Your Works Won’t Work (Galatians, Part 27)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
10 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.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
What exactly would people “rely on works of the law” to do for them?
To be declared “right” by God; to be brought into his covenant family; to be given a place in the new creation, where God will live with his people and where all evil and painful things and all forms of corruption and ungodliness will be banished forever.
Why would people think that doing “works of the law” would get them into God’s covenant family to begin with?
Because God specified in the Law of Moses how he wanted his chosen, holy people (i.e., initially Israel and later the church of Jesus composed of all nations) to live so that they would be a demonstration of God’s goodness and holiness to the people around them. Since God was their King, and since he planned to bring redemption and salvation to the whole world through them, it was necessary that they embrace his good commands and live exactly as he commanded them to. In other words, since God had brought Israel to himself through extraordinary acts of kindness and grace, Israel was to respond to God in obedience and faithful living.
However, it seems that the Israelites began to get it backwards. Instead of remembering that they belonged to God because of his grace and therefore should keep his law in grateful response to that grace, some began to think that God welcomed them into his covenant family because they kept the Law of Moses. (And of course, this was why some Jewish Christians were insisting that Gentile converts to Christ had to be circumcised and keep the Jewish Law—they thought that the way to get into God’s family was by observing all of the laws.)
So if keeping the law does not make a person “right” with God and give them a place in God’s covenant family, then what does?
Quite simply, God’s kindness and grace. Anyone who trusts in God’s kindness and mercy can enter his presence and his kingdom on the basis of the fact that God is kind enough to forgive their sin and heal their brokenness. And in the next verses (which we will look at next week), Paul explains just how God made it possible for sinful people to be a part of his perfect kingdom.