Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content


Home > Sermons

The Great Rescue

Only the love of God and the blood of Jesus Christ free us from all sin.


When I was a teenager, I became fascinated, appalled, and grieved by the literature of the Holocaust. I think I probably read thousands of pages trying to understand the lives of those who were destroyed. Can you imagine a nation setting out to totally exterminate an entire race, and in that case, God's chosen people? One scene that haunts me is a picture from Auschwitz. Above the entryway to the concentration camp, or death camp, were the words, "Arbeit macht frei." The same thing stood above Dachau: Arbeit macht frei. It means work will liberate you, work gives you freedom, "work makes free." And it was a lie. It was a false hope. The idea was, they would get the people thinking that hard work equaled liberation. However, many of us know, "liberation" was horrifying suffering and even death.

Arbeit macht frei. One reason that phrase haunts me is because it is the spiritual lie of this age. It is a satanic lie. It's a religious lie. It is a false hope, an impossible dream for many people in the world who believe work will liberate them. Somehow, their good works are going to be great enough to outweigh their bad works, and that will allow them to stand before God in eternity and say to him, "You owe me the right to enter into your heaven."  It is the hope of every false religion that arbeit macht frei, good works will liberate you.

That's what the book of Galatians is all about. It is to stand against that lie. It shows us the beauty of a life in Christ and the bounty of the freedom we have to walk with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I hope that, if you haven't grasped the gospel of grace, this will fill you with that joy.

Paul was passionate for his purpose.

This is the very first letter the apostle Paul wrote. This preceded and may have precipitated the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15. It's the first letter that Paul wrote, because this was the first problem that he faced as the good news of Christ's death, resurrection, and salvation went out to the Gentiles. False teachers, who followed the apostles, were proclaiming that, in order to be a real child of God (in order to become a Christian), you had to become a Jew. You had to be a Jew in order to be a follower of Christ. You had to keep the law. You had to keep the traditions. That was what it took to be acceptable to God. It's the whole wrestling of law and grace. How do the Old Testament and the New Testament fit together? That's what Galatians is all about.

How do you picture Paul writing his letters? Do you picture him getting up some morning and saying: You know, I really need to build a résumé of works published, so today I think I'm going to sit down and write a letter, see if I can get it published.

Not at all. Paul wrote letters because there were problems, and he was passionate about those problems. These are not a bunch of nice letters Paul wrote. In fact, the Bible has been called a bad-tempered book. And Paul has been accused of being belligerent because of the polemical nature of his attacks against people who opposed him, because in opposing him they were opposing the gospel. If indeed Paul was belligerent, the book of Galatians is the most belligerent of all of his writings. And if he was ill-tempered or bad tempered, he was bad tempered in this book because he had a passion for Christ and for the gospel. He wanted to communicate his concerns passionately. Everywhere he went, there was a constant foment of theological problems and these problems were always attached to a collection of power plays—all of which was an overflow of spiritual warfare in Galatia.

Do you know where the region of Galatia is? It's in what we know today as southern Turkey. And Paul was born in that region in the city of Tarsus. Paul was a Turkish Jew. He understood the people of Galatia and the culture of Galatia. And when he writes the letter of Galatians, he writes with bad manners, and he does it deliberately. It was always customary when you wrote a letter like this that, after getting through the introduction, you would say something nice to the people to whom you were writing—"I give thanks to you for this." And if you look at all of the rest of Paul's letters, you will find there's always some word of thanksgiving for the people. Not in Galatians. Paul is angry and passionate.

And like almost every one of his other letters, the introduction to this letter gives us a clue of what the whole letter is about. We're going to look at that introduction this morning, the first five verses. You'll find that there are two parts to it. One part is very personal. It's a statement of Paul's apostolic authority. The next part is very doctrinal. It is a statement about the nature of the gospel itself. Both parts are important. If Paul wasn't an apostle, he had no authority to teach the gospel. If he was an apostle, then he speaks for God.

