God’s Blessing on the True Gospel

Title: God’s Blessing on the True Gospel

Text: Galatians 2:6-10

Time: October 17th, 2010

“As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance – those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do,” Galatians 2:6-10. So we continue further in the Book of Galatians. Paul, if you recall, was battling for the true and correct gospel over and against distortions and errors that had crept into the church from false teachers. In this particular case, the distortions to the gospel were coming from overly zealous Jewish Christians who wanted to emphasize the Law of God as a means of salvation in addition to faith in Christ. They were claiming that in order to be saved one must keep the Law of God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul countered that teaching by reminding the church that Christian salvation is by faith alone apart from the works of the Law. Why is that so important? Because there is a natural tendency in all of us to want to achieve salvation rather than receive it as a gift. We want to earn our way into heaven rather than simply humbling ourselves before God and begging for mercy on his part. Our sinful human nature wants to think we did something meritorious in order to receive rewards after this life, so we all tend to gravitate toward a teaching that makes us feel important and superior. Salvation by human works would be a great ego boosting achievement if it could be done. But the Christian salvation message is that it can’t be done. No amount of works can gain us entry into heaven. We must rely on the grace of God and trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross in order to be acceptable in the eyes of God; nothing else can gain us God’s acceptance. That’s the unique message of Christianity. But it must be repeated and repeated over and over again because we as Christians and the Christian church keep forgetting it. For over one thousand years the whole Christian church forgot about it until the time of the Reformation when it took some very courageous men to stand up and say, “Hey Christians, you’ve forgotten the basic and essential part of the gospel – it’s by grace through faith alone we are saved, not by any works of our own, or even a combination of faith and works.” That took great courage because almost the whole church, all of Christianity, had gotten off-track. Even today, vast parts of Christianity, for example, the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church are still in error on this basic and essential point of salvation. Even many churches that have come out of the Reformation tradition have forgotten salvation by faith alone today. How can this be? Because it’s easy to get off-track, it’s easy to forget. So as Christians today we can never learn it enough, we can never repeat it too often – salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Today, we’ll hear how the gospel message of salvation by faith alone is more important that any powerful personality or position; it’s more important than majority vote. God confirmed salvation by faith alone in the ministry of Paul, but that doesn’t mean that even he had an easy time convincing people of it. But he kept fighting for the truth, just as we must today. Let’s look closer.

First, the gospel is more important than any human authority. Galatians 2:6, “As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance – those men added nothing to my message.” Paul wasn’t intimidated by any leader’s rank or position or status within the church when it came to the truth of the gospel. The truth from God comes first before anybody, anywhere, at any time. He wasn’t impressed by anyone just because they had a title in the church, or because they had a distinguished or respected history of spiritual leadership – or any reason whatever. The truth of the gospel is truth, whether anyone or everyone accepts it or not. Paul says that no one added or subtracted to the gospel message that he preaches; he wouldn’t have allowed for that anyway. The gospel truth is simply too important to allow anyone with any power or position or personality to change it in any way. Now why is this important? Because one of the ways the gospel gets changed is by powerful personalities within the church who get off-track and take the church off-track with them. Look at the history of false cults and you’ll see that they revolve around a powerful personality who is misled and then in turn misleads others. Look for example, with Mormonism, with Joseph Smith, who led thousands astray and with the Mormon church today which is leading millions into error. It’s the same with any false group. But it doesn’t have to be a false cult that can be led astray, good Christians can be led astray little-by-little if their leaders don’t guard the truth carefully. That’s what happened in the history of the Christian church. Error crept into the historic church early on, it became established, and then it was defended as the orthodox truth by well-meaning but misguided leaders. By the time of the Reformation the whole established church had been corrupted into a “faith and works” salvation message. The Apostle Paul would have turned over in his grave if he could have seen the state of Christianity in the 1500s. Martin Luther was a medieval monk who began to read the New Testament and especially the books of the Apostle Paul, including Romans and Galatians, and he came to realize that salvation was by faith alone, not by works. But the problem was that the church had been teaching “salvation by works” for so long that nobody wanted to hear Luther or change to return to the Bible doctrine of faith alone. In fact, well-meaning but misguided church leaders opposed Luther – actually they were opposing the Apostle Paul but they didn’t realize it – and excommunicated him. Put another way, church leaders kicked Luther out of the Roman Catholic church for teaching a biblical doctrine! There was a lot of confusion and great division. But for Luther and other Reformers, it was worth it in order to re-establish the truth of the gospel. Just like Paul says here in our passage, “It isn’t the position of power or personality that matters, only the truth of the gospel.” We need to remember that as we live our Christian life today. It doesn’t matter who is teaching it, it doesn’t matter how many are believing it, if it isn’t salvation by faith alone, it’s wrong. There might be close to a billion Roman Catholics in the world today, but that doesn’t make their teaching on salvation right. If they aren’t teaching salvation by faith alone, they are wrong – all of them. It doesn’t matter how popular an evangelist or teacher or leader is on television or radio, if he isn’t teaching salvation by faith alone, he’s wrong; don’t follow him. It doesn’t matter how big a denomination is or a council of churches is, if they aren’t teaching salvation by faith alone, they’re wrong and we shouldn’t follow them. That’s what Paul is saying, “As for those who seemed to be important, whatever they were makes no difference to me.” In other words, our loyalty is with God and God’s Word, not the words of man. Salvation by faith alone is God’s Word, faith and works salvation is man’s word. Let’s follow God’s Word.

