Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Galatians 3:10-14

V10-14 – 10All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’ [Deuteronomy 27:26]. 11Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith’ [Habakkuk 2:4]. 12The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them’ [Leviticus 18:5]. 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’ [Deuteronomy 21:23]. 14He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Paul, not finished giving Old Testament (Scriptural) evidence that what he is teaching is true and has always been true, quotes Deuteronomy 27:26, proving that no one keeps the law perfectly in its entirety (except Jesus). Paul has given the positive illustration of Abraham, and now he gives the negative illustration of the law itself – not that the law is a problem; rather sin is the problem (see also Romans 7). Most Jews would have seen this statement as Paul rubbing it in their faces, since Deuteronomy 27 is speaking of the curses that would befall Israel for breaking the law – most of which had already happened to them, proving their sinfulness.

V11 reminds again of the point of this epistle, which we noted in Galatians 2:15-16. Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, but there is an alternate translation (RSV) that seems to fit better with the message Paul is preaching, that “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” This is not a short-term solution to a temporary setback, but a life-long way of survival amidst a truly and otherwise overwhelming condition, that of sinfulness. Calvin says, “By ‘faith,’ he evidently means the exercise of a calm, steady conscience, relying on God alone.” And this faith is the means by which we persevere and overcome in this life.

In v12, we see that the law is God’s requirement for all apart from His covenant promise (Leviticus 26:14-38; 40-45). The promise is still good, despite the broken law. Vincent Cheung helps by saying, “A person who attempts to become justified by law must rely on his own works – this way is not based on faith, and it cannot be supplemented by faith. The man is ‘stuck’ with law, and the two ways of justification exclude each other. It is impossible to rely on both faith and law, that is, on both Christ and oneself… Note that faith and law in themselves do not exclude each other – God instituted both of them. Rather, we are saying that the two ways of justification exclude each other. If one relies on observing the law for justification, then there is no place for faith; if one relies on faith for justification, then there is no place for reliance on observing the law. Now since those who rely on the works of law must ‘live by them,’ and since they can never achieve perfect obedience to the law, all those who seek justification in this matter are doomed to eternal condemnation. Since the way of faith is the way of reliance on Christ for salvation, those who rely on observing the law instead are cut off from faith, and cut off from Christ (Galatians 5:4).”

In v13 Paul turns this discussion of justification by faith to the object of faith – Christ. He declares who did what and how it was done – Jesus redeemed us by bearing the law’s curse in our place, taking the condemnation from God – which we deserved for breaking our part of the covenant by violating the law of God – and giving us reconciliation and peace with God (Romans 3:21-26; 4:25; 5:1-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:13-15; cf. Mark 10:45; John 1:29; 1 Peter 2:24). And as Vincent Cheung says, “Paul connects this understanding of the work of Christ with the manner of His death, citing Deuteronomy 21:23 as confirmation that He bore the curse as He hung on the cross. And Calvin adds, “It was not unknown to God what death His own Son would die, when He pronounced the law, ‘He that is hanged is accursed of God’ (Deuteronomy 21:23).” This leaves no question, then, as to the nature of the work of Christ, and the purpose of the crucifixion. His work was that of a substitutionary atonement – He died for sinners to save them from divine condemnation. The prophet proclaimed of the suffering servant, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). This idea is also taught in the law, for example, in the instructions regarding the scapegoat in Leviticus 16.” Calvin concludes, “This is the foolishness of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18), and the admiration of angels (1 Peter 1:12), which not only exceeds, but swallows up, all the wisdom of the world.

Lastly, and crucially, in v14, we learn that the Holy Spirit is the blessing promised to the justified, Abraham and his offspring - even the Gentiles - fulfilling the promise (Genesis 12:3) that "all peoples would be blessed." Justification and the Holy Spirit go hand in hand; you cannot have one without the other (Romans 8:9). A spiritual blessing is not received according to the flesh, but by faith. And so we can rejoice that justification by faith has come through the Holy Spirit. One scholar says, "[The] gift of the Spirit (who is the substance of the promise) is to be received 'through faith,' literally 'through the faith' - the faith spoken of in v7-9,11. In the original promise to Abraham there was no mention of the Spirit but only the blessing of justification by faith, and yet here Paul conceives of the fulfillment of that promise as constituted above all in the bestowal of the Spirit upon those who have faith. It is manifest that in Paul's thinking the blessing of justification is almost synonymous (it is certainly contemporaneous) with the reception of the Spirit." But the objection may remain that even though Abraham was justified by faith, the law came later and may therefore override justification by faith. Paul will pick up there next in Galatians 3.

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