A Gospel Greeting, Part 4
Scripture: Galatians 1:1–1:5
A Gospel Greeting
Text: Galatians 1:1-5
September 7, 2008
Paul, in Galatians, is defending the gospel of free grace and freedom over against the conditional gospel of merit and condemnation.
Thus, he sets out in these opening 5 verses to give 5 important affirmations concerning the apostolic content of his Gospel.
II. Paul Declares the Apostolic Content of His Gospel (vv. 1, 3-5).
Thus far, we have examined the authority of the gospel (v. 1) and the nature of the Gospel, which consists of grace and peace (v. 3). We are presently considering the vitals of the gospel, specifically Christ’s death and resurrection (vv. 1c, 4a).
B. The Vitals of the Gospel: Christ’s Death and Resurrection, vv. 1c, 4a
1. Christ’s Death, V. 4A
Up to this point, we have seen how Paul has already touched on several important themes in his greeting:
the source of his authority as an apostle and gospel, v. 1
the Fatherhood of God, vv. 1, 3
the deity of Christ, vv. 1, 3
the resurrection, v. 1
adoption, v. 2
grace and peace, v. 3.
Now, in v. 4, Paul emphasizes a fundamental theme of his letter, the death of Christ.
Paul’s emphasis upon the death of Christ served as potent reminder to the Galatians that their sins were taken care of fully by Christ and not partly by their law-keeping.
Concerning Paul’s reference to the death of Christ in 1:4, F.F. Bruce, writes, “This is probably the earliest written statement in the NT about the significance of the death of Christ,” (Galatians, NIGTC, p. 77).
The issue of concern between Paul and the Galatians has to do with the significance and sufficiency of Christ (Ridderbos, NICNT, p. 43). It is instructive to note that the phrase, “who gave Himself for our sins,” does not occur in any other of Paul’s greetings.
Paul undoubtedly added it because of the dreadful situation confronting the Galatian churches. Thus, when this phrase is considered in light of the entire letter, Paul immediately confronts the Galatians with the fact that there is no greater truth that opposes the self-righteousness of man than the work of Christ.
In Galatians, Paul demonstrates that the cross was the vital core of his gospel and life (cf. Gal. 2:20). Paul stubbornly insists that Christ alone has merited the sinner’s salvation. By virtue of His three-fold anointing, Paul declares that Christ is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him (Heb. 7:25).
Once a man comes to see that Christ “…gave Himself for our sins,” he realizes that he is a sinner, condemned before a just and holy God and totally unable to save himself. Thus, he gives up his self-righteous efforts to earn God’s favor and rests solely in Christ for his acceptance.
By asserting “the truth of the Gospel” at the outset, Paul cuts the ground from beneath all legalism and shows where all who believe in Christ belong: under the Cross of Christ, the only source of grace, peace and freedom.
How does one come to receive grace and peace? How does one obtain forgiveness of sins? How does one come to be justified before God? How is one adopted as a son into God’s household?
It is by substitution!
a. Substitutionary, “for our sins”
“The phrase, “who gave himself for our sins,” is a doctrinal summary of the atonement. Specifically, it speaks of substitution, the innocent for the guilty.
The penalty of “our sins” (sins being the transgression/breaking of God’s law) was paid for by Christ’s substitutionary death. The radical nature of “our sins” is highlighted by the necessity of Christ’s substitutionary death.
Christ’s death demonstrates the supreme folly of looking to law-keeping for the forgiveness of one’s sins. So dreadful is the broken relationship between God and a guilty sinner that nothing less than Christ’s death on the cross can reconcile him to the Father.
As we noted previously, the significance of this phrase (“…who gave Himself for our sins…”) must not be overlooked or quickly passed over. As Martin Luther reminds us, “…we must with diligent attention mark every word of Paul, and not slenderly consider them, or lightly pass them over, for they are full of consolation,” (Galatians, p. 11).
Paul’s inclusion of this unique phrase in his greeting serves as a powerful refutation concerning the principle error of the Judaizer’s false gospel, namely that the death of Christ and obedience to the Law of Moses are totally incompatible with one another.
