October 19, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

  1. Doctrinal: Defense of Justification by Faith (3:1–4:31)

A: Vindication of Justification by Faith (3.1-18)

2: The Example of Abraham (3.6-14)


Chapter III.A.2.c: The Curse on Christ (3.13)

Galatians 3.13 (KJV)

13  Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree:


13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree:

This verse and the next beautifully summarize all that Paul has been saying in this section. Does the Law put sinners under a curse? Then Christ has redeemed us from that curse! Do you want the blessing of Abraham? It comes through Christ! Do you want the gift of the Spirit, but you are a Gentile? This gift is given through Christ to the Gentiles! All that you need can be found in Christ! There is no reason for anyone to go back to Moses.

Paul quotes Deuteronomy again, “He that is hanged is accused of God” (Deut. 21.33). The Jews did not crucify criminals; they stoned them to death. But in cases where the Law had been shamefully violated, the body was hung on a tree for all to see. This was a great humiliation because the Jewish people were very careful in their treatment of a dead body. After the body had been exposed for a time, it was taken down and buried.

It is written is the common New Testament way (occurs 61 times) of introducing Old Testament quotes.

Christ…was made a curse for us. The question is: When did Christ become a curse? Did He become a curse in His incarnation? Oh, No. When He was born He was born He was called “…that holy thing… (Luke 1.35). Did He become a curse during those silent years of which we have so little record? No, it says that He advanced “…in favor with God and Man” (Luke 2.52). Did He become a curse during His ministry? Oh, no. It was during His ministry that His Father said “…This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3.17). Then He must have become a curse while He was on the cross. Yes, but not during the first three hours on the Cross, because when He offered Himself up, He was still without blemish. It was during that last three hours on the Cross that He was made a curse for us. It was then that it pleased the Lord to bruise Him and put Him to grief. He made His soul an offering for sin—“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isa. 53.10).

Of course, Paul’s reference to a tree relates to the Cross on which Jesus died—“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 5.30). He was not stoned and then His dead body exposed; He was nailed alive to a tree and left there to die. The manner of His death was a great obstacle to faith for the Jews until they realized the curse He bore was for them. But by dying on the Cross, Jesus Christ bore the curse of the Law for us; so that now the believer is no longer under the Law and its awful curse. “The blessing of Abraham” (justification by faith and the gift of the Spirit) is now ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Greek word translated redeemed was often used to speak of buying a slave’s or debtor’s freedom. It was customary to purchase a slave and then keep him as a slave, but this is not what Christ did. By shedding His blood on the Cross, He purchased us so that we might be set free. Christ’s death, because it is a death of substitution for sin, satisfied God’s justice and exhausted His wrath toward His elect, so that Christ actually purchased believers from slavery to sin and from the sentence of eternal death—“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4.4, 5). The Judaizers wanted to lead the Christians into slavery to the Law, but Christ died to set them free. Salvation is not exchanging one form of bondage for another. Salvation is being set free from the bondage of sin and the Law into the liberty of God’s grace through Christ.

Jesus, being made a curse for us means that by bearing God’s wrath for sinners on the cross, Christ took upon Himself the curse pronounced on those who violated the Law. But, how can sinners be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? The answer to this question lies at the heart of the Gospel and is contained in the doctrines of “imputation” and “substitution.” It is explained in this way: God the Father, using the principle of imputation, treated Christ as if He were a sinner, though He was not, and had Him die as a substitute to pay the penalty for those who believe in Him—“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53.4-6). On the Cross, He did not become a sinner (as some suggest), but remained as holy as ever. He was treated as if He were guilty of all the sins ever committed, by all who would ever believe, though He committed none. The wrath of God was exhausted on Him and the just requirement of God’s Law was met on behalf of those for whom He died. What a contrast we have here. He went to that Cross, which was to Him a tree of death, in order that He might make it for you and me a tree of life.

The Law is both a mirror of the will of God for His covenant people and a taskmaster that brings a curse. But in this case, Paul is not discussing the brighter aspect of the Law, because he confines himself to the Law as a means of condemnation—“Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory” (2 Cor. 3.6-9). The curse of the Law is real. It took Christ to the Cross. The inflexibility of the Law’s demands is clearly seen in the fact that when Christ took the place of the lawbreaker, though He Himself was perfectly holy, He had to endure exactly the same penalty as any other who came under the penalty of the curse of the Law.

WE ARE NOT UNDER THE LAW. “But now we are delivered from the law…” (Rom. 7.6). The Law cannot condemn twice. The believer then is through with the Law forever. He is delivered from the Law, he is dead to the Law—“For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God” (Gal. 2.19), and free from the Law—“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8.2). Dear Christian brothers and sisters, rejoice in this wonderful salvation and this marvelous redemption provided by the Lord Jesus Christ. May I repeat, “…Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3.10). It is not a matter of keeping the Law partly, it is not a matter of living a good life for a short time, but the scripture says, “Cursed is every one that continueth not.” It must be uninterrupted, unbroken obedience to the Law of God if we ever hope to find salvation by our own efforts and by our own works.

I do want to bring a word of hope to those of you who are still without the Lord Jesus Christ, and are counting on attaining Heaven and salvation without coming to Him and believing in Him as your own personal Savior. There are so many today who believe they can live a good life, and join a church, and go through all the rituals of religion, and behave themselves, and make an honest effort to keep the Law to the best of their ability, that then God will save them. The Bible knows nothing of this kind of salvation. God says, “There is none that doeth good, no not one. We have all gone astray, we are together become unprofitable.” And for this very reason Jesus had to die on the Cross of Calvary to provide that which we ourselves were absolutely unable to attain. THE LAW WAS NOT INTENDED TO SAVE, BUT RATHER TO SHOW US OUR NEED FOR SALVATION. Once you recognized that you are a sinner, and accept that there is nothing you can do to save yourself, you are ready to be saved by believing that Jesus died in your place to pay for your sins. And once you have received Him as your Savior, His righteousness is imputed to you, the Holy Spirit baptizes you into the body of Christ, you have the Spirit of God, and you can say along with us:

Free from the Law, Oh, happy condition!

Jesus has died and there is remission.

Cursed by the Law, and ruined by the fall,

Christ has redeemed us, once for all.

Once for all, oh, doubter believe it,

One for all, oh, sinner, receive it.

Come to the Cross, your burden will fall,

Christ hath redeemed us, once for all.

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