The Gospel in Galatians
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Throughout chapters one and two of Galatians, Paul strongly defended the divine origin of his apostolic calling and the gospel of grace he preached, both of which had come under fire from the Judaizers.
Then, in chapter three, verses 1 to 9, which is what we covered in our last study, Paul points out to the Galatians how stupid they were in turning their backs to the gospel of grace alone and returning to a subtle form of legalism: salvation partly by grace and partly by their performance. He reminds them that Abraham, not the Judaizers, is the true father of the Jews. He is the true prototype of salvation for all men and he was justified by faith alone and nothing else.
Now, in verses 10 to 14 of Galatians 3, Paul will contrast the false gospel that the Judaizers were preaching — salvation by faith plus works of the law — or the same thing, salvation by legalism, with the true gospel, which is salvation by faith in Christ alone. This is the fundamental issue Paul is addressing in the whole of the epistle to the Galatians. It is a battle between the true gospel that Paul proclaims and the false gospel the Judaizers were preaching.
As we study this passage, Galatians 3:10-14, it will become absolutely apparent that these two roads to heaven can never meet in partnership for they are two opposite methods of salvation. They totally contradict each other. They are mutually exclusive.
With this in mind, let us start by reading Galatians 3:10-14. What is Paul saying here?
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 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 pole.” 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.
This is a passage full of meaning. “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.” Paul is saying here, “All who rely on observing the law as a means of going to heaven.” The word “rely” means depending on the law or our observance of the law for salvation. The phrase Paul uses is “the works of the law.” It means using the law as a method of salvation. We would call that in English, “legalism.” Such people, Paul says, are under the curse. Why? He quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 and what does that text say? It is part of the book of the law. It says:
“Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
In other words, if you are trying to be saved through the law, the law demands from you two things:
We fall once and we have failed. That is what happened to Adam and Eve. God placed them in the Garden of Eden and gave them a commandment. The first time Adam and Eve sinned, they came under the curse of the law. If we want to be saved under the law, our performance has to be perfect and continual. As we know, this is impossible. Paul says in verse 11 of Galatians 3:
Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”
What is the evidence Paul is referring to here? It is basically two things:
Let me remind you of two statements Paul made in Romans 3 where he concludes dealing with the sin problem. In Romans 3:9, he says:
What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage?
The “we” is referring to the Jews and “they” is referring to the Gentiles. His answer (in the rest of that verse) is:
Not at all! For we have already made the charge [or proved] that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.
In Romans 6:14, the word “under” means “to be ruled by” or “to be dominated by.” This is a term that was used in slavery.
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Then, to prove his point, Paul quotes from the Old Testament. Let us read two of those quotations.
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one....”
It is evident from Scripture and from our own personal experience that there is no one who is righteous, not a single person. In 1 John 1:8, John tells us that anyone who says he has no sin is a liar:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
...There is no one who does good, not even one.
Paul is saying, in Galatians 3:11, it is absolutely evident — both in terms of our subjective experience as well as the Word of God — there is none who has produced perfect obedience. There is only one Man in this world who has ever lived a perfect, sinless life. It is our Lord Jesus Christ and He did it in order that we might be saved.
Paul, talking to the Galatians, using the clear evidence of Scripture, now quotes Habakkuk 2:4. This is in Galatians 3:11, last part:
...The righteous will live by faith.
What Habakkuk actually wrote is:
...But the righteous person will live by his faithfulness....
This is a better translation. The only way we can conquer the grave and obtain eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ. This text that Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 is Paul’s favorite text. This is why he repeats it many times.
Paul tells us in Galatians 3:12:
The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”
What is Paul saying here? If we want to be saved by the law, we can’t come to the law and say, “Law, we believe in every single commandment that you have given us.” The Jews believed the total writings of the Torah. Many Christians believe the Ten Commandments but the fact that we believe the Ten Commandments or the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, does not qualify us for salvation according to the law method. This is because the law does not save through faith. The law saves through performance. This is why the law method is impossible. Paul tells us in Galatians 2:16 (end part):
...By the works of the law no one will be justified.