Second, God’s blessing on Paul’s “faith alone” gospel was seen by everyone. Galatians 2:7-8, “On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.” In addition to the theology of salvation by faith alone, God confirmed the gospel by reaping a mighty harvest among the Gentiles wherever Paul went preaching the gospel from city to city. The church was growing mostly from Gentile converts even more than from Jewish converts to the faith. During the lifetime of Paul God began to work in the Gentiles to the point where the non-Jewish converts were more than the Jewish converts. How could the Jewish Christians ignore this? They couldn’t because it counted as proof that God was working not only in the ministry of Paul but also in his message – salvation by faith alone. Paul’s converts were turning from their sins, repenting and living holy lives. They were also taking the gospel to other Gentile cities and establishing churches there. The work of the ministry was expanding and growing. The same Holy Spirit that the disciples encountered on the Day of Pentecost was now being experienced by Gentile Christian converts! All the marks of Christianity were being displayed in non-Jewish churches also! How could this be if God were not blessing? As a result, all Christians had to admit that Paul’s ministry and message were blessed of God. Even the Jewish Christians who weren’t sure of his emphasis on faith alone had to admit that the Holy Spirit was working in the message and ministry of Paul. They may not have liked his methods, they may not have even liked his message with its emphasis on faith alone, but they had to admit, they had to concede that God was indeed working in his life. Paul was a respected apostle among Christians even in his own lifetime – and that’s quite an amazing achievement. Usually great leaders are recognized at some point for their accomplishments, but often it comes long after they’re gone. But with Paul, he was recognized as a genuine apostle and Christian leader pretty quickly. And even though the Jewish Christian establishment in Jerusalem wasn’t sure about his emphasis on salvation by faith alone apart from works, they did respect his accomplishments with the Gentile converts and the many churches he established on his missionary journeys. They respected his great intellect and intelligence, even if they didn’t agree with him on every point. As Protestants, we too are begrudgingly respected by those within the whole Christian church, such as Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, for our evangelism and missionary zeal – even if they still haven’t come to embrace salvation by faith. One of the evidences that the Reformation was of God and not of man was that it produced great spiritual fruit in the world – and it’s still producing much spiritual fruit even though sadly the lands of the original Reformation such as Europe have fallen away from the faith and have become secular. That’s just another lesson in how it’s possible to lose the gospel even after it’s been established. We need to be careful we never lose the gospel in our lives and in the life of the church. But if we hold to and build the church upon the gospel of salvation by faith God will bless our lives and church, just like he did for Paul.

Third, the gospel of faith alone in Christ alone is the official gospel of Christianity. Galatians 2:9-10, “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” By this statement Paul means that his gospel of salvation by faith alone was recognized as the official message of the Christian church by the highest authorities and best leaders. Now that doesn’t mean that it was accepted totally by all the leaders in the early church because from the New Testament record there was some disagreement. In the Book of Acts, for example, we read of a council meeting in Jerusalem where this issue was addressed. “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. . . . When they came to Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. . . . The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonder God had done among the Gentiles through them,” Acts 15:1-2, 4, 12. Peter and James spoke in favor of Paul, his message and ministry. It was decided that Gentile Christians should not be required to become Jews nor obey all the Jewish laws and customs. Paul’s message of salvation by faith alone was also endorsed by the council. So from a very early time the doctrine of salvation by faith became the official salvation message of the Christian church. But as I’ve mentioned before, that message got muddled along the way so that by the time of the Reformation it had been nearly lost completely. The only people teaching it were a few courageous leaders who were opposed by the established church. It took the Reformation and the dividing further of Christianity in Europe to re-establish the early church’s official salvation message – justification or salvation by faith alone. If we only knew the battles that have been fought and the price that’s been paid to re-establish this great truth we wouldn’t treat it so casually. But even though we can’t fully appreciate the fight that was fought to reclaim the basic and essential gospel message, we can hold firm to it and defend it today against any form of distortion. We’ll run into confusion and distortion often today as we talk to people about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some people will be confused about the gospel. Some will think that it’s all about following and obeying the teachings of Jesus. Yes. It’s important to follow Jesus’ teachings, but our salvation isn’t based on our ability to follow Christ in everything – if it were, that would be a new law, a law we’d fail at just as the Jews failed at keeping the law of Moses. No, the gospel is about Christ dying for us to bring us the free gift of salvation, it’s not about us earning salvation by obeying Christ perfectly. We should follow and obey Christ, but that comes as we are inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit after we are saved by faith alone. Let’s take the gospel of salvation to everyone we know, but let’s make sure we take the true and correct gospel, the gospel of faith alone in Christ alone.

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