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Curse for Blessing

December 19, 2021 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: The Greatest Gift Exchange

Passage: Galatians 3:13–3:14

We give Jesus our curse; Jesus gives us his blessing.

Just be yourself. This might be advice you’ve heard from someone at some point in your life. You were possibly given this advice at a time when you felt very stressed. Perhaps you were preparing for a job interview and someone said, “Relax. Just be yourself.” Or maybe you were getting ready for a first date and a friend said, “Relax. Just be yourself.”

These two times in life are actually very difficult times to be ourselves. We feel a lot of pressure to put our best foot forward, to make a good impression. So we tend to only show the best parts of ourselves because we want the people sitting across the table from us to like us, to be interested in us, to be impressed with us. We want them to want to hire us, to date us, to give us a promotion, to see how valuable we are, how funny we are, how likeable we are, how knowledgeable we are. And so in these situations, we tend to not act like ourselves, at least not completely. We act like our most datable self, our most hireable self, our most valuable and worthy self, our most funny and likeable self, our most knowledgeable self. We don’t show our faults, cracks, and weirdness, unless we feel that by showing them the other person will like us more.

Social media, in general, is not a place where people are themselves. Many times social media can contribute to sadness about life because as we look through other people’s highlight reels of their life, we compare it to what our life is really like and we feel that it falls short and their life is so much better.

I want to explore a question together. To answer it, I want you to think of a time when you felt like you could act completely like yourself. Maybe close your eyes and put yourself back in that situation. Think about who was there and what kind of relationship you have with them. What conditions made you able to feel that you could act like yourself? What has to be true for us to act like ourselves?

As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth at Christ, we are doing a 3-week series called The Greatest Gift Exchange. Christmas is a time of gift-giving and our gift-giving is a reflection and reminder of the gift God gave us 2,000 years ago. God so loved the world that he gave his beloved for our salvation. And when we trust in God’s Son, Jesus, a gift exchange takes place between us and Jesus. This series is all about that gift exchange.

This week we will be looking at the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul was a Jew who started out as a passionate and dangerous opponent of the Jesus movement. But then Jesus came into his life and everything changed. He became a church planter, desiring to start churches where there was no gospel witness. I can relate to Paul because that’s what brought us to Woodstock: we saw that this was a town that needed more churches holding to the gospel and making an effort to share that gospel with those who don’t yet believe it.

Paul not only got churches started, but he traveled back to those churches and wrote letters to them in order to strengthen the disciples. One of those letters was sent to the churches in Galatia. This isn’t our plan, but imagine a scenario where Katie and I felt our work was done here. We got this church started, we’ve raised up people to lead it, and we are moving on to other places. However, after some time has passed, we hear that you guys are departing from what we have taught you. A group of people has come into the church, preaching a different “gospel” to you that really isn’t good news at all. Through their influence, you begin to base your standing with God on how well you are keeping the rules. Instead of basing your standing with God on Jesus, you start to base it on your obedience. We would be heart-broken not because you are following a different teaching than us but because the teaching you are following is leading you away from God. We’d write to you out of concern for your spiritual well-being. We would warn you that this group you are listening to is leading you down a dangerous path. This is the emotional state Paul is in as he writes to the churches in the region of Galatia. He preached the gospel, saw people believe it and become disciples of Jesus. And those disciples of Jesus gathered together as a church. But now they are walking toward a cliff and don’t even realize it.

The Issue

You might be surprised to hear that Paul and his opponents leading this church astray agree on the answer to this question: Who is blessed by God? Whom does God bless? Answer: The righteous. God blesses the righteous. But they disagree on how someone becomes righteous. The righteous person is someone who is right with God. They are in right standing with God. God and them are good. But how is someone made right with God? The answer that Paul’s opponents gave was: “by relying on works of the law”. You become righteous, you get right with God, by doing what God says, by keeping his commands.

Here’s where they disagree. Paul’s answer is: you get right with God by relying on Christ. You put your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. You don’t get right with God through what you do but through what Jesus has done on your behalf. These are two fundamentally different ways of relating to God: with faith in yourself or with faith in Christ.

