“1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. 2 All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia. 3 May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.4 Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. 5 All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.” (Galatians 1:1-5)
This message was brought to New Life Church on Sunday 7th October.This passage will be available to listen to at New Life Church media page . But here is a summaried manuscript, with some questions at the end.
- Background to Paul’s letter to the Galatians
It’s written in about AD50, many of the experts reckon. Maybe Paul’s earliest recorded letter.He has travelled throughout the area which we now know as Turkey. Part of that landmass was called Galatia. Paul had visited cities and towns in this area on his missionary journeys. It was populated by the Gauls. Huge numbers had travelled, conquered and settle there many years before. Now it was part of the Roman Empire, and had a mixture of religious influences. There were diaspora Jews in the region, and as was Paul’s habit, on his journeys he first went to his fellow Jews to share the Gospel. Those who believed then joined him in preaching the Good News about Jesus to the non-Jews. And churches were planted.
Years later, the church is subtlely being turned away from the message that they had heard from Paul.
Some of the teachers in the churches in Galatia were now insisting that the non-Jewish Christians practice all the ceremonial customs of the Law of Moses, including circumcision and dietary laws. All this in order for their faith to be acceptable to God.They were creating social and racial unrest. And these ‘Judaisers’, as Paul calls them, have gone on the offensive with a two-pronged attack. The Gospel is under attack. And so is Paul. The teachers of this different Gospel want to discredit Paul’s apostleship and authority, and in so doing discredit ‘his’ Gospel.
There were three aspects of the first chapter which we explored.
- The Source of the Gospel – Revelation
In this opening chapter, Paul is saying “If you doubt me, then you are doubting the revelation of the Gospel.”
The Gospel is not a system or a moral code. It is the revelation of a person, Jesus Christ, and his actions at Calvary on our behalf. Paul had received that revelation and a mandate from the risen Christ whilst on his way to Damascus to imprison and maybe kill some of Jesus’ followers. His story is found in Acts 9. This revelation changed his life forever. He comments on this in v13 and v14. After all his pious works and attempts to know God through his own zeal and religiosity, he realised they counted as NOTHING! A pile of dung, as he writes to the Philippians (3:8).
vs11 and 12, Paul in effect challenges the teachers that are disputing the authenticity of his calling and his Gospel, but Paul maintains that he is an Apostle by the revelation and choosing of God. This message was and is direct from God.
The Gospel is Revelation. It is so good, so generous, so unbelievably benevolent and life-changing…you couldn’t make it up. You can’t systematise it. You can’t add to it, tweak it. You cannot control GRACE!
- The Substance of the Gospel – Grace.
The Gospel in a nutshell is right here in the first verses of Galatians. If you ever need to explain the Gospel in fewest words possible, Paul has done it for you.
v4 “Jesus Christ gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to RESCUE us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen!”
If the Galatians actually believed that, then there would be no need for this letter!
– Who are we? We are helpless and lost (v4)
That’s what the word ‘rescue’ implies. Think about it. If you saw a man drowning in the River Lune, you wouldn’t read him a manual from the banks of the river on how to swim, would you? You’d throw him a lifeline! Or jump in!
Jesus did not come as a teacher primarily. Yet that is what the average person on the street thinks. He didn’t even come to parade as the Son of God! He let people come to their own conclusions on that rather than broadcast it.
He is first and foremost a RESCUER! Because that is what we NEED! Why? Because we are helpless and lost.
That is what the Law of Moses points out more than anything….we are doomed because we cannot change ourselves to become what God intends us to be – perfect, holy, selfless, good stewards of all we have. The Gospel is clear about our problem, which God makes his own problem.
– What did Jesus do to rescue us? (V4a)
He “gave his life for our sins”. He made a sacrifice for us which we should have had to make. Not as a one-off, or hoping that it would be enough. No, this is substitutionary atonement. On behalf of. In the place of. This is why the Gospel is so revolutionary, so outrageous, and should not be tampered with! Jesus, the perfect example of life without rebellion against the Maker, sacrifices himself not just as a general sacrifice, but as a specific sacrifice to cover every thought, deed, attitude that has not been good in my life, and yours. And for everyone.
500 years before Jesus was born the Jewish prophet Isaiah foresaw God becoming flesh (53;6) “He was pierced…bruised… the punishment that brought us peace was laid on HIM… God laid on HIM the iniquity of us ALL”. My sin, laid on him.
Jesus did all we need to do but are helpless to do.
