Galatians 06: Substitute like no other

Back in the days when I was younger, there was this Christian thing called WWJD, which stands for “What would Jesus Do?” There was WWJD merchandise, like a bracelet with WWJD written on it. The idea was, I think, when you go about doing your life, going to school, going to work, eating, driving, etc, before you do something stupid, the WWJD bracelet would remind you, “Now, Johnny, before you cheat, What Would Jesus Do?”

You may or may not have a WWJD bracelet, but many of us live our Christians lives exactly like that—that Jesus is our great example, and our job is to follow in his footsteps.

Let me tell you, if that is how you view Christianity, and if that is how you live out your Christian life, you will either be proud or crushed.

  • You will either look down on everyone else who are not as religious and faithful as you are, OR
  • You will be miserable and depressed when you fail or see someone who is doing better than you are in life.

I used to play basketball when I was in high school. Back then, Michael Jordan was my hero. I want to play like Mike. I watched him play, studied him, and tried to copy his moves. Guess what? I failed miserably.

If we cannot even be like Michael Jordan, what hope do you think we have to be like Jesus?

The apostle Paul (From Galatians 3) teaches us that Christianity isn’t mainly about seeing Jesus as an example and to follow in his footsteps.

Galatians 3:10-14

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall 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 hanged on a tree”— 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.

1. What do we deserve?

The apostle Paul has been defending the doctrine of justification by faith, now he is telling us the opposite of that doctrine, justification by works of law.

Salvation comes by Righteousness

To stand before a thrice holy God, you need to be righteous, there is no getting around that.

If God is who He says He is, then you need to be righteous.

In other words, salvation comes by righteousness. Without righteousness, you are condemned to the eternal fire of hell.


I could never hoop like Michael Jordan even if my life depends on it. But that’s okay, it’s only basketball. Your salvation, on the other hand, is not some basketball game.

Paul says,

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.””

(Galatians 3:10 ESV)

Paul is saying, “Righteousness is to abide by all things written in the Bible, and do them as your life depends on it. If you were to miss just one thing, for one second, your life is cursed.”

In order not to be living under a curse, all you need to do is two simple things.

  1. You must abide (remain in) all the laws
  2. You must do all the laws

How is your righteousness?

Before you are tempted to even think that you are capable of meeting God’s standard of righteousness, Paul reminds us immediately:

“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.””

(Galatians 3:11 ESV)

If your hope as a Christian is to be a “good” Christian and do all that is required, you will fail miserably.


Paul says, justification is before God.

To be justified before someone is either the most fun or the scariest thing—it all depends who is before you.

If you have ever learned to play a musical instrument seriously, you will no doubt have experienced performing that instrument.

That could either be the most fun experience or the scariest thing in your life. It depends on who is before you—who are you performing for.

My eldest son played a couple of musical instruments. As a parent, not only am I responsible for his music education, that is, to pay for his lessons and to drive him to and from practice, but I am also privileged to watch him grow.

I have watched how he could be playing perfectly during practice, only to stuff it up in a performance before a large audience or in an exam room.

Why? Because at home, he is playing before me, who is musically challenged. In an exam room, he is before an adjudicator.

Your justification is before a holy God!

The Bible says, “No one will be able to pass on their own.”

Don’t just take my word for it. Let me ask you this…

If all the standards you put on others are put on you, do you stand righteous and justified before your own law?

  • You don’t want people to talk behind your back.
    • Have you ever talked behind someone’s back?
  • You think people should always speak kind words.
    • Have you ever uttered unkind words toward anyone in your life?
  • You believe that people should not be selfish.
    • Have you ever prioritised yourself over other people? When you get your monthly paycheck, do you always think of how you can bless others first, before you think of your own needs?
  • Everything that you expect other people do, do abide by every single one of them?

If you fail before your own law, how can you possibly stand before God?

If you can’t even pass your own standard, how can you pass a holy God’s.

Now, even as unreliable as it is, of course we want to at least try to be a good person. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Paul speaks of working hard at righteousness himself.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 3:14 ESV)


“For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

(1 Corinthians 15:9-10 ESV)


“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

(Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

Working hard in your obedience and righteousness isn’t the problem, the Bible calls us to do that.

The problem is when you rely on your obedience and righteousness for your salvation.

And the danger is that you may be doing it without even realising that you are doing it.

How do you know if you are doing it?

  • Do you think that you are a good Christian because you go to church, read your Bible, serve in the church, give your money away, you don’t swear, you don’t lie, etc?
  • Are you ashamed when you sin?
  • Do you find yourself running away from God instead of running toward Him?

The Gospel is not be righteous first, then you will be saved.

The Gospel is you are righteous because you are saved.

2. What did Jesus do?

While our obedience is riddled with failures, Jesus’ obedience is perfect.


“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

(Hebrews 4:15 ESV)


“In him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)


“A lamb without blemisth or spot.” (1 Pet 1:19)


If the curse of eternal fire of hell is what we deserve for our disobedience, surely Jesus deserves all blessings  for his perfect obedience.

Our Alien Righteousness

But Paul writes,

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”

(Galatians 3:13 ESV)

For us to be “redeemed” means Jesus became a curse for us.

  • His perfect obedience became our perfect obedience.
  • And our curse became his.

