May 29, 2012

Deliver us from evil

Rarely does good news make the front page. Today’s newspaper headline says “Man shoots woman then himself.” Yesterday told of highway accidents on a particularly busy stretch of road. Sometimes the feature is war stories, or fires, or crime. We live in a violent and difficult world.
So also did the people in the first century in an area called Galatia. Ancient Galatia was in the highlands of what is now Turkey. It was named for the Gauls who settled and ruled there in the 3rd century BC. When Paul reached this area with the Gospel, most of the new believers started out well, but then heard false teaching that upset their freedom in Christ. They begin thinking that their salvation depended on them being circumcised and doing other “works of the law” instead of relying on Christ alone.

Paul wrote to these people, correcting their error and encouraging them to ignore those who troubled them with “a different gospel” that had resulted in them trying to be perfected by their own fleshy efforts. For Paul, as it is for Christians today, the evils of the world had only one solution; faith in Jesus Christ. He began his letter with this greeting: 
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. (Galatians 1:3–5)
When I think of this letter to these people, other verses come to mind before these. They were written after Paul tells them about his authority in Christ and about the previous history of this false teaching the Galatians had accepted. He writes,
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1–3)
But Paul is wiser than I am. Instead of beginning his letter with this strong rebuke (as I might have done), he writes about the grace of God in salvation and sends grace and peace to them as the desire of his heart. He reminds them than Jesus gave Himself for them, dying for their sins. Deliverance from the evil in their world is in accordance with the will of God. 

From those short two verses in Galatians One, I can see the heart of God too, even as I read the newspaper. He desires that my world be delivered also from the evil that overpowers us. He wants His people to experience His grace and peace, for this is His will. Instead of blaming God for the world’s evils (which so many do), God wants people to find peace and experience safety and freedom.
Why does it not happen? Why does the present evil age overwhelm and overpower us? Why are the newspapers and television stories so full of violence and strife? 

Yesterday, my husband was talking about the mess and problems in the world. He said, “All of it is caused by sin.” Every sorrow and difficulty, all troubles and all the bad stuff is rooted in human sin and selfishness. The protests of, “But I’m not an evil person” are answered by God who says that sin begins in the heart with the seeming innocence of simply wanting to do our own thing. As the first part of Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way...”

When we do our own thing instead of obeying God, we sin. Sin shows itself in varying degrees, from a mild-mannered “I will be a good person and save myself” to a wild and determined rebellion that harms others, drives beyond all limits on the highway, and takes whatever it wants. For this, Isaiah adds that “...the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).

Paul echoes that amazing response of God to our sin; the Lord Jesus Christ… “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” 

As I look around me, I’m again tempted to shout, “Oh foolish world! Who has deceived you? How can you possible think that you can save yourselves? It is the mere effort to do everything your own way and without Jesus Christ that makes you a sinner! You are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Then I must remember that this speaks to me too. If I try to bully or convince anyone by argument, I am also doing things my own way, making me just as guilty of sin as those pull triggers, drive too fast, start fires, or rob banks. We need Jesus to save us. He gave Himself to deliver us from this present evil age. To Him belongs the glory, not any for ourselves or our attempts to do it without Him.

There is peace in my heart when I place my sins in the hands of Jesus. He forgives. He cleanses. I cannot convince or coerce others to do this, but I can extend grace and peace from You, God my Father, and give glory to Jesus Christ for saving me. Oh God, grant me whatever I need to share this amazing grace with others who have been deceived into thinking they can fix this present evil world without You.

No comments: