There was a time in history when it was said, "All roads lead to Rome." Well, all roads may have led to Rome at one time, but all roads definitely do not lead to eternal life. We shouldn't be led to believe that we can pursue eternal life in the same way that we navigate our way to geographical destinations. Let me explain. If I want to get home after church this morning, there are many different roads that I can take so that I will end up at my house. There is more than one way to accomplish my goal of getting home.
There are people in our society that believe there are many roads that we can take to acquire eternal life, which we all desire. The fact of the matter is that there are many among us who do not even have a map, much less any idea of how to travel the road to eternal life.
An example of this confusion is seen in an article sponsored by Biblelands.com. They write:
Many people believe that Heaven has only one gate and only one narrow road leading up to it. In America, many, if not most Christians, fervently believe that this one road leading to this one set of Pearly Gates is only open to Christians, and all others are doomed to oblivion or even eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Nothing could be more arrogantly removed from the truth. There are many roads to Heaven, and HEAVEN'S GATES are opened to people of all faiths who honestly attempt to live honorable and ethical lives. (Sponsored by Biblelands.com. http://www.heavensgates.org)
Jesus said that there was only one way to eternal life, and he was it:
John 14:6 (NASB) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.
This is what Galatians is all about. There is only one Gospel, and it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way to Heaven, and we come to Him by faith alone, apart from any human merit.
We began our study of this epistle last week, and we saw that its author was Paul.
Externally and internally the evidence has been overwhelming in critical scholarship in favor of Pauline authorship of this letter. Galatians is the standard by which Paul's other epistles are often measured.
As we begin to study this letter, we notice that something is missing. The thanksgiving section present in Paul's other epistles (Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; Phil. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:2), is missing. Instead, Paul bluntly expresses his dismay:
Galatians 1:6-7 (NASB) I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
Something was seriously wrong in the churches of Galatia to prompt such a sobering introduction. A careful reading of the entire epistle confirms this observation. The Gospel which Paul had preached, and which these Christians had accepted was somehow quickly set aside for other teaching.
While Paul was in Antioch of Syria after his first missionary journey (A.D. 49-50), he learned that the churches which Barnabas and he had founded in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, were being won over by false teachers, whom we call "Judaizers." They told the churches that Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic Law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved. They also denied that Paul was an apostle. So Paul wrote an emotionally charged letter to the churches to refute the teaching of the Judaizers and to reaffirm the Gospel that he had preached to them.
Let me ask you an important interpretive question, "Were the Galatians Jews or Gentiles?" In order to answer that, we must answer another question first, "When the Bible talks about Jews, who is it referring to?" I think that many Christians would answer this question by saying that the Jews are the 12 tribes of Israel, God's covenant people. This is not correct! The term "Jews" was first used in the Babylonian captivity. The Babylonians called them Jews, because they were from the land of Judah. At the time of the writing of the New Testament, during the Roman kingdom, there were only two tribes in the Palestinian area: Judah and Benjamin. There were certain individuals from other tribes, but for the most part, it was only the two tribes. It was only those two tribes who were called "Jews."
What were the other 10 tribes called at the time of the writing of the New Testament? They were called "Gentiles." Now listen carefully, I'm not saying that the term "Gentiles" refers only to the 10 Northern tribes. What I am saying is that the term "Gentiles" is used of the 10 Northern tribes and of all non- Israelites.
Let me try to briefly explain. Israel became a nation at Sinai when God gave them His law and entered into covenant with them. They were called the "house of Israel." The term "house of Israel" refers to the 12 tribes, the nation Israel. They remained united until after the death of Solomon. Then the house of Israel was split into two kingdoms. The 10 Norther tribes were known as the "House of Israel." And the 2 Southern tribes were known as the "Southern kingdom or Judah." Both of these kingdoms, Israel and Judah, became harlots and forsook the Lord.
The Norther kingdom went into the Assyrian captivity and were no longer known as the "children of Israel." They were referred to as the "children of Omry," who was a former king of Israel. So, when the Northern tribes went into Assyrian captivity, they lost their identity as Israelites and thus became identifiable only as Gentiles:
Ezekiel 4:13 (NASB) Then the LORD said, "Thus shall the sons of Israel eat their bread unclean among the nations where I shall banish them."
Hosea 8:8 (NASB) Israel is swallowed up; They are now among the nations Like a vessel in which no one delights.
