The Curse of the Law
The First Chief Part of Christian Doctrine: The Ten Commandments| Ash Wednesday| February 18 & 19, 2015| Galatians 3, 10-14
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.
I, the Lord, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My Commandments.
No one can reasonably argue with these commandments. Yet only Christ has obeyed them. And he is the one who is cursed. The Law gave the pronouncement: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Jesus is the only one who continued in all things which are written in the law, to do them. No one else did. Yet Jesus is the one who is cursed. Why? Why should the only one who has earned the blessing of the law be cursed instead of blessed?
It was for us. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’)”
During these six midweek Lenten services we will be considering each of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in light of Jesus’ suffering. The Ten Commandments are the first of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine. The order in which they appear in the Catechism is not arbitrary. We begin with the Ten Commandments because we cannot know God except as God is gracious to us and we cannot know God’s grace if we don’t know our own sin and we can’t know our own sin until we know the Ten Commandments.
No one can reasonably argue with these commandments. To worship a false god is to deprive the one and only true God of the honor he alone deserves. To misuse God’s name is to treat our Father in heaven with disrespect. And should we not all set aside time every week – indeed, every day – to find rest in the words that God speaks to us? Who can defend disrespect toward parents? Surely, we should do nothing to hurt our neighbor physically. The marriage bond is sacred and ought to be honored by everyone. Our neighbor’s property is not ours to do with as we please. Neither is his good name. We should be content with what we have and not seek to gain more at the expense of others. These commandments require no more than what any decent person would agree should be required.
That is why when these commandments condemn us we feel the pain so sharply. It would be a different matter if they were unreasonable demands from a cruel deity. But they are not. They are sensible. They are good. If everyone obeyed them how much better a place this world would be! The Ten Commandments make sense. We agree with them. Most people do. And they pronounce God’s curse upon us all.
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. To redeem means to set free. But payment must be made. The payment to set us free from the curse of the law was bearing that curse for us. That’s what Jesus did. He was cursed for us. He became a curse for us.
The law spoke divine threats against us. It threatened to curse us for our disobedience. We could not turn aside that curse unless we did everything the law required. We failed.
Our failure was not simply missing this or that detail. We failed with respect to the very essence of the law. We failed to love. That’s what the law required of us. That’s what we did not do.
We don’t like to know this. To admit that you have not loved God is a serious admission to make. So idolatry is defined away. Now it’s multiculturalism. The god who neither begets nor is begotten is said to be the same God we confess in the Nicene Creed. False prophets, false religions, false gods, and false worship are all given equal status with the true teaching and true worship of the true God. The difference between God and idols is eliminated. Idolatry is defined away.
Saying that God said it when he didn’t is not regarded as a sin against the Second Commandment but rather as a legitimate expression of one’s religious opinion and who is to say whose opinion is valid and whose is not?
And the Sabbath! We go to church if and when and where it won’t interfere with work or play or getting a good night sleep.
And don’t you dare make me feel guilty! Don’t you dare judge me! I will believe as I choose and worship as I choose if and when I choose and this is between God and me. So don’t tell me what I must and must not do!
So cries out the guilty conscience that can find no rest or peace. For the conscience will prefer to avoid the pain rather than face it. But it must be faced. Running away from the law is a futile gesture. The curse doesn’t go away just because you cry out your defiance against it. Oh no. It will not only lay its burden on your conscience; it will claim your very life and will bind you hand and foot and throw you into prison until you pay a debt you cannot pay.
Repent! God is a jealous God and has every right to be. He visits sin upon sin. When he says that those who do not continue to do everything written in the book of the law are under the curse of that law he is not talking just to hear himself talk. We cannot run away from this curse. We cannot silence it by offering our disobedience and pretending it is obedience. We need to be delivered and we need to be delivered from ourselves.
That’s what the Ten Commandments teach us. That’s what they show us. Until we see ourselves as sinners who need to repent of our sin we do not know God’s law. We must learn that our pathway to God is not by means of us obeying the law. To try to find God in your obedience to the law is to embrace the law’s curse and to bear that curse.
So we repent of our sins. We confess them. God points us to him who became a curse for us. He who was hanged upon a tree and became the curse in our place has removed that curse from us. He sends us his Spirit. He leads us to faith. He quenches our thirst for righteousness by giving us his own.
Repentance is a wonderful gift. It sets us free. When we do not try to justify ourselves but trust instead in him who redeemed us from the curse of the law we find true rest and peace. The Holy Spirit persuades our hearts that the curse of the law is as far removed from us as the East is from the West. When Jesus bore our curse for us he took away the law’s power to condemn us. The law cannot condemn those who are forgiven by the blood of Jesus and who are justified by faith alone.
The law does not rule over us. The gospel has set our consciences free. God sets you free from the law when he forgives you. It’s not that God is denying his own law. The law still teaches us right from wrong. But we are set free from the law’s curse. We don’t need the law to make us righteous. Jesus has taken care of that without any help from us. We need the law to tell us how we who are righteous through faith in Christ should live out our lives of faith.
True, the law will always accuse us and we will never find any comfort in it. But we will not be without comfort. For we have him who became a curse for us and set us free. His Spirit keeps us in the truth faith. No one can take him away from us. Amen