The apostle Paul declares that the Galatian Christians have received the grace of God when they heard the gospel message and responded in faith. It was not through the works of the law that they experienced the promise of the Spirit and had miracles worked among them. It was hearing with faith that brought these people into a covenant relationship with God so that they receive these blessings and privileges in Christ (3:1-5). Further, the scriptures also declares that it is through the hearing of faith that Gentiles would be saved. Before the Law of Moses was given, the gospel was proclaimed by the scriptures to Abraham that in him all the nations will be blessed (3:8). Therefore, it is those who are faith, not those who perform the works of the law or try to be justified by the flesh, who are blessed along with Abraham and are sons of Abraham.
The apostle Paul will continue to explain in Galatians 3 how it is that we are must be justified by faith and cannot be justified by the works of the law. In Galatians 3:10-14 Paul will explain the doctrine of justification so that the readers will understand the necessity of faith. In Galatians 3:15-29 Paul will use an illustration to prove how those who are of faith are children of Abraham and blessed with Abraham.
The Problem With Works of the Law (3:10)
The apostle Paul presses the argument against the works of the law further. Those who rely on the works of the law are under a curse (3:10). Why would trying to depend upon circumcision or only eating clean foods make one under a curse? The agitators think that it is the opposite. They are teaching that if you are not circumcised you cannot belong to the covenant and the promises. So Paul turns the tables and says that you are under a curse if you rely on these things. How can this be? Paul quotes the law itself from Deuteronomy 27:26 to prove his point.
“‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ (Deuteronomy 27:26 ESV)
Moses said this after giving the long list of curses for disobedience in Deuteronomy 27. Paul’s point is that if you go back any aspect of the Law, then you are obligated to be justified by all the Law. One portion of the law cannot justify for you must look to be justified by all of it. We see this in the history of Israel who would look to certain aspects of the law and think they were justified because they performed some of the law really well. We see Jesus repeatedly fighting this, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. They would say that they did not commit adultery. But did you lust in your heart? They would say that they loved their neighbor. But did you hate your enemy? You see that they would pick the laws that they kept and seek justification that way. The problem is that you are required to do all the law, not just some of the law. It is important for us to see that we make the same error today as Christians. We look at ourselves and say that since we did not commit sexual sin and did not steal that we are doing pretty well and we are justified before God. But we are ignoring the other teachings of the scriptures if we are trying to justify ourselves by our own righteousness before God. This path to righteousness does not work.
Law is like a MRI. It provides the diagnosis but does not solve the problem. The law shows our sins but does not show us the solution to our sins. None of God’s laws were given so that we would try to justify ourselves by them. God’s laws teach us our inability to be justified by his laws and our need for mercy from the Savior. We cannot cheat and try to be justified by one or two laws. Any attempt to justify oneself by one law means we must be justified by all its laws. Then we recognize that we are cursed because no one has lived by all that is written in the law and done them. How great is our God that salvation is not by living by all that is written in the law! We would be doomed if God left us the law and said to do them, without any hope of any other means for salvation! Therefore, Paul wants the Galatians to consider this: If everyone is cursed by the law, then why would anyone base their salvation on keeping any aspect of the law? We must see the total incompatibility of living on the basis of faith and also trying to live on the basis of law. To be circumcised is to no longer trust Christ for salvation. Instead, they are trying to live by the law and not by faith.
The Righteous Live By Faith (3:11-12)
Therefore, the righteous do not have life by the law or live through the law. The righteous have life through faith and live by faith. The apostle Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to confirm this point. We live our lives on the basis of the faithfulness of God. We are trusting in God’s promises to justify us, though we are sinners, by coming to him in faith. How sad to see that there are times when Christianity has been preached as the righteous live by doing all things written in the book of law! There is no hope that way. This is what Paul points out in verse 12. The law is not of faith. There is no hope in that method because our righteousness is not going to be found by the law. This would be like expecting healing of a disease because we had a MRI. It is the wrong tool. It is the wrong system. Faith, however, looks to what God has done in Christ for salvation, relying of God’s work rather than one’s own. We are proclaiming a hopeless system to people if this is what we are telling them that the righteous live by doing all things written in the book of the law. No wonder people become discouraged in Christ. No wonder people doubt their salvation. We need to help people see the law and their utter failure before it so that they will turn to Jesus and depend upon him for salvation. We need the law to see our sin, so that we have the appropriate diagnosis that we are utterly lost in our sins and need Christ as our surgeon to cut these sins out for us (cf. Colossians 2:12).
