Thursday, October 9, 2014

Does it matter what Gospel we accept?

One Commentary on Galatians has referred to the New Testament as a “bad-tempered book." This is especially true of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians has been referred to by one minister as ‘A Gospel for a wounded conscience’. How do we reconcile these two perspectives? Both are true: Galatians is both polemical and pastoral. In other words the aim of Galatians is to:

1.    Defend the true gospel

2.    Contend against false gospels

3.    Strengthen the church through the proclamation of the true gospel

This exposition of Galatians chapter one will explore three main areas:

        The Crisis

        The Consequence

        The Cure


1.    The Crisis

Gal 1:6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you [c]by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

The Galatians are ‘deserting God.’  How?  By, ‘turning to a different gospel’ (there are no other gospels: they are really turning to a false gospel.) Paul equates turning from the gospel as turning from God. Why is the nature of the gospel so important? The reason is straight forward: the gospel alone is the ‘power of God for salvation’; the gospel alone reconciles people to God; and the true state of our soul is determined by the gospel we choose to embrace!

How do we discern true the true gospel from false gospels?

Bank tellers recognise counterfeits, not by studying the counterfeits, but by studying the real thing. If we get to know the marks of the true gospel, we will recognise the false. Deception is Satan’s key strategy (he is an angel of light and his servants appear as servants of light). The truth is our key protection against the enemy: ‘If you are my disciples, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’ The problem with counterfeits is that they look like the real thing! The Galatians had not abandoned faith in Jesus but they had embraced a distorted Jesus.


The Galatians were gentile converts who had been saved under Paul’s ministry. Jewish believers had joined the church and began to teach, ‘It’s great you have faith in Jesus, but you need to be circumcised’ (Circumcision was the Old Testament mark of the covenant). According to the Judaisers, the Galatian Christians needed the sign of circumcision for their righteousness to be complete (in other words, faith plus the law). Righteousness (how can I be rightly related to God) is the key issue at stake.


What was wrong with Judaisers’ teaching?

The teaching was serious error because it undermined the sufficiency of the work of Christ and it introduced a shift from faith to works. The Reformers taught that, ‘Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.’ In other words, salvation is by grace because Salvation is God initiated; it is by Faith alone because it is not by works of the law that we are saved;  and it is in Christ alone because Christ is the one who saves us, therefore God alone receives all the glory

The Galatian church was in a real crisis: the Galatians had lost their grip on the true gospel and had embraced a false gospel. The modern church finds itself in a similar situation. Steve Lawson demonstrates this:

In this present hour, preaching that is devoid of the person and work of Christ is all too often commonplace. Such lifeless words are a snare into which many pulpits have fallen, the deadly trap in which the Lord Jesus is minimized, if not altogether absent. Rather than giving Him the central place of pre-eminence, Jesus is demoted to the periphery. Instead of being in the spotlight, Christ is left standing in the shadows.

In the New Testament times there were many false gospels, this is also true today. The apostles had to deal with various false teachings. One popular false teaching was Antinomianism which could be summed up as ‘hyper grace’, in other words a grace which does not lead to repentance and holiness of life.  We see examples of antinomianism in the epistles of 1st and 2nd Corinthians 1 Peter and Jude. Antinomianism is with us today, it finds its expression in the theological and moral relativism which pervades many evangelical and mainstream churches. 

Another false gospel which the apostles had to deal with was Mysticism. Mystics taught the churches that that deeper spirituality was to be found in some secret knowledge or experience outside of Christ. Paul tackles the mystics in his letter to the Colossians. The dangers of mysticism are seen most clearly today in the extreme fringes of the charismatic movement.

Another false gospel is legalism; this is the problem which Paul was dealing with in the churches of the Galatians. Legalism teaches that Faith in God’s grace is not enough for God’s favour and that Christians need to obey certain rules if they are to know the full favour of God. Legalism is relying on anything other than Christ alone for right standing with God (Righteousness)

Christians are caught in legalism when the trust in works for right standing with God: sacraments; church attendance and our own goodness are faulty foundations, yet multitudes of church goers think that this is what being a Christian is all about.  Legalism is no secondary matter, legalism has drastic consequences.


2. The Consequences

N.T ground is very different from the culture in which we live. Secular culture says: ‘each to their own’; ‘whatever works for you’ and ‘truth is relative.’ The biblical position on these matters is much more narrow and exclusive:

Prov: 14:12 ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.’

Jesus: ‘I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to father except by me’

From the perspective of culture, the concept of consequence is a foreign language when it comes to realm of beliefs. From the Biblical Perspective, a departure from the gospel has clear consequences for congregations and preachers.

Consequences for preachers and teachers who preach a false gospel

Gal 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

The word ‘Accursed’ means  Anathema: which is translates by the NIV as ‘ Eternally condemned’ In other words, without hope of mercy.  For the preacher of a false gospel the consequence for leading God’s people astray is eternal condemnation. This is why the apostle James said, ‘few should presume to be teachers because teachers undergo a stricter judgement.’Therefore Preachers need to be assured that their message is authentic. How can we tell the difference between true preachers and false preachers? True messengers are preachers of the cross.

