The Curse of the Law (Phil Johnson)

Galatians 3:10-14   |   Sunday, January 27, 2013   |   Code: 2013-01-27-PJ

This morning we'll be looking at Galatians 3:10-14. We're picking up where we left off last week, so let me give a brief bit of review and background about this passage for anyone who may have missed last week. I won't make this long, but we need to do a short review:

      Paul is writing to a group of churches in the region of Galatia, in Asia Minor—which is modern-day Turkey. These were most likely churches Paul himself had founded on one of his early missionary journeys. It is clear that he knew many of the people in these churches well, and they knew him. He writes to them with familiarity. And sometimes that translates into blunt candor, and even sarcasm. But even that reflects how passionately Paul cares about these people and their spiritual well-being.

      Paul was very concerned about the doctrinal drift of these churches, because they were being influenced by a group of false apostles and heretics who were skilled and persuasive teachers—but they were teaching a different gospel than anything the Galatians had ever heard from the apostle Paul.

      And the bottom-line difference between the apostle Paul and these false teachers was this: the false teachers insisted that Gentile converts to Christ could not simply become Christians and retain their Gentile identity. They said they also needed to become Jews, be circumcised, obey all the Old Testament ceremonial and dietary laws, and (in effect) live under the terms of the Mosaic covenant. Because of what they taught, the false teachers are usually called the Judaizers. What they were doing, in essence, was trying to make the Gentile church live under Jewish law rather than in the freedom of Christ's gospel.

      And Paul says that's wrong. It's not just subtly wrong or slightly askew; it is damnable heresy. And Paul practically started this whole epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 1:8-9) by pronouncing a double curse against these false teachers and anyone else who would bring a message that in any way modifies the gospel Paul had already taught in Galatia.

      Now this was not any kind of territorialism on Paul's part. He didn't write this letter just because he got his feelings hurt when someone besides him began to have an influence in the Galatian churches. This was not a petty turf war for personal reasons between Paul and other teachers. This had everything to do with the purity of the gospel and the centrality of Christ's work, and nothing whatsoever to do with anything trivial or personal between Paul and the Judaizers.

      So in the first two chapters of Galatians, Paul recites the history of how he had received the truth of the gospel—not by word of mouth from other disciples, but directly from Christ Himself. In chapter 2 especially, he goes into vivid detail recounting how he had defended the simplicity of the gospel, even though (in both Jerusalem and Antioch) this had caused some temporary conflicts between Paul and other church leaders. At one point, Paul even describes how he had rebuked Peter publicly because in order to please some overly-scrupulous Jewish leaders from the Jerusalem church, Peter had separated himself from Gentiles and refused to eat with them—as if they were ceremonially unclean. Paul said Peter's behavior was clouding the whole issue of the gospel, and he rebuked him in front of everyone. Again, this wasn't just about manners or social diversity; it was about keeping the gospel message clear, and not allowing anything to cloud the grace and freedom of our salvation in Christ.

      And virtually every verse of this epistle, right up to this point, has essentially been aimed at showing that the gospel message is no secondary, unimportant, or trivial matter. It's the most crucial aspect of Christian doctrine, and if you get the gospel wrong or blur it at any key point, you ruin the very core of Christianity. That's why every point of truth that is essential to the gospel is a doctrine worth fighting for.

      And starting at the beginning of chapter 3, Paul homes in on the one central doctrine he is so keen to defend. It is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is the same principle that was brought to the fore during the Protestant Reformation. Sola fide. Faith alone as the instrument of our justification before God.

      So the first two chapters of Galatians are filled with exhortation and a review of Paul's personal history in the ministry of the gospel. Then starting in chapter 3, we have a systematic defense and explanation of the doctrine of justification by faith.

      We are already well into the doctrinal section. We spent one week on verses 1-5, where Paul starts with a series of pointed questions designed to get the Galatians to face the fact that from the beginning, their faith in Christ has been all about Christ's work on their behalf, and not their work for Him. The gospel is not a message about something sinners are supposed to do for Christ; it's good news about what He has already done for them. The proper focus of the gospel is therefore biblical, historical, factual, faith-based, and practical; not mystical, fictitious, theoretical, works-based or pietistic.

