June 7, 2019
No Other Gospel
Galatians 1:6-10 6 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— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 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. 9 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. 10 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.
In several other epistles of Paul, there is usually a sentence or two – immediately after the greeting – where he generally compliments the congregation to whom he is writing. For example, in Romans 1:8, we get this:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
In Ephesians, its in v. 15 of the opening chapter, and in Philippians it starts in v. 3. Similar expressions are found in both letters to the Corinthians, the Thessalonians and the Colossians. But here…nothing. Instead, Paul starts right in with some rather strong words of shock and surprise at how quickly the Galatian church is turning to a different gospel.
As I stated in my first entry, the situation in the Galatian churches was that elements of Christians called Judaizers were muddying the waters for Gentile (and Jewish) believers by teaching a faith that added the obligation of obedience to Old Testament rituals and ceremonies such as the New Moon festival, the Jewish Sabbath, and other annual feasts.
Paul doesn’t mince words. He calls this nothing less than a perversion of the gospel of Christ. What’s diabolical about the Judaizers is that they were not totally rejecting the belief that Christ suffered and died and rose again for our sins. But what made their teaching a perversion was that salvation was not by faith alone, but by faith AND by keeping the Mosaic Law and Old Testament ceremonies. This perversion comes straight from hell, and its author is Satan himself.
Why is this such a devious and tempting attack on the pure gospel? It caters to our innate sinful desire to see something worthy inside us (apart from the working of the Holy Spirit) that we can enjoin to Christ’s work in saving ourselves. We want to believe that there is, indeed, something good in each of us, some power to take a step toward God. It hearkens back to the original temptation Satan used on Adam and Eve in the garden…“You will be like God…”
On one level, you’d think that any church that HAS HAD PAUL as their pastor, even for a short period of time, should never struggle with being swayed by false doctrines. They had the best of the best in teachers, and yet they succumbed to false doctrine. Is there a lesson for us here? I think so.
How well acquainted are we with God’s Word and its teachings that we can sniff out false doctrine when we hear it? By God’s grace, Trinity has been blessed with pastors who have faithfully presented the gospel in its truth and purity, and by his grace, that will continue well into the future. But there are countless examples in our society of churches and denominations who haven’t been so faithfully shepherded, where subtle changes in the preaching of the gospel have occurred and continue to occur. And before long, they’re not so subtle anymore. Like the Judaizers, the heresies are mixed with standard Christian teachings.
Consider these statistics from Christianity Today (September, 2016):
- 64% of American Christians say that God accepts the worship of not only Christians, but Jews and Muslims as well;
- 31% of American Christians OBJECT to the belief that there is one God;
- 35% of American Christians OBJECT to the doctrine that God is perfect;
- 34% of American Christians no longer believe that God answers prayer.
Keep in mind these are folks who identify themselves as Christian. The study also found a surprising level of confusion surrounding core Christian doctrine, including whether Jesus was fully divine, whether the Holy Spirit is a force or a personal being, and whether salvation depends on God or humans making the first move.
How can this happen to the church? I believe it starts when the infallibility and inerrancy of Scriptures is called into question. But heresies spread most quickly among those who are biblically illiterate or ill-prepared to combat false doctrine when it is presented. (Most people who end up rejecting Christianity in college say it happened when they could not respond to the “science” of evolution.)
Pastor Carl would NEVER do this, but what if he intentionally inserted a few sentences of false doctrine into a sermon for the purpose of seeing if congregational members would notice. How would you do?
- “God will always reward true faith with material blessings in this life.” Statistically, 46% of folks would believe that. (It’s called prosperity gospel and it’s a lie.)
- “There may be a hell, but I think it is empty.” This is a direct quote from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. Is she right? Not based on Scripture. But it appears to her that what Scripture says doesn’t really matter, because the ELCA rejected the infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures decades ago. It’s all open to conjecture and reapplication for our times. This is what eventually comes from that heresy, and it will only get worse.
Point #1: Don’t Walk Like an Egyptian, Walk Like a Berean!
