I have been asked to meet with a ladies Bible Study group in Cherokee, Iowa to help answer a few of the questions they have about the book of Galatians. In preparation for this study I was given a list of 10 questions the ladies had, so I thought I would share my answers to these questions on Paul’s Ponderings to make sure I took the time to prepare.
1. What does “it is through faith that righteous person has life” mean and what would the correct response be to someone who says that this bases the Christian life too much on personal experiences? (3:11)
Questions like this are hard because there are is so much context that surrounds this quotation. First, you have the context of where it fits in Galatians: What has Paul been saying that has led him to use this quotation? Second, you have the context that surrounds this quotation from where it was pulled in Habakkuk 2:4. Third, you have the cultural context of how this verse was interpreted and applied in Paul’s day.
What can we learn just by looking at the phrase itself? I think it is important to keep in mind that the theme of the Galatians is about who can be counted as God’s people. The Jews that were causing problems in these churches declared that only Jews can be God’s people, and therefore a person had to become a Jew before they could become a Christian. The boundary markers for determining who was in and who was out of the Kingdom were things like circumcision and food laws, in other words the Law. Paul was arguing that everyone who has faith in Christ Jesus were a part of God’s people and that the Holy Spirit was the boundary marker showing how was in and who was out of the Kingdom.
I think an understandable paraphrase of the above quotation would be: God’s people live by faith. Righteousness means to have a right relationship with God which is seen in right living. So how is a person made righteous? The way of the Jews of Paul’s day was to be committed to the Law. Their high priority was to make sure they didn’t break the law, especially those things that really separated them from the world (circumcision, food laws, and holidays), and they created a system of smaller laws to govern their lives so they wouldn’t break those laws. One could say that their faith and their commitment was to the Law rather than to God. If they kept the Law then God would bless them and they would be righteous.
Paul’s argument is that it isn’t by Law that we are made righteous, but it is by faith. Now we have to remember faith is more than just belief. If it was just belief then the Jews had faith as well, but since faith also encompasses commitment and trust then we notice the Jews didn’t have true faith in God, for their commitment and trust was in the Law. A person of faith is committed to God and they trust His way of life. This will be displayed by the fact that they will help a person who is in need on the Sabbath day rather than using the Sabbath as a loophole to get out of loving their neighbor.
For the Christian faith is specifically directed at Christ Jesus. We trust that His life, death, resurrection, and accession broke the power of sin, ushered in God’s Kingdom, and is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless on the nations of the world. As Christians our lives are lived in response to faith in Christ Jesus rather than a commitment to the Law.
The second part of this question is interesting: what would the correct response be to someone who says that this bases the Christian life too much on personal experiences?
I am not really sure what is meant by this, but I will take a shot at this. I think this is a reference to the necessity of knowing correct doctrine and not just have a “simple” faith in God that is built up by our experiences.
I would respond by saying that there is a misunderstanding of what true faith is. True faith is informed by correct doctrine, and so as Christ’s disciples we are urged to be students of the Word as well as to pray for knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. A Christian who is not taking the time study and to learn is at risk of being led astray by false teaching.
On the other hand we are not saved by correct doctrine. All of us have an incomplete understanding of God’s Word. Thank God for grace! That is why one of the mottos of the Restoration Movement has been “We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only.” While our faith is informed by doctrine and knowledge, it is made real by life and experience. We need to be out in the world being “salt” and “light” in our culture. Faith needs to be lived out in the world.
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