“Remember: It’s Christ’s Gospel”
(Galatians 1:11-24 – Pentecost 3 – June 26, 2022)
Galatians 1:11-24 – 11But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. 13For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. 19But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20(Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) 21Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. 23But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God in me.
Dear Redeemed, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ His Son:
A couple had enjoyed many good years of marriage, deeply in love. There came a time when the man had to be away for the call of duty. After a while, the wife began to show signs of anxiety. In her letters she dwelled on her shortcomings, doubting she still measured up to his love and acceptance. In his letters, the husband assured her that he loved her just as she was. In his eyes she had a wonderful personality and was beautiful. Yet she continued to be anxious.
As it turns out, in her husband’s absence she had met a new acquaintance who was planting ideas in her mind. This person had seen long-distance marriages like this fail. The acquaintance advised that if she didn’t want to lose her man, she had better start doing more to prove her love. Convinced, the wife began doing what she felt she must do to save her marriage. She starved herself to get thinner and got a new hairdo so she could send pictures of her new self in her letters. She began making extravagant promises about the kind of person she would be.
When the man discovered what was happening, that his wife was being fed false ideas by that new acquaintance, he was filled with jealous anger. He wrote a heartfelt letter and had it hand-delivered by a mutually trusted friend of theirs. In it he pleaded with his wife to avoid that acquaintance, and reaffirmed his unconditional love for her, which had not changed at all.
There is something similar happening in our text. The apostle Paul had brought the Gospel to Galatia. The Gospel is like a love letter from Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, to His beloved people. The Galatians had received it with joy, basking in God’s unconditional love and acceptance for them, sinners though they were, by the forgiveness Jesus had won for them. Simply by faith in Jesus, they knew they belonged to Him forever as members of His Bride, the Church.
Paul had left the Galatians rejoicing in Christ’s Gospel, as he continued to bring God’s Good News to other places. But in the meantime the Galatians had met new acquaintances, who came among them and began planting new ideas in their minds. These false teachers said that if the Galatians really wanted to keep their relationship with Jesus, simple faith in His saving work wasn’t enough. They also had to prove their love for God in new ways, by observing many religious laws and traditions of the Jews. They must be circumcised, eat kosher foods, observe the Jewish Sabbath and ceremonies, etc. These teachers, called Judaizers, were stealing away the Galatians’ faith and joy in the Gospel. They were leading them to doubt their relationship with Jesus and God, burdened with the idea that salvation depended on what they must do.
This is why Paul wrote, in the verses before our text: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-8)
When false teachings infiltrate Christ’s Church, His righteous wrath is stirred like a jealous husband. For false teachings are from the devil, who wants to separate Christ’s beloved Bride from Him. Our text is part of Christ’s letter, sent through His trusted apostle Paul, to His Church at Galatia. In it, Christ pleads with His beloved to avoid those false teachers, and He reaffirms His unconditional forgiveness and love for them, which had not changed at all.
To this day, Jesus continues to send trustworthy messengers of His Gospel to the ends of the earth. He wants all people to hear and believe the Good News that, in love, He gave His life to win forgiveness and eternal life for sinners, a gift freely received by faith. We can be thankful that Jesus has sent His Gospel among us, working saving faith in our hearts by His Holy Spirit.
Now, the Bridegroom of the Church wants us to guard the purity of His Gospel among us, to keep our faith intact. And He also asks us to share His Gospel with fellow sinners, that many more may come to know His gift of salvation in Christ. But as in the days of Paul and the other apostles, we bring the Gospel into a world that challenges its truth and authority. So Paul encourages us in our text to “Remember: It’s Christ’s Gospel” – meaning that we can share it confidently, since 1) It has His divine authority and 2) It has His saving power.
1) It has His divine authority
Did you notice in our text how much time Paul spends defending his authority as an apostle sent by Christ? This is because the Judaizers who had infiltrated the Galatian church were saying: “Who is this Paul? Just because he preached that salvation is a free gift of God, simply through faith in Jesus, apart from works of the law, doesn’t mean it’s true. After all, Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles Jesus sent out. How can you trust his message?”
Isn’t this the question many ask today? There are infiltrators in the Church who say: “How can some of the things Paul wrote 2000 years ago have authority for us today? As a man, he was shaped by his time and culture. Can’t we get past Paul’s hang-ups over things like alternative sexual relationships, women pastors, open communion, etc? Who is Paul to insist that only one understanding of the Gospel is acceptable, when others teach a little differently? Hasn’t the Church grown in spiritual maturity and understanding beyond the 1st Century?”
