Who Gave Himself
Key Verse 1:4
“Who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.”
There are many things that the book of Galatians talks about, but perhaps two things stand out the most: (1) The gospel of Christ and (2) the Spirit of Christ. And why are these so important? Because we can be made right with God only through the gospel of Christ. And we can be healed inwardly and live for God only through the Spirit of Christ. And there is no other way. You cannot be restored in your relationship with God except through the gospel of our Lord Jesus. This means that you cannot possibly hope to have a relationship with God apart from the cross and resurrection of Christ. And when you have believed that Christ has died for your sins, and has risen from the dead to justify you before God— then you cannot possibly begin to live the life that God wants you to live for him except by his Spirit. That is the message that Paul fights for in this book— literally fights for. He is angry. He is angry because there are those who want to add something to the gospel of our salvation. They want to tell us that there are things that we have to do— aside from believing the gospel— in order to be made truly right with God. And Paul cuts these people down. He tells us that they are heretics— legalists— that you shouldn’t listen to them.
The book of Galatians is dynamic, alive in its content— able to set the spirits of men free from all kinds of slaveries and legalisms. Paul writes to the Galatians who were set free by the power of the gospel to help them maintain their freedom in Christ. He writes them to help them see one of the greatest dangers that could ever invade their souls and spirits— the danger of corrupting the gospel of God’s grace.
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Let me begin very simply to explain the harsh tone that Paul uses in this letter which we will see in almost every passage throughout the book as we study it. We have the Old Testament laws. We might think of them as the way to come to God— The avenue to God— The road to God. If we want to get from point A to point B, we chart our way and take it. The way to God in the Old Testament was through the Law. In other words, if you wanted to get to God, you will have to follow the road— the way of the Law. But as perfect and beautiful as the Law was, no one was ever able to find their way to God by taking that road. So God opened another way for us to come to him— or to be justified before him— a way which entirely bypasses the Old Testament law. And that road or way was the “way of faith”— or what the Bible calls “justification by faith”. And God showed this way to the people of the Old Testament by telling them that: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) God made it very clear that anyone who wants to be righteous before him— anyone who wants to please him— who wants to come to God— to be reconciled to him— had to come through that way— the way of faith.
There are three New Testament letters that quote the verse (that shows the way to God) “the righteous will live by faith”. Romans 1:17 emphasizes “the righteous”, Hebrews 10:38 emphasizes “shall live”, and Galatians 3:11 emphasizes “by faith”. In the letter to the Romans, Paul emphasizes the fact that we can be justified before God— which is by faith and apart from the law. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul defends the gospel from those who are trying to add law to justification by faith. They were saying that it is faith plus something. And Paul says it is faith plus nothing!
Who were these people? We’re going to call them “Judaizers” throughout the study of Galatians. They were Christian Jews— Jews who converted to the Christian faith. They believed the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But they also believed that they should fully obey the law of Moses. That is not a problem. They can obey the law of Moses if they wanted to. But they believed and promoted the teaching that in order for a person to truly be saved, apart from believing the gospel, he or she had to follow and obey the laws of Moses. They believed that Gentiles who believed the gospel— who came into the new Christian faith— had to also follow all the laws of God stated in the Old Testament including the law of circumcision. I specifically mention circumcision here when they also promoted following the entire law, because Paul mentions it in his letter to the Galatians. These Judaizers were the culprits of the day who seem to have caused trouble for the Gentile converts, causing them to doubt their own salvation, and almost convincing them to obey the laws of Moses in their Christian lives. This angered Paul so much that he wrote this letter to the Galatians. We should pay careful attention to this letter and its teachings because we too have Judaizers of our own today in our churches who pervert the gospel of our Lord and introduce doctrines of demons.
Before in order to understand more fully these first verses in his letter, let me tell you another thing about the Judaizers. When they visited placed where Paul had preached the gospel and where Gentiles had accepted the gospel, these Judaizers also planted doubt in these new believers about Paul himself. They questioned Paul’s authority as an apostle, and his teaching that simple faith was enough for salvation. So here’s how Paul begins his letter to the Galatian churches.
Read verses 1-2. “Paul, an apostle— sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:” The term “apostle” is used in a twofold way in the New Testament. We know the apostles of the Lord, the 12 who were chosen by Jesus to be his disciples and to learn of him. Later Jesus promoted them to apostles and that was the term they came to be known for the rest of their lives. They became witnesses of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. They were the recipients of his life giving teaching, and received the commission from Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. That’s the first meaning of apostle. Another meaning of apostle, is one who is sent out— meaning a messenger— or missionary. Paul is not declaring himself simply a missionary but an Apostle in every way, with all the authority of an Apostle and messenger of Jesus Christ.
