Galatians 3:6-14

Galatians 3:6-14

Who Is a True Jew?

Anti-semitism is one of the horrible realities of the 20th century; in fact, it has been a reality for three and a half millennium.  But it has always been difficult for me to understand.  I grew up in a home where Jewish people were loved and respected.  When I was a kid growing up in St. Louis my father was on the board of the Messianic Witness, a mission to the Jews.  I went to Clayton High School when it was 75% Jewish and loved every minute of it.  

In 1980 my family visited Dachau Concentration Camp out of Munich and felt an overwhelming solidarity with the Jewish people as I walked through that God forsaken place.  Three years later I was able to take my first trip to Israel, and it was as though I had come home; I had found my spiritual roots.  The relevance of this should become evident in a few moments.  Will you turn with me to our Scripture text today, as I read Galatians 3:6-9?

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” {7} Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. {8} The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” {9} So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

For the past several weeks we have not advanced chronologically in our study through the book of Galatians.  We took two weeks out to apply what we have learned, considering first “How to Turn Legalistic Homes and Churches into Havens of Grace,” and then asking and answering the question, “But Isn’t Grace Dangerous?”  We return to chapter 3 today, where we find the Apostle Paul raising the stakes in his argument against the Judaizers.  These false teachers, who had infiltrated Paul’s church plants, were adding works to the gospel of grace, demanding that converts keep the Law of Moses before they could be considered saved.  Paul argued vigorously that we are saved by believing, not by achieving.

At the beginning of chapter 3 the Apostle tackled the tragedy of backsliding into legalism.  His first argument, recorded in verses 1-5, was an argument from experience; he simply asked them to look back at their own conversion:  “Did you receive the Holy Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain perfection by human effort?”  His point is clearly that both justification and sanctification (i.e. both salvation and spiritual growth) come by grace through faith, not by works.  

Starting in verse 6 we find Paul offering a second argument for salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  This one is not from personal experience but rather an argument from the OT Scripture itself.  You see, the Judaizers’ hero was Moses.  They were steeped in Moses and the Law he gave to Israel.  They believed the epitome of one’s relationship with God was the keeping of that Law.  

But Paul stages a real theological coup by leaping over Moses and going back hundreds of years in history to the very first Jew, namely Abraham.  His purpose is to show that the first man ever to be specifically declared a justified man attained that standing long before the Mosaic Law was even given, and he attained it on the basis of his faith, not his works.  Thus he is going to demonstrate that salvation by grace through faith is not a recent invention of his–indeed it’s the way men have alwaysbeen saved. 

One of the major issues among Jewish people today is the question, “Who is a true Jew?”  Generally a Jew has been defined as a person who has a Jewish mother.  This has important ramifications in Israel as to who can immigrate and hold public office.  It also has ramifications for social acceptance in Jewish society.  But the argument over “Who is Jewish?” is not just a political and social one; it also has important spiritual ramifications.  And the argument is not just a current one; it has, in fact, been raging for over 2,000 years old.  

The official Jewish position in New Testament times was that the essence of Jewishness was simply being a descendant of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob.  In order to be considered part of the family of God you had to have Jewish blood and if you had Jewish blood you were ipso facto part of the chosen family of God.  (Oh, technically it was possible for a Gentile to convert to Judaism, but it wasn’t easy, and rarely was a proselyte considered fully equal to those with Jewish blood).  

The Judaizers in Galatia took a somewhat different view of the essence of Jewishness.  They saw the real Jew as a completed Jew, i.e. a Jew who has accepted Jesus as Messiah.  They certainly allowed for those who didn’t have Jewish blood in their veins to become part of the family of God, but they required them to first become a convert to Messianic Judaism, be circumcised, and pledge allegiance to the Law of Moses.  To the Judaizers a real Jew, then, was anyone who kept the laws and customs of Moses and believed Jesus to be the Messiah. 

Paul, however, rejects both the official view and the Judaizers’ view of the essence of Jewishness.  His view is probably best explained by two propositions:

         Some Jews are really non-Jews.

         Some non-Jews are really Jews.  

Confused yet?  Hang on. 

Some Jews are really non-Jews.

That is, some people with Jewish blood are not really part of God’s chosen family.  The Apostle makes this point by laying down two premises and a conclusion.  The first premise is assumed, not explicitly stated, because it is so obvious to his audience.

         Abraham was the first Jew.  No Jewish person would argue with that.  It was Abraham whom God called to father a new nation.  It was to Abraham that Matthew traced the Jewish genealogy of Jesus.  But Abraham was not only the father of a new race; he was also the father of a new faith.  He had been an uncircumcised son of pagan idolatrous parents, but when God called him to leave his home, abandon his polytheism, and trust in the Lord God alone, he did so.  So Abraham was universally recognized as the first Jew–both racially and spiritually.

