Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 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— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:1–12, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.
Maybe it's time to update the Gospel. I mean, we know what it is. Jesus was born, lived a perfect life, died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and rose again to new life. Jesus perfect life and death in exchange for our sin and new life for us. We hear it all the time. It's the gospel. It's "good news". But maybe there is more. Maybe other religions have some things that we need to consider adding. Other people are spiritual. They seem to have ways of getting along in the world. Some of the things they say makes sense. So maybe we should incorporate some of those into the gospel. All good ideas need updating from time to time, right?
People say things like this all the time, even today in this modern world. The only real sin today is believing that you know "The Truth". There are far too many ideas out there for you to be sure that you have the right one, they say. The thing is this idea is not new at all. It's modern and ancient. In fact it's what Paul is writing this letter about. There were teachers, troublemakers, that showed up in the church in Galatia. This was one of the churches that St. Paul founded. They wanted to add in some things to what Paul had taught them. They wanted to update the Gospel. A little good works here. A little circumcision there. "If you want to be relevant to the society you are in…"
When St. Paul heard, he wasn't just angry, he was livid! He quickly gets through the niceties of beginning the letter but drops all pretense and shouts. "I'm astonished that you are so quickly deserting the Gospel and turning to a different gospel!" They had set aside what he had taught only a short time ago. They altered the Gospel. They tweaked it. They caved in to the ideas of inclusivism and accommodation. They buckled under cultural pressure. Smooth talking false teachers told them it was okay. As long as they didn't give up the core of the Gospel.
If you're anxious to do that, there are plenty of other Gospels out there. I have said the names of the preachers before. They tell you the gospel is about you. One asks the question "What On Earth Am I Here For?" Another tells you to ask God the impossible for your life. Another says if you treat every day like Friday, God will make your life happier. And still others tell you that if you are just less particular about what the Bible teaches and drop the old hymns and liturgy the world will flock to your church door. And more will try to convince you that there's no place in the church for discussions about homosexuality or abortion because those are personal issues. Nothing is changed. Satan's attacks against the church seem so reasonable. And they usually start out, "if we just…" And Jesus is moved from the center. And if Jesus is not at the center we have lost The Gospel.
But, the Gospel is a particular thing. It's not a conglomeration of ideas brought together by people wandering around the Middle East. It is not man's gospel. It is God's gospel. It is a gospel made sure by God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is the gospel of our being saved from this present evil age. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ who gave himself up willingly to the cross to save us from our sinfulness. It is the gospel of restoration with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the gospel that did not come from the mind of people. It was not made up by clear thinking human beings. It was revealed by God in the life of Jesus Christ. And there is no other way to have a right relationship with God than through Jesus Christ. Any other way of trying to connect to God leads to permanent, eternal separation from him. The true gospel is the gospel of our receiving from God, not our doing for God. In a few pages in this letter Paul says it like this:
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”” (Galatians 3:11–12, ESV)
and he further clarifies in Romans:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:21–25a, ESV)
Through faith we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is given to us freely without cost by God because of what Jesus has done. Faith clings to the promise. This is the good news. The true gospel. No human input. No human supplements. No human tweaks are changes or alterations. This is the gospel that comes from God through St. Paul without modification or accommodation.
In the face of the promises of God in Jesus Christ, who are we to change what God has given? As St. Paul says are we seeking the approval of man or of God? If we want to please human beings we can incorporate all of those things into the gospel and end up with no gospel at all. The gospel of salvation by grace through Jesus Christ, if it is changed, is a perverted false gospel. And Paul gives strong warnings to those who would preach that kind of a gospel:
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4, ESV)
Either we are saved by our good works and we don't need Christ, or Jesus Christ and his righteousness are given to us freely by grace. When you tweak the gospel to make it about what we do rather than what God has done it is no longer the good news. It takes Jesus out of the picture. And if Jesus is out of the picture what you have left is not the gospel but another of the many paths to hell.
There is only one gospel. It is the good news of Jesus that frees us from the curse of the law.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:10–14, ESV)
and so we receive this forgiveness of sins, that is, you are justified, by God's grace, his undeserved love for us, and nothing else. We cling to Jesus in faith that his promises are true for you and me. And all of this is apart from any works of the law or any deeds we do. And that is truly good news.
St. Paul's astonishment comes because it only took a very short time for the Galatians to go from a position of being willing to have their eyes gouged out for the truth of the gospel to giving it up entirely. This is fair warning. We must be always on guard. We must be always testing and checking to be sure that Jesus Christ is at the center of what we do and say. We pray for the Holy Spirit to be among us as we worship so that we would receive the good news of Jesus. And so, we hear it again. The good news of Jesus Christ is here for you.
In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:3–7, ESV)
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.