Only One Gospel

Title: Only One Gospel

Text: Galatians 1:6-9

Time: September 26th, 2010

Last week we started a study in the Book of Galatians and I plan to continue this week and over the weeks to come until we finish the whole book. So it should be plenty interesting and very inspiring to go verse by verse through an entire book of the Bible. Jesus said, “Man cannot live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” meaning, men and women can’t make it through life on just the things of this world – on bread, on the material things of earth – but must rely on God’s Word in order to live the real life God intends. Yes, there are many people who try to live “on bread alone” because we can see our friends, maybe our family members, perhaps our relatives, our neighbors or co-workers trying to live on bread alone. As I was walking through Wal-Mart the other day I thought to myself, “This is a material world paradise. It really is if you think about it. In a Wal-Mart is probably most everything you’d need to exist in the material or physical world. Every type of food exists in the Wal-Mart Super Center, every kind of household product, nearly everything one would need to live a purely material existence.” But according to Jesus, that’s not how we should live because we are made not just from the earth’s dust – but as Genesis teaches – we are made in God’s very image, the imago dei, and we have an eternal soul. The material existence, such as what the animals live, isn’t enough for us. We simply must have access and input to the Word of God for our true existence. So with that in mind, let’s look more closely at the Word of God in the Book of Galatians. Today’s passage is Galatians 1:6-9, “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. 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 him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” From this short passage I can detect three clear points that Paul is trying to make. First, it’s easy to lose the true gospel; Second, there’s only one true gospel; third, don’t believe or follow anyone into a different gospel. Now I certainly am not accusing anyone here of believing or following after a different gospel; I’m just teaching the passage presented to us in the Book of Galatians. But it’s important that we understand what the Apostle is warning these Christians about because we might find ourselves at some point faced with a decision – whether to tune in or listen to, believe or follow someone or some ministry or some church that is teaching and preaching a different gospel. We need to beware not to be taken in by them. I don’t know about you but I regularly am visited by the Jehovah’s Witnesses who bring a different gospel than the biblical gospel. I’m also confronted by Mormon missionaries who bring yet another different gospel. I used to live down the block from a Christian Science church – they teach another different gospel. We all need to be careful about different personalities on TV and radio because they too might be bringing to us a different gospel. So there are many reasons why we need to be careful because there are many so-called gospels being taught today, but sadly they aren’t always the one, true, biblical gospel. So you we might not think we need to hear Paul’s warning, but we really do. So let’s look at the passage.

First, Paul reminds us that it’s easy to lose the true gospel. Galatians 1:6, “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.” We’ll stop right there for now. The basic gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are saved by grace through faith alone. We can’t earn our salvation by being good enough, but instead we must rely on the grace of God to save us. Well, it sounds like, just from the little we’ve read in Galatians, that these Christians were starting to depart from the gospel message of salvation by grace through faith – and starting to go back to some kind of salvation by works or human effort. Whatever they were into, it wasn’t the true gospel, but something different. Paul says that he is amazed – the word here means “to marvel or to be astonished or surprised.” Now remember, Paul was a missionary who planted churches. He had probably planted the churches of Galatia on one of his missionary trips, but as we know from the New Testament accounts, he’d then leave an area just as soon as a church was established and move on to another place to plant more churches. That’s a little like what Pastor Britt is doing by moving from here to Northern Michigan to plant another church. So Paul continues to pray and correspond with the churches he planted even as he works with other churches in other areas. He must have heard reports that the Christians in Galatia were going off track or getting led astray by something or someone in respect to the gospel. So this letter or book called Galatians is Paul’s attempt to get them back on track with the real gospel. But he was surprised and amazed that they would get off track so soon. What that shows us is that it’s possible to lose sight of the real gospel of grace and faith. Just look at churches today, particularly called mainline or old-line denominational churches such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc. and you’ll see many of these historic churches way off track as far as the gospel is concerned. If you ask many of these church members what is the gospel they probably wouldn’t be able to give you a straight answer. Here’s the most common answer they’ll give, according to the most recent surveys: in response to the question: “What is the gospel?” – most people answer, “By trying to live a good life I hope to obtain heaven.” Now what people don’t realize is that this is called the gospel of good works. But like what Paul said to the Galatians so long ago, that really isn’t the gospel at all; it’s a completely different gospel altogether. So it isn’t just these ancient Christians turning to another gospel, it’s people today – many who call themselves Christians – who have turned to a different gospel also. It’s a sad state in the church today that so many people who say they are Christians think the gospel is salvation by human effort or works. Saying something like, “I’ve got to be good so I can go to heaven,” or “I’ve always tried to live a good life, so I’ll probably go to heaven,” or “I’m not a bad person so God will save my soul.” These attitudes reveal an ignorance of the true gospel of salvation. Yet we find many or even most people making these kinds of statements. Yes, people can get off track spiritually and do so rather quickly if they aren’t reminded of the truth. Don’t think you are immune from error; don’t think you are above being misled. You too could be led astray if you aren’t careful. Paul reminds us all that we must be careful about who or what we listen to and read. We need to make sure we lead others into the truth and not be misled by them into error.

