PASTOR DON'S CHRISTIAN ED NOTES
The Curse of God That Frequently Falls on Religious People
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Sunday, December 6, 2009 -

Galatians 3:10-14 - “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."

1) WHEN RELIGION IS BASED ON WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS IT REMOVES ANY POSSIBILITY OF GOD’S BLESSING AND RESULTS, INSTEAD, IN GOD’S CURSE

Galatians 3:10 - “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.’”

Notice especially that this isn’t a curse pronounced on atheists and agnostics. It is pronounced on people who are religious. This verse marks a great continental divide, not between religious people and non-religious people, but between those who pursue justification on God’s terms and those who pursue it on their own terms.

These false teachers whom Paul confronts were Jewish false teachers. They knew all about blessings and cursings in keeping with the Old Testament law:

Deuteronomy 11:26-29 - “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: {27} the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; {28} and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known. {29} "It shall come about, when the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.”

Deuteronomy 27 and 28 fully spell out these blessings and cursings. So these Judaisers weren’t surprised to hear about these terms at all. But what would be very surprising to them would be hearing that they (the Jews) and not just the outsiders (the Gentiles) were under the curse of the law. Paul was saying that even they, the Jews, were under the curse of the law because they were, in Paul’s understanding, relying on the law to accomplish something the law was never designed to do.

How were these Jews under the curse of the law? The most common answer to that question is they were under the curse of the law because they couldn’t possibly keep the law perfectly, and so would have to pay the piper. And in this case, the Piper was God.

I think that while this is not untrue, it falls short of what Paul is saying in Galatians - for these reasons:

a) Neither Paul nor the Old Testament give the impression that the law of God was impossible to keep:

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 - “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. {12} "It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' {13} "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' {14} "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it."

Philippians 3:4-6 - “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: {5} circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; {6} as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless."

b) In the context of Galatians it was the keeping of the law that was viewed as the problem, not the breaking of it. It was when Peter was keeping the Jewish dietary laws that Paul said “....he stood condemned”(2:11). It was when the Judaisers wanted to keep the law and have Titus circumcised that Paul said they were compromising the gospel and “....bringing us into bondage”(2:4).

No. The curse Paul is describing in Galatians stands against, not only those who break the law, but those who keep it as a means of attaining righteousness. In other words, when Paul says “....cursed is everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (3:10b), he means that when people are “.... of the works of the law”(3:10a), in the sense of keeping it as their claim to godliness, they don’t properly “....abide by all the things written in the law”(10b), even if they keep its details successfully. This is the whole point of Paul’s remarks about Abraham. God pronounced Abraham righteous because of his faith. The whole keeping of the law only has value as it is the outworking of faith.

Jesus said exactly the same thing about the righteousness of the Pharisees - Matthew 5:20 - “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." And Paul finally described the learning curve of this deep truth in his own life - Philippians 3:9 - “....that I may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith...."

Remember, this is Paul’s description of his former righteousness, not his unrighteousness. His whole point is that lawkeeping, even if very diligently maintained, can only produce our own righteousness. And God, in His sovereignty, has decreed that He will not accept our own righteousness. This is the curse of religion without Jesus Christ.

2) CHRIST BORE THE PENALTY FOR THE CURSE OF OUR MORAL SELF-RELIANCE AND SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT WE MIGHT RECEIVE THE BLESSING OF ABRAHAM, THE RIGHTEOUSNESS GOD PROVIDES THROUGH FAITH ALONE

Galatians 3:13-14 - “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.”

The weakness of the law is pronounced on two fronts. First, it lacks any capacity to truly forgive those who fail (see Hebrews 10:3-4 for very important teaching on this point). And second, the law can never impart the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to bring about the inward transformation that makes Godliness a delight (see Ezekiel 36:25-27).