In Acts 17:11, Luke writes, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
It’s clear from the Scriptures that God intends each of us to be accountable for our own reading of his Word. Don’t let others do your reading for you. To be certain, Pastor Carl is an awesome pastor and preacher, and we certainly can trust that he’s going to deliver a message that is spot on and consistent with the Holy Scriptures. But I love Pastor’s sermons not because they are his, but because they expound on what God’s Word says. Jesus says, “If you remain in my Word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
As you read and are confronted with difficulties or applications, ask questions. I do all the time! Pastor Carl and I are often engaged in discussions around difficult passages. It’s one of the reasons I started this Bible study/blog.
Point # 2: Embrace the Fact that We Don’t Fit This World
What could compel a church to soften or compromise true biblical doctrine? The answer is alluded to in v. 10 where Paul asks rhetorically, 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.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy (4:3-4), he addresses the reality that the gospel will always be fundamentally objectionable to the world: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
This is probably the hardest part of this whole discussion. One of our strongest urges is to be liked and accepted by others. The temptation is for us to make slight adjustments to our doctrines so that we won’t be quite as objectionable to unbelievers. But Jesus himself told us that we should expect such rejection. Jesus is quoted in John 15: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Am I right? Don’t take my word for it! Let God have the last word!
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 1:4
If you haven’t signed up to receive this blog and you’d like to start receiving it, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – Rick
May 31, 2019
Welcome to this Bible study blog on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. This is my first attempt at an “online” Bible study, with a select group of friends and colleagues whose faith I admire and whose take on Scripture I respect. My intent is to develop a deeper dive into Scripture, but on a pace (approximately one entry every other week) and via a forum that allows you to participate as you are able. I invite you to make this truly a collaborative effort, which is to say I invite your input along the way. Please add your thoughts and insights and as if this were a Bible study where we’re all sitting together around a table or in a living room.
Having said that, as would be the case if we were meeting face-to-face, no one is required to chime in. Your engagement in this study can be whatever you want it to be. This is gospel, not law!
To guide our study, my blog will consist of my thoughts on the reading. I may add a few discussion questions, but this is really more about hearing your thoughts.
Introduction to Galatians
This was one of Martin Luther’s most written about epistles. He had this to say:
“He [Paul] boasts that his doctrine and office are from God alone, in order that he might silence the boast of the false apostles…He says it is not true, even if an angel were to preach differently, or he himself…and concludes that everyone must be justified without merit, without works, without law, through Christ alone. He shows that the law brings sin and a curse rather than righteousness. Righteousness is promised by God, fulfilled by Christ without the law, given to us – out of grace alone…he teaches the works of love that ought to follow faith.”
At first read, there doesn’t seem to be a lot here for the purpose of meditation. But there is. We know the backstory on how Paul became an apostle. Here he feels the need to remind his readers (who were a mixture of both Jews and Gentiles) that his credentials come from Christ and the Father. It’s like he’s preparing in advance for what may be some pushback on what he’s about to say, and he wants to make it clear that his words come with the authority of God Himself.
Paul had visited the areas of Galatia on two previous occasions, so he knew these people and they knew him. It’s believed that the reason for this letter was that the churches had sent messengers to Paul to make him aware of troubles among the believers, and to seek his help in addressing them.
Grace and peace…why these two words? Grace – we know what that is – the unmerited goodness of God to us sinners. Peace – is the consequence of grace. They go together like cause and effect. Grace is a Greek greeting, and peace a Hebrew greeting. So Paul is not so subtly addressing both groups within these Galatian churches.
Peace is one of those words that has layers of meaning, and most people probably never contemplate the depth of peace that Paul is using in his greeting here. It’s peace that comes from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We often hear those words as an introduction from the pastor before he begins his sermon, and they may just fly past us.
As we’ll see in the upcoming chapters, the Galatians were under attack from people known as Judaizers, Jews who insisted on an adherance to Old Testament ceremonial laws and rituals – alongside the gospel of Jesus Christ. The result of that equation is anything but peace.
to rescue us from this present age…The consequence of Christ’s atoning sacrifice is certainly eternal life with Him, but Paul adds here that there is a present benefit as well – a rescue from our current conditions here in this world.
How often have you thought, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to face this [whatever tragedy comes along] apart from a relationship with Jesus.” That’s what Paul is talking about here. The knowledge that there is something better to come makes living in the evils of this present age bearable. Check out 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Ephesians 6:12 for more on this.
