What It, What Gospel, in Galatians 3:5-8?

Galatians 3:5 Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him unto

Galatians 3:8 And the Scripture, for-seeing that God would justify the
gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, “in you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Of course I want to write about imputation, but first of all four comments about the Abrahamic covenant and verse 8. First, notice the word justify. Even though circumcision was important to keep ethnic Israel in the land, the ultimate blessing connected with Abraham is JUSTIFICATION. The covenantal promise is not that all who are circumcised will be justified. As verse 3:7 says, “those of faith” will be justified. The promise is that those who are circumcised are not excluded from the people (Gen 17:14).

Second, the Abrahamic covenant is not for GENTILES, even though it promises future blessing for the gentiles. For-seeing this blessing for-seeing that Abraham will have one future son who will bless the gentiles. But this blessing will not and cannot come until that Son arrives, and when that Son arrives, the Mosaic and Abrahamic legal economy will be changed. Circumcision included all the Jewish children, and excluded all the gentiles. (Is a circumcised slave of a Jew in the Abrahamic covenant?) When the one son of Abraham arrives, there is neither jew nor gentiles, neither slave nor free…so there is no future land for the jew, and no more slavery or circumcision for anybody, male or female.

Third, which promise to Abraham is the object of FAITH? Is the GOSPEL about the land promise of Genesis 12 or about not being excluded from the covenant people in Genesis 17? Since Ishmael was circumcised, he was not cut off from the people, but God promised to establish His covenant with Isaac, and therefore the GOSPEL promise which must be the object of our FAITH is that found in Genesis 12:3–“And in you all the families shall be blessed.”

Fourth, despite the threat of curse connected with the Abrahamic covenant, the curse of that law cutting off those not circumcised, the BLESSING promised is “in Christ Jesus”. Gal 3:14–“In Christ the blessing of Abraham comes to the Gentiles, so that we receive (passively, not by our believing) the promised Spirit through faith.”

Even though this blessing was promised in Genesis 12, Galatians 3:5 quotes Genesis 15:6. The verse tells us that Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him as righteousness. Everybody from Martin Luther to John Murray reads this as saying that faith alone is imputed as the righteousness.

Of course there are different explanations. Luther reminds us that to have faith is to have Christ indwelling, and tells us that God really is pleased with the faith God has given us, and this faith is really righteous in God’s sight. But Luther does not explain how this righteous faith (produced by God in the water of regeneration) satisfies the law of God . And since Luther taught that, if you were a sinner, Christ had died for you, then Luther’s message cannot be that the elect were saved by Christ’s death alone.

But John Murray not only taught that Christ died in some sense only for the elect, but also taught nine reasons that faith could not be the
righteousness imputed. I like his reasons, and you can look them up in his commentary on Romans. But still, at the end of the day, Murray claimed that every honest reader would have to agree with him that Genesis 15 does teach that the faith is what God imputes.

To begin to understand Genesis 15:6, we need to know that “as
righteousness” should be translated “unto righteousness”. (See Robert
Haldane’s commentary, Banner of Truth). That’s important to see, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t explain the imputation. Faith is imputed unto…
Whether we see imputation as the transfer of something, or if we see
imputation as the declaration of something ( without a transfer, or after a transfer), what is the “it” which is being imputed?

No matter if we have gone to great lengths to say that it is not credited as righteousness but only unto righteousness, what is “it” and why is God imputing “it”? Those the “new perspective” like N.T. Wright tell us the imputation is without a transfer, and that it only means declaring that certain folks are in the covenant. In this way of thinking, “it is imputed” simply means that God declares people to be “in the covenant” without talking about how and why they got that way.

I think “it” has an antecedent, but the antecedent is not faith. God
imputes the righteousness revealed in the gospel to a person God justifies. In context, “faith” in Galatians 3:5-8 is defined in two ways: not by works of the law, and the gospel preached to Abraham.