Second, Paul reminds us that there is only one, true gospel. Galatians 1:6-7, “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. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Notice that these Christians weren’t simply departing from the gospel of faith in the abstract, but in reality, when they turned away from the true gospel, they were in reality turning away from Christ himself. Christ died for sins on the cross to forgive sins by grace through faith. If it’s by works we are saved, the cross of Christ is unnecessary. Jesus doesn’t need to be Savior of someone who thinks their own works save them. That’s why Paul says that by turning from the gospel of salvation by faith they are turning away from the Savior Jesus himself. That puts it in more personal terms. It gets personal. To depart from the gospel of salvation is to depart from Christ himself. That’s why it’s very important to get the gospel right and hold to the true gospel. According to Paul, some people, probably some leaders whether within the church or from outside of the church were influencing the church people to begin to believe something different from what Paul taught them. They started listening to these teachers instead of what Paul had taught them. But Paul reminds them that any different gospel from the one he taught them at first really isn’t any kind of gospel. The very word “gospel” literally means “good news.” In the original Greek language of the New Testament, it comes from two words, “eu” – meaning “good” and “angelion” – meaning “message.” Put those two Greek words together and you get, “good message” or “good news.” Now what’s good about the good news is that we are saved to eternal life in everlasting happiness with God by grace through faith in Christ. Our own good works or human effort can’t save us because nobody lives up to the standard of perfection required for entrance into heaven by their own accomplishments. The Bible teaches that we are all sinners and we all do sin. Our sins disqualify us from eternal life; in fact, they only earn us eternal damnation in hell. Some people think that if they only balance every sinful act by a righteous act that balances things out and cancels the bad with the good. They think that will get them into heaven, but it won’t. The Bible also teaches that even our best righteousness is as a filthy rag, so when we think we are balancing out a bad with a good, it more like we are balancing a bad with a less bad – even our so-called good works are tainted with bad, impure motives, greed, selfishness. So a so-called gospel of human effort isn’t a gospel, it isn’t good news, because it doesn’t save. And a gospel that doesn’t save isn’t a gospel at all. Only when we come to the foot of the cross as sinners humbly confessing our sins, repenting of those sins, and begging for mercy from the Father, can we be saved. Christ died for our sins and we are saved by trusting in him and him alone. That’s truly good news. I’m sure glad I don’t have to reach some standard of perfection because I couldn’t and neither could you. The good news is that Christ paid for our sins on the cross and his righteous life counts for me, and his righteousness is added to my account when I trust in him. That’s good news!

