Pastor David B. Curtis

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Cursed or Blessed

Galatians 3:10-14

Delivered 01/30/2005

We have seen in our earlier studies that the Galatians were willing to set aside what was proven for something promoted as superior. They had been saved and had received the Holy Spirit, who continued to work mightily in their midst on the basis of faith alone, apart from law-keeping. But now, bewitched by the Judaizers, they were willing to adopt law-keeping as the operating principle of their spiritual lives.

In the first nine verses of Galatians 3, Paul sought to correct this error by reminding the "idiotic Galatians" of their Christian experience, as well as that of Abraham, the "father of the faith." In verses 2-5, Paul's penetrating questions forced the Galatians to acknowledge that it was by faith alone that they had been saved, and it was by faith alone that they were also sanctified. In verses 6-9, Paul shows that faith was the basis of Abraham's righteousness as well.

The Judaizers probably weren't caught off guard by the mention of Abraham's faith. They would have quickly responded, "Yes, Abraham was declared righteous on the basis of his faith, but he was also circumcised." Since circumcision was a sign of one's acceptance of the Mosaic Covenant, Abraham's faith led to circumcision, and in time, also led to "law-keeping." Paul thus found it necessary to address the matter of the Law of Moses in relation to the Abrahamic Covenant. In verses 10-12, Paul shows that the Law cannot commend men to God, but can only condemn them. Paul assures us in verses 13 and 14 that the curse, which the Law has pronounced on all men, does not nullify the promise of blessing for all men, which God made to Abraham, because Christ has borne the curse of the Law.

When we read Galatians 3:10-14, we are struck by the antithesis of two words: curse and blessing.

Galatians 3:10 (NASB) 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."

The Christians from a Jewish background, who believed we should still live under the Law of Moses, thought that it was a path to blessing. Paul boldly declares that instead of blessing, living under the works of the law puts them under the curse.

It really isn't hard to see how these Christians believed that living under law brought blessing. They had read in the Old Testament many passages that supported this thinking:

Psalms 1:1-2 (NASB) How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
Psalms 119:1 (NASB) How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD.

How does the law bring blessing? First, we must understand that the word law is used in two senses in the Bible. Sometimes it means: "the Law of Moses, with all its commands, which a man must obey to be approved by God." Sometimes it means: "God's Word" in a very general sense. Many times when the Old Testament speaks of the law, it speaks of it in the general sense of God's Word to us. When Psalm 119:97 says, "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day," the Psalmist means more than just the Law of Moses. He means all of God's Word. Seeing this, we understand how the Bible is filled with praise for the law. Secondly, we are blessed when we keep the law, because we are living according to the "instruction manual" for life. There is an inherent, built-in blessing in living the way God says we should live, in fulfilling the "manufacturer's recommendation." For example, the Bible teaches that we should avoid sexual sin:

1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NASB) For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;

When you obey this command, you will save yourself from sexually transmitted diseases, and many other painful physical and emotional problems.

When Paul says that those under the works of the law are under the curse, he doesn't mean that the law is bad or the Word of God is wrong. He simply means that God never intended the law to be the way we find our approval before Him. He knew we could never keep the law, and so God instituted the system of atoning sacrifice along with the law. And the entire sacrificial system looked forward to what Jesus would accomplish on the cross for us.

They knew they couldn't keep the law perfectly, and so they relied upon the sacrificial system God gave them, which was to be received by faith. How else could it be received? How in the world does the blood of an animal take away sin? Well, it doesn't. But if you place your faith in God, who uses that lamb to represent the One who will come to take away your sin, then that sacrificial system becomes your way to life, based on faith.

To prove his point Scripturally, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 when he says: "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM." The Old Testament itself shows us that if we do not keep all things in the law, and actually do them, then we are under a curse.

