10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed. 11 Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith. 12 But the law is not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live by them. 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed. 14 The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith.
Back in 2001, when I was much more a professing Christian than a man who was possessed by Christ, I sat across a thick, wooden restaurant table from a man who had taken the time and effort to invest in my life.
A Godly man, he listened as I described my disjointed worldview. Then he respectfully, yet rightly, diagnosed me as someone who spiritually had his feet firmly planted in midair.
“If you died today and stood before God,” he concluded, “and God asked, ‘Why should I let you into Heaven,’ how would you answer?”
I thought for a few painfully slow minutes.
“Well,” I stammered, “because I think I am, or I’m at least, trying to be a good guy.”
In retrospect, I’m not sure what troubles me more: the well-reasoned foolishness of my answer or that it was self-defeating. It was a thoughtless answer that violated at least three commandments and thereby proved that I wasn’t even in the same galaxy as “good.”
At some point, I’d fallen for the oldest recorded lie. It was the same lie the Galatians were told: that we can be something we’re profoundly unqualified to be in every way—our own saviors.
In this passage, Paul continues to pound his message into a misled Galatian community while also confronting the false brethren behind the deception.
It was the false brethren who were, perhaps, the real fools here. They were, knowingly or unknowingly, up against a Hebrew of Hebrews and a zealous Pharisee, one who knew the Law and Jewish culture better than they did!
“So, you believe righteousness comes through the Law?” I imagine him saying. “Let’s look at what the Law actually says.”
As the second greatest cultural apologist in history behind Jesus Christ, Paul began to dismantle that worldview of the Judaizers. He revealed that the Law couldn’t and wouldn’t justify anyone. And not only that, but it also cursed anyone who lived as though their adherence to the Law made them righteous before God. Their belief was self-defeating.
Paul then concluded this section, as our lives should begin and end every day, with the gospel. Any hope we might have of righteousness that’s pleasing to God is grounded in faith in the One who paid, in full, an account we could never balance. Faith alone—in Jesus Christ alone.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB). The law isn’t the lifeboat. The law is the storm—rutal in its perfection, beautiful in its fulfillment, and sent to bring you to the end of your self.
Like the Law, the modern Jesus plus behavioral modification model is powerless to justify us. What it does, in fact, is keep the orientation of our hearts aimed inward at the cost of our truest desires, our imaginations, and most clearly our motivations.
It takes no effort to oppose God—no intellectual egotism, artistic conceit, or moral failure. One need only choose Self, or more precisely, the path of self-righteousness.
Every day the world levels disparaging charges at Christians. We’re called intolerant, hateful, and judgmental—some of which I have no problem agreeing with, provided the accuser can explain, irony-free, what they mean by their claim. And the rest, we should receive in a manner that quenches the intended hostility.
The charge we should take most seriously, however, even though it should be the most easily controvertible, is the charge of self-righteousness. Self-righteous Christian should be the most absurd oxymoron.
We, of all people, should be the most self aware. We should be aware that, apart from Christ, we’re spiritually bankrupt and only capable of love that terminates on the Self, which isn’t love at all.
“We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NASB).
Our passion and fidelity are a response to a perfect love, the recognition of which precedes any desire to “Love the Law.”
Our temperance and our faithfulness are properly understood in light of that love. Our concern for justice, our giving voice to the voiceless, and the depth and richness of the language we use are an outward sign of our Faith in Christ, not our righteousness.
“If you died today and stood before God…”
As Christians, our identity and the subsequent vitality of our cultural involvement has everything to do with how we answer this question.
If I were asked that same question today, I’d say I’m reasonably sure that with my face firmly planted on the ground, I won’t be able to say anything. But if such a legal drama does take place in heaven, I’m confident that my advocate will rise and say, “He’s mine.”
- Why is it enticing to try to follow rules and earn God’s forgiveness? What are some man-made rules we’re tempted to follow?
- What risk does the behavioral modification model pose to our sanctification?
- What does it mean to “live by faith?”