As ambassadors of Christ, we are called to represent him in this present age of evil. That means we are to embody grace and peace – not an easy task. There’s no way we can do this on our own. As men of God, we need to go constantly to God for the strength and courage to truly imitate Christ and reflect His image. And then, when we fail (because we WILL fail) we go to him for his forgiveness and ask to be sent out again tomorrow, where new opportunities will exist. See Ephesians 2:10.
It is certainly challenging when working with my students and trying to explain to them about Christian doctrine…while the world teaches otherwise.
We broached the topic of sexuality…it was a difficult. When we have the LGBTQ community being placed front and center on our media, it’s a complex idea for the students to understand, “hate the sin, love the sinner…”
Hey everyone. Here are my thoughts:
I think Galatians 1:10 is very telling of today’s world. Verse 10: 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.
I know I’m only in my 40’s (bring on the old man jokes), but maybe it seems that when I was younger, times seemed better, and people stood up more for what was right – particularly God’s perfect Word. Jeff Daniels sums up some of the things our world needs to get back to (didn’t mention Christianity- but some of the points are traits of strong Christians) in this video clip from a TV show – watch mainly 2:54 -4:15, sorry about some of the language https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyzDRc34l2g – Although the world’s always been sinful, and we always will be, it’s time we need to really ask God in prayer for the strength to stand up for what Jesus did for this world. Is it harder because of social media, and how people will bash us from every direction? Sure. Is is harder because everyone is supposed to be politically correct? Sure. I feel like especially now when we stand up for what’s right, according to the Word of God, people “attack” and call us ignorant, unloving, closed minded, prudes, etc… So, now I believe it’s so critical to dive into God’s Word as we need His unfailing love and advice every day of our lives. It’s tough as life gets busy, but we need as Christians to let God show through us, His shining disciples. We can’t do it alone, so that’s why we need His love to work through all of us, and for us to support each other and stand by each other. As I get older, I realize more and more how little I really do know (feel free to chime in with fun comments again), which is why I need to come to God and learn all He has to teach.
I’m also astonished at Galatians 1: 6 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— This world is scared of so many things if they speak the truth of God: others will speak meanly to them, persecute them, or abandon them. But God will never abandon us, and He’s the only person who can ever say this for all time. So, why are we so quick ourselves turning away not to different gospels, but to different versions – whether it’s loopholes we look for, making excuses that God probably wouldn’t mind, or saying it just works better to live this way? Bottom line…we are sinners, which is why we need to repent and receive forgiveness. But let’s pray that God might strengthen us (as only He could) to help us live in ways that lead others to Him as they ask…”Why do you act differently?” to which I say…my Savior Jesus Christ. So when we see Judaizers or sometimes behave like them ourselves – let’s stay in God’s Word and do what He wants. Ultimately, God leads us, but I think it’s crucial we, as Christians, help each other and be each other’s “rock” – standing firm …remember it’s tougher to attack a group of animals (not that we’re animals) if they stay together as ONE.
I also love Pastor’s sermons not because they are his, but because they expound on what God’s Word says. Jesus says, “If you remain in my Word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Rick, you made a great point when you said this. And to all of the eloquent (not me) teachers in our church, Pastor Carl, Rick, Fred, Craig, and the others I’m leaving out, thank you! All of you have been inspiring when teaching us about God’s Word. His Word speaks through the incredible talents all of you have and the many others I’m forgetting.
John 15: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” When Jesus speaks here, it’s very powerful. It alleviates some of the pain I feel when people view me or treat me different because of my faith. But do me a favor people, think about this: is the hate the world shows us nearly as bad as it was for Jesus? Of course not. So, let’s take some of the pain, stick a band-aid on it, and push forward knowing that God’s been through much worse, and that if it takes going through a small amount of pain compared to Jesus’s, to share the one-and-only true gospel, then let’s buy a large box of band-aids and push through with God’s help.
2 Corinthians 4:4 says: In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Referencing my daughter Aubrey, since she loves learning about Helen Keller: let’s show the light to the unbelievers by sharing the perfect image for humanity (our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ). This world, more than ever, needs to hear and see what Jesus has done for all eternity. Spread the Word whenever you can. I know I need to get better at this myself, but it’s so worth it to see the blind become 20/20 again in the Word. As I tried to tell Aubrey, I hope one of Trinity’s themes in the coming years is: Make Christianity Cool Again! Why? Because not only is it cool, but it saves us. How cool is this to SEE!