The important words in this verse are all and perform. If God would approve you on the basis of the law, you first have to do it. Not simply know it, not simply love it, not simply teach it, not simply want it; you must do it. Secondly, you have to do it all; not some. Not just when you are over 18 or 40. Not just more good than bad. Living by the law isn't a buffet where you pick and choose the laws you want to obey. Either you keep all the law all the time or you're condemned. God doesn't grade on the curve. It's a simple Pass/Fail. Keep the law perfectly, 100% of the time, or you are cursed. That doesn't leave a big margin for error.

This warning is reiterated in the New Testament in:

James 2:10 (NASB) For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

"It is worthy of remark that no printed copy of the Hebrew Bible preserves the word "ALL," in Deuteronomy 27:26, which answers to the apostle's word all, here. St. Jerome says that the Jews suppressed it, lest it should appear that they were bound to perform all things that are written in the book of the law. Of the genuineness of the reading there is no cause to doubt: it exists in six MSS. of Kennicott and De Rossi, in the Samaritan text, in several copies of the Targum, in the Septuagint, and in the quotation made here by the apostle, in which there is no variation either in the MSS. or in the versions." (Adam Clarke)

Paul's point is clear; If you are under the works of the law, the only way you can stand approved and blessed before God by the law is to do it, and to do it all. If you don't, you are cursed.

It was as if Paul was saying, "Okay, you want to embrace the Law as your means of sanctification. Just go right ahead, but while you are at it, you best make sure that you obey every detail of the Law. If you leave out the least observance, then you are cursed."

The context of this verse in Deuteronomy deals with the instructions for renewal of the covenant of the Law just prior to Moses' death (Deuteronomy 27-28). Once they crossed the Jordan, the twelve tribes of Israel were divided in half. Six tribes stood upon Mount Gerizim to ratify the blessings of the covenant of Law by a hearty, "Amen!" While six tribes joined them antiphonally standing upon Mount Ebal, ratifying the curses they would face upon any breach of the covenant of Law. The Levites would read the blessings and curses, while the nation would antiphonally resound the, "Amen!" upon each. The warning given to Israel by Moses was clear:

Deuteronomy 28:15 (NASB) "But it shall come about, if you will not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.
Deuteronomy 28:45 (NASB) "So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.

If you read the ominous warnings in these chapters of the Law, you understand that God was serious about obedience to His Law. He did not intend for the people to pick and choose their obedience. They were to obey everything!

Did Israel obey all that God commanded them? No! Did God curse them? Yes, He sure did, and the clearest picture of this is the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. God owes nothing to Israel as far as the promises of them occupying the land, those promises were all conditional upon Israel's obedience. In Deuteronomy a long list of terrible curses concludes with severe warnings of complete destruction (Deut 30:11-20). Israel's disobedience brought God's curse upon them.

Let's consider for a moment this word "cursed." Cursed is a word that sounds strange in our ears. We think of witches boiling a strange mixture in a dark cauldron. Or maybe we think of a Snidely Whiplash kind of guy saying, "Curses, foiled again!" But in the Bible, the idea of being cursed is important and frightening, because we are talking about being cursed by God. He is the one Person who you would not want to curse you.

What is the curse of the Law?

1 Corinthians 15:56 (NASB) The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;
Romans 8:2 (NASB) For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

The curses of the Law is death, spiritual death, separation from God.

Romans 6:23 (NASB) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

To be "cursed" is to be under a divine sentence of death; rejected, judged, condemned, and sentenced to eternal death. That applies to everyone without exception. The whole human race is under a curse because of our failure to keep the law perfectly. Apart from divine grace, we are all by nature spiritually dead, lost, separated from God, rejected and condemned.

If we don't keep God's law perfectly, then there is a curse attached to it. Or to put it another way, there is a penalty attached to it; the same penalty that was attached to the first law given to mankind when God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the forbidden fruit. That penalty or curse was death.

Paul seems especially concerned to prove to the Galatians that the very ones who are inviting them to join the group of lawkeepers are under a curse, since they actually are lawbreakers. If the lawkeepers themselves are under a curse for having failed to keep all the law, then the risk of incurring a curse is even greater for Gentile believers, who accept only certain items of the law in order to identify with the Jewish nation. An acceptance of requirements such as circumcision and Sabbath keeping obligates them to keep the whole law (5:3). And if all who rely on observing the law cannot keep the whole law (see 2:14 and 6:13), then surely the Galatian believers will not be able to do so either. Hence, they will surely come under a terrible curse for failure to keep the whole law.

