There is no other Gospel but the Gospel of Jesus.
October 31st of 2017 was the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. To many people in the church world today, the Protestant Reformation doesn’t mean anything. Who are the Protestants? And what was the Reformation?
First, the Protestants were not a group of college kids holding banners, blocking highways, or refusing to attend classes while their parents paid their tuition. Rather, they were deeply pious and concerned believers who were distraught over the Roman Catholic Church’s abuse of the poor and illiterate people of Europe.
Second, the Protestants were people who longed for the Bible to be read in their own language. The priests of the Roman Catholic Church only ever read the Bible in Latin. Very few of the common people could read or understand Latin, and, therefore, very few could read or understand the Bible for themselves. As you can imagine, this created a very abusive situation.
The Reformation is that era of church history in the 16th and 17th centuries in which the Western world reclaimed the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. When Martin Luther personally discovered the truth of the Gospel in Galatians, he was transformed. “The just shall live by faith” became the anthem of the Reformation.
But the doctrine of justification was not the only concern of Luther’s. In fact, he made a list of 95 changes that needed to be made in Roman Catholic theology and practice. The main point of the Reformation, however, had to do with the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Justification is the doctrine of how we are made right with God. The doctrine had been obscured by the Roman Catholic practice of indulgences. In popular Roman Catholic practice, justification could be bought.
The Story of Tetzel
Johann Tetzel was a friar commissioned by the Vatican to raise money for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica. Although the RCC later condemned his practices, at the time they overlooked them. Tetzel was a spiritual swindler, drumming up tunes like: “As the gold in the coffer rings; the rescued soul from purgatory springs.”
In essence, Tetzel made justification from sin a marketplace commodity that could be bought and sold like anything else. This infuriated Martin Luther, who reportedly promised to put a hole in Tetzel’s drum. And this he did—at least metaphorically—when he nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
Martin Luther’s life was changed when the reality of Galatians 3:11 hit home in his heart and mind: “No man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.”
The Letter of Galatians should remind us that it is a mistake to think that Martin Luther was the first to discover the doctrine of justification just 500 years ago.
Galatians was written in late AD 47 or early 48. Acts 8-15 contains the background for Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
- Chapter 8 – Saul the Persecutor
- Chapter 9 – Paul’s Conversion and Commission
- Chapter 10 – The First Gentile Converts
- Chapter 11 – The Church of Antioch
- Chapter 12 – Paul in Jerusalem
- Chapter 13 – Paul’s First Missionary Journey
- Chapter 14 – Paul’s Return to Antioch
- Chapter 15 – The Jerusalem Council
The events of these chapters in Acts are critical for the Church of Acts. They describe the breaking down of the wall between Jews and Gentiles, thus fulfilling God’s promise that the heir of Abraham would be a light to all the nations of the world.
In order for the Gospel to break down the wall between Jews and Gentiles, the doctrine of justification had to be properly understood. The result was a clarification of the teaching of the Old Testament and of Jesus Christ, which can be summarized as this: A person is only justified from sin by grace through faith in the atonement of Christ.
A person is only justified from sin by grace through faith in the atonement of Christ.
This opening passage to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians contains three distinct parts:
- Paul’s Signature (1:1-2)
- Paul’s Salutation (1:3-5)
- Paul’s Surprise (1:6-9)
Paul’s Signature (1:1-2)
Paul’s most strategic signature appears in the earliest of all his letters, the Letter to the Galatians. In seven of his letters, Paul signs them as “apostle” In his letters to the Romans, Philippians, and Titus, he calls himself “slave” and to Philemon a “prisoner.” For Paul, being an apostle recognizes several facts:
First of all, the fact that he was personally called by Jesus Christ to be an apostle or “sent one” or “messenger.” We read about Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:1-9 and Paul’s commissioning in Acts 9:10-19. Just as the Gospel is not of human origin (Galatians 1:11-12), being called to carry the message of the Gospel is not of human origin either.
In four of his letters, Paul says he is called to be an apostle “by the will of God.” God’s calling always has an eternal purpose.
Secondly, he includes the fact that he is a spokesman for Jesus Christ. Origen: “Everyone who is sent by someone is an apostle of the one who sent him.” Quite frequently I will have one child who will come to me and tell me that another of my children is misbehaving. Frequently my first measure is to send that child back with the message (“straighten up”; “dad wants to talk to you”; etc.). In a sense, my child is my “apostle,” my messenger. I have entrusted the child with a message from me, and so, in a sense, he or she is representing me. If it is a significant misbehavior, I don’t send a messenger; I go myself. In a greater way, God has chosen to send messengers to carry His word to the world.
Thirdly, Paul asserts the fact that his commission for presenting the Gospel is as authoritative as that given to the eleven disciples of Christ. Paul tells us from where his apostolic authority comes – it comes not from (apou) men or through (diau) men. Authority from man is not greater than the strongest man; authority through man means it is authority mediated by humans. In 2 Corinthians 8:23, Paul refers to “messengers of the churches:” “As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.”
No word has authority like God’s Word. When God calls, the church listens. Paul’s commission appears in Acts 13:1-3:
1 “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
He was also not alone in his calling. Remember that Jesus sent his disciples two-by-two.
Paul also includes the fact that he was called to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Paul addressed the epistle “to the churches of Galatia” (1:2), which were Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14-52), Iconium (Acts 14:1-7), Lystra (Acts 14:8-19), and Derbe (Acts 14:20-23). What is so amazing about Paul being called to the Gentiles is that Paul was such a Jew (Galatians 1:14). Sometimes God goes to great lengths to get us out of our comfort zone and ready to minister to someone who is different from us.