There are certain conditions associated with the Abrahamic covenant. But a conditional covenant is not the gospel God preached to Abraham. God did not say to Abraham: if you believe, then I will bless you. God said, I will bless you without cause, not only so that you will believe but also so that in your offspring there will be one who will bring in the righteousness (required by the law) for the elect.

There is not a different gospel for us now than there was for Abraham.
There is not a different gospel for the gentiles than for the jews. The
“it” which is imputed by God to Abraham is the obedient bloody death of Christ Jesus for the elect alone. The righteousness of God obtained by Christ is imputed unto the elect alone.

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4 Comments on “What It, What Gospel, in Galatians 3:5-8?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Collateral Covenants Fulfilled and Terminated

    By R.B.C. Howell

    In Genesis 12, we have the original promise made to Abraham: “In you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” In this simple narrative, we have the pledge that the Messiah shall come of his family. Abraham was seventy-five and received the promise with faith, and promptly complied with the command which the promise was associated. “Into the land of Canaan they came. And Abraham passed through the land to the plain of Moreh” and built an altar unto the Lord, who there again appeared to him, and said, “To you will I give this land.” Paul explains in Galatians 3:8-9; “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to your seed, which is Christ.”

    Promises of the land of Canaan were indeed (so important was the separate national existence of Israel regarded) included also in the Genesis 15 covenant and also, as we shall see, in the subsequent “covenant of circumcision”. The land covenant was inaugurated. The family of Abraham was separated from all others, and made a distinct nation. A specified territory was prescribed, where they were to remain under the divine government and protection. In that land they were to reside, a peculiar people and an isolated people, until Christ would come and establish His claims, and by one offering perfect forever all them that are sanctified.

    The second collateral covenant was also made with Abraham, and is known as “the covenant of circumcision”. The first covenant separated Israel as a nation from every other people. This second covenant distinguished them as individuals. The covenant of circumcision was made with Abraham when he was ninety-nine years old; eighteen years after the covenant of the land, and twenty four years after the “the covenant of promise in Christ.”

    Genesis 17. “This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you, and your seed after you; every man child shall be circumcised.” “And my covenant shall be in your flesh, for an everlasting covenant”. “And the uncircumcised man shall be cut off from his people.”

    This covenant excludes from that family everyone who shall be found uncircumcised. Its general bearing is explained by Paul, who says: “I testify again, to every man who is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. “ This rite was observed by his descendents until the object which is proposed, had been effectually secured. Christ came; its design was accomplished; the covenant, as all the others of like temporary character, ceased to exist. The gospel now reigns, under which “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God.”

    The third and last of the collateral covenants is known as the covenant of Sinai. This covenant gave to the people of Israel their peculiar national government. It was not made with Abraham, but “with the fathers, when God took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.”

    • markmcculley Says:

      Gal 4:4: born of the law to redeem those under the law cannot mean only that Christ was born under the jurisdiction of Moses to get Jews free from that jurisdiction. According to Gal 3:13, Christ became a curse under the law to redeem a people from the curse of the law.

      The sins of all the elect were imputed to Christ, and as surety for the elect, Christ was born under the condemnation of God and God’s law. Romans 6:10 says that “the death He died to sin”.

      Does it mean that Christ by being in the environment of the world and of the old covenant needed a deliverance from “the flesh” and from the physical body? God forbid.

      What does it mean that Christ died to sin? It means that the law of God demanded death for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ. As long as those sins were imputed to Christ, He was under sin, he was under law, He was under death.

      Now death has no more power over Him? Why? Because the sins are no longer imputed to Him, but have been paid for and satisfied. And this is the gospel, because the gospel is not about just about God justifying, but also about God being just and justifier.

      Whatever you say about the Christian being dead to sin, this also needs to be said about Christ. If all it means is “not under Moses”, is that your gospel?

      If the gospel is merely redemptive history, then all we know is that we have moved forward on the clock. Nobody is under Moses anymore. So what? How is that good news on your death bed?