Notice carefully: The curse in verse 10 is not because you fail to do the works of the law. It is because you do them. The advice of the Judaizers to supplement faith with "works of law" has exactly the opposite effect from the one intended--it brings a curse, not a blessing. It was when Peter started keeping the dietary laws that Paul said he was out of sync with the gospel and transgressing the law. It was when the Judaizers wanted to keep the command to circumcise Titus, in 2:3, that Paul said the truth of the gospel was about to be compromised. The problem with the Judaizers is not their failure to follow the detailed statutes of the law; the problem was that they missed the larger lesson of the law, namely, that without a new heart (Deut. 30:6,7) and without the enablement of God (Deut. 4:30,31; 5:29; 29:4) and without faith (Ex. 14:31; Num. 14:11; 20:21; Deut. 1:32), all efforts to obey the law would simply be legalistic strivings of the flesh.

Galatians 3:11 (NASB) Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."

Now Paul argues that clearly no one can be justified by the law, that is, no one can become righteous in the sight of God, because the law itself states that a person is justified by faith.

Paul has already proven this point in the Scriptures by examining the life of Abraham (Galatians 3:5-9). Now he brings in another passage from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2:4, which reminds us that the just live by faith, not by law.

The prophet Habakkuk has complained to God about Israel's (Judah's) iniquity (1:2-4). Specifically, he has protested that the nation's sin has been evidenced by her neglect of the Law:

Habakkuk 1:4 (NASB) Therefore, the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore, justice comes out perverted.

It is the sin of God's people which troubled Habakkuk, sin which was evidenced by their disregard and disobedience of the law. God's response to the prophet's protest is that He is going to chasten His people with the Chaldeans (1:5-11). This is a horrifying thought to Habakkuk, who objects that the Chaldeans are even more wicked and violent than the people of God. How can a God so righteous use a nation so wicked (1:12-17)? Habakkuk waits for God's response (2:1) which follows (2:2ff.). God's answer is that the pride of the Chaldeans is sinful and will eventually be punished (2:4a). In contrast, the righteous will live by his faith (2:4b).

How was a man to live righteously in days like those of Habakkuk when God's people neglected God's law, and when Israel's prideful enemy would prevail? Habakkuk could not expect God's blessings on the basis of obedience to the law, because Israel was unfaithful. All he, or any righteous Israelite, could do was to trust in God and to live by faith - faith in God's promises, which did not rest upon law-keeping. In accordance with Habakkuk's realization that Israel was unable to keep the law in his day, and therefore must live by faith, Paul explains the impossibility of keeping the law, requiring men of every age to live by faith.

When Paul says, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH," he is not discussing how the righteous man shall live; he is discussing how the man became righteous. Therefore, his point is that the man who became righteous by faith shall inherit everlasting life, not that the man who stands before God justified shall live (to walk in his day-to-day life) by faith.

It is clear from Paul's letter to the Galatians that he did not believe that men were justified one way during Abraham's lifetime, another way during the period of Israel's national history, and then yet another way after the beginning of the Church. Abraham was the first man in the record of Holy Scripture to be "justified" by a certain methodology. There were men earlier than he who were obviously righteous before God (Enoch, Noah, Seth, etc.), but the record does not specify how they came to be righteous. Abraham was the first to have the method of justification to be specifically stated: "And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it [his 'believing'] to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6; KJV). And, from that beginning, the Scriptures never altered the method. Even at the imposition of the Law, the method of justification was unchanged, for Paul says "no man" is justified by the Law in the sight of God. Habakkuk is the proof. He ministered under the period of the Law; yet, he, and all those of his nation who were justified, were so by faith and not obedience. And, speaking to the Galatians after the beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ, Paul again establishes that justification is still (as with Abraham and Habakkuk) by faith apart from actions of obedience.

