Sermon 12 June 2004
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Galatians 1, 1-10
June 12, 2004
423 "O Sing All Ye Lands With a Jubilant Voice"
537 "O Master Let Me Walk With Thee"
375 "My Faith Looks Up to Thee"
198 "Saviour Again to Thy Dear Name We Raise"
NO SALVATION APART FROM CHRIST
TEXT: (vs. 6-8) "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. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"
The United States of America has been frequently referred to as “the giant melting pot.” This is said because the population of the U.S. is comprised of many ethnic cultures, or descendants of those cultures.
In a lot of ways, this provides for some interesting effects. For example, most of America is familiar with the Mexican holiday, “Cinco de Mayo.” Or there are various Christmas traditions connected with different ethnic groups. For example, the Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, and others have their own traditions—all of which can be kind of neat and fun.
But there are other things that diversity in culture brings that aren’t so neat or fun. One of those things is a diversity in religious beliefs. Unfortunately, this diversity includes a large number of non-Christian religions. I think it would be safe to say we could find representative groups of virtually all of the world’s religions on the shores of these United States. A lot of these we could even find here in the great state of Nebraska.
Some come to mind right away....Muslims, Buddhists, Shintos, plus a whole myriad of native American religions. Then there are the more subtle ones like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons which operate under a thinly veiled guise of Christianity. And then there are those which try to embrace any and all religions such as the Unitarian Universalists or the B’ahai.
As we look at the various religious groups in the United States, I think we have a better appreciation for the situation that Paul was experiencing with the church in Galatia.
Galatia was a rather small country, about 200 miles in length and maybe 50 miles wide cutting through the mid regions of Asia Minor, which we know today as Turkey.
Galatia too was a “melting pot.” There were the indigenous people known as the Phrygians. Then in about 250 B.C. the Gauls or the Celts came in as conquerors. After that came a large Greek settlement. Then in about 189 B.C. came the Romans, and then finally some Jewish colonies were established.
It was the Celtic influence and nature that gave the Galatians their character. They were fickle, superstitious, and liked to observe various rituals. They were also greedy when it came to wealth.
This also produced a strange, mixed bag when it came to religion. These people were mostly Gentiles. When Paul first came on the scene, they received the Gospel of Christ with eagerness. But they were fickle; so in Paul’s absence, they were ready to receive a “different gospel.” They were ritualistic, seeking to become perfect by observing outward rituals. And they were easily overcome by various outward temptations of the flesh. They were also easily angered and very excitable.
Paul had been to Galatia on his second missionary journey, preaching the Gospel of Christ. This letter was most likely written during his third missionary journey while he was on his way to Macedonia, which would have been in about A.D. 57 or 58. He heard what had been happening; hence the necessity of his letter to the Galatians.
So that’s the history; now let’s examine these first 10 verses of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.
(vs. 1-5) "Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia: 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, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Paul immediately establishes his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ through God the Father. It was important for him to do this, since the Galatian people had been listening to so many other teachers that perverted the Gospel and the Christian faith. To clean up the mess that had been created, only a qualified Apostle of Christ could do that. He had to be credible beyond all doubt. And he had to attack all of these perversions, each individually, to show the error of their ways, and to get the church back on track.
One thing I find noteworthy is the way he greets these people. He doesn’t say “dear brothers and sisters,” or “dear contenders for the faith,” or any other endearing greeting. Paul was not happy with them. He had no words of praise for this fickle bunch. So he very tersely addresses his letter “to the churches in Galatia.”
And then he wishes them the grace and peace of God, which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Then he further reminds them of what Christ had done for them. Verse 4: "...who gave himself for our sins, to rescue us from the present evil age.”
As we move along, it doesn’t take long to see further examples of Paul’s disappointment and hurt regarding what was happening in the Galatian church.
Verses 6-7: “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. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
It’s here that we have to remember what the true gospel of Jesus Christ is. The gospel is the full and free forgiveness for our sins through faith in Christ Jesus. There are no good works associated with this free gift, nor are there any particular outward acts that we have to perform in order to earn this forgiveness.
We receive this purely by faith. Through God’s grace, that is, his undeserved love for us, he gives us this faith so we may accept this gospel of Christ. Trying to keep the commandments can’t save us. No, that can only drive us to despair. But as we examine ourselves, we know we have broken the commandments far too often. This brings us then to Christ where we lay hold of his forgiveness through faith. That’s the message of the gospel.
The gospel however was under attack amongst these people. People were mixing all sorts of strange things in with Christianity—superstitions, and all sorts of made-up stuff. The Galatians thought they might have a “better gospel.” But it wasn’t better, it was perverted. Paul rightly identifies it as “a different gospel, which is no gospel at all.” It had no resemblance at all to the Gospel of Christ.
Paul’s next words in verse 8 (which he repeats in verse 9) are key to this whole section. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”
Now those are strong words indeed, and Paul repeats them again for added emphasis. There’s no doubt that Paul has no tolerance at all for false doctrine.
There is one theological phrase that I’m going to quote to you, and I’d like you all to remember it. “There is no salvation apart from faith in Christ.” Once again, “There is no salvation apart from faith in Christ.” That is a very exclusive statement, but also a very necessary one. That statement is definitive of the Christian Church and Christians in general. Unless a person has faith in Christ as their Saviour, they cannot be saved.
Down through the ages people have tried to muddy this up. I’ve often heard the phrases, “well we all worship the same god,” and “there are many different ways to get to heaven,” and the all-time topper, “all religions are good, just as long as you’re sincere about it.” Tolerance and acceptance of various different world religions seems to some people like the kind and loving thing to do; but in reality it is far from that.
If we apply the phrase, “there is no salvation apart from faith in Christ,” then we are implying that it is quite all right if these people are going to hell—but just as long as they’re sincere about it. As Christians, why should we even pretend that this is okay with us? But this is what society and some of the more liberal churches would have us do.
Paul’s words in verse 10 give us the best answer: “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” And there you have it.
The church of Jesus Christ isn’t a popularity contest to see how much false doctrine and teaching can be incorporated so we can make as many people comfortable as possible. These are the type of churches that stand for nothing and will fall for anything—something like the churches in Galatia.
The true Christian church is a Bible church. We look to the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, which is the only rule and norm for faith and life. We look to the Bible and we see God’s law that shows us as condemned sinners. But then we see the light of the Gospel shining through it all, which pardons all our sins and makes us children of God.
A different gospel indeed would be no gospel at all. A different gospel would threaten to rip Christ right out of our lives. A different gospel could only lead us down the path to hell.
So if someone preaches a different gospel, have nothing to do with it. Let’s keep Christ as the center of our lives, for apart from faith in him, there is no salvation.