Back to 3:16 – Your reason for hope (1 Peter)

sunrise for hope1 Peter 3:14-16 (NIV)
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  

Greetings fellow bloggers,

It is nearly three years since I stalled in my exploration of the Three Sixteens, but today is the day to jump back in. With only four more of these 3:16 verses to go, perhaps I will make it to Revelation by Christmas! (If you missed all the earlier posts, on Matthew 3:16 through to James 3:16, then I’d encourage you to go back to the start and check them out.)

It is truly astounding the way such rich theology is anchored at this point in nearly every New Testament book. Admittedly, the more memorable verse sometimes does fall at 3:15 or 3:17, but this one starts in 15 and carries on.

Firstly, some context. In Chapter 3, Peter has been writing about submission to Christ and to each other, about our witness, and suffering in doing good. Verse 14 says, if we are doing what is right and suffering for it it, we should not fear the threats and slander of mere humans. These should be of no consequence to us (which is much easier said than done, right?). In fact, Peter says we are blessed/rewarded for the suffering we must endure, as we seek to live a holy life. This right behaviour ‘in Christ‘ (done in his strength and for his sake) is further described in verse 16. Other people are going to speak maliciously against us, but Peter says that when we act in good conscience, the slanderers who criticise our good behaviour will ultimately be put to shame. That’s tough for them, but good for us. (However, you certainly wouldn’t want to be doing ‘good things’ with that motivation in your heart – to shame others!)

So, what is the heart of the matter in this 3:16?

As I said before, verse 16 begins in 15, and it starts with a big BUTBut in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. In the midst of suffering and slander, revere Christ. This is Peter’s solution.

The presence of the BUT tells me that our natural inclination is to do just the opposite. Our natural reaction is NOT to revere Christ as Lord. Instead, we hold the opinions and power of mere humans as being more important than that of Christ. We are naturally afraid of living in a way that brings suffering for following Christ (verse 14). That is the precisely the way the World lives –  fearing one another, and the power that others’ have over us, yet constantly seeking the approval of those very people.

That’s why Peter has to say, “But . . “ do this instead! Honour Christ. Fear Christ.

Rather than fearing Man, we Christ-followers are to revere Christ as Lord, to recognise that He is the Lord of this universe and He holds ultimate power. Because He will Judge each of us, He is the right person to fear. And when we fear the right thing, everything else falls into place. When we fear the Lord, the suffering that brings blessing for us also brings hope and peace!

This is what Peter alludes to in verse 14, which is a reference to Isaiah 8:12-15:
12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (NLT)

In the fear of the Lord there is refuge and sanctuary. In fearing the Lord we find peace and confidence (we are not frightened), because we revere the true power! Isn’t that astounding?

Perhaps it is only when we patiently suffer for Christ that we find the strength and opportunity to express the HOPE that is in us.

What an encouraging bunch of verses we have here, which remind us that our strength comes from Christ! The meat in the sandwich (verse 15) is honouring or revering Christ, which brings us hope and a readiness to share the hope. This hope allows us to cope with the suffering wrapped around our hope, as we live for Christ in a world that despises him, and us.

Ultimately Peter’s message is this:
As you live for Christ, you will suffer – but you will be blessed and strengthened in your hope as you honour Christ as Lord of your life.  

That sounds like a pretty significant message to take away.
Thanks for another great 3:16, Peter!

(Note: If you have ever wondered how we got chapters and verses in the bible, you can read about it here.)

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‘Christ in us’ rescues our relationships (James 3:16)

Yes, the title is a bit of a mouthful. I was also considering “The wisdom that saves us from our destructive tendencies in human relationships.” Admittedly that is a tad too long, but this is the very essence of James 3:16. “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
Continuing the Three Sixteen series we see here in James how our relationships suffer apart from Christ. Our fallen nature pits us against one another as natural enemies. We hold each other with suspicion, careful to ensure someone else is not better than us, or has better stuff (or people in their life) than us. You see this attitude play out clearly when two toddlers meet and cautiously approach each other for the first time. Can I really trust you? As adults we try to veil our suspicion, and often do it quite well, but the bent of envy and selfish ambition runs deep in our hearts. We can trace this way back to the vulnerability Adam and Eve felt once they recognized their nakedness. There was a need to cover up, to be on the defensive against the ambitions of others. Our relationships suffer as a result. Yet this is the wisdom of the world we live in.

