Exploring Galatians – The Curse of the Law

A Vin diagram is used to graphically depict how two or more concepts overlap. For instance, say we’re comparing an apple with a tomato. One circle would describe the apple and the other the tomato, where the circle’s overlap would be the shared characteristics of fruit, round, and smooth-skinned. Paul’s readers in Galatia had a similar drawing in mind which connected Law and faith. 

Paul writes, “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.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” 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”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:10–14, NASB95) In very short order, Paul destroys the concept of these two powerful principles overlapping. And he does it by quoting from the Law itself and pointing to the cross.

Paul draws a stark distinction between Law and faith. To try and live by the Law means to be under a curse. While the Law itself is good, it is impossible for anyone to perfectly observe or abide by the Law. No one is justified by keeping the Law of Moses no matter how hard they try. Instead, Paul emphasizes that the righteous (the justified) shall live by faith.

I find the NASB rendering of Galatians 3:12 a bit hard to understand. Consider this from the NLT, “This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.” (Galatians 3:12, NLT) This is the point where Paul completely separates the two concepts of justified by the Law and justified by faith. The Galatians tried in some respects to keep both, but Paul is adamant that that cannot be so.

But here we must also take care. It’s easy to take in what Paul says in Galatians and declare absolute freedom to do anything we want. Many have taken that path and shipwrecked their faith and that of others. One day a lawyer asked, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, ” ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire Law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36–40, NLT) Followers of Jesus keep His commands to love God and love others, not for our justification but because of it.

Followers of Jesus are no longer subject to the Law and the Law’s curse. Jesus carried that to the cross. All that willingly accept Christ receive the promise of the Holy Spirit through faith. There are no other requirements for justification and acceptance before God. When it comes to being righteous before God, there is only one circle in our diagram – the circle of faith.

Dale Heinold
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