God made a promise to Israel that she would be called out (church) of the nations and brought back to Messiah:
Hosea 1:9-10 (NASB) And the LORD said, "Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God." 10 Yet the number of the sons of Israel Will be like the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered; And it will come about that, in the place Where it is said to them, "You are not My people," It will be said to them, "You are the sons of the living God."
This prophecy is actually fulfilled in the Galatians:
1 Peter 1:1 (NASB) Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen
1 Peter 2:9-10 (NASB) But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
When Peter writes, "To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia," he is writing to the house of Israel, who were "aliens" - they weren't living in the land of their birth. If you look at a map, you will see that the areas of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia were the very area that the Old Testament tells us that the house of Israel was taken to in the Assyrian captivity. Now they are identified as "Gentiles." Peter is writing to these Gentiles, who have become Christians, and he calls them a chosen (race) generation. He says to them, "Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." This is a fulfillment of the promises that God made to the house of Israel through Hosea (Hosea 1:9-11).
God taking the Gospel to the Galatian Gentiles is a fulfillment of the promises that He made in the Old Testament. It was not clearly revealed until the New Testament. And Paul was a minister to the Gentiles, which included the house of Israel.
So, in answer to our question, the Galatians were made up of Jews - from the house of Judah, and Gentiles - from the House of Israel, and non- Israelis. With this in mind, it may be easier to understand how they could so quickly abandon the Gospel for the Jewish Law.
This morning we come to a study of verses 3-5. The content of these verses may be summed up like this: Grace may now come to you (1:3), glory may now go to God (1:5), for Christ has died for our sins and delivered us from the present evil age (1:4).
Verse 3 is the offer of grace and peace to the Galatians: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Verse 5 is the ascription of glory to God: "To whom be the glory for ever. Amen." And sandwiched between grace and glory in verse four is their foundation: The death of Christ for our sin and our deliverance from the present evil age.
So, what we have here in verses 3-5 of chapter 1 is an outline of the Gospel. These three verses are what this book is all about. Just as Paul's apostleship is summarized in verse 1 and defended in chapters 1 and 2, so the Gospel is given a preliminary definition in 1:3-5, only to be expanded upon throughout the rest of the book.
Now, let's look at this Salutation:
Galatians 1:3 (NASB) Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,
This was a typical greeting in an ancient letter and is found in nearly every one of Paul's epistles. Grace, or charis, was the normal Greek way of saying "hello," while peace, eirene or shalom, was the Hebrew term for the same thing. But for Paul, these terms had far more significance than a mere "hello and hello."
We often think of grace and peace as generic terms for "joy and happiness." But in theological terms, grace and peace are essential elements for bringing us out from under the wrath of God into a relationship free from condemnation.
Grace and peace from God go hand in hand. There is no peace with God outside of His grace; His unmerited favor being extended to us so that we might know what it means to have life in Christ.
The word "grace" encompasses the entire atonement. It is that quality of God whereby He freely and unilaterally provided salvation to a group of sinners that He had chosen to save. The cost to God was enormous; it involved the death of His Son.
Grace from God is a choice on His behalf whereby He extends the means by which we can have this relationship, despite the fact that nothing has changed on our part. In other words, He doesn't extend grace because we've done something to draw near to Him, or that we've somehow had a change of heart, and so He feels compelled to give us life.
No, nothing has changed on our part. We're still as guilty and self seeking as we've ever been, and yet He approaches us, who at best have a righteousness which can be compared to filthy rags, and still decides to allow us to be with Him forever.
Romans 5:8 (NASB) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Grace is all that God is free to do for man on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because of what Jesus did, God is free to give us grace. What do I mean when I say that God is free? God's justice and righteousness are satisfied in the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus paid our sin debt. Therefore, God is free to give us grace. Grace has no strings attached, it's free. What do you have to do to keep your salvation? If you have to do anything, it isn't free. Do you understand that? If I give you something and then say , "You can keep that if you do this or that," then what I have given you is not a gift, it must be earned by your works.
Where once we stood condemned and were at war with God, our entire status has been changed legally by God to a relationship of peace with Him as we place our faith in His atoning sacrifice on the cross. And once that relationship has been changed from wrath to peace, it can never be changed back.
Paul turns to the mechanics of how grace and peace have been brought to man. It is through the death of Christ:
Galatians 1:4 (NASB) who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
These words, "who gave himself for our sins..." are very important. He wanted to tell the Galatians straight out that atonement for sins and perfect righteousness are not to be sought anywhere but in Christ.
The word "for" in this passage clearly has the idea of substitution. The death of Christ involved the greatest sacrifice ever made. He literally gave Himself for us. He did this willingly. At His own trial before Pilate, He testified that no man was able to take His life from Him.
Now, let me ask you a question: "How many of our sins did Christ give Himself for?" The answer is obvious: "He gave Himself for ALL our sins." This means that the sin issue has been settled forever.
The error of the Galatians was over this very point. They felt that the work of Christ on the cross was not enough to take away their sins. They thought that they had to add something to the work of Christ. But Christ's sacrifice was able to accomplish what it was designed to do.
Because we are by nature and practice sinners, Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins. I wonder how often people ponder this phrase and the stark reality of its meaning? Sometimes it seems that we almost tritely say, "Jesus died for me." But in saying this, are we conscious that He who gave Himself is very God of very God? The One whom we have offended by our natures and by our practice of sin has Himself come to bear His own judgment against us! That is the power of the Gospel of Christ! For God to bear His own judgment on behalf of sinners, required that He become a man. So He did, and in the Incarnation He took on a common nature with those for whom he died. He became a genuine part of the human race; not partially human or removed in some way from the physiological make-up of humans, but a true human. As such, being without sin, He was related to humanity in a similar way to that of Adam, i.e., as a federal representative. He did this that His offering might have merit sufficient to ransom those for whom he died. Peter put it this way:
1 Peter 2:24 (NASB) and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
Paul tells us that Christ "...gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age..." What is the "present evil age" that the Lord delivered us out of? This is a very important point in our understanding of this book.
I have found that many commentators don't even deal with the phrase "present evil age." Many just skip right over it. Here are some comments from those who attempt to deal with it:
Martin Luther writes this, "Paul calls this present world evil because everything in it is subject to the malice of the devil, who reigns over the whole world as his domain and fills the air with ignorance, contempt, hatred, and disobedience of God. In this devils's kingdom we live."
Robert Hunter writes, "Being 'delivered from this present evil world' involves being delivered from the evil way of life that dominates the present world. Although the age to come still lies in the future, believers in Jesus Christ already partake in it."
John Piper writes, "The present age is an evil age, because sin has such a grip on our lives and on the institutions of our society, and because Satan is allowed so much power."
I'm not really sure what any of them are saying, but they don't seem to think that we have truly been delivered from the present evil age. Nobody that I could find compared Scripture with Scripture to explain what the "present evil age" was. If we do that, we will see that all through the New Testament we see two ages in contrast: "This age" and the "age to come."
Matthew 12:32 (NASB) "And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come.
The word "come" at the end of the verse is the Greek word mello, which means: " about to be." We could translate this: "the age about to come." About to come for who? For the original audience, which was those in the first century. So they were in an age, and there was another age about to come. Here we see two ages in contrast.
Ephesians 1:21 (NASB) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.
Here again, we see the two ages. So, the New Testament speaks of two ages, "this age" and "the age to come." The understanding of these two ages, and when they changed, is fundamental to interpreting not only Galatians but the entire New Testament.
The New Testament writers lived in the age that they called "this age." To the New Testament writers, "the age to come" was future, but it was very near, because "this age" was about to end.
1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NASB) Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
The wisdom and rulers of "this age" were passing away, because the age was passing away. He is speaking of the Jewish leaders and the Old Covenant system. The rulers of "this age" crucified the Lord. These rulers would shortly have no realm in which to rule, because "this age" was about to end. Think about this, If the Jewish age ended at the cross, as so many claim, why were they still ruling the age?
1 Corinthians 10:11 (NASB) Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Paul said very plainly that the end of the ages was coming upon them, the first century saints. "This age," along with its wisdom and rulers, was about to end.
1 Peter 1:20 (NASB) For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you
Jesus came during the "last days" of the "this age," which was the Old Covenant age, the Jewish age. That age came to an end with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. So, the New Testament writers lived in what the Bible calls "this age."
"This age" of the Bible is the age of the Old Covenant that was about to pass away in the first century. It should be clear to you that "this age" is not the Christian age in which we live. In the first century, the age of the Old Covenant was fading away and would end completely when the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.
Hebrews 8:13 (NASB) When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
He made the first - what - obsolete? The first covenant, which is the Old Covenant. The book of Hebrews was written at around A.D. 65-69. At this time, the Old Covenant was still in effect but it was ready to pass away. It passed away in A.D. 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. The "this age" of the Bible is now ancient history.
