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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:There is only one gospel - and you can be sure that it is true!
Text:Galatians 1:11,12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2014-03-16
Added:2014-03-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs from 2010 Book of Praise

Bible translation used: NKJV

Psalm 111:1,2

Psalm 111:5

Psalm 25:1,2,10

Psalm 40:7

Hymn 28:7

 

Read:  Acts 13:13-41; Galatians 1:10 – 2:10.

Text:  Galatians 1:11,12

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If something seems too good to be true, how can you be sure that it is?  Consider the gospel for example.  In agreement with what the Word of God teaches we are taught that the promise of the gospel is

“That God graciously grants us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.”

But how can we be sure?

Have you ever wondered about whether or not the gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ alone is really true?  Have you ever asked yourself if you can really be sure that you are saved?  Did Jesus really give Himself up for our sins – and can I really find my complete salvation in Him alone?  How can I be sure about all of this?  What if I missed something really important?  What if there was something I had to do that I did not realize?  Yes even, what if Paul got it wrong?  What if “the things that you’re liable to read in the Bible, they aint necessarily so”?  What if it was all a hoax, the fertile imaginings of some individual 2000 years ago?

We live in the so-called information age where we seem to know more about more things than ever before.  But we also live in an age of confusion where many do not seem to know what is true any more. 

There are many religions.  There are many churches.  There are many conflicting groups who claim that they alone hold the truth and there are many others who claim that there is no truth.  But they can not all be right, and so we are left to wonder:  in the maze of conflicting teachings about what is true and what is not, in the maze of conflicting teachings about who God is and how we can belong to Him what is truth?  Who is right?  And how can I ever be sure that what I believe is right?

If ever these were important questions that demand an answer, they most certainly do now in an age where many are giving up on the truth, are giving up on ever knowing if there really is a God and how we can belong to Him. 

But these questions also demanded an answer when the New Testament Church was still young, when the gospel was only just being preached to the nations, when people were hearing about salvation by faith in Christ alone for the first time.  For there were some who went among the churches, particularly the churches of the Galatians, teaching that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And when the Galatian Christians heard this, they were confused and many of them turned away from the grace of Christ to a different gospel, a gospel that taught that the way to God was not through Christ alone but through Christ plus obedience to the Old Testament laws.  But a false gospel is not the gospel at all, and so it was of great importance that the Galatian Christians – and us – would both know the truth and believe it.

And so I preach to you the Gospel as we have read it from Galatians 1 and 2 under the following theme:

There is only one gospel – and you can be sure that it is true!

  1. The origin of the gospel.
  2. The certainty of the gospel.

1. The origin of the gospel.

In many ways we are quite distant from the churches of Galatia to whom the apostle Paul wrote his letter.  The churches of Galatia were, most people agree, the churches in the region of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, cities in what is now known as the country of Turkey.  There were Jews, people of Israel, living in those cities.  These Jews had held on to the faith that had been handed down to them by their fathers and they followed the Old Testament laws as much as they were able.  And they especially held on to the practice of circumcision as the Lord had commanded them.  In Genesis chapter 17 the LORD had commanded their forefather Abraham to circumcise himself and all the males of his household, 8 days and up.  And God said to Abraham in Genesis 17:9,10

“As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.  This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you:  Every male child among you shall be circumcised.”

And in Genesis 17:13 the Lord said,

“And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

And so to belong to God and to His covenant was to be a Jew and to be a Jew meant that every male would be circumcised.  Holding on to the law of Moses was a non-negotiable matter, and circumcision was the cornerstone of those laws.  With no circumcision and no laws of Moses there would be no distinction between God’s people the Jews, and the Gentiles.

But then along came the apostle Paul, preaching to both the Jews and to the Gentiles.  And as he preached to them, he did not call the Gentiles to become Jews, but he gave all of these people the one and the same message, Acts 13:38,39:

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man [Jesus Christ] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

Now this was radical!  Not only did Paul come preaching in the name of the Lord Jesus, but he taught that everyone who believed in this Jesus would be saved from their sin – not just the Jews but also those who were not Jews, not just the circumcised but also the uncircumcised.  And not only that, but  Christ had come to do that which the law of Moses – the sacrifices, the ceremonies, the feast days, and even circumcision – Christ had come to do that which the law of Moses could not do: to grant the full forgiveness of all our sins so that we might be justified, declared righteous before God on account of Him. 

And the Gentiles loved it!  Acts 13:42,

“So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.”

