Series: Maintaining this hope
Paul to the Galatians… UNDER the Curse of the Law?
A Victorian Governor or Governess were to school the children in typical academics of the day, but also with ethics and behaviors becoming of the class.
So it is here in the example offered to us by Paul. He compares the state of a person who has not come to Christ as being under the law.
This he meant literally and metaphorically.
The Jewish person who has not turned to Christ, literally remained under the law because they were still looking to obtain righteousness by the works of the Law being under the Old Covenant.
He also meant this more specifically to Gentiles who were never “literally” under the law. Because even though they never had the law – in that it was never given to them, they are a product of their Creator and as such they live aware of right and wrong coupled with a nagging sense of accountability.
Every culture in the world – religious or otherwise has attempted to find a way of coping with guilt, shame and a sense of accountability before God.
By FAR, the most common way, seems to be the proverbial scales weighing our good deeds against our bad ones. The notion being that if the good outweighs the bad at the end of life then we win! This, in a roundabout way, is right standing before God based upon works. It is a treadmill every human being grapples with at some point in their life.
Some attempt to deal with this by trying to convince themselves that there are no scales and there are no absolute rights and wrongs. They tell themselves that these are inventions of man and echoes of our evolutionary past – nothing more. Of course this makes ZERO sense.
Truth is, guilt is one of the many emotions which are connected to our bodies bio-chemically for which evolution has no satisfactory answers. To feel guilt over doing wrong or for harming another would work against the survival of the fittest and therefore would be an undesirable trait. According to evolution, things which work against the survival of a species are eliminated over time, quite naturally by survival of the fittest. The first humans who had to cope with notions of guilt before killing prey, or stealing from their neighbor would hesitate at key moments which would eventuate in their destruction. As such, all notions of right, wrong and guilt would have been weeded out of our biology eons ago or we would never have reached the top of the food chain – but here we are in all our glory with a very keen sense of right, wrong and accountability from the moment we begin breathing.
How did that happen? Again – evolution has no satisfactory answer to this.
No…we were created by God with that innate sense ON PURPOSE! Our hearts are trying to tell us something very real and very true about life which we have to train ourselves to ignore or create religious coping mechanisms to control.
The only REAL answer is of course found in Christ Jesus!
So – this sense of right and wrong and accountability before our Maker is something which was given us – to steer our hearts towards surrender to Christ. In this sense EVERYONE who has come into this world was born under the law and it is a tutor or governor to bring us to the awareness of our need for Jesus.
That is the beginning argument offered by Paul to our condition before we came to Christ…
Now I’m going to read this first section. Talk a little, then I will re-read it and continue on until chapter 5 verse 15 before we circle back to deal with all Paul is saying here.
“(1) Now I mean that the heir, as long as he is a minor, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. (2) But he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.”
“(3) So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world. (4) But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, (5) to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.”
“(6) And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, Who calls “Abba! Father!” (7) So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.”
Notice the language of slavery. The idea is before we come to Christ Jesus, those who were under the law were considered juveniles who would one day reach maturity by be tutored to that awareness so as to gain access to our inheritance as mature sons. That process of maturation was being under the tutor or governess of the law (or in the case of these Gentiles it was being under the basic forces of the world and subject to pagan gods).
This tutor was as kind or harsh as the pupil demanded.
Example of David vs. Paul
“oh how I love your law it is my meditation all the day…. Moreover by it your servant is warned and in keeping it there is much reward.” ~ Psalm 119:97, 11
In David it awakened a desire to be like God.
“14 O LORD, From men of the world who have their portion in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your hidden treasure. They are satisfied with children, And leave the rest of their possession for their babes. 15 As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness”
In Paul or awoke a sense of guilt & death which drove him to be diligent to keep the law as best as he could.
“7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”
8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.
9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.
11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. 12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. 13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly SINFUL.”
Thus Paul called the law a law of condemnation and death.
One saw the law with the intellect the other with the heart. This is one reason why those who appear wise in this world are actually idiots in regard to spiritual matters. It is one reason why God has chosen the base things of the world to put to silence the words of the wise. Our hearts know more about truth in a minute than our unaided intellect ever could.
Now… All of this God uses a set to draw us to the awareness that there is no redemption we can achieve for ourselves – by ourselves. We needed God to intervene – which He did by sending Jesus.
“(8) Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods at all. (9) But now that you have come to know God (or rather to be known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless basic forces? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?”
“(10) You are observing religious days and months and seasons and years. (11) I fear for you that my work for you may have been in vain.”
“(12) I beg you, brothers and sisters, become like me, because I have become like you. You have done me no wrong! (13) But you know it was because of a physical illness that I first proclaimed the gospel to you, (14) and though my physical condition put you to the test, you did not despise or reject me. Instead, you welcomed me as though I were an angel of God, as though I were Christ Jesus Himself!”
“(15) Where then is your sense of happiness now? For I testify about you that if it were possible, you would have pulled out your eyes and given them to me! (16) So then, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”
“(17) They court you eagerly, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you would seek them eagerly. (18) However, it is good to be sought eagerly for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you.”
“(19) My children – I am again undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in you!”
“(20) I wish I could be with you now and change my tone of voice, because I am perplexed about you.”
“(21) Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not understand the law?
(22) For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.
(23) But one, the son by the slave woman, was born by natural descent, while the other, the son by the free woman, was born through the promise.
(24) These things may be treated as an allegory, for these women represent two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar. (25) Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
(26) But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
27) For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren woman who does not bear children; break forth and shout, you who have no birth pains, because the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than those of the woman who has a husband.”
