The Gospel as God Gave it!
By Greg Nance
What is it that really gets you going? What gets your emotions stirred and fills you with a fight or flight mode so that you MUST do something?
If you saw someone you love about to be injured or killed would you not warn them?
Would you not take immediate action or cry out to them to help them?
And what if they didn’t listen to your warning… what if they were under the charms of a deadly enemy who had caused them to doubt your sincerity and your love for them, or disregard your authority and wisdom? Would you not fight for their attention and defend your loyalty? Does this happen? In Churches, in marriages, in families, in communities… Yes!
In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello, The villain, Iago, uses deception and cleverly devised lies to destroy Othello’s trust in his loving wife, Desdemonia. Iago also turns Othello against his own best friend by cunningly planting false evidence to convince Othello that his best friend is having an affair with his wife. In the end Othello, filled with jealousy and rage kills his innocent wife only to discover that he has been deceived by Iago, so he also kills himself.
As the play develops, the audience watches the terrible and tragic deception build to a horrible climactic and miserable end. You just want to grab Othello and point out how foolish he is to turn away from his loyal friend and innocent, loving wife and instead of listening to them, to listen to a lying enemy who hates him, and has dressed up falsehoods and disguised them as convincing truths.
In much the same way there is an enemy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One who is cunning and determined to undermine our faith. He is the mastermind behind such popular books as, The Da Vinci Code, a book that cleverly presents false evidences against the faithfulness of the Gospel accounts of the life, teachings, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Also, such so called science that explains our very existence by an explosion that happened eons ago and somehow cooled off and organized itself into us here today! People actually believe this! It’s popular, and it is cleverly disguised as factual and convincingly presented and defended as truth! Who is behind this? This enemy of God has an entire arsenal of weapons that he uses against our faith but all his things have this in common: they are all contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in scripture. They either add to or take from the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ as fully sufficient for our salvation.
When we turn in our Bibles to the letter of Galatians, we find there one of the most intensely emotional defenses of the gospel in all the New Testament. The liar is doing his work. The truth of the gospel is being distorted, made different, but dangerously believable. By the writing of this little letter, many churches have been infected by a false gospel and are deserting Him who called them by the grace of Christ. We are not told precisely what this false teaching is. We are only told that it has deadly consequences and that it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ that was preached to them by Paul and received by them when they heard it. But there are plenty of hints.
Let’s just look at the first chapter of Galatians now and listen as Paul responds to this situation. Hear his concerns. Consider his appeal to them. Ask yourself this question, “How seriously do I take my faith in the true gospel of Jesus Christ, that his sacrifice for me is God’s power to save me completely, and the blessing of his grace?”
Notice first verses 1-2
Who made Paul an apostle?
Notice now verses 11-12
Where did Paul get his gospel message?
Notice that these are Paul’s claims! “Jesus Christ is my source of authority and the source of my message.” What would you say if I told you that God spoke with me this morning and told me I had authority and was to tell you how to live your life? Some of you would think I was kidding, or using an illustration. Others of you would know that I had finally gone over the edge. Claiming the things Paul does is also quite incredible. How does he back those claims up? Here in Galatians, he backs it up by telling his story. Exhibit “A” for evidence is Paul’s own course of life.
This is not a letter that centers around moral issues or marriage problems or church matters like what we read about in most of 1 Corinthians. Although at the beginning of 1 Corinthians and specifically in chapter 15 Paul reminds them of the gospel.
He states what exactly is the gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
And that Jesus appeared alive to the apostles and to hundreds at a time.
Now in this letter to the Galatians we see the intense concern of Paul that this message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its application be carefully guarded from any changes.
It is one thing to change the way we do things at our church services. Our culture, style, personality, and a host of other variables we are free to express. It is quite another thing, though, to change the gospel. The gospel is the one centrally important matter that absolutely must not ever be tampered with or changed! The church can survive many difficult shifts and changes. But listen to me now… Change the gospel and the Church dies! Change the gospel and the Church falls under God’s curse! Change the gospel and the church is severed from Christ and falls from grace! We must never change the gospel! It is not ours to adapt or arrange as we would. It is God’s! It is from God. It is for us. It is not man’s, but it is to man. The gospel! Eternal, perfect, powerful to save!
Look again at Galatians; Paul states it again in the first five verses of Galatians one. All the elements are there. Jesus Christ, raised from the dead by God the Father. It involves grace and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
There it is! The same basic elements are here again: Jesus Christ, death, burial and resurrection from the dead. Here is our deliverance from this present evil age! Jesus Christ, our sin offering is complete! And this gospel makes us complete through our acceptance of it in obedient faith. We are not saved by our obedient faith, we are saved by the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. Our obedient faith adds NOTHING to the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Question: Is this enough, or do we need more?
