Galatians: What Is the Gospel?

Reading the BibleA critical question for any Christian is “What is the gospel?” Paul taught incessantly about the gospel, claiming, among other things, that it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1.16).

Gospel simply means “good news.” What is the good news Paul would have us know?

Paul’s letter to the Galatians contributes much to our understanding of the pure gospel. At the beginning Paul identifies a cancer within the churches of Galatia–men who were preaching a different gospel (Galatians 1.6-9). It’s not as if there were multiple gospels, but they were twisting, perverting, distorting the real gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have many perversions of the gospel today, and (following Paul’s instruction) we find it paramount to seek after and vigorously defend the real gospel. How have men perverted the gospel of Christ? They do it the same way people have always perverted the word of God–by either adding to it or taking away from it. Certainly teaching that Jesus really did not come in the flesh (2 John 7) or that He was not raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.12ff) constitute gospel perversions. But that’s not the point of Galatians. Paul deals with a specific issue in Galatians, one particular insidious and spiritually destructive perversion of the gospel.

Among the Galatian churches certain Jewish teachers insisted the gentiles (non-Jews) be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul unconditionally denounced this form of teaching, in the process clarifying for us what the true gospel is. Paul’s thesis may be found in Galatians 2.15-16:

15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

GavelClearly the issue encompasses justification. To be justified means to be declared righteous. It does not mean the person is made righteous in the sense that he no longer sins and is completely holy within his own person. It may help to understand that the opposite of justification is condemnation. Before God declares you righteous, you stand condemned before Him, under judgment because of your own guilt. But when God declares you righteous, there is no condemnation (Romans 8.1); God no longer considers you guilty because He lays all your sins on His Son Jesus Christ who has already paid the penalty for your sins! This is the good news of the gospel.

So the perversion of the gospel in Galatians has to do with how a person stands justified before God. Paul gives two options throughout the letter:

  1. You can be justified by keeping the Law (specifically the Law of Moses is under consideration, although the principle applies to all law)
  2. You can be justified through faith in Jesus Christ

In his thesis (Galatians 2.15-16), Paul lets us know up front which is the actual gospel, explaining that a person IS NOT justified by works of the law! Let that be clear in our minds. Seeking to be justified before God by keeping law is actually a path to condemnation, misery, and slavery.

I plan to continue to flesh these ideas out over the next few posts, but in the meantime why don’t you study the letter to the Galatians to discover how Paul explains and supports his thesis? I’d love to hear your feedback.

AUDIO: Healing a Woman; Raising a Girl from the Dead

We recently enjoyed Mark 5.21-43, in which Jesus healed a woman who had endured a flow of blood for 12 years and raised a girl from the dead.

In this amazing series of events, Jesus shows His great compassion towards women, continues His habit of touching the unclean, and leads people to conquer their greatest fears! Enjoy.

Lindie’s Last Resort

Tired WomanLindie’s marriage had been crumbling slowly over the past three years, ever since her husband Charles had decided to take a high-profile and demanding position at a local law firm. Slowly, their time for walking in the neighborhood, holding hands, and reading together in the evenings evaporated. She had suspected for a while that he’d been unfaithful, but she couldn’t prove it.

Her job was wearing her thin, as her boss continued to pile on extra responsibility with little extra pay. No longer did she covet the corporate life; now she just wanted to stay home and rest for a while, but Charles insisted she hold out for just a little while longer until they were financially sound. When will that be? she wondered. When will he be ready to have the kids we talked about before we married?

One weekend the perfect storm seemed to be brewing, as her overbearing boss demanded she finish a project over the weekend, her husband texted that he’d be flying to Chicago for a weekend work thing, and a sore throat was coming on. Life was the pits.

Lindie decided to call Sally, a spiritually-minded friend from church, and ask her to meet at a nearby Starbucks. Sally arrived to find Lindie almost in tears.

“What’s going on?” she asked, concern ringing in her tone.

