Skip to content

Grace and peace

11 March, 2008

b and lilyIn my last post I talked about the encouragement that comes in seeing Paul’s confidence in the power of the gospel in his letter to the Galatians, esp. in 1:11-12. I talked about it some before, but now I want to highlight the outflow of the power of that gospel, and the ‘two edges’ of the razor sharp sword of the Word.

One edge of the sword is clearly introduced in 1:8-9, where Paul introduces his opponents — they are the ‘some’ who are peddling a distorted gospel and ‘disturbing’ the churches (v. 7). They aren’t first and foremost the enemies of Paul, however, but the enemies of God and Christ. In this light, Paul’s confidence in the truth of the message he is given to proclaim is utterly steadfast. The judgment Paul calls down on them is equally strong, and full of sharp irony:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

these anonymous trouble-makers and gospel-twisters are placed side by side with Paul the divinely-authorized apostle on one hand, and even a messenger of the glorious host of heaven on the other, and Paul consigns both himself and the angel to everlasting condemnation the instant either should proclaim an adulterated gospel (v. 8). How much surer then is the fate of those unnamed and unauthorized usurpers! if ‘anyone’, Paul is saying — no matter who it is — preaches a false message, then to the same extent they are a false messenger, and ‘accursed’ (v. 9).

This amazing (and terrifying) stance taken by Paul reveals not only how centrally important it is to get the gospel right, to know it and believe it and love it and teach it aright, but how much weight the enscripturated words of a divinely commissioned apostle carry — Paul is condemning on behalf of God, with God’s authority and inspiration to do so.

But this sword cuts both ways. As much as we see Paul emphasize the wrath of God which hangs over the heads of those who reject the gospel, we also need to see the mercy and the hope held out to those who receive the gospel, and this edge of the sword is just as sharp and powerful as the other. Where is the ‘gospel’ edge first unsheathed, so to speak? Well, it actually comes first, in vv. 3-4:

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.

In his invocation of grace and peace upon the church, Paul provides a summary statement of the gospel message. This God our Father and this Lord Jesus Christ deserve all glory because this Jesus gave himself for us according to the will of this our gracious God — this wasn’t only Paul’s message, but his own heartfelt confidence: ‘And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (2:20).

In these verses Paul encapsulates the gospel proclamation by drawing a sweeping arc that spans from eternity past to everlasting future, that brackets the present evil age, and that is summed up in the glorification of God in Christ. Apart from the content of vv. 4, 5, the ‘grace and peace’ Paul invokes in v. 3 are empty trifles with no true power to save–like the counterfeit grace and false peace promised by his adversaries.

But because the gospel message is true, and Paul’s proclamation of it is not only true but accompanied by the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit for the salvation of all who believe, Paul’s invocation of ‘grace and peace’ upon believers is just as utterly steadfast as his pronouncement of condemnation upon the opponents of this gospel. As much as in the condemnations of vv. 8, 9, Paul speaks on behalf of the Lord to us: ‘grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.

Now that is encouraging.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: