daily biblical sermons


Since no one has perfectly kept God's law from birth to death, everyone is under a curse for his failure to fully keep it
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, 27th Week of the Year, October 09, 2020
Galatians 3:7-14, Psalm 110, Luke 11:15-26


 

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“Thus Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’; but the law does not rest on faith, for ‘He who does 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 be every one who hangs on a tree’ – that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:7-14).

 

 

St. Paul today continues his argument that God justifies us by faith, not by keeping his law. First of all, he uses Abraham as an example of justification by faith, not by works, for quoting Genesis 15:6, St. Paul writes, “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Galatians 3:6). It was Abraham’s believing in God and in his promise that caused God to declare him righteous, that is, to justify him, and so his faith resulted in his righteousness. It is the same with us. It is our faith that enables God to declare us righteous (justify us), not our good works.

 

 

Then St. Paul says, “The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’” (Galatians 3:8). In other words, the Gentiles would be justified by faith, just as Abraham was, not by good works according to God’s moral law.

 

 

Then St. Paul starts arguing in a negative way, saying, “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10). This means that everyone who relies on their law keeping for their justification will not only not be justified, but they are under God’s curse for the simple reason that no one has ever always kept God’s law as they should. So, if law keeping is your way of justifying yourself before God, since you have not perfectly kept the law the way God wants you to from your birth to the day of your death, you are living under God’s curse for disobeying his law.

 

 

To back this up St. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10). So not only can we not be justified by keeping God’s law, but if we try to justify ourselves in this way, we will be cursed by God, because no one is able to keep it as he should.

 

 

So, St. Paul reaches a conclusion in the next verse, “Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law [by law keeping]; for ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’” (Galatians 3:11 quoting Habakkuk 2:4). So, this is the point of St. Paul’s argument, that it is through faith, not through law keeping, that we are justified, and that it is impossible to be justified by law keeping, because no one has ever kept the law as perfectly as he should throughout his whole life. So, far from being justified by trying to justify yourself by keeping God’s law, you only find yourself under his curse, the curse of the law, and the curse of God, because it is God’s law. St. Paul then backs this statement up with a quotation from Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10).

 

 

Now in verse 13 St. Paul gives us the solution to the problem of law keepers, that is, the problem of the Jews and even of some Christians today who think they can justify themselves by keeping God’s moral law, and find themselves not only not justified but cursed by God for doing so. They are not cursed for keeping the law, but for their failure to keep it as fully as they should.

 

 

So, who is going to redeem us from this curse of the law. The answer is in verse 13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). What does this mean? It means that Christ has been sent to us by God to solve this problem of justification.

 

 

Many people thought that since the law was given to the Jews by God, if you keep the law, then you are justified. So, they put their confidence in law keeping; but St. Paul reveals to them that this is a blind alley. It will not lead you where you think it will. It will not lead you to justification, but rather to being cursed by God, because justification cannot come through law keeping, due to human weakness and inability to keep it as we should for the whole of our life, from our earliest days.

 

 

So, God solved this problem for us by sending us his Son Jesus Christ, who “redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). In other words, Jesus bore our sins on the cross and suffered our punishment for them for us so that we would not have to suffer it, for “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

 

 

And why did God do this for us? He did it because we were full of sin. Even those that tried to follow God’s law were full of sin, because they had not been able to keep it perfectly from their birth to their death. In other words, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

 

 

So, this is how Christ became a curse for us. He agreed to be cursed in our place, instead of us being cursed for our sins and failure to keep the law. Christ endured the curse of God and the wrath of God against human sin that God placed on him as our substitute to suffer his wrath against our sins for us and instead of us. So, Christ was made a curse on the cross by God for our sins. And St. Paul even finds a Scripture to back this up, saying, “For it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13 quoting Deuteronomy 21:23).

 

 

But some may object, asking how can God the Father curse his own divine Son? Calvin gives a wise answer to this question: “He [Jesus] could not cease to be the object of his Father’s love, and yet he endured his wrath. For how could he reconcile the Father to us, if he had incurred his hatred and displeasure? We conclude, that he ‘did always those things that pleased’ (John 8:29) his Father. Again, how would he [Jesus] have freed us from the wrath of God, if he had not transferred it from us to himself? Thus, ‘he was wounded for our transgressions’ (Isaiah 53:5) and had to deal with God as an angry judge. This is the foolishness of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18)” (John Calvin, 1509-1564).

 

 

What we have to do, therefore, is put our faith in Christ and in his redeeming, atoning death on the cross, whereby he suffered our death sentence for our sins for us. When we put our faith in him, God declares us ungodly sinners righteous and reckons to us his own righteousness (Romans 4:5). So, you see that we are not made righteous by keeping the law, but rather by God reckoning his own righteousness to us, because of our faith in Christ who atones for our sins.

 

 

“And yet it does not follow from this, that faith is inactive, or that it sets believers free from good works. For the present question is not, whether believers ought to keep the law as far as they can (which is beyond all doubt), but whether they can obtain righteousness by works, which is impossible. But since God promises life to the doers of the law, why does Paul affirm that they are not righteous? The reply to this objection is easy. There are none righteous by the works of the law, because there are none who do those works. We admit that the doers of the law, if there were any such, are righteous; but since that is a conditional agreement, all are excluded from life, because no man performs that righteousness which he ought. We must bear in memory what I have already stated, that to do the law is not to obey it in part, but to fulfill everything which belongs to righteousness; and all are at the greatest distance from such perfection” (John Calvin).

 

 

St. Paul has left us a marvelous teaching in his doctrine of justification by faith, not by works, because none of us has been able to do the works of the law in a satisfactory way that would justify us in the eyes of God. But rather than leave us in the lurch as unsaved people because of our sins and our failure to keep God’s law as we should throughout our entire life, God sent us a Savior to atone for our sins by suffering our penalty for our sins for us, in our place, on the cross.

 

 

When we put our faith in Christ and trust in him for our justification, God counts Christ’s suffering and death on the cross as full payment of our debt of suffering and death that we have with God for our sins, and declares us ungodly sinners righteous and reckons to us his own righteousness (Romans 4:5). Through faith, therefore, we shine with the righteousness of God himself, which is a free gift given to all that put their faith in Christ, not with a righteousness that we earned or merited by our own good works.

 

 

This is the righteousness that St. Paul seeks, the righteousness from God, not the righteousness from his own good works that he has merited, for he says, I wish to “be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law [law keeping], but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).

 

 

Our good works come in once we are justified through faith, not through our works. Then the grace of our justification enables us to keep God’s biblically revealed moral law and thereby grow in holiness (sanctification), and God will reward us according to our deeds, giving a higher reward to those that live a more truly faithful life in doing his will, as he has revealed it in his normative biblical moral law (Matthew 16:27).

 

 

We also note that the faith that leads to our justification contains genuine repentance for our sins. Genuine repentance means that we have the firm intention of immediately amending our life, which means that we intend to immediately stop sinning and live according to God’s biblically revealed moral law.

 

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