Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 8: Galatians 3:10-18 (video)
For awhile after an election, campaign signs are often left on lawns and street corners. The issues they represented didn’t go away after election day but the signs had served their purpose, and can be taken down.
In a limited sense, the laws God gave to Israel by Moses are like those signs. There were detailed laws that required ritual sacrifices to represent what the Savior would do. He would come to die as a substitute for his people’s sins. There were also purity laws that governed Israel’s diet and clothing. They taught the uniqueness of God’s People, separated out from the world by grace. With the coming of Christ, these special rules for Israel had served their purpose.
There was a problem that was confusing the churches in Galatia. The Judaizers were teaching that the new Gentile believers had to submit to those ceremonial laws. But they were given only to Israel to prefigure what Christ would do. When the things the signs represented were fulfilled, they were no longer required.
Paul made it clear that the Judaizers were wrong. They loved the signs, but didn’t appreciate what the signs meant. The signs were now fulfilled. The rituals had served their original purpose.
But God’s law has a specific purpose for all people in all ages. It teaches us about our guilt before God, and about his promised solution to the problem. It demonstrates what’s right and wrong, and what’s true and false. It instruct and condemns, but the law can’t make a fallen sinner right with God.
In Galatians 3:10-12 Paul tried to explain this to the Christians at Galatia.
10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
11. But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”
12. Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”
First, he makes it clear that the law condemns all of us. Since no one can keep all the law perfectly, everyone deserves the penalty, it’s curse. The quote is from Deuteronomy 27:26 where it says, “Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them.”
Honoring God’s ways might happen now and then in some of us by God’s grace. But conforming to all the words of his law all the time, and observing them with the right attitude, is absolutely impossible for us fallen creatures, even the best of us. Therefore, since nobody always perfectly obeys, everybody’s guilty and deserves God’s curse.
Law isn’t intended for removing guilt. There’s no formula that takes guilt away by just doing something. Good deeds and obedience can’t erase guilt from past failures. Obeying sometimes, or even often, doesn’t remove anything from your record. If a convicted murderer is polite, or does some nice things, we don’t just set him free. He’s still a convicted felon. He has to pay the price for his crime.
You can do all the community and charitable works you can fit into your schedule, even though that’s a good thing, it doesn’t erase anything you’ve done wrong in the past.
Next, Paul says it very clearly; there’s no redemption or justification by the law.
That’s not why God revealed his law to us. Paul is quoting from Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk was asking God to explain why he let Israel suffer so much. God basically told him that he didn’t need to know why things happen. His job was to trust God, and to live by what God tells him. But since no one, even Habakkuk’s Israel, is innocent, hope and deliverance need to be provided for us by God.
We come by faith in God’s promise and plan. If you really trust it to be true, you will act on it, and live by it.
The third thing Paul says here is that what the Judaizers were teaching is impossible.
Paul used Leviticus 18:5 to explain what he meant; “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.” To have life in fellowship with God and his people, a person needs to keep all of God’s law perfectly, personally and perpetually. But no body can do that. The Bible teaches in both Testaments that our fall in Adam made us guilty, depraved, and lost.
Paul explained in Romans 3:10-12 how our sin condition effects our lives. “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’ ”
That whole section of the Romans letter was written to help us understand our real need. Here quoted directly from the Old Testament Scriptures. The Judaizers misunderstood the law and what it can do. They also misunderstood themselves, and what they were able to do. There’s no promise of salvation based on rituals, rules, or by being good.
So then, what hope is there for these poor Galatians? or for us today?
There’s only one sure hope: Jesus took up the condemnation we deserve.
13. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),
Paul was quoting from still another part of the writings of Moses. In Deuteronomy 21:23 it says that anyone hanged for punishment is defiled.
Jesus was hung on a Roman cross and became defiled in our place. It was part of the plan from the beginning. Even the hanging of Jesus on a cross fit in with the lessons of God’s word. Nothing could be made more clear; Jesus took our penalty onto himself, and credits us with his innocence.
That’s what all the ceremonial laws were about. They were signs that pointed ahead to Christ. The sacrifices, the circumcision, the special washings and diets, all showed how God the Father would redeem those he loved.
The Judaizers’ mistake was to insist that the ceremonies had to continue. It was a denial that what Christ did actually fulfilled the ancient covenant promises.
The ceremonies were to point to Christ. Once he came their purpose was served. To continue them would be to deny that Christ’s work was enough. It was a rejection of the promise God was teaching in the ceremonial laws.
God wasn’t teaching that circumcision actually removed guilt, or that the death of a goat or lamb could take away a human’s sins. But he was showing in those rituals that he would provide for sin to be removed, and that a worthy substitute would come to pay the eternal debt they owed for their sins.
It’s interesting that Paul used God’s law to support his reasoning in these verses. The Judaizers who thought they lived by God’s law, needed to see that the law they said they loved didn’t say what they thought it did. They loved the signs, but never really understood what was depicted in the signs.
They were missing the main promises in God’s covenant. God’s blessing to Abraham included the people some wanted to exclude.
14. that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
The Jews shouldn’t have been confused about the Gentiles coming into the church. From the very beginning God promised he would eventually include them too.
The Jewish nation was one of those signs pointing ahead to the completed form of the church. They served God’s purpose for a short part of history, but then the job was done. The Messiah came, completed what the law represented, and a new form of the spiritual nation was born.
In Romans 9-11 Paul explained that the church of Christ today is now God’s true and continuing Israel. There is no more, and never will be again, any privilege to the physical descendants of Abraham.
As we saw in the first part of this study, the true sons of Abraham, the inheritors of his promise, are all those who have the faith of Abraham — trusting in God’s promises.
