It is often perceived by the secular Western world that Christianity is a religion about keeping rules. Christians are those who keep God’s rules and God will reward them for their good deeds in the end. But what does the Bible have to say?
“10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.””(Galatians 3:10-13)
Paul here is dealing with Jewish teachers coming to the Galatian Christians and telling them that if they want to be a ridgy didge Christian, they need to obey the Law of Moses, including circumcision and abiding by the food laws. If they want to show that they are really Christians, then they must essentially first become Jews. Being right with God is dependent on your actions – your obedience to the laws God gave the Jews.
Paul, however, is clear that going down the Law is the wrong path. Anyone who tries to be ok with God through works of the law, rather than being blessed by God, are under a curse (v10). Cursed is everyone who doesn’t do everything in the Law, as the quote from Deuteronomy says.
That is where the Law comes unstuck for ordinary people. We might be able to do some of the Law but we cannot keep all of it, all of the time. There will be a point where we fail and that is where judgement comes in. God is a holy god, set apart from this world and its rebellion. He cannot tolerate anything or anyone that tries to set themselves up as god outside of Him and anything tainted by rebellion cannot be in his presence. We are excluded from God at the exact point when decide to do things our way. The Law, that commends those who always obey it, becomes a millstone around our necks because of our rejection of God’s rule. We are cursed by it.
That isn’t the end of the story though. All who live by the Law are condemned but there is another group who will live – those who live by faith. Faith in the Bible is trusting in God’s promises, ultimately trusting in the fulfilment of God’s promises – Jesus. Jesus has become cursed by God on our behalf on the cross (v13). Jesus took the penalty of rebellion – death and separation from God, so that we might be redeemed, bought out of our slavery to sin.
So instead of the sure fire condemnation of God that comes from trying (and failing) to live by the Law, we can trust in the works of Jesus, who died to rescue us. Trust (faith) is the opposite from obedience to the Law because obedience to the Law depends on what we do. Faith depends on what he has done for us.
So we see from this passage that being a Christian has nothing to do with what we do, in fact it is the complete opposite. If you try to please God by what you do, you will fail. We can only be accepted by God through faith – trusting in what Jesus has done for us.