Friday, November 16, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 1, There Is No Other Gospel

It is believed Paul composed this letter in about 54 AD while he was residing at Ephesus. He originally visited Galatia on his second missionary journey. Since that time he has learned that troublemakers have been trying to stir up opposition against the gospel he preaches by claiming he is not a true apostle (since he isn't one of the twelve disciples) and that there are other ways to obtain salvation than through the Lord Jesus Christ. This letter clearly puts forth Paul's credentials as an apostle and it vehemently asserts that the cross of Christ is the only means of salvation. Paul will also inform the Galatians of the things he has experienced since he saw them last, so in many ways this letter is as exciting as the book of Acts, for it relates real situations and real conflicts between not only unbelievers and believers, but between believers. We tend to think that the apostles only experienced opposition from enemies of the gospel, but the fact is that they sometimes argued among themselves. They were human just like we are and they faced the same trials and irritations that we face today.

Since Paul's credentials have been thrown into question by troublemakers, in his salutation he reminds the believers at Galatia that he did not appoint himself as an apostle but was appointed by the Lord Himself. Since the cross of Christ has been blasphemed, in this salutation Paul reminds his readers that the cross is the only way to God the Father whose will it was for His Son to give Himself for our sins. "Paul, an apostle---sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead---and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Galatians 1:1-5)

So much is included in these five verses that we could spend a long time studying them. But if I could paraphrase what Paul is saying in this letter and in his other letters I'd put it like this, "I didn't appoint myself as a minister of the gospel. When I met Christ on the road to Damascus I was persecuting the believers of the gospel. I hated Christians and I hated the one they called Christ with all my heart. I am the last person on earth who would have pretended to be a Christian for any reason. I know I've been accused of doing it for personal gain, but I work as a tentmaker to supply my own necessities. I don't charge anyone to hear me preach. I don't dip my hand into the offering plate. I wear ragged clothes and often go without enough food or enough bedding to keep me warm at night. I've been beaten and imprisoned a number of times for preaching the gospel. Who would suffer these things if God did not truly call them as an apostle? No one! But God called me to preach the gospel of His Son who willingly became a sacrifice of atonement for us. There is no greater calling than to lead souls to salvation. A man does not call himself to this work; the Lord must call him and empower him to perform such work. I have suffered much for the sake of the gospel, but it has been worth it, because nothing else has the power to save souls from sin. If there were other ways to be made right with God I would not put myself in such a perilous position. If there were other ways to be made right with God then Christ would not have gone to the cross."

Now he moves on to address the shocking news that some of the believers have turned aside to a gospel that has been perverted by false teachers. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel---which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ." (Galatians 1:6-7) Since later on in this letter Paul will talk about those who are trying to make the Gentile Christians observe rituals of the Mosaic law, some scholars believe this is what Paul is speaking about when he says some have perverted the gospel. I can't say for sure that this is the case, but if so we can see why Paul is so upset and frustrated. He has been preaching a gospel of grace and not of works. Even the law left room for grace because no man or woman could perfectly keep the law. It was understood under the law that people were still going to mess up and that atonement would have to be made for sins they committed. But as Paul will later say in his letter to the Jewish Christians in the book of Hebrews, Christ made the sacrifice of atonement not as the high priest made it (once a year) but He made it once and for all time. Grace was available for another year each time the high priest stood before God in the Most Holy Place in the temple with the blood of the animal sacrifice; but grace is available forever through Christ's blood that He presented before God in the Most Holy Place in heaven.

Salvation is by grace through faith, not by works. Salvation has always been by grace through faith. Was Abraham made right with God by keeping the law? The law hadn't even been given when Abraham was on the earth, yet God imputed righteousness to him because he believed God. Was Moses made right with God by keeping the law? Was David made right with God by keeping the law? Were the prophets made right with God by keeping the law? All these great men of the Bible sinned and fell short, yet they obtained salvation by faith. We can read of the mistakes they made; they are plainly written down in black and white. Yet we can also read that they belonged to the Lord and that the Lord imputed righteousness to them because they believed in Him and trusted that He would do for them what they could not do for themselves. Naturally Paul is upset that anyone would tell the Gentile Christians that after accepting the gospel of grace they must still be circumcised in order to be saved, or that they must observe dietary laws in order to be saved, or that they must follow any other ritual in order to be saved. If this is true, then what Christ did on the cross was not enough. If we have to add anything to what Christ did for us on the cross, then why did He cry out with His last breath, "It is finished!"? In the Greek this word is "tetelestai" which means a thing is a sufficient or acceptable payment or remedy. It comes from a root word that means "to complete or accomplish". If what Jesus did on the cross was not a sufficient and acceptable payment or remedy for our sins, why preach His gospel at all? If He said it was finished when in fact it was not, why worship Him?

But the fact is that the work of redemption was finished at the cross and we can add nothing to it. Good works will naturally flow from a heart that loves the Lord, but our good works don't save us. The work of Christ on the cross saves us when we accept what He has done for us by faith. This is why Paul concludes today with such strong words, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be under God's curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse!" (Galatians 1:8-9) A harsh penalty is in store for those who pervert the gospel and lead people astray, as we learned from the Apostle Peter's letters. What great condemnation will fall on those who through their lies have prevented souls from being saved! There is no other gospel. We cannot through works make ourselves righteous because we cannot keep ourselves from sin. There are not "many ways" to God. There is only Christ who said of Himself, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:8)

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