Paul, as an apostle, holds the authority to speak for God.

Verses one and two introduce us to the author and his authority, and he starts out so nicely: "Paul, an apostle." I love having the name first. When we write letters, we put the name at the end. If I get a letter without a return address, I have to flip through the letter to look to see if it's signed. Otherwise I throw it away, because I never read anonymous mail. With Paul, you didn't have to worry about anonymous mail. He begins, "Paul, an apostle." And in putting that upfront, Paul is presenting to us his business card. Saul/Paul. His Jewish name; his Greek name. Apostle of Jesus Christ.

What does apostle mean? It means somebody who has been sent with the authority to represent somebody else—somebody who has been sent with the authority to represent somebody else, as if they were here in person. Paul is saying: I am an ambassador. I am an envoy. I have power of attorney. I am an apostle.

So, Paul, whose apostle are you? What's the source of this apostleship? This is a maze of prepositions, but they're all very important. Not from men, not through the agency of men. My authority doesn't come from men as the source or through men as the channel but rather through Jesus Christ and God the Father. Also, notice Jesus and God the Father are linked by one preposition. Paul's putting them on an equal plane: My authority isn't human; it is divine.

Look at verse 11: "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." What a bold, arrogant claim. Paul, are you saying you speak for God? In order to be an apostle, you had to actually have seen Christ. When did you see Christ? And Paul would refer us back to his conversion experience.

It's recorded in Acts 9. When he was a fire-breathing persecutor of Christians, a killer of the people of God, he was riding along on a horse or a donkey, on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus. And he saw this explosion like a light. It would have looked like the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion. The light was so brilliant it threw Paul down. In fact, it blinded him. And this voice came out of heaven with distinctive words. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And his humble reply was, "Who are you, Lord?" And the answer was: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and enter the city, and I'll show you what you have to do."

And simultaneously, miles away in the city of Damascus, there was a man named Ananias who was hearing that same voice, and the voice was saying to him: Ananias, Saul is going to show up—this guy who kills Christians. But I want you to understand that he is a chosen instrument of mine, and he's going to bear my name before Gentiles, before kings, and before the people of Israel. I want you to help me, because I'm going to show you how much he has to suffer for my name's sake.

And what Paul says in the rest of Chapter 1 is based on that experience. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15:8, when he lists all of the appearances of Christ after the resurrection, he says, "Last of all Christ appeared to me as to one who was born out of sequence, untimely born." In Galatians 1:10 he can stake his claim: "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Am I striving to please men? If I were trying to please men, I wouldn't be a bondservant, a slave of Christ." So his apostleship is actually from God. It's either true or false. If it's true, what Paul says is true; if it's false, what Paul says is a lie. Rip out that whole section of Scripture.

Paul reasserts that God's grace is the only means of salvation.

So what prompted this display of feistiness? What stirred the apostle of grace to erupt like a volcano? It has to do with the doctrinal problems in Galatia. There's a power play going on. The Galatians have heard about Jesus, but they are independent of the people at Jerusalem. And so, like cultists following Christian missionaries, they come knocking on the door after Paul saying: Wait. Let us tell you the rest of the gospel. It is not enough just to believe in Jesus; you've got to add to that.

And then they started listing the traditions and the works that went along with faith. That happened in every single city that Paul went to. It's interesting that you'll often hear seminarians or Bible-college graduates say, "I'm going to start a New Testament church." Every New Testament church was plagued by problems. In Rome and Ephesus, there was a division between Jews and Gentiles; they were at each other's throats. They wouldn't eat together. They wrestled on which day to worship. In carnal Corinth, you had these small factions gathering around powerful personalities and arguing with each other. In Thessalonica, you have the eschatological extremists who were saying Jesus is going to come in my time and therefore I don't even have to work. In Philippi, there were two women whose personal problems had erupted into the congregation and were splitting everybody apart. In Colossus, you have the poisonous doctrine of pagan philosophy mixed with Christian theology. In Crete, when Paul wrote Titus, there was somebody causing factions. And so it was all the way through the New Testament. That's the way it was in Galatia, and Paul attacked these problems head on.

