“[Jesus] gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of God our Father.”
The statement is at the introduction of Paul’s letter and seems to simply be an outburst of doxology. He is overwhelmed at the tremendous mercy of Christ. However, from verse 6 of this chapter we can glean that Paul is not merely rejoicing in this faith. Rather, he is strategically stating the true gospel right out of the gate. You see, the very next thing Paul mentions after this work of Christ is that the Galatians are falling into a different gospel. Thus his statement in verse 4 is that real, saving gospel from which the Galatians are deviating. They had lost focus of the cross.
Let us break down this statement bit by bit, and see how it compares with their gospel. Paul says that their gospel is not good news, presumably because it is unable to save. Let us see how this true gospel is better, and how it does save.
Jesus gave Himself
Although it is often said that God sent Jesus, or God gave Jesus, it is equally true that Jesus’ own will played a role in this. There was not a drop of reluctance in His heart. He was in full agreement with the Father’s plan. He was not dragged to the cross kicking and screaming as some may assert.
Jesus’ purpose in being born was to die. The Father and the Son were in full agreement on the plan of redemption. Jesus says as He comes into the world, “Behold I come to do Thy will” (Psalm 40:7-8, quoted in Heb 10). Thus the end of our present verse says that Jesus gave Himself according ot the will of God.
Here, the phrase, “He gave” relates to His giving of Himself over to death. Paul uses the same phrase in 2:20 to refer to His crucifixion being a self-sacrifice out of personal love for Paul. Paul also describes the cross in this way in 1 Tim. 2:6 and Titus 2:14 where the notions of ransom and redemption are present (respectively). Many commentators trace the idea of Jesus “giving Himself up” for us back to Isaiah 53, with the Suffering Servant giving Himself up to death at the will of God.
For our sins
So what was the reason that Jesus gave His life? To what end did His love drive Him to sacrifice Himself? Was His main purpose in dying to be a good model as a martyr? Was it to put an end to the battle of good and evil?
Sure, it is true that Christ left as an example (read 1 Peter); and yes Christ defeated satan on the cross, but this is not the main reason why Christ came. If we die for our faith, but our robes are still as scarlet, then we shall still bear the penalty of our sin! Satan is not the greatest enemy needing defeat–it is ourselves! For us to be saved, the guilt of our sins had to be taken away. So when Christ dies “for sins” it is like the OT sin offerings where the animal took the sins of Israel upon itself and was slain. In fact, translators will put “sacrifice for sin” when only “sin” is present because that is the idea both theologically and linguistically (i.e. Rom. 8:3; Heb. 10:6, 8; 13:11).
That He might rescue us
This is the only time Paul uses this exact word for rescue. The word is also used in Acts 7:10-11, 34; 12:11; 23:27; 26:17 with the nuance of deliverance from physical danger. That Christ’s work on the cross was one of rescue teaches us at least three things:
- It implies that we were in danger from which we needed saving.
- It implies that we could not retrieve ourselves out of that danger, and needed a heavenly Savior.
- By the fact that Christ died for sins to rescue us, it is implied our sins were the cause of our danger.
From this present evil age
Jesus regularly distinguished between “this age” and “the age to come” in His parables (i.e. Matt. 12:32; Luke 20:34-35). It is a distinction between now, and the time after the resurrection. But in particular, it is how this world is not yet under God’s authority, whereas in God’s future kingdom He will have total rule. So this age is evil because it is under the power of satan (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). Christians, having been delivered out of it, must not love it (1 John 2:15-17), nor conform to it (Rom. 12:1-2).
The same idea is found elsewhere in the Scriptures. In Colossians 1:13 we are told that Christ “rescued us from the domain of darkness.” Jesus says, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin…the Son sets you free” (John 8:34-36). In Acts 26, Paul, quoting Jesus, says that a believer is taken “from darkness to light…domain of satan to God” (v. 18).
Notice from those examples that we are not only delivered from something, but also to something. In Colossians we see that we are transferred into the kingdom of the Son. In John, when the Son sets us free we permanently belong to the family. In Acts, we are transferred to light and to God.
Note also the already/not yet here. Those who believe are already delivered from the present. There is some sense in which we are already in that coming kingdom where all creation is fully submitted to God, there is no more sin, and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord. Hebrews 6:5 likewise says that believers have already tasted of the age to come.
According to the will of God
Again, both the Father and the Son were in full agreement concerning the plan to rescue us. We cannot say that God forced Jesus to go to the cross against His will. Nor can we say that God was reluctant to forgive us, but Jesus changed His mind.
Conclusion: The “gospel” of works doesn’t deliver
With all of this in mind, remember that Paul is stressing the true gospel before he dives into his rebuke of the Judaizers. He calls the teaching of the Judaizers is “a different gospel, which really is not another” (1:6-7). In another post on false teachers in Galatians, we saw that adding anything to Jesus is a total 180 degree turn.
As we review what we’ve read so far, let us ask two questions. First, in what way is the true gospel of Christ “giving Himself to deliver us” different than the Galatian heresy. Second, in what was is it better news than the Galatian heresy?
How is Paul’s gospel of grace DIFFERENT THAN the false gospel of law?
- Galatians 2:20- “He loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
In Christianity, the salvation of sinners is rooted in the mercy of God. Whereas in a works-based salvation, the source of blessing is our merit.
- Galatians 2:16-21- “Justified by the works of the Law…” “justified by faith in Christ…” “justified in Christ…”
Christianity looks to Christ’s obedience to the Law for righteousness. A works-based salvation looks to our own keeping of commands for our righteousness.
How is the gospel of Jesus BETTER than a works-based salvation?
- Christ actually does rescue us (1:4). Those under Moses are still “in bondage to the elemental things of the world” (4:3). If we are under the Law then we need redemption (4:5), are still slaves rather than sons (4:7) or children of promise (4:28).
- By breaking the Law just one time we are under God’s curse (3:10). Whereas for those who believe, Christ rescues us because He has already taken their curse upon Himself (3:13).
- Circumcision under the Law is of the flesh only, and not the heart. Therefore, a Law-based righteousness does not make one a child of Abraham (chapter 3). Whereas those who are of faith (vv. 7, 9) are sons of Abraham, and receive the promise of the Spirit (v. 14), and are justified by a righteousness not of their own (vv. 21, 24).
- If our salvation is by our works, then we get the glory. Paul makes this clear in Romans 4:2 where he says, “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about.” However, according to the true gospel, God gets the glory for our salvation, for it is all by His grace (1 Cor. 1:30-31). In his letter to the Galatians, it is not “Paul’s upbringing in Judaism” that gets the glory, but he says, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”