Someone has come to the churches of Galatia and convinced them that Jesus death, burial and resurrection are not enough to save them. Someone is telling them that to really be saved they also need to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. In other words, the gospel of Jesus death, burial and resurrection are not enough to save.
That’s not what they heard from Paul. That’s not what he preached and it’s not what they received.
In order to deceive the churches of Galatia into deserting God who called them through grace, these false teachers have to first undermine Paul’s authority as an apostle and then they will undermine his teaching of the gospel. The false teachers can say, “Paul isn’t really an apostle, in fact, he actually got his message from the apostles in Jerusalem, but he didn’t quite get it all right. He learned it from those men there. Didn’t he tell you that? What he said about Jesus being the Christ is true, but he may have missed some things. Didn’t he tell you that in order to be saved, you also need to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses? Oh? He didn’t tell you that? Well, that’s because he isn’t really an apostle and he didn’t get the gospel message exactly right. It’s a good thing we are here to help straighten this out for you.”
When we look at what Paul writes to the Galatians, there are hints that let us know this is what happened. Notice first Paul’s repetitive claim to have received his apostleship and gospel from Jesus Christ and not from any man. Why would he say these things? Because someone is accusing him of not being a true apostle but of having a gospel that is from men.
How does he answer this? Let’s read the first chapter together. Are you there? Galatians chapter 1 verse 1. (read)
Let me sum this up and then draw some applications from it for us today and the lesson is yours.
There are three main sections of this chapter.
1-5: He begins immediately in the first five verses reaffirming the central elements of the gospel as grace and peace from God. He claims that Jesus Christ and God the Father sent him as an apostle.
6-12: He then immediately jumps on their departure from the gospel to a different gospel. He makes it extremely clear that God’s curse rests on any who change the gospel. Again, he claims unequivocally that the source of the gospel he preached is Jesus Christ himself and no man.
13-24: Then he begins to present the evidence that his apostleship and gospel are directly from Jesus Christ.
What evidence does he submit? His own testimony of a changed life and proof that he could not have learned it at the feet of the apostles, for several reasons. Besides, he hardly knew them or the churches there in Judea. If he could have gotten his hands on them before he met Jesus Christ, it would certainly not have been for instruction about the gospel.
He says, “Look at me!” You know what kind of man I was. Do you think I would sit and listen to an apostle tell me about Jesus Christ? I tried to kill those who believed! I was a true certified legalistic Pharisee 100% into Judaism to the core! I was advancing up the ladder of religious success! No, it took a lot more than any apostle to get my attention. I had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ himself. He called me to preach Him to Gentiles! Do you think I wanted to do that? I didn’t get this call or information from anyone in Jerusalem, apostles or otherwise! In fact, after I encountered Jesus Christ, I went to Arabia and came back to Damascus. It was three years before I went back to Jerusalem, and then to meet Cephas. 15 days is all I stayed with him, James, the Lord’s brother, is the only other apostle I met. I’m not lying here! This is the truth before God! The people in the churches of Judea never saw me, they just heard about what God had done to me. The persecutor is now preaching the faith he tried to destroy! Glory to God!
Of the many lessons here, let’s take these two home with us:
1. We need to hear, heed, and hold the pure, God given gospel of Jesus Christ, as is, no improvements necessary! The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. We don’t add to it. We don’t spruce it up. We don’t need to candy coat it or put our spin on it. We need to hear it preached and receive it in faith, make our stand on it in baptism in the name of Jesus Christ and be saved by it.
The Gospel! What is it?
Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures. Say that with me: Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures.
He was buried. Say that with me: He was buried.
He was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures. Say that with me: He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.
Is there anything about that you think needs changing? Is that the gospel? Do you trust God’s power to save you through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for your sins? Is the Lamb of God able to take away the sins of the world?
2. We don’t change the gospel, the gospel changes us! The gospel has the power to save you and the evidence of that salvation is in the life you live. What is it in your life that demonstrates the grace of God in you? God not only calls you through the gospel, he reveals his Son in you. Jesus Christ makes changes in your life through the working of the Holy Spirit. We will learn more about his in chapter 5. How is Jesus being revealed in you to others?
Is there anyone here today who needs to receive God’s grace and peace through the Jesus Christ? He’s here today, watching and waiting to receive you! Come, now.