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Grace Plus Equals Minus Grace – Vicar Shaun Manning

Vicar Shaun Manning – Message Sunday 27th January –  Grace Plus, Equals Minus Grace

St Petri Lutheran Church, Nuriootpa

3 Epiphany

Galatians 1: 11-24

Paul received the Gospel through a revelation of Jesus ChristI want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie.Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me.

I haven’t always been a Lutheran… My introduction to the Lutheran Church, around 7 years ago now, was the beginning of a major shift of my personal spirituality and theology. There were many things that grabbed my attention, or should I say, focused my attention in those first few services. The emphasis on Christ in both His Word and Sacrament was rather clear, though this was something that I could only articulate several months later.

(Mention the placement of the Pulpit, Altar, Band, Organ and the presence of a Cross and Crucifix). Compare to previous church experiences.

There was however one particular phrase that struck me, in those first few sermons that I heard, due not only to its wittiness but it’s truth. “Grace plus, equals minus grace” the Pastor uttered several times throughout the sermon… This is a truth that I was very interested to unpack with the Pastor over the coming months and funny enough, I’m learning, un-learning and re-learning what this means in all sorts of areas of life and my relationship with the Lord, to this day. In short, it simply means that anything added to the Grace of God through the Gospel of Christ, destroys it.


The Gospel, what we know and understand as the ‘Good News’ of Christ, is the most profound message all of time. I don’t think there would be many Christians either from this lifetime, the time of the New Testament or anywhere in-between, that would disagree with this statement. The Gospel of Christ is the core and foundation of the Christian Faith. It is, however, very prone to being perverted. And the consequences of perverting the Gospel, are that other Gospels are formed and proclaimed. Gospel’s that are man-made and hence are Christ-free Gospel’s. This Gospel, is not ‘good news’ whatsoever. For what ‘good news’ is it that we must be do something in order to receive the grace of God? This is the very issue we have here in our text this morning. In the verses preceding our text today Paul writes to the Galatians that he is “astonished” that are abandoning him and the Gospel he brought them and turning to a different gospel (v.6). He continues in verses 7-9…

7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! [1]

Problem in the text (Law) This is the context we find ourselves in, in our reading this morning. Paul is dealing with two things with the Church in Galatia, a perversion of the Gospel and a rejection of him as an apostle of Christ. Yet both of these are related since they reject Paul partly due to his Gospel message. Paul, an apostle of Christ movie.

The particular ‘gospel’, so to speak, that is permeating in the Church at Galatia is that of ‘Judaizer’ theology and it is therefore no Gospel at all. This thinking taught that Christ, Israel’s Messiah, and the forgiveness that He offers through His atoning death on the Cross can only be received only if the non-Jewish world first become Jews by observing the circumcision and the Law. In other words, to be a recipient of the Gospel of Christ, one must do something.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Galatians took a hold and hence why Paul begins to plead with them. He pleads that they would to turn away from this new ‘gospel’ and turn back to what he had first proclaimed to them. Hence, in the opening verses of our reading today: 11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [2]

The Galatians have both perverted and accepted this new Law filled ‘gospel’ that is of human origin and source hence is not of Christ. “Grace plus, equals minus grace”…

In the verses following, v.13 to the end of the chapter, Paul then briefly explains his life over pre and post-conversion. Explaining that he was being a devout and zealous Jew prior to Christ coming to him on the road to Damascus, Paul is hoping to repel their false idea of the need to observe Jewish law in order to become true recipients of Christ’ forgiveness. For Paul it was his devotion to Judaism that led him to persecute the church of God and Paul found out the hard way, on the road to Damascus when Christ told asked him why he was persecuting Him? “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” in Acts 9. By persecuting the Church Paul was persecuting Christ Himself.

Similarly, since the NT church, including the Church of Galatia was propagating and accepting a ‘false gospel’ that is of human origin and of human source, they are consequently rejecting the Gospel of Christ and therefore Christ Himself.

Problem in the world (Law) Sadly, this reliance on human sources and on things that originate not with Christ but with mankind is just as prevalent. This tendency toward human rather than God derived things, is firstly due to our fallen nature.

Example #1 – God’s forgiveness vs human forgiveness

Example #2 – Attitudes to converts of the Faith, i.e. St Paul, prodigal Son, older brother etc.