As the church was assembled (Jews and Gentiles alike) the old rituals and symbols were ended. Now the reality was there for God’s people. They are redeemed together into a spiritual family called the church – sinners saved by grace alone.
Then Paul gave them a human example based on contract law.
15. Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.
Covenants were special forms of contracts in ancient times. The old Suzerain treaty covenants were providentially the closest to the way God deals with us. Breaking the conditions of the contract usually meant death. If anyone tampered with it to try to modify it or change the conditions, they were executed. Even today in less severe times, breaking a contract means some kind of penalty.
Paul’s point is this: If human contracts and covenants are binding and reliable, certainly God’s promises are even more certain.
God’s promise to Abraham included the work of Jesus Christ.
16. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.
Paul uses the words of Genesis 22:18 to show how carefully God’s word needs to be read. There it says that the promise to Abraham is this: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, …”
God didn’t say that all the physical descendants of Israel would be a blessing to the world. Paul pointed out that the word “seed” is singular there – one seed, not all the seeds. It was by one person that this blessing would come, that person is identified here as Jesus Christ.
There he is! Christ in the Old Testament.
There was a series of humorous commercials by AT&T where the host would be in some unusual places, and was amazed to be able to get on the internet from there. There was one where he was standing in front of the fountain of youth. In the background you could see elderly people shuffled in on one side, then run off on the other side as rejuvenated children. The announcer says that he’s found something extraordinary there. We assume he meant to fountain of youth. But then he tells us that he with his AT&T connect card — he found the internet there. In similar commercials he stands by all sorts of wonders of history and of legend but is most astounded to find the internet there.
We can go to the Old Testament, anywhere if we come to understand it well, and find something extraordinary there too — Jesus Christ! It’s easy to get distracted by the history recorded there, the lives of amazing people, and the detailed regulations that defined the lives of the Jewish nation. But we shouldn’t miss the most astounding thing there — the whole point of it all.
Christ is all through the promises that pave the history of God’s people from Eden to Glory. He’s in the songs of praise and prayers for mercy. He’s there in the law of God, in the washings, the sacrifices, and in all the rituals and temple trappings.
You can open your Bible to any of its books and find something extraordinary there — Jesus Christ. It may take some thought or guidance by someone who knows the territory well. But he’s there throughout it all.
So the signs that pointed to the fulfillment of the ancient covenant may be removed from our current practice, but the promise they represented is there forever.
The ceremonial laws of Israel could not replace the original promise. Paul said in 17-18,
17. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.
18. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
The promise of the coming Christ, and the way of salvation by grace through faith, was made long before the ceremonial laws were given by Moses. The temporary rituals, the signs telling about God’s plan, did not replace the covenant promises themselves which were given to Abraham 430 years before the rituals given through Moses.. That would be the 400 years of captivity in Egypt, plus 30 years, a symbolic number representing Abraham coming to maturity as the Covenant representative (like the requirement of a Levite being 30 years old before being ordained to the priesthood).
Obviously the law had a different purpose than what the Judaizers thought. It pointed to the coming of the Christ. It prepared God’s people for understanding and trusting in Jesus and his work as Redeemer. When he came the lessons were completed and were no longer binding upon God’s people.
God preserves his law for us today — but as completed promises, not as signs of things to come. Jesus explained in Matthew 5:17-18 about what he came to accomplish concerning God’s law, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
Here Jesus isn’t just talking about the ritual laws the Judaizers were mixed up about. There is a sense in which Jesus fulfills all of God’s law, yet he didn’t end the law. It still has an enduring and important purpose.
It’s easy to see how Jesus fulfilled the Ceremonial Laws. He did what they symbolized and predicted. But fulfilled doesn’t mean eliminated or destroyed. They’re still important. He completed what they taught. They were and are teachers for us about redemption. In them we see the promise of Christ that gave hope even to the ancient believers before his birth.
In one sense Jesus also fulfilled the Moral Law for us. But as Jesus said in Matthew 5, that didn’t mean he ended or destroyed it. Ever since creation, the same moral things are good and violating them is evil. That can’t change because they reflect the moral nature of God himself as our Creator. But Jesus did fulfill the legal demands of the moral law, because he died paying the penalty for all the times we violate it. He also kept the moral law of God perfectly in our place so he could, by grace, credit that obedience and righteousness to us who believe
What’s more, by his regenerating grace in our hearts, Jesus makes us able to do what our fallen soul would never, could never, do. He gives us life, and a love for God that makes us want to obey him. We are made able by grace to actually obey God and to do it for his glory, not just for our own benefit.
Paul started this chapter with the words, “O foolish Galatians.” They were being taken in by teachers that sounded good, but were distorting God’s truth.
It’s tempting in troubled times, to believe that you need to take matters in your own hands. But the believer needs to remember that while he ought to be responsible and diligent, he ultimately relies upon God’s power and grace for success.
When you manage your home, your finances, your relationships with friends, you learn to do it within the boundaries of what God teaches in his word, and you pray relying upon the power of the Holy Spirit in you to do things well.
When it comes to your salvation from sin there’s only one thing you can do. You come repentantly, depending not on yourself or on any superstitions or rituals. You depend solely upon the promise of God fulfilled in the work of Jesus Christ.
He lives, and is here to help you, to strengthen and comfort you. He promises to forgive the repentant who rest their hope in him alone.
The old signs pointed to the one who rose, ascended, and now ministers to us always. Jesus isn’t just a promise we expect to come again one day in glory. He’s our living Shepherd, Friend, and Master — our Creator and God.
(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)