The Law Curses, Faith Blesses

Title: The Law Curses, Faith Blesses

Text: Galatians 3:10-14

Time: January 2nd, 2011

Well, the Christmas season is over, it’s a New Year, and we’re back into studying the Book of Galatians. It seems like forever ago that we were working our way through the Apostle Paul’s Book of Galatians, but it was only a month and a half ago! I took a brief departure for the Thanksgiving holiday, and then also a longer departure for Christmas, but now we’re back in Galatians to hopefully finish by Easter of this year. The Book of Galatians is one of the best descriptions and explanations of the gospel message found in the whole Bible. Probably the Book of Romans is the very best account of the gospel in the New Testament and Old Testament, but Galatians probably comes second. To really understand and grasp the Gospel of Jesus Christ you can’t do better than by reading Romans and Galatians. In my pastoral ministry I preached through almost the entire Book of Romans about five years ago in New York where I lived and worked, but this is the first time I’ve ever preached through the Book of Galatians. I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far, although I’m sure it hasn’t always been easy to follow – that’s because the Apostle Paul isn’t the easiest person to follow along after! He sometimes gets pretty heavy into theological material and stretches our minds to keep up with him. But I guarantee you that if you stay with it, Paul will reward you with a greater understand of the will of God for your life. Now one of the biggest challenges to me as a pastor is to take theological material in the Bible and make it accessible to everyone of every kind of background. The New Testament was written in koine Greek, which is the common Greek for the common people, as opposed to the Classical Greek. The presumption is that God wants everyone, not just the scholars, to read and understand it. So whenever I begin to wonder if this material is suitable for the wide range of individuals in the church I’m reminded that God through his providence made the New Testament available in the koine or common Greek so that everyone could understand it. I’ll try my best to not confuse things by trying to go too fast or get too technical. God wants to teach us things from the Book of Galatians, so let’s pray that he does so today. Now if you remember, the main theme of Galatians so far is to teach us about salvation by faith alone — as opposed to attempts that seek salvation by our own good works. Why is salvation so important? Because it’s only the most important thing in the whole world! What could be more important than securing one’s eternal happiness? Think about this. The Bible teaches that everyone will live forever because the soul cannot die, only the body. Now if our soul or spirit will live on forever, then the next issue or question is, where will our soul live? The Bible answers that we’ll live forever in one of two places: either in eternal happiness or in eternal misery, either in heaven or hell. Today, it’s common to meet people who refuse to believe in either of these two destinations, because they prefer to believe when the body dies nothing is left. They deny there is a soul at all! They have no future hope. They believe the last place you live is in a coffin six feet under. They deny there is any future life after death, no heaven, no hell. But the Bible teaches the opposite; it teaches our soul goes either to heaven or hell after this life. So then the next question is, how does one get into heaven and avoid hell? I presume that in choosing between the two everyone would choose heaven over hell. That may not be the case in every instance, but I’ve only met one person who actually said he’d rather live forever in hell. He said that’s where all his friends will be so that’s where he wants to be. I think he was joking of course, so everyone would rather go to heaven than hell. So then the question becomes, “How do I get to heaven?” That’s what the Apostle Paul spends time explaining in the Book of Galatians. It’s important that we listen to what he has to say because he was a prophet and apostle of God, and because we want to know how to live forever in eternal happiness in heaven. So let’s pick up where we left off in Paul’s teaching. Galatians 3:10-14 (read).

