ガラテヤの信徒への手紙1:4-5 Galatians 1:4-5,
When people are tired of the drudgery of life in the world, they may wish to leave the world and lead a quiet life. For example, they build a mountain cottage in a mountain village and spend their time growing vegetables in the fields and reading books. Many people may long for such a life. However, when they actually try it, they may find that it is not the ideal life they had envisioned. For example, mountain villages have their own human relationships. Even if you think you are free from the troublesome human relationships in the city, you may unexpectedly get caught up in the human relationships in the mountain village, which can be troublesome. And above all, whether you are in a city or in a mountain village, you are the same person, so you will continue to worry about the same things. If you are worried about your health, money, future, etc., that worry will follow you even if you start living a quiet life. In fact, a quiet life may increase anxiety because you spend more time with yourself. Our minds may become less peaceful, as we think about things that we were too busy to think about before. We humans also cannot live without social relations. Wherever we live, our responsibilities in society come with us. Wherever we live, we have to pay taxes, and wherever we live, we have to fulfil our responsibilities in the community and to our own relatives.
This reminds us that our preferred way of life is not to try to escape from the world, but to live in the world and not be bound by it. It is precisely such a way of life that the Bible teaches. In chapter 7 of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul, while responding to the congregation’s marital problems, teaches in chapter 7 verses 29-31 as follows:
This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
“The appointed time has grown very short,” probably means that the appointed time of the end of the world is at hand. Some may be tempted to say that the end of days has not yet come, even though it has been almost two thousand years since New Testament times. That is certainly true. But as 2 Peter 3:8 says, for God “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” A thousand years, which seems like a very long time from the human point of view, can be a very short time from God’s point of view. Therefore, Christians must be prepared for the end day, and be ready for when the end day comes. When the end day comes, those who believe in Christ and follow him will be blessed with eternal blessings in “the world to come.” It means that what is to pass away will pass away and eternal blessings will arrive that will never change.
Paul’s letters teach that the world will soon end and “the world to come” will begin, and that those who believe in the cross and resurrection of Christ are already children of God and belong to “the world to come,” even though they are still in the present world. Galatians 4:4 and 5 states, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” In other words, Christ’s birth into the present world, his death on the cross and resurrection marked the beginning of the new age. And that those who believe in Christ belong to the new age in which they live as children of God, free from the rule of the law and the dominion of the present world.
This is what Paul means in verse 4 of today’s passage when he writes: 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.” The words “to deliver us from the present evil age,” ring very strongly in our ears. It is true that there is evil in the present world. But when you say “the present evil age,” it sounds as if the whole world is evil. It also begs the question: were the times in which Paul lived really that bad? The time in which Paul lived was a time of established order in the Roman Empire, which on the surface appeared to be peaceful. Historically speaking, Augustus had ascended to the throne of the Roman Empire in 27 BC, an era known as the Pax Romana, meaning “Roman peace.” And this period of peace is said to have lasted for about 200 years, until the death of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus in 180 AD. Why did Paul, who lived in such a time of peace, call the age “the present evil age”?
The reason is that Paul lived in a time that, when considered in the light of God’s teachings, had to be called “the present evil age.” Where the Roman Empire ruled, images of Greek and Roman mythological gods were made and these idols were worshipped. In addition, the Roman emperors themselves were sometimes worshipped as gods. This is an action contrary to the first and second commandments of the Ten Commandments, which God teaches. It is idolatry against the teaching “You shall have no other gods before me,” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” Idolatry makes people self-centred and causes various sins because it is the worship of one’s own desires and wishes in the form of idols. In fact, in the Roman Empire, the gap between rich and poor widened and the poor suffered, while the rich lived in pursuit of wealth and pleasure.
The Japanese historian YUGE Tohru wrote about this in detail, citing ancient documents, in his book Why did Rome fall? According to him, the majority of the people living in the Roman capital were those who were unable to become financially independent or those who barely had enough money to live on. A handful of rich people owned many slaves and lived in luxury. These rich people held lavish banquets and kept on eating, vomiting what they ate when they were full. And it seems to have been normal for those rich people to have affairs with men and women who were not their wives or husbands. The Roman satiric poet Juvenalis wrote of the prosperity of the Roman capital: “Was there a time when vice was so rich and fruitful? When did greed ever open its bosom so wide? When did gambling ever seize the hearts of men so much?”
