3:10-14–Paul’s Third Argument: The Curse of the Law

The Curse of the Law


“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse:  for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law to do them.’”

All would do well to take careful note of this verse, for the only thing it can do for sinners is to judge them, condemn them, and curse them. 

         “For as many as are of the works of the law”
          Literally:  “For as many as are out of works of law.” 

As many as are seeking to be justified by yielding obedience to the law–whether the moral law, or the ceremonial law. The proposition is general; and it is designed to show that, from the nature of the ease, it is impossible to be justified by the works of the law, since, under all circumstances of obedience which we can render, we are still left with its heavy curse resting on us.

         “are under the curse”
         Literally:  “Are under a curse.”

         Having just shown that believers through Christ are justified, Paul next shows that all under the law are in condemnation. Having failed by their efforts to give perfect obedience, they must, of course, be exposed to the curse which the law denounces on the guilty. The word rendered “curse” means, as with us, properly, cursing.  It is here used in the sense of devoting to punishment or destruction.  The idea is that all who attempt to secure salvation by the works of the Law must be exposed to the penalty imposed by the Law. It pronounces a curse on all who do not yield entire; that is, perfect, obedience; and no partial compliance with its demands can save one from its penalty.
         Therefore, all that seek salvation by the performance of the works of the Law are under a curse, because it is impossible for them to come up to the spiritual meaning and intent of the Law; for the Law pronounces all cursed that continue not to do in all things which are written in the Law. Hence, every Jew is necessarily under the curse of God's broken law; and every sinner is under the same curse, though he be not a Jew, who does not take refuge in the salvation provided for him by the Gospel.

         “for it is written”
         Literally:  “for it has been written.” 

The substance of these words is found in Deut. 27:26 “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” It is the solemn close of a series of maledictions which Moses denounces in that chapter on the violators of the Law. In this quotation, Paul has given the sense of the passage, but he has quoted literally neither from the Hebrew nor from the Septuagint (LXX).  However, he does retain the sense of the passage.  

         “cursed is every one that continueth not…in the book of the Law”
         Literally: “Cursed {is}everyone who does not continue in all the things having been written in the book of the Law.” 

         The word “cursed” here means that the violator of the Law shall be devoted to punishment or destruction. The phrase, “that continueth not,” in the Hebrew is literally, “that confirmeth not;” meaning one that does not establish or confirm by his manner of living. He would confirm it by continuing to obey it; (and that in that sense in Paul and in Moses are substantially the reward stating same thing).
         Because they have not perfectly obeyed the Law. The important word here is “continueth.”  If you believe that by keeping the Law, or Ten Commandments, etc., let me ask you a question, Do you keep them day and night, 24/7 in thought, word and deed?  Then understand this:  when you let down, the Law can only condemn you.  The Law does NOT reward you.  It does not give you life.  On the contrary, the Law penalizes you.  On the other hand, faith gives you something.  It gives life!
         The Galatians were in the act of making a choice to live under the Law, and Paul reminds them that when a man chooses to live on the plane of the Law he must by necessity accept the consequences of failure;  i.e., if one places his trust in the works of the Law to justify himself, he exposes himself to its curse, for the Law demands that if he transgresses any part of the Law, if he fails in any way to keep all of the Law, then he is cursed, “For whosoever shall keep the Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).  A man must render obedience to the Law which is complete and continuous, (100% or none) or be cursed by the Law.
         What is the curse?  The Ten Commandments cannot be the curse, for they embrace the highest moral and ethical standard for human life.  Deut., chapters 27 & 28 make it clear that the curse was God’s penalty of death upon any man who did not, “keep all the commandments” (Deut. 27:2; 28:15).   The curse is twofold:
1.      Present condition of alienation from God in this life.
2.      Final banishment from God in eternity.

       The meaning is, that the whole law must be obeyed, or man cannot be justified by it, or will be exposed to its penalty and its curse. This idea is expressed more fully by James, 2:10, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all;” that is, he is guilty of breaking the law as a whole, and must be held responsible for such violation.

                        The Inconsistency of Law and Faith

         “But that no man is justified by the Law in the sight of God, it is evident for, ‘The just shall live by faith’”
         “And the Law is not of faith, but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.”

“But that no man is justified by the Law in the sight of God, it is evident for, ‘The just shall live by faith’”

         “no man is justified by the Law”
          Literally:  “In law no one is justified.” 

