The title of my message today is, “Rescued.” And my text comes from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia:
(Galatians 1:1-12): Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
It’s important that we take special note that the first thing Paul does here is to establish his credentials. He was sent to them from God and the letter he is writing to them is also from God. Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead).
He will reiterate his point a few verses later when he continues: 11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Why is he making such a point as to establish his credentials? He tells us why in the next following verses: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen. I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
Listen, God is telling them – and US through Paul’s pen – that there are wolves out there who will tear them the shreds, and their ONLY protection is to believe AND practice what God is telling them – and US – through Paul’s pen. There is no other way for anyone to be rescued from the many Satanic deceptions circulating our world – even some of our pulpits and seminaries.
Rescue! Have you ever been in desperate need of rescue? I have many times in my life, as I think back over it. Like when I was three or four years old. My mother told me the story several times of how when I was dawdling by the entrance of the parking garage to our apartment complex a car suddenly pulled out and obviously didn’t see me. If my mother hadn’t jerked me away, I would have likely died.
Or the time when I was about the same age and a lifeguard spotted me struggling to stay above the waves that were knocking me off my feet again and again. My father – who’d taken me to the beach – was obviously distracted, and if the lifeguard hadn’t pulled me to safety – I might have drowned only a few yards from my father.
But as I look over my life, I can see numerous times when God – even before I KNEW Him as my Savior – I can pinpoint numerous times when He pulled me from an ever-rising tsunami of sin that would most certainly have destroyed me.
Did you ever need rescue? Whether or not we know it, we are ALL like the paralyzed man at the Bethesda pool in John chapter five. We have NO ONE to help us in this supernatural and deadly evil age – no one except the all sovereign, all mighty Creator whom only Christians know as our Father and Savior. That’s why Paul also wrote in another place: (Ephesians 2:4-6) “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
In this letter to the Christians at Galatia, Paul is in the role of a parent, rushing to rescue his children from being run over by demonic philosophies that would destroy them. He is in the role of a lifeguard, jumping from his tower-chair to rescue them from being drowned by waves of false doctrines that would also destroy them.
And you and I in the 21st century will do ourselves well to pay close attention to what Paul has to say because WE are in just as much danger of drifting into error as they were. In fact, God warns us of that very danger throughout Scripture, as in Hebrews 2:1- “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. So, listen now to the opening verses of chapter one of Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
The issue Paul had to deal with in the Galatian church was the same issue every one of us in the 21st century has to deal with: God's truth versus Man’s philosophies and contrivances. And as there were false teachers circulating the Middle East and Asia Minor in Paul’s day, so too false teachers are circulating in churches across the country and around the globe today.
In this Galatian letter, Paul addressed false teachers known as Judaizers. We find their theology in the 14th and 15th chapters of the book of Acts. To summarize their heresy, Judaizers taught others that only those who were circumcised and followed the Law of Moses could be saved. Of course, that lie was in direct contradiction to the whole of the gospel message of salvation by grace.
In fact, Paul will later say in this letter that those who are circumcised and follow Moses have ‘been severed from Christ.” They have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4) That’s because, as Paul and Peter and the other apostles taught, salvation is by grace alone. Following Moses saves no one. But good works – helping others in need, being kind, forgiving others . . . good works and good attitudes are simply EVIDENCE of saving faith.
Yet another group of heretics circulating in that era were known as Gnostics. St John, in his first epistle, John addressed their heretical beliefs. It is likely Jude also alluded to them – as well as to the Judaizers – in his very short epistle. Here is what he wrote in verse four: (Jude 4) “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Gnostics and other heretics taught a slew of lies that, if imbibed, would lead its followers to the Lake of Fire. For example, these false teachers sought to convince their listeners that the created world is evil. Only the spiritual world is good. Therefore, Jesus the Christ was not God incarnate; The holy God could not take on evil flesh and blood. Jesus only seemed to have human form but that he was actually only a spirit. Another false view argued that Jesus’ divine spirit came upon his human body at his baptism, and it left Him before the crucifixion – because Spirit cannot die.
Gnosticism and its counterparts are still alive and well in the 21st century, slithering into church seminaries and pulpits in the form of new-age philosophies such as Humanism – which stresses the inherent goodness of men and women. But God tells it differently: (Psalm 14:2-3) The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.”
Here are a few more similar passages for your own study later on: Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23; and Isaiah 59:2
Then there is the demonic doctrine called Relativism circulating in many churches and seminaries. Relativism states that morality and truth are simply related to specific historical cultures or societies. Who hasn’t heard (or even used) the fallacious and unscriptural proverb: “Everything is relative.” You can even hear such dribble in the dining room if you ask people about the exclusivity of the Scriptures regarding morality and faith, or in the pews if you visit some churches around town.
