18 Jan 2019
A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 1:3-4, c) Christ died according to God’s will.
Having considered the nature and object of Christ’s death, we come to its source or origin. It happened *according to the will of our God and Father*. Both our rescue out of this present evil age and the means by which it has been effected are according to the will of God. They are certainly not according to *our* will, as if we had achieved our own rescue. Nor are they just according to *Christ’s* will, as if the Father were reluctant to act. In the cross the will of the Father and the will of the Son were in perfect harmony. We must never imply either that the Son volunteered to do something against the Father’s will, or that the Father required the Son to do something against His own will. Paul writes both that the Son ‘sacrificed himself’ (verse 4a) and that His self-sacrifice was ‘according to the will of our God and Father’ (verse 4b).
In summary, this verse teaches that the nature of Christ’s death is a sacrifice for sin, its object our rescue out of this present evil age, and its origin the gracious will of the Father and the Son.
What the apostle has in fact done in these introductory verses of the Epistle is to trace three stages of divine action for man’s salvation. Stage 1 is the death of Christ for our sins to rescue us out of this present evil age. Stage 2 is the appointment of Paul as an apostle to bear witness to the Christ who thus died and rose again. Stage 3 is the gift to us who believe of the grace and peace which Christ won and Paul witnessed to.
At each of these three stages the Father and the Son have acted or continue to act together. The sin-bearing death of Jesus was both an act of self-sacrifice and according to the will of God the Father. The apostolic authority of Paul was ‘through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead’. And the grace and peace which we enjoy as a result are also ‘from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ’. How beautiful this is! Here is our God, the living God, the Father and the Son, at work in grace for our salvation. First, He achieved it in history at the cross. Next, He has announced it in Scripture through His chosen apostles. Thirdly, He bestows it in experience upon believers today. Each stage is indispensable. There could be no Christian experience today without the unique work of Christ on the cross, uniquely witnessed to by the apostles. Christianity is both a historical and an experiential religion. Indeed, one of its chief glories is this marriage between history and experience, between the past and the present. We must never attempt to divorce them. We cannot do without the work of Christ, nor can we do without the witness of Christ’s apostles, if we want to enjoy Christ’s grace and peace today.
No wonder Paul ends his first paragraph with a doxology: *to whom be glory (the glory which is His due, the glory which belongs to Him) for ever and ever. Amen.*
Tomorrow: Galatians 1:6-10 False teachers and faithless Galatians.