An Exploration of Galatians: The Righteous Shall Live by Faith
Galatians 3:10-14 - We are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God!
“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
Galatians 3:10-14 NASB1995
Paul now tells us that everyone is cursed who does not abide by ALL things written in the book of the law and to perform them. This is truly an impossible task and the only justification before God is living by faith. The complex set of laws trapped the Pharisees into their false sense of smug righteousness when Jesus did things like heal someone on the Sabbath or His disciples plucked grains of wheat to eat on the Sabbath. The law was given to humans to shine a light on us of what perfection looks like, of what it means to be a holy God. We are fallen and cannot even reflect a small part of that “law” light back to Him, because we can never be perfect or like Him in any way. We cannot abide and do all of the things in the law, period. Here’s a fairly long excerpt from Enduring Word on the first part of this passage; I particularly like the comment he selected from Martin Luther and the idea that the law is the perfect “manufacturer’s recommendation”, that we are living the way we were created to live if we live by the law:
For as many as are of the works of the law: Paul here addressed those who thought that their law-performance could give them a right standing before God.
The transition from believing Abraham (Galatians 3:9) to those who are of the works of the law had a purpose. “If even the great patriarch was accepted by God only because of his faith, then it follows that lesser mortals will not succeed in producing the good deeds that would allow them to be accepted before God.” (Leon Morris)
“The hypocritical doers of the Law are those who seek to obtain a righteousness by a mechanical performance of good works while their hearts are far removed from God. They act like the foolish carpenter who starts with the roof when he builds a house.” (Martin Luther)
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: The Christians from a Jewish background who believed Gentiles should still live under the Law of Moses thought that it was a path to blessing. Paul boldly declared that instead of blessing, living under the works of the law put them under the curse.
It isn’t hard to see how these Christians believed that living under law brought blessing. They could read in the Old Testament many passages that supported this thinking. Psalm 119:1 says, Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD! Psalm 1:1-2 says, Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.
We must understand how the Law can bring blessing. First, we see that the word law is used in two senses in the Bible. Sometimes it means “The Law of Moses, with all its commands, which a man must obey to be approved by God.” Sometimes it means “God’s Word” in a very general sense. Many times when the Old Testament speaks of the law, it speaks of it in the general sense of God’s Word to us. When Psalm 119:97 says Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day, the Psalmist meant more than just the Law of Moses; he meant all of God’s Word. Seeing this, we understand how the Bible is filled with praise for the law. Secondly, we are blessed when we keep the law because we are living according to the “instruction manual” for life. There is an inherent, built-in blessing in living the way God says we should live, in fulfilling the “manufacturer’s recommendation.”
When Paul said that as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse, he didn’t mean that the law was bad or the Word of God is wrong. He simply meant that God never intended the law to be the way we find our approval before Him. He knew we could never keep the law, and so God instituted the system of atoning sacrifice along with the law. And the entire sacrificial system looked forward to what Jesus would accomplish on the cross for us.
AHA! Since we could never keep the law, God instituted the system of atoning sacrifice along with the law. You can see where this is going, of course. But before we get to that point, I also have to share a splendid item from Precept Austin quoting the late J. Vernon McGee, author of “Thru the Bible” and a renowned Presbyterian minister:
J Vernon McGee says that the important word here is ABIDE (emmeno in present tense) - “I am willing to grant that maybe there was a day in your life when you felt very good, when you were on top of the world and singing, "Everything's coming up daisies." On that day you walked with the Lord and did not stub your toe. Then you say, "Well, because I did that, God saved me." But notice what this verse says, "Cursed is every one that continueth not (abide) in all things which are written in the book of the law." How about that? Do you keep the law day and night, twenty-four hours every day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks out of the year in thought, word, and deed? If you are a human being, somewhere along the line you let down. You are not walking on top of the world all the time.
My friend, when you let down, the law can only condemn you. I know a fine preacher who is always going around saying, "Hallelujah, praise the Lord." Someone asked his wife if he was like that all the time. She said, "No, he has his bad days." We all have bad days, don't we? If you are going to put yourself under the law, my friend, and you have a good day, you are not going to be rewarded for it. Suppose I had kept all of the laws of Pasadena, which is my home city, for twenty years. Then I wait at my house for the officials of Pasadena to come and present me with a medal for keeping those laws. Let me tell you, they do not give medals for keeping the law in Pasadena. If I had kept every law for twenty years and then stole something or broke a speeding law, I would be arrested. You see, the law does not reward you. It does not give you life. The law penalizes you. Faith, my friend, gives you something. It gives you life.”
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having taken on the curse for us by being crucified. Redemption is the key to understanding this ultimate sacrifice. Enduring Word has had excellent commentary on Galatians and here is an excerpt for this passage:
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law: Because we didn’t actually do it and do it all, the law put us under a curse. But now Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the law. Redeemed has the idea of “buying back” or “purchasing out of.” It isn’t just rescuing; it is paying a price to rescue. Jesus bought us out from under the curse of the law.
Simply put, in Jesus, we aren’t cursed anymore. Galatians 3:10-12 left us all under a curse, but we are not cursed any more because Jesus bought us out from under the curse.
Redemption is an important idea. “Redemption points to the payment of a price that sets sinners free.” (Leon Morris) Redemption came from the practices of ancient warfare. After a battle the victors would often capture some of the defeated. Among the defeated, the poorer ones would usually be sold as slaves, but the wealthy and important men, the men who mattered in their own country, were held to ransom. When the people in their homeland had raised the required price, they would pay it to the victors and the captives would be set free. The process was called redemption, and the price was called the ransom.
The image took root in other areas. When a slave had his freedom purchased – perhaps by a relative, perhaps by his own diligent work and saving – this was called “redemption.” Sometimes the transaction took place at a temple, and a record was carved in the wall so everyone would forever know that this former slave was now a redeemed, free man. Or, a man condemned to death might be set free by the paying of a price, and this was considered “redemption.” Most importantly, Jesus bought us out of defeat, out of slavery, and out of a death sentence to reign as kings and priests with Him forever.
Having become a curse for us: This explains how Jesus paid the price to rescue us. Jesus became cursed on our behalf; He stood in our place and took the curse we deserved.
It stops us in our tracks to understand that the price He paid to buy us out from under the curse of the law was the price of Himself. It didn’t just cost Jesus something, even something great – it cost Jesus Himself. We know that men cursed Jesus as He hung on the cross; but that compares nothing to how He was cursed by God the Father. He made Himself the target of the curse, and set those who believe outside the target.
“Paul does not say that Christ was made a curse for Himself. The accent is on the two words, ‘for us.’ Christ is personally innocent. Personally, He did not deserve to be hanged for any crime of His own doing. But because Christ took the place of others who were sinners, He was hanged like any other transgressor.” (Martin Luther)
“Whatever sins I, you, all of us have committed or shall commit, they are Christ’s sins as if He had committed them Himself. Our sins have to be Christ’s sins or we shall perish forever.” (Martin Luther)
I think we see now why Paul is preaching such an important message to the Galatians. They are falling under the spell of those who believe that we need the laws, too, to be righteous. Rightful living comes from faith and believing God; it isn’t a pre-requisite to His grace.
I wanted to end this with another short excerpt from Precept Austin quoting theology professor emeritus (at Columbia International University) Johnny V. Miller:
When I was a teenager, I became fascinated, appalled, and grieved by the literature of the Holocaust . . . One scene that haunts me is a picture from Auschwitz. Above the entryway to the concentration camp were the words, Arbeit macht frei. The same thing stood above the camp at Dachau. It means, “work makes free”—work will liberate you and give you freedom. It was a lie—a false hope. The Nazis made the people believe hard work would equal liberation, but the promised “liberation” was horrifying suffering and even death. Arbeit macht frei. One reason that phrase haunts me is because it is the spiritual lie of this age. It is a satanic lie. It’s a religious lie. It is a false hope—an impossible dream for many people in the world. They believe their good works will be great enough to outweigh their bad works, allowing them to stand before God in eternity and say, “You owe me the right to enter into your heaven.” It is the hope of every false religion—arbeit macht frei. But it’s the love of God that liberates. It’s the blood of Jesus Christ that liberates. He died in my place, and I am free.
We have no right to heaven and cannot work our way to Him. We cannot be good enough. I recall a discussion a few years ago with a relative about salvation. She related a story about how annoyed she was when she wanted to have her son baptized (he was not an infant at this point, I believe) and the church she approached first wanted them to confess belief in Jesus and repent. That was a bridge too far. She talked about how her son was a really “good person” and she thought that should be good enough. Well, you might guess where the discussion led and she became quite frustrated (we pray for her and her son all the time). Too many in our current culture think that they are deserving of God’s Grace just because they exist. They think He is a magic king that confers wishes on people or a guardian angel that keeps them from harm (like a certain prideful soccer player who recently ended her career with an injury and she publicly said “there’s no God” because this happened to her). No, we have to believe God and have faith in His promises and His love. The blood of Jesus has liberated us!
My next devotional examines Galatians 3:15-18, God’s covenant with Abraham.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Thank you for showing us, through the law, how we can never reach holiness and perfection. Our redemption is through our Lord Jesus Christ and we are free because He took on curse that was on us. Praise be to God! Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
The personal testimony of Bruce Hurt, creator of Precept Austin is found Here.