Finally, and only for our purposes here, another heresy with roots in ancient heresies is called Universalism. Universalists believe that EVERYONE, regardless of their faith, lack of faith, or behaviors in this life -- everyone will spend eternity in heaven. I’ve mentioned it a few times of some popular teachers who believe we can have a ‘reasonable hope’ that hell is empty.
In other words – please be careful who you listen to. Just because a person wears a collar or has the title of pastor or has a doctorate after his name DOES NOT necessarily mean that person is a faithful Christian. Remember Judas.
Well, enough of that. But just a final word – BEWARE of whom you get your information about God, sin, righteousness, judgment, heaven, and hell.
So, let’s move on to verse three of this first chapter in Galatians: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.”
If we’ve been in a church led by a godly and faithful pastor for any length of time (and I differentiate here between churches that are ‘Christian’ in name only, and those who truly ARE followers of Christ) – if we’ve been in a faithful and God-honoring church for any length of time we understand what St Paul is talking about here – that Jesus sacrificed Himself on that cross to pay the penalty of death we ALL deserve to pay for our sins, and in so doing rescued us from not only God's wrath, but also from the dark forces of this world.
We cannot take the time now to look too closely at those dark forces, but you can read what Paul tells us in the sixth chapter of Ephesians to learn more about it. Here is only a portion of what he writes in Ephesians 6:10-12 (ISV) “Finally, be strong in the Lord, relying on his mighty strength. Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the Devil’s strategies. For our struggle is not against human opponents, but against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers in the darkness around us, and evil spiritual forces in the heavenly realm.”
When Paul writes that God rescued us from his present evil age, I believe what he means here is the age in which humanity has lived since the Garden. You and I look at our lives in terms of years and decades, God looks at the history of humanity in terms of millennia. You’ll remember what Peter tells us: (2 Peter 3:7-8) “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.”
This present evil age began in the Garden of Eden, as we saw in last week’s message. It began then. It was ongoing in Paul’s day. It is STILL ongoing in our day. It will end only when God brings the age to a close as He describes for us in the book of Revelation.
We are living in an evil, evil age, overflowing with wickedness spewed from the bowels of hell itself. I was somewhat surprised to learn that, according to a 2003 New York Times article, humanity has been entirely at peace for only 268 years out of the last 3400 years. To say that in a different way, 92% of human history over the course of the last 3400 years has been embroiled in warfare somewhere on the globe. And the fundamental CAUSE of wars? Listen to St James tell it:
(James 4:1-4) “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Sin makes us adulterers and enemies of God. Sin makes us enemies of each other. Sin is what led to the first murder as recorded in Genesis chapter three. Sin is what has led to the deaths of more than 56 million babies in the United States since the early 1970s in American abortion clinics. Sin is what has corrupted and blinded our collective morality to embed into the law of the land the validity of same-sex marriages. Sin is what has corrupted and blinded our collective morality to the point that we think it’s okay to give hormone-blocking drugs to SCHOOL CHILDREN who want to change their biological sex. I mean, we don’t let children sign legally binding contracts – but we let them make life-altering decisions such as some are making!?
It is sin, resulting from a rejection of God, that has – as St Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome – that has resulted in men and women becoming ‘futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart [is] darkened. Professing to be wise, they [have become] fools.” (see Romans 1:21b-22).
Listen. I will say it with Jesus Himself: ONLY God's truth can set us free from our spiritual blindness and march toward eternal death. And it is God's truth that Paul is beginning to preach here in these first few verses. We’ll see in subsequent sermons what it was that he had to say.
Jesus didn’t have to give Himself up for us. God could have remained distant, aloof, and unconcerned for our hopelessly desperate plight. But his incomprehensible love for treasonous and wretched sinners moved Him to mercy. And He rescued us – at least, those who WANT to be rescued.
Listen my brothers and sisters – we know the old, old story. Some of us have heard it all our lives. And we can tell others the old, old story. But until God graciously unveils to us the depths of our sins and the dreadful danger we ALL—All – faced and face without Christ, the old story is simply that – a story.
God sent Paul to the church at Galatia AND, through the scriptures, God has sent him to the church at Ashwood Meadows to caution us – even to be us to pay attention: There are wolves in them there cities and towns and in some churches and seminaries – wolves who want to bring you and me into spiritual bondage, chaining us to rules and rituals and traditions and ceremonies instead of opening our eyes to the free gift God the Father has given us by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus on that cross.
May God the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the spiritual danger all around us and from which He has brought us – His beloved – to safety through Jesus’ sacrifice. May God the Holy Spirit open our hearts to more fully realize that Jesus rescued us from a hellish-eternity, bearing the wrath of God we all deserve for our sins.
I’ll close with this word from St Paul’s letter to the Christians at Colossae. The great apostle, speaking by the full inspiration of the Holy Spirit, urges them – AND us – to: (Colossians 1:10,12-14) “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God . . . joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
How can ANYONE turn away from such grace? And yet, some did in Galatia. And some do even today and even in this city. We will look more closely into that question next time.