The name of this series is Gospel A-Z, not Gospel ABC. That’s because Galatians is a book for believers, from beginning to end. The gospel isn’t just for Christians starting out. It’s not a book about the ABC’s of how to lead a non-believer to Christ. It’s about how the gospel effects the life of a believer from beginning to end, from A to Z. The gospel isn’t just the way to enter into the kingdom, it’s the way to live in the kingdom. It’s the way we grow. It’s the way we are transformed. Christians need the gospel just as much as non-Christians.
Today, we want to answer three questions. 1) What is Paul so worked up about? 2) What gives Paul the right so speak? And 3) What does Paul say about the gospel?
But before diving in we need to understand some historical context.
This book was written by Paul around 50 A.D. which is only about 20 years after Jesus died. The disciples who had been with Jesus were still alive which adds authority to the things Paul writes because they don’t contradict him.
In addition, there are three important historical points to remember…
1 Galatians is addressing social and racial divisions within the church. Some Jewish Christians taught that the gentiles needed to essentially become Jewish to be accepted by God.
2 Galatians teaches that the reason for their social and racial divisions and tension was a failure to understand the gospel.
3 The intended audience is believers. Galatians was written to the church at Galatia.
So as we go through Galatians it’s important to keep this things in mind. Don’t worry I’ll keep reminding you of their importance.
Now, one of the first things to notice about Galatians is Paul’s tone. In his other letters he starts out with a greeting and then moves on to thanksgiving and a few compliments. But in Galatians he jumps right to “I’m amazed.” “I’m astonished.” “I’m shocked.”
He seems more than just upset, he almost seems angry.
- What is Paul so worked up about?
First of all, he’s worked up because they are turning to a gospel that really isn’t a gospel. Verses 6-7…
6 I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel…
They are in grave danger because they are turning to a different gospel, a false gospel, that isn’t really a gospel at all.
Any amount of change to the original gospel makes it a false gospel. There’s really no such thing as having “part of the gospel.” You either have all of it or you have none of it.
This is because “God called you by the grace of Christ.” We didn’t call Him, He called us. We don’t get to decide what the Gospel is, He does. We don’t initiate the relationship, God does. He calls, then we follow.
Other religions get this backwards. They teach that we give something to God. We give our money, our love, our obedience and then he accepts us. This is wrong.
Second of all, Paul is worked up by those responsible for the deceit.
7b…but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
He’s angry with those who are distorting the gospel of Christ and troubling the church. The word for “distort” is literally “reverse.” It may seem like a little distortion here, a little there, but actually they are completely reversing the gospel message.
As we get more into the book, we will see that those distorting the Gospel were teaching the Gentiles that they needed to be circumcised, keep the Jewish dietary laws and the ceremonial laws in order to please God.
Doing things to please God aren’t wrong but they are not the basis for our salvation so he’s very stern with them. It’s because he loves them he must let them know that they are in danger of turning their backs on Christ and denying Him altogether.
So, you can see why Paul is so upset, angry even. The consequences for believing a false gospel, even one that is just “a little bit” distorted are too high.
But what gives him the right to speak this way?
- What gives Paul the right to speak?
First of all Paul is an Apostle. Verse 1…
Paul, an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead…
The meaning of “apostle” is one who is sent with divine authority. Today, those that God calls are appointed by other men who verify the validity of that call. A church or denomination will appoint a person as their pastor, for example.
But Paul wasn’t appointed by other men, he was appointed by God, himself. His commission to speak to the Galatians in this manner came from God, not from men. Later, in verse 12 he emphasizes this… “12 For I did not receive it from a human source and I was not taught it, but it came by a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
So Paul’s gospel isn’t really his but God’s. And this gospel that he attests to is the standard by which to judge all other “gospels.” He says in verse 8…
“8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him!”
So even if an angel comes to you and says the gospel is different than what Paul preached don’t believe him. If Paul himself came up to you today and said he’s changed his mind about the gospel, don’t believe him. Let him be cursed!
Paul speaks for God. He is one sent by God. He was trained and taught the gospel directly by Jesus Christ. So what he writes is Scripture and noone can come along afterward and undo it.
- What does Paul say about the gospel?
There are four parts to the gospel that Paul quickly gives us in this opening. Who we are. What Jesus did. What the Father did. and Why God did it.
1 Who we are. We are people that need to be “rescued.” Verse 3…“3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age…” We are helpless and lost and in need of rescue. A Christian is someone who has been rescued. A fireman doesn’t throw a manual at an unconscious person trapped in a fire and tell them to read up on how to escape. He goes in and gets the person, slings him over his shoulder, and brings him out. Spiritually, we are also unable to save ourselves. We need to be rescued or we’re going to burn. We call this complete inability or total depravity.
2 What Jesus did. Jesus gave himself for our sins. Verse 4. Jesus… “… 4 …gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age…” Jesus is our substitute. He took our place. This is what theologians mean when they call Christ’s sacrifice a “substitutionary atonement.”And as a substitute for us, He did everything that was needed for salvation. He didn’t just give us the opportunity to get our life together and earn our salvation by keeping our life together. He gave Himself. Nothing else needs to be given. We no longer have to make payment for our sins. One payment is enough and it’s been paid by Christ!