      Now, last week we spent an hour in Galatians 3, looking at verses 6-9, where Paul deals with the Old Testament example of Abraham, who, according to Genesis 15:6, "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Paul then makes the point that the true heirs of Abraham are not those who are physically circumcised, but those who share Abraham's faith in God.

      And that is where we left off.

      Now, this point Paul makes about Abraham brings up a contrast between two covenants that becomes a running theme in Galatians for the next two chapters. And Paul sort of backs into the discussion of two covenants here with a section that contrasts the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant with the curses of the Mosaic law. And I want you to see the transition. Notice: the end of verse 8 says the gospel was preached to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." That's a reference to a promise that is repeated in Genesis every time the Abrahamic covenant is affirmed. You'll find it at least five times in Genesis:

      Genesis 12:3, at the institution of God's covenant with Abraham, we read: "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 18:18: "Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him." Genesis 22:18: "In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." Genesis 26:4: "In your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed." And Genesis 28:14: "In you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed."

      That repeated promise of blessing to all nations (not just Israel) was the central promise of the Abrahamic covenant. And Paul is saying it's a promise of salvation. It is a pledge that God is going to show grace to all nations and families; not just Abraham's direct descendants. This is the gospel in embryonic form, and that is what Paul himself means in verse 8, where he says the Scripture preached the gospel to Abraham. At the heart of the Abrahamic covenant was this great promise that is ultimately fulfilled in the gospel message. The promise at the heart of the Abrahamic covenant is the seed that blossoms into the gospel message, and it runs through the entire Old Testament.

      Now, Paul says, the law, which was the centerpiece of the Mosaic covenant, is something entirely different. At the core of the law's message is a curse, or rather a series of curses, that condemn everyone who lives under the law. I'm going to read our passage for this morning (verses 10-14). But I am gong to start with verse 9, so that you can see how the shift from the idea of a blessing to the reality of a curse defines the transition Paul makes here between Abraham and Moses:

So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."

11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith."

12 But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them."

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"—

14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Now this is actually quite a simple passage. Again, our passage for today actually starts with verse 10 and runs through verse 14—five verses. But I also read verse 9 to give you a sense of the transition Paul is making in this contrast between the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant (which is what we looked at last time) and the curse of the Mosaic law, which is what today's passage is about.

      And if you see that this is all about the curse of the law, this is an easy passage to make sense of. It's one of those sections that practically outlines itself, because in the first four verses, Paul quotes from four different passages in the Old Testament. Each Old Testament reference makes a different point, so there are four distinct points in the progression of his logic. And it's a very simple matter to follow the argument he makes—but not so simple to alliterate the points or make them perfectly parallel. So I have four points, but they don't rhyme. However, each of the four points is associated with one of the Old Testament verses Paul quotes from in this section.

      Let's follow what he is saying. First point (write this down):


1. Deuteronomy 27:26—The law puts us under a curse

      God's covenant with Abraham had at its heart a promise of blessing. The Mosaic law, by contrast, is utterly dominated by an absolute curse. And to make this point, Paul cites a familiar saying: "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." That's a direct quote from Deuteronomy 27:26: "Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them." In other words, the curse is part of the law itself. It absolutely condemns everyone who fails to obey every word of the law.

      By the way, this verse comes from a very interesting episode in Israel's history, and I want you to see it. So put a marker here in Galatians 3, and turn to Deuteronomy 27. While you are turning there, here's the background of Deuteronomy 27:

      The Israelites were about to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land after forty years in the wilderness. God ordered them to conduct a formal ceremony to ratify and memorialize Moses' law as the ruling principle in all of Israel. As soon as they had crossed the Jordan, they were to erect large stones and whitewash them, and write on them all the words of the law. This was not just the Ten Commandments, but probably the entire book of Deuteronomy. Then they were to stage a massive ceremony between two mountains, where half the tribes would stand on the side of mount Gerizim and pronounce a series of blessings on the people of God, and the other half of the tribes would stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce twelve curses against the people of God.

