Paul began defending his proposition that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16) by asking the Galatian brethren when had they received the Holy Spirit–by works of law or by hearing with faith? Of course, they received Him by hearing and believing the gospel, not by hearing and obeying a body of laws. The Jews, as a matter of fact, had lived their entire lives attempting to follow that body of laws yet, despite all their efforts, had not received justification.
Next, Paul demonstrates in Galatians 3.10-12 that those who seek to be under law remain under a curse.
10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”
What curse? All Jews familiar with their scriptures know the blessings and curses God built into their covenant. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they quickly came to two mountains–Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. From Gerizim they pronounced the great BLESSINGS God would give them if they remained faithful (Deut. 28.1-14), and from Ebal they intoned the litany of CURSES God would bring upon them when they wandered away into unfaithfulness (Deut. 27.15-26; 28.15-68).
Paul gets pretty legalistic here. You might recall a few moments in Israelite history when Israel seemed to be doing okay and God was blessing them because of their faithfulness. But, in reality, the law actually demands a full, total, and perfect faithfulness to all aspects of the law in order to be considered righteous! And who has done that? Only one.
Even in the Old Testament God justified individuals the same way He does now–by faith. Paul pulls from Habakkuk 2.4, “the just shall live by faith,” to show that God justified even the Israelites by faith and not because of their keeping of the Law (praise God)!
We are not justified by law but by faith. We do not live by keeping law but by faith. These ideas of being justified and living go hand-in-hand, for the one on whom God shows His favor has passed out of death and into life (John 5.24); the one God justifies now lives, as once he had been dead in his sins (Eph. 2.1) and under the curse (wrath of God). Law brings curse and judgment; faith brings life and justification.
How can this be? Continue in Galatians 3.13-14…
13 Christ has 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 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Give us the gospel again, Paul! Hammer it into us and make us full and rich, glowing in the light of God’s truth in Jesus Christ! That’s right–Jesus became cursed in our place. God provided a substitute for us who really deserve the curse, the beating, the mocking, the nails. He hung on that tree until dead, until He had erased our eternal pain and the condemnation of the law. He bore our sin and carried our sorrow so all the people of the earth could have access to the blessing of Abraham and receive that Holy Spirit unto salvation.
And God confirmed these promises by raising Jesus from the dead.
I don’t know about you, but I’m in total awe of what God has done. Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer!