A Promise is a Promise

June 30, 2013

David Sorn

If Abraham was justified by faith, then why did Moses institute the law? And how were Jews saved before Jesus? And what in the world does this have to do with us?

A Promise is a Promise

June 30, 2013

David Sorn

If Abraham was justified by faith, then why did Moses institute the law? And how were Jews saved before Jesus? And what in the world does this have to do with us?


Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.

“You know sometimes the things we think we’ll be really helpful for us, aren’t all that helpful when everything falls apart.

As Americans we love articles and blogs that say things like “10 Steps to a better marriage”

“5 practical tips to pray more”

“3 quick ideas on how to be a better parent!”

But when your teenager is 4 hours late on his curfew, you don’t look to your spouse at 3am and say, “Quick look at that blog we saw on the 3 ideas to be a better parent! We need some quick tips!”

In our consumeristic, fast-paced society, we think we need these quick, fast-paced, nicely packaged ideas more than we really do.

What we really need is spiritual maturity.

What we really need is a deep and real relationship with an all-wise God

And those don’t always come from reading articles or even hearing messages at church about the 6 ways to revitalize your finances…and they all start with “P!”

Which brings me to today’s message.

We are in the smack-dab middle of a series on the Book of Galatians in the Bible.

A book written by the apostle Paul to one of the earliest Christian churches after they lost sight of how people were really forgiven by God.

They forgot that it was by faith alone.

And as we’ve gotten into chapter 3 in our Gift Vs. Reward series on Galatians, we’ve really slowed down.

The last two weeks we did 4 verses and 5 verses at a time, and today we’re doing 4 again.

Chapter 3 is really one of the richest parts of the New Testament when it comes to Theology (especially about Salvation), but it’s pretty complex.

So a lot of us…if you’ve ever read Galatians chapter 3 before on your own...you probably went: “Uh…I have no idea what I just read. Something about Abraham, laws, curses, promises, and flying monkeys …or maybe I made that last part up when my mind wandered…oh well…onto chapter 4!

So what we’re doing is trying to break it down chapter 3 a little bit more than we normally would, and then we’ll speed back up a little in chapter 4, and go significantly faster as we go through the final two chapters, 5 and 6 when we come back to Galatians later in the Fall.

But these types of messages can be quite different than what we’re accustomed to in the American church.

We’ve gotten used to “spiritual pep talks.” Pop psychology talks.

It’s back to what I said at the beginning: we’ve become accustomed to associating church with “5 tips on fixing your faith now that also happen to fit the acronym for SUPER!”

And I don’t want to completely knock that because I believe the church needs to be intensely practical…it’s why we really mix up the type of series we do

But the reality is not all of learning and spiritual growth is instant implementation in 3 easy steps.

So for instance, today’s passage is most likely a passage you’ve never heard spoken on in a church before

Because it’s not a passage where you go, “OH! I could use that! I could get that as a tattoo! I could make that my life verse! I could write that on my mirror!”

And that’s okay. In fact, it’s good for us.

Because in our McWorld culture…it’s almost like we think the entire Bible is like the book of Proverbs.

Like each verse is an “instant fortune cookie” we could instantly apply and implement.

A little pick me-up or positive and encouraging note for the day!

The verse of the day!

The thought of the day!

Today’s one-verse encouragement!

We tend to treat the Bible nowadays like it’s in one of those glass cases that says “Break in case of emergency.”

I get emails from people that say things like, “Quick, I need a verse on patience…or can you send me a verse to get through tough times”

But these are entire books inspired by God…not fortune cookies to lift our spirits.

They’re stories about Jesus. They’re letters from real Christian leaders to real Christian churches.

And many of them contain deep and important truths about what our faith is all about.

And the truth is…what we really need is to build a deep foundation of what our faith is actually all about…not just tips.

If you just learn tips and the out of context verse of the day…when the storm comes, your tree will most likely wither.

