Part 2: Paul’s Introduction – The Grace of God (1:3-4)
Paul opens his letter to the Galatians by introducing himself as an apostle, appointed not by man but by God. Similarly, our salvation comes not from our own works or our own declaration, but by the substitutionary atoning work of God the Father. (If you would like to catch up, you can read part 1 on the power of God.)
He then uses his customary line:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ . . .
When I was younger, my mom used to take my younger brother and me to libraries quite frequently. On one occasion, we went to a library that was a little bit further away from home. I can’t particularly remember the reason—it may have been because the two closest libraries were closed, or I may have been doing research for a project and wanted as many books as possible. (I’m getting up there in years.) Anyhow, we chose some books, checked them out, and went home. All was well, until, several weeks later, my mom realized that the due date for the books had passed. We gathered our books and drove over to the library, where I walked shamefully up to the counter to return our books and pay our fine. But lo and behold: as my mom began to ask how much the fine would be, the worker kindly told us that the library had a grace period for overdue books and we would not be required to pay a penny.
The grace period, I think, is aptly named. It was my fault that the books were overdue, and so I was responsible for the fine. The library had every right to make me pay for keeping them too long, but it didn’t. They could have exacted payment, but chose not to. Kindly, they were willing to forgive my debt.
The library’s grace period is but a small taste of the grace of God. In Galatians 1:1, we saw the power of God demonstrated in the Gospel. The power of God is that He alone can save us, and the grace of God is that He is willing to save us. According to verse 4b, grace and peace are given to us “according to the will of our God and Father.” That God is able to save us does not mean that He has to; indeed, He has every right—justice is on his side—to mete out our deserved punishments for our failure to live up to His standard. Yet that He chose to save us demonstrates to us His overwhelming love. He didn’t have to save us, but He did anyway! He was willing to sentence His perfect son to death for our salvation! The magnitude of that grace extends far beyond the grace period I experienced in that library. The love God demonstrated for us on the cross is the most incredible, the most amazing love.
When Paul speaks of peace in verse 3, he says that it comes “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The fact that it comes from God, with the notable inclusion of Christ, indicates that this peace is related to salvation and the Gospel. This peace comes from the knowledge that our debt is settled. James 4:4 notes that “friendship with the world is enmity with God,” and this was an admonition to believers. As unbelievers, we were at war with God, fighting and opposing Him at every turn. Thus we have both a status and a sense of peace: we are reconciled to God, and He gives us the security that comes from knowing that we are no longer targets of His wrath.
This peace is a direct result of God’s grace. Without the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we could not be forgiven and declared righteous in God’s eyes. It is God’s grace, His willingness to save us, that makes our peace with Him possible.
Paul says “Grace to you” in many of his epistles. Here especially, it is full of meaning. Paul wanted to remind the Galatians that it is not by their efforts that they gain salvation. On the contrary, salvation comes from faith alone in Jesus, “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4a). In his introduction, Paul is pointing to the work of the cross as the source of our salvation. He wants the Galatians to remember the cross.
It is impossible for any to have peace if one believes that salvation can be earned. If so, we would have to work for eternity to bridge the infinite gap between us and God. We could never rest, never relax, never rejoice because of the constant pressure to work away our sins. How could we be at peace knowing that we could die not having done enough to earn our salvation? Paul says that true peace comes from God as a result of His grace, as a result of a salvation graciously given by God through Christ on the cross. There is no act that we must do to earn or keep our salvation, aside from believing in and accepting Jesus’ death as substitutionary punishment for our sins. Everything we do as believers we do out of love and thankfulness, not fear or pressure. We worship God through every action because we are thankful for His grace, that He was willing to save us from our sins.