“The doctrine taught is, that Jesus Christ did spontaneously offer Himself as the one propitiation, so that He is the source of grace and peace; and the inference is, because He gave Himself, the oblation is perfect as also the deliverance secured by it, so that obedience to the Mosaic law as a means of salvation is quite incompatible with faith in Him,” (Galatians, p. 12).
It is possible that Paul had in mind the sin offerings under the Mosaic Law. Whereas the sin offerings under the Mosaic Law were unable to take away sin (cf., Heb. 10:4, 11), Christ through the offering of Himself took away our sins (cf., Heb. 10:9-12).
The participle in Galatians 1:4, “who gave,"" speaks of the historic fact and finality of Christ’s death for sin (cf., Heb. 7:27).
Whereas the priests had to offer continual sacrifices for the people and themselves as a reminder of sin, Christ offered Himself once, not as a reminder but as a remedy for sin (cf., Heb. 5:1-3)!
It is also possible that this phrase, “who gave Himself for our sins,” involves an allusion to the image of sacrifice of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. Isaiah prophesied, “11 He will bear their iniquities…12 He poured out Himself to death…He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”
Christ’s substitutionary death is the true ground of acceptance with God. Thus, substitution and justification stand or fall together. Without, Christ’s substitutionary death, no one could not be justified because no one has ever obtained righteousness by self-effort and lawkeeping (cf. Gal. 2:16, 21).
However, as important as forgiveness is, it is not enough. We not only need our sins forgiven but we also need righteousness credited to us. So, there is another important aspect of Christ’s substitutionary work that is implied in Paul’s words in v. 4.
And it is this: His substitutionary death was voluntary.
b. Voluntary, “Who gave Himself…”
The phrase, “…who gave himself…” suggests that Christ did so voluntarily (cf., Eph. 5:2; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14).
Commenting on this phrase, Ridderbos observes, “The active verb suggests the voluntariness, and the reflexive pronoun speaks of the personal and the total in His surrender (cf. Mark 10:45),” (Galatians, NICNT, p. 43).
Christ's death was not like other deaths. It had absolute unique value and importance. Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross was voluntary and willing.
Even though the plan of redemption originated with God the Father (cf., Gal. 1:4c) and the Father sent His Son (John 3:16), we must not think that the Son was forced to come or came reluctantly.
John Chrysostom points out how Paul does not say at the end of v. 4 that Christ gave Himself “by the command,” but rather “according to the will of our God and Father.”
Thus, he concludes, “there is a unity of will in the Father and Son; that which the Son wills, the Father wills also,” (Commentary on Galatians, p. 5; cf. 1:4, “according to the will of our God and Father.”).
Christ died willingly. His voluntary death was not a tragedy or mistake of justice. Neither is it incompatible with the sinful actions of men (cf. Acts 2:23).
The definitive teaching of Scripture is that Christ’s death was a voluntary substitution. Christ died purposefully as the sinner’s substitute, free and uncompelled (John 10:17-18).
Christ’s death originated out of love and obedience to His Father as well as love for sinners, not out of his own guilt or deserving (cf. Gal. 2:20; Rom. 5:6, 8; Heb. 10:7, 9; see also, Ps. 40:7-8; Matt. 27:50; John 8:29; 10:17-18; Philip. 2:7-8).
In comparison to the legalistic teaching threatening the Galatian believers, Christ’s voluntary obedience highlights the grievous nature of sin (i.e., the Galatians’ sin of legalism) as well as the infinite value and greatness of Christ’s self-sacrifice.
Spurgeon declared, ""See dear Friends, what an evil thing is sin, since the Sin-bearer suffers so bitterly to make atonement for it,"" (Tom Nettles, “Spurgeon's Message of Christ's Atoning Sacrifice Part 1,” Founder’s Journal Online).
William Hendriksen, in his commentary on Galatians writes,
“The greatness and magnanimity of Christ’s act of self-surrender is stressed in order to underscore the grievous nature of the sin of those who teach that this supreme sacrifice must be supplemented by law-works. Christ surrendered himself to sorrow and scorn, to the curse of eternal death during his entire sojourn on earth but especially at Gethsemane, Gabbatha, and Golgotha. He laid down His life for His sheep. No one took it from him, but He laid it down of his own accord, voluntarily (John 10:11, 17, 18). He did this motivated by love incomprehensible…,” (p. 34).
