Did Paul Just Call Believers in Christ, "The Israel of God" ?

Did Paul just call believers in Christ, “The Israel of God” ? If you have ever read the book of Galatians I hope Galatians 6:16 has left you with this question. Modern day Christians don’t often think of themselves as Israel, in fact, some are even opposed to being called Israel. So what is Paul saying in Galatians 6:16? Is he pronouncing peace and mercy on all that walk by the rule of faith, AND ethnic Israel? Or is he calling everyone who walks by the rule of faith Israel, Jew and Gentile alike? I think the answer is the latter. Paul is calling everyone who walks by the rule of faith “The Israel of God.”

If you know the book of Galatians you know Paul is seeking to: 1) defend his authority as an apostle, 2) show that salvation is by faith and not works (with circumcision primarily in view), 3) and to give some instructions on holy living that flow from faith in Christ. Judaizers in the church of Galatia were teaching that to be truly accepted by God you had to be circumcised and follow the Old Testament Law. But Paul has a lot to say to these guys that are upsetting the faith in the church at Galatia. He says these Judaizers are preaching a different gospel (Galatians 1:7-9), that they want to limit Christian freedom and put people in slavery (Galatians 2:4), that they are acting hypocritically (Galatians 2:13), that they want to flatter their listeners to make much of themselves (Galatians 4:17), that they are persecuting the followers of the Cross (Galatians 5:11), and finally that they are promoting circumcision just to avoid persecution (Galatians 6:11-13). Furthermore, Paul says that these Judaizers are relying on works of the Law and are under a curse (Galatians 3:10), as well as, they are severed from Christ if they trust in the Law (Galatians 5:2-5). As you can see Paul has nothing good to say about the gospel of circumcision these Judaizers are promoting.

To fight against the Judaizers’ false gospel, Paul engages in a careful argument that shows why faith in Christ is better, and even supersedes, the Law. He also goes on to show how the Law fits together with faith. The main idea of Galatians comes in Galatians 2:16 where Paul says, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” In Galatians 3:6 and Galatians 3:7-9 Paul then shows how Abraham himself, the father of circumcision and the nation of Israel, was actually counted righteous by his faith and not circumcision.

Next, look what Paul says about everyone who believes by faith. In Galatians 3:7 Paul says, “know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham,” and in Galatians 3:9, “Those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Galatians 3:28-29 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 4:8 says, “like Isaac [we] are children of promise.” It becomes pretty clear that Paul is arguing for faith being the determiner of who is of “Israel” and who is not. In fact this helps us counter the erroneous interpretation of Galatians 3:28-29 that is so prevalent today. Many are saying Galatians 3:28-29 is proclaiming the erasure of roles between all peoples, that everyone can do and be anything in the kingdom of God. But that is far from the truth. These verses speak in no way to the loss of gender roles between men and women in the kingdom, but rather, the inclusion of all peoples and genders by faith in Christ into “Israel,” God’s special people!

When we get to Galatians 6:16, Paul is giving one more rhetorical punch to the Judaizers. Where the Judaizers were claiming to be “the Israel of God,” Paul is saying all those that have included themselves in Christ by faith are the true “Israel of God.” They will receive peace and mercy. It is no small thing to call Christians “the Israel of God.” In fact, thinking of ourselves as Israel helps us to better understand what God desires of us as believers in Christ. If you have become a part of the “Israel of God” by faith in Christ, then you take on the responsibility of  “the Israel of God.” Our responsibility as “the Israel of God” is to make God known to the entire world by proclaiming the Gospel, and to be Holy as He is Holy.

Yes, Paul did just call believers in Christ through faith the “Israel of God.”

Some of these thoughts came from a recent sermon on Galatians 6:11-18. If you would like to listen to the whole sermon please click on the link below.


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