“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” [Galatians 1: 3-5].
These verses constitute the beginning of John Stott’s conclusion for his book The Cross of Christ. He summarizes all the main points of his previous thirteen chapters and then he focuses on Galatians.
Why? What is so special about Paul’s letter written to the church at Galatia around 48 A.D.?
First of all, it was Paul’s “first letter” written just fifteen years after the death and resurrection of Jesus so that it was not far removed from Jesus’ actual time on earth. Secondly, Stott feels that the letter focuses on the cross. Add to this, Paul feels the gospel message in these scriptures is coming from God and not Paul. Stott refers to the Letter to the Galatians as the “seven affirmations” and he feels there is no more fitting way to conclude his book.
When one considers the “seven,” Stott feels “we have an amazingly comprehensive grasp of the pervasive nature of the cross.”
Let’s upack Galatians 1: 3-5.
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins.” The first words may just be thought of as words of introduction and salutation but Stott says Paul is doing more in this letter. He is setting up the readers for what he is really going to say.
The death of Jesus was both voluntary and determined. What does this mean? Jesus went to the cross with a sense of free will. He volunteered for the punishment, but was it a total voluntary process? Students of Scripture point to Isaiah and say that His end was foretold. The Garden of Gethsemane moment when He said “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but thine be done.” Jesus accepted His predetermined fate and He went forward with it. We must remember that He was a man in the Garden, well aware of the pain and suffering which lay before Him. He had great courage, given to Him by His Father.
The death of Jesus was for our sins. That in itself is unusual because the sinner is usually the one who dies for the sinning. In this case the sinless was sacrificed for sinful man. He took our penalty in our place.
The purpose of Jesus’ death was to rescue us. Stott calls this rescue “out of the present evil age.” What this means is that Jesus ushered in a new age, a new relationship, a new covenant that we might live the new life that God intends for us to live. The Old Covenant is finished, “Behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.” Jesus came for us to have new life.
The present result of Jesus’ death is grace and peace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Do we deserve to have our sins forgiven? No. God forgives anyhow. Will we continue on with our “badness?” Yes. God forgives us anyhow, knowing that we are all flawed, weak individuals prone to temptation, prone to fall, again and again. Our only hope is to learn from the process of life, learn from the failure, learn from the recovery from sin. “For the call of God is a call of grace, and the Gospel of God is the Gospel of grace” [Stott, 331].
The eternal result of Jesus’ death is that God will be glorified forever. “Grace comes from God; glory is due to God” . If there is an ongoing lesson I am learning as a Christian it is this: what we accomplish in this life it is due to the power of God. When we experience freedom from sin, we should give the glory to God. When we do a good work, we should do it in His name. When we have peace in this life, we should give credit where credit is due; give it to God. Too often I am tempted to give myself credit, but that is folly. I revert to going my own way. My independent behavior and weakness are symptomatic of my sinful Adamic nature. I need to recognize that God has given me the power to do what I can do, give me the wisdom to make good decisions and the peace to deal with the ebb and flow of life.
I owe it all to Him.*
*The next post will elaborate on Galatian 2:19-21 as I continue with Stott’s “Seven Affirmations” in Galatians.