         By the observance of the law, suppose he had even continued in all things that are written in it to do them, is evident. Even the OT taught that man was saved by faithIt does not say that anyone was saved by keeping the Law.  The heart of the Mosaic system was the sacrificial system.  But that now longer is in effect, for Christ fulfilled it 2000 years ago, and by doing so, He negated it!  When He fulfilled what it represented, there was no longer any need for it.
         Paul proceeds to confirm the argument which Paul has been pursuing by an express declaration of the Bible. The argument is this: “It is impossible that a man should be justified by the law, because God has appointed another way of justification.”  But there cannot be two ways of obtaining life; and as God has appointed faith as the condition on which men shall live, He has precluded from them the possibility of obtaining salvation by any other method.

         BY THE LAW:
        Literally In the Greek, in law.  Both in and by are included.  The law knows nothing of grace, but demands absolute obedience as its only condition of justification. Justification by faith and not by works is a doctrine taught in the Old Testament as well as in the New.

         “the just shall live by faith”
         Literally:  “The just one by faith will live.” 

          This tremendous statement appears once in the OT and twice more in the NT: “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him:  but the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). The Prophet Habakkuk, Hab. 2:4, has declared, under the direct influence of the Spirit of God, "The just shall live by faith;" or, he who is just by faith shall live: therefore this justification comes not by works, or the observance of the law, but by faith.
         This passage is also quoted by Paul in Rom. 1:17. The sense here is, that life is promised to man only in connection with faith. It is not by the works of the law that it is done. The condition of life is faith; and he lives who believes. Of course it can-not be obtained by the observance of the law, but must be by some other scheme.

“And the Law is not of faith, but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.”

         “the Law is not of faith”

         The Law is not a matter of faith;  it is not related to faith; it does not require faith; It promises no forgiveness to believing, but requires obedience. It is not, “What do you believe?” but, “What have you done?” The man that does them perfectly, at all times, and in all places, he shall live in them; but if in any case he fails, he forfeits his life.
        Faith and Law are contrary principles for salvation and also for living.  One cancels out the other.  They are diametrically opposed to each other.  If you are going to live by the Law, then you cannot be saved by faith They cannot be combined.  They are contrary to each other.  It must either one or the other; either/or.
      The Law does not promise Justification by Faith, but by works.  You shall live in them by doing them. The law knows nothing of grace, but demands absolute obedience as its only condition of justification and does not rest on mercy, faith, grace.

         “But, the man that doeth them shall live in them.” 
         This is the language of the Law, and this is what the Law teaches. It does not make provision for faith, but it requires unwavering and perpetual obedience, if man would obtain life by it. Many depended on the law although they did not keep it; but without doing, says Paul, it is of no use to them (Rom. 2:13, 17, 23; 10:5).

         Therefore, we cannot be saved partly by faith and partly by works.  The roads are distinct.  We must keep the whole Law if we would be saved by it.  Our only hope is in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ received by faith.

  Our Salvation Was Made  by Christ being made a Curse for Us.

         “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”
        “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”

         “Christ hath redeemed us”
         Literally:  “Christ redeemed us”

Has bought us with a price; i.e., His own blood, or life.  The Greek word used here for “redeemed,” literally means “ransomed,” and is not that which is usually employed in the New Testament to denote redemption. The word here used is employed in the proper sense of redeem; to purchase.  It occurs in the New Testament only in this place, and in Gal. 4:5; Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:6. It properly means, “to purchase, to buy up; and then to purchase any one, to redeem, to set free”. Here it means, that Christ had purchased or set us free from the curse of the Law, by His being made a curse for us.

         “from the curse of the law”
         Literally:  “Out of the curse of the Law.”

The curse which the Law threatens, and which the execution of the Law would inflict upon the transgression. Christ has saved us from the punishment which our sins deserve. The word “us,” here refers to all who are redeemed; that is, to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.  The curse of the Law is a curse which is because of sin, any and all sin, and cannot be regarded as applied particularly to any one class of men. All who violate the law of God, however that law may be made known, are exposed to its penalty. The word “law” here relates to the law of God in general, to all the laws of God made known to man. The law of God announced death as the wages of sin. It threatened punishment in the future world forever.  That would certainly have been inflicted, but for the coming and death of Christ. The world is by nature lying under this curse, and it is sweeping the race on to ruin.         

         “being made a curse for us”
         Literally:  “Having become a curse for us.” 