James shows us another way, the way of wisdom from above. Let’s read the verse in context below:
James 3:14-18 NIV
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

These are such challenging things to actually live out, but when the peace of Christ comes to rule in our hearts we can have true peace with each other. We can rejoice with those who rejoice and express genuine love and care for others.This is what makes the Christian community so unique, so attractive to the world. Sure, we are not perfect, but if Christ is in us he cannot but shine through our relationships which lack envy and selfish ambition. In Christ we can know some measure of sincere love, through the humility of our brothers and sisters who are also being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Let’s work to heed the warning of James’ 3:16 and yet also rejoice! The indwelling Saviour has sweetened our human existence beyond measure. Praise be to Him!

Don’t reject the Voice of truth (Hebrews 3:16)

voice of truth“And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt?”
(Hebrews 3:16)

It has been about 5 months since I’ve written a post in the Three Sixteens series. (For my newer readers, this is my exploration of the strangely significant verses that appear in nearly all New Testament books at the point of Chapter 3, verse 16). This Hebrews 3:16 packs a great punch, bringing a serious warning from Israel’s history, that still challenges us today. Though the Israelites were rescued from slavery in Egypt, saw amazing miracles and plagues, pillars of fire and smoke, a sea that opened, Egyptians destroyed, manna from heaven, the tablets of the law – and though they heard the very voice of God – these people persisted in their desire to rebel. They hardened their hearts to their rescuing God. They turned their back on Him, in unbelief.
How then could we who have heard and understood the immensity of God’s gracious rescue in Jesus Christ – how could we persist in unbelief? How do we avoid falling into unbelief and hardening our hearts?
The preceding verses suggest that God uses the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ to sustain us in the faith:
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Every day, today, we need to pray for and encourage one another. Sin is deceitful – the Deceiver works to destory our faith.
We must help one another from falling to unbelief (though might I add to that statement, that God is Sovereign and faithful to us. He is committed to his transformation project, making us like His Son. Consider Philippians 1:6 – “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”)
The consequences of hardening our hearts against the One mighty, true and living God are not pretty (to say the least). Let’s encourage one another, that we might keep our hearts and minds softened to the pure grace of the gospel.
Let’s heed the warning of this 3:16, the warning of history.

One Casting Crowns song, The Voice of Truth, reminds me of the need to hold to the truth of Christ amongst all the competing voices that call to us in this world.  We must choose to listen and believe the voice of our Shepherd.

“But the voice of truth tells me a different story
And the voice of truth says “Do not be afraid!”
And the voice of truth says “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.”

The blessed and God-breathed Book (2 Timothy 3:16)

GodBreathed_slide1x_365_y_273This is one of the most breath-taking Three Sixteens, one which you may have already committed to memory. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is that great statement of assurance about the Bible, the God-breathed book we build our faith upon.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (ESV)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

I recently read through 2 Timothy with a friend, over several weeks and many great coffees! The whole letter is a call to persevere in the faith, despite persecutions and difficult people. These are (possibly) Paul’s parting and most important words. He wants Timothy to stick to the truth of the Scriptures, which he’d been taught from his earliest days. (For Timothy this would mean the Old Testament scriptures as well as the teachings of the apostles.) There are so many treasures in this 3:16 (and 17), but I’ll focus on just three points:

1. The Word is God-breathed:  Just as we speak with our actual breath, which forms and carries the sounds of our words, so it is with God’s breath. He has exhaled these words, he has breathed them into the minds and hearts of people who have faithfully written them down, carried along by the Holy Spirit who always does the Father’s will. How else could this extraordinary book, penned by so many authors across millenia, have such consistency and unity of message? This is His Word to us and he has ensured that his breath, his voice, will continue to be heard as we await the return of Christ, the Word of God.

I love what Peter Blowes says about the way the words of the omnipresent and eternal God apply across all time and space:
“. . . God had every reader of Holy Scripture in mind at the time of its ‘exhalation’. This means not only that God’s word is inspired and universally applicable, but also that, in it, God is speaking presently to every particular reader (or hearer) of his Word.”
(2011, “Reading the Bible”, Matthias Minizine). 

This leads to my second point.

2. Reading the Word is the most profitable thing we can do.
More than the early morning coffee, jog, paper, news update, more than crossing things off our to do list, more than any amount of television viewing, study or social media, more than relaxing with the family, more than making money .  . . investing in the Word of God is THE most profitable thing we can do. The world shouts at us, calling for our attention, telling us that those ancient words are dead, irrelevant and useless. But as we immerse ourselves more and more in his Word we understand why reading it is the most profitable thing we can do. By reading we come to know our immortal, invisible, all wise, good and gracious God. The Spirit works in us and we grow in confidence of his power, his might and the reality of his work in our world and hearts. We grow in the certainty of our salvation won in Christ.

