Galatians, Identity and Redemptive History

When you are, tells you who you are…

I’m hoping to preach through Galatians at the Lunchtime Talks from next Tuesday. I remembered there’s a really helpful chapter on Paul’s eschatology in Galatians by Moisés Silva. He highlights a collection of verses in the letter, and proves that Paul grounds the subjective experience of a Christian in the eschatological achievements of Christ.

Silva agrees that the traditional Protestant emphasis on the contrast in Galatians between works of the law and faith is certainly there. But this contrast is underpinned with the contrast given between ages in Redemptive History: The present Evil age (Gal 1:4) and the age that comes in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4), the Age of the Spirit. This second age is brought in by Christ work on the cross, resurrection etc.

It wasn’t until I was introduced to the giants, Vos and Ridderbos that I began to appreciate how big eschatology is in Paul’s thinking. When a Christian asks, “Who am I?”, the question is as much about ‘where’ or ‘when’ we are in Redemptive History. Indeed, the “who” feeds off of the “when”. On the personal, “subjective” experience of justification for example, Silva says:

Personal present justification is set in the context of cosmic, eschatological realities. The subjective experience of justification is grounded in the objective judgment at the end of the age. Assurance is not a pscyholical strategy that by-passes reality but a proleptic  (anticipatory) manifestation of God’s righteous verdict.

What affects us as individuals is whether we’re on the right side of Redemptive History. Christ has brought in a new age, of which membership is indispensable for our personal righteousness, justification and assurance. In Galatians it’s an age that is characterised by faith and obedience in the Spirit. This comes in sharp relief to the dogged efforts of the ceremonial box tickers, the Judaizers. If we haven’t been caught up into this break through of salvation history upon the world in Christ, we are still floundering around in the past, in the world destined for judgement. We are still living according to the ‘elementary principles of the world’ (Gal 4:3;9).

Individual Christian Conversion is Grand, based in the movement of the ages of salvation. But that doesn’t take away from the personal experience of the individual. Actually, it’s made more solid and assurance is greater when see personal salvation in this cosmic, historical light. As Vos says:

The Christian state is centrally and potentially anchored in heaven (Vos Pauline eschatology 39)

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Chris Roberts

Associate Minister at the Ealing International Presbyterian Church, married to Emma, with two kids.

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