      Verse 11:

That day Moses charged the people, saying,

12 "When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.

13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.

So they were like a great antiphonal choir between twin mountains—half the nation reciting blessings and the other half pronouncing curses. And after every curse or blessing, all the people responsively would say together, Amen.

      Now the interesting thing is that Scripture makes no record of the blessings; only the curses. There are twelve curses spelled out in verses 15-26. You know how we refer to the Ten Commandments as "the decalogue," meaning ten laws? This section is sometimes called "the dodecalogue," meaning "twelve laws." And they are actually a series of curses. Specifically, they are curses against the kinds of sins that are often committed in secret. God is saying to the people of Israel: "You may think you can sin in secret and no one will ever know. I will know, and I want you to pronounce a formal, public ceremonial curse on all those kinds of sins, to indicate that you understand the severity of breaking the law."

      And we won't got through all the curses listed in this chapter, but the final curse, verse 26, is absolutely comprehensive and escape-proof: "'Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'" And that is the curse Paul quotes in Galatians 3:10.

      Now, turn back to Galatians 3:10, and bear in mind that Paul is talking about a formal curse, pronounced at the Lord's behest, in a public and ceremonial way, by the people of Israel at the very point in their history when they entered the Promised Land. That's what he means by the curse of the law. It is a curse instituted by God, affirmed and formally ratified with a ceremonial amen by the people of Israel themselves.

      Now look at Paul's point in Galatians 3:10: "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'" Let's sort out what this means.

      Notice, first of all, the phrase, "all who rely on works of the law." If you are using the King James Version, the New King James Version, or the New American Standard Bible, the phrase in your translation is, "as many as are of the works of the law." The phrase "the works of the law" has a very specific meaning here in Galatians. Paul uses it three times in one verse, Galatians 2:16, where he makes it absolutely clear what he is talking about. To be "of the works of the law" is to be trying to justify yourself in God's eyes through legal obedience. This is all about the doctrine of justification.

      Look at Galatians 2:16 again: "We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." Three times he uses that expression, "by works of the law," and each time it is to stress the fact that you cannot be justified by legal obedience.

      Then in Galatians 3, before you get to verse 10, Paul twice uses the expression "works of the law." And each time the point is the same. Verse 2: "Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?" In other words, did you become a Christian because you obeyed the law, or because you believed the gospel? And the answer is obvious. Again, he is stressing the fact that they were not justified by legal obedience. And then in verse 5: "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" That's essentially the same question as verse 2: "Did you receive the Spirit by obeying the law or by believing the gospel?"

      So when we get to verse 10 and Paul uses the expression "all who rely on works of the law"—it is absolutely clear whom he has in mind. It's those who are trying to gain justification by their legal obedience. If you think your standing before God ultimately hinges on the question of how well you have obeyed His law, then you are "rely[ing] on works of the law," and that means you are under a curse. Because the law itself is punctuated by a huge, inescapable curse against anyone who violates it, even if you only break the law in secret.

      That is the first step in the progression of Paul's logic about the curse of the law: The law is dominated by a curse, and if you are trying to gain justification by the law, you are under that curse. Deuteronomy 27:26: The law puts us under a curse. Here's point two, and it is also tied to a proof-text from the Old Testament:


2. Habakkuk 2:4—What the law curses, it cannot justify

      Paul treats this as a self-evident truth, and it is: by definition, the law cannot bless the same thing it curses. The person who is condemned by the law cannot also be justified by the law. And then to underscore the point, he quotes one of the most familiar Old Testament verses about faith and justification—Habakkuk 2:4. This is the same text that struck Martin Luther with such force and showed him the way to justification by faith, when Luther was desperately trying to earn his own justification by doing good. "The righteous shall live by faith."

      Paul's point in quoting this verse from Habakkuk is somewhat subtle. He is simply pointing out that when the Old Testament talks about justification, it says nothing whatsoever about the law and mentions only faith. That's because once you have broken the law, it cannot justify you; it can only condemn you. The justified person lives by his faith, not by his legal obedience.