3. The Word is wonderfully sufficient, equipping us for every good work.
The Bible equips us not by containing enough lists of do’s and don’ts to train us how to do good in every situation. This is the world’s view of the “good book”, but it shouldn’t be ours. Christ has fulfilled the law. Instead the Word of God equips us by making us more like Christ – who is entirely and always about the Father’s good work. The Word changes us from the inside out and drives our behaviour. This behaviour becomes good work, good fruit (like those good works prepared in advance for us, which Paul described in Ephesians 2:8-10). John Piper explains well:
Bearing fruit in “every good work” (see Colossians 1:10 ) means that it comes out on the branches of your life naturally from something that has changed inside. And what has changed is that you are dead to the law as a set of lists to constrain from the outside, and are now united to Jesus Christ in a relationship of joyful trust so that when he speaks—even speaks some of that same law—it comes from within as the desire of your heart. . . .The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day.” (John Piper from Desiring God)

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bible-28

The mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16)

mystery_of_godlinessAs we arrive at 1 Timothy 3:16 (in the Three Sixteen series) Paul tells Timothy about the importance of godliness in the church, the church being the pillar and foundation of the faith. The church has been entrusted with the Gospel, with proclaiming Christ to the world. Paul lays down guidelines for selecting overseers and deacons in the church, for teaching, for prayer. Then he includes this apparently random summary statement about the great mystery of Christ:

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs* is great:
He appeared in the flesh,

    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.”

This is a great summary about Jesus, his life and purpose, and makes a great 3:16 verse! But Paul is actually quoting lines from a well known hymn of the early church. This commentary has some good insights about the relevance of Paul’s words:

Now Paul’s citing of part of what was surely a well-known hymn in the course of writing instructions for behavior in the church is to bring his readers to the point of corporate response. The hymn itself, like many in the New Testament, celebrates Christ’s appearance and ministry on earth. The introductory phrase is a call to consider the implications of this grand event, to evaluate our conduct on the basis of what we confess. . . . Consequently, this phrase ‘the mystery of godliness’ forms a connection between the appearance of Christ, which the hymn celebrates, and Christian living: the mystery is the essence of godliness. It was critical for Paul to remind the readers of this principle, for the false teachers were successfully driving a wedge between belief and behavior with damaging results. In our day of institutionalized atheism and the popular heresy of humanism, the church faces the same danger. Even if dangers of this sort seem remote, we easily forget the practical implications of what we believe and profess to be true.” 

So this is a great verse not just because it celebrates Christ’s work, but because it connects his glorious saving work with our behaviour. We are to walk worthy of Christ’s saving work for us.  His work is finished, we don’t have to earn it! But we are called to live godly lives that point to Him as we, the Church, safeguard and pass on the Truth of His Saving work.

(*Note: if you look at other versions of this verse you may find that it simply says “the mystery of godliness” or the “mystery of our faith” – but the newest NIV translation seems to have hit the proverbial nail by phrasing it “the mystery from which true godliness springs”. True godliness will grow in us when we have build our life on Christ!)

The Peace of Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

Peace-With-God“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.”
2 Thessalonians 3:16

There is much comfort from the promises of the Bible which tell us that if we are in Christ we have forgiveness, we have peace with God. (Romans 5:1, Romans 14:17, Philippians 4:7, John 14:27, Galatians 5:22, Colossians 3:15)
This next verse in the Three Sixteen series points us to Jesus, the Lord of peace, the Prince of Peace. If Peace were a country then Jesus is its royal head of State! And from Jesus this peace flows in every direction, at all times and in many different situations.

But why do we need this peace of Christ? Peace is something you only need when there is a time of war, stress, unrest, anxiety, a lack of peace. And such is our natural unpeaceful state apart from Christ.

The peace He brings works on 3 levels:
1. Peace with God.
When we bow to him as Lord we move from enmity with our Creator to a state of peace. Our sin, that the Holy one cannot look upon, has been dealt with in Christ. God’s wrath is removed. We are at peace with Him. This is the greatest treasure in the whole wide world: peace with God! In Christ it is as though a legal or political declaration has been stamped on us. A peace treaty has been signed for us by Christ. He has made peace for us by His blood shed at the Cross.