Starbucks meetingLindie proceeded to unload her worries, concerns, and headaches right out on that little Starbucks table. As she unpacked each one, Sally felt more and more deeply the weight of Lindie’s life situation. Finally, Lindie took a breath.

“How long have you been keeping all this bottled up?” Sally asked. Lindie managed a small shrug. “Lindie, you don’t need to carry all this yourself!”

“I know. But Charlie–”

“I’m not talking about Charlie right now; I’m talking about me and the church! That’s what we’re here for, Lindie. And I’m talking about God. Have you shared any of this with Him?”

That question startled Lindie. In fact, she was surprised at herself. She had not even thought to pray about this for quite some time. Maybe she didn’t want to bother God with her situation. Maybe she felt it would reveal her weakness, her failure as a wife and a woman, to have to ask God for help in this. She felt like it was her duty to deal with all of it because it was her life.

“No,” she finally admitted, “I haven’t. But I now see I should. I suppose my life has finally come to the point where all I can do is pray.”

Sally smiled at her friend, but her head was gently shaking from side to side. “No, Lindie, I want to show you something.” She opened her purse and pulled out a small Bible, flipping to the middle. “Here it is. Psalm 103. I just read it this morning:

“Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

After a pause, Sally asked, “Does it sound to you like David’s prayer here was a prayer of last resort?”

Bible and Pen“What do you mean?”

“You just said it seems like all you have left is prayer–like it’s your last resort. Does it sound like David prayed that way?”

“I guess not,” Lindie admitted. “But what’s your point?”

Sally looked into Lindie’s eyes. “I think you haven’t been talking to God about your life at all, Lindie. You are walking this life as if you have the power to figure everything out all by yourself and bear the whole load all by yourself…and God never intended for you to live like that! If you read the rest of Psalm 103, you find out that God loves His people very much.” Sally began scanning the chapter again. “He does not deal with us according to our sins. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him. For He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust.

“Doesn’t that make you swell up with just little bit of pride in God? Doesn’t that make you want to love Him?”

Lindie had to admit those ancient words did cause a certain swelling of joy in her heart. As she listened to her friend read, she began to realize how small she was…and how BIG God is.

There would be much more conversation between the two friends, but that moment served as a catalyst to begin changing her thinking. She shouldn’t just pray to God when things seemed the worst, when the night was darkest, when she had no alternative. She had been walking a lonely and (she had to admit) sinful walk by keeping her Creator at arms length. She began to see how much she needed God every single day, every step of the way, in both the bad times and the good. And God really did care about her. Her! Not because she was so special, but because God is so awesomely kind and merciful!

Indeed, bless His holy name! she thought to herself, feeling hope.

Playing It Safe

Living or ExistingSome folks habitually “play it safe.” They won’t board an airplane. They won’t go overseas. They won’t step too far out of their comfort zone. In their minds, life is too precious to jeopardize it in such frivolous ways.

Jesus told a story in Luke 19.11-27 which included a man who played it safe. It’s the story of the ten minas (one mina was about three-months’ wages) which a nobleman distributed evenly among ten servants, telling them to “Engage in business until I return.” When he returned, the nobleman found several servants who had multiplied his money. But one fearful servant returned the single mina he’d been given, saying, “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man.”

The nobleman-now-king took the mina away from him and gave it to another servant who had most-successfully multiplied his money. Everyone was dumbfounded that he would take away what little the one servant had and give it to the one who had the most, but he answered, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Safe!The fearful servant tried to play it safe, but too late he discovered he had done exactly the opposite. The king told him he should have at least put the money in the bank so it would have earned a little interest! Do SOMETHING, even if it’s small.

Fear freezes. We must not let fear control us to the point that we fail to DO SOMETHING. Everyone knows there is something wrong with the lady shut up in her house, refusing to come out because of her phobias. But many live that way, holding to their daily routines, their safe routes, their points of protection, their comfortable zones, and woe to the one who would nudge them off course!