He says: “Sent not from men nor by man” meaning that he was neither chosen nor commissioned nor appointed by men nor by a council of men to be an Apostle. No one appointed him. He was not ordained by a group of elders, nor was he chosen by a body of believers who laid hands on him and blessed him with the task of serving the gospel. He tells us where his authority as an apostle comes from. “But by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead”. His appointment was directly by the Risen Jesus Christ and God the Father. It happened one day when he was on his way to the city of Damascus to capture and kill Christians. The Risen Jesus appeared to him on the road and knocked him off his horse. He heard the voice of the Risen Jesus who called him to service. Ever since then Paul became the voice of Jesus Christ and of God the Father to the Gentiles and Jews alike. He was an Apostle, hand chosen by the Savior to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul had a great sense of identity as an apostle, and authority as the messenger of God. When he preaches, and teaches, he teaches and preaches with the authority endowed him from God the Father and Jesus Christ. When we read his words, we read not the words of a man but the words of God himself.
That is why many are weak in faith and stagnant in spiritual growth. We read the Bible casually. We have no awesome respect for the words written by the apostles who wrote by the authority of God, the very words of God. People say I wish God would speak to me— tell me something— help me out of my bind. But when you ask them if they had consulted the Bible, the words of God, they don’t know what you are talking about. The Bible is the authority of God, God’s voice to us in every situation and in all things. It is God speaking to our hearts what we need to hear, convicting us, encouraging us, counseling us. When Paul wrote down these words, “Paul an apostle”, he meant for these Galatians to listen to the voice of God speaking life to their hearts. He meant for them to listen carefully to words that could set them free from their anxiety and fear, confusion, and from the devil’s trap who has taken them captive. When we read these words, we must listen to the voice of God, with awesome respect for the words of God who alone can set us free from all that is troubling us— anything that has enslaved us— whatever it may be.
Paul is writing with authority, together with all the brothers who were with him, who have witnessed the work of God in and through the gospel Paul preached. He is writing this letter not to one church, but to all the churches in Galatia. There were churches in many parts of Galatia. There was a church in Antioch of Pisidia, one in Derbe, one in Lystra and in other places as well, where Paul had visited and planted the gospel of life. It seems that the poison of the Judaizers had spread to many of the churches in the province of Galatia. So Paul writes to them one letter that they might all share it as the words of God’s truth that alone can dispel the lies that have been propagated.
Read verses 3-5. “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. Amen.” Paul’s first words here are his formal greeting as he does in most of his letters— “grace and peace to you”. I understand that the word “grace” here was the Gentile form of greeting in those days, while “peace” was the Jewish form of greeting. But regardless of whether this was just a form of greeting or a composite form of greeting, the words grace and peace are a blessing. God’s grace is what we all want everyone to experience in their life, so that through God’s grace, they might also experience God’s peace. It is amazing that Paul, while fuming at these Galatians, still found it necessary and proper to extend God’s grace and peace to them. We must learn to do the same. In other words, we must learn to bless others with God’s grace and peace as our earnest prayer for them even if we are in conflict with them. It is the Christian thing to do.
Now let’s look at his greeting more carefully. “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. Amen.” We can divide this greeting into many sections and still not exhaust neither the beauty nor depth of it.
Paul extended to them the grace of our Lord Jesus who “gave himself for our sins”. Paul tells us a most beautiful thing about our Lord Jesus. He tells us that Jesus “gave himself”. He could have said many things about our Lord Jesus. But he chose to tell us that Jesus “gave himself for our sins.” This is the beauty of our Lord Jesus, that he gave himself. In giving himself, he gave everything. He gave his life. He gave his love. There was nothing that he withheld in giving himself. Jesus gave it all. There is something beautiful about giving oneself in exchange for something else equally as beautiful and valuable. But when Jesus gave himself for us, he gave himself for our sins. That’s what he gave himself in exchange for. He didn’t exchange himself for our love and gratitude and understanding. He sacrificed himself taking upon himself our sins in exchange. He took our sins upon himself. The Bible tells us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) That’s what Jesus did for us. He gave himself for our sins. Can you give yourself? In my selfishness, I cannot give myself sometimes even to those I love, but Jesus gave himself for my sins, even when I was a wretched sinner. Paul had to say that. He had to remind us of what Jesus did for us. That is the beauty of our Lord Jesus. What can we give him in return for what he has given us? We can do nothing but believe with humble gratitude.
