The message of the Gospel is being distorted. The term Christian can define most anything today. It may define someone who is simply an American. It may refer to someone who tries to live a good life (even though the Bible tells us that no one lives a good enough life). It may refer to someone who goes to church. None of these “Christians” have anything distinctive about their beliefs.
This is not a new phenomenon. This kind of situation is what led to the writing of the book of Galatians. The people in Galatia were drifting from the faith and Paul was not going to let that happen without a fight. In this letter you will sense the anger of the Apostle Paul. At the beginning of the letter Paul skips all the niceties that are usually at the beginning of a letter. He went right after the problem and doesn’t let up until he makes his point.
In the letter to the Galatians Paul will show us that the Gospel is not just something we share with non-believers; it is not just about ‘how to be saved’. The gospel is a message about how to live life with the Lord; it is about finding joy, freedom and transformation.
There is some debate over who these “Galatians” were. (Galatia can refer to a territory or a province. It is like referring to a state or a county.) It appears most likely that Paul wrote to the southernmost part of this territory. Most place it as one of the earliest books of the New Testament just 15 or so years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
What we do know is Paul was writing to a church in its infancy. Big changes were happening. Gentiles were being added to the Jewish core of believers. The question that kept coming up was: Since Jesus was the Jewish Messiah does a Gentile need to become Jewish before they can be part of the body of Christ? The leaders of the church (Acts 15) and the apostle Paul all said the same thing: we are made right with God not by becoming Jewish; we become right with God by following and trusting Christ.
This is the core issue of the book of Galatians. There were teachers who were undermining the message of grace. There were people saying a true believer is one who does certain things. Every time we put up a “hoop that people need to jump through” before they come to faith, we make it harder for people to find new life in Christ. We push them away rather than invite them to drink deeply of God’s mercy and grace. This book is written urgently. You can tell by the tone that Paul was eager to correct the error toward which he saw the church drifting.
Only One Way
Let’s start at the end of our text and identify the problem because I think it will help us pay more careful attention to the real nature of the gospel.
You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News 7 but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.
8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. 9 I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.
Today, Paul would be castigated for his “hate speech”. It used to be that tolerance meant you respected a person’s right to hold a different opinion from you. We were established as a country that respected differences. We talked about equal protection under the law. Now, when people talk about tolerance, they mean you must see every idea as having equal validity. In other words, we are somehow supposed to believe that all belief systems are equally true . . . even though they contradict one another.
As a result, the idea that there is only one way to Heaven is thought to be offensive, narrow-minded, and intolerant. However, you can throw all the insults at this truth you want but it doesn’t change what the Bible teaches. Let me give you a few other very clear verses,
Jn. 14:6 “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
Acts 4:12 “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
1 Timothy 2:15 “For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.”
Paul says any teaching that is different from the teaching of the uniqueness of the gospel is false teaching; it leads to Hell instead of Heaven! The message of Christianity is this: God has provided a way of salvation and that way (the only way) is ONLY through faith in Christ.
Paul is agitated in this letter because understanding the message of the gospel accurately is vitally important! It is not something that is tailored to the desires and whims of men (v. 10). It is a message that is clear and unchanging. So let’s look at the message of the gospel that saves. What is the true gospel of God?
What is the Gospel?
This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.
2 All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia.
3 May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 4 Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. 5 All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.
At the very beginning of the letter the Apostle Paul identifies himself as the author and then gets right to the message of the gospel. Don’t hurry past these words! They contain important, life-saving truth.
Jesus was Raised from the Dead Physically (1)
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul points to the Resurrection as the pivotal or linchpin truth of the Christian faith. He affirms the Resurrection in the very first verse! A Christ who is not risen is not the true Christ! We affirm this truth at Easter and throughout the year.
But there are many people who admire Jesus but do not believe he literally (actually) rose form the dead. They believe His Spirit and His teaching live on but the actual person of Christ came back to life and now lives to make intercession for us. They view Him as akin to Ghandi or maybe Martin Luther King Jr.
Jesus did not pass out or have a near death experience, He was raised by God the Father. He was seen by many people over a 40-day period. He did not die again! The witnesses testified that they saw Him go into the Heavens. The Resurrection makes Jesus someone worth following.
Jesus Gave His Life for Our Sins
Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. (v 4)
This is the core of the gospel message. We were lost in sin. We were drowning. We could not save ourselves. The Law cannot save us because we do not keep God’s Law. Paul is going to hit this theme again and again. Someone said, “Imagine you see a drowning woman. It doesn’t help her at all if you throw her a manual on how to swim. You don’t throw her some teaching – you throw her a rope.” When it comes to salvation, that rope is Jesus.
God sent Christ to pay the penalty for our sin, with His life. He was our substitute. When He had done so, Christ’s perfection was applied to our account. We are now covered in the life and holiness of Christ. This is hard to grasp. We are not saved because we earned it by doing certain things. We are saved because God came and rescued us. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Some today say this is a barbaric notion. The Bible calls it love.
This was God’s plan from the beginning
There is a popular notion that people in the Old Testament were saved by keeping the Law in the Old Testament and saved by grace in the New. If that is true, NO Old Testament people were saved because the only one who kept the Law fully was Christ.
Old Testament people were saved by believing the promise of God that He would send a deliverer. From the Garden of Eden to the end of time God’s plan has always been to redeem His people through Christ. In the Old Testament the people believed the promise of a Messiah. Now we can trust Christ as that promised Messiah. We don’t have to guess who the Messiah is or when He will arrive.
