The book of Galatians is a short New Testament epistle about the true gospel of Jesus Christ. You can read it in about 30 minutes. It is written by Paul to a group of churches in a region known as Galatia. It is only six chapters long and powerful in its impact. A little bit of the right explosive can set off a huge impact that can bring down a building. Church history tells us that a little more than 500 years ago Martin Luther read this book and the Reformation began. Some of the great teachings of the church come right out of this book.
Let me introduce the theme of the book. This book is about real freedom that comes from the gospel. This book answers the question, “How can I truly be free?” God wants us to live free from guilt, free from the penalty of sin and death, free from fear, free from doubt and especially free from that fear that we don’t measure up. Often people ask themselves questions: Am I really good enough in God’s eyes? Am I doing enough to please God? Am I really accepted by God?
How can we be truly free? When the world looks at that question, it offers two answers. Some people think freedom comes from keeping the rules. We will be introduced to some people that we call the Judaizers. They were rule keepers. I am going to call the rule keepers the legalist. The legalist says that in order to be accepted you must:
- Do lots of good deeds
- Try harder
- Pray with more intensity
- Go to church
- Give your money
- Follow the Ten Commandments
- Obey the Golden Rule
- Do whatever your pastor tells you to do
If you don’t do these things you may not make it into heaven. The list actually can become endless because the human mind is endlessly creative in the rules that people can come up with in life. Be a vegetarian! Don’t eat pork! And on and on the rules go. But rule keeping always fails in the end because you can never be sure you’ve done enough. Let’s face it, the most unfree people in the world are underneath the weight of rule keeping. Whole segments of Christianity have fallen into this way of thinking. Rules about makeup, hair, clothes and activities are dominant in some churches. I have books in my library that are all about pushing me to do more. The thinking is that if I just do more then God will be more pleased with me. If one hour of prayer is good, isn’t four or five hours much better? But the bottom line is how can I be truly free and at peace, if I am never certain God is pleased with me? You can’t! A lot of people try to make it to heaven by keeping the rules who aren’t certain they have done enough. That is a horrible way to live. It actually becomes slavery. Rule-keepers can never say I know I am going to heaven because they can’t be sure they have done enough to merit salvation.
Just like some people think that freedom comes from keeping the rules. Some others in the world think that freedom comes from throwing aside all the rules. Do what you want. “There are no rules. If it feels good, do it.” That is called hedonism. But in the end, hedonism cannot satisfy either. You end up exchanging one form of slavery for another. You drink to get drunk and end up with a hangover, you gamble and lose your money, you sleep around and even if you don’t get some strange disease, you wake up the next morning with a guilty conscience and a hole in your heart. And your miserable. So tossing out the rules isn’t the answer either.
If legalism (trying to find happiness by keeping the rules) doesn’t work, and if hedonism (the pure pursuit of pleasure regardless of the rules) doesn’t work, where can we find true freedom in life? Galatians offers us a simple and compelling answer: Freedom does not come from rules or the lack of rules. Freedom is found in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Rules will never make you holy or keep you holy. Only a relationship with Christ does that. The only true freedom is the freedom that comes from knowing him as Savior and Lord. Those whom Christ sets free are free indeed.
Is there anyone here who is interested in real peace, in lasting freedom, and the power to live a new life, then this series is for you.
Saving Private Ryan is one of my favorite World War II movies. Three out of four brothers have been killed in action, and then a search is launched to find the fourth, Private James Ryan, so that he is not killed, because that would leave his mother childless. Eight men are sent out to find Private Ryan, who is missing somewhere in Normandy. As the men wander the countryside looking for Private Ryan they have a big conversation: “Why is the army risking the lives of eight men to save the one?”
One evening it all boils to a head and Captain John Miller says to his sergeant: “This Ryan had better be worth it, I mean he better do something important with his life….” Captain Miller hopes that Ryan will be worth the risk. Eventually, Miller and his Rangers locate Ryan, but then there is a battle and in the battle Miller and most of the men who came to find Ryan are killed.
In the final moments before Captain Miller dies he says to Ryan in a low and shaky voice: “Earn this. Earn it.” In essence, Miller is telling Ryan to live his life from that moment on in such a way that it is worthy of their sacrifice. He was telling him that most of the most the men who came to find you have died so you better be worth it!
Here is the sad part of the movie. At the end of the movie an elderly Ryan is seen visiting the graveside of Captain Miller and the other Rangers who sacrificed everything for him. This man is tortured. Turning to his wife, he says, “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” Is this not what many of us do with the gospel? We often feel like we have to earn God’s love or do something that makes us deserve what Jesus went through on the cross. The enemy tells us, “You haven’t done enough! You didn’t pray enough! You didn’t give enough! You didn’t try hard enough! You struggled with too many doubts.” Yet those feelings contradict the clear teaching of the Bible that God’s love is real and that our salvation is free.
I don’t want to be lying on my bed when my time comes and say, Was I a good man? Did I do enough? What deeds can I point to that make me worthy of heaven? Because that my friend is not the gospel!
In my life as a pastor:
- No sermon I preach
- No website I build
- No counsel I give
- No offering I sacrificed to give
- No time I spent in service makes me acceptable.
It is Christ and Christ alone that my hope for salvation must lie. I am not worthy of heaven by the works I do, by the way, you aren’t either, if it were not for what Christ did for me, I would be lost. It is by his grace alone that I am saved. It is by his gospel alone that I am allowed entrance into heaven. And so as Paul begins this letter, he jumps into what he wants to say very quickly. He wants the churches in Galatia to get back to the message Paul had taught them, the good news about Jesus.
THREE POWERFUL STATEMENTS PAUL IS MAKING CONCERNING THE TRUE GOSPEL
- I HAVE GOD’S AUTHORITY ON MY SIDE
Galatians 1:1-2 “Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:” Paul begins this letter by stressing who he was. He was emphasizing his authority. Mothers understand this right? How many mothers have stood with their hands on their hips and looked at that rebellious child and said, I am your mother, I brought you into this world, I will take you out! That child better listen right? God gave you that authority.
Paul was an apostle with a capital A. An apostle was one who was sent by God. An ambassador is sent by the imperial ruler or the president of a country. When he arrives on the scene he lets people know:
- The king is the one who sent me here.
- I am here not only on his authority but with his authority.
- I represent him.
- I bring his message.
An Apostle with a capital A is a step higher than an ambassador for a king. He is sent by God. That is who Paul was. He said I am an Apostle! Galatians 1:1 “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead”
And he goes on to say, “and the men with me.” It is not just me. I have God on my side. I have some brothers on my side. You can tell he has something to say. Some say he was angry. He did have some indignation in him. The people he was writing to were not strangers. He had spent time in Galatia. He had founded the churches there. These were people he loved. He had begun these churches as was his custom in the Jewish synagogues and made converts there and then some who were gentiles had been added to the faith. Paul had set up leaders and put the church in order. Paul had left them with a foundation of the gospel.
Why was Paul stressing his authority? Because some people were trying to pervert the gospel. This letter is Paul standing up and guarding the true gospel of Jesus Christ. There were men who had come into these churches that Paul had established and were preaching another gospel which was not even a gospel. We call those men Judaizers. We can call them legalist.
They said, Jesus is okay, we can believe in Him, but we have to add something else to it. Jesus is not enough. Grace isn’t enough. You have to be circumcised. You have to follow the law. You have to follow all the dietary rules of Judaism. They had a whole litany of rules from the Old Testament, and they were saying that you better follow those rules or you won’t be right!
And so what Paul does in this book is he uses his authority. He uses his experiences to prove both his authority and that Jesus is indeed enough. He sets forth in this book that we are justified by faith alone. Paul immediately reminds them of what he had shared with them. In the next three verses he makes another powerful statement.
