How is a person made right with God? What removes the sin, condemnation, and curse that we made for ourselves? Paul tells us in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’.”
Paul takes this saying from Deuteronomy 21:23. The context is that if a man has committed a crime punishable by death, and he is hanged on a tree, he should not remain there overnight. Rather, the body should be buried that same day. Paul now applies this to Jesus. Jesus was hanged on a cross (made of wood from a tree; Peter refers to the cross as a “tree” in 1 Peter 2:24 and in Acts 5:30). This tells us that Christ was crucified to become a curse for us. He didn’t just take on a curse, he became a curse. It was as if Jesus was the one who committed “a crime punishable by death” instead of us, so that we might become his righteousness (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).
This imputation of man’s sin (every person!) into Christ’s inner man, his spirit, happened for this reason: “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14). If justification were only through the Law, Gentiles could never be saved because they were not given the oracles of the Law. Christ came and died, however, to break “down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in the place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16).
What is Paul referring to? For centuries there was hostility between God and the Gentiles as well as the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul reminds the Ephesians of this: “Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh…were at that time separated… alienated… strangers… having no hope… without God” (Eph. 2:11-12). Yet he continues: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (v. 13).
Hallelujah! Christ had to die in order to fulfill God’s promise of “all the families of the earth” being blessed. Without his death and resurrection, there would be no chance for all the families to be blessed, because not all the families had received the law! There would be no opportunity for salvation. And because we know that no one can keep the law, even the Jews would have been eternally separated from God. How awesome is God’s wisdom and providence.
We know then that one of the Father’s purposes in the Son’s death (among thousands), was to make Abraham “the father of all who believe without being circumcised…and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4:11, 12).