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.

Is Jesus Your Personal Savior?

Jesus Crown of ThornsIn The Message, which is an interpretation of the Bible and not an actual translation (so read it with great caution!), the introduction to Galatians includes the following:

Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary includes under its entry for “Logos”:

In relation to humanity, Jesus the Logos was not the impersonal principle of Stoicism, but He was a personal Savior who took on human flesh in the incarnation (John 1:4–14).

Most of the evangelical world employs this phrase. Perhaps “Are you a born again Christian?” (isn’t that redundant?) is even more popular, but “Have you made Jesus your own personal Savior?”* definitely competes.

Can we claim Jesus as our own “personal Savior”?

In the BeginningI understand personal in the relational sense–that Jesus saves me personally; He and I share a personal relationship. The alternative to this personal relationship, I suppose, would be a relationship only between Jesus and His body, the church, which does not somehow translate into a relationship between Him and each individual.

What does the Bible teach on this?

Truly, you cannot find those exact words–“personal Savior”–in the Bible. But what about the concept? As I consider the question, my thoughts are immediately drawn to two of the most God-fearing and God-loving men in the Bible, one who lived under the Old Covenant and one under the New: David and Paul.

David

David wrote of his relationship with God, even as his Savior, in the Psalms.

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18.1-2)

I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. (Ps. 3.4)

Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Ps. 38.21-22)

Jesus Holding MeCan you feel the sense of a personal relationship in David’s words? Yahweh was not just the God of Israel; He was David’s God! There is something comforting and empowering in this relationship, because the relationship does not depend upon the state of anyone else in the world–it’s directly between a man and his God.

Paul

Paul also helps us understand the nature of our relationship with Jesus the Savior.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2.20)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3.12)

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1.12-14)

You

Can you say Jesus is your personal Savior? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? I dearly hope you do! It is the single most important relationship any human being can have–and you either are His or you aren’t.

Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts and comments–I’d love to hear them.


* I DO have a problem with that statement, but it’s not with the “personal Savior” bit–it’s with the “have YOU made” bit. Nobody makes Jesus to be his or her Savior. More appropriately and biblically, they should ask, “Has Jesus saved you?” or “Have you been saved by Jesus?”

Confidence!

Standing StrongTwo understandings I hold seem on their face to contradict:

  1. I am confident I am wrong on some spiritual matters
  2. I am confident I am in relationship with Jesus Christ

Chew on those for a moment.

How can a person be confident in his relationship with Jesus, confident of his salvation, and also confident he is wrong in some of his Bible understanding?

Actually, I wonder how someone can be otherwise. Would it not seem the height of arrogance for one to think he has every spiritual matter completely figured out? The humble (and realistic) appreciate their finite knowledge and intelligence. Only God is all-wise and all-knowing. Therefore, there must always be room for growth, for adding new information, for adjusting understanding.

Our confidence must never come from ourselves. When we believe our salvation depends on how right we are about things, our salvation becomes dependent upon ourselves. Hear me now–there is a right and a wrong, good and evil; it’s just that we, in our finite selves, will never fully discern these things. We grow in our discernment, learning every day (Lord willing) to more rightly divide the word of truth.

God gives us grace despite our imperfect knowledge. How much more grace should we give each other, then? In truth, we should be strict with ourselves and gracious with one another, but we often get those reversed.

Paul wrote:

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Eph. 3.8-13)

ConfidentFrom where did Paul’s confidence come? It came from Jesus Christ! Paul was fully confident in Jesus’ power, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ accomplishment. Paul placed no confidence in his own work.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us… (Titus 3.4-5)

We can put up with brothers and sisters who understand Scripture differently than we. Sure, there are items with which we must have no disagreement, but the “same mind” Paul wanted the brethren to have (1 Cor. 1.10 and Phil. 2.1-4; 4.2) is not an exact oneness of understanding on everything but a oneness of attitude towards God and towards each other. Paul wanted them to have the same mind Jesus had (see Phil. 2.5ff), the mind of abject humility and obedience to God.

When we divide from and formally disfellowship our brothers and sisters because they have a different understanding, we may actually be demonstrating a mind which is not consistent with Christ Jesus! Sometimes we must break fellowship with one another for a season…perhaps for longer…but that does not mean we must view one another as lost in sin. Paul and John Mark broke fellowship for a time and couldn’t plow together in the same yoke, but that was only for a season. Neither was spiritually lost.

Have confidence in Jesus Christ. Hold fast that confidence! And love your brothers and sisters who also hold fast that confidence.

Latest Sermons

We just updated the sermon archive to include the last two Sunday morning sermons:

How First Century Churches Used Collected Money (download)

What Is a Real Christian – Part 2: Complying with God’s Terms of Salvation (download)

Are You Confident in Your Salvation? Why?

Trust ExpertsWhat thing or person completes the following for you: “In ______________ do I trust for my salvation”?

Careful, now. Answer honestly.

“Why are you confident in your salvation?”

If you answer, “I am not confident in my salvation,” please shoot me a response e-mail, because that needs to be remedied! God wants you to be confident. Read 1 John 1.1-4, and see that God wants your joy to be full. You should “know that [you] know Him” (2.3), and you should “know that [you] are in Him” (2.5).

But allow me to address the rest of you who are confident in you salvation. Why are you confident?

Are you confident because of your church or your minister?

“I am sure of my salvation because I’m a member of the right church and my preacher preaches the right doctrine.”

Let us immediately dismiss this, for no person or body of men can ever save a soul.

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:

“As I live, says the LORD,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Rom. 14.10-12)

Trust DadAre you confident because you follow God’s laws?

Does your assurance come from having been baptized (in the correct way and for the right reasons)? Does your confidence swell each first day of the week as you assemble with the saints and correctly partake of the Supper of the Lord? “I do lots of good works. I’m obedient.”

The recurring sermon of every Bible preacher under both Old and New Covenants has been and continues to be, “Repent, and bear fruits worthy of repentance.” So the fruit of a changed heart surely should be seen in us, giving us a level of confidence as to our position with the Lord. However, the fruit is merely a sign of the salvation and not the very thing itself. The good works we do may reveal that we have been saved, but the works themselves don’t save!

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…” (Titus 3.5)

Are you confident because of your inward repentance and faith?

“I know my heart is right.”

Please don’t depend upon some attitude of your heart, some inherent internal goodness. Can you be saved without faith and repentance? Not hardly! But these, again, simply expose the fact that you are saved!

If we are completely honest with ourselves, each of us knows he is not worthy because the intents of his heart continue to hold traces of evil motives and weaknesses to temptation. When is faith ever good enough? When is repentance ever absolute? We might believe our latest repentance came from a complete and utter brokenness, but then in a few more days our weaknesses resurface again! O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Reaching UpSo From Where Does True Confidence Come?

Our confidence, ultimately, comes from Jesus Christ, the One whose word never falls to the ground, whose promises are never broken. He exists, He lives, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Our confidence should never be in our seeking but in the One Whom we seek! Christ is our Yes and our Amen.

“For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Cor. 1.20-22)

Brother and Sister, rest confidently in this, that God saves in Christ, not because of any works we accomplish but because of THE WORK Christ has done and the work the Holy Spirit continues to do in us.

In Christ do I trust. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2.20).