      This is a simple but elegant reminder of everything Paul has taught up to this point. If justification does not come through obedience to the law, from where does it come? Paul has already answered that question quite thoroughly in verses 1-9, by giving the example of Abraham as the paragon of faith—someone who believed God and because of that, righteousness was imputed to him, or put to his account.

      The whole lesson of Abraham's life is about faith and the justification that is reckoned to those who believe. Faith is the sole instrument of justification, and Paul makes that point once more, this time by quoting Habakkuk, in a statement that sums up the doctrine of justification by faith in as few words as possible: "The righteous shall live by faith." Nothing there about the law. No hint of meritorious obedience. The issue is simple, and it is all about faith.

      The literal sense of the Hebrew words is important, too. You could translate Habakkuk 2:4 literally this way: "He who is just-by-faith shall live." Life belongs to the one who is justified by faith, and Paul is saying that it follows from that simple truth that no one is justified by obeying the law, because, first of all, as we have seen, the law is dominated by a curse. And it is a curse no sinner can avoid. Verse 10 again: "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." The law is absolutely comprehensive in its command for absolute perfection, so if you are a sinner (and you are) you are cursed by the law.

      As James says in James 2:10, "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." The word translated "accountable" there means, "liable to its penalty," or as it says in most translations, "guilty of all." The law stands as a unit, and if you break one point, you are guilty of violating the whole thing. The curse recorded here in Galatians 3:10 is specifically comprehensive. You have to keep "all things written in the Book of the Law."

      There are no exceptions to the law's demands. It gives no time off. It demands nonstop obedience. It curses the very first transgression with all its full fury, and there is no provision in the law itself for any remedy from that curse. So Paul says, "It is evident" (is it not?) "that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.'"

      The key word in the life of a truly righteous person is "believe." But the key word in the law is "do." And that is exactly where Paul goes next in the flow of his logic.

      I hope you are keeping up with the progression of the argument Paul is making here. Point one, from Deuteronomy 27:26 is that the law puts us under a curse. Point two, from Habakkuk 2:4, is that what the law curses, it cannot justify. Now, here's point three, from—


3. Leviticus 18:5—The demands of the law are absolute and inflexible

      Verse 12: "But the law is not of faith, rather 'The one who does them shall live by them.'" That is a quotation, again, from Leviticus 18:5, where God tells the Israelites, "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them." In other words, if you are going to seek justification by legal obedience—by doing—you have to do it all. You have to keep every statute and every judgment, and you cannot fail in even one point. If you want to have your own obedience to the law as the ground of your justification, there is just one important thing to remember: you have to do it perfectly.

      Now Paul is deliberately contrasting the ideas of trusting and doing. True justification before God demands faith. That means trusting Someone. If you see the law as a means of justification, then you're not properly trusting at all, and you had better be concerned with doing, and with doing all the law perfectly, because that is what the law demands of those who live by it. That's all it demands. If you "rely on works of the law" (v. 10), that is the one requirement: perfect obedience. Do it, and do it all, perfectly.

      This is absolutely antithetical to the faith that is instrumental in justification. When it comes to the matter of justification versus condemnation, the law is concerned only with perfect performance. It is all about doing. Faith, on the other hand, is caught up in the absolute perfection of its object. It is all about trusting. And the two things are so different that it is impossible to blend them.

      That is what Paul means in verse 12, where he says, "the law is not of faith." He doesn't mean that there was no place for faith in the Mosaic dispensation. He does not mean that when God gave the law at Sinai, He overturned the principle of faith. He is not suggesting that the proper work of the law is to remove us from the realm of faith.

      He has one point, and one point only. It is this: if you try to make the law the instrument of your justification from sin—if you think your own best effort (your own flawed personal obedience to God's perfect standard of righteousness) is going to be enough to justify you in God's eyes, then you are sadly mistaken. You have placed yourself under a terrible curse from which there is no remedy as long as you keep trying to make yourself good enough.

      Paul is saying there is no genuine faith whatsoever in an attitude like that. That is pure self-righteousness, and it is abominable to God, because it is based on the notion that God ought to be pleased with our rebellious, corrupt, arrogant attempts to paper over our sin with a mere pretense of righteousness.