This salvation is not only from Hell when we die; it is meant to deliver us NOW!
“in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.”
What Christ did was not only erase our sin debt; He also made it possible for us to be free to live the life God created us to live: a life that was in harmony with Him.
I love the old story (it may be fictional but it still illustrates the point). One day Lincoln came upon a slave auction. He was disgusted by what he saw. So, Lincoln purchased one of the slaves. When the transaction was complete he told the slave that he was now free. He could go where he wanted to go and do what he wanted to do.
The slave was dumfounded. He repeated the offer: do you really mean that I can do what I want to do and go where I want to go?” Lincoln said, “Yes”. The slave then said, “Then may I please stay with you?”
Grace does not set us free to indulge in sin without consequence. It sets us free from our enslavement to sin. Having been freed from sin we should want to live the way God designed us to live. We can choose to follow the way of Christ and in so doing choose:
- forgiveness over bitterness
- Love over hate
- Obedience rather than rebellion
- Good over evil
- Hope over despair
- Confidence over timidity
- Compassion over indifference
- Heartfelt (as opposed to grudging) service
The rule of Christ is not just for some future day. It starts right now. The Kingdom of God is right here and right now. Yes, Jesus will return someday. But for now, we must be faithful in all that we do.
All the Credit (Glory) for our salvation goes to the Lord (v.5)
5 All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.
The idea of salvation was not our idea; it was His. The implementation of the plan comes from the Son and the Holy Spirit not us. Our strength is not found in our ability, profit margin or retirement account. It is from His grace and mercy.
In the book of Revelation (4:19) we read about the martyrs laying their crowns down before the Lord. Why would people do this???? It is because they recognize that everything they have, everything they accomplished, is all because of Jesus. In that sense, they were never “ourˆ crowns to begin with. The Lord deserves ALL the glory. Whenever we add something to the gospel, we are taking away from the glory of God.
Are You Following the Only True Gospel?
So Paul explains the gospel to us (he will do it several more times). The question becomes: is this the gospel that you hold to?
Many Cardinal fans would rather be thrown in prison than wear a Cubs jersey (and vice versa). We would be horrified to vote for the candidate of another political party. People care about these things! They are passionate about their loyalties. Oh, that we would be at least this passionate about our devotion to the true gospel.
When we drift from the gospel we drift from God! We drift from the only One who can save us. When we drift and share this new distorted faith . . . we actually become false prophets who are leading people astray. Believing the true gospel is very important.
One commentator writes
I believe Satan operates more effectively through false gospels than through any other avenue. He twists, confuses, and changes the gospel, using philosophy and rule-keeping to put people in mental manacles that blind their eyes to the truth. Behind every false teacher is the ultimate false teacher, Satan, who lives to create confusion and to lock people in spiritual bondage.
The church in Galatia was drifting from the truth. The same thing can happen to us. Many in the church are susceptible to false teaching because they do not know what the truth is! In the weeks ahead we are going to work hard to clearly define the gospel.
There are many distortions of the gospel among professing Christians. Even churches tend to add things to the message of God’s grace. We say we are saved by Jesus and
- Being baptized the right way or taking communion the right number of times each year.
- Reading a particular version of the Bible
- Supporting a certain political party
- Believing the way I do on particular issues
- Stopping certain behaviors
- Having a quiet time
- Attending a certain kind of church (certain style)
- Giving 10%
- Holding a certain view of the end times
These things are not bad things. The problem is that any time we make a good thing into an ultimate thing we distort the gospel. Any time we add something to what is needed for salvation we are preaching a false gospel which does more to glorify man than glorify God. We make it hard for people to come to faith.
So here are two things we must underscore. First, we must remind ourselves that salvation is ALL of grace. We are saved through Christ ALONE and due to NOTHING we have done. Frankly, this is the most liberating truth you can find. God loves us right now! He is not waiting for us to be “better”.
We don’t have to keep looking over our shoulder or waiting anxiously for the ‘grades’ to be handed out. Salvation is not dependent on our performance but instead it is based on what Christ has done for us. Any other prerequisite to faith is actually pushing people away. Any additional requirement we put in is actually keeping people from God’s grace! We are acting as a false teacher!
Second, efforts at living the life of discipleship are the result and expression of God’s grace, not the cause of that grace. Yes, we want to live holy lives. This is because we want to honor the One who loves us; it is not to GET Him to love us. The Gospel of grace does not lead us to ignore holy living, it spurs us on to holy living.
Perhaps you were like me in school. If a subject was “required” I often struggled. There was something about having to take a class that made me resist learning. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if those teachers had said, “Look, if you will come to class I will guarantee you a “C” in the class. You don’t have to take any tests or write any papers. You will pass if you just show up. I wonder if I would have learned more if I wasn’t worried about “passing” and could just learn.
It is the same way with the Christian life. As long as you are obeying because it is a requirement to be saved, you may find yourself resisting. However, once you have been forgiven, you can live the Christian life for the joy of serving the King and enjoying His presence.
The gospel is wonderfully good news. If we want the world to understand this gospel, then we must understand it. Studying Galatians is a very good place to start.
 Platt, David; Merida, Tony (2014-08-04). Exalting Jesus in Galatians (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 22). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.