The next Old Testament quotation, a citation from Leviticus 18:5, is found in verse:

Galatians 3:12 (NASB) However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM."

If you want to live by the law, you must do it; not try to do it, not intend to do it, and not even want to do it. No, it is only the man who does them who shall live by them.

Paul cites this text as proof that the governing principle for law-keepers is works, not faith. If one chooses to live under law, then he must operate within the governing principle of works, while one who chooses grace must live by faith.

How is it that God can give us salvation on the basis of simple faith in Jesus Christ? The answer is in:

Galatians 3:13 (NASB) 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"--

"Redeemed" is from the Greek word exagorazo, which means: "deliverance at a cost" or "release by payment of a price." In other words, the idea of redemption is deliverance or release by payment of a ransom. Redemption came from the practices of ancient warfare. After a battle the victors would often capture some of the defeated. Among the defeated, the poorer ones would usually be sold as slaves, but the wealthy and important men, the men who mattered in their own country, would be held to ransom. When the people in their homeland had raised the required price, they would pay it to the victors, and the captives would be set free. The process was called "redemption," and the price was called the "ransom."

The image took root in other areas. When a slave had his freedom purchased, perhaps by a relative, perhaps by his own diligent work and saving, this was called "redemption." Sometimes the transaction took place at a temple, and a record was carved in the wall so everyone would forever know that this former slave was now a redeemed, free man. Or, a man condemned to death might be set free by the paying of a price, and this was considered "redemption." Most importantly, Jesus bought us out of a death sentence.

In Old Testament passages, it is clear that redemption is based on some great expenditure of God. The price God paid is always in view. The New Testament terms for redemption always have in mind a price paid. In redemption, someone's release or deliverance is accomplished at the cost of a ransom payment. What's the ransom? What's the payment?

Mark 10:45 (NASB) "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

The answer is that the life of the Son of Man is the ransom paid in redemption. That's what Paul means when he says, "Christ redeemed us." The redemption is in Christ Jesus, because Jesus is the ransom. He gave his life so that there could be release and deliverance.

Christ gave his life as a ransom for many. He paid the price for our release from sin and guilt and death. This is why God now, as a gift by his grace, justifies the ungodly. Everything is owing to the death of Christ. This is why you can't pay for it, and you can't work for it. It's all of Christ. The basis of your justification is not in yourself or anything you do; it is Christ who redeems us."

1 Peter 1:18-19 (NASB) knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

If you could put a price tag on yourself, how much would you say you were worth? Do you know how much you're worth to God? Did you know that God bought you with a price? It is interesting that he says we were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold. Think about it. God could have made planets of silver and galaxies of gold to buy us back; but from eternity past, He had decreed that only the shedding of blood could pay for sin, because "the wages of sin is death."God paid for you with something more valuable than any treasure on earth. Do you know what it was? That's right; the life (blood) of His son Jesus.

Notice what Peter calls Christ in verse 19, "a lamb unblemished and spotless." If you read Exodus 12:1-6, you'll see that when God gave Moses instructions for the first Passover dinner (on the night He would deliver the children of Israel from bondage to Egypt), He told Moses to have each household take a lamb from their flocks and keep it for several days. The lamb was to be without spot or blemish, and they were to examine it for three days, then kill it at twilight. This was to be their Passover meal.

This is what is referred to as a "type" or "shadow." The Passsover lamb was a "type" of Christ, who would be God's sacrificial Lamb to take away the sins of the world and deliver us from bondage of sin.

In God's instructions to Moses, He said the people should drain the blood of the lamb in a basin at the foot of the door and place some blood on the two doorposts and the top of the door, then go inside and eat the Passover lamb. He promised:

Exodus 12:13 (NASB) 'And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

If you think about where the blood was placed on the doorposts, top and foot of the door, you'll realize that they were making a form of a cross over their doors, and this about 1500 years before the crucifixion style of execution was introduced into the world by the Roman Empire.

