Sermon, Pentecost 3C, Sunday June 2, 2013. St Petri
Galatians: Living the Gospel, Week 1
No Other Gospel
Galatians 1:1-121 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters[a] with me, To the churches in Galatia: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.No Other Gospel6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.Paul Called by God11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
The striking thing about Paul’s short letter to the Christians in small congregations throughout Galatia is that Paul’s tone is striking! The tone is genuine surprise and anger – like when a trusted friend says something that really hurts. You are “taken back” by what they have done in genuine surprise. Then comes the anger…
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel….
Paul is angry at some people who have moved into the area who are slightly twisting the gospel he lived among them.
He is disappointed and angry that the people have so quickly followed this “other gospel” which is actually no gospel at all. – like a parent who has carefully raised their child to be honest, hardworking, respectful of adults and peers, only to see their child hanging out with peers who are none of these and becoming like them…. It hurts!
Paul says that by going along with this “other gospel”, they are actually abandoning Jesus.
WHO ARE THEY?
It seems that the influential group are Jewish Christians from down south near Jerusalem (Acts 15:1). Their message was;
“Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
They are saying that the way to acceptance by God and peace with him and each other comes by Jesus + something else. The ‘+’ they are teaching is the Old Testament Jewish law; laws to do with eating food, yearly rituals and festivals and the main one – circumcision.
They are really saying that you have to practice Jewish law to be fully Christian – it is a gospel + something message.
It is not easy to tell the difference between the one and only gospel of God’s grace given by faith in Jesus Christ and a “gospel +” message.
Why? Because surely as Christian we all want to please God for all he has done for us? Surely we should do all we can to please him?
The Galatian Christians are finding it very hard to spot the difference between the one true gospel of life in God’s grace by faith in Jesus, and this other “gospel” that is being taught as a way to please God but is actually not gospel at all.
It is not possible and not good for the gospel to have anything else added to it. That is Paul’s basic line.
Paul gives a little summary of the gospel so it is clear.
Who we are?
We are lost and helpless. We are in need of rescue. (1:4)
Who is God?
A guru might teach you wise ways to live
A philosopher might teach you a new insight
A scientist might teach you knowledge based on sound research
But only Jesus can rescue you from the present evil time within and without (1:4).
Jesus, when he sees a drowning woman does not throw that woman a booklet on how to swim, he throws that woman a rope, or his own hand and pulls her in – like he did for Peter that time.
God has thrown humanity a rope by, as Paul says, “giving himself for our sins to rescue us….:(1:3-4)
And why does God do this? It can only be grace, grace, grace!
But as we see here, there is a thing that can happen for Christians. It is called “Gospel reversal”.
Any change to this message and practice of the gospel being God’s grace from beginning to end reverses the gospel and turns it into more rules and laws.
Gospel way is; God calls us → we respond
God accepts us → we respond
Any changing of the way puts us at the centre and not God. We become like that drowning woman trying to read the book on how to swim while we are drowning!
Any teaching that says that we must give God something or do something for God and then be rescued by him is no gospel.
If we ever say “I need God’s grace + something else to be at peace with God and accepted by him”, we are not being faithful to Jesus and actually abandoning him.
(Luther says this as he introduced his commentary on Galatians).
WHAT ABOUT US?
There seems to be several ways in which churches can fall into this gospel+ kind of teaching and life.
1. Some churches teach that I am “saved by my surrender to God”, and some right behaviours and beliefs.
You are made right with God or “saved” by “giving your life to Jesus”, or “ask Jesus into my life”.
The gospel is reversed: I give my life → God responds
The gospel is: God calls us → we respond
This teaching is saying that we are in fact saved by a combination of OUR strong belief. We are saved by OUR commitment to God, OUR trust and even love for God.
One of the problems that follows is that we then need a high degree of sorrow for our sin, hunger for God and love of God and people to get God’s grace AND MAINTAIN THESE THINGS lest we lose God or “backslide”.
If we are loved by God by our doing, then we will be locked into a never ending cycle of doubt about whether or not God really does love us enough or all the time, and having to keep a lot of expectations and rules. We will be locked into gospel+ life which is no life at all.
The gospel is that we are accepted and loved by God by HIS grace which is received through faith in Jesus the Rescuer.
Gospel is God’s performance for us
our performance for God – because we cannot perform well enough or long enough!
2. Another kind of church might teach that “it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are a good person”.
This is saying that all “good people” are accepted by God and go to heaven. This sounds very good to our ears. It is very inclusive, caring and open-minded to our modern and post-modern values. But it is quite intolerant of God’s grace! God’s grace is actually rejected.
It is our good behaviour that is enough to get God’s acceptance
Gospel reversal: We accept and include people → God responds
All it takes for us to be right with God is human virtue and noble thought and behaviour.
The flip side is that all “bad” people (not inclusive and accepting enough people) have no place. If only good people are saved by being good, then only good people can be saved. What seemed inclusive is actually very exclusive!
Doesn’t Jesus say different? Everyone – the good, the bad, and the ugly, are invited to the feast of the King, with Jesus (Matthew 22:16)
3. Another kind of church might teach that the observance of small differences in dress code, ritual action and many religious expectations are the thing that we need to do to get God’s grace.
We observe detailed rituals and expectations → God responds
This teaching leads to quite an intolerant and inward looking church concerned with the correct observance of many things. Things are highly regulated and people are generally controlled by tightly guarded ways to dress, eat, speak, sing and pray….
This seems close to what was going on in the Galatian Churches with the influential people insisting that men should observe the Jewish custom and Old Testament law of circumcision to be “true Christians”.
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ANYWAY?
But friends, why the big deal about all of this?
Why is Paul so intense and why should we be?
Why fight for the gospel and keep on our toes to stay in it and not reverse it – even unawares?
Because to make anything else other than the grace of God given in Jesus Christ the very heart and soul of ourselves and our church is to abandon Jesus, according to Paul (1:6).
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ…
To believe and live like it is my faith, commitment, tolerance, keeping of religious observances or anything else that begins this relationship with God is to discard his cross and his resurrection for what we can do, think and believe.
“Gospel +” living is a turning your back on the only one who can and does rescue lost and condemned people by sheer grace and love – Jesus Christ.
And finally, any “gospel+” living bring God’s condemnation to your soul and our community. Paul actually says that this “no gospel” teaching in the Galatian church brings a curse to bear on God’s people (1:8).
Adding anything to the wonderful good news of God’s grace poured out on undeserving people who are dearly loved by God in the person and work of Jesus will only bring fear, anxiety and a whole lot of guilt to you and to us as a church.
Paul is intense about the gospel. We are intense about the gospel. It is our life and it is worth fighting for and being very picky about. It is the only thing that saves from endless fear, anxiety and guilt and brings love, peace and freedom to our lives.
Friends, let’s remind each other often of the gospel. Let’s share it with each other and ponder it ourselves often and live in it.
In this Galatians journey we will be confirmed in the reality that the gospel is not only the ABC’s for people who don’t know Jesus but the A-Z of our life in Christ. It is that central, that special, that foundational and that beautiful.
To God be all glory forever and ever