Millions of professing Christians are only too happy to believe ministers, pastors and other theologians who teach that God’s laws are “done away”—“blotted out”—“nailed to the cross”—and that “Christ kept them for us.”
Such religionists invariably cite Galatians 3:13 – “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree.” From this, they conclude that obeying God’s commandments, statutes and judgments are no longer required since (they maintain) the Law is a “curse”; therefore, those who keep it are under a curse.
But is this what the verse actually means?
“A Curse for Us”
Notice that Galatians 3:13 does not say Christ redeemed us from the law, but rather from the curse of the law. Nor does it state that there is no need to observe God’s commandments, or that those who do so will be cursed.
If keeping God’s Law brought a curse, why would Paul—the same apostle who was inspired to write the above verse—also declare that the “law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rom. 7:12)? And why would he teach that it is the doers of the Law, not the hearers, who are justified (2:13)?
Consider: Does it make sense that God would curse those who obey Him? Of course not! Could obedience to the Law both justify and curse someone? Impossible!
Simply put, the “curse of the law” is the death penalty—the wages one earns for disobeying God. Notice: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (6:23). Sin—breaking God’s laws (I John 3:4)—ultimately results in death (Jms. 1:15).
When Jesus Christ, who never sinned, allowed Himself to be crucified, He redeemed us (bought us back) from the curse of the Law—the death penalty. The latter half of Galatians 3:13 states, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” In Old Testament times, sinners were sometimes executed by being hung on a tree; this grisly sight stood as a public testimony that sin brings the death penalty (Deut. 21:22-23). With His death on a stake, our Savior became a “curse for us”—not because He kept the Law perfectly for us, but because He suffered the death penalty for us (Heb. 2:9-10; John 3:16)! Christ accepted the curse—the wages of sin—of disobedient humanity upon His shoulders.
The devil knows that disobeying God leads to pain, misery, suffering and death. These tragic results are what he longs to bring upon mankind, those who have the awesome human potential to enter the kingdom of God and surpass him in power and stature. Satan is also keenly aware that when we keep God’s Law, we grow in spiritual understanding (Psa. 111:10)—and this runs contrary to his role as the great arch-deceiver (Rev. 12:9).
This world’s “Christianity” has been blinded from the knowledge that observing the commandments and statutes of God yields many blessings. For instance, Psalm 19 shows that obeying God’s laws “converts the soul”—“makes wise the simple”—“rejoices the heart”—“enlightens the eyes”—“warns” us from straying off the narrow path of Christianity—and that keeping them results in “great reward” (vs. 7-11).
Now consider the following scenario: A Christian is thrust into a tempting situation that, if he remains in it, could lead him to sin. He remembers the laws and statutes that apply to his predicament. He recalls the verses that warn against relying on human reasoning (Jer. 17:9; 10:23; Prov. 14:12; 16:2, 25; 21:2; 3:5, 7). And so he decides to remove himself from the situation.
God’s Law gave him the knowledge that he was headed for potential danger. It gave him the understanding of why the situation was so dangerous. Acting upon this knowledge and understanding became his wisdom.
The result? Immediate blessings! He gains peace of mind because he steered clear of a deadly snare set out by Satan. He receives a sense of instant security, knowing that God will direct his paths for trusting in Him (Prov. 3:6). He radiates joy because the Law gave him the vision to “foresee the evil and hide himself,” thus avoiding the tragic consequences of disobedience (22:3; 29:18). And, by meditating on these things and the other blessings that lie ahead, he draws closer to his Creator.
As you can clearly see, law keeping is not a curse—but the penalty for sin certainly is!