But if we can better learn the whole story of the Bible…God’s story for us…if we can better lean truths about who God is and how He interacts with us (not just practical things for you & me)…

the more we will become sturdy trees…ready to weather the storm.


Let’s get into our passage today.

We are on page 944. Or the YouVersion App.

You’re going to want to follow along. It’s quite complex.

(Galatians 3:15) – NIV

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.

So Paul, who’s a world-class debater, is setting up another argument here.

He’s saying, “Listen, if you establish a human covenant,” which in the Greek (that’s what he wrote this letter in) is basically a person’s will for when they die.

He’s saying, If you go and establish or ratify your will, they can’t go back and change it after you die.

And you might say…”No, that’s not true. If there wasn’t a credible witness there when you did it…or the paperwork wasn’t filled out properly…”

But we need to …as we’ve been talking about in our Mining God’s Word class on studying the Bible…we need to do some historical interpretation here.

In Roman times…as you might guess…once you ratified the thing, nobody could touch it.

Their legal system wasn’t quite as…what’s a nice word…complex…as ours.

Which by the way…can I say how pumped I am that 75+ people are going through our school of theology classes this summer!

How cool is that?

If you didn’t have a chance to get started on our 4-class school, definitely take the opportunity next summer to get started in the first class, so you can really increase your knowledge of the Bible and theology (like we were just talking about)


Okay, but what does this point about how once you set-up a contract, you can’t change it…have to do with Galatians and the argument about Salvation?

Because Paul is saying that we are saved by believing that Jesus Christ died for us and putting our faith in Him (and thus following Him)

But these new people who came to town are saying…no, no, no, “Sure, believe in Jesus….but you also need to be a really good person and obey all the Jewish laws…or just “The law” as they call it.

Well Paul’s once again breaking down their argument. Let’s see how he’s doing it and then come back to the will thing.

(Galatians 3:16) – NIV

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.

We talked about this promise to Abraham two weeks ago when Paul first introduced it in verses 6-9.

Here’s the 60-second review.

God told Abraham that all peoples would be blessed through his offspring,

And even though everyone wants to trace themselves back to ol’ Abe and claimed they’re blessed, Paul tells us that he’s referring to his one person in his offspring (singular), his seed.

And that offspring is Jesus. Who’s genealogy includes Abraham.

And it’s through faith in Jesus, Abraham’s offspring,…that the whole world is being blessed.

We also see earlier in Galatians that Abraham was justified (forgiven) (made right w/ God) by faith for believing in the promises of God.

It wasn’t by the things he did.

He didn’t earn his salvation. It was a gift God gave him through faith.

And that’s the template through which people even today are still forgiven.

Through faith…in the offspring of Abraham…Jesus.

And this is the promise that God established and set-up with Abraham: That we could be made right with God…forgiven by God…through faith.

Now for us…as humans…we often under-deliver on our promises.

We promise our kids…yeah, we’ll play catch after this show is over (but then we forget)

We promise our spouse that we’ll work less next week, but we don’t

We promise that next week, we’ll actually cook meals instead of go to culver’s…but Butterburgers it is!

But for God…a promise is a promise. He’s not going to go back on that.


But that’s not what these new people in Galatia think. They’re interpreting the Bible quite differently. They’re saying…No…that’s not how it works.

They’re saying, “Sure…if you want, we can begin with faith…but eventually we have to earn our own way and inherit the reward of heaven by our works of the law (by our good deeds)

Why else then would God have had Moses (after Abraham) institute those 600+ laws (like the 10 commandments and stuff in the OT?

“Huh Paul? Did you ever think of that? It’s because we’re supposed to earn our way to heaven! HUH!?!

And Paul responds…I sure did!

(Galatians 3:17-18) – NIV

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.

Paul’s saying…it’s as simple as looking at a timeline and remembering how God feels about promises

See, God first told Abraham that he was forgiven/made righteous because of his faith…

“And this thus is the model for how ALL peoples are justified by God

And in a very similar way…the whole would could eventually be made right this way through Abraham’s future descendent, Jesus.