The second premise of Paul’s argument is that . . .

         Abraham was preeminently a believer, not an achiever.  (6)  Here’s how he puts it in verse 6: “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’”  Here Paul is quoting Gen. 15:6, which is the place to which he traces Abraham’s salvation.  Abram was 85 years old when God came to him.  The essence of the conversation was something like this:

                  God says, “Abram, I am your protector and your reward.”

Abram responds:  “But Lord, the only reward I’ve asked for is a son.  I am childless, and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus–a servant in my household.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him:  “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.”  

He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.”  

Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  

Whether Abraham was a saved man prior to Genesis 15:6 or not, I do not know.  But I do know that from Gen. 15:6 Abram is a saved man, because God says so.  Abraham did not do anything to earn his salvation.  When the promises came he simply believed them.  He did not scoff at God’s offers because they were too easy.  He didn’t say to God, “OK.  Where’s the catch?  I know there are no free lunches.”  He simply took God at His word.  He was a believer, par excellence.

Now chances are there is someone here this morning who is saying to himself, “Yes, that’s all well and good, but I know a passage of Scripture that says Abraham was an achiever as well as a believer; in fact, it says Abraham was justified by works.”  Well, I know that passage, too, and I think we would be remiss if we did not examine it briefly today.  You may want to turn to James, chapter 2, as we begin reading in verse 21:  

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”   

Oh oh!  A plain contradiction of Galatians 3, right?  Wrong!  Look at verse 21.  It says Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son.  That happened in Genesis 22, at least 25 years after God had already declared him a justified man in Gen. 15.  James is telling us that Abraham demonstrated the reality of his faith by his works.  Paul, on the other hand, is telling us that the actual basis for his salvation was faith alone.  If we had time to turn over to Romans 4, where Abraham’s life is described in even more detail, we would find out that Abraham’s justification came before his circumcision, before any good works, and certainly before the Mosaic Law was given–in fact 430 years before, a point reiterated in verse 17 of our present chapter. 

Now if Abraham was the first Jew, racially and spiritually, and if he was a believer before he was an achiever, what do you suppose Paul is going to deduce from these two premises?  He draws his conclusion in verse 7:  “Understand, then, that those who believe (and I think the implication is clearly that only those who believe) are children of Abraham.”  Let me put the conclusion in these terms:

         Therefore, the only Jews who can legitimately claim full kinship with Abraham are those related to him spiritually, i.e. who are believers as he was.  (7)  A person may have 100% Jewish blood in his veins, but he’s not a true son of Abraham, i.e. he’s not a member of God’s chosen people, unless, like Abraham, he has believed God and has been declared righteous by faith.  In fact, friends, this conclusion was pressed home by Jesus Himself in a sharp debate with a Jewish crowd.  You might profit from following along in your Bible as I read this story from John 8:33-47:

         They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 

{34} Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. {35} Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. {36} So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. {37} I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. {38} I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 

{39} “Abraham is our father,” they answered. 

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. {40} As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. {41} You are doing the things your own father does.” 

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.” 

{42} Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. {43} Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. {44} You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. {45} Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! {46} Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? {47} He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

Clearly Jesus counted as true sons of Abraham (and, therefore, true sons of God) only those who believed as Abraham believed and who looked for the Messiah as Abraham did.  All others are children of the devil.

Now so far we have seen only half of Paul’s argument, and, I might suggest, it is the less important half.  So far he has established that some people with pure Jewish blood are not real Jews, i.e. not actually part of God’s spiritual family.  But the Judaizers admitted as much; they agreed that all the Jewish people who refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah were uncompleted Jews and unworthy to be called sons of Abraham.  However, the next point in Paul’s argument must have stung like a whip on the backs of the Judaizers, for now he points out that . . .

Some non-Jews are really Jews.  

That is, some people without Jewish blood, or Jewish anything else, are part of God’s chosen family.  That’s because . . .

         Gentiles meet the spiritual criterion for being “Jews” when they exercise faith in Christ.  (8-9).  And that’s the only requirement.  Again I quote verse 7:   “Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.”  That this truth applies to Gentiles as well as Jews is obvious from the following two verses, 8 & 9: “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed in you.’  So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”  Here we discover a second important truth, namely . . .

         Gentiles inherit the promises of God made to Abraham without having to adopt Jewish laws and customs.  Gentiles do not have to become proselytes to Judaism, they do not have to be circumcised, they do not have to keep the Sabbath, and they do not have to keep the Mosaic dietary restrictions.  They can come to God as they are–as Gentiles.  It is “those who have faith who are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

What does Paul mean when he says the Gospel was announced to Abraham?  Well, God made a covenant with Abraham, and part of that covenant is a promise found in Gen. 12:3:  “All the nations shall be blessed in you.”  While that promise has been partially fulfilled in the tremendous contributions made by Jewish people to mankind in such fields as science, art, music, and philosophy, its preeminent fulfillment is found in the fact that Abraham’s greatest descendent, Jesus Christ, enabled all people to experience the grace of God through simple faith.  That’s what verse 28 tells us:  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  

Having established who is a true Jew, Paul in verse 10 turns his attention to the fundamental error of the Judaizers–relying on the Law of Moses as a means of salvation.  And he tells us in no uncertain terms that . . .

