KEEPERS OF THE FAITH
A Study of Galatians 1:1-10
Deceptive advertising, stylish packaging, and smooth-talking salespeople can dupe consumers into running out and buying a particular item. But how do we know the product really works? The short answer is: Look at the results. Do not become enamored with the pretty wrapper; look beyond the charismatic sales pitch; and do not fall for over-the-top promises. The same advice can be applied to Christianity and the gospel. If you seek to know whether the Word of God is true, look at the results. And don't be duped by incomplete alternatives.
Pastor Paul from the pulpit
Everything has a purpose, and when you know that purpose, the likelihood of using a particular object efficiently increases markedly. Take craftsman tools as an example. A carpenter uses a hammer to apply pressure to nails so they go through wood, aluminum and other hard substances. A plumber uses the unique gooseneck shape of a Channellock wrench to grip and lock, and to reach remote places – especially above the head. Knowing the function of a specific tool is important when you are trying to complete a job.
Similarly, formulas and recipes require knowing how to combine ingredients, and the effect each will have. I am still amazed at how the old folks never measured anything, yet knew exactly how much of this or that to use.
With language, every word we use works with other words to express our thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Choosing words carelessly leads to misunderstanding and, in extreme cases, can create wounds that take years to heal.
Perhaps if we spent a little more time thinking about the purpose of our actions and our words we would probably not have to apologize as much as we do.
The Apostle Paul states the authority by which he writes in his letter to the churches in Galatia. He is …
– “sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.”
Paul next talks about the purpose of the gospel. In verses 3 and 4, he says,
– “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.”
Here Paul reveals the purpose of the gospel and why we need Jesus.
The gospel’s purpose is to convey that Christ gave himself for our sins. His sacrifice liberated us from the power and hold of sin.
The Greek word for sin is “hamartia,” which means to miss the mark.
At the resort where my wife and I stayed on our honeymoon, we entered a game room, which had a dartboard. The object of one particular dart game is to score the most points, and if you hit the bull’s eye, which is a small red mark in the middle, you get big points. But hitting it is difficult. Many things can provoke a miss: poor aim, blurred vision, physical weakness, even over confidence.
Paul believes that sin is something within us. It drives us to go off course, to miss the mark, or to do things that we know are wrong. Paul describes sin in some of his other letters as a force, a thing, and a power that exists within every human being.
We cannot alone overcome the power of sin that exists within us. In dartboard terms, we will never hit the mark of God’s righteous standard laid out in His Word. So we need help, and Paul explains where we will get it:
– “The Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins, to rescue us from the present evil age.”
Every person in the world can identify with Paul’s testimony. We all struggle with something. Some people struggle with food (me), money (this one too!), sex (not so much now), emotions (check).
Other common struggles are related to the way we see ourselves compared to others. Some may feel inadequate and therefore suffer from low self-esteem. Others may think too highly of themselves and be arrogant. Still others may keep too much within themselves.
I may not have listed your particular struggle but, if you are honest with yourself, you will admit you are struggling with something, or even a combination of things.
We work hard to overcome our shortcomings, but more often that not, we miss the mark.
Paul lays out the entire gospel in the first four versus of his letter. It is always helpful to know the form of something before investigating its purpose:
– Verse 1 says God raised Christ from the Dead
– Verse 4 says Jesus Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for us
Christ’s sacrifice had a number of goals. It aimed to …
– Pay our sin debt: This is consistent with the Old Testament act of atonement in which the High Priest would offer sacrifices for the sins of the people once a year. Spilled would be the blood of bulls, goats, rams, and pigeons to satisfy and cover the penalty of sin.
– Liberate us from the power and hold of sin: When God raised Christ from death, our final enemy was conquered. 1 Cor. 15:54-56 says, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This proved that the power of the risen Christ is greater than any other power we encounter.
– Please God: This is why Christ is our perfect example, he was obedient to God unto death. In death, Jesus demonstrated we should live our lives so that we, too, are pleasing to God. We must live in total obedience to God’s will for our lives. Whatever God’s Word commands, we must do.
Christ died to free us from the bondage of sin. He frees us by giving us the power, through faith, to overcome the force that exists within us that drives us off course. Through Christ Jesus we are able to put the things that we struggle with into perspective. Through Christ Jesus, we control them.
Once Paul has unpacked the gospel, he gets down to specifics. The problem in the Galatian Churches centered on the teachings of a group of Judaizers – those who subscribed to the laws of Moses as an added component to the finished work of Christ. In essence, they considered Christ’s life, death, and resurrection were insufficient. As such, they were distorting the gospel. In verses 6 & 7, the apostle highlights the problem,
– “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.”
