Galatians Sermon 1: The Foundations of the Gospel
Passage: Galatians 1:1–1:9
GALATIANS 1:1 - 1:9
Today we begin our journey through the Letter to the Galatians. For a brief overview of this book, I encourage you to listen to our introduction on our church’s website/podcast, it will give you an introduction to the background of the book, geography, dates and so forth.
Also, if you are here and you are a bible nerd and love to learn more and dig deeper, on that podcast I also give out a list of resources that you could purchase and use alongside of this sermon series to really grasp the meaning and weight of this short six chapter book. Please make use of that, it is there for your benefit.
All you need to know this morning is this: “Galatians” is a reference to people living in the region of “Galatia,” that is, the eastern side of modern day Turkey. It was written by Paul early on in his missionary journeys, and dates to around 50 A.D., or seventeen or so years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul and his companions helped to plant and begin these churches, which thus makes them very young churches, not much older than ours today. These letters were always written to be read in front of the churches, circulated, and then read again to other churches. And here we are, almost 2,000 years later, reading this letter still, preserved as the inspired word of God for us.
The central theme of this letter is this: Getting the Gospel correct. It is about understanding the nature of grace, understanding what happens to us if we misunderstand the Gospel and the nature of grace. Paul, in rare form in this letter, does not mince words. He is angry. He doesn’t write any pleasantries. There was a big problem in these very early Christian churches, which we will see, and the error wasn’t a minor one. False teachers had come into the churches, and communicated to them that they needed to not only believe in Jesus and place their faith in Jesus, but also take on all of the Old Testament Law - circumcision, clothing laws and dietary laws. Now as we will see, this brought great distortion to the Gospel, and robbed it of its very essence.
The Gospel is indeed the A to Z of the Christian life. As we will see, if you want to understand the very nature of Christianity you must understand the nature of the Gospel. And there lies something important that I want all of you first understand: when you hear the word “Gospel” I want to try and alter your vocabulary a little. The actual meaning of the word “Gospel” is simply “Good News.” It is not a Christian term. The Biblical authors did not invent the word. If you were alive in 50 A.D., and your brother had a baby, he could run to you and say “I have a Gospel for you!” in other words, I have Good news for you.
Now, what is news? News is something that has already happened. It has already taken place. Therefore, any news you receive or get is simply news of something that has already happened that have some sort of bearing on your life today. And also, if the Gospel is Good News, then this past event that took place has good bearing on your life today.
It must be understood that the very nature of Christianity is placing your faith in something that has already happened. It is a looking back to inform your life presently. It is a looking back to a past event that gives definition to your life tomorrow. This is what the Gospel is - Good News. So when you read the word or hear Paul say “Gospel” in this letter, say to yourself, “Good News.” Of course do not abandon the word Gospel. But sometimes we can become so familiar with a word that we forget what it even means. And by the realization and acceptance that the word Gospel is referring to a past Good newsworthy event is absolutely crucial to understanding Christianity.
And for us, as a brand new church plant - the reason why I chose to do this sermon series is in order that we may get the Gospel correct at the beginning. That we will adequately build our foundation on this Good News. That in all we do, the correct motivations and order of our actions and ministries will be aligned with that of the Good News of Jesus Christ. And hopefully, I pray, to help create a culture that continues to bring our gaze and focus on Jesus Christ and the Good News of his life, death, and resurrection - his salvation.
So what is this salvation? What is the Good News? Or, better yet, what is not the Good News? How can we distort the Gospel? What happens if we do? All of this, and much more, will Paul spend time addressing.
Now we must dive into the actual content of the letter.
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 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.
This is what we call a “salutation” - he is introducing the letter. In this introduction, we are introduced to the writer - Paul, who was the last of the Apostles, formerly known as Saul, is the author of this letter. He was a former persecutor of the church, a zealous Pharisee, climbing the ranks of influence among Judaism in Israel. He was becoming influential, and was proving to be more zealous than most for Judaism in his persecution of the Church, until Christ literally knocked him off his horse as he was traveling to Damascus to track down more Christians and throw them into jail. And after this dramatic event, he was somewhat cautiously baptized by a man named Ananias, who just a few days prior would have been thrown into prison by Saul, but now finds himself baptizing him into the Christian faith. And Paul began immediately preaching the Gospel. We will hear more of his story next week, as he himself gives a brief autobiographical account of his conversion in chapter two.
But right now, the focus is this: Paul immediately recounts the source of his calling. Did he make it up? Did he suddenly have a change of heart on the way to Damascus and consider completely reversing his course? Or did maybe one of the other apostles have a very convincing conversation that changed his heart?
No - rather, his calling was sourced in Jesus Christ himself. It was Jesus who called him, who actually spoke to him, appeared to him in his resurrected state, with all his glory and brilliance. It was Jesus who asked Paul the all important question, “How long will you kick against the goads?” in other words, how long will you kick against me, push against me? It’s time for it to stop Paul, and it is time for you to be my ambassador. I will show you how much you must suffer for my name” (that is my paraphrase of Jesus’ words to Paul).
In a second century document titled “The Acts of Paul and Thecla”, written some 100 - 150 years after Paul’s death, we’re told that Paul was a man of short stature, possibly had crooked legs and a hooked nose, had a bald head, a unibrow and was not very physically attractive at all, although strong in body - maybe this account reflects reality. But we know that he was mighty in passion, zeal and deed for Jesus - a man who after an encounter with the risen Lord, was never the same man again.
As readers in the 21st century, we hear Paul’s words and still nod our heads with thanksgiving and approval today - we have before a man who could give an eye witness account of the resurrected Lord. Even most “liberal” scholars would admit that this letter is from the hand of Paul. Clearly. And that being true, we know that this is coming from a man who actually saw Jesus, heard his voice, accepted his calling, and who eventually lost his head for it. Paul didn’t gain anything by his calling in this world. No riches, no power, no influence. I remember once I was at a synagogue wrapped up in a debate with a Rabbi figure about Jesus in Lakewood, and even he admitted that Saul/Paul could have been one of the most influential figures in 1st century Judaism. Paul walked away from all of that for the sake of Jesus.
Now we move on through words that may seem somewhat generic, but we must stop and listen to them, because they are far from mere theological pleasantries, and help to begin Paul’s message to the church with high intentionality:
To the churches of Galatia: Grace 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.
Grace and Peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The way Paul writes this sentence is very intentional - he connects Jesus with God the Father as if they are equal. Indeed, they are. And he then moves on to speak of Jesus’ atoning work for his people, describing it in three ways, with the final being the effect of it all:
1) He gave himself for our sins.
2) To deliver us from this present evil age
3) All because it was God’s will
4) To whom belongs all the glory
Think about this: Jesus gave himself for our sins. This is what we call substitution. Someone died for us, for another. Yes, we know that as Christians. But stop! Listen to it again: Jesus himself died the most brutal dead for us. Willingly. He gave himself for us. And he did so that he might deliver us from the present evil age. Jesus did not die only to be an example for us, as if we could look at his death and say only “He died for me so that I may be willing to die for others, to love like him.” Indeed, that is part of it, and the Bible even teaches us that Jesus is our example. But that is far from the primary reason why he died.
He died for our salvation. For our deliverance. This is what separates Jesus from all other world religions - be like Muhammed, or learn to be like the Great Buddah. Christianity says, “Our God came and died for us. Died in our place. Died willingly to save us, to deliver us from this age.”
What age? What is Paul talking about? You see, the way Paul understood things was this: the idea of two ages - the age past and the age to come. The age past - before Christ. The age to come - his return. And us as Christians are stuck in the middle. We get to experience some realties of both of these ages today until his return. He understood that Jesus saved us from the past age of ignorance of sin, of the age where God’s people were trapped under his law, crying out for deliverance. We’re delivered from this! Death was defeated, and the seeds of the age to come were give to his people upon faith in Jesus Christ. The age to come with have no more death, no more crying, no more tears. He will be the center of all the worship and glory of the world. Jesus’ resurrection showed us this and gave us a foretaste of it all. But that age is not fully here. Yet in the Christian life, when we have an encounter with Jesus, and our heart’s motivations become aligned with living for him in all we do - we begin experiencing the killing of sin in our life. We begin experiencing a deep conviction of love for God, love for others - part of the newness of life that Jesus came to make and will fully bring to completion in that day when he returns to reveal the secrets of man, and to make new all things.
But the order is important: the newness of the Christian life is a result of something that Jesus has done: the giving of himself for our sins, the one whom God raised from the dead.
We didn’t bring about the newness of life ourselves. Paul is recounting in these early verses the very crux of the Christian message: it is Good News. And this is why Paul ends his preface with saying, “to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
To whom be the glory? Who? God the Father. It was all because he willed his own son to die in place of us, in order that he might deliver us.
Now the question that begs itself after reading these early verses is this: What role did we play? Where are our actions? Paul is being very intentional here: they simply are not present. They aren’t there.
To God be all the glory because it is in the Godhead, the Trinity, that all of the saving took place. All of the proceeding words that Paul writes in this book stems from the reality that all of our saving as Christians, all of the saving work, was accomplished by God. And not by us. We didn’t save ourselves. Jesus did.
We did not labor to save ourselves. Jesus labored to save us. If we could save ourselves, well, all the glory be to us! Of what necessity would be the cross? But we couldn’t - the very point of Christianity - and only the God-Man Jesus could. And He did. All the glory be to God who willed this salvation. Good News of a work already accomplished! Paul knew that they needed to be aware of this, as they had dramatically shifted gears upon his absence. They had shifted in their understanding of salvation. He goes right into bringing attention to this manner:
“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!”
Paul usually begins his letters with encouragement, with thanksgiving for the church. He usually begins with very poetic and wonderful descriptions of the faith and love of the church, and brings a tide of encouragement for their faith. Not the churches in Galatia.
He chooses the strongest language: He is astonished. In other words, he is shocked. Have you ever received news that is totally unexpected, that leaves you in utter shock? This is the force of Paul’s language. He is confounded, utterly astounded. He simply cannot believe it. They have deserted the God who called them in the grace of Christ.
Deserted. The translation here in our english bibles is a good one. It denotes a departure from home. A departure from your own people. You’ve left them, and become a deserter. They have chosen a new destination, and left their former destination.
Where is that new destination? It certainly is not the one they received - the true Gospel. But rather, they have chosen a new one.
Now Paul, probably writing and with great emotion, stops to modify his statement. He says, “I am not saying that there is another gospel. Far from it. No, they have chased after other good news that is simply a distortion of The Good News.”
This is what he means: there is not other Good News out there. There is not another Gospel out there. They are acting like there is, though. And he says, in fact, there is not another Gospel, but rather only distortions of the Gospel.
Unfortunately our english languages becomes limited here. Many english translations usually alter between “distort” and “pervert” the Gospel. The idea behind the word is essentially a “reversal” - what the word means is that the back becomes the front. A B becomes B A. It is to change into the opposite. Therefore, it can be said that they have attempted to reverse the very order of salvation themselves.
Reverse what? Distort what? The Good News is God’s Work, his saving of us. Our salvation is his work, and his calling. And thus the Christian life after salvation is merely a response to what he has already done. And as we will see, they tried to reverse it, as if it his salvation was incomplete, and it needed our work mixed with it in order to be complete.
Now the Christian life after salvation is indeed our work mixed with his. Sin is defeated by the grace of Christ, and also according to the continual conforming of our will to his - in other words, if there is sin in your life that you need to get rid of, pray for help, and also pick up the sword and go to battle yourself.
But we cannot say that about the beginnings of our salvation. It was God who willed that his Son be sent to earth, to become a man, to willingly die for his people, for God the Father to raise him from the dead, and thus begin calling people to himself, giving them faith to believe in his salvation that he accomplished. Salvation is his work, and not ours.
They wanted to reverse it. And Paul does hold back his strict language:
“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 aw again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed!”
It is about the message. Christianity is about Jesus Christ and the message of his saving work. It is not about anything else. The message takes precedence above all of its messengers.
Paul is saying: it’s not about the false teachers. And the truth is, it isn’t even about me. He is saying, I am not trying to save my own reputation before your eyes. It isn’t about me, church. It is about the message. And ever if you hear me speak a different Gospel contrary to the one I originally gave you, then I am accursed as well!
That word accursed means, simply, damned. He is casting the strongest language for judgment against those who preach a different gospel. He is saying, “even if you hear me, or if you hear an angel say something different than what I originally told you, let them be cursed!”
As we near the backend of our sermon today, this is where everything hinges. This is why what we may call reformed theology, or what I simply believe the Bible teaches, creates the most healthy theological foundation for the organization of our church.
If Paul is correct - that the message takes all precedence over the messengers, if Paul’s brief summation of the Gospel is true - that it was the willing substitutionary work of Christ for the saving of our souls and for the delivering us from the present age, all according to the will of God the Father to whom be all the glory - therefore, it is not about you and your effort. It is not about your work. There is no ultimate hope to be found anywhere else It is about Christ’s work. It is about what God willed to do in Christ. That is why he gets all the glory. And that is why any message that says work of yours is required to be saved is to be considered cursed, that if there is any other Good News in something else that can deliver ultimate hope and joy - that it should indeed be cursed. It has nothing to do with the true Gospel.
Now there are some sects of this teachings that linger today, and many forms of how we can fall into the pray of accepting other gospels. But there is a more common form that we take on ourselves concerning a distorted Gospel. There are various ways we do this, but I’m going to hone in on what I think is most common in our area today.
THE PASSIVE NEED FOR JESUS
Within our area on the Shore, as well as Suburbia, most of us can have comfortable, cozy lifestyles. We hear of all this Gospel talk, and we agree with it. Yet we still find ourselves placing our joys and hopes and ultimate security not in the Good News of Christ, but rather the Good News of our Suburbia living. Many of us have never missed a meal in our life. Many of us live in a climate controlled home, have a vehicle, probably went out to dinner recently, watch a good movie while stretched out on the couch. Took a nice afternoon nap.
Now, I’m saying these things first off, to say: God, thank you for this peaceful life. I’m currently reading a biography on Winston Churchill, and I’m reading about the realities of 1940’s London during World War II - all of us should be very thankful for the life we have.
But I often find that we place our ultimate joys and hopes in this Good Life before the work of Christ, as if all we need in this life is to maintain our standard of Suburban living. If we can do that, then we are safe. Then your family will be happy. Then your children will have a good life. Yes, throw on some church attendance here and there, that is good too.
And it is also expected that we do our duty to our neighbors and community by being cordial, kind, keep our lawns cut and garbage out of our yard to maintain the look of peace and comfort that we all want, contribute to community causes and even do some community service. If we all work together to be good, maintain the quiet of our neighborhood, don’t do anything that infringes on our neighbors peace, build up your fence higher and higher to maintain your and their privacy, then we will all have good and safe and happy lives, and our community will be a great place to live. We hope the police keep the bad guys out and the trouble makers out of sight, we hope the hospitals heal the sick, or keep our eyes from seeing all the death that still surrounds us. Keep the poor and poverty stricken families somewhere else, their yards are usually messy, dirty, and they probably live rowdy lives. We don’t want that in our neighborhood. We’ll be good citizens and pay our taxes to maintain that separation, build up the value of our community to keep the poor out. And then all will be well.
At the core of all that I have mentioned, it can Simply, be summed up to this: it is a faith and hope in your own works or in this “Good Life,” what we think is other “Good News” before the finished work of Christ. It is thinking that those things can save you, that those are all you need in this life.
