Today on Renewing Your Mind, the Apostle Paul has some strong words for an early church. And you who have heard the gospel have embraced the gospel if you now turn away from it. The only thing left for you is not the blessing of the covenant, but the curse of divine wrath.
That's a frightening charge, isn't it? Especially when we realize that Paul's words apply not just to an ancient church, but to us in the 21st century. The book of Galatians is our focus this week on Renewing Your Mind. R.C. Sproul gives us a detailed look at Paul's letter to this troubled church.
As we get started today, R.C. is in chapter 3, beginning with verse 10. After laboring the point that justification is by faith and not through the works of the law, by which the Apostle has said, by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified, how Paul now changes the tune just a little bit in the terms of the nuance that he wants us to get here by saying this, for all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.
Let me just pause for a second and look at the beginning of that particular verse. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse. If you are a student of logic, you will recognize that what the Apostle has written here is a universal affirmative proposition. And also, if you are a student of logic, you may recognize some of the implications of the truth tables by which certain inferences follow from other propositions. And what Paul is saying is that all who do A are also in a state of B.
If you are A, you will also be B. Now again, Paul is not interested in giving us an abstract expounding of logic, but certainly the logic that he is declaring here is one that we dare not miss at the peril of our eternal lives. He says, all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.
Now, if you are included in that statement all, and if you have been relying for your justification by obeying the law of God, all you have achieved to this point is to be exposed to the curse of God. Now, when Paul is speaking here to the Judaizers, he certainly has primary reference to the Old Testament law that was given by and through the mediator of the Old Covenant, namely Moses. But if we expand the understanding of the law, as Paul does in his epistle to the Romans, we understand that not only the Jews were under the law, but also the Gentiles are under the law. And what he is saying is that all people, each and every person who has ever lived on this planet is under the law of God. Again, Paul labors in Romans that death reigned from Adam until Moses. And the only way that could be is if sin would reign from Adam to Moses. And as Paul argues in that epistle, he is saying where there's no law, there is no sin.
God can't hold anybody accountable for sin if He hasn't legislated any behavioral obligations to the world. But since death reigned from Adam to Moses, and the death didn't just start when the law of Moses came, what the Apostle argues is that before the law was published on Mount Sinai and Moses delivered the tablets of stone, that the whole world already knew the foundational precepts of the moral law of God. You look at the natural law, the lex naturalis, or if you look at what's called the eus gentium, the law of the nations, you will see that you don't have to have a tablet written on stone to know that it is wrong to murder another human being.
You don't have to understand through written documents that it is wrong to steal another person's property. Now, I understand that all of us are guilty of searing our consciences, of trying to do everything we can to silence the voice of conscience, to destroy our consciences altogether, but I'm convinced that even the most calloused psychopath or sociopath does not have the ability to extinguish altogether the law of God. We know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. And so we are all under, underneath the law. And there are many senses in which the Scriptures speak of being under the law. That is to say, the law stands over and above us as imposing the obligations of our Creator upon our behavior.
So we're under obligation, and in that sense, under the law. But what Paul is talking about here is far more serious when he tells us that being under the law involves not only being under obligation to the law, but we are under the curse of the law. Now, if there's any word that's foreign to our contemporary vocabulary, it's the word curse. Other than using it to describe certain kinds of language, which we call cursing, for the most part, the concept of curse has all but disappeared from our culture.
We may see vestigial remnants here and there in certain points. I think of the practice of voodoo, where pins are injected into the figures of replica dolls that represent our enemies. And the belief is that if you inject that pin into the chest of the replica doll, that it will inflict pain upon the person in reality, and they have received the curse. Even in Melville's great American novel, The Prophet, who cursed at the beginning of the ship Pequod and the crew under Captain Ahud, he predicted that they would suffer a dreadful end, and he would announce the curse upon all who signed upon the crew of the Pequod.
But like I say, that language has all but disappeared from our vocabulary. Who believes now in curses that have the power to actually change a person's destiny? Well, Paul believed it, and God believed it. And if we want to understand the significance of the curse, let's go back for just a moment to the Old Testament, to the book of Deuteronomy there in the Pentateuch, where we read in Deuteronomy 28 the terms or sanctions of the covenant that God made with Israel with the law of Moses.
And these sanctions were dual, that is, they were twofold, and the sanctions were positive and negative. God set before the people the option of blessing on the one hand or curse on the other hand. We read in chapter 28 of Deuteronomy, that if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord God, being careful to do all of His commandments and so on, the Lord your God will set you high above the nations of the earth, and all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you. If you obey God, blessed shall you be in the city, blessed shall you be in the field, blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds, the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket, blessed shall you be when you come in, blessed shall you be when you go out. And then in stark contrast, the Word of God comes to the people of Israel and says, However, if you disobey the commands that God has given you to this day, then cursed shall you be in the country, cursed shall you be in the city, cursed shall you be when you come in, cursed shall you be when you go out, cursed be your basket, cursed be your vineyard, cursed shall you be all over the place. Now again, in light of the way in which this language is foreign to our culture today, how do we understand what God spoke in antiquity in terms of these dual sanctions of blessing and curse? Well, every Sunday we have the benediction at the end of the service, and we use the classic Jewish benediction.
You've heard it time and time again. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you His peace.
That was the classic Jewish benediction that rang in the ears of every Jew who grew up in the ancient world. Well, to understand what the curse is, we have to first understand what the blessing is. And the way in which that benediction is communicated is through a literary pattern that is called parallelism. There are all different kinds of parallelism. There's synonymous parallelism, antithetical parallelism, so on.
In this case, we have synonymous parallelism where the same thing is pronounced in three different ways. And so if we look at this carefully and consider the benediction, may the Lord bless you and keep you. To understand what blessing means, we need to look at the next two verses. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. And then the third verse, may the Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you shalom, His peace.
And so the three stanzas, as it were, are repetitive. What it means to be blessed as a human being is to be able to have God draw near, lift up His face to you, lift up the light of His countenance upon you. And you know what the ultimate curse in the world is? That no man shall see God and live. And yet we see in the New Testament when Jesus preaches that the Sermon on the Mount, He says, what group are promised that they will see God? Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. The reason why we don't see God, the reason why He's invisible to us is not because we have some kind of impairment in our bodily functions, but the problem is with our hearts.
Because of sin, God hides His face from us. And so the ultimate blessing, the blessing that we have to wait for heaven to experience is the Visio Dei, the beatific vision of God where we see Him as He is. In the meantime, He remains hidden in part from us, but the highest promise for the Jew was, may the Lord bless you. May He make His face shine upon you. May He lift up the light of His countenance upon you, that you may know His peace, that He would keep you, be gracious to you, and give you His peace. Now if you understand the curse, the curse is the absolute contrast to the blessing.
So if we wanted to articulate what it meant by the curse of God in the Old Testament, it would go something like this. May the Lord curse you and abandon you. May the Lord turn His face away from you and give you only His judgment. May the Lord turn out the lights from His countenance and give you nothing but distress and turmoil.
It's the worst of all possible experiences that a human being could ever, ever have to endure to have God turn out the lights, to have God turn His back on you, to reject you now and forevermore. That's why we end every worship service at the end of our time together, not with the negative warning of judgment, but with the positive promise of redeeming grace that we who have our trust in Christ don't look for redemption, that we might behold Him as He is. But Paul starts this section by saying, is any all who are under the law are under the curse? Paul's already said that if anybody preaches any other gospel, speaking to the Galatians, then the one that you have received, let him be on it, let him be cursed. And you who have heard the gospel, have embraced the gospel, if you now turn away from it, the only thing left for you is not the blessing of the covenant, but the curse of divine wrath. Now I know, I know where I am and where I live, what generation this is, that I know that our people don't believe in the wrath of God.
Anytime there's a national crisis, bumper stickers appear all over the place, God bless America. But nobody believes it's possible that God would damn America. But you can't have a God who blesses, who is not also the God who refuses to bless. And Paul is now saying this sobering comment, if you're under the law of God, and everybody is, by nature, you're under the curse. If you don't put your trust in someone else's righteousness, then you face the curse alone. So Paul doesn't think this is some kind of secondary issue or tertiary issue, a minor point of theology.
It's the issue. It's the gospel where he goes on to connect it with the work of Christ. Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for the just shall live by faith. The law is not a faith, but rather the one who does them shall live by them.
And then he goes on to the most succinct expression of the gospel you'll find anywhere in the Scriptures, and perhaps the most poignant. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. If I said to you, what is redemption? What is salvation? What does it mean to be justified?
