Monday, October 14, 2013

The Centerpiece of Our Faith - Only One Gospel

Have you ever done something wrong and been caught?

I remember one time when I was just about 7 years old. My family lived in Laplace, Louisiana, and we had a two-story house in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There were kids everywhere. That’s the first thing I noticed when we moved there. We turned on to the street and I saw kids my own age coming out of every corner. We had a lot of fun in those days, sometimes too much fun. One time my parents weren't there for some reason.
All of the kids were at home, just for a few minutes. My mom had gone down the street and left us with my oldest sister. I was there, my brother, my 2 sisters, and a kid named Andrew. My sisters were down stairs, but me, my brother, and Andrew were upstairs alone!  When three 6-7 year old boys are left alone, nothing good can happen. Especially when these three 6-7 year olds have a football, in the house, in their parents’ bedroom. We were innocently playing a little tackle football game in the confines of our parents’ bedroom. I was the quarterback, my brother was the receiver, and Andrew was guarding my brother. I told Chris to go long, as long as you can go in a 15 X 10 bedroom, and as long as a 7 year old can throw a football. He went long and got open. Wide open just beyond the goal line, which was past the end of the bed. I threw the ball, he jumped, and he missed! Whenever you miss a pass in a 15 X 10 room, there’s a good chance that ball is going to hit something else, and it did. The ball slammed into the lamp on my parents’ nightstand. It went crashing to the floor and broke into many pieces. We did what any honest, good sons would do; we tried to cover it up. We got the glue. Not good glue (we were only 6-7, we didn’t know what good glue was.) We got the only glue we knew about, Elmer’s. To make a long story short, it didn’t work out the way we planned. Glue was oozing out of every crack, the pieces were sliding away from one another, and it didn’t take us long to realize it wasn’t going to hold.  So, we did what any honest, good sons would do.  We ran! We ran and we hid. But as soon as mom got home she went into her room. And we heard that dreaded three-word phrase any child hates to hear, our full names “Theodore Wesley Crawford…Christopher Franklin Crawford…” and with those words, we knew we were in trouble! Have you ever been there? Like a deer staring at headlights, nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, caught!

I think that is how the Galatians must have felt when they finished reading Paul’s letter to them. But, you see, what they were guilty of was far more serious. When it came to the Christian life, they completely missed it! And their spiritual father had walked in and saw the glue oozing from the lamp. And they quickly knew; He wasn’t happy, and they were neck deep in trouble!

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!  As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!  Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:1-10 (NRSV)

Many of you know there is a common form to a Greek letter: Greeting, Blessing, Thanksgiving, Body, and Closing Remarks. Paul follows this pattern in his New Testament letters. So, if you look at Ephesians, Romans and Corinthians you can see each of these parts. But notice what Paul leaves out in this letter to the Galatians. There is no Thanksgiving. Paul completely leaves it out. This is the only time he does that. In fact in Ephesians, the Thanksgiving goes for nearly 2 chapters. Apparently the church in Ephesus was doing well. They needed to be praised. Paul was thankful for them. But not Galatia, the Galatians were in a different position. They had done something so bad, something so contrary to God’s will; Paul completely omitted their thanksgiving and went right into the letter. And he doesn’t begin with formalities. His first words in the body: “I am astonished at what you have done…” What had the Galatians done that was so bad? Paul put it this way: They chased after a “new gospel.” You see, Paul had started the church in Galatia and after Paul left the church in Galatia, some other people arrived. People, who were preaching this “different” gospel, who were adding to or subtracting from the good news Paul had originally given to them. And the Galatians, instead of turning their backs on this new teaching, believed every word. The Galatians had traded in the real Gospel for a new gospel, and Paul was not very happy!  At this point in the letter, it is not entirely clear what the Galatians had bought into, but we do know one thing. The gospel they were following was from men, not God. Notice to what lengths Paul goes in this section to express his authority from God. Verse 1, “An apostle sent not from men or a man…An apostle sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father”; Verse 8, “Even if we or angels in heaven give you another gospel…Let us or them be cursed forever.”; Verse 10 “I’m not trying to win the approval of men. I am a servant of Christ.”  Paul believes they have left the teachings of God in favor of some human teaching.

Here is my question, church: Why would anyone trade away the gospel for anything?

Rick Atchley preached a series on Galatians a few years ago, and he said something in his introduction to this book that is worth repeating. He said Galatians is the story of a people who had a good thing, but didn’t recognize it. They had in their fingertips the greatest news in the history of the world, and they said, “No thanks, we’ll take this instead.” In the chance that there might be others who would make a similar mistake, let me take a few moments to remind you of how great this news really is. Do you remember what the “gospel” really is? The gospel means simply “good news.” And that designation really doesn’t do it justice! It is in fact, the greatest news of all time.  Here it is church, you and I were lost in more ways than one. First, we had no hope of ever spending eternity with God. You see God can’t associate with darkness. So, you and I, mired by sin, had no chance to ever be in the presence of God. But Jesus came and took away that sin. Now, you and I, by following Jesus in and out of the grave and into the world, have the ability to follow Jesus into eternity.

But this good news is not something that will only reap benefits in the future. Jesus’ coming and our acceptance of His Lordship also grants salvation to you and me today. The power of God in us should make better fathers and mothers. It should fill us with joy. It should help us focus on others and not ourselves. This kind of lifestyle brings salvation from the selfishness that leads to broken     relationships. Salvation from that hunger for money and power that drives so many people in this world into chaos. God has given us salvation; may we not be like the Galatians and trade that salvation for anything less.

This morning, we begin a series on Galatians, entitled “The Centerpiece of Our Faith”. A very important book in the history of the church, one of the books that helped usher in the Protestant Reformation. It reminds me of something very important. Our world is a very “nice” world. We don’t like to challenge one another the way previous generations did, we just want to get along. I hear people say all the time: “We can agree to disagree, unity is really the most important thing.” You know that I believe unity is very important, I think God has called us to be a unified people, and we are way too divided. But church, there are some things worth standing our ground on, and Galatians is the story of one of those things! We may agree to disagree on many issues, but “The Gospel” is non-negotiable! Paul is pretty clear on this issue: The gospel plus anything else is not the gospel! It’s impossible to fully understand the situation in Galatia in these few verses. But over the next few weeks, I want us to try to answer a question from this book. What was so appealing to the Galatians that they would turn their backs on the Gospel of Christ? May we always follow the true Gospel, the only one that has the power to change lives, the only one that has been given by God, not men.

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