When this redemption is realized by faith, we find ourselves singing with the hymn writer: "Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it! Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Redeemed through His infinite mercy; His child and forever I am! Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed, by the blood of the Lamb. Redeemed, redeemed, His child and forever I am." Do these words written by Fanny Crosby express the passion of your heart? Do you know that you have been redeemed from the curse?

"Having become a curse for us" - Jesus Christ was not cursed because He was hanged upon the Cross. He was hanged upon the Cross because He was cursed by the law for bearing our sins. The fact that Jesus was crucified, hanged upon a tree, was an indication of the curse upon Him for our sins. The Prophet Isaiah understood that men would regard Jesus Christ as being cursed of God for sin. Isaiah prophesied:

Isaiah 53:4-5 (NASB) Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

The language of the New 'Testament, describing what happened when Jesus was made a curse for us, is very strong. The Bible says, "For He [God] hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us, [Christ] who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [in Christ]" (2 Corinthians 5:21). The language is strong in that God made Christ to be sin for us. That is, when Christ died for our sins upon the Cross, all the sin of the elect was brought together in the person of Christ. There, God was able to judge all the sin of His people, regarding His Son as their representative.

Christ redeemed "us" from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for "us." Who is the "us" of that verse? The elect of God - those who believe in Him. Christ did not redeem the non-elect, they abide under the curse of God.

It is through the cross, through the Passion of the Christ, we see God resolving the tension of how a holy God can redeem a fallen creation, who chose to have nothing to do with Him. Someone had to pay the price of justice, and only one sacrifice was good enough. All who rely on the One cursed are redeemed from the curse.

The idea of redemption brings to light an insurmountable need on the part of those being redeemed. There is a reason for redemption. Paul couches the need for redemption in the language of a "curse." We live under a curse of infinite proportions, which we are helpless to remove by our own efforts. Only by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, can sinners be delivered from the curse.

"For it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE" - this is a quotation from:

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (NASB) "And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.

In the thinking of ancient Israel, there was something worse than being put to death. When someone was really bad, they would be stoned to death. After they were stoned to death, they would be nailed to a post (a tree), so everyone who saw them would know that they were rejected by God. Generation after generation understood that imagery. Those who were nailed to that tree were the worst of the worst. It would be similar to how we would process the death penalty, since the death penalty is for the worst. That is why they could not come to grips with the reality that their Messiah was nailed to a tree, because that was reserved for the worst of the worst. What they had to come to grips with was the reason He hung on a tree was because they deserved to hang on the tree. That is a sobering thought - to believe that the tree was reserved for the worst of the worst, and then to imagine that it is me who should be hanging on that tree. I was cursed; that is what I deserved. At one time in my life, I was condemned by God. He became the curse for us because that is what we had coming.

So Jesus not only died in our place; but He took the place as the cursed of God, being hung on a "tree" in open shame and degradation.

Galatians 3:14 (NASB) in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Jesus received this curse, which we deserved and He did not, so that we could receive the blessing of Abraham, which He deserved and we did not! It would be enough if Jesus simply took away the curse we deserved, but He did far more than that; He also gave a blessing that we didn't deserve!

What is the blessing of Abraham? If the curse of the law is death, what is the blessing? Life! The blessing of Abraham is eternal life. The parallelism of the two phrases in verse 14 indicates that the blessing given to Abraham is equivalent to the promise of the Spirit.

Please notice what it is that the Gentiles (we) receive - "the promise of the Spirit."What is the promise of the Spirit? To answer that, look with me at:

Acts 2:30-33 (NASB) "And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS UPON HIS THRONE, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. 32 "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.

The promise of the Spirit is the resurrection, which is life! Look at:

Acts 2:39 (NASB) "For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself."

The promise that is to "as many as the Lord our God will call" is the promise of resurrection. And resurrection is life in the presence of God. To be under the curse is to be separated from God, and to be blessed is to be in His presence. We are blessed!

The reference to the Spirit brings the argument back full circle to the beginning of the chapter. Since the Galatian believers are already recipients of the promised blessings to Abraham, but are now trying to keep the law in order to obtain the blessings they already have, they deserve to be called idiots!

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