Sabbath School Lesson for July 22-28, 2017
At the time Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, there was no New Testament as we know it today. Since the only scriptures available to Paul was the Old Testament, we must try to understand faith through the eyes of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets.
Many are surprised at how true faith has not changed at all. There’s no such thing as Old Testament faith vs. New Testament faith. Our salvation never depended on our keeping the law of Moses, as some contend. It’s always been about God’s grace, His messengers extending the invitation for all to accept His free gift of salvation.
Since Abraham is considered to be the father of the Jewish race, and highly regarded as a man of faith, Paul uses his example to defend his gospel, as opposed to the one the Judaizers were promoting.
Considering the life of Abraham this week is useful for us as well, as a means to confirm what faith is all about. In the Old Testament and the New.
Memory Text: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’ “ Galatians 3:13 ESV
Paul’s reference to a text in Deuteronomy 21:23 about hanging on a tree, makes more sense when we discover that there was a Jewish custom that called for hanging an executed body on a tree for everyone to see to indicate that he was cursed by God. The body was not allowed to hang there overnight, however, for it would defile the whole nation.
Jesus’ hanging on the wooden cross, therefore, could be seen as hanging on a tree. He indeed took the curse of sin for us by His sacrificial death. We are redeemed from death, because of His selfless act.
Sunday: The Foolish Galatians
Paul uses some strong language by calling the Galatians “foolish” (Galatians 3:1). And the original word actually implies “mindless”, “thoughtless”. They were not simply being a bit foolish or careless, they were actually not thinking at all by accepting this strange gospel to which they had been exposed.
The rhetorical questions that follow are a bit ironic. Paul used logic and reason, which his training in the law had equipped him to do, to persuasively argue with them that it is not logic and reason, but faith, that saves them.
His passionate entreaties in the first five verses of Galatians 3 surely were effective in getting some of his flock to reconsider their actions and thinking about what saves them.
The Holy Spirit was responsible for the heart surrenders and miracles that marked the beginning of their walk with God. Why wouldn’t that same giving Spirit continue to uphold them from day to day and help them to follow the path of righteousness? Their own efforts to comply with God’s law were doomed to failure without the power of the Holy Spirit supporting them.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:1 and 2 Corinthians 4:4. Why do you think Paul resorted to name-calling in his effort to persuade his fellow believers? Who was Paul implying had bewitched, or blinded, them to the truth?
Read Galatians 3:2-5. What was the purpose of these five rhetorical questions (for which he didn’t expect an actual reply)?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:23 and 2:2. For what different reasons were the Jews and the Gentiles (or Greeks) turned away from the doctrine of the cross? Why was Christ and His crucifixion the only thing Paul felt called to preach?
Monday: Grounded in Scripture
Paul defended justification by faith, the true gospel, by this three-fold approach:
- He reminded them of the agreement reached by the apostles in the council held in Jerusalem. (Galatians 2:1-10)
- He used rhetorical questions to help them recall their personal experience in being saved. (Galatians 3:1-5)
- He used examples in Scripture (such as the story of Abraham and Moses) to illustrate what true faith looks like. (Galatians 3:6-4:31)
Paul’s reference to the stories in the Old Testament helped him establish that…
- Jesus was the Messiah
- righteousness can be achieved through faith alone, as with Abraham
- Paul’s gospel was valid and grounded in the scriptures
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:6-8. What was the gospel that was preached to Abraham? How did it include the Messiah? What evidence did Abraham have that God’s Promise would be fulfilled?
Read Galatians 3:8-10, Genesis 12:3, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14. Why did God repeat this Promise so many times to Abraham and his descendants? How have all nations been blessed by Jesus, the Messiah?
Read Romans 1:1, 2 and 9:17. How did God use Abraham and Moses to proclaim His gospel? How much faith did it take to believe this Promise?