Look at verse 6 of chapter 1: "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel, which is really not another." Look at 3:1. "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 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?" Look at chapter 6:12: "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ." He attacks them head on.

Paul, what gives you the right to do that? Go back again to the introduction. Verse 3: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Notice he puts them on an equal plane: " … from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." But that sounds so gracious: "Grace to you and peace." And that is what God wanted from them and for them, but Paul says: I am speaking from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I bring his message. I speak for him. And if you don't listen to me, you won't experience that grace and that peace.

And the most startling part of this gospel of grace is the fact that God didn't wait for us to initiate good works so that we could somehow impress him; rather, God initiated a plan to rescue us and bring us to himself. And he did it by sending Christ to rescue us. When we come to verse 4, we see a synopsis of the nature of the good news itself: Christ is the Deliverer. It all focuses on Jesus and his deliverance.

Verse 3: "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." There are two parts of the gospel that are so clearly and succinctly listed there. "He gave himself for our sins"—substitution. He gave himself in our place for our sins. In order to understand that, you have to see there is a description of our condition as well. We are guilty before God; we have committed crimes against God. And we are absolutely helpless to do anything about it.

Come back with me to Auschwitz. Look at the pictures of these people; look how absolutely hopeless and spent they are. They are the victims of Nazism. They have been enslaved. They are prisoners to the Nazis, and their enslavement has rendered them weak and helpless.

Those pictures are like pictures of us because of our sin against God. We are weak and helpless. We have committed crimes against God, and the greatest crime of all is the independent spirit that says, "Somehow, I will stand before God without a blood sacrifice to pay for my sins." God says: You cannot stand before me without a sacrifice that I accept as worthy to pay for your sins.

And if you were to take all the sacrifices and all the animals that have ever been killed in all of history, from all religions, over all of the globe, and piled them up as high as Mount Everest—all of those animals together wouldn't be a hint of the one-time death of Jesus Christ. That is the only blood sacrifice God accepts as worthy.

Look at these people. Don't talk to me about how "God helps those who help themselves." They're helpless; they can't help themselves. And that's our spiritual condition before God. We need help.

The second phrase in that verse tells us what the effects are of the blood offering of Jesus Christ. It's liberation—we are set free. "Who gave himself for our sins"—substitution—"so that he might rescue us from this present evil age." Liberation. He delivered us from our sin in order to deliver us from what the Scripture calls this present, evil age. Really, that's the keynote to the whole book of Galatians. This letter is a letter about emancipation. It is about being set free from bondage. It is to have freedom in Christ from sin and all of its effects.

I can't change the world. I can't stop abortion. I can't stop murder. I can't stop lies. I can't stop gossip. But I don't have to live under the tyranny of those sins. I can be different; I can be free. And that's what Galatians is all about. We are free from the tyranny of this present evil age.

I tried to imagine how I could illustrate this best. I tried to think how I would make a Christian videogame that somehow depicted this deliverance. So I tried to think how it could fit with Tarzan. I could picture the person under the tyranny of this age as one who is surrounded by wild animals in the jungle. And they get closer and closer, and they become more and more threatening. Then, if you can picture this in a videogame, Tarzan finally shows up. He comes swinging down from a tree, and he catches me in his hairy underarm and carries me over to the next tree. And I am free. The problem is, that illustration doesn't work. Tarzan comes out unscathed. He didn't sacrifice anything.

So I went back through the process again. I thought, Maybe it's a war videogame. And again, I'm in a jungle like Vietnam, and I am surrounded by the enemy. They have cannons, grenades, tanks, and rifles, and they're all aimed at me. And then this incredible warrior shows up, and he's armed to the teeth. He has the skills, the courage, and the capacity to kill all of the enemy. Finally they're all destroyed, and he and I are standing alone. We're free, and I'm rescued. But that doesn't work, because this incredible soldier didn't sacrifice anything.