First, cursed is everyone seeking salvation by human works. Galatians 3:10, “All 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.’” Now the sad fact is that almost everyone you meet today – if they think about salvation – believe in some form of salvation by human works. It’s so natural and normal to think so. The natural world is based normally on the “merit pay” system of rewards. If you work hard, try hard, do the right thing, then you’ll be rewarded. So we naturally apply that to God and salvation and conclude, “If I want to live forever in eternal happiness I’ve got to please God by being good, or as good as I possibly can.” This usually means following as many of the teachings or laws of God as possible. Or in a mild version, trying not to be as bad or break as many laws or rules as possible. But in either case, it’s all about my performance and the reward I hope to get as a result. But the bad news is that the Bible says this thinking, this system of salvation, is futile. Why? Because it hasn’t ever, it doesn’t now, nor will it ever actually lead to salvation. Why not? Because instead of bringing a blessing, it brings a curse? Why a curse? Because of the impossibility of ever living up to the Law of God through good works. Paul quotes the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy 27:26 that says, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” The law brings a curse unless it is fulfilled completely. But, of course, nobody can fulfill the law completely, so it brings a curse. It would bring a blessing for perfect obedience, but nobody obtains that. The problem is that people continue to cling to this failed system of salvation in hopes that somehow, even though they fail to fulfill the law, it will still bring them a blessing in the end instead of a curse. Even though the Bible says that seeking salvation by law will bring a curse, still people follow this futile path in hopes that it will bring a blessing instead. How foolish. But look at, for example, just two major world religions – Jews and Muslims. Each one of these religions relies on salvation by works. Each one hopes that salvation can be obtained by working for it in this life, by working hard at obeying God. According to Paul and according to the Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy, the law only brings a curse, never a blessing. Salvation can’t be gotten by trying to obey God. Only failure, curse and condemnation will result in seeking salvation by works. But it isn’t just Jews and Muslims today that are confused and misguided, because many so-called Christians and many so-called Christian churches teach and believe the same thing. I know I used to think that salvation was by works; I didn’t even know there was any alternative to salvation by works. Everyone I knew believed the same thing. As far as I could tell, the church I attended as a teenager taught salvation by works too. I run into people all the time who still think salvation is about performance and obedience to God and fulfilling the law. But this is all wrong. Paul reminds us once again that salvation never comes through our own human efforts or strivings. Where do you stand on this? Do you still think your best efforts at pleasing God can save you to eternal life? Do you think that by trying, by working, by obeying God you can earn entrance into heaven? Paul says you can’t. The New Testament says we can’t. That’s important to remember – obedience can’t gain us heaven.

Second, blessings only come through faith in Christ. Galatians 3:11-12, “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘the man who does these things will live by them.’” Paul states again, “No one is justified before God by the law.” We just talked about that in the previous point, only we used the word “saved” – nobody is “saved” by the Law of God, by trying to obey the law. Now Paul swings around and tells us how a person can be saved, by faith – “The righteous will live by faith.” That’s a quote from the Book of Habakkuk 2:4. It says the righteous will live by faith. Paul quotes this famous verse also in the Book of Romans, and it can be stated in different ways in order to bring out its full meaning. “By faith, the righteous shall live.” Or, “The righteous, by faith, shall live.” Now what does the verse mean? Here’s how Paul is teaching it, or how we might paraphrase it — “If you want to live, live forever and ever, I mean, in heaven, eternal life, you must be righteous; and the way to be righteous is by faith, that is, by believing and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.” Every Jew understood that salvation came through being righteous, but they were under the false impression that they could somehow obtain righteousness by obeying the law. But every Jew also knew that nobody was truly righteous because nobody every really obeyed the law fully. So then how could anybody ever obtain eternal life? The solution is exactly what Paul is explaining – the righteousness necessary to obtain eternal life is found only in faith in Jesus Christ the Righteous One. So then, it’s our faith in the righteous One that saves us not our own personal righteousness. Paul explains that the law is not based on faith but instead it’s based on obedience. “The man who does these things, that is, obeys the law, will live by them.” But what happens to the man who fails to do all these things, that is, who fails to obey all the laws fully? He dies by them instead. And that’s where all of us are and where all people have always ever been – they fail to fulfill the law perfectly, so instead of receiving a blessing for obedience, they receive a curse for disobedience. That’s where you and I are today also. If you try to obtain the blessing of eternal heavenly life through obedience to the law, you’ll fail and instead receive a curse, the damnation of your soul. If I try to please God by my own personal effort, as sincere as I may be and as serious as I may try, I’ll still fail, I’ll be judged and cursed forever in eternal punishment. It’s only through the obedience of Christ that blessings come. Only Christ was fully and completely obedient to the Law of God. For us, our only hope is to cling to the Holy and Righteous One, that is, Christ, by faith in order to receive our righteousness through Him. Is that how you stand before God today? Are you trying to stand in your own feeble righteousness or do you stand in Christ’s righteousness? Do you even understand the difference? I pray you do, and I pray you are standing in the righteousness of Christ today, right now, because it’s the only thing that can save your soul. If you aren’t clinging to Christ’s righteousness today, do so immediately, now, before it’s too late. Don’t put it off. If you die clothed in your own self-righteousness you’ll be cursed and die in your sins. You’ll be judged and condemned to eternal punishment. So don’t put it off. Put on Jesus Christ today as your righteousness.