But interestingly, God, Heaven and the Angel’s rejoice of one sinner who repents but yet we at times, hold our applause, like the Galatians; well at least until they begin to show the fruit of this Gospel. This is what Paul exposes in the Galatians in verses 22-24 where he states that: “22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”

The rejoicing and glorifying of God by the Judean churches because of Paul’s conversion, was exactly what the Galatians should’ve been doing though weren’t doing themselves.

Surely, Paul or even any of us must do something in order to receive or maybe even start doing now to truly receive this grace and inherit eternal life… Is what the Galatians began to think and sometimes even what we think from time to time…

Example #3 – appeal to Law rather than Gospel. This need to do something in order to receive Christ is most certainly untrue from our text but also our existence. It therefore undermines Christ and His forgiveness. There is absolutely nothing that we can or are capable of offering that can merits God’s grace and favour. Paul, more than anyone, knew this and hence here is pleading with the Galatians to return to the true Gospel. As we have seen, he done this by revisiting his story and in particular his conversion story. “14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me”[3].

It is almost as if Paul is saying that despite his persecution and attempt to earn the favour God through law-observance was actually in opposition to the church of God and hence to God Himself.

  1. Jesus’ insistence on John baptising Him

Jesus washing the disciples feet

Jesus rebuke of Peter’s comment re’ His death and resurrection, “Get behind me Satan, who have mind the things of man not the things of God”.

But despite this rebellion God was pleased to call him through his grace and reveal his Son to him, the same one he had been persecuting. To make this point even stronger, Paul mentions that all of this was set apart by God before he was even born. So we have a God who has revealed Himself to Paul despite rebellion, persecution and even despite taking his first breath. This Son who had been revealed to Paul by God is the same One who had said he came “not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17). This quote of Christ is also exemplary of how one is to pervert the Gospel in it, if one is to misinterpret it. This is done when one says this quote and uses Christ’s fulfilling of the Law as an example for us to follow. Christ’s true and primary reason for taking on flesh and to fulfill for us what the Law of God requires of us on our behalf, is as our substitute and representative. Like Paul, we are all undeserving of this grace and cannot add anything to it. For to think that we can or should we be to undermine it entirely. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul writes to church in Rome (5:6).

Several years ago we read and unpacked this verse and theme in the newly formed Youth Group at Ferryden Park. One of the boys raised his hand and said something along the lines of “You know Shaun, knowing how much I don’t deserve God’s love and can’t do anything to make him love me more, makes me wanna love him back”… This reception is a great indicator that the Law-free Gospel has been proclaimed in the sinners ear and heart. Although it doesn’t come naturally to us to uphold this Law-free Gospel of Christ, but we must certainly reject this human derived gospel that treats Christ as merely an example and the things of God as something to be achieved. We are only recipients who can offer back only our thanks and praise to God. The Gospel that Paul proclaimed was the true one, since it is not of human source or origin but from Christ Himself, who is both human and divine. Interceding for us as a human before the throne of God and proclaiming from the throne of God, His love for us sinful humans.

As St Paul pleaded with the Galatians, if you hear a Gospel that is contrary to the one received and given in Christ, reject it and rebuke it. Doesn’t matter who preaches it or tells you about it. Don’t let any Pastor, Priest or Christian leader pervert the Gospel and put anything in the way of Christ and His Law-free Gospel.

It is so appealing and we will always gravitate toward this Law-filled Gospel, so I announce God’s forgiveness to you this day if you have perverted the Gospel or believed a perverted Gospel, as have I. Times where we think our Baptism hasn’t been enough. Where we think that the forgiveness received at Holy Communion is not enough. This is where St Paul says we partake in death and Resurrection of Christ and all that He has achieved for us. And if you think that you don’t, recall how you may think of a person who has been baptized but doesn’t attend anymore. I hear too often that people’s Christian Faith is in contention because they come to church often etc. What really defines one as a Christian? Their obedience or God’s grace?

As the Lord Jesus’ disciples may we keep our church and teaching free from being perverted and making God’s grace achievable or retainable by our own efforts. “Grace plus equals minus Grace.”

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ga 1:7–9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ga 1:11–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ga 1:14–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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