CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

 CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XIX)

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) gives the Vatican interpretation of what Paul says here in verse ten. As he interprets it, all those who claim salvation by way of the Law are under a curse. And since Paul said that they who are of faith will be blessed through being sons of Abraham, someone might question: are they blessed both on account of the works of the Law and on account of Faith? Paul makes it even plainer by telling the people who may harbor such an idea that works of the Law are so numerous that, that in itself is a curse. Therefore, Aquinas concludes that the ancient Jewish ancestors were burdened under the heavy load of works demanded by the Law. As a matter of fact, they too are under a curse and, consequently, damned. Hence it is necessary to understand this correctly says Aquinas, it should be noted that the Apostle does not say, “As many as observing the works of the Law are under a curse,” because this is false when applied to the period the Law was in effect.

He says rather: As many as are of the works of the Law, namely, whosoever trusts in the works of the Law and believes that they are made right with God by doing them are under a curse. For it is one thing to feel obligated to perform the works of the Law and another thing to observe the Law. The latter consists in fulfilling the Law so that the one who fulfills it is not under a curse. But to be of the works of the Law is to trust in them and place one’s hope in them for salvation. And they that are of the Law in this way are under a curse, namely, of transgression; not that the Law produces the curse, for sinful tendencies do not come from the Law, but the knowledge of sin awakens these tendencies, and since we are prone to follow our sinful tendencies, even though they are banned by the Law, we open ourselves to the curse. Therefore, inasmuch as the Law generates a knowledge of sin and offers no help against sin, that is why they are said to be under a curse.[1]

Martin Luther points to the disciples and makes it clear that not all of them were perfect. The same is true today. Among the Anointed One’s follower, you may find a Peter who denies their relationship with the Anointed One if it will save them from harm; there are no doubt some Judas Iscariots who turn away from the Anointed One and betray Him when things don’t go their way. Also, there may be some Thomases who doubt the Anointed One’s ability to do what He said He would do. Many excuse Judas’ betrayals as the work of a reprobate, and Peter along with the sons of Zebedee – James and John – as hypocrites. But look what happened to them when they all believed and committed themselves to follow Him at all costs.[2]

Puritan John Bunyan (1509-1564), feels that the loss of the soul is a peculiar loss, it is a double loss, therefore, it is the most feared loss. That’s because it is a loss that comes with the most stringent penalty of God. We see this in both the giving of the rule of life and at the same time, of execution for the breach of that rule. The giving of the rule of life was stated clearly by Moses: “A curse on anyone who does not confirm the words of this Torah by putting them into practice. All the people are to say, “Amen!”[3] It is also manifested at the time of judgment: “Then He will also speak to those on His left, saying, ‘Get away from me, you who are cursed! Go off into the fire prepared for the Adversary, the devil, and his angels!”[4] [5] You will not hear Bunyan referred to on the subject of eternal punishment in many sermons today. Those who proclaim that God doesn’t just love you, He’s “in love” with you cannot stomach a God who would do what Jesus said in Matthew. But one day, reality will replace all pretenses and feel-good doctrines for this is what the Bible says God will do.

Then Bunyan proposes an inquiry: “How does the Law kill and leave for dead such poor creatures?” He answers by saying, that the Law kills in this way: It aims directly at the soul, and informs the soul of its transgressions against the Law; and shows the soul also, that it cannot completely satisfy the justice of God for any violation of His law; therefore, it is condemned. Take note, “Those that do not believe are condemned already;”[6] namely, by the Law; that is, it’s the Law that condemns them; yes, it has condemned them already for their sins against it; just as Paul stated here in verse ten.

Now all those who come into the world, says Bunyan, are in this condition, that is, condemned by the Law; yet refusing to believe that their condemnation by the Law is real, nor do they believe that the Law can effectively condemn them. Some people may have a feeling that their condemnation is real, because of sins against the Law; but they have no clue on how to combat the power of the Law. There is no person who can really believe the Law or the Gospel, further than they feel the power and authority of them in their hearts. “Ye err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.”[7] Now, this law, is not to be taken in the largest sense, but is strictly tied to the ten commandments, whose proper work is only by showing the soul its sin against the Law, condemn them for it, and leave them unquestionably dead; not providing them with the smallest spark of life, or support, or comfort. It leaves the soul in a helpless and hopeless condition unless a Savior can be found.[8]

