Galatians 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
Deuteronomy 27:26 “Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out. Then all the people shall say, Amen!”
The essence of what God is communicating through Paul is that there is a curse connected to the Law. The Law demands perfection. Because man is imperfect, he is incapable of keeping God's Law completely. Even if you do almost everything right, under the Law, you are guilty if you fail in one point. Almost is not good enough according to the Law.
Now, we cannot exhaust the purposes of the Law of God in this study. However, we should clarify some things. The Law communicates God's character to humanity. Humanity communicates through language and God communicates to us through His Word. He gave the Law to His people Israel so that they would know what was expected of them from Him. And as we see in the Deuteronomy passage, there was no accepting failure.
If you do a thorough study of the Old Testament, you will become aware of the fact that there was a system called "Levitical Law." Within the Levitical Law, there were sacrifices offered to pay the penalty for the people's failure regarding the keeping of the whole Law.
The sacrifices were a continual reminder of the severity of sin. The continual shedding of blood and killing of innocent animals to assuage the people's guilt should have been a humbling reminder that man left to himself could not please God because he could not live true to the character and demands of God according to His Law.
The Law required that individuals offer sacrifices for their individual sins (Leviticus chapters 1-5). In addition, the Law demanded an annual process of sacrifice to pay for the whole nation's sins (Leviticus ch. 16).
Once per year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would first offer sacrifice for his own sin, then he would bring the blood of the sacrifice on the other side of the veil and sprinkle it before and upon the Mercy Seat, which would allow the sins of Israel to be forgiven for the next year. I want us to look more closely at two concepts regarding this process.
First, if you look at a picture of the Ark of the Covenant, you will notice the cherubim on top of the Mercy Seat. The cherubim represent the presence and holiness of God. If you pay close attention to the positioning of the cherubim, you will see that they are facing one another, but more importantly, they are facing down with their eyes peering upon the Mercy Seat. Think about this… these angels who represent the holiness of God are peering down. What was contained within the Mercy Seat? The 10 commandments, which was the Law of God was inside the Ark of the Covenant. In essence you could say that theses angels were looking upon the broken Law of God because the people were incapable of keeping the Law to perfection.
Leviticus 16:15-16 15 Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat: 16 And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
The two concepts I want to focus upon regarding the curse of the broken Law are these:
(1) Before the blood was applied, the top of the Ark was a place of judgement because the presence of God looked towards the Law and saw that it was broken. But Paul explains that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Mercy Seat.
Romans 3:25 "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;..."
The Mercy Seat was the cover over the Ark of the Covenant. It was located within the Holy of Holies. If you read the end of Exodus and this passage in Leviticus, you learn that the presence of God would meet with Moses in this spot between the cherubim.
It is important to mention that this procedure only took place once per year. If you go back and read Leviticus 16, you will learn that only the High Priest was allowed to go behind the veil, and he was only allowed to go once per year. Ultimately, the point I want to make is that access to the presence of God was very limited at this point in salvation history.
The next important aspect of this passage is related to the sprinkling of the blood upon the Mercy Seat and the meaning of the word propitiation. Once the blood was applied, the angels no longer looked upon the broken Law; instead, they looked upon the blood of the sacrifice.
The word propitiation- was used in ancient Greek times to describe the process of assuaging the wrath of the gods. Obviously, Paul did not believe in multiple gods He was evoking a different idea that God's wrath was against humanity because of sin, but through faith in the blood of Jesus that wrath is assuaged, appeased, or done away with.
But there is another idea of great importance occurring with this word propitiation. The word for propitiation in the Greek is hilasterion. Interestingly, this is the word used by the translators of the Septuagint for the word "Mercy Seat".
The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the OT scriptures. The Septuagint was used during the times of Paul and the other disciples. After the Hellenization of the civilized world (the spreading of Grecian culture and language during and after Alexander the Great's conquests), many of the Jewish people began through assimilation to speak the Greek language. Therefore a translation of the Hebrew OT was produced in Greek so that the Jews that were reading and speaking Greek would have access to the OT scriptures. The important point is, in the Greek, the word hilasterion that Paul used in Romans where it was translated into English as propitiation is the same word that was used in the Septuagint in Leviticus 16 where it speaks of the Mercy Seat.
Let's take a moment to bring all this information together. Before Jesus, mankind was guilty. Like the Mercy Seat, when God looked upon us, He saw the broken Law. However, once we responded to the Gospel through faith, the place of judgment became the place of mercy because God no longer sees the broken Law instead He sees the blood of Jesus.
(2) The second thought I want to address has to do with man's ability to enter the presence of God. As we will see in a couple of verses, Paul will contrast the curse from the promise of Abraham. Ultimately, the promise of Abraham results in justification, which allows the Holy Spirit's presence to live in the heart of man rather than in the Holy of Holies where there was limited access.
