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.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 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”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Understanding And Applying the Text
According to Paul, everything that is not of faith is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” Romans 14:23. If this were not true then did not need to die. We only need to keep the law. And many nonChristians would be righteous. They are kind. They do not murder. They honor and respect their parents. They do a pretty good job of keeping the law, often better than many Christians. But they remain under the curse of sin because the law does not and cannot justify them.
But what about Romans 2:13? “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” This seems to state that keeping the law justifies. Paul is not contradicting himself. As is always the case, the answer is context. In Romans 2 Paul is making a similar argument he is making here in Galatians. That is, if you break any part of the law you are guilty of being a lawbreaker. Once you have broken any part of the law, you are a lawbreaker. Keeping the law after that does not change the past. You are a lawbreaker. Once we have broken the law, the law cannot justify us. Paul says the same here as he does in Romans 2.
Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26. “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Doing the works of the Law does not mean living up to the superficial requirements of the law. Rather it means to obey the spirit of the law to perfection. God knew our sinfulness. He knew it meant we could not keep the law. Contrary to popular culture, we are not basically good. We are basically evil. So, God made a way of salvation with a promise to Abraham long before the law was ever given. In the final analysis, to do the works of law means to believe in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to love God and our neighbor. But because we have only the first fruits of the Spirit, we do not yet observe the Law perfectly.
Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4. “the righteous shall live by his faith.” Paul points out that even in the times of the prophets the law did not produce righteousness. Righteousness comes through faith. In clear unambiguous terms, Paul states “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” It is only Christ’s blood, death, and resurrection of Christ that provides salvation. That means it is up to Christ to overcome our sins, not the law, or our own efforts.
According to the passage: “The one who does them shall live by them.” the righteousness of the law is the fulfillment of the law. However, according to the passage, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The righteousness of faith is to believe the gospel. The law is a statement of debt and the gospel is a statement of credit. The purpose of the law is to kill. Yes, the law says, if you do the law you shall live. But who can do them? Who can love God with all his heart, soul, and mind and his neighbor as himself?
Paul is not saying the law is passé. Even those of us who are justified by faith are under the Law just as the saints of old. But we are not under the curse of the law. Christ, through faith, has removed the curse, and sin is not imputed to us. Even as believers we cannot fulfill the law. How, then, can those who have not been justified by faith fulfill the law?
Christ became cursed for us. He was personally innocent. But He took our place, our curse. He became cursed for us. The emphasis is on the, “for us.” Paul does not say that Christ was under the curse. It says that Christ was made a curse. While Christ did not deserve death, he took our place. Since He took our place, He hung like any other common transgressor of the law should hang.
The sins you or I have committed or will commit, Christ took as if He had committed them Himself when He hung on the cross. If our sins did not become Christ’s sins, then we are still condemned and will perish. The law kills. The law killed Christ. And we go free. If Christ bears our sins, we do not bear them. He got our sins. We get His holiness.
At the cross, the sin of the world attacked the righteousness of God. But Christ’s righteousness is undefeatable. The result was inevitable. Sin was and remains defeated. God’s righteousness triumphs and reigns forever.
The Spirit is freedom from sin, death, the curse, hell, and the judgment of God. Paul does not even mention merit in relation to the promise of the Spirit and the blessing that goes with Him. The Spirit is received by faith alone.
The word testament is another name for the promise that God made to Abraham. Even in civil law, we are careful not to modify a person’s last will and testament. Paul uses this example to illustrate the immutability of Christ’s last will and testament. A testament is not a law, but an inheritance. Heirs do not look for laws and assessments when they open a will; they look for grants and favors. The promises God made to Abraham God made in view of Christ, in one seed, not in many seeds. That is, not in the Jews as a people but in Christ.
Paul points out that the law did not change or modify the promise. The law did not replace the promise. There was no new dispensation. The promise remained. It was one covenant added to another. One did not replace the other. What God promises, he does not take back. There are not any do-overs with God.
The law was not given as a means through which the promise might be obtained. Rather the law was given so that there would be a special people. A people, out of which, Christ would be born. Even the ceremonies in the law foreshadowed Christ. The law was never intended to cancel the promise of God. It was intended to confirm the promise. The promise came 430 years before the law. This is evidence we are not justified through the law. If the law justified, then God would have given the law along with the promise.
Because the law was not even around at the time of Abraham, we can be certain, that Abraham was not justified by the law. The law could not have justified Abraham. God granted him remission of sins, as He will all believers. God said to Abraham, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” The blessing was not conditioned by keeping the law.
Since we are saved through faith alone, are we not to do good works? Of course! Good works follow faith. But faith is not a meritorious work. Faith is a gift. (Ephesians 2:8) We must understand the character and limitations of the law. When we believe in Christ we live by faith.
Sin surrounds us. It becomes normative to us. The fish does not realize it is wet because water is normative to it. We do not realize the depravity of our sin because sin surrounds us. Nor do we realize the holiness of God. To think we could overcome the force of sin by our puny works is a vast underestimation of the power of our sin. And It overestimates the value of our works.
But we can rejoice in the peace Christ gives us. Christ has done away with our sins, our curse, and our death. We can be sure of this fact.
The confusion of the law with the gospel was not a unique problem to the Galatians. It is common today. Our natural bent is to the law. We can understand it. What we cannot understand is that Christ gives us His righteousness as an undeserved gift. There has to be something we did.
We reason that we are saved and others are not is, that we must done something they have not. We are either smarter, have better insight, or are more righteous. We accepted Him while others did not. There has to be some reason within us that God saved us. We are the ultimate or deciding factor. Paul repeats over and over again faith and salvation is a gift, an undeserved gift. Salvation is not the result of anything you have done. Or even of anything you could do.
So relax and be at peace for if you have faith in Christ. Christ has redeemed you.