27. Rescued From Evil (Galatians 1:4)

Our worldview shapes our lives. As Paul begins his letter to the Christians living in the region of Galatia, he reminds them of their circumstances. They live in "the present evil age" (1:4). This time is characterized by evil, not good. It is an overwhelming evil, such that no human being can escape its destructive, degrading power. Paul compares it to slavery and the master is Satan himself. This evil is not just around us, but it is operating with us, causing us to sin and be condemned justly by God.

But God has intervened! He has come to our rescue. Paul considers this to be a fact, something already accomplished. Our divine Creator and Father has acted willfully through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ so that we might be rescued. Paul emphasizes that Jesus willingly "gives himself" for this purpose. This is the language of sacrifice, expressing a love for us that defies comprehension. It is this sacrifice alone that can deal with our sins, our guilt and our condemnation before God. All of this amazing truth Paul packs into Galatians 1:3-4. This is the architecture of his worldview. As a believer in Jesus he is partnering with God in the great struggle to defeat evil.

The primary term Paul uses here to describe how God intervenes (exairesthai – middle form of the verb) has a distinguished history. Only here, however, in all of his surviving letters does Paul use it to describe what God has done. Why does this word suit his purposes to summarize some of his key ideas in this letter to the Galatians?

In the Greek Old Testament God is the ultimate deliverer, even though He may use human agents to accomplish his purposes, and this verb expresses this truth. The Exodus becomes the primary paradigm for this divine rescue. In Exodus 3:8 God says, "I came down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land and to bring them into a good and spacious land." Moses names one of his sons Eliezer because "the God of my father was my help and he delivered me from the hand of Pharao" (18:4). When Moses’ father-in-law heard what God had done for Israel he "was amazed at all the good things that the Lord did to them, that he delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharao" (18:9)1 Frequently the Psalmist cries out to God to deliver him from his enemies and rejoices as this rescue is realized (cf. Psalm 58(59):1; 114(116):8; 142(143):9).

As Stephen recounts God’s sovereign work to prepare a people for Himself, he quotes Exodus 3:8 (Acts 7:34). He recounts how Joseph’s brothers "sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt;…"(Acts 7:10). When Peter is arrested by Herod, God sends an angel to deliver him. Peter acknowledges God work: "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating" (Acts 12:11). Claudias Lysias the Roman commander of the garrison in Jerusalem writes to Felix, governor, and tells how Paul "was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned he is a Roman citizen" (Acts 23:27). Paul himself tells Agrippa that Jesus appeared to him and said, "I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light…"(Acts 26:17).

So this verb describes rescue from life-threatening situations, often when a person has no ability to save himself and usually with the deliverer anticipating some future purpose for the one delivered. There are contexts where the term describes the freeing of slaves. This sense fits well with the various usages in Exodus as God rescues His people from their Egyptian taskmasters. Joseph is enslaved and imprisoned, but God delivers him.

When we come back to the use of this term in Galatians 1:4, we perhaps now have a larger sense of what Paul wants to communicate. People are enslaved in this present evil age.2  They cannot escape their own efforts. There is rescue, but only through faith in Jesus, the Messiah, who has "redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit" (Galatians 3:14).

In his message to these Christians Paul reminds them of their slavery to "those who by nature are not gods" and warns them against "being enslaved by them all over again" (4:8-9). He rejoices that "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (5:1). Paul mines the historical usage of this term in Israel’s history and turns it now in fresh ways to define the spiritual deliverance that Christ offers to all people. The Galatians have experienced this and received God’s Spirit. Paul warns them not to abandon their commitment and forfeit their one hope of rescue from ‘corruption’. "A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (6:7-8).

The concept of rescue is a critical part of our Christian worldview. If we fail to grasp the real evil that surrounds and challenges us and the true will of God engaged in the event of Calvary and the resurrection, then we have no deliverance, but remain enslaved to sin and all of its terrible, life-destroying consequences. As Paul reflects upon God’s actions, he happily announces that "glory for ever and ever" belongs to God for His gracious deliverance.

Application: as you reflect upon God’s word today,

  1. Is your worldview properly calibrated as you enter this New Year? Do you understand how evil the present age truly is and the great need people have for deliverance? Does this reality stimulate a desire to share the Good News?
  2. Does the deliverance God provides still amaze you and excite your thankful service? Are you thankful for your release from slavery and your freedom in Christ?
  3. Are you determined to "sow to the Spirit" as your reasonable response to God’s actions on your behalf?

  • 1. These translations of the Greek Old Testament citations come from the Exodus. The New English Translation of the Septuagint, to be published in 2004.
  • 2. Chronologically, Galatians was written by Paul (c. AD 49-50) before Luke authored his two volume Luke-Acts. The occurrence of exairesthai in Galatians 1:4 then is the first established literary usage of this term in early Christian writings.

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