Lisa Scheffler, author
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A promise is only as trustworthy as the one making it. In the modern world, we have all kinds of ways that we formalize our promises so people are more likely to keep their word. Many agreements are backed up by the force of law. For example, when you get married you formalize your promise to love, honor, and care for your spouse by getting a marriage license that is filed with the state. When you sell a car, the title has to be transferred to the new owner, so the seller can’t keep the payment, but then take the car back. When you download an app on your phone, you accept and agree to “the terms of service,” (but who knows what we’re agreeing to, because honestly, who reads them?)
Because they these agreements are formalized, there should be consequences for breaking your word. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. But because humans are well, human, lots of people try and look for loopholes to get out of their agreements so they can break their promises without consequence.
That’s never true of God. He is the ever faithful one who can never break his word. God has to swear by himself because there is no higher authority. He is the ultimate authority — wholly truthful and good. What God promises will come to pass.
The Jewish people were born from a covenant God made with Abraham. They entered into another covenant at Mount Sinai, promising to obey the law that Moses had been given. God would never break his side of the covenant, but the people would. It’s God’s faithfulness to the descendants of Abraham that Jewish people relied on. He wouldn’t abandon them. Yet, they saw keeping the law as a way to demonstrate their loyalty. It made sense to Paul’s opponents, that if God was going to accept sinful Gentiles into this covenant community based on the work of Christ, they would still need to keep the law. This is the situation Paul is trying to deal with in Galatians.
In Paul’s mind, his opponents had put so much emphasis on the Mosaic covenant that they were overlooking the promises that had been given to Abraham. In this passage, Paul will once again return to the covenant God made with Abraham — a covenant that Abraham entered into by faith. It’s also a covenant that all those who are in Christ are part of, whether they are Jew or Gentile.
Before you read our passage for today, you may also want to read Galatians 3:1–14 to remind yourself of Paul’s flow of thought.
15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
What does the inheritance depend on? Law or the promise? Why does this matter?
Just as in our world, promises were also formalized into agreements in the ancient world. For example, kings would make treaties or covenants with other kings or even with their own people. As archaeologists have uncovered more and more treaties from biblical times, historians have discovered examples of these covenants, some of which resemble the covenants that God makes with his people.
One of these is a “royal grant” which were often gifts of land and dynasty that a ruler might give to certain privileged individuals. The Abrahamic covenant resembles one of these “royal grants.” In the covenant that God makes with Abraham, he promises to give him a fertile land and make him into a great nation. He also promised that through his descendants the whole world would be blessed. This was an unbreakable covenant because God can never go back on his word.
Paul sought to take the Galatians back to remember this covenant. He wanted to convince them that they are viewing the law of Moses in a way God didn’t intend. As commentator Scot McKnight explains, “the law of Moses is not God’s most important revelation; that revelation is God’s promise to Abraham. This means that the response demanded of Abraham is also more significant than the response demanded through Moses. That is, faith (Abraham’s response)—not works of the law—is the foundation of our relationship to God”
After all, the Abrahamic Covenant was the covenant for 430 years. God wouldn’t add new stipulations to it or revise the promises he made. He will keep his word. What does that mean for the Galatians, and by implication you and I? It has always been and always will be faith that makes people right with God, not works of the law. The covenant of Abraham, one that was entered into by faith, was God’s original design for people.
Then and now, we all have a choice, we can choose Abraham, and all the blessings given to us by faith in Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ — including righteousness, salvation, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Or we can choose Moses with his “works of the law” and the consequent “curse of the law.”
Seems like an easy choice to me!
 McKnight, 165.
 McKnight, 166.
“He took him [Abraham] outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” Genesis 15:5
Think of how much time has passed since Abraham stared up at the clear, desert sky. Because of Christ, God’s people — Jew and Gentile — were represented by more stars than Abraham could count. That includes you and me. God’s promises never fail. Which ones are you hanging onto today?