He reminded Peter of this when he confronted him on that very crucial moment when Peter left the Gentile table and went to the Jewish table, implying the Gentiles were still looked upon as sinners. No, the moment we believe in Jesus Christ we are no longer looked upon by God as a sinner because, by faith, we can be declared righteous, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us and His righteousness is perfect. But the moment we try to be saved by the law, all our faith is meaningless because the law doesn’t justify us by faith. It justifies us by perfect, persistent, continual obedience.
As far as the law is concerned, every one of us has failed. Paul reminds the Roman believers in Romans 3:22-23:
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....
Paul tells the Galatians 3:13, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us:
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 pole.”
If we go back to Romans 3 and read verse 19:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
Here Paul concludes his discussion on the universal sin problem; he says the whole world, Jews and Gentiles with no exception, stands guilty or condemned under the law of God.
When God created mankind in Adam and placed him under the law, the moment Adam sinned and the moment we add our own personal sins to Adam’s sin, we are under the curse of God. There is no way we can redeem ourselves from that curse. We were born on death row. We were born hopelessly lost so that we could not and cannot save ourselves no matter what we do, no matter where we go. That is our predicament.
But, the unconditional good news of the gospel is that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. Then Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 21:23a:
...You must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.
These are important words. To understand this statement, we need to look at the cross of Christ. John 19:5-6a:
When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”[In other words, “Is this not enough?”]
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
This is really a strange demand from the Jews because crucifixion was not practiced by the Jews. The cross was invented by the Phoenicians about 600 years before Christ and was adopted by the Egyptians. The Romans took it from the Egyptians and refined it, using it to execute their runaway slaves and their worst criminals. The Jews never practiced crucifixion. It was not a Jewish method. But here, we find the Jews crying out to Pilate, “Crucify Him!” What did they have in mind when they cried out in unison, “Crucify Him”? They had to give a reason which we find in John 19:6b-7:
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
The Jews answered Pilate, who represented Rome, who found no fault in Jesus, who found no reason why Jesus should be crucified. This is what the Jews said, “We have a law and, according to our law, he ought to die because he made himself the Son of God.”
The law the Jews were referring to was the law of blasphemy. It is found in Leviticus 24:16:
Say to the Israelites: Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.
It is extremely important that we Christians read this law. It is true the law demands death for blasphemy, but it also stipulates how that person is to die. It is by stoning.
Did the Jews, who rejected Jesus as the Messiah and as the Son of God, who believed that His claim to be equal with the Father was blasphemy, know that the law of blasphemy also stipulated stoning as the method of execution? And the answer is yes, they certainly knew it. We turn to John 10 to read the words of Jesus Christ in verse 30, where Jesus said:
I and the Father are one.
To the unbelieving Jews, this was blasphemy. We read in John 10:31:
Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him....
This means it was not the first time they did this. They took up stones “again” to stone Him because they believed that this Man was a blasphemer and they were obeying a law that God had given them.
The question remains, why did the Jews cry out, “Crucify Him”? They had a reason, which is given to us by Paul where he quotes Deuteronomy 21:23:
...You must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.
The Jews did not believe in an immortal soul. This was a Greek concept. The Jews believed that death was good-bye to life. If a Jew committed a sin that was worthy of death and the judge sentenced him to death, he could go on his knees before he was executed by stoning and ask Yahweh to forgive him. Forgiveness was available because of the daily — morning and evening — sacrifices in the Sanctuary services. But, if the judge insisted that this criminal was to be hung on a tree, this meant to the Jews the irrevocable curse of God. It meant good-bye to life forever. It meant what we would call in the New Testament, the unpardonable sin. So, when the Jews cried, “Crucify Him!” they had this reason in mind because, in the days of Christ, crucifixion, to the Jews, was synonymous with hanging on a tree [or pole].
This is the reason that, when the disciples preached the gospel to the Jews in the early history of the Christian church, often they would not use the word “cross.” They would use the word “tree.” In many texts, the word “tree” is used in the original text. For example, in Acts 5:30:
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead — whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.
We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross....
When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb.
