Three days ago Pastor John got us started on the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians. We will examine Paul's message over the next several weeks, seeking to grasp its meaning for us today. Pastor John began our newest journey by reading Galatians chapter 1 verses 1 through 9:
“Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”
Pastor John invited us to see the difference between the Gospel (which the Apostle Paul preached) and heresy (which was being aired in Galatia by various religionist entrepreneurs after Paul had left the region). Pastor John illustrated the difference by comparing basketball, which you fellows know a lot about, with “slam-ball” which at first seems like basketball but it actually has a lot of differences.
Pastor John examined the problem with religion. Religion of one kind or another can have many people who are morally upright but spiritually bankrupt. They presume that morally good people go to heaven and morally bad people go to hell.
Being “good” can be really bad – proud, judgmental, legalistic, with no need for Jesus
Christianity is not a religion with a rule book, it is first and foremost about a relationship with Jesus. Paul preached the risen Savior. If we truly love Him, we will keep His commands. By contrast, the religionists who came to Galatia after Paul left preached that Jesus was good but that He was not enough; you needed to also adhere to all of the rules in the Jewish rule book. In Paul's absence they seemed to be getting followers from the Christian congregations in Galatia. Paul was upset hearing that some of his sheep were going astray. So Paul wrote to them:
“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”. – Galatians 1:6-7
The gospel is NOT based on OUR merit or works. Jesus died for our sins; He rose again. That is the Gospel. That “we must be saved by Jesus Christ AND by being circumcised and keeping the sabbath and eating kosher foods only” - That is NOT THE GOSPEL.
We are saved by God's grace alone. Jesus plus anything is nothing. Jesus plus nothing is everything. A good analogy that Pastor John gave us is: Water by itself is perfect. Water with a drop of cyanide is death. Gospel (+ education, + politics, + worship.) is that same death.
The Gospel is news not an instruction manual. Jesus gave himself and delivered us from the present evil age. This is a fundamental change in our lives but we must apply it in our lives for it to have effect. All of this is done according to the will of God; that is His great mercy.
Lastly Pastor John quoted from C.S. Lewis. He was an Englishman who died in 1963 but his words are still instructive today. It is useful to keep this quote in mind to distinguish the Christ from some morally inspirational figure or self-help guru or other professional religionist:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
The bottom line: God is adopting us into his family. It is 100 percent His will. We who believe are accepted never forsaken. But, the offer of His grace must produce in each of us a yes/no response. Do you fellows remember at end of Pastor John's sermon the video of the precious little girl getting adopted? For that little girl there was no middle ground. She said YES to her adoptive parents' love.
God's love is like that!