      That kind of "doing" is incompatible with authentic faith. It will bring you under a sentence of condemnation.

      That is why the heresy of the Judaizers was so deadly. This was not just a cultural rift between Jewish and Gentile Christians. It was a deadly error that made people think their justification hinged on what they do rather than on whom they trusted. It turned the focus of the gospel message away from Christ and put stress on the sinner's own works, and that hopelessly muddled the doctrine of justification and hence corrupted the gospel itself. No wonder Paul began this epistle to Galatians in Galatians 1:8-9 by twice pronouncing damnation on the Judaizers and anyone else who corrupted the gospel this way. The Judaizers were actually putting themselves under a curse, by treating the law as the instrument of their justification.

      So here's a review of the argument, starting in verse 10: First, Paul went to Deuteronomy 27:26 to show that the law puts us under a curse. Second, he quoted from Habakkuk 2:4, to show that what the law curses, it cannot justify. Third, he gave them Leviticus 18:5, to make the point that the demands of the law are absolute and inflexible. Now he quotes one more Old Testament text to make the ultimate point in his argument. It's—


4. Deuteronomy 21:23—Only Christ can redeem us from the curse

      The law puts us under a curse, and the law itself provides no remedy for that curse. But there is nonetheless a complete remedy—not in the law, but in the work of Christ. Verse 13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'"

      This is a rich verse, because it gives us as clear a picture of the atonement as any verse in Scripture. And I'll show you that—but first, I want you to see where Paul gets this idea from the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 21:23. Put a marker in Galatians if you want to see this, because the context of this truth is very interesting. Deuteronomy 21 is a collection of miscellaneous laws that have to do with specific legal conundrums. What to do to keep the nation pure and free from collective guilt in the case of an unsolved murder (vv. 1-9); what to do with a woman from a foreign nation who is left without home or husband after a war (vv. 10-14); what to do when there's a conflict over the rights of the firstborn in a family where the husband has multiple wives (vv. 15-17); and what to do about a rebellious son (vv. 18-21).

      The last two verses deal with the question of what to do with the corpse of someone who has been put to death by hanging. Verses 22-23 (look at it): "if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance."

      So Paul, the consummate scholar of Old Testament law, himself a former Pharisee, is actually dealing with an obscure parenthetical statement here. Moses' law is saying that someone who has been hanged should not be left up on display, because the hanging signifies the fact that he is cursed by God and it is an open shame that should be buried and put out of sight the very day of the man's execution, so as to keep from defiling the land.

      In the original context, it doesn't seem a very significant point. Anyone who is hanged is cursed by God. But Paul takes that statement, and uses it to make a significant point about the atonement, the curse of the law, and how Christ freed us from the law.

      Here's how his logic goes: Scripture says, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree." In other words, that means of execution especially signifies God's wrath against a criminal. Jesus was executed by hanging on a tree. He was publicly shown to be cursed. He certainly didn't deserve to die that way. For whose sake was He cursed?

      The answer is obvious: He "[became] a curse for us." He was our substitute in every way. His perfect life fulfilled the demands of the law for righteousness. His death fulfilled the demands of the law for the punishment of unrighteousness. He "redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us."

      If you listen to Christian radio, read Christian books, or try to keep up with evangelical trends on the Internet, one of the great controversies in the air right now is a debate over the meaning of the atonement. Over the past decade or so, there has been a parade of authors, preachers, and theologians who would identify themselves as evangelicals (though I don't believe they really are) who have been questioning the meaning of the atonement. This is actually a very old debate that crops up at least every half century or so every time some liberalizing trend leads professing Christians into apostasy—Socinians, deists, modernists, emergents, and theological liberals of every stripe absolutely detest the truth that Christ bore punishment in our place on the cross.

      But the text clearly says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us," and the "curse" in this context very clearly refers to the condemnation that falls on anyone who breaks the law. In other words, Christ bore the condemnation and death every lawbreaker deserves. Isaiah 53:5: "he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace." Verse 4 of Isaiah 53 says, : "We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted." In other words, the full measure of punishment and divine wrath due every lawbreaker was inflicted on Him by God—and Jesus bore it all in our place.

