by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 3 Study # 6 April 15, 2012 Dayton, Texas
18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
1901 ASV Translation:
18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise.
I. Paul's Conclusion
A. The issue(s) of "the inheritance".
1. In this context, the inheritance is called "the blessing" (3:14); "the promises" (3:16); and "the promise" (3:17). As a concept, it is what God planned for the extended future for both Abraham and his Seed. It is inclusive of myriads of details.
2. In other of Paul's writings, "the inheritance" is what the Holy Spirit produces both as "the earnest" and as the facilitator in the extended future (Ephesians 1:14). In Ephesians 1:18 Paul prays that his readers will have their understanding opened so that they may know "the riches of the glory of His inheritance"; and in 5:5 he declares that there are certain types of persons who "have no inheritance" in the Kingdom of Christ and of God. And in Colossians 3:24 he makes each person's "inheritance" a direct consequence of serving "the Lord Christ" by "doing whatsoever ye do heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men". And in his final words to the leaders of the church in Ephesus, he said that "the word of His grace ... is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).
3. The conclusion we draw is that "the inheritance" is particular and specific to each individual and is tied to the actual "works" of the life of faith accomplished in this world. This is the single most difficult concept in regard to "the inheritance" being "by promise". If the inheritance consists of God's response to human activities, in what sense can it be "by promise"?
B. The issue(s) of methodology.
1. In our text, there are two, opposing, methodologies: "Law" and "Promise".
2. Our quest is to clarify and to understand the actual nature of these methodologies.
a. "Law", throughout the entire Word of God, is a methodology of "performance/reward" on a Spirit-less basis (2 Corinthians 3:7-8). Since the Law cannot "make alive" (3:21), its imposition and impact upon men is a ministry of demand, made upon the dead who cannot meet its requirements so that it becomes only a ministry of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:9). At its most basic root, "Law" is a formal agreement between God and men so that its entire identity consists of "mutual, separate, participation".
b. On the other hand, "Promise", throughout the entire Word of God, is a methodology of God doing what He said He would do for those who actually depend upon Him for that doing. In this methodology, there is only one "actor": the One Who made the promises. In this methodology "faith" informs, inspires, and directs the inclinations, choices, and actions of men so that their actions fulfill the actual implications of what "trust" means, but God's use of those actions to fulfill His promise(s) is entirely up to Him and not rooted in what the given "believer" ends up doing. The New Testament development of this extends the issue into what things the Spirit of God performs by the use of the human bodies of those in whom He dwells and who actually trust His provision for the fulfillment of whatever aspect of "Promise" is in view. But, again, the actual work that produces the fulfillment may, or may not be, rooted in the actions of a human body. The most fundamental issue is that the One Who made the promise(s) is the One Who fulfills it/them; the methods He chooses to use are outside of the scope of divine commitment to men. In other words, God always fulfills His words to men, but His methods are "unsearchable and past finding out" as this apostle freely declared in Romans 11:33. The chief illustration of "Promise" regards the fulfillment of the divine commitment to provide Abraham with a "seed" who is not Isaac. In Paul's theology, Christ is the one and only "seed". In reality, Christ came into being not by reason of Abraham, or any other man: He was virgin born by means of the Holy Spirit's use of a female body so that the "Promise" of God was totally independent of any work of "man". Thus, the chief illustration of "Promise" is that God produces the fulfillment without the works of "man". This is Paul's theology: "Promise" is "up to God" and "not of the works of any man in fulfillment of any demand". Men invariably produce corrupt "seed". Human works invariably consist of flawed motives and actions.
3. The difference between "Law" and "Promise" does not consist in the presence or absence of "works". The difference consists of the distinction between the "workers" at the most basic root. The human body is the instrument of many of the works, but the inner spirit/Spirit is the energizer of that body in such a way that the human spirit can take no credit for what the Spirit of God produces out of the body and the HolySpirit wants no credit for what the human spirit produces out of that same body. Another distinction between the methodologies is not the presence/absence of "faith", but the actual object of the "faith" that is being exercised. As long as the actions are the outcome of dependence upon the Spirit, the "works" are the bases for the inheritance. If the actions are the outcome of dependence upon oneself (the spirit of man), they are flawed and cannot yield any approval from God when He dispenses the elements of His inheritance to His people.
C. The issue of the exclusivity of the methodologies.
1. Paul's claim is that the inheritance is rooted in an "either/or" reality, not a "both/and" reality.
2. This declared exclusivity means that there is no approved connection, or interaction, between the methodologies. Law excludes Promise just as Promise excludes Law.
3. In the case in which the inheritance is related to what human beings do, the bottom line is that the human actions are of the Spirit: He inspires the actions; He energizes the actions; and He directs the actions. Thus, obviously, men can take no credit for the actions taken by their bodies even though their inheritance is determined by those actions.
4. The human responsibility is never finally rooted in "obedience"; it is always ultimately rooted in "trust". It is true that "trust" results in "obedience" just as "unbelief" results in "disobedience", but the results are not the actual root.
D. The indisputable fact that God gave "the inheritance" to Abraham by promise.
1. Paul's argument is that however Abraham, and his Seed, come by "the inheritance", that means will never change.
2. And Paul's argument is that the immutable means is "promise".