“To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Paul’s first powerful gospel statement is in this opening paragraph when he says that grace is the source of the gospel, and peace is the blessing of the gospel. Grace is the Lord’s unmerited favor; it is a reference to the reality that redemption and reconciliation come from God as a gift. Peace is the condition of heart and mind the Lord bestows as a result of redemption and reconciliation; it is a reference to the reality that through the Lord’s grace, our relationship with God is fully restored.
Grace and peace happen, Paul says, because “the Lord Jesus Christ … gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.”
A central message of the gospel is that apart from God we are helpless and lost. We need to be delivered. We need to be rescued. Ever since the Fall the world has been caught in the grip of “the present evil age,” for it was at the Fall that Adam and Eve rejected God’s authority (kingdom), and as a result the rulership of the world passed from God to the devil. Ever since the Fall we have been caught in the grip of sin, and we have been separated from God.
We cannot rescue ourselves. We cannot, through human effort, meet God’s standards of righteousness and merit his forgiveness. As it says in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” If there is any hope of being rescued from sin and reconciled to God, then God must do the saving. The gospel demands that we take this divine rescue with the utmost seriousness. The gospel is not instructions on how to earn our way back to God; it is an invitation to receive the most important gift that has ever been offered.
Here’s an analogy: If you see someone drowning, you don’t throw them an instruction book on how to swim. You throw them a rope. They don’t need instruction, they need to be rescued. It’s the same for us spiritually. We are separated from God because of our sin, and we are incarcerated in the present evil age. We are spiritually drowning, and we cannot save ourselves. We don’t need instructions, we need to be rescued.
Jesus is the rescuer. Once we are redeemed and reconciled, then he will teach and instruct us. But first we must be rescued.
Paul tells us that Jesus rescued us by giving himself for our sins. He sacrificed himself for us. The word “for” means “on behalf of” or “in place of”. The apostle Peter states it quite clearly: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
The Greek verb for “deliver” is exaireo. It is used in Acts of the rescue of the Israelites from their Egyptian slavery (7: 34), of the rescue of Peter both from prison and from the hand of Herod the King (12:11), and of the rescue of Paul from an angry mob about to lynch him (23:27). This verse in Galatians is the only place where it is used metaphorically of salvation. Christ died to rescue us.
Note that the Galatians text says Jesus delivers us “from the present evil age.” He doesn’t rescue us out of the broken world; he rescues us from the broken world. There is a significant difference. God’s purpose is not to take us out of the world; rather, his plan is that we should be a faithful presence in it and be “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth”.
Scripture divides history into two ages: “The present evil age” and “the age to come”. The good news, the gospel, is that “the age to come” is now here through the person and work of Christ. However, the present age has not yet passed away. The two ages are operating in parallel. They overlap one another.
Paul wrote the same message to the Colossians: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
Being a Christian — being rescued by Jesus — means being delivered from this age and being transferred into “the age to come.” The Christian life is living the good news of “the age to come” in the midst of “the present evil age.” The purpose of Christ’s death, therefore, was not only to bring us forgiveness, but also to empower us to be ambassadors for the kingdom of God in the midst of a fallen and broken world.
The implications of this truth are profound and all-encompassing: The Lord did not bring the kingdom simply to save us; rather, he saved us so that we can serve in his kingdom. The world needs the love of Christ and the example of God’s people more urgently than ever. The world needs the “faithful presence” of the people of God. That is our purpose; we are called by God to live the gospel in the midst of a watching world. Are we — the followers of Jesus in our generation — up to the task?
“I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness … to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26.16-18)