The Tendency to Drift into Reliance on Law-Keeping (Ourselves) (3:1-5)

We all have a tendency to drift into reliance on ourselves rather than on God. This is what the Galatians had done. In chapter 3 verses 1 through 5, Paul wonders why the Galatians have strayed so far from where they began. They began by faith in Christ and received the Spirit of God by faith, so now why are they departing from faith and relying on works of the law? He is astonished that they would do such a thing. He reminds them that they did not receive the Spirit and see miracles among them by keeping the law but by hearing through faith.

How to Be Blessed Like Abraham (3:6-9)

In verses 6 through 9, Paul shows that if you want the blessing of Abraham, you need to be right with God the way that Abraham was right with God: through faith. Abraham, if you don’t know, is the father of the nation of Israel. God chose to bless Abraham so that he would be a blessing to all other nations. Abraham was blessed to be a blessing.

Paul says the Scripture preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham and he summarizes the gospel as, “In you [Abraham] shall all the nations be blessed” (3:8). The gospel is: God blesses you. This blessing comes to those who are “of faith”. Those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (3:9). The blessed life does not come through works but through faith. If you want God’s blessing, you have to stop relying on yourself and rely on him.

Why We Can’t Be Blessed By Law-Keeping (3:10-12)

In verses 10 through 12, Paul shows why we can’t be blessed by keeping the law - by relying on ourselves, our obedience, our performance, our goodness, our effort. The reason is because anyone who relies on works of the law is cursed, not blessed (3:10). Why? Because in order to be blessed according to the law you must abide by all things written in the law and do them, otherwise you will be cursed (3:10). God blesses the righteous and in order to be righteous by keeping the law, you must keep every law all the time. The problem is that no one keeps the whole law (cf. 2:16), therefore anyone who tries to be righteous by law-keeping never will be. They will be under a curse - the opposite of blessing.

Paul says that no one is justified - or declared righteous - before God by the law (3:11). Only people “of faith” are justified because that is the only way to be justified (3:11). Paul shows that faith, not works of the law, is the only basis for righteousness with God. The gospel of righteousness by works is no gospel at all.

What Paul shows here, and in the book of Romans, is that the right way to have a relationship with God is through faith. That’s how it has always been. Yes, God gave Israel the law at Mount Sinai, but before the law was ever given, God showed that right standing with him comes by faith. Before the law was given, Abraham was right with God by faith. The law does not override the way of faith.

What Christ Has Done So That We Might Be Blessed (3:13-14)

Verses 13 and 14 show how faith in Jesus makes us right with God. The end of verse 13 gives us a quote from the Old Testament law: “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” That’s from Deuteronomy 21:23. This verse is talking about an event where someone commits a crime punishable by death and after being put to death, the person’s body is hung on a tree or stake. The verse says that the person should not remain hanging all night, but should be buried the same day because a hanged man on a tree is cursed by God.

Jumping forward to Deuteronomy chapter 27, Moses tells the people of Israel the consequences for breaking their covenant with God: they will be cursed. Then in chapter 28, he tells the people the reward for keeping their covenant with God: they will be blessed. And in Deuteronomy 27:26, we read, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” So Paul brings these two verses together: someone who breaks God’s law is cursed and that curse is symbolized by hanging on a tree.

Of course, Deuteronomy was not talking about crucifixion. But Paul sees a connection. In verse 1, he said to the Galatians that Jesus was publicly portrayed as crucified to them (3:1) - hung on a tree. This hanging symbolized that he was cursed by God as someone who broke God’s law (3:13).

But let’s go back to the beginning of verse 13:

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us… (Galatians 3:13a, emphasis mine)

Jesus was not cursed because of his failure to obey the law but because of our failure. He became a curse for us (3:13). According to the Old Testament, Jesus’ death on the cross was the death of a cursed law-breaker, even though he had not broken any laws. But also, according to the Roman world in the 1st century, Jesus’ death on the cross was the death of a rebel. Rome would crucify people who rebelled against them to display them as a public example saying, “This is what happens if you mess with us.” So Jesus died as a rebel even though he never rebelled.