Third, Christ saves us by becoming our curse. Galatians 3:13-14, “Christ 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.’ He 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.” Christ becoming our curse refers to the penalty Christ bore on the cross for our sins. Jesus paid for our sins by becoming cursed on the cross in our place. We sinned, but Christ took upon himself our sins in order to suffer and pay the price for us. He became cursed in our place, for us. That’s how our sins are forgiven, through Christ’s death on the cross. The Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” The Jews knew this passage but they didn’t know that it referred to Christ, but in the context of the crucifixion it makes sense. Jesus died on the cross in order to take our place, to pay our sin penalty, to bear our punishment, to experience death and hell on our behalf in order to save us from all that. Christ also is our righteousness, in that he took our sins from us and gave us his perfect and holy life in order to satisfy the demands of the law. So now, when God the Father sees us, he doesn’t stare at our sins, but sees only the righteousness Christ earned for us. So there is this two way transfer – in one instance, my sins are taken from me and placed on Christ on the cross for processing; then, in the other instance, the righteousness of Christ is placed on me so that when I stand before God the Father I am righteous, not of my own righteousness, but of Christ’s. In this state, I am not judged and condemned to hell forever, which I deserve, but instead, I am found without sin because Christ bore my sins, and with righteousness, because Christ gave me his righteousness. So I am given eternal life in heaven as a result; I am saved. Now if people could only understand this much they could be saved. If only people would cling to Christ as their only hope of eternal life, they’d find heaven. If only people would abandon all efforts at saving themselves by their own good works or holy performance, they could then turn to Christ alone and be saved. Unfortunately, there is so much sin and confusion in religion today that very few people actually come through saved. I hope you aren’t confused. I hope you understand God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. I hope you understand the difference between works and faith. If church teaches you anything, make sure you understand this. If you get anything out of this message, get this – God is calling each and everyone of you to salvation today through Christ. But you must stop trying to save yourself by being good enough to please God directly. You must stop trying to save yourself by keeping the law or will of God. Now don’t get me wrong – don’t stop trying to do the will of God, don’t stop trying to do good, just stop doing it to get saved. You can’t get saved that way. Only through clinging to Christ, to his cross, to his righteousness, can you be saved. There’s no other way to eternal life. There is no other way to heaven. Don’t you think God the Father would have presented the other way rather than send Jesus to die a terrible, agonizing death on the cross, if there had been any other way? Certainly. So this must be the one and only way. Are you participating in it? Maybe you understand it, but haven’t ever embraced it. Why not embrace it today. Maybe you understand it for the first time today. If so, now take the next step and embrace it, make it count in your life. It’s not enough to know God’s plan of salvation; you need to trust in it personally. What a tragedy it is to know the plan of salvation, but fail to act on it or trust in it. But it’s no good unless acted upon. I urge you to act on it now before it’s too late. Let’s pray.

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