The Apocalyptic Rescue Mission of Galatians

Paul’s purpose for the book of Galatians hinges on the idea of an apocalyptic rescue mission of Christ for His people. From the beginning verses of the epistle through the ending chapters, Paul focuses on this theme and how it is played out in the life of the believer. Not necessarily displayed in their law-keeping actions but, in their love, and cruciform lifestyle.

The book of Galatians is book-ended with the themes and character of Christ’s self-giving work.[1] It is in the book to the church at Galatia that we find a little of an unfamiliar opening, where Paul giving his typical “Grace and Peace” but prefaces the reason that it is made available to believers. Paul explains that it is through Christ who has come, to “rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”. (Gal. 1:4)

This deliverance from the present world, having been accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, would be played out in the life of every believer, and particularly exampled in the life of the Apostle Paul. For Paul, this understanding of the accomplished deliverance was played out even in the suffering and persecution that he endured himself, even explaining that he had en-fleshed the example of Christ[2] due to the marks he bore in his body. (Gal. 6:17)

It was this view that Paul had set up through his epistle to help combat those that would have added circumcision or any other work as a gradual step towards full salvation. As Paul states in the “touchstone”[3] of the book, it was the faithfulness of Christ, not the works are done in the flesh of Paul or any other believer that would accomplish anything to the glory of the Father. From the structure, we can make sense of the more practical parts of the letter, as the characteristic of self-giving that marks out the story of Jesus is intended to mark out the story of Jesus’ followers.[4]

True believers would then not be displayed through an external mark such as circumcision, but by those marks by which Christ displayed Himself, namely love and sacrifice. Paul’s explanation to the Galatian believer was not that their faithfulness to keep a command was not that tool in which their faith worked, or showed itself, but that love is the tool through which faith works.[5]

The point that the text and Thinking through Paul comes to is one and the same. If we are going to understand Paul’s writing, and until matily the gospel, we must understand it in the light of Christ’s faithfulness in us and not our actions for Him. Paul concludes his thought with a final death blow to those that would have pulled the believers aside towards law-keeping, by telling them that if they really wanted to fulfill the law of Christ, then they would love one another, and carry their burdens. (Gal.6:2) Just as Christ had carried the burdens that they could not carry, they were to reflect this.

In essence, Paul saw himself and all believers as echoes of the law fulfilling work of Christ, not as law fulfilling actors themselves.


[1] Todd D. Still and Bruce W. Longenecker, Thinking Through Paul A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology (Zondervan, 2014). 95 [2] Ibid. 96. [3] Ibid. 96. [4] Ibid. 98. [5] Ibid. 100.

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