Because we are God’s workmanship according to Ephesians 2:10, let’s share our good works because of the salvation we’ve been given by grace through faith in Jesus. Again, it’s not our workmanship, but that which is given to us by Christ Jesus. As a former pastor once said, “Love someone so much, they ask you why.” When we share why…what a joyous occasion to share the good news of Jesus.
As I’m sure I’ve rambled long enough…I’m not as eloquent as Pastor Carl, I hope to learn from all of you everything that our Lord is teaching us in this section of the Bible.
Grace and peace to all of you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I like the idea of reflecting Christ’s image, even though I struggle to find the ability to do so. It is difficult to see myself in that way.
I was at a Wisconsin Right to Life event yesterday hosted by the Veritas Society. The speaker talked about how the facts regarding abortion are twisted and not always 100 percent truthful. There is a parallel to the false teachings or twisted truth about how the Gospel is preached in some churches. The more people are educated with the truth on both subjects, the better they are to make informed decisions in life and better equipped to defend their position.
Especially true for young people, like college students – who are really up against it on their campuses.
As I read through all of this, I believe that there is another perspective or lens through which to evaluate Paul’s message. In verses 6-7 of chapter 1 Paul writes, “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— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Paul then goes on to speak about those who are preaching a distorted message to the church., but my mind wants to take a step back. Why was the message of Christ distorted in the first place? Many of us have spoken about the social pressures of yesterday, today and tomorrow. These will certainly always be factors. However, from my own perspective (and this is where I get to the others lens of evaluation) I think Christ’s message is most easily distorted through my own failures.
In our first blog, we see Paul’s language in verse 3, “Grace and peace to you from our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Rick briefly touched on Grace and Peace, but I think these two concepts play an especially useful role in demonstrating this point. First, Grace is such a foreign concept to humanity. This idea of “unmerited goodness” is a difficult thing for me to wrap my head around. I don’t think that I stand alone here either. The concept of God’s grace has always been manipulated by believers and by the church. Why? Its not easy to look at myself in the mirror, knowing all my faults and failures and somehow believe that God can still love me despite them. What is easy? Comparing myself to others! It’s nearly impossible to overcome this idea of standing at the entrance to heaven next to Abraham, Elijah or Paul and not see myself as inherently lacking in some way. And whats the response…manipulation of the message.
God tells me in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Even though I know this, I can read this, I’m taught this…my sin and failure lead me to believe that this just can’t be right. Why would God just give a person like me this gift of salvation? Its just easier if there is something tangible to which I can attach his favor. Martin Luther famously fought this same battle…many of us still fight it today.
Second, peace is not as common as we might hope. On Sunday mornings we shake each others hands and share God’s peace. Have you ever really sat back and thought about what that really means. The phrase has become a common greeting more than anything. Peace alludes many of us. Some of us simply seek some peace and quite, while others of us have deep seeded demons that may seem impossible to overcome. Either way, God’s peace is an foreign to us as His grace. For goodness sake, Paul tells us in Philippians 4:7 that God’s peace “transcends all understanding.” If we can’t understand it, how can we expect to attain it? Or for that matter, somehow, share it?
So whats the result? We manipulate it! We turn it into a greeting, we attribute it to our own successes, we try and give it to others through our own efforts. In the end, it’s not just the concepts of grace and peace that become manipulated. The Church is as frail and susceptible as the sinful people who make it up. We all know that there is a playbook laid out for us in the Bible. Its too easy to sit back and talk about following the plays according to how they were written. Meanwhile, “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
So the question becomes, how to we AVOID manipulation of the message? It seems easy to identify when others have manipulated it, but clearly we are manipulating it on our own and in our own ways…by our own failures. I will leave that question out there for others.
I can see the “Be a Berean” t-shirt now. It is great to be a part of a community that encourages a Berean-like approach. The Mormon missionaries told me to do the opposite “trust the feelings in your heart”… well, that’s pretty unreliable. The Jehovah’s Witnesses told me to trust the logic of my mind, which—incredibly—they don’t realize is finite. So I deeply appreciate the Lutheran approach of always focusing on the Bible as the final source of truth.