All who rely on the Law for salvation (or on good works of any kind, for that matter) are not only wrong; they are actually under a curse.  Why?  

         The Law demands performance.  Verse 10 tells us: “All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the Law.’”  Notice first of all that the law demands performance.  Underline the word “do” in verse 10.  It’s not enough to agree with the Law, or accept it as valuable, or pay lip service to it; one must do what it says.  But that’s not all.  

         The law demands complete performance.  (10b)  A person must do everything written in the book of the Law.  The rich young ruler tried to squirm out from under Jesus’ penetrating demand to obey the commandments by asking, “Which ones?”  And Jesus told him he didn’t have the luxury to pick and choose which ones he would obey.  He couldn’t keep eight of the Ten Commandments and fudge on the others.  He couldn’t keep the letter of the law and ignore the spirit of it.  The law is not a collection of stray and miscellaneous parts, some of which may be conveniently disregarded.  It is a whole, and must be kept in all its parts if it is to be considered kept at all.  But that’s still not all.  

         The law demands continual complete performance.  Again verse 10 says a person must continue to do everything written in the book of the Law.  If one kept the law perfectly and completely for ten years but failed in the eleventh, that won’t cut it.  The only conclusion we can draw is . . .

         Therefore, the Law cannot save.  It’s not because there’s anything intrinsically wrong with works as a means of salvation; it’s because no one can meet the requirements.  That’s what Paul says in verse 11:  “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law.”  And in Romans he states the reason:  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Now when Paul tells us that “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse,” that sounds pretty harsh.  To our modern ears the notion of curses sounds harsh and even primitive.  We like to think of a God who blesses rather than of a God who curses.  But there is no need to be embarrassed by these outspoken words.  They express what Scripture everywhere tells us about God in relation to sin, namely that “the wages of sin is death.”  No man can sin with impunity, for God is not a sentimental old Father Christmas, but the righteous Judge of all people.  

And friends, we simply must come to grips with the fact that this applies to everyone–not just to derelicts and pagans and godless humanists.  I don’t care if you’re a baptized churchman, an upstanding citizen, a model patriot, or even a preacher.  You have failed to keep the whole law.  So if you’re relying on your partial law-keeping to get you to heaven, you are actually under a terrible curse.  In other words, you’re on your way to hell.

But thanks be to God there is another way of salvation–not one of works but one that actually works, one that leads to eternal life.  It is called the way of faith.  Look at verse 11 once again: “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”  Here Paul is quoting the OT prophet Habakkuk (2:4) to show that even in OT times the saved person is the one who lived by faith, the one who trusted God to take care of his sin problem, the one like Abraham who believed that God would provide an appropriate and effective sacrifice for sin.  

The faith we are talking about, however, is by no means a leap in the dark.  It is faith in a particular person.  And that brings us to our final point this morning:

All who rely on the One who was cursed are redeemed from the curse.  

Look at verse 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 hung on a tree.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”  

If the law put a curse on us because of our failure to keep it, and it did, Jesus redeemed us by having the curse transferred from us to Him.  In ancient Israel only the very worst of criminals was hung or crucified.  No wonder Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But it’s also no wonder that the ignominious manner of His death was such an insurmountable obstacle to faith to so many.  Jews could not imagine that God would allow a righteous man to suffer a cross-kind of death. 

Well, why was such a drastic remedy needed?  God, because He is perfectly holy, cannot arbitrarily excuse sin.  The penalty must be exacted.  But it is possible for the penalty to be transferred to someone who is free from it, and that’s exactly what happened.  Christ became a curse for us.  By dying on the cross, He took our place and thus redeemed us or bought us out from under that curse.  He could not have done this, however, if he had not kept God’s laws perfectly himself. 

An illustration I have used before may help.  Suppose on death row a prisoner has exhausted his last appeal and society prepares to exact the penalty for his ruthless premeditated murder of an innocent person.  As he is being led to the gas chamber a voice in one of the cells is heard, “Stop!  Don’t take his life.  Let me die in his place.”  The warden would undoubtedly sneer, “What do you mean? You’re sentenced to die next month yourself?  How can you take this man’s place?”

