Galatians 1:1-10: No Other Gospel

April 29, 2018

Ray Galea

We have a fight on our hands.

 

This week we start a new series on Paul’s letter to Galatians. This week we also commemorated ANZAC day. It’s timely because the ANZAC tradition was born in Gallipoli in modern Turkey. Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches two thousand years ago was to churches in modern day Turkey. Both the story of ANZAC and the letter to the Galatians involved a fight to save lives—one physical and the other spiritual. One fight involved bullets and blood, the other was fought with truth and the fruit of the Spirit, beginning with love.

 

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a war cry to guard and proclaim the message of salvation. The only good news that saves is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This was the gospel for which Paul fought.

 

In the opening of this letter, the apostle Paul comes out of the blocks hard. Unlike his other letters, there is no opening word of encouragement. He normally writes something like, “Ever since I heard about your faith in Christ and your love for the saints, I have never stop giving thanks to God our Father.” But he didn’t do this in the letter to the Galatians. Rather, he quickly turned to the problem because they have quickly turned away from the gospel of grace. Paul was not wasting any time. Galatians 1:9:

 

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! (NIV)

 

Wow! Paul says of those preaching another gospel, “let them be under God curse.” In other words, if anyone is teaching a different message of salvation—and they were—Paul says, “I want them dead and I want them in hell.”

 

Here’s a question for you: which side of this fight are you on? There is nothing politically correct about Paul at this point. We hear these words and most of us want to cringe. We want to fight against Paul and his strong language. Let me suggest four reasons why. First, many of us are peace makers, that is, conflict avoiders. Second, we live in a multicultural multi-faith nation. Our neighbors are not just Christian, but they are lovely Muslims and Hindus, kind Atheists and Agnostics, beautiful people who are gay and straight, sincere Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. Third, we have all seen what happens when people get fanatical about religion. Men like Paul are dangerous. They start wars and cause hatred. And fourth, we also live and breathe in a culture that is intolerant to intolerance. And Paul is intolerant at this point.

 

Let’s stop and think about our culture. Once ‘tolerance’ meant that people had a right to different views in a society. We believed the motto, “I might disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The intolerant person was the person who refused to allow other people to have and speak their point of view. Now tolerance means that all views are equally right. As one song put it, “You’re right from your side and I’m right from mine.” You can’t say someone’s idea or religion is wrong—unless of course it’s an exclusive religion. This is the world we live in and it is in direct conflict with what Paul says. Let me read Galatians 1:9 again:

 

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! (NIV)

 

So why should we side with Paul and not our culture?

 

The first reason is that Paul’s words are God’s words. Galatians 1:1:

 

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 (NIV)

 

Both Paul and his good news message came from God. He was not a self-appointed apostle—he was under direct orders from both the living Lord Jesus and God the Father. Paul was not sent from humans. His authority as an apostle was not given by the original twelve apostles, and neither was his message. Paul was sent from the throne room of heaven. That was why Paul could call it, “my gospel”. We don’t just believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ but in the apostolic gospel—the one given by Jesus directly to Paul and the twelve and passed onto to us.

 

What this means is that Paul’s gospel is not an opinion. We may be products of our twenty-first century western world, but Paul’s gospel was not a product of the first century Jewish world. God has spoken, and he spoke to Paul. Paul’s gospel is God’s gospel. You are free to disagree with it, but you won’t be right. It’s not a question of interpretation. Paul preached the gospel of grace to these Galatians, and then very soon after this, false teachers started to turn these young Christians away from the true message. The Galatians were beginning to turn to a dangerous counterfeit gospel—a ‘Jesus-plus’ message. This begs the question—who did they believe?

 

And who do you believe in a world with so many different options? I can still remember having lunch each Tuesday with a guy in his TV computer workshop. I shared the good news of Jesus, and we would read the Gospel of John together. And as we read, he would be convinced. Then on Wednesdays he would meet up with his Jehovah’s Witnesses friend who would tell him something completely different: Jesus is not God, salvation is not by grace alone, and unless you join the JWs you would not be saved. Who would you believe?