2. Peace in ourselves.
We need the peace of Christ not just for forgiveness but for each moment. We must choose to let the peace of Christ reign on the throne of our hearts, rather than our sinful desires. Even if we are in Christ we can still lack a sense of peace, due to the ‘wars’ that rage both around and within us in this fallen world. Sinful desires compete within us. But Jesus offers us peace for the moment, applicable to different times and places. Anxiety about health, the future, our children, a car accident, an exam….all can be met with the soothing balm of peace given by Christ. We can respond with a quiet confidence. He is our peace, and He gives us peace. He gives us purpose and wisdom to deal with our innermost conflicts. Sometimes just remembering the name of Christ is enough to bring peace to anxious hearts. He is an anchor for our souls, a mighty fortress, a refuge.

3. Peace with others.
Christian brothers and sisters still have their troubles and conflicts, despite their best intentions and the fact they are united in Christ. In this area the peace of Christ is also called on, to help us live what we are, to sort out our differences and make peace between us.

2 Corinthians 13:11 NLT
“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”

So today whatever troubles are with you, look to the Lord of Peace, and He will give you rest.

Sharing the rich, indwelling Word (Colossians 3:16)

Bible-28“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

I have really been looking forward to this verse in the Three Sixteens series, because it identifies a strong connection between music and grace, my two favourite topics! When we make the effort to speak or sing the ‘Word of Christ’ to one another, we are showing grace because it serves to build others up in their faith. This is such an important yet sometimes overlooked aspect of praising God together. The horizontal encouragement that is gained from enthusiastic congregational praise is priceless! Praising God brings us untold blessings, both individually and together as the growing body of Christ.

But what is the ‘word of Christ’, you may ask?

Put simply, Paul most likely means the ‘teachings of Christ’, the doctrine of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which at first was passed on as spoken words. This exhortation comes in the context of a letter which emphasises the person and work of Christ, a message that is centred on the Word of Truth, the good news of the gospel of Jesus.

This WORD is to have its gracious and glorious way in our lives, both individually and in community, as Christ shapes us to be more like himself. When we gather to listen and bow to the authority of Christ’s living Word, His word dwells richly in us. This Word indwells us by the Spirit. Such a glorious but unseen mystery this is!

John Piper speaks about the important role God has given each of us, to be speaking in a way that helps others persevere in the faith. In his message on Hebrews 3, Piper focuses on verse 13, where the writer says we must “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

“God has designed his church so that its members endure to the end in faith by means of giving and receiving faith-sustaining words from each other. You and I are the instruments by which God preserves the faith of his children. Perseverance is a community project. Just like God is not going to evangelize the world without human, faith-awakening voices, neither is he going to preserve his church without human faith-sustaining voices. And clearly from the words, “exhort one another” (verse 13), it means all of us, not just preachers. We depend on each other to endure in faith to the end.”  Read more

We Christians are to be tactfully and thoughtfully challenging one another with the Word of Christ. Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is but one way to do that… But what a great way to do it! And this is why it is so important to choose songs with lyrics that are true to the Living Word of Christ, rather than just songs that create a warm fuzzy feeling amongst us, or have a catchy rhythm.

How good it is that our times of corporate praise and worship give opportunity to speak the words of Christ to one another in song. Such an encouragement God’s people can be to one another!

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Holding on to what we already have in Christ – Philippians 3:16

walkToday we have arrived at Philippians 3:16 in the Three Sixteens series. Let’s start by looking at the verse in a few different versions:
But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. NLT
Only let us live up to what we have already attained. NIV
In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Holman

At first glance it seems this 3:16 has little content to grab hold of and provides little encouragement. But if you think on it a while, possibly the reverse is true! There is huge encouragement here, as Paul points us to what we already have in Christ, urges us to keep hold of it – and live up to it!
So what have we already attained?
In verses 8-11 we find out what Paul is referring to as he urges us to “hold on” and “live up to” the privileges we have IN Christ:
“. . . I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Knowing Christ surpasses all else. If we are in Christ we are secure, we are united with Him in his sufferings, death and resurrection. We are not self-righteous, but we have the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith! We are right with God, we are holy and acceptable to Him because we are IN Christ. A great analogy for this is being clothed in Christ’s “robes of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10, Revelation). We are wrapped up in Christ’s perfection, our sins are completely covered. When God the Father looks at us He sees the righteousness of Christ his perfect Son.

What great progress we have made – if we are found IN Christ. Let’s live up to it! We don’t have to attain or achieve anything. This is pure grace! I love what the Holman translators have done with the verse: we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. We should live up to the truth that we have the righteousness that comes from God – so let’s live in a manner worthy of what we have attained. Let’s be “killing sin” as John Piper puts it, by the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word).

Blessings to you as you seek to live up to Christ’s righteousness today. How will you go about that?