Jesus’ death was the death of a law-breaking rebel. And that’s what each of us is: a law-breaking rebel against God. The truth is that without Jesus, everyone is in the same situation: cursed according to the law. Everyone falls short. No one can keep all of God’s commands. This is where relying on our “works of the law” and our “flesh” gets us: cursed.

Everything you feel or think that you deserve for the bad you have done in your life is what you deserve…times infinity. Maybe you think: “Isn’t God overreacting? We could break one law and then get the death penalty?” The greater the person you sin against, the greater the consequences. Punching a police officer is more serious than punching me. Punching the president is more serious than punching a police officer. As bad as you can imagine the consequences for rebelling against God are, you still haven’t come anywhere close to how bad it actually is.

But Christ redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (3:13). Jesus loved us and gave himself for us, taking our curse for failing to keep God’s law in our place. Why did Jesus redeem us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us? Verse 14 tells us:

14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:14)

These two “so thats” are saying the same thing from different perspectives. The first is speaking from a salvation history perspective and is a bit more general. Jesus became a curse for us so that in him the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles - to the non-Jewish world.

The second “so that” gets more personal and more specific. Jesus became a curse for us so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. The Spirit is God’s personal presence with us. The blessing of Abraham, the blessed life, is to be brought back into God’s presence. And this blessing only comes to those who are justified - declared righteous. And the only people who are justified are those who put their faith in Jesus.

The gift exchange is this: we give Jesus our curse, Jesus gives us his blessing. Jesus is blessed because he actually has kept the whole law. He’s never broken one. But we are cursed because we have broken many of them numerous times. But Jesus takes our curse in our place and he gives us the blessing of a restored relationship with God.

Author and pastor Tim Keller defines the gospel like this: “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” That is good news. You could also summarize the gospel like this: God is for you and God is with you. God is with you because God is for you, no longer against you.

The greatest gift exchange is that we’ve done everything wrong and Jesus has done everything right but he gets treated as if he’s done everything wrong in our place and we get treated as if we’ve done everything right. Jesus switches spots with us so that we become a child of God just like him. There’s no better news.

This is a letter for any church and any person that has gotten out of alignment with the gospel. A simple way to summarize this whole letter in a question is this: Are you going to live from acceptance or for acceptance? There is a great difference between them. One Paul calls slavery, the other he calls freedom. One he says is living like a slave and the other is living like a child of God. At some point, everyone has to choose between a righteousness of their own and a righteousness from God that depends on faith (Phil 3). At some point, everyone has to choose between receiving acceptance from God as a gift or working for acceptance with God by what they do. Only one actually leads to acceptance and the blessing of knowing God. We can either earn righteousness or receive it. If you decide to earn it, you will never get there. If you decide to receive it, you will find freedom.

This is a danger for all of us. We all have a tendency to drift into reliance on law-keeping, on our obedience, on our performance as a way to earn God’s blessing or God’s favor or God’s love. So today as you stand before God, what are you relying on? Paul makes clear that grace and faith are not just the entry point into a relationship with God but the whole pathway. We never graduate from grace, we never move beyond faith.

You may wonder: How do I know if I am living from acceptance or for acceptance? How do I know if I am trusting in Christ or myself? How do I know if I am living as a slave or as a child of God? The diagnostic test is found in Galatians 5 where Paul lists the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The “works of the flesh” are what grow in our life when we are relying on ourselves instead of on Christ.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-20)

Not feeling accepted by God fuels the works of the flesh.

I have a story of seeing this in action. I’m not proud of this story. I had just gotten some valve oil for my trumpet in the mail. I wanted to apply it to get the valves working, so I got the trumpet out and put it on the kitchen table. I asked Hudson if he wanted to help me and since he loves my trumpet, he was excited to do so. As I was getting things set up, Hudson was having trouble waiting and kept grabbing things. At one point, I had removed the cap from the oil squirter and was removing the valves from the trumpet so I could put oil on them when Hudson grabbed the oil squirter and squeezed it. Oil shot up in the air and landed on the trumpet case and on the table. I felt frustrated and told him he couldn’t help me anymore and picked him up and set him in the other room. As I was working on the trumpet, I felt bad about what I had done and knew I needed to talk with him, apologize, and make things right. Somehow I forgot about needing to talk to him. We moved onto other things.