This is one of the most important Chrsitian doctrines, the theologians called it substitutionary atonement.

  • Jesus became a curse, in order that we became righteous.
  • Jesus didn’t come just to be an example to be followed like any other religion.

This is unique to Christianity.

  • Every other religion and its founder would tell you, “Follow my lead.”
  • But not with Jesus!
  • Jesus said to the disciples before He was nailed to the Cross, “Where I am going, you cannot come.”(John 8:21 ESV)

Instead of asking yourself, “What would Jesus do?”,

You should be asking yourself, “What did Jesus do for me that I could not do for myself?”

That is the Gospel.

Salvation must come by righteousness, but in your case (and mine), it comes not by our righteousness.

Martin Luther speaks of alien righteousness, for our righteousness does not come from us, but from Jesus.


The Gospel is that while we deserved the curse, instead we receive all blessings in Christ Jesus.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,”

(Ephesians 1:3 ESV)

3. Why are we saved?

We know that we are not saved by our works of righteousness.

Paul writes, “the law is not of faith” (Galatians 3:12)

This means that the law is not from faith nor is it compatible with faith.

Charles Spurgeon: “The very spirit of law is the spirit of works. We cannot be saved partly by faith and partly by works. Our only hope is in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, received by faith.”

Let us be absolutely clear about this matter of the Christian faith, that Salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus’ perfect works of righteousness alone.


“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)


Why are we saved?

Why did Jesus take on the curse for us?


“so that (ἵνα) in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that (ἵνα) we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

(Galatians 3:14 ESV)

The word “So that” indicates the purpose:

  1. So that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles.

John Calvin explains, “The blessing of Abraham is our adoption into the inheritance of eternal life.”

  1. So that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

In other words, the work of salvation that is in us, which Paul encouraged Christians in Philippi to work hard on, is the work of Spirit through faith.

Charles Spurgeon: “The man who trusts his God and believes His promises is honouring God far more than is the man who supposes that by any of his own doings he can merit divine approval and favour.”


Are you still trying to save yourself by your own righteousness?

Perhaps, you have tried very hard to save yourselves through work, relationship, or image.

What is it that gives you the meaning of life?

Is it your amazing career? Your relationship? Your spouse? Your wealth? Your image? Or, perhaps, the respect you crave from others?

You are not saved in order to become successful.

Jesus did not become a curse to change your wellbeing.

Jesus came to change your identity.

If you find life’s meaning from anything else but Christ, if you are happy only when you have a good relationship, a good job, then you are going back to the law.


Our salvation does not come from a pardon of sin.

God who sits on the judgement seat in the heavenly throne, did not sweep our sins under the rug and say, “I forgive you.” That would make Him a corrupt judge. That would make Him unjust.

No, God did not pardon our sins, but He put the full extent of His wrath on His Son, Jesus.

The righteousness we have is not our own, but it is the righteousness of Jesus, which was imputed to us.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

(2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

On the Cross,

Jesus became a curse,

Jesus became sin.

Do you understand what happened to Jesus on the Cross?

What was the curse? What is it so bad?

It wasn’t the injustice, though it was certainly unjust.

It wasn’t the violence, though He did experience that.

It wasn’t the pain, though He did experience plenty.

It wasn’t the shame, though He certainly did endure it.

On the Cross, Jesus cried out, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” Matthew 27:46 (ESV) – quoting Psalm 22

There are over 100 names of God in the Bible, but for Jesus there is only one name, that is “Father.”

  • But on the cross, Jesus experienced for the first time in eternity what it was like to be an enemy of God, alienated from God. For the first time, and for the last, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God.”

The separation of the Father, the fracture of relationship was the darkest hour of his life—it was the worst part of Jesus’ crucifixion. Not the injustice. Not the violence. Not the pain. Not the shame.

Why did Jesus achieve on the Cross for us?

The restoration of a relationship with the Father.

You see, just like any relationship, the keeping of the law is crucial if you want to have a healthy and loving relationship.

  • If you are married, you cannot say to your spouse, “I will come home when I feel like doing it, when I don’t, I will live somewhere else.”
  • You cannot say to your spouse, “I know you hate it when I do this, or that, but I will do it anyway.”
  • Whether or not it is written down, there are laws in order to maintain a healthy relationship. When we break that law, the relationship is fractured.

Jesus experienced that fracture of relationship with the Father on the Cross because of our failure to keep the law.

The Gospel is this, Jesus became the curse you deserved, so you can have the relationship with the Father that He deserved.

This is what it means for you and me, you have access to God, not just a King, but as a Father.

When you feel like running away, come to Him.

When you are ashamed of what you’ve done, come to Him.

When your life’s a mess, come to Him.

When your life seems unbearable, come to Him.



Discussion questions:


  1. What struck you the most from the sermon?
  2. Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Theologians called this the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. What is your understanding of this doctrine?
  3. Salvation comes by righteousness. Why do we need Jesus to be our substitute? Why can’t our righteousness save us?
  4. “One of the most important Christian doctrines is Substitutionary Atonement.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why? (If you have time, discuss what other Christian doctrines could be more important or just as important as this one.)
  5. How does the truth of Jesus as our substitute help you understand the Gospel? In light of this truth, how would you live your Christian life differently?
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