What are you passionate about? What do you spend precious time and money on?
• Maybe you are a dedicated follower of your favourite football team?
• Or maybe you love nothing more than spending time on your garden?
• Or perhaps your family is your greatest passion, and you are prepared to do anything for their welfare?
Over the next few weeks at St John’s we will be looking at the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. A letter in which Paul is at his most passionate. Passionate about his family – about his Christian family. You see, Galatians is a letter Paul wrote to a group of churches which he himself had founded. To Christian brothers and sisters he loved dearly, and who were in great spiritual danger. They were in great danger of “deserting” (v.6) the true Gospel, the true Christian faith that he himself had taught them.
But before we find out more about this danger they were facing, I should share with you some background about the Galatian churches. Galatia was in the middle of Asia Minor, equivalent to today’s Turkey. Paul had passed through this region during his first missionary journey around 48 AD, and had founded Christian churches in its main towns and cities. Places like Pisidian Antioch, Derbe, Lystra and Iconium.
Although Paul initially preached the Christian Gospel to Jews living in Galatia, it was non-Jewish Gentiles who responded to his message most warmly and in the greatest numbers. So it was Gentile Christians who formed the majority in the Galatian churches.
After a good start, things quickly went wrong for these young Christians. It seems that outsiders came to these new churches in Galatia and started teaching different things to what Paul had taught. In particular, they were telling the Gentile Christians that they must start obeying Old Testament religious laws to be full friends with God and equal members of his human family.
Bible scholars debate exactly who these false teachers were, and whether they were telling the Galatians that they must keep all 600 Old Testament laws to be true Christians, or just keep the most visible, public ones like circumcision, the Sabbath and eating kosher food.
Whoever exactly they were and whatever exactly it was they were saying, these false teachers in Galatia were contradicting Paul’s Gospel, Paul’s Christian message. They were saying, in effect, that faith in Jesus was not good enough on its own to make you acceptable before God, not enough on its own to make you truly a Christian, not enough to make you a full member of God’s family.
This really made Paul’s blood boil! These false teachers were tempting the Galatians to desert the true Gospel, and threatening to divide the church. So Paul wrote Galatians to persuade the churches in Galatia to ignore these false teachers and their claims. He passionately wanted his Christian brothers and sisters to know that he was a true apostle with a true message from God. He wanted them to hold fast to the True Gospel he had preached to them.
In today’s passage, in particular, Paul passionately wants the Galatians to know that i) the true Gospel is from God, and ii) that only this Gospel is Good News. Just like the Galatians 2000 years again, it is essential for us today to know that the Christian message is from God, not man-made, and that it really is good news.
Only if we are convinced that the Christian faith is from God will we hold on to it when people mock or challenge our beliefs. And only if we believe the Gospel is Good News will we hold on to it when we face hardship and opposition because of our faith.
1. The true Gospel is from God!
The first thing Paul wanted to persuade the Galatians was that his Gospel was from God. It wasn’t make-believe, it was totally true. It was divine revelation not religious speculation. Paul wanted the Galatians to know that it was Christ himself who had given him his Gospel message.
In verses 11 and 12 of our passage, Paul explicitly writes that “the Gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ”.
Neither the Galatians then, nor us today, should be tempted to follow man-made religions and philosophies. We should trust instead in the Christian Gospel, revealed by God and recorded for us in Scripture. Because it comes from God, we don’t need to be worried when Christianity is viewed with criticism or cynicism. We have God’s guarantee that it is true.
Paul himself certainly knew that his Gospel was true, because he himself had met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. The risen Christ had called him personally to be his apostle, his Gospel messenger to the world. That’s why Paul tells us in verse 10 that he’s not interested in pleasing men, saying what’s popular or politically correct. He wants to please Christ who called him.
2. The true Gospel is Good News!
So the Gospel is from God. But what is this Gospel that Paul was so passionate about? What is the true Gospel he desperately wanted the Galatians to hold onto? What is the true Gospel we should believe today?
The word Gospel means “good news”, and Paul tells us why his Gospel is such good news in v.3-4 of our passage. He writes: “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.”
Each part of that sentence is significant. Paul wants us to know that the true Gospel is:
• an offer of everlasting grace and peace made to us by God,
• an offer that we need to avoid God’s just judgment on a sinful world;
• an offer made possible by Christ’s death on the Cross on our behalf;
• And an offer everyone can accept by putting their faith in Christ as Saviour.
I hope and pray we all recognise this Gospel as good news. I hope we all realise that this true Gospel, this authentic Christian message, is the most wonderful news in the world. In contrast to this wonderful Gospel, the message of the false teachers in Galatia was not good news at all. Their false gospel wasn’t good news because whereas Paul’s true Gospel offered free forgiveness and joy, the false gospel offered only guilt and depression, insecurity and division.
• Paul’s true Gospel of grace guaranteed full membership of God’s people, but the false teachers said you had to comply with Jewish rules and regulations to be a fully signed-up member of God’s family. Rules no one could ever consistently keep in full. Rules that offered only doubt and despair about one’s standing before God;
• Paul’s true Gospel said that at the Cross Jesus had done everything necessary for us to become friends with God. But their false Gospel said yet more was to be done by us – how depressing, how daunting that must have sounded!
False gospels aren’t just ancient history either. Almost every religion today says you need to DO something to gain peace with God, to become one of his people. They say you must go to sacred places, or wear the right clothes, or eat the right foods or offer special sacrifices to ‘get right’ with God.
The author C.S. Lewis (who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia) said that ‘grace’ is what distinguishes Christianity from every other faith. He was absolutely right. The true Gospel is a gracious gift, an undeserved favour, a unique and amazing offer. It all comes down to two letters, N and E. Other faiths say do something to get right with God (D.O.). But the Christian Gospels says Jesus has already done everything necessary for us to become friends with God (D.O.N.E.). We only have to receive God’s friendship by faith.
As I finish, I’m told that journalists are always on the look out for a good source and a good story:
• They look for a good source – someone who can provide them with accurate, reliable information about what’s going on in the world. An insider, someone on the front line, a real expert in their field.
• And journalists are always looking for a good story – an important, interesting piece of “breaking news” that lots of people will want to read or hear about, like the score in the FA Cup or the result of an election.
Our passage from Galatians this morning has shown us that Paul’s Christian message, the true Gospel comes from a great source and is a great story:
• The true Gospel comes from the most reliable source you could ever imagine God himself; and
• The Gospel is the best story ever. It is a real good news story that offers God’s grace and peace for eternity. A free offer open to everyone who puts their trust in Christ.
What great news from a great source! No wonder the apostle Paul was so passionate about the Gospel! I hope we are too today!
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