In 1705 John Locke wrote this referring to the phrase "present evil age":
God has in this world but one kingdom and one people. The nation of the Jews were the kingdom and people of God whilst the law stood. And this kingdom of God under the Mosaical constitution was called, this age, or, as it is commonly translated, this world, to which, the present world, or age, here answers. But the kingdom of God which was to be under the Messiah, wherein the economy and constitution of the Jewish Church, and the nation itself, that in opposition to Christ adhered to it, was to be laid aside, is in the New Testament called, the world, or age, to come; so that Christ's taking them out of the present world, may, without any violence to the words, be understood to signify His setting them free from the Mosaical constitution." ("Notes on Galatians")
So, the "present evil age" that Christ delivered them from was the Old Covenant age, the age of the Mosaic law.
Why does Paul call the Old Covenant age an "evil" age?
The Old Covenant was an age of death, condemnation, and darkness:
2 Corinthians 3:6-11 (NASB) who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter (old covenant), but of the Spirit; for the letter (old covenant) kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, (old covenant) in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation (old covenant) has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness (new covenant) abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away (old covenant) was with glory, much more that which remains (new covenant) is in glory.
Paul told the Roman Christians that the "night" was almost gone:
Romans 13:11-12 (NASB) And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night (old covenant) is almost gone, and the day (new covenant) is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Why does Paul call the Old Covenant age and "evil" age? Because it was an age in which Satan blinded men to the Gospel:
2 Corinthians 4:4 (NASB) in whose case the god of this world (aion) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
It was an evil age, because in it nobody received eternal life:
Mark 10:29-30 (NASB) Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, 30 but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.
Eternal life is the opposite of spiritual death. What man lost in Adam, is found in Jesus Christ, the last Adam. Through death man was separated from God's presence, and eternal life is to be brought back into the presence of God. In the "present evil age" man could not enter into the presence of God:
Hebrews 9:8 (NASB) The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing,
While the physical tabernacle, the Jewish temple, was standing, man did not have access into the presence of God. So the destruction of that temple in A.D. 70 demonstrated that man was now able to enter the presence of God.
1 Corinthians 15:51-54 (NASB) Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.
When Christ returned in A.D. 70, with the sound of the trumpet, the dead were raised, and the living were changed. All believers put on immortality, and death was swallowed up - no more separation from God for those who believe.
Believers, we are no longer living in the "present evil age." We are living in the New Covenant age in which righteousness dwells. The righteousness of Christ is ours, eternal life is ours, immortality is ours.
It is imperative that we understand what this "present evil age" is if we are going to correctly understand the book of Galatians. Being delivered from the "present evil age" is what this book is all about. Jesus Christ died to deliver us from the curse of the law:
Galatians 3:10-13 (NASB) For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM." 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM." 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"
Being delivered from the curse of the law is the same as being delivered from the "present evil age". The law was in effect in the "present age."
Galatians 4:4-5 (NASB) But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
The Old Covenant age was an age of death, condemnation, darkness, and separation from God. Jesus Christ, by his sacrificial death redeemed us from that age.
We have received grace and peace, because of the work of Christ on Calvary. The Gospel is all of grace, and therefor, God gets all the glory:
Galatians 1:5 (NASB) to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.
The word translated here as "forevermore" is the Greek word aion. This is the same word used in verse 4, translated "age." A better translation here, perhaps, would be: "to whom be the glory age upon age."
This is a doxology, an ascription of glory to God, which is almost always used as a benediction at the conclusion of a letter. But here Paul uses a doxology in his salutation. I believe his purpose is this: the real issue at stake here is the glory of God. By their insistence on human achievement, the false teachers of Galatia were downgrading and minimizing what God has done. To add to God's work, is to glorify man and dishonor God. But by pointing to the all-sufficiency of Christ and His finished work, Paul was magnifying God's grace and ascribing glory to Him.
If we understand the condition of our hearts apart from Christ and our own inability to do anything to make ourselves right with God, then it would be sheer arrogance to think that a person can be saved by his own works of righteousness. The biggest problem a man has with grace is an exalted view of himself. He does not think that his spiritual condition is really all that desperate. He does not think that his sin is really all that bad. He considers that God must surely grade on a curve, and since there are people worse than himself, then surely he is okay with God. Such reasoning exalts man and takes a low view of God.
Let's pause for a moment to take a look at our own standing before God. Have you rested all of your hope and trust for eternity in Jesus Christ and His vicarious work? Jesus did not die to "add" to our righteousness. He died in our place! The only righteousness that can stand before the holy presence of God for eternity is that of Jesus Christ alone. And if you trust Him, and Him alone, He gives you His righteousness:
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB) He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
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