And this is true of every country in every age. On a global scale, the widening gap between rich and poor, with wealth monopolised by a few, and profligacy and adultery often practised among the people of rich countries, would also be happening in the world today. In such a world, living in pursuit of wealth and pleasure is nothing but a path to perdition. In order to “deliver us” from such a path to perdition, Christ “gave himself for our sins.” “Us” may refer to Paul and the Galatians. And “to deliver” probably means to free them from the power of the present world’s dominion, rather than to take them from the present world to another world.
What then does it mean that Christ “gave himself for our sins”? To understand this, we must remember Christ’s words in Mark 10:45. There it says: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “The Son of Man” is, of course, Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ himself said, “I have come to offer my life as a ransom for many.” So what does Christ mean by “as a ransom for many” in his words? To understand this, we must recall the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah chapter 53. Isaiah chapter 53 speaks of a “suffering servant” who will suffer for many, and is a prophecy of the suffering of the cross of Jesus Christ. Isaiah 53:10 says: “His soul makes an offering for guilt.” Verse 11 says: “My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” And verse 12 says: “He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” These verses indicate that Christ took upon himself the sins of many and suffered and died on the cross. In other words, “as a ransom for many” means “as a substitute for the sins of many.”
In this light, the meaning of what is said in verse 4 of today’s passage becomes clear. Christ “gave himself for our sins” means that Christ offered his life as a substitutionary sacrifice to pay for the sins of many. Through that substitutionary sacrifice, Paul and the Galatians were forgiven of their sins and delivered from the present evil world. Paul writes similarly in his other letters. For example, in 1 Timothy chapter 2 verse 5 and 6 he writes: “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” This means that through Christ’s offering of himself on the cross, the sins of mankind were forgiven and reconciliation between God and mankind was established. Also, Titus 2:14 says: Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” This means that Christ has redeemed “us” from the dominion of sin by the sacrifice of the cross and purified “us” to be able to do good works.
In today’s verse, the Lord Jesus Christ “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age,” we read that Christ, through the sacrifice of the cross, has reconciled “us” to God by giving “us” forgiveness of sins. It also means that he rescued “us” from the dominion of the sin-stained world and enabled “us” to do good works that please God. The wonderful saving grace of being reconciled to God and delivered from the dominion of the present world was made possible by God’s will. Hence, at the end of verse 4, Paul says that Christ’s saving work has been done “according to the will of our God and Father.” In verse 5, he gives glory to God who has fulfilled such a will through Christ his only begotten Son, and praises God with great power, “to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
And this word “us” can be applied not only to Paul and the Galatian congregations, but also to “us” as Christians today. In last week’s sermon, I told you that the letter to the Galatians is a letter that teaches us what “true freedom” is. I also told that “true freedom” has two aspects: to be free from the things that bind us, and to live in a way that is appropriate for a liberated person. The words in today’s passage, the Lord Jesus Christ “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age,” sum up the message of the entire letter. It states that the cross of Christ has freed people of all ages from the dominion of the present evil world and given them the freedom to do what is pleasing to God.
The Christian way of life is a way of life that frees us from the world’s way of life and enables us what is pleasing to God. This is clearly taught in verses 1 and 2 of Romans chapter 12.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we have been freed from a way of life imitating the present world. And we have been given the freedom to do what is pleasing to God. Therefore, we no longer need to be bound by the f world’s favourites, the world’s appearances, the world’s profit and loss, and so on. All we need to do is to think about what pleases God. What a simple way to live! However, you will not know what is pleasing to God unless you are constantly listening to the Word of the Bible. If you are not constantly listening to the Word of the Bible, your old values, which are tied to the present world, will come out and try to control you. So let us continue to study the Word of the Bible together and walk in pursuit of what pleases God.