The Gospel of ChristThe truth matters
There is only one gospel
True or False?
Russel Crowe - "What we do in life echoes in eternity"
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:
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:
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
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:
We've got two examples of the use of this word which will help us understand what Paul is talking about.
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:
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:
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.
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,
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He speaks and listening to his voice,
Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
My gracious Master and my God
Charles Wesley, 1707 - 88