Paul intentionally states his apostleship is through Jesus Christ and God the Father, “who raised him from the dead” (v. 2). Jews believed that the establishment of the kingdom of God would be marked by the resurrection of God’s people from the dead. Paul is deliberately setting up the discussion on the basis that such a resurrection has taken place, or has at least begun, in Jesus Christ. This authority of the kingdom of Christ will be important in the letter “to the churches of Galatia.”
Paul ends his signature by acknowledging that he is not a lone ranger; there are other “brothers” with him at his writing who will vouch for the true Gospel. If you are called by Christ, you are never alone. Christ always has a Body.
Paul’s Salutation (1:3-5)
“GRACE TO YOU …”
Paul extends the salutation with a purposeful description of Jesus Christ, the one “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father….” He is preparing to refocus the Galatians on the true Gospel.
There is a bit of irony in Paul’s salutation. Wishing grace and peace to the recipients of a letter is typical. But in the Galatians’ case, it is grace itself that is being threatened and even denied.
Today, there are two ways grace is threatened:
- The rejection of grace. Grace is threatened when people seek alternatives through self-sufficiency or vengeance.
- The cheapening of grace. Grace is cheapened when it is not held in the context of righteousness.
“WHO GAVE HIMSELF …” — THE GOSPEL IN A NUTSHELL
If we do not keep the simple Gospel clearly before us, it will become hazy. When you are driving in dense fog or heavy rain, you slow down and watch the yellow line or the white line. Sometimes the line is all you can see. Something has to be the yellow line in your life. Let it be the Gospel.
The purpose of the letter to the Galatians is to draw the Galatians back to the cross as the only sufficient means to rescue sinners from death.
The predicament facing the churches of Galatia was whether or not they were made right with God by the cross or by circumcision? In this letter:
- The Cross = grace
- Circumcision = works of the law
The purpose of the letter to the Galatians is to draw the Galatians back to the cross as the only sufficient means to rescue sinners from death.
The main body of the letter begins, “I am astonished (Thaumatsou)….”
What has surprised Paul? The hastiness with which they have allowed another “gospel” to influence their thinking about Christ, and in so doing have turned away from “the one who called them,” God the Father.
Paul is writing this letter about one year after passing through Galatia in Acts 13-14 (early A.D. 48) and probably shortly prior to the Jerusalem Council in 49 A.D. He is astonished that within a year of receiving the Gospel, they are already being led astray.
THE FOLLY OF HASTE
One year during youth camp Bible quiz, my team was getting beaten badly. The other team was beating us every question because they were standing up first. So, I strategized that the first team standing had the best chance to get the point. As the leader of the team I needed to set an example. The questioner began and immediately I stood up. The game rules were such that once a person stood up, the questioner stopped speaking, even mid-question. I was so proud of myself for beating the other team to the punch. But suddenly I realized I hadn’t heard enough of the question to know the answer. I stood there foolishly ignorant and embarrassed that I had reacted before I really knew how to answer.
As Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
I was quick to act but slow to listen. Needless to say, my ego was beaten worse than our loss at Bible quiz. Just like I wasn’t really paying attention to what counted in that little game of Bible quiz, the Galatians stopped paying attention to the true Gospel and began believing a lie.
Why do people lock their keys in their car? Because they are acting in haste and are not thinking deliberately about what they are doing right now.
Paul’s phrase is taken straight from Exodus 32:7-8 where the same phrase appears in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX): “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed it….”
Paul is deliberately associating the Galatians’ turning aside with that of Israel at Sinai.
Scripture clearly teaches that “hastiness” is not the habit of the wise:
- “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
- “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
- “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” (Proverbs 19:2)
- “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5)
- On the other hand, “Let not the sun go down on your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26)
In their hastiness, they had turned aside or exchanged the Gospel of Christ with another “gospel” (v.6)
Paul refers to this other “gospel” as
- A different gospel (1:6)
- A distortion of the true Gospel (1:7)
- A contrary Gospel (1:8)
THE NATURE OF THE TRUE GOSPEL
Paul will explain in further detail what the “True Gospel” entails, but already he gives us the basic truth of the Gospel: To accept the true Gospel means to live in the grace of Christ (1:6). There are three points Paul makes:
- There is a direct and immediate relationship between being justified and grace; to suggest that we begin, continue, or remain justified based on anything but grace is to “fall away from grace” (5:4).
- Grace is the grace of Christ; that is, it is grace given on the sole basis of the cross. Contrary to this is circumcision, or any act by which we attempt to earn merit for salvation. Nothing but grace by faith saves us, and nothing but grace by faith keeps us. This is the Good News.
- The Good News, the Gospel, is the message that “God has in Christ made a way for sinners to be accepted before him and that this way, being an act of God’s grace, is to be entered into and lived out by faith alone.”
EXAMPLES OF “OTHER GOSPELS” IN OUR WORLD
- The Social Gospel — Jesus is our moral example.
- The Generic Gospel — I’m not perfect; just forgiven. “I’ve been a sinner; I’ve been a saint — just a little bit of both every single day.”
- Pelagian Gospel — I have to straighten myself out before I can be saved.
- Pharisaical Gospel — I am saved by grace and kept by works.
If there is only one Gospel, there is only one way of salvation.
Condemnation is the result of following a false gospel — “let him be accursed.” The early church used the Greek word “anathema” to mean “separate yourself from what is cursed lest you become cursed yourself.”
Where do you find yourself in relation to the Gospel? Which one of the following categories do you find yourself in?
- You are clear in the Gospel and have embraced it wholeheartedly.
- You are clear in the Gospel but have not embraced it wholeheartedly.
- You are not clear in the Gospel.
- You are following a false Gospel that teaches something other than salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. You are trusting in your works.
- 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy.
- 2 Cor 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1)
- D. Moo, Galatians, 76.
- D. Moo, Galatians, 78.