The book of Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of Christian liberty and the Christian’s Declaration of Independence. Just as it is necessary to understand the background and circumstances leading to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, it’s also necessary to understand the background of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Paul had founded in the church in Galatia on his first missionary journey but soon after he left, some teaches from Jerusalem came and preached a different message from what Paul had preached. Paul had said that you are saved by trusting in what Christ has done on the cross. The new teachers, called the Judaizers, said that yes you’re saved by trusting Christ, but you must also be circumcised. They just added to faith. As the Judaizers taught their new gospel they attacked Paul personally. They attacked his authority as an apostle and the authority of his message. When Paul heard the news from Galatia he was heart broken. The people with whom he had invested so much time had forsaken the Gospel. So Paul writes a fiery, passionate letter to condemn the Judaizers’ false teaching and the Galatians’ acceptance of it. This is the most intense of Paul’s letters because of what was at stake. Paul realized that what was at stake was not merely his reputation as an apostle, but the Gospel itself so He writes with fervor. See Galatians 1:6-9 for evidence of this.
Paul begins his letter then by defending his call to apostleship and the source of his message in chapters 1 and 2. But then in chapter 3, he begins to defend the message: the Gospel!
Because the Judaizers based their teaching on the law from the Old Testament, the apostle Paul uses the Old Testament to make his argument. The false teaches said that Paul was teaching a “new” way that was in opposition to the “old” way of the Old Testament. In this passage paul demonstrates from four key Old Testament passages that the “Gospel” is the “Old” and “New” way.
I like to call Galatians 3:10-14 the “logic of the gospel” because Paul logically builds his argument for the Gospel with four consecutive statements from the Old Testament which summarize the Gospel. These are: 1. A Statement of Accusation; 2. A Statement of Justification; 3. A Statement of Condemnation, and 4. A Statement of Propitiation.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (11) But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. (12) And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. (13) Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (14) That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:10-14
I. The Statement of Accusation, v. 10.
Here Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 which says, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” We are each shown our guilt here. This gets everyone from the most moral to the drunk on the street. The word “cursed” has to do with “a proclamation of doom by God.” Romans 6:23 says it this way, “The wages of sin is death.” But this proclamation of doom and death is upon “every one”. From the big to the little, from the smart to the ignorant, everyone is under this curse. But Paul gets more specific: “that continueth not”. This is where everyone is caught. You say, “I do good,” “I keep the law,” but the Scripture says that you have to keep keeping the law. You can’t let up for one second. If you break one law, one time you are cursed. James 2:10 says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” If I kept every law that Lenoir City and Loudon County has for the next fifty years, I can wait in vain for the city and county to honor my achievement with a medal or plaque. It won’t happen. The law never rewards obedience, it only punishes disobedience. But I guarantee you that if after fifty years of faithfully obeying every law of Lenoir City, I am caught running a red light, I will be punished. Nothing will be said of my fifty years of perfect obedience. In the same way, the law cannot save anyone, it only condemns those who offend in any point. We are cursed!
II. The Statement of Justification, v. 11.
But Paul says that we can be declared righteous in the sight of God. How? By faith! No man is declared righteous by the law. But “the just shall live by faith.” In v. 11, Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4. He is still using the OT. Paul breaks in amid the doom and gloom and says that there is hope of escaping the curse, but it’s not by the law. It’s in Jesus!
Here we see the contrast between the only two religions in the world. The one of law, the other of faith. One is works, one is grace. One is dependent on man, the other is dependent on God! These are the only two religions in the world: the religion of human achievement and the religion of divine accomplishment. The religion of human achievement is masked behind a thousand different names, but it is always recognizable. The religion of Divine accomplishment involves God declaring guilty sinners to be righteous because they are trusting in Christ’s righteousness. The justified sing with Augustus Toplady, “Nothing in my hands I bring!” But the religion of works says, “Something in my hands I bring!”
III. The Statement of Condemnation, v. 12.
Next Paul moves to a statement of condemnation. We’ve already been accused and given a word of hope in justification. But now we’re finally condemned. Verse 12 says that the person who keeps the law shall live, but this is just a euphemism for if you don’t keep the law, you die. Yes, we are cursed and the curse is death! Romans 6:23 – “The wages of sin is death.” The death sentence has already been passed on you unless you’re in Christ. You are just waiting for the day for the executioner to come and take you to the grave and hell forever. Don’t cry for mercy if you won’t trust Christ. There is no mercy for one who depends on his own efforts or abilities.
If you say that you want to take your own chances, you will surely die. If you ever broke one law, one time, then you are guilty and must die. Don’t say, “Well, I’m better than some. You’re not going to be judged against someone else. You’re judged against God’s holy standard which knows no compromise. Christ is your only hope.
IV. The Statement of Propitiation, v. 13.
Propitiation is an old word that I’m afraid we lost its meaning. It means “to satisfy wrath.” Many do not believe in the wrath of God in our day so this word is little comfort to them. But to those of us who have been accused and condemned by a Holy God, we know this is a profound truth.
You see every religion has an idea of propitiation, but it’s always man trying to appease their gods. But Bible Christianity is the only religion which teaches that God has satisfied his own wrath. He has been propitiated. How? Verse 13 says, “Christ was made a curse for us.” Here again Paul quotes the Old Testament: “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” Deuteronomy 21:23. This verse was written thousands of years before Christ was born and yet God was already preparing his people for the substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf.
The Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982, honoring the 58,000 American troops who died. Marine Sergeant George Hutchings of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division, Charlie Company said of the Vietnam Memorial: “On that wall is the name of Corporal Quinton Bice, who was hit in the chest with a rocket running a patrol in my place. A Christian, he had shared the Gospel with me, but I didn’t understand it till he gave his life in my place.” Jesus Christ took the rocket of God’s Judgment upon sin in the place of all believers.
Let’s see if we can piece together what Paul is saying:
1. We are cursed.
2. We can be declared righteous.
3. The curse is death.
4. Christ took the curse.
Christ hung on a tree. He took the curse of the law on Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
The question is not, then, whether or not you are cursed. We’ve established that everyone is. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The question is not whether or not you are condemned. The curse is death and John 3:18 says, “he that believeth not is condemned already.” The question is whether or not Christ was condemned for you. Your sins will be punished. Will you pay for them yourself in hell forever or has Christ paid already paid for them on your behalf on the cross?