I find Galatians 3.1-14 tough to get my head around.
What I find most challenging about it is the way two different — and apparently incompatible — models of how God ‘counts righteous’ those who trust Jesus seem to find support in these verses.
On the one hand, there’s the Take God At His Word And You’ll Be Counted Righteous model. On this model, faith simply is righteousness — it is the only right and appropriate way to respond to God when he addresses you.
This seems to be the model Paul is working with when he compares believers in Jesus to Abraham in verses 6-9:
Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.’ For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
On the other hand, there’s the You Can’t Earn Righteousness (Only A Curse) So You Need Jesus’ Righteousness To Be “Reckoned” To You model. Although the passage doesn’t say this in quite so many words, the reverse side of this argument is there in verse 13:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’
On this model, faith isn’t righteousness — it’s the means by which Christ’s righteousness (often construed as the good standing with God he maintained throughout his sinless life) is transferred to our account.
So which model is it? How are we counted righteous? By being people of faith (as Abraham was)? Or by receiving Christ’s righteousness (since far from being righteousness, we can only be cursed by relying on ‘works of the law’)?
Maybe I’m making too much of the contrast (even incompatibility) between these two ways of being counted righteous. But I wonder if both models overlook where the passage begins and ends — namely, with the promise of the Spirit (check out verses 1-5 and 14).
What did Abraham believe? God’s promise — summed up here in terms of blessing for the Gentiles.
How do the Gentiles receive this blessing? In Christ Jesus, who brings redemption by becoming cursed for us, ‘so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’ (verse 14).
Does this shed any light?