The Gospel of Christ
There is only one gospel

The truth matters

True or False?

  • The atomic number of Uranium is 235
  • Someone playing a B flat instrument will have to transpose down a tone for concert pitch
  • The opening line of 'Pride and Prejudice' is 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife'
  • Muslim, Jew and Christian can all be right about God
Christians believe that the truth matters. That there is such a thing as right and wrong. That there are consequences to what you believe. Most importantly, Christians believe that there is only one Gospel, one truth about Jesus Christ, one way to know God. Yes, there are people who believe something different, but in the end it will not save them - this is what Paul is writing from the very start of his letter. In fact the reason Paul spent his life telling people about Jesus is that he knew that the truth mattered, so he wanted everyone to know it. Sound a bit intolerant? It is. But if you keep reading you'll find out Paul's reasons for saying these things.

Russel Crowe - "What we do in life echoes in eternity"


The gospel

Paul opens his letter like you would with any email. It is To the churches in Galatia, From Paul the apostle. The Subject is in verse 4:

  Gal 1:1 - 5 From Paul, an apostle sent not from men or by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead- and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches in Galatia. May grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be yours! He gave himself for our sins in order to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen.  

John Stott says in his Message of the Galatians: "In summary, this verse teaches that the nature of Christ's death is a sacrifice for sin, its object our rescue out of this present evil age, and its origin the gracious will of the Father and the Son." Present evil age? Sounds a pretty good description of our time. Wars, terrorist acts, corrupt governments. The good news is that Jesus came to rescue us from this. Anyway, this is a summary of the whole gospel, which Paul will go on to explain in more detail shortly.

The problem in Galatia

Normally Paul started his letters giving thanks to God for the faith of the believers to whom he was writing (see Romans or Corinthians for example). But see how he gets going with this letter:

  Gal 1:6 - 10 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ to follow a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and want to pervert the gospel about Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that person be eternally condemned! What we have told you in the past I am now telling you again: If anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that person be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of people or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ's servant.  

Rather than being thankful for the Galatians, Paul is astonished - he can't believe what he is hearing about them. They've been turning away from the gospel. Now since we're gonna be using the word gospel a lot, it's probably worth discussing it to get clear what it means. It comes from the Greek word
   euangelion
which translates to evangel, or "good news". It is from this word that we get evangelism - which means telling the good news that Jesus has come to rescue us from this evil age.

So, why is Paul so upset with the Galatians? For two reasons. Firstly, if you turn to a different gospel you don't just desert an idea, you desert a person. In verse 6, "deserting the one who called you", that is, the one who saved you from this present evil age. Desertion, betrayal, think of what happens to a deserting soldier. Remember what happened to Judas Iscariot who deserted Jesus. He wasn't just walking away from an idea, but from a person. We'll see what the Galatians were turning to later on.

Secondly, if you turn to a different gospel, what you are turning to is really no gospel at all. What is the consequence of this? In verse 8, Paul says that even if he or an angel preached a different gospel, they would be eternally condemned. Then in verse 9 he repeats it, just to make sure everyone hears what he is saying. In a not-so-polite way, he is saying "if someone preaches anything other than what we already told you, let him go to hell". We'll hear why Paul thinks he has the authority to say this on the next page.

Another word worth focusing on is this word translated as "eternally condemned". This one comes from a Hebrew word herem:
   herem
This translates in the New Testament to the Greek word anathema
   anathema

We've got two examples of the use of this word which will help us understand what Paul is talking about.

 

Josh 7:1 But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zera, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD's anger burned against Israel.

 

Israel had been ordered not to take things from Jericho that were devoted to another god, as these things were cursed, eternally condemned. When Achan took some, he and his whole family were stoned to death as a punishment. Not a nice story, but shows how seriously Paul thinks the issue is since he uses the same word. It is the story that would have come to mind when Paul spoke to Jews of eternal condemnation.

The second example of the use of this word is from the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent. A bit of history: after the Roman Empire became Christian when the Emperor Constantine saw a vision, the Pope in Rome became a very important person. Basically the Pope ended up running the empire half the time. Early 1500s, a little German monk called Martin Luther got annoyed with the Roman church for saying things like "If you give us money, we'll pray for your dead relatives who are currently in hell, and get them out". He got particularly annoyed with a priest who walked around with a money box, rattling it and saying "another coin rattles in the tin, and a soul goes free". Martin Luther was so upset that he nailed a list of grievances to his church, and the Reformation started. Then the Protestants, or protesters against the Catholic church, argued with the Catholics for about a hundred years until the Catholics decided they really had to sit down and write out what they believed on paper. This is what the Council of Trent was about. It took them 20 years to do it, meeting seven times during that time. In their Sixth session they said:

 

If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the source of its increase, let him be anathema.
Council of Trent, Sixth Session

 

That is, they are saying that if you believe that what you do doesn't make you right with God, you can go to hell. With that one statement they stand completely apart from the Protestants, the Reformers, who said that there is nothing we can do to make us right with God. The Reformers said that this present evil age we live in was caused by us, and we can't change that, that action from God alone will rescue us. The Council of Trent says "let those people go to hell". A serious accusation. Paul isn't afraid of using those same words. Now, we'll see more about this issue of whether what you do saves you or not later. It's one of the core issues that this book addresses. For now we have one last point to get out of the passage above.

In verse ten, Paul says that if he were still trying to please people he would not be servant of Christ. You either look for the approval of people, or you look for the approval of God. We know which side Paul is on. He is seeking God's approval. Basically, Paul has said that the gospel that he preaches is the only one, and that anyone else can go to hell. Now, people are going to ask him what right he has to make such outrageous claims. He answers this question in his letter, and we will look at it in the next section. His answer is that he has been sent by Christ, and that's how he knows what the gospel is.

The truth of the evangel

There is such a thing as truth, and it really matters.

Here's an interesting quote from Eugene Peterson, who wrote the translation of the Bible called "The Message" in modern English:

 

Today's heretics are well educated, glamorous, persuasive and insistent. We are appalled that the church once burned heretics. Now we make celebrities of them and reward them with six figure salaries. It was certainly a moral disaster on the part of our ancestors when they got rid of heretics by burning them, but it is a metaphysical stupidity on our part to applaud their lies. Our forebears at least knew that something was wrong that had to be contested; our age is so biblically illiterate that it will accept anything provided it is spoken with evident sincerity and accompanied by a big smile.
Eugene Peterson, Travelling Light: Modern Reflections on St Paul's Letter of Freedom

 

Three hundred years ago they at least had an idea about what right and wrong was, and were prepared to stand up for it. Yes, they did it in the wrong way, but today, we don't know right or wrong, or even care. Paul says our eternal destiny depends on what we think about Jesus. So don't ever let anyone say that the truth doesn't matter. Because it does.

Summary

  • The truth matters because it has eternal consequences.
  • The truth of the gospel will make you unpopular, you will face a lot of pressure if you're going to be intolerant about the truth.
  • We have a mandate to preach the gospel (to our family, to our friends, to the other people we meet)...
  • Because there is no other way to be saved from this evil age, and anyone who says otherwise is eternally condemned.


O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer's praise,
the glories of our God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

Jesus! The name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease;
'tis music in the sinner's ears,
'tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean,
his blood availed for me.

He speaks and listening to his voice,
new life the dead receive,
the mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.

Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
your loosened tongues employ;
ye blind, behold your Saviour come;
and leap, ye lame, for joy!

My gracious Master and my God
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad,
the honours of your name.

Charles Wesley, 1707 - 88          


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Paul's Divine Authority