Law and Curse
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Galatians

Law and Curse

Galatians 3

Paul continues his discourse on the Law and faith.Lesson Audio

Five questions

Gal 3:1-5 NASB You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? (2) This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (3) Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (4) Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? (5) So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Paul asks the Galatians to think back on their own experiences, and see if they should return to the Old Testament Law. The questions are old, but still apply today.

1. Who bewitched you? We still speak of “spell binding” orators in our day, and that is a good translation here. We especially are fond of “who said it.” For most of the sheep of this nation, a rock star is a high authority. That’s the sense of this question. If you think it doesn’t apply, think about such names as Rick Warren, for example.

2. Did you receive the Holy Spirit by faith, or by law? Think back; did you obey your way into receiving the Spirit, or was it by faith? Your mind was clear when it happened; you are your own witness to this. So why would you change now?

3. Are you being perfected by the body, or the spirit? A question worth asking in this time when we preach that the body is the temple of the Spirit – and therefore we should join a health club and eat organic foods. It is an old deception.

4. Did you suffer for the faith in vain? In those days being a Christian was dangerous (which is beginning to apply to us today). These people have suffered for the faith; are you now saying that such suffering was unnecessary? Will you throw away the rewards God has promised just to be comfortable? Is your Christian walk worth anything beyond talk?

5. Does Christ work by the Spirit, or by rules and regulations? Search the Scriptures; you will find no result but the Spirit. Good works are an effect of the faith, not its cause.

To make his case, Paul now reminds them of the Old Testament – as witness to the righteousness that comes by faith.

Old Testament Witness

Gal 3:6-18 NASB Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. (7) Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. (8) The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." (9) So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (10) 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." (11) Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." (12) However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM." (13) 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"-- (14) 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. (15) Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. (16) Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. (17) What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. (18) For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

Faith – Old Testament style

Paul begins with the most esteemed of the patriarchs, Abraham. This man preceded the Law by about 430 years, from which Paul makes these points:

· Faith came first. The fact that the Law came later does not nullify faith; God’s covenants still stand.

· Most particularly, this faith was intended to benefit the Gentiles as well, for Abraham was promised that one of his offspring would bless the world. That someone is, of course, Christ.

Even during the period of the Law, faith still applied. The prophets testify consistently that “the righteous shall live by faith.” How so? Right conduct – good works – are the result of a faithful life. So when God condemned the Israelites in the Old Testament it was for their hard hearts – hearts which kept the ceremony of the Law, but not its essence. A righteous man practices what the Law commands. But righteousness is hard; self-justification is easy. And we are lazy.

Concept of “the curse”

It surprises some that the God revealed as the one Who is Love would also be the God who curses – but it is so. When man sins, God curses man. It has been so from the beginning:

Gen 3:17 NASB Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were commanded to assemble and repeat the blessings and curses of God. Blessing and curse are a part of the Law. A curse could not just be ignored; it had to be dealt with. It could only be lifted by an appropriate sacrifice. In the Old Testament the sacrifice was a specified animal; in the New Testament, it is Christ.

Covenant

A covenant is God’s way of dealing with man. It is sometimes described as a contract, but this is incorrect. A contract is between two (theoretical) equals. A covenant is a pronouncement of God concerning how He will deal with man.

That is its main restriction. A covenant may be superseded, but not amended. So it is with Abraham’s covenant; the Law did not change it; the promises made to him still stood. The blessing for all nations was yet to come, but in the fullness of time Christ arrived.

Significantly, it seems that covenants may need a mediator – someone to stand between God and man.

· Such a man may be a prophet. Moses “stood in the gap” for the Israelites, and turned God’s fierce anger away.

· Such a man may be a priest. Samuel was such a man, speaking to God for the Israelites.

· Such a man may be a king. David, at the time of the plague, interceded for the people.

In our time, Christ is all three. He is the perfect mediator of the covenant of grace. If you want to build a bridge from God to man, you must have a foundation on each side. Only Christ is wholly God and wholly man.

Law and Faith

Gal 3:19-29 NASB Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. (20) Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. (21) Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. (22) But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (23) But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. (24) Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (25) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (26) For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (27) For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.

Why the Law?

It’s a common question; why should Christians pay any attention to the Old Testament. In particular, why should I care about the details of the Jewish Law?

· The Law is a tutor. Being one of those book collectors who never throws a textbook away, I justify my attitude by saying, “I might need to look something up in it.” Just because I passed the course doesn’t mean I can forget what I was taught.

· Without the Law, transgression has no meaning. When Christ debated the Pharisees, this was their common ground. The woman taken in adultery is condemned by the Law – and forgiven by the Lord.

· The Law defined both sin and sacrifice. Thus it gave a clear picture of the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The Law also defines the Jews

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but God is rather arbitrary with the Jews. He sends Moses with the Law – no negotiating – and tells them they will obey, or He will act. Why? Because they are His chosen people.

Note that the Jews had no choice in the matter. None. God picked them, they did not pick Him. In so doing, He defines what “my people” means – those who are in obedience to Him – in short, those who trust Him to keep His Word.

When the time comes, then, that definition will be extended – the children of God are now those who trust Christ.

Now

Paul now ties this back together with an astounding statement. We, he argues, are baptized through faith. The physical act alone is no more than a bath. But when we are baptized through faith, we put on the uniform of Christ – and become children of God.

Let me explain it this way. When I was in the army, our platoon had a drill sergeant. One day he went down the row of men asking, “What color am I?” It was a touchy question at that time. A lot of pushups were assigned to those who didn’t know the answer.

The answer? Olive drab – the color of the uniform. When you’re in the army you can see rank – but not the person. “Salute the uniform, not the wearer.” If this is true with the army, how much more should we see it in the church – where the uniform of Christ covers us all. Christ has broken down the barriers between man and God – and also the barriers between man and man. The one who claims Christ as Lord is brother and/or sister to me.

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