Only One Gospel
May 29, 2016
WE GOT MAIL. A letter addressed to the church. Let me open it and see what it says.
Dear Brothers and Sisters of Swift Church,
This is Paul, the Apostle, hand chosen by Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you in Foley and the surrounding areas.
I can’t believe how fickle you are — how easily you have turned traitor to God. He called you by the grace of Christ to be his children, but you are embracing a corrupt message! It is not a minor change. It’s a completely different gospel. It’s not another gospel because there is only one gospel. It is an alien message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head. Let me be blunt: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let them go to hell.
† † †
WOW! WHAT A WAY to start a letter. Galatians is Paul’s only letter where he has nothing nice to say to the recipients. No “Thank you for your ministry.” No congratulations on steadfastness in persecution. No, it’s peace be with you. You’ve abandoned the gospel.
Paul is angry with the Galatians. Let me say Galatia is not a city but a region, sort of like a state. He’s writing to a group of churches in that region. Some of those churches he personally started. Others began from missionary efforts of churches he founded. He taught them the true gospel.
† † †
JESUS CHRIST RESCUED US from this evil world we’re in by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. God’s plan is that we all experience that rescue. It comes to us as grace. We are justified by grace through faith alone, and it is not a work of our own but a free gift of God. Our salvation is, and never will be, a result of our works (Ephesians 2:8).
There is nothing we could ever do to earn God’s saving favor. If we are in Christ we have his favor, forever!
That’s the message: Whoever believes in Jesus Christ will be saved by the grace of God. That is the gospel.
† † †
BUT THERE WERE some folks — religious folks, Christian converts — who came through the region of the Galatians. They made a beeline to the local church. They asked what must one do to be saved. The people responded, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a free gift of God.” To which the religious folks argued, that’s not good enough. Not only do you have to believe in Jesus, that he died and was raised from the dead, that he is the Son of God, you males also have to be circumcised. You must go through that ritual to be fully and finally Christian.
Well, the Galatian people believed such rubbish. So, some at least went through that Old Testament religious ritual to become Jewish to fully become Christian.
That’s why Paul is angry. This is not a minor infraction of the faith. This is a whole other faith. You can’t believe both. Salvation through grace of God cannot be valid if we have to add more to it.
But that’s how we are. We change the gospel of saved by grace through faith to saved by grace and __________.
† † †
I CAN UNDERSTAND why we do that, and I’m guilty of it. We are afraid of too much freedom in Christ, not too much freedom for ourselves but for others, so we turn to legalism.
It’s always been that way in the church. Freedom in Christ can be seen as license to do what we want. In fact, there are Christians who say as much. “Covered in the blood of Christ, I can live how I want to.”
● I can be married three times and have affairs between and God is OK with that.
● It’s OK for me to play Robin Hood — take from the rich and give to the poor — because that’s biblical.
● I can lie like a rug to advance myself and that’s all right because God wants me to do well.
● I can hate. There was an article on Facebook recently about some murder or molestation or something horrific like that. A woman responded that the perpetrator needed to be killed — after all, an eye for an eye. I responded to her that Jesus changed an eye for an eye to turn the other cheek. She wrote right back that when Jesus said that times weren’t so brutal and that with changing times and more cruelty, we can’t live that way.
† † †
THAT’S A DIFFERENT GOSPEL — or, as Paul said, a false gospel. But when the pendulum swings too far the other way we are into legalism. Saved by grace is no longer sufficient; there must be work, effort, a specific way of life to solidify our standing.
● How can you claim to be a Christian and be pro-choice?
● You can’t be a Christian and a democrat. (Someone actually said that to me.)
● You call yourself a Christian but I saw you in the bar last night.
● LGBTQ people are not Christians.
† † †
SOME CHRISTIANS CLAIM the only real Bible is the KJV. If you don’t read that, you’re a heretic. Some Christians say it’s un-Christian for women to wear pants. Some Christians question your Christianity if you attend a church with women leaders. Where does legalism stop?
Over the next few weeks we will look more at both license and legalism and their misuse of the gospel.
† † †
FOR NOW, HEAR THE WORDS of Paul to the Galatians and to us:
“There is only one gospel.”
There is not a social gospel. There is the gospel.
There is not a Republican gospel. There is the gospel.
There is not a Democratic gospel. There is the gospel.
There is not a capitalistic gospel. There is the gospel.
There is not an American gospel. There is the gospel.
There is not a religious right gospel. Or a progressive gospel. There is the gospel.
There is not a Black or White or Asian gospel. There is the gospel.
There is not my gospel and your gospel. There is the gospel.
There is not your gospel or my gospel. There is the gospel of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, who came into the world to rescue sinners. He bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might be dead to sin and alive to all that is good.
— Keith Cardwell