The question that we need to ask at this point is: Why is Christ’s voluntary death important? Of what significance is it that Christ obeyed not out of legal compulsion but rather voluntarily and willingly submitted Himself to His Father’s will?
Consider the following two reasons:
1. Christ had to be a perfect sacrifice.
Christ’s death was an obedient death. Paul, in Philippians 2:7-8, writes, “He made Himself nothing…He humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross,” (emphasis mine).
Christ could not have offered Himself as a proper sacrifice unless He disregarded His own will and fully and willingly subjected Himself to His Father’s will.
John Calvin notes,
“And truly, even in death itself his willing obedience is the important thing because a sacrifice not offered voluntarily would not have furthered righteousness…we must hold fast to this: that no proper sacrifice to God could have been offered unless Christ, disregarding his own feelings, subjected and yielded Himself wholly to His Father’s will,” (Institutes, 2.5.16).
Again, in like manner Spurgeon affirmed,
“Now, you will readily perceive that if one is to be a substitute for another before God, either to work out a righteousness or to suffer a penalty, that substitute must himself be free from sin. If he hath sin of his own, all that he can suffer will but be the due reward of his own iniquity. If he hath himself transgressed, he cannot suffer for another, because all his sufferings are already due on his own personal account. On the other and, it is quite clear that none but a perfect man could ever work out a spotless righteousness for us, and keep the law in our stead, for if he hath dishonoured the commandment in his thought, there must be a corresponding flaw in his service…He must be a spotless one who shall become the representative of his people, either to give them a passive or active righteousness, either to offer a satisfaction as the penalty of their sins, or a righteousness as the fulfilment of God’s demand,” (The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 6, “Christ Our Subsitute,” p. 191)
Christ’s voluntary death implies an important and yet often neglected aspect of His saving work, namely His life.
There are two aspects of Christ’s work on our behalf: His life and His death. There is a tendency to focus almost exclusively on the death of Christ to the neglect of His sinless life.
To be sure, the Scriptures more certainly define the mode of salvation and ascribe it peculiarly and specially to the death of Christ (cf., Calvin, Institutes, 2:16.5). Yet, without Christ’s voluntary, willing, obedient life, justification would be impossible.
Christ’s obedience spanned his entire life, from birth to death. It was this continuous giving of Himself, as the Suffering Servant (cf., Isa. 53), throughout his whole life that is important.
John Stott discussing Christ’s conquest of evil writes,
“Tempted to avoid the cross, Jesus persevered in the path of obedience, and ‘became obedient to death- even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:8). His obedience was indispensable to his saving work. ‘For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’ (Rom. 5:19). If he had disobeyed, by deviating an inch from the path of God’s will, the devil would have gained a toehold and frustrated the plan of salvation. But Jesus obeyed; and the devil was routed,” (The Cross of Christ, p. 235).
Thus, as our substitute, Jesus not only died for us but He also lived for us!
In order to qualify as a perfect sacrifice, Christ had to be a sinless sacrifice. And, the Scriptures reveal that Christ was absolutely sinless in every respect, in His mind, will, affections and actions (cf., 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 3:5).
During the course of His ministry, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work,” (Jn. 4:34). In John 6:38, He declares, “…I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
On one occasion when confronting the legalistic Jewish religious leaders, Jesus asserted without any hesitation or pretense, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him,” (Jn. 8:29c).
Just a few verses later, Jesus dares His critics to prove Him guilty of a single sin: “Which one of you convicts me of sin?,” (Jn. 8:46).
As He approached the end of His life and was confronted with unimaginable temptation and stress in the Garden, Jesus prayed “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will,” (Mark 14:36; emphasis mine).
What is even more remarkable about Christ’s obedience is that He not only desired to obey God’s will, but He also delighted in doing it (cf., Ps. 40:8 cf. Heb. 10:7, 9)! Obedience that is not delighted in, offered willingly and voluntarily apart from all legal compulsion is not perfect obedience!
Christ, then, never once wavered in His obedience to His Father. The will of His Father was central in His life.
Unlike the first Adam who disobeyed, Christ the Second Adam faced the furious attacks of the devil’s temptations in the wilderness and yet never once was guilty of disobedience.
