One of the most foundational truths of the gospel, of being a Christian, is that we are unable to save ourselves because we are sinners. In our nature we are rebellious against God and cannot make ourselves righteous and good enough to enter his perfect Holy presence and be right in his eyes. Somehow, some way, though, we convince ourselves that good works will save us and that following a moral code will gain us justification in God’s eyes. It is an easy thing to believe: do good and earn rewards. In this way we are like the Galatians.
What Paul says is something much stronger than “this is incorrect” or “make some adjustments to your thinking.” He says “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse . . . it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law.” Not only was the Galatians’ focus on law-keeping failing to save, it was keeping them under a curse of judgement by God. By depending on the law they were condemning themselves to hell.
Thank God the passage does not stop there, nor does the gospel. Paul does not leave us with bad news but rather wipes away the curse of the law by looking to Jesus in faith: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming the curse for us.” 1 Peter 2:24 says he “bore our sins in his body on the tree,” and Isaiah 53 is rich with hope because Jesus carried our curse and stepped in to take our punishment. After verse upon verse describing Jesus’s sacrifice and burden bearing for his lost sheep it says “The Lord was pleased to crush him severely . . my righteous servant will justify many, and he will carry their iniquities.” The curse of the law was broken by the sacrifice of Jesus. We are no longer bound by the task to pushing our righteous high enough to please God only to see it fall short time and again.
This text offers more than personal salvation, however. The promise of salvation is not just an individual thing. This is a promise for the nations, a fulfilling of God’s covenant to Abraham. In Genesis 12: 1-7 God calls Abraham out of paganism to follow him and promises to make Abraham into a great nation. This blessing is not Abraham’s ego or world domination; it is a promise to bring hope to the world through Abraham’s offspring. “I will make your name great and you will be a blessing . . . and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Paul points out that the promise was not to multiple offsprings of Abraham but to one. The offspring of Abraham through whole the world is blessed is Jesus, the curse bearer. The law, which came centuries later than this promise, doesn’t change it. The law served a different purpose altogether. Salvation is through Jesus alone, and all who have faith in Jesus are members of the promise God made to Abraham, both blessed and commissioned to spread the blessing of Christ to our world.
Written by Barnabas Piper