After Paul introduces himself (v. 1) and identifies his readers (v. 2) in keeping with the conventions of Greek letters in his day, he greets his readers: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Grace and peace to you is a combination of the typical Greek and Hebrew forms of greeting. But it is much more than that. These two words sum up the basis and the consequence, the root and the fruit, of the total work of salvation accomplished by God through Jesus Christ. Grace is God's unconditional, unearned acceptance of us accomplished through the love-gift of Christ. The experience of grace by faith results in peace, a sense of harmony and completeness in our relationship with God and with one another. To look for grace and peace from any person, organization or activity in the world is to forget that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are the only source of these blessings.
The mention of the name of Christ sparks a declaration about the work of Christ. In three brief phrases Paul outlines the basic structure of his Christ-centered message. First, Christ gave himself for our sins. The sacrificial, self-giving work of Christ on the cross is the final answer to the problem of all our moral failure and guilt. For that reason the victory over sin accomplished by the cross of Christ is the main theme of this letter (2:20-21; 3:1, 13; 4:4; 5:1, 11, 24; 6:12, 14), which rebukes believers for substituting humanistic solutions for the cross of Christ.
Second, the purpose of the cross is expressed dramatically: to rescue us from the present evil age. Paul had an apocalyptic view of history. The revelation (apocalypse—see 1:12, 16; 3:23) of God in Christ had already intersected and forever changed the nature of human history. The cross of Christ inaugurated God's new created order ("new creation"—6:15) in human history. All who believe in the cross are rescued from the present evil age and included in the "new creation." The present age is controlled by destructive, malignant forces, "the basic principles of the world" (4:3, 9). The works of the law do not offer a way of escape. Only the cross of Christ sets the prisoners (3:23) free.
Think of all the movies depicting heroic efforts to rescue prisoners of war. The terrible risk involved, the danger and sacrifice, the suspense and violence, the final emotional homecoming of the emaciated prisoner with his courageous deliverer—these are all elements of the most dramatic story of all, the story of the cross of Christ. And because this story is true, Christians can now enjoy the freedom of the new creation; we are no longer prisoners or slaves under the tyranny of this present, dehumanizing system. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (5:1)!
Third, the plan for the cross is according to the will of our God and Father. The Father planned our rescue. At the right time he sent his Son to accomplish our rescue (4:4-5). And now the Father has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts to let us know that we are no longer slaves, but children of the Father (4:6-7). The accomplishment of the Father's plan in history is the expression of his grace and the basis our peace.
With the wonder of God's amazing grace in full view, it's time to sing a doxology to God (1:5)—to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen!
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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