galatians needed to know how they were saved in order to finish the race before them. God is faithful and His promises are sure because His Son brought us into His faith and His good works, rescuing us from our poor efforts, which at best confirm that we love God because he loved us first.