3 What the Father did. God raised Jesus from the dead and gave us grace and peace. In verse 1 Paul describes “God the Father who raised him from the dead…” and verse 3 “Grace to you and peace from God the Father…” God the So, the Father accepted Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf. Before we even realized what was happening, the Father sent Jesus to die for you and then accepted the payment in full on your behalf.
4 Why God did it. God did all of this according to his will, not ours. “4b …according to the will of our God and Father.” We didn’t choose to be rescued. God chose us. It was his will, not ours. If it was up to us we would go along ignorant that we even needed rescued.God doesn’t look down and see a good person worthy of rescuing. There is nothing within us that deserves it. We are saved only by His grace and according to His will. That’s why God gets all the glory and we have no reason to boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.” It is God’s plan. It’s God’s will. And it’s God’s work that saves us. It’s humbling that we don’t save ourselves, but that’s the gospel.
Summarizing these four points, the gospel message taught in Galatians is that we are more wicked than we realize but we are also more loved than we could ever imagine.
False gospels are those minimize one or both of these truths. They suggest we can be our own saviors, that it’s up to you because you’re not as bad as you think. All you need is a little help. This is heresy.
One commentator wrote:
“There is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness but works righteousness; if you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ you must build your confidence on your own work.”
So, what are examples of false gospels? There are many but let me list three that are the most subtle.
1 Those who believe we are saved by our “surrender” to Christ. If we give our lives to Jesus that’s what saves us. People in this group don’t deny that you have to believe but the emphasis is on their surrendering, not Christ’s. So a person works to maintain a high level of surrendering in order to “stay saved.”Surrendering is an important aspect of Christian life but it is not the basis for salvation. You end up on this endless roller-coaster of feeling saved one day and then not the next. If this describes you, and your salvation is based upon the degree to which you “surrender” this is no gospel at all.
2 Those who believe we are saved by being good regardless of what we believe. These people don’t think belief in Jesus matters at all. Salvation is based upon being a good person. All people, Christians, non-Christians, regardless of belief can find their way to God.Although this sounds very tolerant and loving it is actually the opposite because it makes the cross unnecessary. If a person can be saved by being good then what was the point of Jesus dying on the cross? It also means that bad people have no hope. What if you aren’t good? What if you’re a murderer, a thief, or a liar? Then according to this teaching there is no hope for you. This isn’t loving at all and is a false gospel.
3 Those who believe we are saved by the keeping of rules and regulations. Some churches teach that in order to be truly accepted by God you must keep certain rules and regulations. They don’t deny the fundamentals of the gospel, but they add to them. In order to be truly pleasing to God, you have to dress a certain way, you must refrain from eating certain foods, you have worship in a certain way. If you don’t you aren’t as accepted by Christ as others. This type of thinking breeds a hierarchy system of “faithful Christians” and “worldly Christians.” These churches would be described as legalistic.
So, How do we know if our gospel is true?
There are two main aspects to the gospel. I gave four before but let me simplify it even further. 1) We are too sinful to contribute to our salvation and 2) we are saved by belief in Jesus’ work plus nothing else.
I’m not talking about sanctification, the process that occurs after salvation. I’m talking about initial salvation.
Any teaching that takes away or adds to these two aspects is a false gospel. All religions, except Christianity, teach that we earn our salvation, at least a little bit. But even a little bit is enough to make the gospel no gospel at all because it makes us ultimately responsible for our own salvation.
This false gospel contradicts the teaching of Scripture and the teaching of this church.
Our statement faith says regarding the sinfulness of man that all human beings are born with a sinful nature, are totally depraved and need a Savior from sin. Total depravity means complete inability. There isn’t a little bit of “good” within us that allows us to accept Christ. The ability to choose Christ has to be given to us. We must be relying on Christ alone for salvation because anything else makes salvation based upon our work and gives us reason to boast, even if only “a little.”
Our statement of faith also reads “that Jesus Christ became the sinner’s substitutionary sacrifice before God…” In other words, Jesus took our place. He did the work so that “…salvation is by grace through faith and not of works…”
So I believe this church teaches the true gospel. The question is, do you believe it? When you stand before Christ and He asks you why he should let you into heaven what will you say?
Will you acknowledge you’ve made a few mistakes but try to convince him that over all you’ve been pretty good? Will you tell Him He should let you in because of how much you’ve surrendered and done for Him? Will you tell him you’ve kept all the rules and done everything He’s commanded you?
Or will you simply tell Him you don’t deserve to be let in. That you haven’t done anything to earn it, but Christ has. Will you say that you are trusting in Christ, alone, and would you please let me in for His sake?
So we can see why Paul is so fired up. This gospel issue is the difference between eternal life and death. It’s the difference between heaven and hell. One last time, he says…
“8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! 9 As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!”
Let us be warned.