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 XXVI)

American Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) preached that Grace is the seed of glory; a foretaste of the future inheritance for believers. So, what is the beginning or foretaste of eternal life in the soul but spiritual life through the Holy Spirit? And what is that but Grace? The inheritance that the Anointed One purchased for God’s chosen ones is the Spirit of God; not in any extraordinary gifts, but in His vital indwelling the heart, exerting and communicating Himself in His own proper, holy, and divine nature. Our heavenly Father provided a Savior, and the purchase is made by Him; the Son is the purchaser and the price; and the Holy Spirit is the great blessing or inheritance purchased, as Paul indicates here in verses thirteen and fourteen. That’s why the Spirit is often spoken of as the sum of the blessings promised in the Gospel.[1] [2]

Church historian and theologian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) considers this thirteenth verse one of the strongest passages for the doctrine of a vicarious (in our place) atonement. The Messiah, out of infinite love and in full agreement with the Father’s eternal plan of redemption, voluntarily took it upon Himself to abolished the whole curse of the outraged Law on behalf of sinners, by His death on the cross. The efficiency of His voluntary sacrifice for someone else’s sins lies not so much in the preposition “made a curse for us,” as in the whole sentence “The Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being made a curse for us.

What He did and suffered for mankind, says Schaff, He did by enduring their suffering for them, and what He suffered was for their benefit. We must be careful not to say “He took our place,” because if we were made to go through the suffering that the Law demanded for our sins, none of us would have survived because God demanded that the sacrifice be perfect and without sin. And since all have sinned and come short of the glory God expected of us, there was no other person so righteous as He that could have taken His place. Furthermore, He did not die just for one of us, but for the whole world. He came to pay the ransom for every soul, those were living at the time and those who would come later such as you and I, since only He could stand before God as the perfect Lamb.[3] We may have died for our own sins, but none of us would have qualified to die for the sins of others.

The Messiah not only suffered pain and agony getting to Calvary but immense pain and agony on the cross. But still, that was not enough. He must give His life to satisfy the death sentence pronounced on all sinners. Schaff says that by becoming a “curse,” it was worse than being “accursed.” First of all, “cursed” is a verb while “accursed” is an adjective. To be cursed means receiving some divine punishment, while being accursed means being hated and considered detestable. The fact is, the Messiah was both. He voluntarily picked up the entire load of guilt for the whole race, yet without any personal guilt. The curse is transferred from the guilty sinner to the innocent victim.[4] As odd as it may sound,  He [Messiah] who knew no sin He [God] was made to be sin [stronger than sinner] for us (on our behalf); that we might become right before God with Him because He [Messiah] lives in us.[5]

In a sermon on how the curse for sin was removed by the Anointed One’s redemption, the great preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) tells all who will listen that here in verse thirteen we find, although the Law is glorious it could not be more misapplied than when it is used as a means of salvation. God never intended people to be saved by the Law. When He proclaimed it on Mount Sinai, it was with thunder, fire, and smoke; as if He were trying to say, “Everyone, hear my law; but you shake and tremble as you hear it. Hear it well!” It is a Law that goes out like a loud trumpet blast, just like it will on the Day of Destruction of which it is but the messenger. If you offend it, you’ll find no one to take the punishment for you. It was written on stone; as if to teach us that it is a hard, cold, stony Law that shows no mercy to anyone. Like a huge stone handing over our heads, if we break the Law the stone of condemnation will crash down upon our heads and smash us into a thousand pieces.

After this frightening presentation, Spurgeon then calls out to everyone who is still trusting in the Law for their salvation! He tells them that they all strayed away from the faith; they do not understand God’s designs; they are ignorant of every one of God’s truths. The law was given by Moses to make people feel uncomfortable with their sins, but not to save them; its very intention was to show how all mankind is imprisoned by unbelief, and all condemned to die. Why? So, He might show mercy to all of us. It intended by its thunders to crush every hope of self-righteousness, by its lightnings to destroy every tower of our own good works that we might be brought humbly and simply to the cross to accept a finished salvation through the one mighty Mediator who completely satisfied the Law’s demands and made it possible of us to regain honor by His grace to stand right before God with everlasting righteousness. That’s why the veil that hid the Holy of Holies was ripped in two so the mercy seat could be accessed by everyone.