But what happens if you remove the authority of God’s Word is that you lose the true Gospel. Man takes it on himself to preach a message he deems more powerful and life-changing for today. Some preach a false gospel that says God loves all people, so all will be saved no matter what they believe, so long as they are sincere in their faith. God accepts you as you are, with no need to repent of sin and turn to Christ crucified for forgiveness. Or they preach a social gospel or prosperity gospel that says God wants you to be happy; so the most important mission of the church is to serve the poor and underprivileged and help people become successful in this world. It sounds like a message of love in the name of Christ, but it leaves sinners in spiritual poverty before God, not knowing His true love that caused Him to send His Son to the cross to die for our sins and win for us eternal heavenly riches. Or they preach a gospel of morality, which may speak of the importance of faith in Jesus, but ends up emphasizing your holy living as the way to God’s loving heart. You do your part and live the life God wants and He will do His part in saving you.
Thus infiltrators in the church challenge the authority of God’s Word, and pervert the gospel. They bring a different kind of love letter than the one Christ has sent to His Bride, a message that purports to be truly powerful and life-changing, but which steals away hearts from faith in Christ who was crucified to save sinners.
This is why Paul so firmly reminded the Galatians that the Gospel he preached was not from man that it should change with the times. Paul had received the Gospel directly from Christ. This is how it had happened. As a Pharisee, he had been zealous for the teachings of the law – even more so than those Judaizers who were burdening the Galatians’ conscience over the law. In his zeal, Paul had even persecuted the Church and the Gospel, trying to destroy it. But once, as he was on the road to throw Christians into prison, Christ confronted him in a bright light. Paul was convicted and converted. He saw Christ by the new light of faith. Christ called this former persecutor of the church to preach His Gospel among Gentiles (Acts 9). Only years later did Paul go to Jerusalem to get acquainted with any apostles, and they acknowledged him as an apostle sent by Christ’s authority, an apostle who recorded Christ’s true Word of Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).
As we bring the Gospel into the world, we face the same basic challenge that Paul faced. Namely, who are we to say this Gospel is the truth all people need, when others may have their own understanding about how to get right with God? The proud sinful nature leads us to believe we can earn heaven by our good works. But God’s Law warns that our sin-corrupted works earn only His wrath and punishment; we cannot save ourselves from the wages of sin, which is death and hell. But the Gospel declares that God, in love and mercy, sent His Son to fulfill the Law for us by His perfect obedience, and die on the cross to win forgiveness and eternal life for us.
As we bring the Gospel to the world we can do so confidently, like Paul. For we do not speak by our own authority or the authority of any man, but by the authority of Christ who says: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
2) It has His saving power
And since it is Christ’s Gospel, we are reminded that it also has His true saving power. Just look at how powerfully the Gospel worked in Paul’s life! As a Pharisee, he had thought he was impressing God by his zealous efforts to obey the law. He even thought he was doing God a favor by persecuting the Church. He had no idea that he was on the path to hell as a sinner who opposed Jesus Christ. But when Jesus confronted him with His Gospel, all of that changed.
This same Gospel has worked powerfully in our own lives. For when we were dead in our transgressions, enemies of God in our sinful behavior, Jesus confronted us too. He showed us how we have fallen short of God’s expectation of perfect obedience to His Commandments. But in His Gospel Jesus declares to us that He suffered and died for our sins on the cross, to free us from all condemnation. Now through faith, we are covered by His perfect life of obedience before God.
How amazing it must have been for those in the early church, when they heard the report: “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” Paul says: “And they glorified God in me” (vs. 23-24). It is no less amazing that we have been converted from being enemies of God in sin to being the eternal children of God, through faith in Christ. This is to the praise and glory of God. This is truly powerful, life-changing Good News!
Now we can say with Paul in our text: “God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him” (vs. 15-16). As we bring the Gospel to the world, let us not doubt the amazing change it can bring in others too.
I read an account of Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran pastor in formerly Communist Romania, who was arrested and tortured for preaching the Gospel. In prison he wrote: “I am a disciple of Christ, who has given us love for our enemies. I understand them and pray for their conversion so that they will become my brothers.” When one of his torturers read this statement, his jaw dropped and he asked Wurmbrand: “Why do you say that you love me? I know this is one of your Christian commandments, but I don’t believe anyone could keep it. I couldn’t love someone who shut me up for years in prison, who starved and tortured me.” The torturer, who had been a life-long atheist, listened to Wurmbrand share the Gospel of Christ’s forgiveness and love even for the worst sinner. In the following weeks that man came to believe in Jesus, and was himself imprisoned for Christ!
We never know what amazing results the Gospel can work, even in the least expected places. Even the most sin-hardened people desperately need love – not just human love, but God’s unconditional love in Christ alone can fill the emptiness in souls. In a world where many are misled by false ideas planted in their minds, living an anxious existence under the burden of sin, without hope and without God in the world, we have the truth that sets them free. We bear Christ’s love letter to sinners. Like Paul, let us share His Gospel confidently, remembering that it has His divine authority, and His saving power to bring forgiveness and eternal life. Through His Gospel, let us pray that He will bring many others to rejoice with us in His gift of full and free salvation.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.