1066 is the date that most people take as the beginning of the English nation but I'm not sure why. It was merely the date when the French Vikings beat the English Vikings in what was effectively an internecine battle for the crown. There was an largely English province of the Roman Empire - Britannia - and it was from here that the first Christian Emperor, Constantine, came. When the Romans left in about 410 AD there were invasions by Angles, Jutes, Frisians and Saxons, though Roman influence persisted to some degree for another 200 years.
Anglo-Saxon England until the 9th century was dominated by the seven kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex. Alfred the Great of Wessex united the kingdoms in the ninth century and defeated the invading Vikings who gave up and dispersed in the summer of 896 AD. After his death in 899, Alfred's son Edward, and his grandsons Æthelstan, Edmund I and Eadred, continued the policy of resistance against the Vikings. Edward's son, Æthelstan, annexed Northumbria, and forced the kings of Wales to submit; then, at the battle of Brunanburh in 937, he defeated an alliance of the Scots, Danes and Vikings to become King of all England.
In 973 Alfred's great-grandson, Edgar, was crowned King of England and Emperor of Britain at Bath. King Edgar only survived for 2 years and Æthelred II was crowned, and although he reigned for thirty eight years, one of the longest reigns in English history, he earned the name "Æthelred the Unready", as he proved to be one of England's most disastrous kings and was succeeded by the Viking Canute who could not control the tide coming in!
When King Canute died in 1035 another dispute arose over the succession which led to intermarriage between Viking and Saxon (mainly Godwin) nobility. Edward the Congessor eventually became King as Canute's step-son and he offered the succession to William of Normandy, himself the son of Viking/Saxon parents. Harold Godwinson's claim to the throne was fairly dubious and having fought off one of Canute's descendants at Stamford Bridge (not the Chelsea FC ground) he was defeated at Hastings by William. There were later wars of succession and it would seem to me to be equally sensible to talk about the history of England from 1485 or 1603 or 1688.
The whole point of this history lesson is to point out that the History of Israel does not begin with Moses but with Abraham. Abraham was not saved because he kept the Law - it wasn't given until centuries after he died. He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness Galatians 3:6. Those who believe are children of Abraham v7.
This is a stupendous statement! The Jews believed that they were children of Abraham by descent, but Paul is saying it is nothing to do with who your parents were - it is through believing God. Worse than this (as far as the Jews were concerned) The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith! v8. The Gentiles! Gentile dogs! Yes, Gentiles! "All nations will be blessed through you." v8 and Genesis 18:18.
Elsewhere Paul emphasizes the source of our salvation, "By grace are you saved, through faith" Ephesians 2:8
How was the thief on the cross saved - by keeping the law? Because he believed.
How was Cornelius saved - by his good works? Because he believed.
Was your salvation because you kept the law? or because you gave to charity? or because of your good behavior?
How would you ever know you were good enough? Have you been through Numbers and Leviticus and kept every law? Have you always honored your parents? Since your last confession have you erred? Supposing you died in between confessions? Think of the last time you cursed a bad driver. Supposing it led to your fatal car crash. Would you go to hell for the sake of a moment's indiscretion?
But have you believed God when he said that anyone who believed in his son should not perish but have everlasting life? You were saved by believing in Jesus and that life would not be everlasting if it could be forfeited by a moment's bad temper or a wrong hand signal. Or even by playing ball on a Sunday.
There is a craze for DIY. We like to watch a TV program called Homes under the Hammer. Three derelict houses go to auction and the purchasers recondition them. It is wonderful to see Victorian terraced houses restored to better than their former glory. We know the ritual - new central heating, PVC windows, new kitchen, new bathroom, knock down the dividing wall between kitchen and dining room, redecorate throughout in neutral colors. Generally the new owners are builders or get the builders in. Sometimes they decide to do it themselves. Sometimes the job is botched by the DIY attempt. As far as our salvation is concerned, attempting DIY is always going to be a botched job.
But trusting in the Law is worse than that for verse 10 tells us that all who rely on observing the law are under a curse. "Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Deuteronomy 26:27 Paul is quoting the Judaizers' words back at them and is subtly completing them: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" It's not good enough to obey the law in general, Paul is saying that every 't' must be crossed and every 'i' dotted. And no-one is that good at it. He goes on to quote from the prophet Habakkuk (2:4) “the righteous will live by faith.” So, he surmises, clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because the law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”
But 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 tree.” (Deuteronomy 21:33)
Here is substitutionary atonement. We were cursed by the Law because we couldn't keep it. Christ could. He swapped his righteousness for our curse. Can you credit it? No wonder people find it so hard to believe. Why should anyone go through that for me. I heard a story today about the floods in Brisbane. Among those who lost their lives was a 13 year old boy. He insisted that the rescuers save his 10 year old brother first, but when they returned for him, he had been swept away. You might perhaps risk your life for a brother, but for someone who didn't know you, someone to whom you owed no obligation, someone who had even cursed you?
You would only do that if you loved them. And if you loved them like that you'd want to hold on to them, you'd do what you could to make them perfect. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
I can see some of you saying that we have no problem with the atonement. Of course salvation is all of grace and none of works, but we are talking about sanctification and for that you have to work at obeying the rules.
Beloved, can't you see that it is all one. "So that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." Everyone who is saved receives the Holy Spirit and sanctification is the job of the Spirit, not us. It is his work not ours. Our work is to believe and in some miraculous way this itself is a gift, lest any man should boast.
Sanctification hurts sometimes. We are refined as if by fire, but the Spirit gives us grace to bear it.
I will write more about keeping the Law, but for now lets rejoice in the wonderful gift of grace that rescues us from the curse of the Law.