Those Who Rely on the Law are Under a Curse


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.”
(Galatians 3:10)

Read: Galatians 3:1-14

Devotion: In Romans 7:12 Paul says that the Mosaic law is “holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Even after the advent of the New Covenant, God’s Law is still God’s Law. It perfectly reflects his character and instructs us in true righteousness, pure morals, and provides wisdom for a rightly-ordered government.

As members of the New Covenant, the Christian’s relationship to the Law has changed, for Christ has fulfilled the Law (Matt 5:17). Nevertheless, Christians can still look to and apply the Law in a variety of ways to help them live and govern themselves in a manner that is honoring to God. If the Law is still good and the Christian can still use it, then why does Paul tell the Galatians, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse”? Such a statement makes it seem like the Mosaic Law is bad and that the Christian should locate themselves as far away from the Law as possible.

There is no contradiction in Paul’s thinking. The problem was that the Gentile Galatian Christians were being tempted to use the Law in a way that it was never meant to be used. They were allowing a false gospel to spread through their churches—a gospel of Jesus plus works (Gal 1:6-9). These Christians were being bombarded with false teachers who were telling them that in order to truly be a part of God’s people they needed Jesus, but they also needed to be circumcised and to obey the Mosaic Law. In other words, their obedience to God’s Law was necessary for their justification. To be saved, they had to perform works on top of their faith in Jesus.

Paul emphatically tells them, “No!” He does this in chapter three by asking them rhetorical questions concerning the Spirit. Did they receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or did they receive him by faith in Christ alone? Are they to progress in their sanctification by the Spirit working through faith, or are they to progress through their own natural ability to obey? And did they see the Spirit working among them through faith or because they were obedient?

The answer to all those questions is clearly “by faith,” for they hadn’t been circumcised yet! Paul’s point, therefore, is that if they have the Spirit living within them—the seal of their salvation and guarantee of their inheritance in Christ (Eph 1:13-14)—without being circumcised, how could they think that their salvation could in any way be based on their works? This logical incoherence why he calls them foolish at the beginning of chapter three. This false doctrine they’ve allowed to be spread is so obviously false that the only potential reason why they’re allowing it is because they’ve been put under a spell (v. 1).

But Paul doesn’t stop there by inquiring about their subjective experience with the Spirit. Rather, he teaches them out of the objective word of God that salvation and entrance into the people of God has always been by faith alone. Paul appeals to Abraham, who, before God’s Law was given to Moses and who before the sign of circumcision was given, was counted righteous through faith (Gal 3:6). Abraham simply believed God at his word and God counted him as righteous. Abraham did nothing to earn a righteousness of his own, nor did he accomplish a certain set of tasks to deserve to be called righteous. Out of God’s good grace, he counted Abraham righteous through Abraham’s faith in God’s promises.

Therefore, if the patriarch of God’s people is counted righteous through faith, then his true children and the inheritors of his blessing are only those who share his faith (vv. 7-9). Blood and circumcision and works of the Law do not matter when it comes to salvation and being counted as God’s people (see Rom 9:6-8). Trusting in and relying wholly on God in Christ has always been the pathway to blessing.

Therefore, as Paul says in v. 10, if someone tries to rely on their obedience to the Law, all that is left for them are the curses of the Law. The standard of the Law is perfect obedience. If you break one part of it, you have broken the entire Law (James 2:10). Only one man has ever perfectly obeyed the Law, and that was the God-man Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He is the One who fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law, and it is Jesus who was accursed and hung on a tree to pay the penalty of those who have broken that Law. Thus, the Law is fulfilled in all those who believe in him (Rom 8:1-4).

To then try and rely on your own works and ability to be obedient to God’s law is to put yourself back under that impossible requirement—a requirement that you have already failed to fulfill. And since Christ was the final and eternal sacrifice for sin, spurning his sacrifice by trying to make your own way to God through works, leaves you with nothing but the curses of the law. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, not by any works big or small. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Ponder and Pray: Consider why it is important to know God’s Law as a Christian. Why was it given if it was never intended to save?

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