  2. markmcculley Says:

    There are only two kinds of people in the world -those whose works will be accepted because they were not working to get God’s blessing, and those
    whose works (and persons) will be condemned because their “good deeds” are
    wicked attempts to establish their own righteousness.

    “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law?” (Galatians 3:2)

    We receive the Spirit by the “hearing of faith”. We do not receive the Spirit by believing a lie. When Arminians tell lies about God and about sin
    and about righteousness, the Spirit does not use those lies to bring people to life. The Spirit uses the word of truth.

    Ephesians 1:12: “in Him, you also trusted, after you heard the word of
    truth, the gospel of your salvation…” (see also Romans 6:17, I Thess 2:12-13, II Thess 2:12-13; I Peter 1:22-23; James 1:18).

    To judge by the flesh is to judge by some other standard. To judge by the gospel is to examine if we and others agree with God’s testimony.

    It is the Spirit who convicts us that God requires a righteousness that we
    cannot produce. John 16:8-13. It is the Spirit who takes away our confidence in the flesh so that we have NO confidence that we ever did or
    ever will do anything (even with God’s help) to make ourselves better than anybody else. Phil 3:3. The only reason we are different from others before
    God is that Christ died for us and not for others.

    It is the Spirit who causes us to confess the true Christ and the true gospel. (I Cor 1:23-24) Unless we are called by the Spirit, we will consider Christ crucified to be foolishness. I Cor 2:11-13: “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received (antithesis) not the spirit of the world”

    Not the false spirit that says Christ died for everybody and now it depends on us but the Spirit who is from God, that we would know the things that
    have freely been given to us by God.

    The righteousness is a free gift. If we say that the accepting of the free gift is something different from the free gift, and that this accepting is
    “MINE” and what I did (with God’s grace) to be saved, then we may CALL that
    “salvation by faith” . But what we call “faith” and “grace” are really still self-righteousness.

    “I am a good chooser. And the reason for that is I am a good wanter. And
    the reason I want what’s right ( “of course sometimes i get a cold like everybody else and of course I sin but I don’t want to and don’t really
    choose to and God is gracious and will overlook it…”) is because IGod has given me a heart that is better than that of others…”

    NO! We were not saved by reading the right book . If we are saved, it was a SUPERNATURAL WORK OF GOD. So no excuses like ”don’t blame me for not
    knowing the gospel when I got saved”. What the Spirit produces is repentance to see that our “mistakes about the gospel” were motivated by
    our wicked hearts that wanted to condition salvation on ourselves instead of on the righteousness established by Christ for the elect.

    “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (3:3)

    The typical Calvinist thinks that people can begin as Christian in error
    and then (maybe as an option) MOVE TO THE TRUTH. But here we have a different case: people who begin with the truth (Paul’s’ preaching of the
    gospel, Romans 1:16-17-faith is no part of the righteousness, circumcision
    is no part of the righteousness), but who are now in danger of being bewitched by error.

    Let me make two exhortations here:

    1. Let us examine our calling. Is it really true that you can be saved by believing a lie? Is it really true that God the Spirit teaches the sheep
    that Jesus died for everybody but that they are themselves the condition of
    salvation? Is it really the Spirit that teaches people that Jesus waits for their decision?

    2. For those of us who are convinced that we do believe the true gospel,
    why do we fellowship with and hear the preaching of those who do not know the gospel? Why do we think we will grow by listening to a false gospel? Is
    it because we have confidence in ourselves that WE would never be bewitched, that now we are too smart for the devil to trick? Do we worry
    about bad influences on our children, but have no concern for the influence of Arminians on ourselves?

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Piscator, “For to speak properly, that which is in a man is not said to be imputed to him, but that which is without a man. And faith is in a man, but
    Christ’s satisfaction which faith apprehends is without a man.” Thus, the difference between Piscator and Shepherd is that Piscator says that Christ’s satisfaction is our righteousness before God,whereas Shepherd says that faith itself is our righteousness before God.

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