A false gospel has consequences for the church (remember we are dealing with legalism.)

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. Gal 4:4

Paul warns us that legalism leads to believers being alienated from Christ, in other words, legalism brings separation between us and God. It disturbs our fellowship and communion with God. Legalism leads us from relationship centred Christianity to rules centred Christianity.

Paul tells the Galatians that they have ‘fallen from Grace’ (no longer under God’s favour). If we are striving for favour by means of our religion, we are no longer enjoying God’s favour as a free gift. This also leads to the loss the joy (blessing) of our salvation. Paul asks the believers: ‘Where then is that sense of blessing you had?’ (Gal 4:15) Make no mistake about it, legalism brings misery and kills the blessing.

Legalism will also lead to a loss of Christlikeness, Paul says: My children, with whom I am again in labour until Christ is formed in you (Gal 4: 19). God’s purpose for us as Christians is fruitfulness (Christlikeness) but Christlikeness is the fruit of justification (which is by faith alone). Fruitfulness is a result of abiding in Christ and we abide in Christ by abiding in the gospel. What we believe influences how we behave, how we behave is a by-product of what we believe.

Again, this is counter-cultural. A recent status update which was doing the rounds among Christians said:

Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behaviour does.

Of course this is the thinking of the world, but it is the exact opposite of the gospel. The gospel on the other hand teaches us:

1 John 2:24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.

A further consequence of legalism, highlighted by Paul is the fact that Legalism kills fruitful fellowship.

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Gal 5:14

Legalism leads to: Fault-finding, Self-righteousness, and in-fighting. Many churches are devoured by division and bitterness because they have lost sight of the grace that saves. Paul seeks to restore the Galatians to grace based living. He does not leave them without hope. He identifies the cure.

1.    The Cure

Paul refocuses the church’s attention towards Christ:

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Gal 3:1

However, before they can value Christ, they must see their need for Christ. In order to see their need for Christ, they need to see the futility of the law. To see the futility of the law, they need to see the impotency of their own righteousness.  The Galatians had a problem; they no longer saw the relevance of grace.

Many Christians can find themselves in this place (especially those who have been on the road a long time).When we no longer see the relevance of grace, it is because we no longer see ourselves in need of God’s grace. This is a dangerous place to be: this is the realm of the Pharisee (self-righteousness)

The root of the Galatian problem was a misapplication of the law (they thought they could be justified through the law) Paul does not just tell them that the law is weak, but he applies it correctly:

Gal 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”

In other words, ‘don’t think circumcision (one command) is going to help you get God’s favour. If you want to keep the law, you must keep all of it!’ Paul is informing them that the standard of the law is perfection. Paul then informs them of the true purpose of the law:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. Gal 3:24

The law reveals our need of Christ. How? By revealing our sinfulness and God’s holiness.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Rom 3:20

All the great preachers and bible teachers knew this: 

A.W. Tozer: "No one can know the true grace of God who has not first known the fear of God."

Charles Spurgeon: "I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the Law." And “"They must be slain by the law before they can be made alive by the gospel.

J. I. Packer: "Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all."

John R. Stott: "We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have first been to Moses, to be condemned. But once we have gone to Moses, and acknowledged our sin, guilt and condemnation, we must not stay there. We must let Moses send us to Christ."

How do we see ourselves? Most people see themselves as reasonably good people. Measuring ourselves against others, who we think are getting it wrong, will cause us to think we are doing okay but measuring ourselves against the Law of God will completely shatter this illusion.

What does the Law say? Jesus Summarised it this way:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:36-40).

 If these are the greatest commandments, all of us are the greatest sinners!

For as many as are of the works of [o]the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Gal 3:10

Do we love God and neighbour perfectly? If not we are lawless and under wrath

Only in recognising the root of our problem can we identify the cure. The greatest need for the Galatian church was a renewed vision of Christ, but before they could appreciate Christ, they needed to understand how much they were in need of Christ.

The same is true for the modern church. The church needs the gospel but before the church will embrace the gospel, it must understand afresh, its need of the gospel. Paul gets to the heart of the gospel in his opening words:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us. Gal 1:3

‘Grace and peace’ in this context can become fuzzy terms but they simply mean the Blessings of the gospel and the means of receiving those blessings. It is only by Grace we can know the benefits of the gospel. When we rely on grace we will experience the Peace which is a benefit of the gospel (our lack of peace is a symptom of a deeper problem.)

There are two ways to understand peace:

1.         Peace with God

Rom 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

        Before we are justified by faith, we are God’s enemies, consequently, we are under God’s judgement however in justification we are ‘made right’. In other words we become at peace with God.

2.         Peace of God

Peace with God leads to the peace of God:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:7

This is a peace which enables us to endure the toughest seasons of our lives:

‘When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.’


The church is called to be faithful to the gospel. False gospels impart false assurance and lead the deceived to hell. The doctrine of Justification by faith alone is central to the gospel. It is this gospel alone which saves. When churches lose the centrality of this gospel their fruitfulness will be hindered. Only by emphasising salvation by Christ alone can the church be restored and revived.

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