"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." Gal 1:3-4
I just read this and chewed on it for a couple hours whilst on the airplane from Joburg to London. One thing that struck me is the question "what does it actually mean to 'rescue us from this present evil age?'" Is Paul speaking in physical terms? I don't think so, because the two ways that would be accomplished is either through physical death or Rapture. And His "giving of Himself" doesn't accomplish our physical death...in fact, that itself is a result of the curse of sin, not the restoration work of Christ. And if He is speaking of the Rapture, then only saints who are alive to be raptured would be actually included in this referenced deliverance from the present evil age.
A key word is present. If His rescuing was through physical death it would be rescuing us from the future punishment, not the present evil. So then how does He rescue us, or what does it mean to be rescued from this present evil age?
To answer that we must first determine what the evil age refers to. Satan is called the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), His forces of evil are referred to as the rulers of this age (1 Cor 2:8-16). As the ruler of this present evil age, His plans stand in direct opposition to the working of God. Going back to Genesis 3, we see His plan was to convince mankind that they could be as gods themselves, knowing good from evil and exercising control over their own lives. This brings to fruition an attitude that leads to willful ignorance and "going about to establish your own righteousness (Romans 10:3)." In other words, this default setting of emnity with God leads to a certain restlessness, a lack of peace. And in that, we know we need righteousness, so we set up our own code of conduct, our own standards with which we measure ourselves, our own goals to accomplish. In this is pride manifested in its depths.
Doing this leads us only to discouragement, bitterness and failure. One, because we can never accomplish righteousness on our own. Two, because God Himself promises to ensure our failure, as our pride stands in opposition to Him. Our participation in this present evil world is spiritual bondage.
"But thanks be to God, that though you were slaves to sin you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance" (Rom 6:17). We are freed from our own selves, to experience victory in Jesus! He died for all. So I died. And my life isn't my own...it's His! His act of rescuing us from this present evil world is to set us free from our bondage to self, to the works of the law, to the constant struggle to obtain righteousness apart from Him. He cures our blindness to His glory and we are liberated to live for Him, not to ourselves. Not to our own perceptions of success, our own struggle for righteousness, our own desires to have others think well of us. Jesus rescues us from this present evil age!
So, then, if this is what Jesus gave Himself for, we have to ask the very same question that Paul was led to ask. "This is the only thing I want to find out from you; did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now perfected by the flesh?"
If the Spirit must rescue us, isn't it equally true that the Spirit must keep us rescued? That He must work in us His life-giving work? It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Therefore, don't become entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Let us rejoice in this freedom, this liberation that Jesus gives us to know Him and to make Him known. And let us pray for those of our brothers and sisters who do not live according to this freedom. According to Paul, they are bewitched. Deceived. In bondage to the elemental things of the spiritual forces of this age. Oh, that we may all experience the freedom that we have been blessed with in Christ.