No Other Gospel (1:1-10)
Over six years ago we held our first public worship services with a series on Galatians. The context of the letter seemed like an appropriate starting point. Paul was a church planter. After his conversion he set out on three different missionary journeys in which he planted churches in the provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia.
After planting these churches Paul wrote letters of encouragement, instruction, and sometimes rebuke. Galatians is probably the first letter he wrote of this kind. It was written to a group of churches in the the southern region of Galatia. Paul had visited the region once or twice during his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). He preached the Gospel there and established several churches. The letter was initially sent to one church, read to the congregation, then passed on to be read in the next congregation.
Since his last visit false teachers, known as the Judiazers, came through the area and taught a message that was contrary to the one Paul preached. They called into question Paul’s apostolic authority and taught the Galatians “a different gospel.” Primarily, their message was that faith in Christ was only the start of becoming a Christian. In order to be accepted by God they must also be circumcised.
Fundamentally, this letter is about the basis for our relationship with God. The Galatians began to rely upon their ceremonial obedience—especially their circumcision—but all of us are tempted to base our relationship with God on what we do rather than what Christ has done. We feel justified when we’ve gone to church or had our daily quiet time. We feel condemned and unworthy of God’s love when we fall into sin. Galatians is a strong rebuke of making the gospel about our works. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Anything else is NOT the Gospel!
Read Galatians 1:1-10
Notice how quickly Paul jumps to the point of his letter. Actually, we could summarize the letter with two words from the greeting – “apostle” and “grace.” Paul wrote the letter of Galatians as a defense of his apostolic authority and a defense of the gospel of grace.
Some have condemned Paul’s tone. They suggest that he is far too harsh with his language. They imagine Paul to be shouting at the top of his lungs, wagging and pointing his finger and scowling at his readers. But Paul’s tone is more like that of a distressed father yelling at his son who has wandered into the street with oncoming traffic. To remain calm on an occasion like that would be unthinkable.
Have you seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? The one starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka? Remember the moment they are in the all-white Wonka Vision room and they are wearing all-white onsies with white goggles? Mike Teevee decides he wants to be transmitted by the oversized camera onto the television. Mr. Wonka tells him there might be some “messy results” as it involves being broken up into a million pieces. But Mike Teevee ignores the warning so Wonka nonchalantly replies, “Stop. Don’t. Come back.” Wonka’s calm demeanor implies a dark disinterest in the child’s safety. The boy’s mother was in hysterics, but Wonka could not have cared less.
Paul could never be accused of not caring. He simply cannot remain calm when his own children in the faith are deserting their only hope. The consequences of their actions are eternal.
The word “gospel” is found five times in this passage. So we’ll consider three aspects of that theme this morning:
- The Source of the Gospel (1-2)
- The Heart of the Gospel (3-5)
- The Exclusivity of the Gospel (6-10).
1. The Source of the Gospel (1-2)
Paul’s apostleship comes from God, not man (1). The only reason Paul would need to state this is because—at least some of—the Galatians were questioning his authority. Paul explains himself further in verse 11. But we should recognize at this point the unique qualifications of an ‘apostle’. This is what Jesus called the twelve men he sent out to preach (Lk. 6:13; Mk. 3:14). What separated an apostle from a follower of Christ was that Jesus personally called, appointed, and commissioned them to preach the gospel. Only a few men were selected for this office and because of its unique qualities, there were no successors.
You can read about Paul’s conversion and calling in Acts 9. Originally named Saul, he was on his way to Damacus “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). In the middle of carrying out a violent persecution of the church, Jesus Christ appeared to Saul in a flash of blinding light. He instructed Saul to go to Damascus and a man named Ananias healed his blindness. He spent some time with the disciples there, and “immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues…” (Acts 9:20). So Paul went from being one of the most ardent persecutors of the church to one of the apostles, personally commissioned by Christ.
The source of the gospel is Jesus Christ. The apostles preached about Him. In fact, He taught them how to do so. In Luke 24, after His resurrection, Christ preached to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus joins them but they do not recognize him. They were confused about why Jesus had to die, and they were skeptical about the report that he had risen.
Luke 24:25-27 He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
On another occasion Jesus tells his disciples,
Luke 24:44 “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
This is what the apostles preached. They preached a message about Jesus, because Jesus is central in all of Scripture.
Paul would not have had any problems if these teachers came through Galatia and complimented his message. But they contradicted it. They preached a different gospel. Paul taught Christ while they taught themselves.
He writes “To the churches in Galatia” (2). Instead of addressing them as “saints”, as he typically did, he uses a more generic term. It implies tension, hinting at what follows.
If Jesus Christ personally commissioned the apostles, and if it is His message they preached, then we do not have the option to ignore their word any more than we have the option to ignore His word. The red letters in your Bible do not erase the black ones. There are no contradictions between Jesus and Paul. The Bible, all of it, is the very word of our Lord. One verse does not cancel out another. The whole Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is the very foundation of this church.
