In this passage Paul is explaining how impossible it is for us to be saved by trying to honor the law. In the first place, if you choose to live by the law, you are obligated to keep all of it, perfectly. Second, by choosing to live by the law, you are accepting all of the consequences of the law. If you live by the law, you have to die by the law. Third, it is impossible to keep the law perfectly. And the Bible says (in Deuteronomy 27:26) that if you do not keep the law, you are accursed.
There's only one way to be justified before God: by faith. Any attachment we have with the law will only compromise us. We cannot live both by faith and by the law. They are antithetical to each other. We live by one or the other. And depending on which one we choose, we have a gift of life or a sentence of death.
Paul goes on to explain how living by faith results in having life. Christ, he says, redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Nowhere does it say that Christ kept the law for us because we couldn't. Nowhere does it say that because he kept the law perfectly, Christ was entitled to die for us. Nowhere does the Bible ever say that we are released from the curse of the law because Jesus was able to keep the law when we couldn't.
What this passage says is, Christ became a curse for us. It doesn't just say that he bore the curse for us, or that he took responsibility for our curse. It says he became a curse. Becoming a curse is far worse than bearing a curse. Bearing a curse is noble; becoming a curse is despicable. And as a curse, he had to die. Only by becoming a curse for us and dying was he able to redeem us from the law.
Jesus was the only one who could become a curse for us because he is our creator. He is God. As God he chose to become the curse for all mankind and to die an accursed death. As God he broke the power of sin. It was not his perfect law-keeping that entitled him to be our Savior; it was the fact that he was God.
God knew when he gave the law to Israel that humankind would never be able to keep it. He gave the law not so people would strengthen their willpower and perfect their behavior; he gave it so people would seek him in their despair and failure.
The fact that Jesus kept the law was incidental to the fact that he was the only one who could give his life for us. The law was given to force us to seek help and relief in God. It was not given so that someone could finally keep it and entitle humanity to live.
We've been taught that Jesus fulfilled the law by keeping it perfectly. But that's not true. He did keep the law, but Jesus fulfilled the law by acknowledging that its curse of death was a just curse. He fulfilled the law by taking the curses of all of us and dying as the law demanded. Only God could fulfill such a requirement. Only God could save us.
Our redemption is not in any way tied to the law. It's not even tied to Jesus' keeping the law. Our redemption is the result of Jesus shedding his blood. Our redemption is the result of God, our Creator, becoming a curse and dying instead of us. Our salvation was not a noble event. It was not an act of perfection. It was agonizing. It was shameful. Jesus was despised and rejected. There was nothing admirable about the cross. Jesus became a curse.
But his shame and rejection and death transformed into the glorious reality of the broken power of sin. Our salvation was possible because the Creator of the universe became a curse, and he broke the power of sin and death.
We are not saved by the law, not even vicariously by Jesus' perfect law-keeping. We are saved by his blood, by his accepting our shame and death sentence. We are saved by his resurrection from the bondage of death. We are saved by grace.
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