 

Paul says that we should ultimately believe the one sent by Christ and not the church. Even the apostles are outranked by the gospel once and for all given. Galatians 1:8:

 

But even if we [apostles] or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! (NIV)

 

No one, not even an apostle, can tamper with this message. So Paul is saying that even if he as an apostle were to contaminate the message of Christ, then he should be dead and in hell. The church stands under the gospel not over it. So neither the Pope, nor the Archbishop of Canterbury or Archbishop of Sydney, nor Ray Galea is authorized to tamper with the gospel of grace. The gospel of grace outranks every apostle.

 

And the gospel of grace outranks every spiritual experience. Even if an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! Even if you have the angel Gabriel appear in your kitchen, or if Mary the mother of Jesus were to turn appear at the foot of your bed, or if your dead ancestors came to your in a dream and they tamper with message of Christ, then as Paul says, let them be under God’s curse! I want them dead and in hell.

 

Doesn’t this sound arrogant? It is only arrogant if it’s not true. The famous Olympic athlete Eric Liddle was the main character of the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’. Eric refused to run in his preferred race at the Paris Olympics in 1924 because it fell on a Sunday. He was told that he was arrogant for defying the king of England’s request for him to run in the Olympics. Eric said, “My arrogance extends as far as the Word of God permits.” No more and certainly no less.

 

To fight against Paul is to fight against God himself. To side with Paul’s message of grace is to side with God himself. For Paul’s gospel is God’s gospel.

 

Another reason we side with Paul is because people’s salvation is at stake. What is this message that we can’t modify? Galatians 1:3-5 tells us:

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)

 

So what was Paul’s message? It’s the message of the cross. The gospel is about this Lord Jesus who gave himself for ours sins. He gave up his throne and swam in the sewer of our sins. He stood in our place, the innocent penalized for the guilty. He exchanged his perfect life for our sin-ridden lives. The gospel is a rescue message. Christianity is not a self-improvement religion. It is not a faith for good people who are then told to try harder. It’s first and foremost a rescue religion.

 

Recently Israel Folau the great Australian Rugby Union player was baited on social media about God’s plan for homosexuals, and he took the bait. He said that they will go to hell, unless they repent of their sins. He is clearly a brave man. He is a man of conviction, prepared to lose his place on the team and the millions of dollars that goes with it. I honour him for that.

 

What would you have said?

 

It’s easy for Christians to criticize others. In his answer I felt he may have let everyone else off the hook.

 

The message is that we all need to be rescued. From what do we need to be rescued? We need to be rescued from this present evil age. We need to be rescued from our slavery to sin and Satan and ourselves. We need to be rescued from the fear of death and the lies of this world. And yes, we need to be rescued from the horror of hell. We need to be rescued from a life lived without meaning and purpose. We need to be rescued to be what God has called us to be. We need to rescued to truly love God and others in the Spirit. We need to be rescued to have the certain hope of the age to come. We need to be rescued to enjoy God and his unconditional grace and his awesome peace. All of that is possible because God has thrown a lifeline—one and only one—to every human. That lifeline is the gospel message and it is this: we are justified before God only by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is God’s message. It is according to God the Father. If you tamper with it, people die. If you change it, people go to hell. We all need to be rescued.