Whole churches play it safe for years. Comfortable pew warmers smile, sit, chat, and go home. Did the preacher say something about helping the poor? Can we just write a check for that? Did someone encourage us to teach the gospel to our neighbor? Well, we have such a good relationship with the neighbor, it would be a shame to ruin it with talk about religion. The whole world around us is dissolving into an ethical and moral nightmare; are we content to watch it crash and burn and not speak the words of life necessary to fight against evil? We’ll complain amongst ourselves at the deterioration of society; then we’ll go home and allow Netflix to entertain us with the same filth we protest against.

Rock ClimbingMen play it safe by not addressing sin in their own lives, by not confessing sin to other faithful men who can support, pray, and help. We don’t address sin in our families for fear of straining relationships…yet the relationship is really strained because of the sin! We play it safe when we don’t stretch ourselves to grow in the talents and abilities God has given us to use for His glory.

We need to stop playing it safe. When the King returns, will He find us working to increase what He entrusted to us, or will He find us sitting on our couches, eating ice cream, and immersing ourselves in the world’s entertainment? I hate to admit I do way too much of what’s in that last sentence.

Jesus didn’t die so we could watch Netflix. Jesus didn’t die so we could play. Jesus didn’t die so we could increase our wealth. He died so we could have life and that we, in turn, could become life givers and producers in His kingdom!

Jesus didn’t play it safe…and He doesn’t want us to, either.

Such Great Faith

Guest Post by Doug Hoffman


The Phone CallI was impressed last night, again, by the great faith of the Centurion in Luke 7 who clearly saw himself as unworthy in the light of the great authority of Jesus.  It’s interesting to me that the word for “authority” in Luke 7.8 (exousia) is exactly the same word most often translated “power” (ex., Lk. 4.6), identifying Jesus’ ability to accomplish whatever He desires.

I tried to think about what that would look like today. If I had access to our President, a man of great authority/power, and could say, through a couple of advocates close to him, “Mr. President, I know you have the power to erase this parking ticket, would you please do so?” what an incredible power I would have at my fingertips. Imagine I was on death row and made the same appeal knowing he had the power to give me life by pardoning me; what an incredible gratefulness and, maybe even, allegiance I would feel if I could acquire such mercy and grace. And what if I had access, not through some advocate, but by simply picking up the prison telephone?

Then it struck me: I have direct access to an even greater power in Jesus Christ.  He provides the power for me to live FREE, unchained from the grips of sin, addiction, sorrow, and the like.  Why don’t I access that power when it is as easy as simply asking, without the intermediary?  What would I be willing to ask Him to do?  So it isn’t really surprising to read that Jesus was able to say about the Centurion, “I have not found such great faith in Israel.”  Can he find that kind of great faith in me?  I’m working toward that goal.

Why Did Jesus Feed the 5000?

Jesus Teaching
by www.LumoProject.com

Herod, the Bible says, “sought to see” Jesus (Luke 9.9), but it seems he didn’t seek very hard, for in the immediately-following verses a huge crowd went out into a desolate place outside Bethsaida to find Jesus. Surely Herod could have gone out, too, had he really wanted.

But the 5000 enjoyed the words and the powerful healing Jesus brought; all day they listened until the day began to wane. The disciples suggested that Jesus send the crowd into the surrounding villages so they could get something to eat, but Jesus surprised them with a challenge: “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9.14)!

“We have no more than five loaves and two fish,” they answered, not for a moment considering a boy’s lunch (John 6.9) ample provision for such a great multitude. I would have been right with those disciples, I’m afraid. (I sometimes stare into my fridge thinking, “There’s nothing to eat,” when really there is plenty…)

Listen, Jesus was not obligated to feed this multitude. It wasn’t His job, and no one expected Him to provide a meal. He must have had a purpose to this miracle, don’t you think?

So why did He do it? Let me suggest two reasons.