If Jesus really paid for our sins, on our behalf, than we can never fall back into condemnation (Read Romans 8:33-35)
Stop fretting about your failures, wondering if you can atone for them. No you can’t. And no, you don’t need to for God. Because of what Jesus has done in our place, as Saviour, as Rescuer, you are never under condemnation.
We were helpless and lost, and he rescued us. And what did the Father do? He accepted the work of his son on our behalf by raising Him from the dead, it says in v1, and v3. we are left with grace and peace from the Father through Jesus to us.
V4 – ‘Just as God our Father planned it’. In another version, ‘according to the will of God the Father’. The Father, in His grace, PLANNED what we needed. Even when we didn’t realise we needed it. Paul revisits this in v15, when he is giving a defence of his own Apostleship. “But even before I was born, God CHOSE men and CALLED me by HiS MARVELLOUS GRACE. Then it pleased Him to reveal HIS SON to me…”
Paul’s testimony was simple. This is GOD’s doing, GOD’s grace. NOTHING CONTRIBUTED TO MY SALVATION BY ME! He is stating to the Galatians, “This is GOD’S work, it’s COMPLETE, and it brings Him Glory. So don’t diminish it or think you need to complete it in some way.”
There is nothing that we can pat ourselves on the back for. His calling; His plan; His action; His Son; His sacrifice; and so it is He who gets ALL the Glory!
- The Sham Gospel – it’s not the Gospel
Paul gets tough now, having in a few words already laid out the manifesto of the Gospel. He gets tough to deal with the perversion of the Gospel that is being spread around the churches.
vs6-7 “I am SHOCKED!” APPALLED! That you’re turning away from God’s mercy in Christ!” The literal meaning is ‘transferring your allegiance, you are taking part in a revolt, you are deserting. You are perverting it.’
“You are following a different way that pretends to be Good News…but it’s not.” “You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.”
Paul argues “God CALLED you in Christ…. This was MERCY! This was GRACE!’ This is the order of the Gospel. God ACCEPTS us in Christ…..THEN we follow Him! Not the other way round. The Gospel-twisters were saying “Do this, do that, do the other… become like US, earn your badges…then you’re accepted by God.”
This is how religion works. Show God something, give God something, then He accepts you. It’s not the Gospel.
Don’t be fooled today in to believing a perverted Gospel. If you are trying hard to make God like you and accept you, stop. Receive grace and mercy instead.
It you have given up, because you know you are a bad Christian, then good. Start again. Recognise mercy and grace for you again in Jesus Christ.
A shammy, add-on performance-related gospel does no-one any favours. It rejects grace – the very thing that saves us and enables us to live – and it means we undermine and diminish God’s ability to save. It’s criticising the master. It’s disrespectful to God.
The Gospel is received by revelation, it is grace, it is not to be tampered with, just as you would never dream of drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa to improve it. It’s Heaven’s masterpiece plan.
Paul is in effect saying, “ You change this masterpiece of Good News, it’s no longer the masterpiece. You forge a copy and change it, it’s a fake. CURSE you if you do this! ANYONE WHO PREACHES A DIFFERENT GOSPEL TO THE ONE I RECEIVED AND PASSED ON, I WILL SAY IT TWICE….CURSED!”
Jesus came to rescue us from the constraints and the demands of the law, and to transform us by his grace; to make us righteous instead of having us strive to become righteous; to atone for us and forgive us instead of us having to atone for ourselves. Paul says, (v11-12) the gospel message he preaches to them is received, not reasoned. Received not from a person, but from God. Received through blindness, through falling off a horse, through hearing the gracious voice of the one he was trying to kill.
Some discussion/ study questions (some of them unashamedly from John Stott’s studies in Galatians)
- What key themes are there in the first 5 verses in response to the controversy with the false teachers?
- How significant was it for Paul to say He was an Apostle, “sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father?”
- Re-word in your own way an outline of the Gospel in a nutshell, based on verses 1-5.
- In his other letters, Paul goes on after the greeting to pray for the readers, praise them or thank them. But what does he do in this letter and why?
- Contrast grace thinking and works thinking, as you understand them.
- Verses 8-9 tell us we should judge the teacher by the Gospel and not judge the Gospel by the teacher. Why?
- There is a popular view in the wider church that the Gospel changes with the changing times. How could you argue against that using Paul’s perspective in this chapter?
- Have you been swayed by a false Gospel at all? Ever? What was false about it?
- When are you or others most likely to judge the Gospel according to a teacher rather than judging the teacher by the Gospel?
- How does the Gospel of Outrageous Grace make you feel about the Father and the Son? What effect does this Gospel of Grace have on you today?
(Posted by Marcus Mosey, Sunday 7th October 2018)