How would you answer that question? The answer is found in this word, redemption. To redeem is to purchase something, to buy it back. Like you used to have your S&H Green Stamps, and you would have redemption centers, and you would trade those stamps in and get some kind of appliance or other form of reward.
You were trading in the stamps for something of value. And you have this whole history of redemption in Scripture where those who are slaves, who are bound, are purchased and freed and liberated. And what Paul is saying here is, here's the gospel. You are under the curse of the law, but Christ has redeemed you from the curse of the law. Now here's the question.
How did he do that? I hear almost every day, certainly every week, from people who say to me, all religions are at bottom the same. When I hear somebody say that to me, I know this. Without knowing anything else at bottom, I know they don't know anything about theology. I know that if they thought about it for five minutes, they would never make such a ridiculous assertion to say that all religions are the same.
Unless they mean by that, all religions are equally value less. Because if you spend five minutes studying the world religions, you will see radical differences among them. And the uniqueness of Christianity is this, that the Christian faith is the only faith that has an atonement. What's the difference between Christianity and all the other world religions? It's simply this, it's Jesus and who He was and what He did.
And what He did. Mohammed did not provide an atonement for your guilt. Moses did not free you from the curse of the law.
Buddha was impotent when it came to freeing you from the consequences of your sin. By the way, Mohammed is dead. Moses is dead. Buddha is dead.
Confucius is dead. But only one has been vindicated by resurrection. And the way in which He redeems us from the curse, and this is the most astonishing theological assertion you'll ever hear in your life, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. It wasn't simply that He was cursed in our place, which He was. He took the cross. He took the full measure and the penalty, the consequences of disobedience of the law of God on Himself. He who was free from all sin, lived a life of perfect righteousness. The only person who's ever done that received the transfer, the imputation of the sin of His people to Himself. It came under the curse of God. I hear preachers talk about how painful the cross was with the spikes and the flesh and the thorns and the crown and all of that.
No, I doubt if Jesus even felt it. He screamed on the cross, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? What does it mean to be forsaken of God but to be cursed?
The lights went out. The Father turned His back on Him because in the attribution of the sin, our sin to Him, Jesus was the most obscene individual in all of human history, so filthy that God couldn't even look at Him. And not only did He receive the curse, but in using the language here, Paul says, He became a curse. He didn't just feel the curse. He was the curse. No wonder the Apostle says, you're not your own.
You're bought with a price. You've been purchased by the One who became a curse. He goes on and cites the Old Testament, cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree so that in Christ, the blessing of Abraham could come to the Gentiles so that we may receive the promise through faith. Those are the only options you have, beloved, the blessing of God or the curse of God. Or the curse of God. As long as you live by yourself under the law, you have nothing but the curse of God. That's why Paul pleads with the Galatians that Christ has taken that curse, that they may live not by works, but by faith.
Christ has taken the curse for us as well. We live not by works, but by faith, faith in the finished work of Christ. We have been listening to a sermon by R.C.
Sproul on Renewing Your Mind. We are the listener-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. Our goal is to help Christians know what they believe and why they believe it. And this week, we are exploring the riches that we find in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians.
Let me recommend that you contact us today and request our resource offer. It's the hardbound edition of Dr. Sproul's commentary on Galatians. In this volume, Dr. Sproul guides us through Paul's passionate letter to this troubled church.
The early church needed to safeguard the one true gospel, and we too must defend the good news that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. I hope you'll contact us today with a donation of any amount so that we can send you this commentary on Galatians. You can find us online at renewingyourmind.org, or you can call us.
Our number is 800-435-4343. We offer many opportunities and venues to study God's Word, and it's not too early to consider one such opportunity coming up in June—our 2023 Alaska Study Cruise. The theme is Doers of the Word. You'll have the chance to hear Ligonier Teaching Fellows, Double D. Robert Godfrey and Derek Thomas as they lead us through the Epistle of James while cruising through those breathtaking landscapes of the last frontier. I've had the privilege of being a part of two of these Alaska Study Cruises, and it is a rich and enjoyable adventure.
You can find out more at ligoneertours.com. While Paul didn't mince any words in his letter to the Galatians, they needed to be reminded of the very basics of gospel truth. You steer for one second into the mirror of the law, and you know you're guilty. You know now that by the works of the law, no flesh will ever be justified.
You know when you look in the law that that law will never save you. That's a brief portion of the message you'll hear Dr. Sproul deliver tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us. Thank you.
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