But most of the Jews on the other hand were not happy.  Although many of the Jews and devout proselytes (that is, Gentiles who had become Jews) did follow Paul and Barnabas and believed that salvation is to be found in Jesus Christ alone, most did not.  Most of the Jews simply could not accept the teaching that God would accept them not because of who they were, not because they were Jews, not because they obeyed the law and even not because they were circumcised but that God would accept them only in and through the Christ who died on a cross and whom God raised from the dead.  They could not accept this!  This, they knew, would be the end of Judaism as they knew it.

And so Paul and Barnabas experienced great opposition when they preached the gospel in the churches of southern Galatia.  Opposition to the point that in the Galatian city of Lystra Paul was stoned with stones and left for dead.

But the opposition did not stop after Paul and Barnabas left the region.  Instead, the opposition changed so that it came not from outside the church but from within.  Among those who called themselves Christians also, there were those who struggled to accept that the gospel was the same for all, that circumcision no longer counted for anything, that both Jews and Gentiles were justified, declared righteous before God only by a faith in Jesus Christ.  And so people came into the church and began to challenge the authority and teaching of Paul and to challenge the Christians in the Galatian churches.  They asked, “Who is this Paul, and where did he get this so-called gospel that he is preaching everywhere?  Where does he get the idea that you are saved by grace alone in Christ alone – and that you can be saved without being circumcised?  What Paul is preaching is not true!”  And then they tried to discredit both Paul and the gospel he preached by saying two things.  First, Paul was not a true apostle, and second, the so-called gospel that he preached did not come from the Lord.

Now in response to this the apostle Paul had good reason to exclaim in dismay in Galatians 1;6,

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel”

but let us step back for a moment and try to consider this from the position of those Galatian churches.  The questions had been asked:  who was this Paul anyway?  How was it that he could call himself an apostle when he really was not connected to the apostles at Jerusalem?  Where did he get his gospel from?  Was he and his message truly authentic?  Or was he perhaps a free agent, a misleading and deceptive offshoot from the true church that was in Jerusalem?  And these questions needed an answer.  The Galatian churches – and we too – needed to know that there is only one gospel and that they could be sure that it is true.

And so to both remind the Galatians of the gospel and to convince them once more that it was true the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 1:11,12

“But I made known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

To be sure that the gospel of grace, as preached by the apostle Paul is true, we need to know where it came from.  Logically it could have come from one of three sources:  either Paul dreamed the whole thing up or Paul had heard the gospel message from others and he was just passing on a second hand account of the truth, or else Paul had received it from the Lord Himself.  And so the apostle Paul went through these three possibilities to prove what he had already stated in verse 1 of Galatians 1, that Paul was an apostle

“not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.”

First of all then, the apostle Paul showed it did not make sense to claim that he had dreamed the whole thing up.  Before he became a Christian, he was the greatest of all Judaizers, vehemently opposed to the idea that there was any way to be saved except through circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses as well as the Jewish traditions.  Chapter 1:13,14

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

There was nothing in it for Paul to become a Christian if it was not true.  His life was made for him as a Pharisee and he lived and breathed the Jewish religion – a religion that had so formed itself that it did not see the need for a Saviour.  And not only that, but he hated the Christians.   And yet after he was converted his change was so radical, so complete that the churches in Judea were hearing only,

“He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.”  (Galatians 1:23)

What could do this to Paul?  What could take the greatest, most vehement enemy of the gospel of Jesus Christ and cause him to change so much that he became its greatest missionary?  That could only be possible through the supernatural work of God Himself.  It was God Himself, Paul wrote in Galatians 1:15,16 who was pleased to set him apart from birth, call him by his grace and reveal Christ to him.  It was the Holy Spirit of God who had brought about his conversion.

But even if the gospel did not come from men, there was still the question, did Paul receive it through man?  Could Paul honestly call himself an apostle?  Could he honestly say in verse 12 of Galatians 1 that he neither received the gospel from man, nor was he taught it, but that he received it by revelation from Jesus Christ?  What exactly was his connection to the apostles who lived in Jerusalem?

It was to answer these questions that Paul patiently retraced his past movements to prove that he was a legitimate apostle, directly  under the Lord Jesus Christ himself.  When he was first converted, Paul wrote, he did not immediately go to Jerusalem, nor did he receive any instruction from the other apostles, but rather he went to Arabia, which was not far from Damascus, before returning to Damascus again.  In fact it was three years after his conversion that he finally went to Jerusalem, and then he only stayed with the apostle Peter for 15 days.  Now 15 days was long enough to get to know one another but not long enough for Paul to become Peter’s disciple.  No, we can be sure that the origin of the gospel came directly from Jesus Christ Himself.  Paul was a true apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so what he said and what he preached and taught must be received as the Word of the Lord Himself!