- I PREACH THE TRUE GOSPEL MESSAGE
The way Paul makes that statement is by simply weaving the gospel right into his salutation! Galatians 1:3-5 “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Paul reminds them in these verses of who they were before Christ. And he reminds us of who we were before Christ. I want to explain something to you. Before Jesus came into your life, you were utterly and hopelessly lost and depraved. You think, “Not me, I was a good person.” Be cautious! Sounds to me like you are all full of pride. Pride is a sin too. You were stuck in a life of sin and you could not save yourself. No amount of self-help, or self-improvement could do the job. You needed to be rescued.
You and I before salvation are Helpless and Lost in need of being rescued. If the average person on the street is asked what is a Christian would most likely say something like this, “A Christian is someone who is a follower of Christs teaching and Example.” That sounds pretty good right? Paul would say that’s impossible, Yes, following his teaching and example is definitely what we are to do. A Christian is more than that.
A Christian is someone who has been rescued by Jesus.
Suppose you see a drowning woman, it doesn’t help her if you throw her a manual on how to swim – you throw her a rope so that she can be saved from drowning. Tell her, just read the book and follow the example of the greatest swimmer ever. How many of you think she will drown? She needs a Savior, a Rescuer. And that is what Jesus did! Galatians 1:4 “who gave Himself for our sins…” Substitution is at the core of The Gospel message. Well, I took the bible and I read it and studied it and I did my best to apply it. That is great! But that didn’t save you. The only thing that saved you from drowning in your sins is the fact that Jesus died in your place and threw you a lifeline and you accepted what he did on the cross. He pulled you up out of the muck and the mire.
Galatians 1:4 “that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” We didn’t deliver ourselves from this evil age! He delivered us! It was Jesus! He did all that we needed to do but were incapable of doing for ourselves. The Father accepted the work of Christ on the Cross by raising him from the dead, and giving us the grace and peace that Christ won for us on the Cross.
We did not ask to be rescued, but God in His grace planned what we didn’t even realize we needed, and Christ by His grace came to achieve the rescue we could never have achieved on our own. That is why the glory goes to God! Galatians 1:5 “To whom be glory forever and ever!” There is nothing in us which merits our salvation. Salvation is by sheer grace. This is why the only one who get’s the glory forever is God alone.
- If we somehow contributed to our own rescue
- If we had rescued ourselves
- If God had seen something deserving of rescue
- If God saw we were useful for His plan
- If we had simply called out for rescue based on our own reasoning and understanding
Then we could pat ourselves on the back for the part we played in saving ourselves. But He saved us. “according to the will of God and Father.”
Then he makes a third bold statement.
- THERE IS ONLY ONE GOSPEL
There are many people today that have deserted the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have abandoned the Word of God. They have just sought to tickle the ears of those who come to hear the message they preach. God is not pleased with that. I fear for pastors who would compromise the Word. Galatians 1:6-7 “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
Paul’s astonishment comes from the fact that the very believers he had discipled were such easy prey for the false teachers. Had he not taught the truth? Had they not gladly listened? Did they not welcome the liberating truth of the gospel into their hearts? How then could they be so quickly deceived? The word translated here as turning away is the word that is used for one who deserts the military. Galatians 1:6 NIV “ 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—” “Deserting” is a military term that refers to a traitor, one who leaves the army of his own country and goes to work for the enemy. In this case it meant leaving the gospel of grace for the gospel of salvation by works.
But that “gospel” is no gospel at all. It is a man-centered attempt to attain salvation, and as such, it appeals to our natural pride and our desire to think that we have contributed something to our own deliverance.
Sometimes I think we try to even package the gospel in such a way that people will be quicker to accept it. We are wrong in doing that! We tell them, if you accept Jesus, you will have a more comfortable, and a more pleasing life. Your family will be better. Your marriage will be better. You kids will act better. Your finances will be better. Some of those statements are true some of the time. But that is not why you need Christ. You need Christ because without him you perish.