He never deviated an inch from the path of God’s will. He obeyed, the devil was defeated and through faith in Him, disobedient law-breakers are reckoned as obedient law- keepers! Christ’s voluntary obedience throughout His life and especially in death was crucial to our salvation. It rendered Him a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Hebrews 5:8-9, “8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation…”
And so we can conclude that Christ achieved our salvation by the whole course of his obedient life.
There is a second reason why Christ’s voluntary obedience is important for us.
2. We need more than a clean slate to merit heaven.
It is not enough to have our sins forgiven, to be given a clean slate. We also need righteousness to merit heaven.
Again, the conditional gospel of the Judaizers underscores the importance of Christ’s voluntary obedience on our behalf.
Ask yourself this question: Whose lifelong record of obedience would you prefer to rely on for your standing before God? Your own law-keeping or Christ’s?
Wayne Grudem writes,
“If Christ had only earned forgiveness of sins for us, then we would not merit heaven…For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for His whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us…Paul says his goal is that he may be found in Christ, ‘not having a righteousness of [his] own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith,’ (Phil. 3:9). It is not just moral neutrality that Paul knows he needs from Christ (that is, a clean slate with sins forgiven), but a positive moral righteousness. And he knows that that cannot come from himself, but must come through faith in Christ. And he quite explicitly says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19),” (Systematic Theology, pp. 570-571).
In Galatians 4:4, Paul says that Christ was “born under law.” Why does Paul emphasize this? Again, one needs to keep in mind the greater context of Galatians.
The conditional gospel taught by the Judaizers, emphasized the necessity of obedience to the law (i.e., circumcision, cf. 5:2-6; the observance of ‘days and months and seasons and years’, cf. 4:10) as essential to salvation.
The problem is that guilty sinners are incapable of perfectly obeying God’s law (cf. 2:16; 3:3, 10; 5:3). Thus, as our substitute, Jesus came to perfectly obey the law for us.
He came to do for us what we, because of our sinful nature, could never do. It is Christ’s perfect obedience to the law of God that is reckoned to our account and thus merits heaven for us.
Calvin writes, “… we must always betake ourselves to that free righteousness, flowing from the obedience of Christ which Jesus Christ performed in our name, seeing that it is in his name we are accepted, and God does not impute our sins to us,” (Treatises on the Sacraments: Tracts by John Calvin, p. 132).
So then, as our voluntary, substitute, Christ lived and died in our place. Christ obeyed and fulfilled God’s law perfectly on our behalf. And, He paid in full the penalty for our disobedience in His death on the cross.
As we consider Christ’s total voluntary giving of Himself on our behalf, let us first recall:
1. Our sins necessitated the work of Christ on our behalf: “He gave Himself for our sins”
Paul says that the Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins,” (emphasis mine). The little preposition, “for” (uJpe«r), contains significant theological truth.
It means that Christ gave Himself “for the benefit of,” “on behalf of,” or with “personal interest in,” guilty sinners so that they might obtain the benefits of forgiveness of sins and adoption as sons (see John Eadie, Galatians, p. 11).
In 2:20, Paul says that the Son of God who loved Him “gave Himself up for (uJpe«r) me” (emphasis mine). In 3:13, Paul writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for (uJpe«r) us…,” (emphasis mine).
And so it is only against the dark backdrop of our sins that we can begin to see the importance of Christ’s obedient life and the bright glory of His obedient death on our behalf.
Second, as we consider Christ’s self-sacrifice, we need to remember that:
2. We owe a spiritual debt to God that only Christ could pay.
The phrase, “…who gave Himself,” emphasizes both the freeness and the infinite value of Christ’s self-sacrifice (cf. Eadie, Galatians, p. 12).
As law-breakers, we owe an enormous spiritual debt to God that we cannot repay. Therefore, Christ, motivated by love (cf., 2:20), freely gave Himself and paid our debt on our behalf.
So let us, with great joy and thankfulness, remember that Jesus not only paid our debt by His death but also merited our inheritance by His life.
He wiped the slate clean and filled us with righteousness. He resolved our sin problem, paid our debt and bestowed upon guilty, disobedient sons the highest honor and privilege, adoption as sons.
“4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:4-6).
© John Fonville
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