The ability of the curse to be removed occurred when the veil was ripped. I say the ability to be removed because until each person chooses Jesus for himself through faith, the curse remains. Matthew 27:51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
Because of Jesus, you are justified (innocent). Because you are justified, you have access to the presence of God. You are no longer under the curse. You have become a partaker of the promise given to Abraham.
Galatians 3:11,12 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. Galatians 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
This verse is used three different times in the NT. It is used here, in Romans 1:17, and in Hebrews 10:38. However, the New Testament writers are quoting its use from the book of Habakkuk where it was first written by God in the OT: Habakkuk 2:4 Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him:but the just shall live by his faith.
With this verse Paul is informing the Galatians and all who will follow Jesus that the way to live one's life for God is not through the performing of works or living according to law or rules; instead, it has always been God's plan to justify the guilty, and in turn, they live out their lives through faith.
We have to make an important point clear before we move forward. Too often, NT Christians view this passage as not pertaining to them because it refers to the Law which speaks of the OT.
However, it is important for us to understand that there are two ways that God will judge man. He will judge man "In Christ" or He will judge man under the Law. The interesting thing is that a Christian can be born again, but willingly subject himself under the government of law. In other words, law and grace both exist today you could consider these entities as governments or the authorities under which people submit themselves.
So you could have a person who is born again, but does not live their daily lives under the government of grace. Instead, they live according to a system of law. They judge their position with God based upon their performance rather than the performance of Jesus. The result is that they are constantly striving to do more because they never understand the concept of resting in the finished work of Christ. When a Christian understands what it means to rest in Christ, he no longer views his standing with God based on his failures or accomplishments. Instead, he views his standing with God based on the accomplishments of Christ.
This Christian is submitting himself under the government of grace. He understands that he is just...righteous...innocent in the eyes of God not because of what he has or will ever do, but because of what Jesus did. The result of living under this government is that there is a never ending supply of grace; whereas, under the government of law, there is a lack of grace because it is being frustrated as the believer attempts to live for God through law rather than faith.
It was this phrase in the Romans 1:17 verse that transformed Martin Luther's life. I'm not talking about Martin Luther King. I'm talking about Martin Luther the protestant reformer. He lived during the 1500's. He was sent to the University of Erfurt in Germany at the age of 13 where he earned baccalaureate and Master's degrees in the shortest amount of time allowed by the university. He excelled at debating and became known as the “philosopher.”
His life was transformed one day as he was traveling on foot to Erfurt in the midst of a thunderstorm. As he was fighting the storm, a bolt of lightning struck near his feet. He cried out to St. Anne to save him and said that he would devote his life to being a monk.
He strove to be the greatest monk he could be. He willingly lived a life of asceticism by fasting, sleeping in bone chilling cold, and brutal flagellation. But he continued under a cloud of guilt. His Instructors had taught him that the meaning of the verse in Romans 1:17 was that God was the righteous and He was the punisher of all sinners.
A quote that he made during this time in his life was: "When it is touched by the passing of inundation of the eternal, the soul feels and drinks nothing but eternal punishment.”
But something continued to draw him back to the verse in Romans 1:17 and ultimately he came to the conclusion that no one but the righteous could live by faith. Ultimately, he received a revelation that the righteous live by a gift from God, which is given based on faith. This was his resulting quote after that revelation:
"Here I felt as though I had been entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open."
Galatians 3:13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
Once again there was a curse connected to the Law because man was incapable of keeping the Law. But the scripture explains that Jesus did not transgress the Law. Nevertheless, he was hung on the "tree".
Deuteronomy 21:22-23 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
In the OT, when someone would commit a sin worthy of death, they would often be stoned then hung on the tree over night for all to see. These people were considered cursed in the eyes of God. But the innocent Jesus became a curse in our place so that we could be redeemed from the curse of the Law.
The word redeemed -means to be bought back through a ransom. So we were purchased back through the blood of Jesus. This word was used in the Greek to describe being bought off the slave market. The idea is that humanity was enslaved by sin and Jesus, through the shedding of his blood, purchased us off the slave market of sin. Through Him becoming a curse, we were redeemed from the curse of the Law.
Galatians 3:14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Here Paul is contrasting the promise of Abraham from the curse of the Law. The curse left man guilty and separated from the presence of God. But the promise of Abraham has positioned man to have the Spirit of God live on the inside of him.
Galatians 3:15-18 15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
The word "confirmeth" in this passage is similar to the word ratified in our legislative system. Once a law is ratified, it becomes binding.
The idea of what Paul is saying is that the promise was "ratified" or confirmed when God spoke it to Abraham, which was 430 years before the Law was given. The answer is no the Law does not dis-annul (to make of no effect) the promise that was given before to Abraham.
Paul further makes his point by saying that the promise was to the "seed" singular (Christ) not to "seeds" plural (nation) of Israel.