         He was made an atonement for our sins; for whatever was offered as an atonement for sin was considered as bearing the punishment due to sin, and the person who suffered for transgression was considered as bearing the curse in his body; therefore, in the same day in which a criminal was executed it was ordered that his body should be buried, that the land might not be polluted, because he that was hanged, which was the case with every heinous culprit, was considered accursed of God, Deut. 21:22,23; hence the necessity of removing the accursed thing out of sight.
        The Mosaic Law condemned us!  Christ has redeemed us from the penalty and curse of the Mosaic Law.  How did He do it?  He did it by “being made a curse for us.”  Christ bore the penalty.  When He was crucified on the tree he became a curse for us. 
         Two thoughts are here brought into contrast:  the Law condemned us; Christ redeemed us.
         1.      The Nature of the Redemption:  “Christ hath redeemed us.”      
                  a.       This does not give credence to the theory that there was really nothing in Christ’s work but a mere deliverance from the power of sin;
                            (as the gnostics tells us).

                  b.       Neither does it give credence to the idea that Christ redeemed us by entering into union with man and living a sinless human life;
                            which is reproduced in us by means of fellowship with Him.

         2.      The Means of the Redemption:  He “became a curse for us.”
Neither of these two theories makes any provision of the rectification of man’s relation with God, which is only effected through Christ being made a curse for us.

This is an exceedingly important expression.  There is scarcely any passage in the New Testament on which it is more important to have correct views than this; and scarcely any one on which more erroneous opinions have been entertained. In regard to it, we may observe that it does not mean:
1.     That by being made a curse, His character or work were in any sense displeasing to God. God always approved of what the Lord Jesus did, and He regarded Christ’s whole character with love and approbation. The passage should never be so interpreted as to leave the impression that Jesus was in any conceivable sense the object of the Divine displeasure.
2.     Jesus was not ill-deserving, He was not blameworthy. He had done no wrong, He was holy, harmless, undefiled. No crime charged upon Him was proved; and there is no clearer doctrine in the Bible than that, in all His character and work, the Lord Jesus was perfectly holy and pure.

3.      He was not guilty, in any proper sense of the word.
4.      It cannot be meant that the Lord Jesus properly bore the penalty of the law. His sufferings were in the place of the penalty, not the penalty itself. They were a substitution for the penalty, and were, therefore, strictly and properly vicarious (substitutionally), and were not the identical sufferings which the sinner would himself have endured.
5.      He was not sinful, or a sinner, in any sense. He did not so take human guilt upon him, that the words sinful and sinner could with any propriety be applied to Him. They are not applied to Him in any way in the Bible; but the language there is undeviating. It is, that in all senses he was holy and undefiled.

“That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

         “That the blessing of Abraham

The blessing which Abraham enjoyed, that is, that of being Justified by Faith. That which God promised to him and to all believers, Justification by Faith; that is, justification or the pardon of sin, with all other blessings consequent on it, such as peace with God, spiritual life, and eternal glory.

         “might come on the Gentiles”
        Literally:  “might be to the nations”

         As well as to the Jews.  Abraham was blessed in this manner before he was circumcised, (Rom. 4:11), and the same blessing might be imparted to others also who were not circumcised. So we find that he was made a curse for us, that the blessings promised to Abraham might be given to them who believe on him, as having been made a curse; i.e. an expiatory victim for them.
         This is the ultimate design of the redemption.  Christ took our place that we might receive what the Law could never do.  The Spirit is the peculiar gift in this age of grace.
1.      The blessing was justification of life, not mere temporal blessings, which were restricted for the Jews.
2.      The blessing was to reach the Gentiles, “in Christ,” who was made the curse for us.
3.       The blessings were designed for both Jews and Gentiles alike.

“through Jesus Christ”
 Literally:  “In Christ Jesus.” 

         So we find that He was made a curse for us, that the blessings promised to Abraham might be given to them who believe on Him, as having been made a curse for them   Since He has been made a curse for all, and since He had no exclusive reference to the Jews or to any other class of men, all may come and partake alike of the benefits of His salvation.

         “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit”

         Which includes all the other promises. That all we who are Christian converts. The promise of the Spirit, or the promised Spirit, is here put for all the blessings connected with the Christian religion. It includes evidently the miraculous agency of the Holy Spirit; and all His influences in renewing the heart, in sanctifying the soul, and in comforting the people of God. These influences had been obtained in virtue of the sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus in the place of sinners, and these influences were the sum of all the blessings promised by the prophets.
         The spirit of adoption; sonship with God; and the Spirit of God to attest that sonship.  And all this was through faith.  Hence, from the beginning God had purposed that salvation should be through (by means of) faith, and never expected that any soul of man should be justified by the works of the Law; and only gave that Law that the exceeding sinfulness of sin might appear, and that man might be prepared to welcome the Gospel, which proclaimed
salvation to a lost world through the atoning death of Christ.

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