We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t hear many sermons preached on it. We’d rather not bring it up. We’d rather focus on the happy news. But the truth is there are consequences to sin. Unrighteousness does, indeed, bring wrath and judgement. Nothing makes this as clear as Romans 1:16.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men
In this next section of his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains how and why we would come under God’s curse. (Don’t worry there is good news at the end). Remember that Paul’s main argument is that we cannot be saved by self-effort, by rule-keeping, by trying to earn God’s favor by any means that flows out of our works. In other words, keeping the Jewish Law or keeping any religious rules does not earn us salvation. Here, in verse 10, he goes further and actually says that anyone who relies on rule-keeping is under God’s curse because they would have to keep 100% of the rules 100% of the time for their entire life.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Gal 3:10)
The word “all” is key to Paul’s argument. He is making the point that those “who rely on works of the law” are required to keep “all” the commandments and that missing one immediately places one under the curse. This means that everyone is, in fact, under the curse because no one is able to keep all the law all the time. Many people would like to omit the word “all” and give themselves some wiggle room to say, “I can keep most of the law and be ok.” Paul would argue strenuously that this is not true. There’s no other way to put this: This is really bad news! We are stuck with no way out.
Now here is where the Good News come in – the really good news.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal 3:13)
David Guzik, in his commentary on this verse says, “The punishment of being hanged on a tree, and left to open exposure, was thought to be so severe, that it was reserved only for those for which is was to be declared: ‘this one is accursed of God.’ Jesus not only died in our place; but He took the place as the accursed of God, being hung on a ‘tree’ in open shame and degradation.”
And Martin Luther wrote, “Our merciful Father in heaven saw how the Law oppressed us and how impossible it was for us to get out from under the curse of the Law. He therefore sent His only Son into the world and said to Him: ‘You are now Peter, the liar; Paul, the persecutor; David, the adulterer; Adam, the disobedient; the thief on the cross. You, My Son, must pay the world’s iniquity.’ The Law growls: ‘All right. If Your Son is taking the sin of the world, I see no sins anywhere else but in Him. He shall die on the Cross.’ And the Law kills Christ. But we go free.”
So hanging on a tree was not just about the means of execution, which is what we normally assume, but it was a demonstration of the curse of God upon this person. In the case of Jesus, the cross was both a means of execution according to the Romans to display the vileness of the criminal but also a symbol to the Jews of God’s curse upon Jesus. So both Jew and Gentile look upon the cross as a demonstration of the utter contemptibility of the person hanging there. Jesus took the curse for both Jew and Gentile. He became the curse so that we would not have to.
The point here is remarkable. Christ the innocent Son of God took on Himself the full demands of the law and the sinfulness that it pointed to in all of us. The law demanded perfection and anything less than that incurred God’s wrath and curse. Jesus stepped into that and “took the bullet” for us. I am therefore free of the curse and free of the unrelenting, oppressive and crushing demands of the law. I walk in the knowledge, freedom and comfort that God is not waiting to “zap” me when I get out of line. Instead he looks upon the work of Christ, the curse being lifted, the demands being fulfilled and He loves me. ME!