Ray Comfort gives the illustration of a man who is getting on an airplane and he is told to put on a parachute. The man who gives him the parachute tells him. Your flight will be better if you put this on. You will be so much more comfortable. You will enjoy the flight more, so put it on! The man is convinced. He puts on the parachute and goes to sit down. Man, it is uncomfortable. He can’t even lean back in the seat. It’s tight. It’s kind of restrictive. He is not enjoying the flight at all. After about an hour, he says this is ridiculous. Wearing this parachute isn’t making my life better. It is making it worse. So he takes it off.
But imagine what would have happened if someone told him the truth. Sir, this parachute is uncomfortable at times. It is going to make your flight less enjoyable at times. But hear me. This plane could go down at any moment. Without this parachute, you are going to die. Please leave it on! It is your only hope. That guy isn’t going to care if he is uncomfortable.
That is why you need the one true gospel. Because without it you perish. Without it you stay bound up in your sins. Without it you can’t break free. Don’t let anyone trouble you or pervert the gospel. In that day, they were adding things to the gospel. I had someone tell me once that he heard we believe that you have to speak in tongues to go to heaven. I said, are you out of your mind? That is another gospel, that is not even a gospel. It is not Jesus plus this rule or experience. It is Jesus alone.
When I was a young man, I really did not understand the gospel. I think part of that is kind of what put a bit of rebellion in me. If someone said, what does your church believe in? I would say:
- We don’t go to movies.
- We don’t go to dances.
- We don’t smoke.
- We don’t drink.
- We don’t chew tobacco.
- We don’t roller skate.
- We don’t play with playing cards.
I somehow thought that you had to keep those rules in order to be saved. A friend of mine grew up in a church where you couldn’t wear cuff links. I would be going to hell for sure. Those things are a perversion of the gospel. There were Judaizers in that day. There are still people who want to add to the gospel today.
Shouldn’t we lives that please God? Yes of course. But we cannot pervert the true gospel. Paul has some words for these men who try to add to the gospel. Galatians 1:8-9 “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Paul states this two times! He uses here in the Greek the word anathema. That word literally means “to be set aside to God for destruction.
Basically, Paul said, if they preach another gospel, let them go to hell. We have to contend for the true gospel. There is only one gospel. There is only one Savior. There is only one way of salvation.
I say with Paul…
Let those who preach any other gospel, any other Savior, any other way of salvation …
Let those who preach that the Bible is a myth …
Let those who declare that Jesus is only one among many ways to God …
Let those who say that all religions are equal …
Let those who proclaim a do-it-yourself spirituality …
Let those who deny the narrow road to heaven …
Let those who add to the gospel such things as baptism, good works, giving, tithing, Sunday school, praying, deeds of kindness, giving to the poor, missionary work, or anything else that may be good in itself …
Let those who say that Jesus never lived or that he never claimed to be God …
Let those who say that there is no such thing as absolute truth …
Let those who claim that tolerance is more important than truth …
Let those who mock the followers of Christ …
Let those who want Christianity but without the bloody cross …
Let those who prefer culture to Christ and accommodation to evangelism …
Let those who deny heaven and laugh at hell …
Let those who preach that sin is a myth and the Cross a mistake …
Let those who say, “That’s just your opinion” when told that Christ is the only way to God …
If they will not repent, if they will not turn from their evil teaching, then let them all, each and every one, be eternally condemned. This is the Word of God. This is God’s judgment on false teachers.
One thing is clear in the letter to the Galatians. Your relationship to Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world. Ultimately, nothing else will matter. We must run to the cross as our only hope of salvation. Perhaps I can press home the issue this way. God is satisfied with what his Son did on the cross. Are you satisfied with what Jesus did? Is Jesus enough for you? Or do you think you need to add something of your own to what he accomplished in his death and resurrection? I urge you to humble yourself, turn from your pride, and bow before the One who loved you enough to die for you. Trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior. Do it now.