      That doctrine is known as penal substitution—"penal," because it has to do with punishment for sin; and "substitution," because Christ's sufferings were vicarious on our behalf. He took the punishment we deserve. And the true spiritual suffering He bore as He hung on the cross was in fact an outpouring of divine wrath, which He took on Himself in our place. Penal substitution.

      There are lots of voices these days saying that doctrine makes God seem too severe. A book was published in England just a few years ago labeling the doctrine of penal substitution "cosmic child abuse." Brian McLaren likewise complains that the principle of penal substitution makes God a child abuser. They want to reinterpret the crucifixion of Christ so that it has nothing to do with punishment for sin or the wrath of God against sinners—so that there is no hint of divine severity—only pure love, devoid of wrath and judgment—in the sufferings that were inflicted on Christ at the cross. They want the cross to be only an example of sacrifice and self-giving love. It's an example for us to follow, rather than a ransom demanded by the righteous judge of the universe and paid for our redemption by His own Son.

      But do you see what it does to the gospel if you make the cross merely an "example" for us to follow? It puts redemption right back in the realm of doing. It has the same ultimate effect as the Judaizers' doctrine: it nullifies the doctrine of justification by faith, removes us from the perfect freedom we have in Christ, and puts us right back under the curse of the law, because we simply cannot do enough to redeem ourselves.

      The only way Christ could free us from the curse of the law was by suffering the penalty of the law in our place. The curse on those who disobey the law was a curse instituted by God Himself. So when Paul says here that Christ became a curse for us, he is saying something rich with meaning. The whole truth of penal substitution is tied up in that expression, and there is no way to make good sense of it unless you see that Christ stood in our place and absorbed the wrath of God against sin for us. He died in our place. and therefore it is as if we died to the law ourselves. That is exactly what Paul says in Romans 6 and 7.

      And that is how we were fred from the curse of the law. Not by having the law overturned or nullified, but by having it fulfilled in every detail on our behalf. Its righteous demands were fulfilled perfectly by the perfect life of Christ, and its curse was fulfilled in His death.

      That is the gospel, and if you preach any kind of message that puts the sinner back under the law, you corrupt the simplicity of that truth.

      Look, in closing, at verse 14: Christ was made a curse in our place, "so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith."

      Here Paul brings us back to the starting point: the promise of the Abrahamic covenant. Christ made it possible for that promised blessing—full and free salvation—to be given to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. That's what His whole ministry was all about. He fulfilled the law and put it out of the way, so that the promised blessing of the Abrahamic covenant could be unleashed on the whole world.

      And that is why the ruling principle of the gospel is the promise given through the Abrahamic covenant, and not the curse given through the Mosaic Covenant.


      Now, here's an important point to notice: all of chapter 3 up to this point has been a thumbnail sketch of redemptive history. Starting with the gracious promise of the Abrahamic Covenant, to the curse of the Mosaic law, and back to the gracious promise. Paul's point is that the simple promise of grace in the Abrahamic covenant remains in place and is a constant thread of gospel truth that runs through every dispensation.

      So if you are really thinking this through, you ought to be asking yourself, "Why did God give the law in the first place?" If salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone because of the work of Christ alone, why confuse things by giving the legal requirements in the first place?

      Glad you asked. That is the very question Paul raises in the second half of Galatians 3. There are several reasons God gave the law, not just one. But one important answer is this: the law actually lays out the terms Christ had to fulfill on our behalf for our justification. In other words, the law spelled out the curse precisely so that Christ could free us from that curse. The law set forth the demands of divine righteousness, so that Christ could fulfill that righteousness for us. That is how God can be just, and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus. He did not gain our redemption by overthrowing His righteous standard; he did it by fulfilling that standard perfectly for us, so that we might be the righteousness of God in Him.

      That is the gospel, and if you have never believed it, believe it now. Put your trust in Christ, and you can be saved. In the words of John 3:36: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." Blessing or curse. Do you trust Christ and his atoning work, or are you "rely[ing] on works of the law"? It's the difference between eternal life and eternal condemnation.