“Come as you are and He will cleanse you. You are guilty; your pardon is of God” –Charles H. Spurgeon

Powered by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16)

revival_fire-817x1024Happy to say I am finally back to continue this series on the Three Sixteen (3:16) verses. (If you have recently joined us you might like to check out my posts on Matthew through to Galatians. Click here).
Today we have arrived at Ephesians; verse 16 is the first sentence below:
 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19 NLT)

If you ever needed a verse to print out and stick on the fridge, this is the one!
It is just such a mystery the way the Spirit works to deliver this inner strength. Who could ever write anything to adequately describe the work of the Spirit in us? (Probably not me, but I’ll have a go anyway.)
The Spirit’s presence, gifted to us when we receive Christ, brings us peace, union with Christ and power, supernatural power  – inner strength! This power is glorious and unlimited. The Spirit gives us the inner strength to say yes to God and no to sin and selfishness. He gives us the strength to own the name of our Saviour in the face of ridicule and persecution. The Spirit strengthens by leading us to the fullness of grace and strength in Christ. He does not seek glory for Himself. He empowers us so that the glory goes to God.

The Spirit’s work is not about providing a warm fuzzy or sentimental experience of God’s love. His task is to make Christ at home in our hearts, to enlighten the eyes of our hearts, so that we can KNOW God, making us complete with all the fullness of life and power in Christ.
This is the power of the Spirit of Christ! This inner strength requires and supplies the knowledge of truth in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6 – “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

We should also remember that this gracious gift (of the ‘inner strength of the Spirit’) fulfills the big OT promise that came through Ezekiel, that God would deal with our sin problem once and for us. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Praise be to God for this next great 3:16 reminder of how he has dealt with our sin, in Christ, through Christ and for Christ. We get the present and eternal benefits of His sovereign and merciful plan.
We are powered by the Spirit!
How’s your battery running lately?
(Perhaps we could talk more about recharging at another time.)

Coheirs with the Child of the Promise (Galatians 3:16)

Unlike other memorable Three Sixteens in this series, here in Galatians the 3:16 verse is no piece of cake! It is perhaps quite confusing. It talks of the promises to Abraham (land, people, fame, blessing) which you usually think of as being received by many descendants. God made the promised family group descending from Abraham into a great, blessed nation. Through this nation all the world would be blessed. Yet here Paul seems to be saying ONE person receives the promise. Have a look:

Galatians 3:14-18 (NLT)
Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. 15 Dear brothers and sisters, here’s an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or amend an irrevocable agreement, so it is in this case. 16 God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say “to his children” as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says “to his child”—and that, of course, means Christ. 17 This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. 18 For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.

The Scripture referred to here in verse 16 is Genesis 12:7 and 13:15, where God promises he will give this land to Abraham’s “offspring”, or in Hebrew “seed”.
Now like me you may be taken at this point with the fact that “seed” could be used as a singular noun, or a plural one. Perhaps Paul was using this grammatical anomaly to his advantage (as some commentaries would suggest), playing on the “seed/seeds” confusion to make a point to his Jewish audience. Just because they were Jews, one of the many “seeds” who had sprouted up as part of Abraham’s family tree, this did not automatically make them a true child of Abraham, a true child of this promise. Afterall, these were the “foolish Galatians” (3:1) who were hoping to receive the salvation Christ won for many (by his death and resurrection) by their own good works – by keeping the Jewish law. Paul says no. Don’t go back to trying to keep the law! You must be IN Christ, who is the true heir of this promise.

This is the certainty we have. Christ and only Christ is the way of blessing, open to all who receive him as their Lord and Saviour, regardless of their racial credentials. Through Christ many can come into God’s family, not by their own merit, but by Christ’s. Jesus is the ONE descendant from Abraham who makes it possible for us to receive the GRACE of this promise. He is the promised Seed, who fulfilled all the promises of God, promises to Adam and Eve, promises to Abraham, promises to King David – promises made through Isaiah of a suffering servant King who would give his life as a ransom for many. The Promise was to Abraham, and it is fulfilled in Christ. We must be IN Christ, not just in Abraham’s family tree, to be co-heirs of the Promise, with Christ. This is a remarkable reminder of God’s grace to us IN Christ. In Him we receive the undeserved favour of the Son who should ALONE receive the blessings of the Father. But we also receive these blessings IN Christ, if we are IN Christ.

Let’s continue to rest in His righteousness and not our own.

Ps. If you are intrigued by that CD cover image at the top, you can click here to find out more about the album.