(28) But you, brothers and sisters, are children of the promise like Isaac.
(29) But just as at that time the one born by natural descent persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it is now.
(30) But what does the scripture say? “Throw out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not share the inheritance with the son” of the free woman. (31) Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman.”
“(1) For freedom Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.
(2) Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all!
(3) And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.
(4) You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace!
(5) For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.
(6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight – the only thing that matters is faith working through love.
(7) You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth?
(8) This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you! (9) A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise!
(10) I am confident in the Lord that you will accept no other view. But the one who is confusing you will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.
(11) Now, brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. (12) I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves! (13) For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another.
(14) For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (15) However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.”
Under Law vs. Under grace
I am sad to say that even though the logic of all Paul says about this issue of law versus grace is abundantly clear if you read it all IN CONTEXT, there are many…MANY in the body of Christ who are deceived regarding it.
The key concept and word here is the word “UNDER”. There are MANY places where Paul affirms that we are NO LONGER UNDER THE LAW and that is absolutely TRUE!
The real question is… what does that mean?
The word under is the word hupó and has several different shades of meaning.
When used in reference to the Law or the curse of the law (which I will address next) it always carries the meaning… “To remain under a place of subjection or a condition, of being under the power or authority of anything.”
So the phrase, “under the Law” means to be it’s slave or to be under it’s dominion.
This is why Paul found it quite natural to use the language of slavery and servitude of authority and dominion throughout his letters in reference not only to our past relation to the Law, but also our current relation to Grace through faith in Jesus.
Considere just these few verses from Romans the 6th chapter:
Rom. 6:6 “We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
Rom. 6:16 “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”
Rom. 6:17 “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart…”
Rom. 6:18 “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
Rom. 6:20 “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.”
Rom. 6:22 “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”
Consequently the same term is used for grace under the New Covenant.
“(14) For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace. (15) What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! (16) Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?” ~ Rom 6:14-16
Notice how the theme is subjugation, dominance, slavery and obedience.
Notice also that the righteousness is conditional to OBEDIENCE! Yes, this righteousness is NOT a work produced by me -THAT WOULD BE A CURSE – but it is works prepared FOR me to walk in with Christ by total abandonment to and reliance upon His power which is at work within me. Just as we read two weeks ago in Galatians 2:19-21 where Paul said,
“For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself up for me. I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!”
Since we are here, let’s also address the other phrase of being set free from the curse of the Law
In what way was the law a curse? I thought Paul said it was Holy, just and good! He even asked the rhetorical question, “Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good”
Now, even though this phrase of “the curse of the law” could be grammatically interpreted in one of two ways, MOST people interpret it incorrectly – that is, not in line with the whole of the scriptures on this topic.
One interpretation is that the law ITSELF was the curse. As we just saw in other statements of Paul, that CANNOT be what he meant when he said it OR Paul clearly was not inspired and therefore wrote contradictory doctrines. I trust you know that did not happen…so what is the other possible grammatical interpretation?
That those who were products of the Law abided under the curse.
Let’s examine the verse we are talking about IN ITS CONTEXT…because remember context is king.
Or to say it another way, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text”
“O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified?
This only would I learn from you. Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now perfected in the flesh by works?
Did you suffer so many things in vain, if it be indeed in vain?
He therefore that supplies the Spirit to you, and works miracles among you, does he do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham.
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In you shall all the nations be blessed.
So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.
Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but, He that does them shall live in them.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” ~ Gal. 3:1-14
I’m using the whole passage because without it we fail to see the point Paul was making. As you can see I emphasized several key words and phrases to make the point clear.
The word ‘OF’ is THE key to understanding this passage and also this theological issue.
It is the Greek word εκ.
Ek is used either in respect of:
- source or
In the case of these verses it refers to origin.
In effect this is saying that “as many as are products of the law abide under the curse but those who are a product of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”
The word curse here is katára and means the rejection and curse proceeding from God, the destruction resulting from judgment. It is equivalent to judgment without mercy as is mentioned in James 2:13.
Notice also that the curse is in the singular NOT the plural.
Many misrepresent this passage as saying that once we are in Christ we are free from the curses of Deuteronomy 28. This passage has absolutely NOTHING to do with the curses in Deuteronomy 28 it is THE curse – not the LIST of CURSES.
So what is this rejection and destruction resulting from judgement produced by the law?
It is the outward skin of righteousness without possessing righteousness of being.
It is an external righteousness that has no power to change the heart and therefore, it abides under God’s judgment. It is righteousness without the abiding presence of and intimacy with Christ.
The Law itself is NOT the curse, being a product of the law IS THE CURSE!
Notice that the cure was Christ BECOMING a curse FOR US.
So why does it say, “The curse of the Law”? Because it was the curse of being a product of the law – a slave of works. Paul told us last week in Galatians 3:11 “That no one is justified by the works of the law is evident. For the just shall live by faith”.
So these Galatians were being enticed to believe that righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus alone could not bring them into a state of right standing with God. They were being conditioned to think that they had to circle back and do the first work of the Law for righteousness and that was circumcision. What they did not understand was that circumcision was the initiating act of the OLD covenant. It was a covenant ratified by the blood of circumcision. The NEW covenant was ratified by the blood of the Messiah. You CANNOT be in both covenants at one time. It is an either / or prospect.
Notice again, that the issue was NOT the law itself. Paul makes this abundantly clear by ending this part of his argument with a call to obey the law…
“ (13) For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. (14) For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (15) However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.”