 

I read a story in December last year in the Good Weekend. It was about an 18 year old woman, Merav, who nearly drowned in 1970 at Gunnamatta beach in Victoria. You can read it too at https://www.canberratimes.com.au/good-weekend/drowning-statistics-are-a-deadly-reminder-of-our-complex-relationship-with-water-20170208-gu85c6.html. Here is my potted summary. Merav was on a romantic walk with her teenage boyfriend on the beach. In a fit of pride—she ignored her boyfriend`s warning—she jumped in for a swim in the pounding swell. Before too long she knew she is in serious trouble. She said, “It was like seeing a parade of the story of my life so far, the episodes. Things like stealing from my cousin’s piggy bank when I was five.” She said, “I was agnostic but I had such a spiritual experience with this drowning. … I felt ashamed of every bad thing I’d done. Not being a good enough daughter, not studying hard enough. Everything. I was aware someone had been assessing me.” She then asked for help: “I was praying, ‘Please save me! I will be so good! I will be your greatest servant.” (Fenella Souter, ‘How Drowning Happens’, Good Weekend, December 2017, p 20-23). Immediately, Merav saw a golden beam of light break through the dark clouds. She saw a dog and then two people walking up the sand dunes—a young man and woman run toward her frantic boyfriend. The young man strips off his trousers and plunges into the surf. He was only 16. After treading water for two hours she was finally rescued. As she came ashore she was vomiting and shivering violently. She couldn’t find the words at the time but later bought an expensive sound system to thank the 16 year old.

 

There is no doubt this woman needed to be rescue. She knew her pride got her into this mess. She knew she could not get herself out of the raging sea. And she humbly cried out to God to save her. She was drowning and she needed someone to rescue her.

 

Every person on this earth is drowning in the present evil age. What was interestingly is that it didn’t take her long to rethink what happened to her. In the days to come, she found herself doubting. “I backed away from that idea of a deity (God) really quickly”, she says now, a little shamefaced. “Now that I was safe I wanted reason to prevail.” She was ashamed that she cried out to God. “I felt I was just another cliché except that the feeling was so strong that here I am, still able to feel it after all these years. I had to put quite a bit of energy into suppressing that experience because I wanted to consider myself a rational being, but lately I find myself thinking about it more and more.”

 

It’s pride that gets us into trouble and pride that refuses to cry out to God and pride that does not want to trust Jesus alone to save us. Merav got it, and then turned away so quickly from the one who saved her.

 

And the Galatians got it, and then turning away to another explanation. Galatians 1:6-7:

 

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— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (NIV)

 

That is why Paul fights with so much passion. If the Galatians turn to another gospel, they will not be saved. There is only one lifeline. There is no other true gospel. There is only one true savior—it is Jesus who saves.

 

Only the gospel can save. That is why we preach that gospel at MBM. We throw that one lifeline out every service. It’s why we run ‘Explaining Christianity’ every term. This is the clearest lifeline. So the next time you see the slide advertising ‘Explaining Christianity’, then don’t turn off. It’s code to pray—pray that many will attend and take that lifeline. Use that time as an opportunity to think of who you can invite. Come yourself and check it out. Ask your friends and family. Say, “Would you like to come to short talk and free dinner explaining Christianity? It’s on Tuesday week, May the 8th, I’ll come with you.”

 

God has only thrown one lifeline, and people need to be rescued.

 

MBM is not an ocean liner: we are a search and rescue boat. The great missionary C T Studd said, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.” But God wants the church to be that rescue shop within a yard of hell.

 

To rescue people we can’t change this message. Unfortunately, what often happens is that the church is flexible on the gospel which can’t change and not flexible on its traditions which can and should change. So yes, we fight for the truth of the gospel. It’s why Paul fights hard in this letter. It’s why so many died for it in history, especially during the Reformation. The same battle is being fought today in bible colleges around the world. It’s why they need your prayers. It’s being fought in every human heart. The battle is to believe it and keep believing it. It’s being fought for in homes.

 

My adult niece had crazy ideas of Jesus that were not in the bible. So one day she said, “Uncle Ray, are you saying that if I don’t believe in the Jesus of the Bible, I can’t go to heaven.” She said it so clearly, and what was I to say? “That is correct and it’s only correct because Jesus said it.”

 

There is no other lifeline, no other savior, no other Jesus, and no other gospel.