Then…430 years after Abraham…along comes this dude named Moses.

If you’ve never heard of him, he’s the guy who yells “let my people go at Pharoah…God then sends lots of frogs and other creepy things from the sky…Pharoah gets creeped out, let’s the Israelites and Moses go…Moses parts the red sea…they get out of Dodge / Egypt.

Then, while they’re in the desert…and are on their way to start their own new community…in the land of Israel …God gives them some guidelines

That’s the 600+ rules we call “The Law” in the OT books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy

But this is where Paul’s argument comes back to verse 15 and the part about the will.

See, if God made an agreement/covenant with Abraham (and thus the future of humanity) about how they are made righteous, he’s not going to change it.

He made a promise, and He’s not going back on it.

A promise is a promise.

But this isn’t how the new people (the Judaizers) in Galatia were looking at it.

They were saying…Yeah, God did all that with Abe, but then he came out with the Law (those 600+ rules)…and now THAT’S how we are saved! Being a good person and stuff.

It’s like God figured some more stuff out after Abraham and brought it to Moses.

But God doesn’t progressively figure stuff out.

He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.

His promise to Abraham doesn’t change.

Interestingly enough though, I think you could probably group 90+% of modern day Christians in with the people Paul is writing to in Galatia…not w/ Paul on this one

Most modern day Christians also misunderstand the purpose of these 600+ laws in the OT.

“In fact, you can see it how we usually talk about how the Jews before Christ were saved (forgiven)

We say things like…”Well, see, they used to think that they had to be a good person to be saved. That’s why they sacrificed all those animals and stuff. Cuz they weren’t good enough.

“They thought, as long as they did enough sacrifices and obeyed enough of the law like the Sabbath, they were saved…But Jesus changed all that! Now it’s through faith!”

Now, granted, that’s how the Pharisees thought…that’s how these new folks in Galatia thought…but that’s NOT what the Old Testament in the Bible teaches.

Or even what an Old Testament Godly Jew would have believed.

See, it would be terribly wrong if God told Abraham, “Humanity can be saved by faith in me.”

But then, 430 years later told Moses, “JUST KIDDING! JK MOSES! I got that wrong…my people can NOW be saved by being a really good person and impressing me a lot! Show me your best stuff! Good luck! I got a trophy for you in the end!”

And then 1,400 years after Moses saying, “Uh…hmm…sorry…now that I sent my son Jesus…it’s back to the faith thing! So, uh, yeah, nevermind on the impressing me thing…back to faith!”

God’s not schizophrenic. He wasn’t constantly changing his mind like: “My salvation is a gift (it’s grace for you)…uh, nah…I like the reward thing…prove your worth humans!…nah…that’s too harsh…put your faith back in me now.”

But interestingly enough that’s how most Christians look at the Old Testament. It’s how most believe that Jews were saved before Jesus. By doing the sacrifices and obeying the law.

And this is where we bring it all back to what we said at the very beginning. We’ve got to know ALL of Scripture. The whole story.

Paul, is in fact, in Galatians 3, teaching us how to read the Bible.

He’s doing a flyover at 10,000 feet:

He’s saying, here’s the summary:

God makes the contract with Abraham about how we’re saved, clarifies how people can live out that faith with Moses…and then makes the faith thing available for the whole world through Jesus.

That’s the basic timeline of God’s covenants in the Bible.

By the way…if you are looking to get more into the Old Testament

We actually created a tool called the Bible Pyramid that helps you read the books of the Old Testament or The New Testament…but you start with the easiest books first…and build on that foundation.

You can pick one up in the hallway on your way out if you want.

To God…a promise is a promise. He’s not going to change his ways.

The law from Moses merely clarifies how God wants his people who ALREADY BELIEVE IN HIM to live.

And the animal sacrifices were just a placeholder…an example of forgiveness (through faith) until Christ comes.

Something that God used to point the Jews…through faith…to the Messiah that was coming.

So in some sense…their faith was in Jesus…the coming savior

We’re going to dive in a lot more next week about the actual purpose of the law.

Why did God even give the Jews those laws anyway??

So really…Jesus’ work of saving people through faith actually isn’t a totally new thing.

It’s just the climatic fulfillment of the promises given to Abraham long ago.

It’s just God continuing to work in the same way he has all along…but in Jesus, he brought it to complete fulfillment…at a time in history where it was finally able to start going global.


“The other thing that really pops out to me about this text is the fact that just like so many of us actually thought like the Galatians when it comes to how the Jews got saved…we tend to sometimes get caught in living our lives out like that too

Because the Galatians thought…you know…just start w/ some faith in Jesus…and then…be a good person.

Kind of like Abraham started with faith…and then Moses taught us to be a good person…so just do that!

Christianity is indeed about faith…but it can be confusing because there are indeed all these rules, guidelines, and guideposts along the way.

But they’re there to guide you to find life, to avoid the pitfalls, and to honor God.

They’re what a FAITH LIVED OUT actually looks like.

But kind of like the Galatians…we forget our history…and we mess up the order of things.

Rather than let these guidelines be a natural expression of our faith or a check to see if we’re on the right path…we end up making them the central point.

And we end up living by rules…not by faith.

And pretty soon, we’re waking up each morning and going, “I’m such a bad Christian. God’s gotta be so disappointed in me.”

Maybe even right now…even as a Christian…you’re thinking,

“I don’t really feel like God’s that close to me right now”

“I’ve done some pretty bad and messed up stuff lately…can’t say I really feel forgiven. My track record’s not too good”

“I don’t even really pray or read the Bible…so I’m sure God’s not that proud of me right now”

But if you’re a believer in Jesus…that’s not how God looks at you.

But we get confused, just like the Pharisees, just like the Galatians…and we turn it into a rewards system…

We only think about Moses and forget all about Abraham!

We think: “Well…I guess if were to grade myself, I’d probably get a C- on my Bible reading….D+ on what I listen to and watch on TV…F on sharing my faith…

“I don’t know…God’s probably folding His arms up there and saying “Get your act together.”

But when you enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, through faith, you are 100% completely forgiven.

No matter how much we continue to drop the ball. It’s a scandalous love.

Because remember, Jesus knew you were going to drop the ball before he decided to die for you…and he went anyway.

So right now…you’re a person who’s living in the blessing of the promise.

Because God promised…GOD PROMISED…all the way back to Abraham onward that He would forgive you by faith…and he’s forgiven you by faith.

Now live like it.

Don’t go back…don’t turn it into I’m not good enough…or how much shame can I lump on myself today.

Nope. Forgiven. Set-free. Totally and completely loved by God.

Right now…no matter what you did last night…or this week…He’s looking at you going, “I love ‘em! That person right there…in the 3rd row…there in the back…they’re like my favorite.”

“I can’t stop thinking about them! Did I tell you about the time they…it was awesome!”

God’s like the new parent who annoyingly can’t stop talking their kid. “And then they said, “Goo ga goo! It was amazing!”

But he’s like that about you! No matter what. That’s his heart for you!

It’s like He’s got your picture on the wall…and he’s pointing it out to all the angels…”Have I told you about how much I love…__, or ___, or ___.”

And it’s because of your FAITH…not because of the amount of rules you obeyed. It’s because of your faith and His love…He loves you …no matter what!

And that’s the story of the Bible. From beginning to end. It’s always been about faith and love!!

Does He want you to live for Him more…and follow His ways more? Absolutely!

But does our inability to often do that somehow lower His forgiveness or love for you if you fall short of that? Absolutely not.

Listen, you’re never going to guilt yourself into an amazing relationship with Jesus.

It’s not a rewards system.

It’s about faith in Jesus dying in your place…and about following Him.

And the best way to follow Him is to love Him and know his love for you. The best way to follow Him is faith.

And that’s what Paul teaches us in Galatians.

It’s always been about faith.

Always has been…always will be

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.