But suppose one of the free citizens who is brought in to witness the execution steps forward and says, “I want to pay that man’s penalty.  I want to die in his place.  Set him free.”  I don’t know whether that would ever be considered legal, but it certainly would earn our moral admiration for that citizen.  Well, Jesus, who had no sin of his own, who was therefore perfectly free of the law’s demands, stepped forward and said to His Father, “I will assume the penalty for their violation of Your law; I will accept their curse.”  

But friends, while the death of Christ is sufficient to pay every man’s penalty, it does not automatically pay every man’s penalty, but only the penalty of those who cast themselves on the mercy of God and receive His Son as Savior.  If a person will not come to God on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ, then he is asking to be judged by his works.  Those works will be measured against the standard of God’s law, and unless that man has kept the law, completely and continually (and no man has), he will be condemned.


Again and again during this series, it has been asserted that we can be saved only by believing and never by achieving.  But this is true not because God refuses to accept achievers, but rather because in truth, there are none.  That’s a tough message for an audience of Americans to accept.  We are preeminently achievers.  We have been taught there are no free lunches, yet Galatians is telling us that God offers salvation to us as a free gift or not at all.  We have been taught that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, but God says, if you do it yourself you’re under a curse.  We have been taught that racial purity determines who is acceptable, but God says racial purity counts for nothing in becoming a child of God–faith counts for everything.

In 1961 when the notorious iron curtain was constructed between East and West Berlin, President J.F.K. went to Berlin and delivered a powerful speech before 1,000,000 German people.  “Ich bin ein Berliner,” he said. “I am a Berliner.”  Kennedy had not one ounce of German blood in his Irish veins.  He didn’t speak German, except for a few words.  He didn’t observe German customs.  Still his claim to be one of them was accepted and the crowd thundered its approval.  Why?  Because he demonstrated a spiritual unity with the people whose city was completely surrounded by a brutal wall and a hostile Communist army.

I stand here today to proclaim to you that I am a Jew, a true son of Abraham, a child of God.  I do not have a Jewish mother.  I have no Jewish blood in my veins.  I do not keep the Jewish dietary laws or holidays or customs.  But I am more Jewish than many of those who worshiped yesterday at Temple Israel, for I am a descendant of Abraham by faith and I have been declared righteous by God on the same basis that Abraham was declared righteous.

Do you want to be sure this morning that you’re in the family of God?  Then put your faith in the only One who ever kept God’s Law, the one who was cursed so you would not have to be.  Trust Him.  


Jeremy Krause was an associate pastor at our church in Wichita when this series was preached.  He offered a profound illustration that fits this message so well:  

Seventeen months ago, Brooke and I received a life-changing phone call.  An adoption agency called to inform us that there was a birth-mom looking to place her yet to be born baby and that we were an excellent match for her.  Though Brooke was pregnant, we felt compelled to proceed.  Fast-forward several months to late July.  Brooke and I are praying and waiting for our dear baby.  Quincy Joy was born on August 3rd and we began the adoption process immediately.  After several legal hassles, the adoption was finalized September 25, 2009.  Before that date, she wasn’t adopted.  After that date, she was adopted.

For those of you who have believed the Gospel, you have been adopted.  God has made you His son or daughter through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.  Imagine with me if Quincy was given the choice to join my family and that she could communicate her thoughts.  Our conversation might have been something like this.

“Quincy, you have a choice.  Brooke and I would like to adopt you and bring you into our family.  You would become our eldest child, become a sister to Clara, and have a dog that wants to lick your face.  Your mother and I would love you, pray for you, encourage you, and provide for you: food, shelter, clothing, and so much more.  We would rock you to sleep when you were sick, clean you when you were dirty, and do all we can to protect you from harm.  In our hearts and in reality, you would be no different from any other child in our family.  You would be entitled to every opportunity and privilege that any of our children would have.  If you decline our invitation, I cannot promise you what kind of parents you will have.  I do not know who will provide for you or love you.”

If Quincy could speak, she might reply, “So you’ll provide for my needs, love me, and care for me and the rest…  But, what’s the catch?  What do I have to DO?”

Now, we both know what the answer to this question is.  The answer to Quincy would be “NOTHING!”  You don’t have to do ANYTHING!!!  Sure, I’d love it if you’d behave around company, and obey your mother, and do your homework.  But you don’t HAVE to do ANYTHING!  We want you to be our daughter and we want to be in relationship with you.  In fact, our relationship will not be dependent on what you do.  Your adoption will be independent of your actions.  

Now if in the course of time, Quincy wants to discuss her adoption, we’ll remind her of our story. And if she forgets, and begins to attempt to earn her position with the family, I will tell her how ridiculous it is for her to think she can achieve her status as our daughter.  I’ll set her down and explain how much Brooke and I love her and how there is nothing she can do to make us love her more.  I’ll remind her that she is ALREADY our daughter and that she doesn’t need to “earn” or “perform” for either our affections or her position.  All of that was settled long ago.