For the next few days I will ponder the book of Galatians.
Paul opens this letter with his credentials. As a scholar, I understand the importance of leading with my resume. If people are going to pay attention to my scholarship, I have to demonstrate my expertise early. That demonstration is also tailored to the audience. For me, especially right now as I look for work closer to home, it’s a matter of tailoring my cover letters to the job postings at universities. (I love my work and colleagues at UNLV, but it’s a long commute from Atlanta.) For Paul, it was a matter of reminding the Galatians that his authority was not based on his scholarship or birthright, but through Jesus Christ Himself.
Once Paul identifies his credentials, he opens with the gospel: the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us (1:4). Paul grounds what is to come in the foundation of the gospel. Paul is not about to lay down his opinion, but the plain truth. The age is evil, Jesus delivers us from it, and God gets the glory. Grace and peace are only available through the truth.
Paul was astonished (v 8) at how quickly the Galatians adopted a distorted and cheapened gospel. He may have been astonished, but Jesus explained in Matthew 13 that there would be people who turned away from Him and those who would be confused by other teachings. It still happens. There are still people who want to use christianity (lower case intentional) for their own glory and prestige. The prosperity doctrine teachers are the most obvious in this age. They teach a false gospel the Jesus wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy (but never wise). That may sound good, but it’s not Biblical. Jesus was clear that believers would suffer and struggle and live in dark times. He said he would send the Holy Spirit as a guide and comforter, but never did he say that life would be comfortable (John 14:25-31).
While the prosperity doctrine is fairly easy to recognize, I think that there are two more dangerous false teachings that find their ways into mainline and evangelical churches. I call them the gospels of extremes. On one side are the legalists who focus almost exclusively on laws, commandments, and admonitions found throughout the Bible. On the other end are the liberalists who teach only mercy and grace without dealing with the consequences of sin. Both extremes misrepresent the true gospel: all have sinned (Romans 3), sin leads to death (Romans 2), redemption is through Christ alone (Romans 3, 1 Corinthians 15, Colossians 1), and eternal reconciliation with God is established in Jesus (Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 2, 2 Corinthians 5). Focusing on the laws of the Bible diminishes the work of mercy and love. Focusing on the grace of God diminishes His holiness, righteousness, and justice. The gospel is both mercy and justice, perfectly integrated in the person of Jesus. The gospel is neither a feel-good story nor a condemnation of people.
When we talk to others we must remain grounded in the gospel
in all of its fullness and mystery. Before we speak of any spiritual thing, we ought to pray, May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Then, we can speak as servants of Christ and God will be glorified.