September 22, 2020
The gospel, the message of Christ’s love and work for you, is not a sentiment to give you encouragement and warm fuzzy feelings nor is it a series of motivational statements to get us to do more. The gospel tells us,“It is finished, your sins are forgiven, go in peace and freedom.”
The gospel is what the entire Bible is about. The gospel is what Paul is afraid the people of Galatia were setting aside for lesser things. We can get lost in the weeds, take things out of context, and think the Bible is about us and what we need to do to get closer to God. It’s not. The Bible is the story of how God has done everything to redeem us. How he has always wanted to dwell with us and how he has done the work to ensure He will dwell with us.
We are not giving someone the gospel when we tell them how great they are. We give the gospel when we say how great Christ is, that He is for them, and they are deeply loved by Him. We give the law and the gospel when we say: you are right, you screwed up but Christ forgives you and continues to work for you.
The gospel encourages and empowers but it won’t encourage because of something within us. The gospel encourages us to go on because it is not about us or our doings. We are empowered by the gospel because we do not need to earn the approval of others or fulfill a checklist. Our approval before God is secure. We move forward in life not because we do it perfectly, but because Christ did it perfectly for us.
Forgetting what the gospel is isn’t a new concern. Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians out of his concern for their struggle to lean on things lesser than Christ for salvation and assurance. Luther writes in his commentary of Galatians about the people of his time desiring to add to the gospel. During Luther’s life (1485-1546), the church was selling pieces of paper to ensure people of their salvation and the salvation of their loved ones.
Are we that different from the Galatians or the people of Luther’s time?
I’m afraid not. This struggle of wanting to do something to earn God’s favor is something we will always confront.
These different “gospels” often sound biblical, good, and true. Often doing the things these different “gospels” tell us to do are good things. Those things, however, are not the Gospel. We cannot be justified by what we do. The good works we do flow through us because of what Christ has done for us. The good works we do are prepared for us to walk in. We are loved and the love of Christ flows through us onto others around us.
During the time of the Galatians, the people were being convinced that if they were not circumcised they were not saved. The Galatians were being told there was something they must do to be saved. We have the same struggle today.
The focus of the Bible is on all that Christ has done for us. There are places where we are told to do things. Those places are the law. The law of God is perfect. “Laws” or ways of doing things that people prescribe can be beneficial. But they are not the gospel. Parenting a certain way, eating a specified diet, going to a certain church, dressing in a specific way may be good things for you, but they are not the gospel.
Christ fulfilled the law, instructions given by God, by doing it all perfectly. His perfect life and keeping of the law became ours when he suffered, died, and rose again in our place. It’s called the great exchange. God took on all of our law-breaking and gave us his law-keeping.
The different “gospels” at the time of the Galatians included people saying they must be circumcised.
The different “gospels” of our time sound something like this:
If you were really a good Christian, you would…
If you really loved God, you would…
God will love you more, if you…
If you want a better relationship with God, you will…
If you want good Christian kids, you will…
Reading devotions is not a bad thing, actually a good and wonderful thing. The more we are in scripture the more we will understand and revel in that love Doing devotions or not doing devotions will not change our standing before God.
Parenting well is also a good thing. It will not change our standing with God. Loving your children well? Fantastic. God tells us to love our children well and to not exasperate them. But it won’t change your standing before God.
Going to church. Also good. We have the ability to meet with other believers and hear from the mouth of another about the work Christ has done on our behalf. We teach Sunday School, bring casseroles for potlucks or to a family who needs a little help, and drink coffee during fellowship time. But it won’t change your standing before God.
Any good we do does not come from us but flows through us because of Christ and his work on our behalf.
The false gospels all have a familiar tune. If you do abc…then….you will get XYZ.
The gospel does not function as an if/then statement. The gospel functions as a because/therefore statement. Because of Christ you are forgiven, therefore you are free.
The gospel functions differently than the rest of our lives. The work has already been completed. Because of the work Christ did, we receive the gifts of Christ. Gifts like freedom, being called His heirs instead of slaves, and walking in light. Later on in this book, Paul will talk about all the goods we receive because of the completed work of Christ.
Because of the work of Christ we are forgiven therefore free.