Sermon Notes is an ongoing series of posts in which I delve further into the text which was preached on Sunday and explore aspects or topics which time did not allow to be discussed more fully.
When reading the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), it is easy to get the wrong idea. In Exodus through Leviticus into Numbers and then Deuteronomy, the student of the Bible reads about all of the sacrifices and laws that the people of Israel had to keep and obey. Because they had to obey these laws and perform these sacrifices, it is easy to get the idea that the Israelites were saved by their keeping the law. In other words, all an Israelite had to do to have a saving relationship with God is to keep the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20), circumcise their sons (Gen. 17), not wear cotton-polyester blend shirts (Lev. 19:19) (as well as obey all of the other laws) and they would be saved; they would be reconciled to God. This, however, has never been the case. Salvation has always been by faith.
Take, for example, Abel and Cain. Both Abel and Cain offered sacrifices to God. Cain offered “the fruit of the ground” and Abel offered “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Gen. 4:4). However, “the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he [God] had no regard.” They both sacrificed; even in the Levitical system of sacrifice, there are sacrifices made with plants and others with animals. Shouldn’t God have been satisfied and pleased by both sacrifices? After all, they were just trying to honor him. What is the difference between Abel’s sacrifice and Cain’s sacrifice? Hebrews 11 tells us that faith is the difference. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” (Heb. 11:4) Abel gave his sacrifice by faith. Abel was commended and saved by his faith.
In Galatians 3:6-9, we see that salvation by grace through faith has always been God’s plan. Abraham “‘believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (Gal. 3:6, cf. Gen. 15:6) And all of those who are Abraham’s sons are those who believe in Christ. It is not by works, nor by parentage. Faith makes one the son of Abraham. The Judaizers, who were opposed to Paul and were fooling the Galatians, seemed to think that it was the obedience of Abraham that resulted in Abraham being declared righteous. Paul here gives a resounding reply: the righteousness of God is given to those who are of faith.
Paul then in turn cuts off their only avenue of retreat: the Old Testament. The Judaizers appealed to the Old Testament and said, “Look, Gentiles, you must keep the laws and be circumcised in order to be a part of God’s special, chosen people; you must become like ethnic Jews.” But Paul, by arguing that even Abraham, the biological father of the Jews, was not saved by works, but instead was saved by faith.
An important lesson presents itself to us as students of the Bible: we must always read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. Where things are concealed and hidden in the Old Testament, the New Testament makes plain as day. For example, how do Gentiles become a part of God’s special, chosen people? In the same manner as Abraham: by faith! While this was hidden and obscured before the coming of Christ, Christ changes everything and makes these things which were hidden, clear. So when you are reading something in the Old Testament and you have a question which puzzles you, look to see if the answer to your question has been given in the New Testament.