What William Burkitt (1650-1703) has to say about Paul’s statement here in verse ten about everyone who sins while working for their salvation are under a curse brings up a novel thought. Imagine a person going to work building a house for an evil person and are warned that the wages for working there is being hanged at the end. We might all say, that’s too crazy an idea to even believe it would happen. Yet Paul is telling the Galatians that’s exactly what they will be doing if they stop serving the Lord Jesus and start working for the Law. That should help everyone to learn, says Burkitt, that sin and the curse are inseparable; wherever sin is, the curse will be there, be it upon a person by accusation or by the actual commission of a sin. Wherever sin is discovered, underneath lies an eternal curse. Any way you look at it, sin is an endless evil; it shows contempt for everlasting authority, it is the opposite of timeless holiness, a fabricator of perpetual justice, and abuse of everlasting mercy; and consequently, the wasteland of sin results in death – that is the curse.[9]

Jakob Arminius shares some testimonies of other Christian writers in his day. One of them was Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563), a highly respected theologian of the Reformation speaking about righteousness and justification. Musculus concludes that for the Law it is impossible that it can have any power to justify a sinner; for it is hindered and rendered ineffective through the flesh, that is, through the corrupt and depraved sinful tendencies of the flesh. That’s because all mankind is born as slaves of sin and incapable of obeying all those commands of the Law which are holy, and just, and good, finds the power and effectiveness of the Law are two-fold. Any right living or justification as something pleasing to God it produces on its own is proper. What is not proper is when a person performs those things through the power of the flesh thinking that righteousness and justification can be obtained from God in that manner. Paul made that impossibility clear to the Romans,[10] and later here in verse twenty.

Paul not only speaks about “the knowledge of sin,” which consists of the understanding, but he also speaks principally about that knowledge of it which is received by the sinful tendencies that live in our hearts and minds: that is, the Law causes a person not only to understand but likewise with gnawing remorse of conscience to feel and to experience that sin is within them. It is proper because it convinces us that we are inexcusably guilty of sin, which subjects us and condemns us to be cursed, as Paul says here in verse ten. Furthermore, through a feeling of sin, and when terrified of condemnation, it causes us to become anxious, and desirous of the grace of God. Hence, arises that which is the subject of the Apostle’s investigation in Romans seven, when at length he cries out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God through Jesus Christ.”[11]

New England Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) notes that there are many scriptures that both declare the universal sinfulness of mankind and also that all sin warrants and justly deserves everlasting destruction, under the wrath and curse of God. Edwards already touched on this when he said that the wrath, condemnation, and death, which is threatened in the Law to all its transgressors, is final separation from God, the second death, eternal ruin; as is very plain, and indeed is confessed. And this punishment which the law threatens for every sin is a just punishment. God’s law is a righteous Law, and the sentence of it a righteous sentence does no err in dispensing its judgment.

Edwards goes on to say that this was Paul’s clear intention here in verse ten. All those who are living under and doing the works of the Law are under the curse; that is what’s written in the Torah.[12] The effects of the curse of death were made a clear as possible by the Apostle to all who read this letter. There is no one who hasn’t at one time or another failed in some instances to do all things that are written in the Book of the Law, and, therefore, all those who depend on their fulfilling the law for their salvation are under that curse which is pronounced on all those who fail. That’s why the Apostle infers in the next verse, “that no person is justified by the Law in the sight of God.”[13] Paul shows that he understands, what he read in Deuteronomy, and repeated here in verse twenty-two. So, we clearly see, both that every person is a sinner, and that every sinner is under the curse of God.[14] This certainly begs for the question, how then can we be freed from this curse. That’s exactly what Paul was hoping the Galatians would ask. Since we cannot save ourselves with good works, and the Law cannot save us by virtue of those works, there is only one who can save, and that is Jesus the Anointed Messiah.

[1] Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit,

[2] Martin Luther: on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 69

[3] Deuteronomy 27:26; See Galatians 3:10

[4] Matthew 25:41

[5] John Bunyan. Works of John Bunyan — Complete (Kindle Location 7693-7698).

[6] John 3:18

[7] Matthew 22:29

[8] Sermons of John Bunyan, Sighs From Hell, Ch. 14, p. 226

[9] William Burkitt: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 315

[10] Romans 7:7

[11] Jakob Arminius, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 372

[12] Deuteronomy 21:23

[13] See Galatians 2:16

[14] Jonathan Edwards: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 452-453

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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