1 Peter 2:24:
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
These statements were made to their fellow Jews. Why? Because, crucifixion was identified with hanging on a tree. So when the Jews cried out, “Crucify Him!” they were demanding not only that this Man should be put to death, but, more than that, they were demanding that God should curse this Man for being a blasphemer.
In John 7:30, and in John 8:20, we read that the times the Jews tried to kill Jesus, they failed because His hour had not yet come:
At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.
He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.
We read in Luke 22:53 Jesus’ words to the angry mob, when He was taken captive in Gethsemane:
Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour — when darkness reigns.
God removed His protection at Gethsemane so that the Jews could crucify the Son of God. To the Jews, it meant the curse of God. Isaiah 53:4 says:
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But the question is, “Did God allow Jesus to be cursed for blasphemy?” The answer is, “No.” The reason God allowed Jesus to be crucified is explained to us in Romans 8:31-32:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
God brought the curse of sin that belongs to us to fall upon Jesus Christ, not the sin of Jesus because He had none, but your sins and mine. When Jesus died on the cross, it wasn’t just the physical torture of the cross that He suffered. One writer tells us that He hardly felt the physical torture of the cross because there was something else He was suffering. It was the irrevocable curse of God. It is this and not the physical torture of the cross that makes the death of Christ the supreme sacrifice.
Jesus was tasting death for every man. Hebrews 2:9:
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Jesus, by His own death, was abolishing death and bringing immortality and life through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:10:
...But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
That which makes the cross of Christ the supreme sacrifice is not the torture of the crucifixion. It is the curse of God that was placed upon Jesus Christ as our Sin-Bearer.
As Jesus hung on the cross, He could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him a resurrection. He felt that sin was so offensive that the separation was to be eternal. This is why He cried out in agony (Matthew 27:46):
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Jesus pleaded in Gethsemane, sweating blood, “Father, if it is possible, remove the cup.” Matthew 26:39:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
The cup wasn’t the cross. The cup was the irrevocable curse of God. It was the wrath of God poured upon Him without any mixture of mercy. This is the supreme sacrifice. It is this which redeems us from the curse of the law. He became a curse for us. He was made a curse for us there on the cross by His own Father. It was not because the Father had turned against Jesus, but because the Father so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son [John 3:16].
Jesus hung on the cross, abandoned by the Father. Remember, Jesus was depending on the Father for the resurrection. He said more than once (John 5:30a):
By myself I can do nothing....
Jesus was raised by the Father but now on the cross, the Father had forsaken Him, had abandoned Him. The devil came to Him three times. We will find this in Luke 23:35-39:
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
Three times, on the cross, the devil came to Him, once through the soldiers, once through the priests, and once through the thief on the left-hand side, “Come down and save Yourself. Stop being a fool. These people are mocking You. They have crucified You. Why are You laying down Your life for them?” But on the cross, Jesus revealed a most significant truth. He could come down and save Himself but He could not save Himself and the world at the same time. He had to make a choice and He chose, “I will die that they might live.” Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 God demonstrated His self-emptying love for us, His agape love for us, in that Jesus died for us:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
On the cross, Jesus demonstrated that He loves us more than He loves Himself. This is the God we worship. This is Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind. He redeemed us from the curse of the law. Paul tells us in Romans 10:4, Christ is the end, the completion of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes:
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Anyone who rejects this gospel, anyone who turns his back to this wonderful truth and tries to redeem himself by his performance really deserves to be called stupid.
Paul says in Galatians 3:14:
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles [us] through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Don’t let any human being, any philosopher, any teaching — no matter how convincing it may be to your rationale — convince you that you are saved partly by grace and partly by what you do. No, the New Testament is clear. Paul is absolutely clear, you are saved by grace alone. You are saved by the doing and dying of Jesus Christ and nothing else. As long as you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, your salvation is guaranteed. It is assured. But the day you turn your back to this wonderful truth, Paul will tell you in Galatians 5:4:
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
It is my prayer that you not only believe in Jesus Christ, but that your faith will endure unto the end, that you will let no one take you out of Christ through unbelief.
May God bless you that you and I will be justified by faith now and to our dying day.