But for the next 30-40 minutes, Hudson was having a really tough time. He was acting out, he was crying for seemingly no reason, he was throwing tantrums. Katie tried to figure out what was wrong and tried to comfort him but nothing was working. She figured out that he wanted me, so I went and picked him up. As I did so, I remember that he and I had never talked about what happened before. So I sat down with him and asked what was wrong. And he told me that he didn’t like how I got mad at him and how I had picked him up and moved him away from me. I listened and empathized, I told him I was sorry and that I shouldn’t have done that. I asked for his forgiveness. We snuggled for a while.

I’m not proud of the first part of that story, but I am pleased with the second part. I’m learning that being a good parent isn’t doing everything right the first time but making things right when I do it wrong the first time. What I found powerful about this experience is that Hudson couldn’t put words to what was wrong. What happened between him and I affected everything he did until he and I reconciled and resolved it. The smallest things would set him off. He was crying, acting out and misbehaving, and laying on the floor throwing a tantrum. He was having a hard time being ok if he and I weren’t ok.

There was a break in our relationship and he didn’t know how to live with that, even if he couldn’t consciously tell you what was wrong. The closest he got to telling Katie what was wrong was saying, “I want daddy” or “Daddy pick me up.” All he knew is that he wanted daddy because daddy had separated from him. He wanted to know we were ok.

If this is what Hudson felt and behaved as a result of one poor interaction, how much more will the experience of separation from God influence the way we live our lives? It affects how we feel, what we do, how well we can handle what happens in our lives.

The fruit of the Spirit is what grows in our lives when we are relying on Christ instead of ourselves.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Spirit grows the fruit of the Spirit in us. And the Spirit does this by moving us from self-reliance to Christ-reliance. In doing this, we experience greater and greater freedom in our lives because we are accepted by God.

If you see the works of the flesh in your life, ask: what am I relying on as my source of acceptance with God? If you lack love, joy, and peace, ask: what am I relying on as my source of acceptance with God? Another way to summarize Galatians is with two contrasting equations:

Jesus + Something = Nothing
Jesus + Nothing = Everything

What is your “Jesus +”? What do you try to add to Jesus? Turn from any source of acceptance with God that isn’t Christ. Turn to Christ as the only source of right standing with God. Jesus is enough! You don’t need to add anything to him. You can rest confident in Jesus. What we desire deep down is to know we are ok with God, even if we can’t put words to it. Jesus is all you need to be right with God.

Think back to situations where you were able to act like yourself. What was true in that situation? You knew you were accepted by the people you were with. You are able to act like yourself because you felt free to be yourself because there wouldn’t be any relational consequences. You cannot or will not act like yourself in an environment where the message is: “Do this, or else…” “Be this, or else…” or “Unless I [blank], then…”

The works of the flesh are ways of hiding, performing, numbing, and pretending. They are coping mechanisms to deal with our lack of acceptance with God. They are ways of seeking security, satisfaction, and significance apart from God. The fruit of the Spirit grow from knowing we are accepted by God. When we are accepted, we are filled with love, joy, and peace. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t grown by working but by resting: resting in Jesus’ work, not our own, for acceptance with God. It is freeing for God to tell us, “You are loved and accepted no matter what.”

You may have people in your life that you think, “They are such good, nice people, how could God condemn them?” Because no one is made right before God by being good or nice, especially if they are being good or nice as a way of relying on themselves rather than God. God says there’s one way to be right with him: trusting in Christ. And if someone rejects that, it is just another demonstration of our pride that we won’t obey God. We want to do it our way.

We are all searching for love, joy, and peace. We will rely on something for that, we will trust in something for that, we will hope in something for that. There is only one true source of love, joy, and peace. Jesus creates a community where we can be ourselves. We don’t have to put on a show. We don’t have to pretend or perform. We don’t have to make ourselves loveable or likeable. Jesus creates a community of love, joy, and peace where we are patient with each other, kind to each other, good to each other, faithful to each other, gentle and self-controlled. We feel safe to be ourselves because we know our acceptance isn’t based on what we do.

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