This week, we’ll take a look at Galatians 3:16. It is below, in the context of verses 10-18. In this passage (and all of Galatians 3), Paul is writing to clear up confusion. The Galatian church had been deceived by legalistic teachers who emphasized following the law. In writing this, Paul refers directly or indirectly to several Old Testament verses to illustrate how Christ has fulfilled the promise made to Abraham.
10For all who [rely on] the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Cursed is everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law. 11Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith. 12But the law is not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live by them. 13Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. 14The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
15Brothers, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside even a human covenant that has been ratified, or makes additions to it. 16Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but and to your seed, referring to one, who is Christ. 17And I say this: the law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God, so as to cancel the promise. 18For if the inheritance is from the law, it is no longer from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.— Galatians 3:10-18 (HCSB)
First, he shows the futility of trying to live under the law. In verse 10, the “it is written” references Deuteronomy 27:26a, “Cursed is anyone who does not put the words of this law into practice.” It is absolutely impossible to live without transgressing at least one of the law’s demands; and, once we have broken the law in any one point, we are guilty of breaking it.
In verse 11, he reminds the church that “the righteous shall live by faith.” This is not the first nor the last time this phrase is used. In Habakkuk 2:4, we read:
4Look, his ego is inflated;— Habakkuk 2:4 (HCSB)
he is without integrity.
But the righteous one will live by his faith.
And, of course, Hebrews 11 chronicles those who lived by faith.
In verses 12 and 13, we see the wonderful solution to the dilemma of the law. When Jesus came and died on the cross for us, He took our sin on Him, and also took on the curse of the law. Again, Paul refers back to Deuteronomy:
23you are not to leave his corpse on the tree overnight but are to bury him that day, for anyone hung [on a tree] is under God’s curse. You must not defile the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.— Deuteronomy 21:23 (HCSB)
In verses 15-17, Paul then uses what he’s set up to illustrate how this applies to the promise made to Abraham. In those days, a covenant was a solemn promise, a contract that could not be broken. Few contracts today would be strong enough to be considered a covenant! When God promised to bless Abraham’s seed, this was a covenant. He then points out that the covenant was to bless Abraham’s seed, not seeds. This singular vs. plural is important; not only has the collective seed of Abraham, the nation of Israel, been blessed, but that one seed in particular, Christ. Finally, the law, which (Paul points out) followed this promise by 430 years, did not remove this covenant. Rather, following this law out of a belief in God’s promise was faith!
Verse 18 wraps it all up. If inheritance came through the law, then none of us would be able to inherit it - remember above, where we’ve all broken the law at some point? But God knew this, so He provided another way to receive His inheritance. And, as Paul points out in verse 14, this has also come to the Gentiles (us non-Jews), so that we can, though faith, receive God’s blessing.
The argument above may seem like it follows a strange path. But, for the church to whom this was written, this made perfect sense. With the deception and focus on the law, they were familiar with the passages regarding the law. Paul used these passages to show them, in a different way, what God has done for them. It’s just another way of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
So, you may not realize it, but as a Christian, you are in line to receive an inheritance! I pray that we can live as children of God, by faith, looking forward to our inheritance to come.