Tuesday: Reckoned as Righteous
Abraham, a central figure in Judaism, was not only the Father of the Jews, but was the forefather of Jesus Himself. Many people have thought that the main attribute that endeared him to God was his obedience. We see his phenomenal obedience…
- in leaving his homeland and heading out to an unknown land and future, as God led him
- in taking up the rite of circumcision, as instructed by God
- in his willingness to sacrifice his only son at God’s command
Paul, however, brought his readers to an often overlooked verse in Genesis 16:6, which says…
“And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” NKJV
So, it was really Abraham’s belief in God, his faith, that drove his righteousness. He was justified for his faith, which led to his obedience. This is what true faith is all about.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:6, 7 and Genesis 15:6. What then makes us sons of Abraham?
Read Romans 4:3-11. Was Abraham accounted righteous before or after he was circumcised? Did circumcision make them righteous then, as the Judaizers were proclaiming?
Read Romans 4:22-24. On what basis are we accounted, reckoned, or imputed righteousness? What does Jesus have to do with Abraham’s Promise? What promise does the resurrection hold for us today?
Wednesday: The Gospel in the Old Testament
The reason Paul and others place so much credibility on the story of Abraham’s faith is that the gospel he heard came from God Himself.
“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ ” Galatians 3:8 NKJV
We find that this gospel, the Promise of the Messiah to come, was totally one-sided. God makes all the promises. Moses is just the recipient of them by accepting them on faith.
Before we start thinking how easy that is then–that works don’t save us, consider how hard it is to allow God total control of our lives. That requires a kind of trust that even Abraham lacked at times. He chose to be the determiner of his own fate by making attempts to “help God” on more than one occasion.
The gospel is the same for us as it was for the patriarchs. We must accept our Lord through faith alone. Works can not add to it, nor take away. Salvation is a gift, and our actions should reflect that, but not determine that we are saved. Using works to make ourselves more acceptable to God is just doomed to fail, as the story of Abraham shows us.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:8-9. Why was God the one to preach the gospel to Abraham?
Read Genesis 12:1-3 and Romans 7:2-5. Did Abram receive the Promise before or after he obeyed God? What caused him to obey?
Read Leviticus 17:11 and Zechariah 3:3-4. Although it’s possible to distort the gospel by adding to it with our works, why is it also dangerous to use grace as an excuse to sin? How should obedience be understood? What part does it play in our salvation?
Thursday: Redeemed From a Curse
How stunned for Paul’s opponents to realize that if they were saved by the works of the law, they were all doomed. For none of us, born in iniquity (Psalm 51:5), can claim righteousness of our own.
Thankfully though, Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of sin. He, who knew no sin, is the One who releases us from the second death, which has no power over God’s righteous people, those who are part of the first resurrection.
“Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power…” Revelation 20:6 NKJV
Yes, Jesus not only became our sin-bearer, but our curse-bearer. He paid the price of sin for us by His own death. We are redeemed, bought back, from being Satan’s hostage. As Satan’s slave, our freedom has been paid for.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 3:10-11 and Romans 3:23. Why can’t our works save us?
Read Galatians 3:12 and Romans 4:2-5. If Abraham’s works did not justify him, what did?
Read Galatians 3:13, Acts 5:30, and 1 Peter 2:24. Whose curse did Jesus bear on the tree?
Paul wisely uses Old Testament stories to uphold his belief in justification by faith. The life of Abraham illustrates this point well. Paul reminds his readers that it was faith that made Abraham righteous.
- why Paul called the Galatians foolish (Sunday)
- justification by faith is found in Old Testament scripture (Monday)
- Abraham was justified by faith alone (Tuesday)
- God’s promises to Abraham were one-sided (Wednesday)
- Christ redeems us from the curse of the law (Thursday)
We might remember three things from this week’s lesson:
- Abraham had to listen for God’s voice.
- God revealed Himself progressively to Abraham, repeating His promises, as needed.
- Abraham found it a struggle to trust and follow God, but he was willing to go where He led.
- How well to I listen for God’s voice?
- Do I recognize the progressive nature of my own walk with God, there’s always more to learn?
- Am I willing to follow God anywhere He leads?
Next Week: The Priority of the Promise
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/