Week of March 13

Good News about the Good News

Read: Deuteronomy 13-15; Galatians 1
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
Galatians 1:6-7, ESV


“The hub that holds Galatians together is its treatment of the gospel” (HCBC). I will also claim the same thing for the Church, today. The Apostle Paul risked his life for the gospel, which we all know, but more importantly, he staked his eternity on it! He was the right person for that hour of great need. Let me explain why I have selected this passage today.

Paul, according to tradition, was “a man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and a nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness” (NAC). His opponents even poked fun at him (2 Corinthians 10:10). Has anyone in church ever made fun of you? I believe that Paul was the perfect witness—visually unattractive, cognitively brilliant, and passionately committed—to the gospel.

This tiny man carried an enormous message. He advanced a theology of the cross in contrast to one of human glory! He chose to boast in all the things that we often are; namely, weak, afflicted, and persecuted (cf. 2 Corinthians 12). He proves to us that “Jesus is for the little, weak, and afflicted person!” (read Matthew 11:28). We desperately need for people to hear us herald this gospel that strengthens the broken and disenfranchised. It will begin when we lay aside our cult of celebrity in the church and take up the Cross daily. Therefore, we do well to understand more clearly the importance of the gospel for our lives today and for eternity.

Understanding the Bible Context

Paul’s strategy in the letter to the Galatians
Paul had three purposes in mind when he wrote the letter to the Galatians: 1) to defend his authority against his opponents (cf. 1:1), 2) to communicate clearly the gospel message (cf. 1:4), and 3) to apply the gospel message to daily Christian living by the Spirit’s power (HCBC).

He opens the letter in the typical Pauline manner with words of grace and peace, but when he writes verse six, it is penned in all caps, so to speak. He was utterly amazed that the Galatians could have demonstrated such apostasy, and the balance of the letter sustains this high level of intensity. The bulk of the letter itself may be divided into several sections: a narrative section where Paul lays out the facts (1:12-2:24), a definition of his central thesis (2:15-21), and a line of historical and exegetical reasoning where he defends his main thesis (3:1-4:31; NAC). This isn’t a New Testament class in a seminary, but I hope that we can see how careful he was to defend the true gospel against any and all attacks. This begs a question, “Why is this so important today?”
No apologies for being apologists!
Paul’s passion was poured out in love and a genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of those fledgling believers. He knew that the end of their apostasy would be spiritual ruin. They were actually “deserting” the Christian faith altogether, much a like a soldier who abandons his post, or of a person that exhibits a complete change of mind. This was not “backsliding” as we once termed half-hearted Christian practice. They were choosing to leave God the Father who had called them to the faith (cf. EBC). This action was an outright rejection of the faith! How is this so?They left the God who called them, and who shared His grace with them, to embrace legalism. What makes this even more difficult to bear is that they did this so “quickly.” We speak of people who are won to Christ and then, in time, leave through the back door of church and become inactive. These folks, however, received Christ and immediately walked out the door. So, what’s the point?
Our essential need for the gospel
God’s gospel is the way to salvation in Christ. This gospel is “one,” and there are no other variations on the theme, despite all that we see and hear about in our generation. Therefore, any “system of salvation that varies from it is a counterfeit” (EBC). Look carefully at whom Paul points the finger. It was not opponents from outside the church in the form of skeptics or ridiculers, but false teachers inside it who were trying to change it.

Late in the letter Paul will state, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand” to indicate that he wanted to authenticate the letter and let them know from his heart the importance of what has been written to them (6:11). We all know today that when we receive an email or a text message in all caps that the writer is “shouting” the message. Paul wanted them (and us) to get the message loud and clear.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

Do you remember when Coca Cola introduced “new Coke” (1985)? Consumers were incensed because someone was tampering with the original formula. Seventy-seven days of moral outrage ensued over a bottle of sugared water! Sadly, many Christians hardly moan when gospel tampering occurs inside the Body of Christ. It may be due to the fact that we have lost sight of the “original gospel” in our words, actions, and preaching and teaching. Keep the formula—it alone works.

Here are several ways to guard the gospel. Embody the truth that we claim to believe. First, our recent Bible readings and devotionals in Deuteronomy have taught us the importance of words and actions to a serious follower of God (cf. Deuteronomy; “priestly people”). The pure gospel was at stake here and the messenger and his lifestyle needed to reflect it. Paul’s words and deeds all pointed to the truth of the gospel.

Secondly, we are to herald the pure gospel (1:11). In other words, we need to know the real gospel. As we read in Acts, Paul endured much suffering in order that the gospel advance would not be hindered. The gospel literally gave him his new life, not vice versa. He embodied the truth, BUT he was not the truth. In Ashlock speak, “We too often have too much ‘me’ and not enough ‘Thee’ in our efforts to spread the good news.” This is key when spotting a counterfeit gospel.

Thirdly, the true gospel is revealed by Christ and needs no update (1:12). Heresy in the church often does not kick down the front door to gain entrance; it lies outside the door in alluring packaging and is often brought inside the church and welcomed by its members. Timothy George states, “The heretics of Galatia did not deny that Jesus was the Messiah or that he had died and risen from the grave. . .Their error was to add to the finished work of Christ a measure of human achievement as the basis of a right standing with God” (italics mine; NAC). The nature of the Christian faith is altered drastically when we insert even the slightest change in the pure message that Jesus alone saves. Salvation in Christ was not, and never will be, based upon human merit or effort—this is the gospel truth!

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Take a moment to read 1 Thessalonians 1:5: “our gospel came unto you not only in word . . .” This verse leads me to ask two questions: What do you believe are the essentials to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Does your life and do your words embody the gospel? Write down your answers.
“Gospel communication demands more than words, but never allows for less. The gospel has specific content calling for worthy and clear words.”* Here is a weblink to read and consider the essential elements of the gospel: Got Questions
2. For Families: There is an old teaching that helps our youth to spot heresies. They might enjoy sitting over a bowl of ice cream to learn this lesson that will help them. Write these mathematical signs on a napkin: the plus, minus, multiplication, and division signs. When any one of these (or a combination of them) appears in a teaching that we hear, we may want to run up a “red flag” and check out the truth of the claim.

First, addition - any group that adds to God and His Word for authority should be questioned. For example, a group that has “another book” we are told to follow, instead of the Bible, should be avoided. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Next, subtraction - any teaching that subtracts from the person and work of Jesus Christ, particularly His divinity, is suspect. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The third is multiplication - any teaching that multiplies that which is necessary for salvation is incorrect. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The last is division - some groups will divide the body of Christ, His Church, and claim to have the only access to God through their teachings, and that there are no other Christians but themselves. Jesus prayed, “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).

Armed with this brief, but clear symbol-related lesson, your older children and youth can think about what they are hearing and begin to ask questions. Encourage them, and study together to find answers, or invite your pastor or youth worker over for coffee to discuss them.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock

*Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., “Pastoral Pensées: Power in Preaching: Desire: Part 1 of 3 (1 Corinthians 2:1–5),” Themelios 34, no. 2 (2009): 208.