Sunday, January 31, 2010

Galatians 1:4 and the Deliverance of Christ

1 Paul, an apostle—sent not with a human commission nor by human authority, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

For our last post in this section we will focus on the theology of verse 4. As we mentioned in our first post, Paul addresses his concerns right off the bat. The Galatian's insistence on the necessity of doing works of the Law in order to be part of the people of God undercut the core confession of their faith. They misunderstood the gospel. It's all about Jesus. Jesus is the one who laid his life down to save us. How could we turn to another gospel by saying that it wasn't enough? Paul insists that it was enough. Jesus died to deliver us from the present evil age of that the Law was part of (see Gal 4:3, 8-11) and his self-giving must be understood as 'an apocalyptic rescue operation' (Hays p. 202). To understand what Paul means, we must remember that Paul is Jewish, and that some important elements of his thinking are drawn from Jewish apocalyptic traditions, which essentially divided the history of the world into two periods or ages, the present age which is characterized by evil and the perversion of good things, and the age to come, when God comes and establishes justice and improves the fortunes of his people (see Hays 202-203 for a good brief summary, Martyn p. 97-105 for a fuller treatment).

The key element that separates Paul from his Jewish counterparts is his belief that the age to come is breaking in now through the work of Jesus on the cross. We live in a period of tension. God's work to deliver his people and all of creation has begun, but it hasn't reached its fullness yet. However, we must remember that it has begun. Losing sight of the sufficiency of the work of Christ, whether through feeling that we need to do good works to be accepted by God or by implying that the only true Christian is one who lives up to the norms of traditional Western conservative evangelical Christian culture causes us to lose the gospel and fall under the condemnation that Paul is about to firmly deliver to the Galatians. We stand alone before God on the basis of Christ's work on the cross for us, in us, and through us.

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