When we discuss the promises made unto the fathers (especially those that are related to Abraham), we often consider the 3rd chapter of Galatians. It is here we learn that the promises were to be fulfilled through one special seed, which was Christ. We are also told that those who are baptized into Christ will become "heirs according to the promise".
We gain access to a wonderful hope when we enter into covenant relation. It is a wonderful thing to have the opportunity become fellow heirs to the great and precious promises made to Abraham. As we contemplate the magnitude of this hope we notice that in the Galatians account, we will become heirs to a single promise. Normally, we think and talk about multiple "promises". Is there any significance to this distinction in terms?
If we have ever studied the promises, we would note that there has always been a special emphasis on the "promised land". Certainly, if we must choose only one, this must be the promise that we become heirs according to. In most of the writings on the subject of the promises to Abraham, reference is made almost exclusively to this promise of the land. The rest of the promises are seldom discussed in detail.
If we take another look at Genesis 12:1-3 (where the promises are first outlined), we should notice that the promise of land is initially only implied. Abraham is told: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee" (v. 1).
The promises that are then described are: "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (vv. 2-3).
The promises that are initially introduced to Abraham are:
(The promise of the land is later added to this list. It becomes a significant element of the promises. See Genesis 12:7 and Genesis 13:14-17).
Which of these promises will we become heirs "according to"? Since most of us are Gentiles after the flesh, the most logical answer would be number 7 (the promise at the end of Genesis 12:3), "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed".
I suggest that this is really the key to all of the promises that were made to Abraham, and that it is the promise referred to in Galatians 3:39. This promise, that "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed", has it's own special significance in the outline of God's plan of salvation. The entire process of the atonement is briefly comprehended in this promise. We will appreciate this better as we learn the real significance of this key promise.
This particular promise is always specifically mentioned as the promises were repeated: In Genesis 18 for example, we read:
In Genesis 22, after Abraham demonstrates his obedience and faith ( in the incident with Isaac), God told Abraham. "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:18). In Genesis 26:4 and in Genesis 28:14, the promises that were passed on to Isaac and Jacob also included this same statement, "in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed".
We note also, that in Galatians 3:8, this promise is elevated to the status of the gospel. "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed". This promise is so significant that it can be used as a brief summary statement of the entire gospel message. It is increasingly obvious that there is more than meets the eye in this promise.
The mystery is revealed in the New Testament, where this same promise became a prominent part of the teachings of the Apostles. In the Acts, this promise is clearly explained, lest there be any question concerning it's meaning:
It is made evident in this reference, that this promise is linked with the sacrifice of Christ. The blessing of the forgiveness of sin, was made possible through his death and resurrection. This is the blessing that was promised through the seed of Abraham. The same promise that we become heirs to, when we are baptized.
We experience the initial benefit of this blessing immediately. Our sins are forgiven as the result of an obedient faith as we rise up from the waters to walk in newness of life.
"And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Galatians 3:8).
Abraham himself was introduced to this principle when "he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). As an excellent example for us, he later showed that his faith was indeed strong enough to merit justification.
Paul picks up this important theme in his writings to the Romans:
James helps to balance the implications of this principle of righteousness by faith:
Returning again to Galatians 3, we hope to conclude our comments by looking at some of the key verses in the context of this important chapter: In verses 3-9 Paul sets the stage by talking about the importance of faith. He quotes Genesis 15:6 saying: "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Galatians 3:6).
He adds: "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham" (Galatians 3:7-9).
Verse 14 continues: "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith". Further, he adds in verse 22: "But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe".
The entire chapter speaks out on this important principle. The blessing promised through Abraham's seed is the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ:
Through our baptism, we become members of his body, and "if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise".