“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed (doomed to destruction, damned)!” (Gal. 1:8) Paul’s letter to the Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty, the Cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation and the heart of justification by faith alone. Paul wrote it to correct the false gospel that the Judaizers (Jewish legalists) were expounding – that Gentile Christians must practice traditional Mosaic ceremonial customs (circumcision, dietary laws, etc.) in order to be right with God (righteousness). Paul argues forcefully that salvation comes from faith in Christ alone (an imputed righteousness) and if anything is added it is a “different gospel” which means it is not the gospel at all.
Paul backs up his message by saying that he is an apostle (sent by God not man – v.1) and that his dramatically changed life validates his message. “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” And they were glorifying God because of me.” (See vv. 11-24)
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.” (Gal. 1:6, 7) Paul gets right to the point! A different gospel (faith plus works) will not only endanger lost souls from receiving Christ as they choose a works-based religion over the gospel (and all religions except Christianity are works-based), it will also cause Christians to lose their Christian liberty and add works to their faith in order to be accepted by God. (Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10 that we are not saved by works but we are saved for works.) “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Galatians 3:10 as Paul quotes Deut. 27:26) The law requires perfect performance to be accepted by God and thus we will be under self-condemnation if we are trying to earn God’s love and acceptance by keeping the law. Scripture says that mankind and even Christians are more wicked than we ever dared believe (see Romans 3:9-18 for a true description of all mankind) and yet the gospel says when we become Christians we are more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – all at the very same time. The more we see our sinfulness the more precious is the gospel of grace and the more we are aware of God’s grace through Christ the more we are able to drop our denials and self-defense before God and man. (See Pastor Tim Keller’s excellent commentary on Galatians at www.redeemer.com)
Performance-based acceptance (PBA) with God is “a different gospel.” Keller says that unless we believe the gospel (even as Christians) we will try to earn a sense of self-worth (righteousness) through performance. If we try to earn God’s love through our performance we will either feel spiritually proud when we are feeling successful (and wrongly judge others) or very discouraged and self-condemning when we feel we are failing. Yet compared to Jesus’ perfect righteousness (He never sinned once in thought, word, or deed and kept God’s law perfectly for 33 years as a man) our righteousness is like “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6) because even our best deeds are still tainted with self-glory. A little boy ran into the kitchen and told his mother, “I am six feet tall.” She looked at the ruler he was using to measure and realized it was broken in half and only a “six-inch ruler.” Likewise, we measure ourselves against other people (a six-inch ruler) and feel we are doing well only to realize we fall short of God’s standard – Jesus, the Perfect Man. This realization drives us to the gospel for salvation (Rom. 3:23; Gal. 3:24) and should continue to drive us to the gospel for Jesus’ power to live for God’s glory as He did. “I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
I once asked a new Christian whom I was discipling, what was the greatest thing to him about being a Christian? He said, “I now can know the truth and do what is right.” Christian liberty is not doing anything we want to do but having God’s power to do what He wants us to do, which as new creatures in Christ, is also what we want to do. “For I endorse and delight in the Law of God in my inmost self [with my new nature].” (Romans 7:22 Amp.) Later Paul argues that the law still has a purpose for Christians: (the “law” here means spiritual truth revealed in Scripture, not Mosaic ceremonial rules); it serves as a guide for living after we become Christians (Romans 7:7- 8:5); and, as we obey God’s law/truth by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we honor God and manifest His character to others who may be led to salvation. We don’t earn God’s love by keeping the law but as new creatures in Christ we delight in honoring and blessing the One who loves us by obeying Him
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Rom. 1:16-17) “Are you so foolish and so senseless and so silly? Having begun [your new life spiritually] with the [Holy] Spirit, are you now reaching perfection [by dependence] on the flesh (human effort)?” (Gal. 3:3) Paul is saying the same things in these passages in Romans and Galatians: the gospel is God’s power both to save us and to change us; both salvation and sanctification (spiritual growth) begin and end with faith – dependence on God’s power as we submit to God’s will.
Martin Luther exhorts us to preach the gospel to ourselves. “O law, you are not my Savior but a guide for my behavior and you have overstepped your bounds by accusing me and condemning me. Jesus loves me this I know, just as I am. And because He loves me so much, I (in my new nature in Christ) want to love and please Him.” PBA says, “I want to please you God to earn your love.” Whereas a gospel-based Christian says, “I want to please you God because you love me so much.” This is a response to God’s love and all He has done for us in Christ.
What were some of Paul’s feelings and the reason for them when he wrote this letter?
What is the key difference between Christian righteousness and all other kinds and why is it so critical to know the difference?
What difference does the gospel make to a believer in his on-going growth and how can they (or you personally) wrongly add to the gospel today?
How did the law (spiritual truth) work in your life before becoming a Christian and now what purpose does it serve for you as a Christian?
Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10 that we are not saved by works but we are saved for works. PBA says, “I want to please you God to earn your love (by works).” Whereas a gospel-based Christian says, “I want to please you God because you love me so much (through works/good deeds).” This is a response to God and all He has done for us in Christ. What is the difference in these statements?
Until He Comes, Len and Kristen
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