Then my mind went back again to the concentration camp, and I imagined myself as one of those inmates. One day I look out and see this tall, healthy, impeccably dressed individual coming up to the gate that says, Arbeit macht frei. He flashes a photo ID. They glance at him, and he walks in. Obviously, he's in control. He's in charge. And I see his eyes scanning the multitude of prisoners, and he picks me out. He walks over to me, brushes against me, and says, "Follow me."

He takes me to one of those shacks and says, "Do what I do." And he begins to peel off his clothes. So I peel off my clothes, and he gives his clothes to me, and he takes my clothes and puts them on. Then he hands me his picture ID. And I look at it, and it looks just like me.

And he says, "Now get out of here." So, with fluttering heart and blood pounding in my head, I start toward the gate, afraid to look back or around. I walk up to the gate and flash the ID, and they barely glance at it. The gates open, and I walk out. And to my awe and terror, I am free. When I walk far enough along, I look back and see this man who is about to take my death. And I look up at that gate that says Arbeit macht frei, and I know it's a lie. It's not Arbeit that macht frei; it is Leibe that macht frei. It is Blut that macht frei. It is the love of God that liberates. It is the blood of Jesus Christ that liberates. He died in my place, and I am free.

Jesus came to offer himself in our place, dying for our sins so we might be delivered from the tyranny of this present evil age. My life is changed, and I devote the rest of my life to living for the One who gave his life for me. And that's what Paul concludes.

Love's sacrifice leads to gratitude and worship. In verses 4–5 he says all of this happened "according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever more." And you can almost see the angels falling before God as Paul writes that. Worship is not a mood. Worship is not music. Worship is a response of gratitude and honor to the God who gave himself to deliver us from sin. Worship puts the spotlight of eternity totally on God. It wasn't my plan. It wasn't my works that made me free. This was God's plan. This was God's work. It is not arbeit that macht frei; it is love that liberates. It is blood that liberates. It is the love of God and the blood of Jesus Christ. They free us from all sin.


That freedom is for the taking. If you have never understood the nature of the good news that God has paid for your sins and Christ has risen from the dead, I want you to understand that this morning. That is the good news. And all you have to do is confess to God that you are a helpless criminal deserving God's judgment, and thank Jesus Christ for dying in your place.

You may want to argue with that. You may want to say: "But I'm not worthy. I've got to wait until my life is worthy for God to save me." Friends, that is the false cry of every false religion on the whole globe. That was the dividing point between the Roman church and the Protestant church. That is the nature of every cult. That is the nature of every false religion: My good works add to what God has done, and somehow that makes me worthy to be saved. You are helpless; you are hopeless. But you are one of the ones for whom Christ died.

Others may want to argue: "I want to do it myself. I want to do it in a way where God will have to accept me." And all I can say to you is you're marching to the gas chamber. It's a false hope. It's an impossible dream. You're going to die without Christ.

How do I claim this salvation? It is so simple. It's just a matter of asking. It's a matter of saying to Christ right where you are seated, Lord, I need you. Thank you. Come into my life. And the promise of God is: The one who cries out to me I will hear, and I will answer.

Related sermons

Knowing the Bible Comes Easier Than Living the Bible

How to move beyond information and experience God's transformation

Complete the Circle

When Jesus sets conditions on grace
Sermon Outline:


The book of Galatians stands against the spiritual lie that "work makes free" and points us towards life in Christ.

I. Paul was passionate for his purpose.

II. Paul, as an apostle, holds the authority to speak for God.

III. Paul reasserts that God's grace is the only means of salvation.


Confess to God that you are a helpless and hopeless criminal and accept his grace, for you are unable to save yourself in any way.