1. To increase the faith of the disciples.

11_Jesus_5000_1024After His disciples basically said they couldn’t feed the multitude, Jesus didn’t just say, “Okay, fine, if you won’t do it I’ll do it Myself.” No, He performed the miracle of multiplying the bread and fish, and He “gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd” (Luke 9.16). In other words, the disciples ended up giving the crowd something to eat, just as Jesus had instructed! Jesus does not command anything for which He doesn’t also equip. Remember that.

Jesus had told these disciples He would make them fishers of men (Luke 5.9-10). These twelve (Luke 6.13) would be the seeds which started a world-wide planting operation. How in the world would they accomplish such a monumental–dare we say, impossible–task? By faith these men would come to understand all they had to do was obey–God handles the multiplication!

God can take an oil jug with just a bit of left-over oil in the bottom and make it outlast a famine (1 Kings 17.8-16). God can feed and water a couple million people in the desert for forty years. Man’s road blocks and impossibilities are nothing to God.

2. To identify Himself.

15_Jesus_5000_1024Continuing the previous thought, Jesus identified Himself with Moses in the wilderness. John accounts the feeding of the 5000 in John 6, and do you remember what conversation the event precipitated? The next day, the Jews tried to provoke Jesus into feeding them again: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6.31). They did well to connect Jesus’ power with the feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness, and Jesus continued the thought, identifying Himself as the true bread from heaven.

Not only did He identify Himself as the bread of life, but this even also identified Him strongly with Moses–Moses being a type of Christ. How could Jesus do such awesome things unless He was truly sent by God? And if He was truly sent by God, His words rang with prophetic power. Moses had prophesied in Deuteronomy 18.15, “YAHWEH your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear…”

The feeding of the 5000 proved that God had raised up The Prophet, and He was standing before His brethren!

Battling Doubt and Disbelief

HamletLife’s difficulties often lead to spiritual doubt. Like Hamlet, some endure the temptation to simply “not be” and to shuffle “off this mortal coil.” Why not just end this pain-filled, unfair life? Here was Hamlet’s struggle:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?

He wonders whether it wouldn’t be better “to die: to sleep…and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache…” Is it nobler to endure the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” when one has the option of terminating his life now (“When he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin?” – a naked blade)?

No doubt, doubt causes us to question everything about ourselves, God, and this life.

How can we battle doubt and disbelief?

Reading Her BibleWe should hold some core beliefs based on God’s word, allowing the Holy Spirit to fill and guide us. This flighty, subjective, anchorless world constantly tells us there is no such spiritual anchor, no absolute spiritual truth. But does that not fill a person with doubts and leave her directionless? Steadfast faith in God is based first of all upon a knowledge that God IS and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11.6). We must believe Jesus Christ is God’s Son (1 Jn. 5.5), and that His word is inspired, final, and infallible. In no other way can one be saved except through Jesus Christ (Acts 4.12; Jn. 14.6), by God’s grace, and through faith (Eph. 2.8-9). Hang on to the fact that God has promised eternal life to His faithful ones (1 Jn. 2.25), and you have already passed from death into life (1 Jn. 3.13; Jn. 5.24). These core beliefs provide anchors for the soul.

Spiritual FoodWhere do all these core beliefs derive? From Scripture! I firmly believe the least confident Christians are the least studied. Wasting our days, we often fail to spend sufficient time in God’s word, and we end up weak, wandering, and wondering how we have such little faith. Luke wrote his gospel and the book of Acts in order to inspire faith in the reader (Lk. 1.1-4). John recorded those great works and teachings of Jesus “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believeing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20.31). Paul wrote in Rom. 10.17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The spiritual formula goes as follows:

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1.13-14)

Did you follow the stages in that verse? It all begins with HEARING the gospel, which leads to TRUST and BELIEF in God, which is connected with the SEALING of the Holy Spirit, and it all ends up in DOXOLOGY, praising God, giving Him glory!

So if you want to battle doubt and disbelief in your life, pick up that Bible of yours and get in it, devour it, let it speak into your life and build your faith. That’s the purpose of God’s word. Saturate yourself in God’s promises and purposes, and you will find the direction you desire.