by Rev. Paul M. Doellinger

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:6) “For I the Lord your God do not change.” (Malachi 3:6a) These verses hold true when it comes to the doctrine of justification. It’s not as if Moses was justified by keeping the Law and St. Paul by faith.  From Adam to Abraham, from Moses to Paul, and to you and me God has always justified sinners in the same way—by faith.

Read Galatians 3:10-18

  1. In his lectures on Galatians, Luther speaks of the Law in two ways, which have been described by theologians with terms “civil/political” and “spiritual/theological.” The civil use of the Law directs you how to live your daily life and vocation (e.g. maintaining an orderly home and a civil society). The spiritual use of the Law refers to your stance before God by nature, as children of Adam; it brings wrath, condemnation, and death. Luther explains, “In political righteousness law and works must be looked at; but in spiritual, divine, and heavenly righteousness all law and works must be completely banished from sight, and only the promise…which sets forth Christ, the Blesser, the Dispenser of grace, and the Savior [must be looked at].[1] How are Luther’s two uses of the Law helpful in understanding Paul’s words, “All who rely on works of the Law are under a curse?” (Galatians 3:10) Which use is Paul employing here?
  2. Paul cites Moses and Habakkuk: “The one who does them [works of the Law] shall live by them,” (Leviticus 18:5) and “The righteous shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Paul shows how the contrast between Law and faith is settled in Christ. Since no one is able on their own to “abide by all things written in the Book of the Law,” everyone is under a curse. “Therefore,“ as Luther says, “Moses, together with Paul, necessarily drive us to Christ, through whom we become doers of the Law and are accounted guilty of no transgression…through the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of righteousness on account of faith in Christ.”[2] How, then, does one “do” the Law and “abide in all things?”
  3. What does it mean that “Christ became a curse for us?” Luther’s answer: “Christ is innocent so far as His own Person is concerned…But because, according to the Law, every thief should have been hanged…Christ Himself should have been hanged; for He bore the person of a sinner and thief—and not of one but of all sinners and thieves…All of the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, etc., there has ever been in the world.”[3]
  4. “Just as Christ is wrapped up in our flesh and blood, so we must wrap Him and know Him to be wrapped up in our sins, our curse, our death, and everything evil…Not only my sins and yours, but the sins of the entire world…attack Him, try to damn, and do in fact damn Him… [But] in Christ all sin is conquered and killed, and buried; and righteousness remains the victor and ruler eternally.” [4] Where are your sins: on you or on Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29)?
  5. The Law does not annul God’s promise to Abraham that He would save through his offspring—Christ. “For this reason you should accustom yourself to distinguish the Law from the promise even in time, so that when the Law comes and accuses your conscience, you say: ‘Law, you are not coming on time…for you have been preceded for 430 years by the promise, to which I agree and in which I gently rest.” [5] For consolation in the face of death and hell, which is superior: the Law or the promise of God?

Christ Jesus does and abides by all things written in the Book of the Law for you. By His death on the cross, He becomes a curse in order to redeem you from the curse. By faith in Him, you are made righteous and thus “do” the Law. As Luther puts it, “By this fortunate exchange with us He took upon Himself our sinful person and granted us His innocent and victorious Person. Clothed and dressed in this, we are freed from the curse of the Law, because Christ voluntarily became a curse for us…because it was impossible for death to hold Him…He arose from death on the third day, and now He lives eternally…nor can sin [and] death…be found in Him any longer; but there is sheer righteousness, life, and eternal blessing.”[6]

Your God does not change, nor can He lie. He has promised that you are rescued from death and hell because Christ Jesus became a curse for you, by dying your death, and rising to life eternal. Baptized and believing in Him, you are redeemed from the curse of the Law. You are justified before God. You are saved by faith in Jesus, and not by works of the Law. He’s promised it. Believe it. After all, it’s always been that way.

The Reverend Paul M. Doellinger is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cassopolis, MI.

[1]               Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. 2Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963., pg. 249

[2]               Ibid. pg. 260

[3]               Ibid. pg. 277

[4]               Ibid. pg. 278, 281

[5]               Ibid. pg. 302

[6]               Ibid. pg. 284