Paul wasn’t simply craving people to submit to his authority. He defended his apostolic authority in order to defend his message, which gets at…
2. The Heart of the Gospel (3-5)
Paul greets his readers with the common phrase “grace and peace.” “Grace” was the Greek greeting while “peace” was the Hebrew greeting. His greeting has theological implications for the unity of the church. It brings together two communities.
“Grace and peace” is also short for the gospel that Paul preached. The gospel is the unmerited, unearned, loving-kindness of God. I like the acronym for GRACE: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. When we receive that grace we are able to rest in the reconciliation it brings with God and one another. Grace is the root of our salvation and peace is the fruit.
If you adopt a distorted grace, you will not find true peace. To add something to grace is to subtract from the gospel. Whenever you add anything to grace it becomes its opposite. The result is that you get the opposite of peace, which is wrath. The wrath of God remains on every sinner who does not trust in Christ alone.
We learn three important truths about the nature of salvation (4):
- Christ died for our sins – That’s what it means when it says he “gave himself.” In the Lord’s Supper Jesus says, “This is my body, given for you…” Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins. This is the good news of the gospel! He was our substitute. He died in our place.
- Christ delivers us from the present evil age – Christ’s death on the cross occurred once, and impacts all past, present, and future times.Stott Christianity is both a historical and an experimental religion. Indeed, one of its chief glories is this marriage between history and experience, between the past and the present. We must never divorce them. We cannot do without the work of Christ, nor can we do without the witness of Christ’s apostles, if we want to enjoy Christ’s grace and peace today.”Christ’s death brings deliverance. God the Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13), which implies Paul’s third statement in verse 4…
- Christ died according to the will of His Father – The will of the Father and the Son were never at odds. Christ gave himself…to deliver us…according to the will of his Father.
Paul gets so caught up describing the content of the gospel that he concludes his greeting with a doxology (5). This is the only time Paul includes a doxology in the greeting. He was so caught up with the truth of the gospel that he followed it up with praise. It is like being filled with so much joy you have to sing about it. Song is a powerful expression of what we believe. We should never allow that to be minimized!
That is the heart of the gospel! There is no other gospel. And that brings us to our final point…
3. The Exclusivity of the Gospel (6-10)
Paul’s urgency is evident. Paul skipped a section of thanksgiving. That is another unique quality to this letter. Paul even thanked the Corinthian church which was full of numerous problems. Paul replaces thanksgiving with a strong rebuke! “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” (6).
Notice the personal nature of Paul’s claim here. The Galatians aren’t simply abandoning a concept. They haven’t simply come to another conclusion about the Gospel on merely an intellectual level. No, in fact, what the Galatians have done is abandon the very person who called them! They have rejected Christ! The consequences could not be more serious.
The problem is that an external source has confused the Galatians about the Gospel (7). These opponents are known as the “Judaizers” because they told Gentile believers that coming to Christ was not enough. They told the Galatians that they needed to add certain ceremonial actions to their faith, namely circumcision.
Paul was a Pharisee before Christ revealed himself to him. Paul understood full well what legal bondage these false teachers were putting the Galatians under. And having experienced deliverance from that performance-based faith, he wanted to save the Galatians from his heartache. He wanted them to enjoy the freedom they had in Christ.
These were not simply Christians with fuzzy theology. They were false teachers. Their message was so dangerous they should be accursed (8). The Greek word is anathema. They are to be cut off from Christ and his Church. This word is used in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) wherever “Harem” occurs, the divine ban. It referred to people and objects that had been devoted to destruction.
These false teachers are enemies whom God has rejected. This curse doesn’t just rest on these men only, “But even if we or an angel from heaven…” This curse falls upon anyone who distorts the gospel in this way.
Christianity is accused of being arrogant and narrow-minded, but it’s the secular culture that is obsessed with canceling everyone who disagrees with them. Paul protects the purity of the gospel rather than cave to the sensitivities of his culture. May that embolden you to do the same!
Paul proves he is no man-pleaser (10). “I have become all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22). Taken by itself, who could blame anyone for charging Paul with wavering between two positions? But, Paul did so “for the sake of the gospel.” The gospel was always his overriding concern. His message never changed even if his methods did. When the gospel is first and foremost in our lives, we are willing to accommodate the weakness of others.
For Paul there was only one true gospel. It’s source is Jesus Christ. It’s heart is grace and peace.
We often prepare for opposition that comes from outside of the church, but Galatians warns of false teaching from within the church. False teachers continue to wander from church to church. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
But, it’s easy to point our finger at others. The fact of the matter is that each one of us has an amazing tendency to choose sin over Christ.
Winslow If there is one consideration more humbling than another to a spiritually-minded believer, it is that, after all God has done for him – after all the rich displays of his grace…there should still exist in the heart a principle, the tendency of which is to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God.
We never move beyond our need for grace. We never move past the gospel. The true gospel is a gospel of grace. It is a gospel in which our salvation rests entirely outside of our own doing. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” The moment we begin to think we contribute anything to the righteousness of Christ, we pervert the purity of the gospel.