There we will stand complete before our Maker at last because we are now in union with the Anointed One, and those in the Anointed One He cannot refuse. As we see, all that the Law could do was place a curse on us as sinners; it cannot save us or offer a pardon. In all the pages of Scriptural revelation, you will find no blessings that the Law ever gave to one that offended it. The only blessing promised was for those who might be able to keep it to perfection, but no such blessing was ever offered because no one, not even one was able to pass that test. Therefore, blessings are found in the Gospel; curses are found in the Law.[6]

Marvin Vincent (1834-1922) points out that Paul quotes from the Torah, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole,” which differs from the Septuagint (LXX), “…every one that is hanged on a tree is cursed of God,”[7] in that Paul leaves out “of God.” J. B. Lightfoot, says Vincent, justly and instinctively omits these words, since the Anointed One was in no sense accursed by God in His crucifixion. It is necessary to understand that it was not the Anointed One who was cursed because He was enduring our curse on our behalf. That’s why the Law placed the Anointed One as deserving the curse since He was dying as on behalf of criminals – you and I. That way, the Law satisfied its demand for all sinners to die by subjecting Him to such punishment He didn’t deserve. By dying on our behalf as a criminal, the Anointed one took away the curse from those who believe in Him. That’s why our union with Him likewise removes us from the curse of the Law.[8]

Then, Messianic writer David Stein points out that many misunderstanding of verses ten through thirteen here in Galatians is the result of a misinterpretation of the Greek noun nomos, (the Law) which means “God’s Torah.” The reader must know the difference between the legalistic proclamation of the Torah and the legalistic perversion of it. For the sake of seeing this difference, Stein offers the following expanded rendering of these verses to show the mistakes that are made.

Stern then goes on to note the errors that are made in verse ten, since the Jewish people depend on the Torah, but no one is capable of doing everything written in it, the entire Jewish people live under God’s curse on those who fail. And according to the first half of verse eleven, by trying to obey the Torah, Jews are condemned to the impossibility of being considered right with God. Then when putting the second half of verse eleven and twelve together. The Torah is found to be defective because it is not based on faith, but on legalism, on “doing these things,” as proved by quoting one of the Torah’s own verses. (Stern warns that by questioning the Torah, people are in danger of disputing God Himself who inspired its writing. Such illogical reasoning arrives at the conclusion that if Jews obey a defective Torah, then the Jew themselves must be defective.) Then in verse thirteen, Jews are cursed already just by having to live under the Torah.

To counter this misunderstanding and help in gaining a better understanding, Stern offers his own translation:

10 For everyone who depends on legalistic observance of the Torah’s commands lives under a curse, since it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the Scroll of the Torah.”[a] 11 Now it is evident that no one comes to be declared righteous by God through legalism, since The person who is righteous will attain life by trusting and being faithful.”[b] 12 Furthermore, legalism is not based on trusting and being faithful, but on [a misuse of] the text that says, Anyone who does these things will attain life through them.”[c] 13 The Messiah redeemed us from the curse pronounced in the Torah by becoming cursed on our behalf; for the Tanakh says, Everyone who hangs from a stake comes under a curse.”[d]

[a] Deuteronomy 27-26;  [b] Habakkuk 2:4;  [c] Leviticus 18:5;  [d] Deuteronomy 21:22-23

The whole point of Stern’s argument is that Christians should not discard the Torah with its Ten Commandments and Levitical standards of conduct. Jesus didn’t so why should we.[9] It’s only when a person becomes convinced that by following all the rules in the Torah, that alone will earn them salvation and a right standing with God shows they are mistaken. Furthermore, once a person becomes a believer in Yeshua the Messiah as their LORD and Savior, it is foolish to add the Torah’s rites, rules, and regulations thinking it will make one’s salvation more authentic. Nevertheless, a genuine Christian will find that by doing out of love what the Torah says in order to honor and please God is a compliment to God for the Torah.

August H. Strong (1836-1921) was struck by how God’s care is shown in the small things as well as in big things. For instance, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Anointed One tells the Father that while He was with His disciples that He kept them safe in the power of His name. “I have kept watch over those You gave Me,” said Jesus, “not one of them was lost except the one who is going to be destroyed, which is the son of death.”[10] Then here in verse thirteen the Anointed One gives Himself up as a prisoner that His disciples may go free, even as He redeems us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us. This is the same unseen force that made the planets into spheres, also molded dew into drops. So, no matter how small or insignificant a person may feel they are in God’s kingdom when in His hands they are a transformed instrument by which great things can be done.[11]

[1] See Luke 24:49; Acts of the Apostles 1:4; 2:38, 39; Ephesians 1:13

[2] Jonathan Edwards: A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1834), Part III, Sect. I, (Kindle Location 13011)

[3] Cf. Matthew 20:28; (He “gave his life a ransom for many”); 1 Timidity 2:6; 1 Corinthians 5:20; 7:23; Titus 2:14; Revelation 5:9; 14:4

[4] As in the case of the typical scapegoat. Leviticus 16ffcf. 2 Corinthians 5:21

[5] Philip Schaff: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit., p. 318

[6] Charles Spurgeon Sermon Collection, Vol. 4, Sermon No. 3254, June 15, 1911, pp. 415-416

[7] Deuteronomy 21:23

[8] Marvin Vincent: Word Studies in Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 642)

[9] See Matthew 22:36-40

[10] John 17:12, See 18:9

[11] August H. Strong: Systematic Theology, op. cit., Vol. 2, Ch. 4, Sec. 3, p. 108

About drbob76

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