This very fragile and shaky foundation is a hotbed for a very insecure life. Lets face it: life can be unpredictable. And if you are finding your ultimate joys in the peace and security that surrounds you in our Suburban world, if something unpredictable hits you or your family - your whole world will be rocked. You could even find yourself shaking your fist at God! “I’m a good person God! Look at what I’ve done! And why would you make my life hard and uncomfortable! I don’t deserve this! You are a good God, I’d never wish this on anyone! Why me?”
The Galatians would have been highly concerned with every action they lived, hoping it was keeping the law to the degree that would please God and maintain their standing before him. What great insecurity! It would have only led to a dependence on their behaviors and dress and the way they ate if they wanted to find any sort of hope in this life. And with us, we become concerned with maintaining all our peace and securities and creature comforts, all while being a good person, if we are to find hope and joy in this life.
As we close, there is a story in the bible, a parable, of a pharisee and a tax collector. One was a religious man, the other a non-religious man who was a cheat, a fraud and not liked by anyone in the community. This is in Luke 18.
The religious mans prayer was clear: thank you God that I am a good person. I’m not cheating on my wife, I am not a liar. I don’t treat others unjustly. I fast and prayer regularly, I tithe 10% of my money. Thank you God for this life.” He had a good life, and that is where his hope lied.
The tax collector, close to the religious man, was found on the ground, beating his chest, yelling “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, his work, the forgiveness of sin he offers and the new life available to us in his resurrection - it is so complete, it is so finished, that all of these things we’ve mentioned can be stripped away, and we can find the fulness of joy and hope. Open your eyes, and like the tax collector accept the reality that as human beings, your heart is sick. Like that tax collector, he knew the realities of his need for Jesus! But the religious man lost focus of his need, and became focused on the good life that he was living. All of you in this room are just one or two bad decisions away from ruining your life. That is how fragile our lives are.
If your hope is in the good life, be warned: the Good Life can be taken away from you quickly. That is why we saw so many bankers and stock brokers committing suicide during the financial recession that occurred about ten years ago - their Good Life was robbed from them, and there was no hope left in life.
The Gospel has given us such hope that says I can find meaning, purpose, identity, security and the fullness of joy in knowing Jesus Christ, in accepting all that he has done on my behalf. And as he has brought me near to my God, the ultimate source of all beauty and wonder in this world, we realize that everything else we have in this life is only intended to bring glory to God, whether we have much or little. Our heart strings are no longer attached to the temporary things in this life, things that are all destined to perish. No past sins of ours are any longer wrapped up in our identity. We are a new creation in Christ! And we are now merely sojourning in this world, awaiting his return. This world is no longer our home! Christians, stop living as if this world is!
A Gospel informed life looks like this: we work at our jobs not to achieve more so we can increase our self worth, for the glory of God in Jesus Christ, by the help of his Spirit. Then, when we are given the many blessings we have in this life we can say “thank you God! My money is yours, my house and my belongings are yours! Thank you! I don’t need them, but I have them, and I am thankful.” All grumbling and complaining can dissipate. Unnecessary busyness and stress to continue to add more and more to your life can be taken away.
And if all you have gets taken away, through the hardships of what that would be like, even some of you here know what that is like, we can still look to Jesus and say “you have given and taken away, still, blessed be the name of our Lord.”
My prayer is that you have seen the utter importance of placing all of your hope in the finished work of Christ, and not your own. Paul, upon seeing Jesus and becoming a Christian, he came to realize this all important truth: upon receiving the finished work of Christ in his own life, upon receiving Jesus - he no longer had anything to loose. He had Jesus. May we take heed to Paul’s warnings, and also ourselves come to place our only hope in life and death on the finished work of Christ. Let us pray.
1 Corinthians 11:23–26
 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (ESV)
If you do not know Jesus….
We do not presume to come to your Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your Table. But you are the same Lord whose always gives mercy to his people. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, to remember your broken flesh as we eat this bread, and to remember his blood spilt for us by the taking of the juice. May we never forget the work done on our behalf - our only hope in life and death.