(Read introduction to this series here)
Years ago at a church I was serving, one of the teen girls came up to me and asked me, “What is the Gospel?” I was a little surprised because this young woman had grown up going to church and yet did not know this most fundamental truth. Clearly, the churches she had been a part of, ours included, did not do a good job instructing her and perhaps that is more wide-spread than I would care to think. But if we don’t have a clear, rock-solid understanding of what the “gospel” is, then our faith rests on shaky ground.
Paul, in writing to the Galatians understood this and so at the start of his letter he gives a brief summary of the gospel he has been preaching and which he spends the rest of the letter explaining and defending. Now, many people would simply skip over these verses thinking this is just a greeting and not really significant, but Paul uses this presentation of the gospel as his jumping-off point for his main argument to follow, that the Galatians have abandoned this gospel. But more on that later.
So here it is in verses 3 through 5.
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. (ESV)
Paul starts by saying that we are currently under the “present evil age” because of our sin. He says something similar in Ephesians 2:1, 2. Paul says that Jesus came to deliver us, in other words, we are not able by ourselves to escape our sin or this “age.” We need to be rescued. Remember in Romans 7:24, Paul wails “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul understands that he, and we, need rescuing. He spends all of Romans chapter 7 bemoaning his inability to free himself from his sinful passions, but needs an external deliverer. And he follows up his wail with, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That is what he is saying here in Galatians, Jesus gave himself up to death to free us, deliver us, from the sin which keeps us bound to this evil present age. Deliver implies being moved from one location to another. Jesus has literally and spiritually picked us up and out of “this present evil age” and moved us into the heavenly kingdom. This is good news people!
It’s really good news! You see, that little word “sin” encompasses all of satan’s work in the world and our lives and so is not able to be overcome or purged simply by self-effort. It is too big. It takes Christ to free us. Jesus gave himself for “our” sin, all of it, mountains of it. There is no such thing as insignificant sins that can be cleared away by a few of our good works. In commenting on this verse, Martin Luther said, “For if our sins could be removed by our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? Since Christ was given for our sins it stands to reason that they cannot be put away by our own efforts.”
And finally, Paul says that this was done according to God’s will. It was not a surprise, or a man’s idea, but a deliberate action taken by Jesus with full consent of the Father. It was God’s action from beginning to end. It’s a plan no human would ever have thought of. And as a result, through Jesus we receive Grace – which is God’s sovereign act in rescuing us, and Peace – which is the result of our deliverance and now describes our status in relationship to God.
So there it is, the Gospel in two verses: We are stuck in this evil age because of our sin, we can’t get ourselves out of it and Jesus came to deliver us through His death and resurrection resulting in peace with God. You can use this brief outline start your conversations with friends, family, coworkers or perfect strangers.
But let me makes two more points before we wrap up. God had a grand purpose in sending Jesus to deliver us. In this Gospel, He demonstrates to the universe, both here on earth and in the heavens (Ephesians 1:10 and 3:10) His great mercy, love and wisdom in putting this plan into action and ultimately ensures that he receives the praise and glory he deserves. He gets all the credit and humans get none. That is how it should be.
Let Mr. Luther make my last point. “In this whole epistle Paul treats of the resurrection of Christ. By His resurrection Christ won the victory over law, sin, flesh, world, devil, death, hell, and every evil. And this His victory He donated unto us. These many tyrants and enemies of ours may accuse and frighten us, but they dare not condemn us, for Christ, whom God the Father has raised from the dead is our righteousness and our victory.” Did you catch that? Nothing and no one dare condemn us! Jesus won. That also means we dare not condemn ourselves when we fall into some sin. No, we stand up and say, “Though I fail a thousand times, still Jesus has paid ten thousand times more.” That my friends is great news.