To Rescue the Distracted Believers out of the Evil Religious Age, Life-Study of Galatians, Message One, pp. 7-10
Scripture Reading: Gal. 1:1-7; 3:1, 3; 4:17, 21; 5:2, 4; 6:12,15
II. THE SUBJECT
A. To Rescue the Distracted Believers
out of the Evil Religious Age
The subject of the book of Galatians is related to its background. The subject is the rescue of the distracted believers out of the evil religious age. In 1:4 Paul says that Christ "gave Himself for our sins, that He might rescue us out of the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." An age is a part of the world as the satanic system. An age refers to a section, an aspect, the present or modern appearance, of the system of Satan, which is used by him to usurp and occupy people and keep them away from God and His purpose. We may regard each decade as a distinct age or section of Satan's world system.
The various ages of the satanic system are expressed in the fashions of clothing that prevail during a certain period of time. For example, in the 1950s men's neckties were narrow, but in the late 1960s and throughout most of the 1970s, they were broad. Now, according to the latest change of style, they have become somewhat narrow again.
When I was young, I worked in a factory where hair nets were manufactured for export to the West. At first, the hair nets were large, designed to fit over hair styled in the shape of a tower. Then, to my surprise, we began to receive orders for small hair nets. The reason for the change was that women in the West were now wearing their hair very short, in a bobbed style, and therefore wanted small hair nets. By these illustrations of neckties and hair nets we can see that the world system of Satan has different ages, different sections.
The present evil age in 1:4, according to the context of this book, refers to the religious world, the religious course of the world, the Jewish religion. This is confirmed by 6:14-15, where circumcision is considered a part of the world—the religious world which to the Apostle Paul is crucified. Here the apostle emphasizes that the purpose of Christ's giving Himself for our sins was to rescue us, to pluck us out, from the Jewish religion, the present evil age. This is to release God's chosen people from the custody of the law (3:23), to bring them out of the sheepfold (John 10:1, 3), according to the will of God. Thus, in his opening word, Paul indicates what he is about to deal with. He desires to rescue the churches which were distracted by Judaism with its law and to bring them back to the grace of the gospel.
For years I was fond of 1:4 and used this verse in messages. However, I did not realize that the present evil age in this verse refers to the Jewish religion. At the time of Paul, Judaism was very prevailing. His intention in writing to the Galatians was to rescue the distracted believers from the tyranny of the present evil religious age.
In 1:4 Paul points out that in order to rescue us from the present evil religious age Christ gave Himself for our sins. This indicates that Christ died in order to rescue us from Judaism. In John 10 we see that Christ as the good Shepherd entered into the fold in order to bring His sheep out of the fold and into the pasture. The fold in John 10 signifies the law or Judaism as the religion of the law, in which God's chosen people were kept and guarded in custody or ward until Christ came. Before the coming of Christ, God used Judaism as a fold to keep His sheep. But Christ has come as the Shepherd to bring the sheep out of that fold to the pasture where they may feed on His riches. Although Christ came to release the sheep from the fold, the Judaizers crucified this good Shepherd. He died on the cross not only for the sins of the sheep, but also to bring them out of the fold.
According to the New Testament, the death of Christ on the cross accomplished many things. In Ephesians 2 we see that He gave Himself in order to abolish the ordinances for the creation of the one new man. In Galatians 1 we see that Christ gave Himself for our sins for the purpose of rescuing us out of religion, out of the present evil age.
We should apply 1:4 not only to the Galatian believers, but also to today's believers in Christ. Most Christians are held in some kind of religious fold. Although in the New Testament the term fold is not positive (according to the Greek, the second occurrence of "fold" in KJV of John 10:16 should be "flock"), certain Christian hymns speak of being brought back to the fold in some kind of positive sense. We have pointed out that in John 10 the fold denotes Judaism. In principle, Catholicism and all the denominations are folds. Only the church is God's flock. Christ has brought us back to the flock, not to the fold. Many of us can testify that we have been rescued out of the fold and brought back to God's flock.
At the time of John 10, God's people, His sheep, were in the fold of Judaism. But as this chapter makes clear, Christ came to bring His sheep out of the fold and to form them with the Gentile believers into one flock, the church (10:16). Hence, the fold is religion, whereas the flock is the church. Today Catholicism and the denominations are folds that keep Christ's sheep. But Christ is seeking to rescue His sheep out of the various religious folds and to bring them together as the one flock.
Christ's death on the cross to deliver us from the present evil age was according to the will of God, the Father. To rescue the sheep from the fold is thus according to the will of God. Because Catholicism and the denominations damage the flock of God, they are opposed to the will of God. By building up their folds, they spoil the church life.
Today the Lord is still endeavoring to bring His sheep out of the fold. For this reason, a warfare is raging between religion and the Lord's recovery. The Lord Jesus came not to steal the sheep, but to lead the sheep out of the fold. The Judaizers, however, regarded Him as a sheep-stealer. In like manner, we in the Lord's recovery are accused of proselytizing, of stealing sheep. Although we do not proselytize, we do desire that the Lord's sheep may be led out of the fold and into the flock.
The Lord Jesus came into the fold, opened the door, and led the sheep out of the fold. The Judaizers crucified Him. But through His death on the cross, the Lord gave Himself for our sins in order to rescue us from the religious fold. The principle is the same both with the believers in Paul's time and with us today...