Paul also told us what else Jesus did for us. He says: “To rescue us from the present evil age”. Now this is very interesting. What does it mean to be rescued from the present evil age? Jesus prayed for our protection from the evil age on the night he would be crucified. (John 17:15) Most people are unwary of the evil age the Bible warns us about. But the present evil age is as real as the day and night. The present age is an evil age because sin has a strong grip on people’s lives— because dark forces in the heavenly realm control society and all human institutions— it’s an evil age because the devil has been allowed much power to exercise over the people of the world. Paul talks plainly about Satan’s power and the evil age when he says: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) In this evil age, people cannot see the truth of the gospel because they are blinded by the devil who dulls their minds— and makes them mock God and the spiritual things. The evil age is everything that is ungodly and godless, every religion and philosophy and way of life that opposes God’s rule and his rightful place in the world and in the human heart, and puts man at the center of things.
But God hasn’t left us victims of this evil age. God has made a way for us to escape the evil age that overshadows this world. For those who trust Jesus Christ, God promises deliverance— rescue form the evil age. The Bible tells us that “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col.1:13) Jesus has rescued us from this dominion of darkness by his death and resurrection. He has done it through shedding his blood for our sins. That is what Jesus gave himself for— to rescue us from the evil age, that we may no longer be slaves to the sinful nature. Jesus gave himself to rescue us from our fears and guilt, from shame and anger, from our selfishness and pride, and from our greed— he gave himself to deliver us to his own kingdom and rule where we can actually live free lives that God called us to live— to honor and glorify God. That’s what the gospel promises— that anyone who puts his faith in Jesus, can be delivered from this evil age, and from the judgment that is to come on this evil age and on all who live their lives by the patterns of this evil age. The word of God urges us saying: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom.12:2)
“Jesus gave himself for” your “sins to rescue” you “from the present evil age”, according to the will of our God and Father. He delivered you from sin. He rescued you from the present evil age. That’s what the apostle Paul is saying! These are words of life which must let penetrate your heart deeply and transform you into the powerful Christian God wants you to be— a Christian who no longer lives in this world and by this world’s standards and patters, but by the holy tenets of the kingdom of God where you belong. So, if you are struggling in weakness, and caught up in some sin or in temptation, shake yourselves loose from this world— from this evil age— you don’t belong to it any longer— and be free as Christ has set you free!
One last thing about verse 4. “Who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Jesus gave himself for our sins. He rescued us from the present evil age. And he had done all that according to the will of our God and Father. The words “according to the will of our God and Father” are very important words. God our Father in heaven had willed our deliverance, and Christ his Son has fulfilled it. People think that God does not care for them at all. They think that because they are suffering one thing or another, or because things are not going their way, that God has turned his back to them and has abandoned them. But the truth is that it was by the will of God that we be delivered from our sin and the judgment that is coming upon this evil age. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins is the perfect expression of the grace of God to all people. God deeply cares for all people. He deeply cares that we be delivered. For that Jesus gave himself. He gave himself on the cross for our sins. He was raised on the third day for our justification. This is the gospel of our salvation. This is the gospel of our deliverance. It is an old story. But it is a powerful story. The gospel we hear today “Is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Rom.1:16) It must be told always. It must be told everywhere so that people might repent according to the will of God (Acts 17:30-31), and be delivered also according to the will of God.
Read verse 5 again. “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” When Paul ends his greeting with such words, his heart is full of praise and wonder and thanksgiving to God. And Paul had much to be thankful for, and much to praise God about. God had called him to be an Apostle, a messenger of the gospel of life to all people who were living as victims of a dark and evil age. When he spoke with the authority of the Scriptures, with the authority of one whose faith rests on Christ and on his grace, people believed and accepted the word of God. And that word changed them into children of God and transported them out of this evil age to the kingdom of God. Now he had the privilege once again to write them and to remind them of Christ who gave himself for their deliverance. That’s why his heart is full of praise and honor to the God because God deserves all the glory forever and ever. Of course Paul was praiseful for other things as well. Sometimes we forget to give glory and honor to God. When was the last time you praised God for blessing or for grace, or even for trouble or for difficulty! When was the last time you praised and glorified God for rescuing you out of this evil age— and for the freedom you now have in Christ and in the gospel of his grace? I am convinced that we do not praise and glorify God enough throughout the day and in our life. Yet God is worthy of all glory and honor because he is our Father who withheld nothing to rescue us from this evil age, and to bring us to the freedom of Christ Jesus his Son. Take a moment to praise him now— To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen