Question: "What is the curse of the law?"
Answer: As opposed to the blessing, which is grace, the Law is a curse upon all mankind, none of whom can possibly fulfill its requirements. While the Law itself is perfect and holy, those who try to justify themselves before its holy Author bring not His blessing, but His curse upon themselves. The Bible itself tells us what the curse of the Law is: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Galatians 3:10–13).
What we must understand from this passage is that the curse is not the Law. The curse is the penalty levied for not keeping the Law. The “Book of the Law” refers to the covenant laws that God made with His people during the time of Moses. The Law can point out where we fail and fall short of God’s will, but it cannot pronounce us righteous; that was not its purpose.
In Galatians 3 the apostle Paul is telling us that everyone who does not keep the Law perfectly is cursed by it (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10). The reason is that no one can obey the Law perfectly. In fact, there were over 600 laws the Jews had to keep to be right in the eyes of God. The breaking of even one commandment put a person under condemnation. Trying to achieve salvation through obedience to the Law is futile. For example, we all regularly break the first and greatest commandment by failing to love God first with all our hearts, minds and strength (Matthew 22:37–38). As a result, everyone has broken the commandments, and everyone is cursed.
The Law demands perfection—an impossibility because we’re all sinful (Romans 3:10, 23). As a result, all who try to live by the Old Law were under a divine curse. But the good news is that Jesus Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross when He bore God’s curse. Paul explains how in his letter to the Romans: “God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25–26). The curse of the Law fell on Christ on our behalf so that the righteousness of God could fall on us, though we did not deserve it (2 Corinthians 5:21).
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