Grace and Peace and the Kitchen Sink (Galatians, Part 5)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
Why does Paul extend the “grace and peace” salutation at the beginning of the letter?
At the beginning of every one of Paul’s letters, you will find a salutation that includes some variation of “grace and peace.” The most common version is found here in 1:3: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Some of the salutations are shorter (1 Thess. 1:1 says simply, “Grace to you and peace”), but none are longer—except for in Galatians, where Paul adds 30-plus words to his standard salutation. Why does he do this?
Most likely, Paul adds this extended salutation in order to foreshadow some of the most important themes of the letter. Remember that false teachers had visited the churches in Galatia and were claiming that Paul had not taught them the whole truth about how to enter the kingdom of God and become Jesus’s people. They taught that in order to be saved, Gentiles had to first become Jewish and keep all of the requirements of the Old Testament law (most notably, this meant that men had to be circumcised). The false teachers were saying that faith in Christ was not enough—the Galatians had to also meet certain requirements to be accepted into God’s kingdom (in other words, they had to do certain things in order to earn the right for Jesus to call them his own).
Paul writes, therefore, to refute this false teaching that threatened the very heart of the good news of the kingdom. So, even at this early point in the letter, Paul adds some choice phrases to his salutation in order to emphasize some key points that were under attack by the opponents:
“Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins”
In contrast to the opponents, who offered a list of requirements as the entryway to the kingdom, Paul presents Jesus as the one who fulfill all requirements for us (even to the point of dying for us) and then brings us into his kingdom if we will only love and trust him. Jesus is not “God who requires” but “God who gives freely.”
“To deliver us from the present evil age”
Paul paints a picture of God reaching down and snatching us up from danger. This same word is used to describe how God miraculously rescued Israel out of Egypt (Acts 7:34) and the apostle Peter from prison (Acts 12:11). In both of these instances, God’s people were utterly hopeless and God reached down and pulled them out of their trouble.
“According to the will of our God and Father”
By this statement, Paul shows that God saves his people not because of what they have done to earn his love but simply because it was his good pleasure to do so. Calvin notes, “Christ suffered for us, not because we were worthy, or because anything done by us moved him to the act, but because such was the purpose of God.”
“To whom be the glory forever and ever”
Since we can only enter the kingdom by receiving it as a pure and unearned gift from God (who gives out of his good pleasure and snatches us up when we are hopeless and weak), then naturally there can be no boasting about what we have done to earn a place in God’s family. So Paul undercuts the false teachers’ message that, if we will follow the Old Testament law and jump through the right hoops, we can ensure that God gives us a place in the kingdom.