Redemption Through The Cross (3:13)
So we are doomed for we have not done all that is written in the book of law. That is the diagnosis for all people. “No one is justified before God by the law” (3:11). But Christ has redeemed us from this curse. We are under the curse of God’s law because we have not done what God has told us to do. No one has obeyed the law that God has given. The Law of Moses was given to show the world through Israel’s failure that even if God grants every privilege and blessing, you cannot keep all of God’s requirements. Therefore, the curse of law falls on every individual. Paul said it this way to the Roman Christians:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. (Romans 5:12 ESV)
But Christ has redeemed us. Redemption is a picture of buying something back. It was a word used of slaves that they would be purchased out of their slavery. We have been bought out of our slavery to sin by Christ. Christ has redeemed us. How has Christ redeemed us? Paul explains that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Now, there is a temptation to fail to read the rest of this sentence. Many writers and teachers stop here and say that Christ took our curse of sin upon himself. This is what Martin Luther said of this text:
“The whole emphasis is on the phrase ‘for us.’ For Christ is innocent so far as His own Person is concerned; therefore He should not have been hanged from the tree. But because, according to the Law, every thief should have been hanged, therefore, according to the Law of Moses, Christ Himself should have been hanged; for He bore the person of a sinner and a thief—and not of one but of all sinners and thieves. For we are sinners and thieves, and therefore we are worthy of death and eternal damnation. But Christ took all our sins upon Himself, and for them He died on the cross…. He is not acting in His own person now. Now He is not the Son of God, born of the Virgin. But He is the sinner, who has and bear the sins of Paul, the former blasphemer, persecutor, and assaulter; of Peter, who denied Christ; of David, who was an adulterer and a murderer, and who caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord. In short, He has and bears all the sins of all men in His body—not in the sense that He has committed them but in the sense that He took these sins, committed by us, upon His own body, in order to make satisfaction for them with His own blood.” (Luther, Galatians, 26:277)
While Luther says many things correctly, there are some critical errors that have influenced the way we look at our redemption. Please look at verse 13 carefully and notice that Paul does not say that Christ became a curse by taking our curse. Paul does not say that the curse we have on us for our sins was transferred to Christ. Look carefully at how Christ became a curse for us. “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Paul is very careful in his language. Christ became a curse for us, not because he was under the curse of the law nor because he bore the same curse. How could the only person who ever did everything written in the book of the law be subject to the curse of the law? He is not subject to that curse. Rather, Christ became a curse for us because he was crucified. Christ undertook a different curse and by taking this curse, he redeems us from the curse of the law. This perfectly fits the picture of redemption that Paul uses here and the scriptures use repeatedly to describe how we have been set free from sin. Redemption means that a price was paid to set the slave free. What was the price that Christ paid so that we would be set free from the curse of the law? The price paid was the cross. Dying on a tree was a curse in and of itself, according to Deuteronomy 21:23. By volunteering for this manner of death, the cross lifted the curse of the law from upon us. Jesus did not become for us a lawbreaker, as Luther wrote. Rather, Jesus became for us the sinless Lamb who was sacrificed on the cross to set us free. Paul does not say that the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus instead of us, but that our redemption was purchased when Jesus was hung on that cross.
What The Cross Accomplished (3:14)
Verse 14 tells us what happened when Jesus died on the cross. “In Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles.” This has been the point of this chapter thus far. The blessing of Abraham comes to those who are of faith (3:9). It is those who are of faith that are the offspring of Abraham (3:7). So also here in verse 14. We receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. The promises given to Abraham do not come through circumcision. That is not what Gentiles needed to do to belong to the family of God and receiving the blessings of being God’s children. Faith is what is required to belong to the family of God and receive the blessings. The promise of the Spirit and the blessing of Abraham is the same promise. We can see this in the prophets as well.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.” (Isaiah 44:3–5 ESV)
Notice the Hebrew parallelism in verse 3. “My Spirit upon your offspring” is the same as “my blessing on your descendants.” The blessing to Abraham is the promise of the Holy Spirit. Please consider Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. Peter tells them in Acts 2:38-39 to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the promise is to them, to their children, and to those who are far off (the Gentiles). Peter proclaimed the same message salvation and blessings were available to those who came to Jesus in faith by repenting and being baptized.
Through the cross Christ has brought us the blessings of Abraham. We have not attained to these blessings by our righteousness. The agitators used Abraham to prove the need for circumcision. Paul, however, used Abraham to show that circumcision is not part of the promise to the world. Since the Gentiles have received the promise of the Holy Spirit, they enjoy the blessings of Abraham. The scriptures preached the gospel to Abraham as recorded in Genesis 12:3 and Christ brought that gospel blessing to the world through the cross.
What an encouragement to faith! No one is justified before God by the law. We need to depend on the Lord to save us by faith. We see what God has done to confirm our faith. Jesus died on the cross to redeem us from the curse. Now the blessings and promises of God can flow to us if we will come to Jesus in faith. The righteous live by faith. Do not try to justify yourself. Put your faith in God to justify you. Submit your life to the Lord and be redeemed from your sinful ways through the blood of Jesus.