Most people my age and older were introduced to Christianity by their family. Admittedly, we were not always churchgoers. There was a time when we left the church. The word for deserting in the Greek means to fall away, to leave, or give up on something. One of the reasons people leave the church, I believe, is that it stops working for them. It does not scratch them where they itch.
Human nature is such that people gravitate to things that make them feel good, validate their sense of self or enhance their self-worth. People also tend to want to be part of the in-crowd and not be seen as an oddball. As my director would say, “There in lies the problem.”
The purpose of the gospel is not to make people feel good all the time. The gospel of Jesus Christ should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted. If the gospel does not cause us to re-evaluate our lives, then preachers are not doing their job.
Another issue addressed in the letter relates to packaging. Paul points out that some have abandoned the gospel of Christ for something that is inferior. When something inferior is packaged effectively, it looks, sounds and feels like the real thing. However, upon closer inspection, it is seen to be a fraud.
Several years ago, I purchased a vase from a 99-cent store. From a distance it looked beautiful, and many thought it expensive. Up close, you could see the imperfections. It was obviously an inferior copy.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the original and everything else is a fraud – inferior.
According to Paul, people turn away in search of difference. How many times have we heard people say,
– “I need something different.”
The word for different in the Greek is “heteros.” It means not of the same nature, form, class, or kind. From this word, we get our English word hetero. As we look around the world, we see a proliferation of different religions offering different things: Scientology, New Age, Da Vinci Code, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and so on. All offer something different. All preach a different gospel from that of Jesus Christ. I have often asked myself what would cause a person to convert from the true gospel. The answer, I believe, is doubt. Indeed, it is hard to stick with something that you, in your heart of hearts, do not believe works, or will deliver the goods.
With all of the religious offerings today it is easy to see how people treat religion like a buffet: a little of this sprinkled with a little of that, topped off with a little of something else. But the proof is in the results.
Most modern day religions are just that, modern. They have no track record and a limited history. The Christian faith, which is an extension of Judaism, traces its roots to the time of Abraham.
Abraham is the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which arrived several hundred years after Christianity. The Christian faith not only endured persecution, but also grew and spread as a result of it. Nero’s persecution of the early church did more to spread the gospel than any single act throughout history. Look at the results.
When you look at other religions, ask yourself, “Where is the good news – the gospel?”
I have looked elsewhere and not been able to find it. If our only hope is in this life, we really do not have much hope. Sickness and death are eventualities.
Paul concludes this passage by asking whom are we trying to please: God or people. In verse 10, he says,
– “Am I trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I have tried to play the in between game, but it does not work. There was a period in my life when I actually was ashamed to admit I was a Christian. I was a Christian on Sunday, and Paul Glover Monday through Saturday. No wonder I was so messed up; I was afraid to stand up for what I claimed to believe.
Interestingly, I had many Muslim and Jewish friends who unashamedly expressed their faith at all times. I understand now why they were much more comfortable in their own skin than I was. Is it any wonder that I also had tremendous difficulty articulating my faith during this period.
Compromising the gospel leads to a compromised faith.
J. C. Ryle states:
– “You may spoil the gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith – Jesus Christ – and to substitute another object in His place… and the mischief is done.
– “You may spoil the gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honor, and the mischief is done.
– “You may spoil the gospel by disproportion. You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done.
– “Lastly, but not least, you may completely spoil the gospel by confused and contradictory directions… Confused and disorderly statements about Christianity are almost as bad as no statement at all.”
Watering down the gospel for the sake of friendship, to save face, or because you do not want to offend someone might win you the approval of certain people, but it will damage your relationship with God.
Here are some lessons we can draw from the text:
– Don’t try to win friends at the expense of the gospel
– There is only one gospel and anything else is a distortion
– Let the gospel speak for itself; it has survived this long without our meddling and does not need us to adjust it
– No matter how hard you try, you cannot please people and serve Christ at the same time
– Believers who keep the faith are more interested in pleasing God by obeying His will and Word than they are worried about what other people think
– For as long as the world exists, there will always be different offerings. However, believers must not abandon their faith in favor of something else that is decidedly inferior.
– Look at the victory that Christ has not only won for all, but has given you over the things that used to plague you. Let these victories be your testimony to the power of the risen, resurrected Savior – Jesus Christ.
– If you have moved away from Christ or if you question your faith, re-examine your relationship with Him and review the source of your doubts. Maybe you just do not know Christ. You have heard about him, and you have seen him working in the lives of those around you. But because you keep missing the mark, you feel as though he will not work for you.
You need to know that God loves you no matter what you have done and will forgive you and release you from your past and the guilt that binds you.
I want to encourage you to say this prayer:
I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.
You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and arose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.
I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.
In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer
Sunday 12 July 2009
May God Bless You