Third, Paul warns us not to believe or follow anyone or anything into a different gospel. Galatians 1:6-9, “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. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” Paul is so adamant about getting the gospel right, he’s so determined to get these Christians back on track that he says this, “If I come and start teaching a different gospel, don’t believe me! Or even if an angel, even an angel from heaven, preaching a different gospel, don’t even believe him!” Now think about that. They are being told not to trust anybody who brings a different gospel than the one the Lord Jesus and the apostles first brought. Don’t even believe the Apostle Paul if he brings a different gospel. And even more amazingly, don’t even believe an angel – even one from heaven, or one that claims to be from heaven – don’t believe anyone, who brings a different gospel! That’s pretty strong. But if that isn’t strong enough, Paul says, anyone who teaches a different gospel – let him be anathema. The word is the strongest word in the Greek language. It’s a curse. It literally means, “Let him be cursed eternally,” or “Let him be damned forever.” It’s not a nice word. It’s not a kind word. It’s a very, very harsh and strong word. Whoever would come and change the gospel of salvation by grace through faith – let him be anathema, let him be damned! That’s very serious. That’s why the Bible says, “Let not many of you be teachers, for them shall be a more strict judgment.” Teaching the gospel is a very important business and getting the gospel wrong can cost a person their eternal soul. That’s why we must guard the gospel. If a church or leader is teaching the wrong gospel, they can lead people to hell, because the people think they are saved and headed for heaven. If they don’t believe the truth they could die believing a lie and not be saved at all. That’s why Paul is so strong about this point. For us today, we need to constantly return to the New Testament, to the original gospel, to the first message preached by the Lord and the apostles and compare everything and anything we hear today with that original gospel. If what we hear today is different we must reject it; only if what we are hearing is what the apostles first preached should we believe it. That means we have to learn what the true gospel is and constantly review it again and again, so that we don’t ever depart from it. According to Paul, it’s possible to be led astray or depart from it if we aren’t careful, so let’s be careful. Let’s not just believe everything someone says on tv or radio or in books or print. Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet or from friends or even what you hear in church. Test it all with the Bible gospel message. I’d say from the looks of things, there is more confusion than clarity in our world today. Let’s not be among the confused. Let’s be clear on the gospel, in our own lives, and when we witness to others.

Now I’d like to say that if Paul is willing to tell people to reject anything he brings them that isn’t what was originally taught, then I certainly am willing to live by that same standard. So if you hear me say anything that isn’t in line with what the Bible teaches or has been taught by the Christian faith from day one, don’t listen to it. Or if Pastor Britt returns and for some reason starts teaching and preaching a different gospel, don’t listen to him or me if I start teaching a different gospel. I’m sure he’d say the same thing. Now I don’t anticipate that Pastor Britt would ever depart from the gospel, and I can say to you now that I don’t plan on departing from the gospel, but if either of us do change the gospel, don’t believe us, reject it. Hold to the gospel against anyone or anything. Now that doesn’t mean that we all have to agree on every single biblical interpretation or doctrine taught in Christianity. There is room for disagreement on minor issues or things that are unclear. For example, you probably all know by now that there is a lot of disagreement in the Christian world over what exactly will happen in the end times. Some people interpret the Book of Revelations one way, others interpret it differently. I’m not talking about differences in interpretation. Paul isn’t saying that there can’t be differences and disagreements on other issues. But in such an important area of truth as the gospel, it’s so important that we must all get it right. That’s why the Reformation over 500 years ago happened. Believe it or not, the established church – at that time the Roman Catholic church – had gotten off track on the gospel. They were teaching that salvation was a combination of grace and works, of faith and human effort. The gospel teaching that the Apostle Paul taught in Romans and Galatians was being ignored. Courageous men like Martin Luther and John Calvin protested and called for reform. The established church refused to change and so the many different Protestant churches formed in order to bring about biblical reformation. The irony is that today many of the churches that broke from the Catholic church to reform, now they themselves need reforming! They’ve lost the gospel too! And that same thing can happen to individual Christians too. We can forget the gospel of grace by faith and start acting and thinking as if salvation comes from our human effort and works. We can get off track; that is possible. Again, that’s why we have to come back again and again to the Bible and never let anything or anyone move us. Do you need to come back to God today? Do you need to come back to the Bible? Do you need to come back to the gospel of grace through faith? Have you been trying to work your way to haven by your own human efforts? Maybe you’ve simply forgotten that Christ died for you to pay for your sins or maybe you’ve forgotten that it’s Christ’s righteousness, not your own that saves you. Or maybe, you’ve never understood salvation by grace through faith until today. Whatever the case, trust in Jesus with you whole heart today, right now. Get right with God by faith. Confess your sins, repent or turn away from sin, by faith, call out to God and he’ll save you right now. Let’s pray.

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