And that is something that is still important for us today  If the gospel simply came from man, or even if the gospel as we have received it in the Bible is Paul’s or another man’s interpretation of it then we need not, indeed we can not be sure that it is true and that it remains true.  But if the gospel we have received was not from man but came directly by revelation from Jesus Christ Himself, if that is its origin, then we must hold on to it.  We must hold on to the gospel, we must believe that the way to God is through God’s way to us – that is through Jesus Christ who died for the complete forgiveness of all our sins and we can not compromise its truth.  God’s Word is truth because it comes from God and He is truth.

 

2. The certainty of the gospel.

As we go on to chapter 2 of Galatians, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the apostle Paul continued to explain his relationship with the church at Jerusalem and the rest of the apostles.  Paul had been accused of being a free agent, preaching on his own authority a message that was not the same as the message of the so-called mother church of Jerusalem.  But Galatians chapter 2 makes it clear:  although Paul received his authority and the gospel directly from Christ Himself, the gospel that he preached was the same as that preached by the other apostles.  There is no separate gospel according to Peter, a gospel according to James or a gospel according to Paul as if there were differences between them.  Since the gospel came from God Himself, although the apostles were speaking and writing in different contexts, the message remained the same.   And that is what the first verses of Galatians 2 teaches us.

So let us look a little closer at Galatians 2:1-3.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.

An important question to ask as we look at these verse of Galatians 2 is, When did this happen?  Which trip to Jerusalem was this that Paul is referring to? 

  Some people have thought that Paul was referring to an important visit that we can read about in Acts 15, when he went to Jerusalem specifically to deal with the growing problem of the Judaizers.  Acts 15:1,2 says,

And certain men came down from Judea (to Antioch) and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

It was at this Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 that claim of the Judaizers that one must be circumcised to be saved were firmly and formally rejected.

Now some people have thought that Paul is referring to this trip to Jerusalem in Galatians 2.  However the way that Paul describes his journey in Galatians 2 does not fully match what happened in Acts 15.  In fact it is more likely that Paul was writing about an earlier journey to Jerusalem and that in fact the letter to the Galatians was written before the Jerusalem council even took place.  If we compare what Paul wrote about himself in his letter to the Galatians with what was recorded in the book of Acts, we come up with this understanding:

When Paul, then known as Saul, was on the road to Damascus in order to persecute  the church there, the Lord Jesus Himself came to him in a bright light asking him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”  At that time Paul was converted and immediately he began to preach that Jesus is the Christ.  Then from Damascus he retreated into Arabia and was there for up to three years.

  From Arabia he went back to Damascus where the Jews plotted to kill him.  Acts 9:25 describes how he escaped from Damascus in a basket over the city wall and then along with Barnabas he went to Jerusalem.

  In Jerusalem Barnabas introduced him to the apostles where, Galatians 1 tells us, he spent 15 days with Peter and James the brother of our Lord Jesus. 

  Then 11 years later, that is, 14 years after his conversion, Paul went back to Jerusalem again.  This then was the time when in Acts 11:27-30 in response to the prophecy of Agabus, the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to give them some money that had collected to help those who were suffering from a famine.  It is this visit, then, that Paul wrote about in Galatians chapter 2.

The main reason why Paul visited the church at Jerusalem at that time was to provide them with material help for the poor.  But assuming that this is the visit to Jerusalem that Paul is referring to in Galatians 2, when he was there he took the opportunity to privately speak with the apostles about the  gospel that he had already begun to preach: the gospel that you saved by grace in Christ alone and that therefore circumcision was no longer required.  He did not do this because he doubted the truth of the gospel but to ensure that the gospel he preached was one and the same as the gospel preached by the other apostles.  In fact Paul went one step further and he took one of those Gentile Christians with him, Titus.  Titus then became something like a test case:  how would the church at Jerusalem react?  Would they embrace him as a true brother in the faith – and in doing so affirm the gospel that Paul was preaching – or would they insist that he first be circumcised? 

  And indeed, there were some false brethren, Paul wrote in Galatians 2:4, people who claimed to be brothers in the faith but who rejected the true gospel of grace, who insisted that Titus be circumcised.  But the apostles did not agree with this.  Rather, they affirmed the truth that there is only one gospel for both the Jew and the Gentile and that everyone is saved only by believing in Jesus Christ.  Circumcision was not needed to be saved, and Gentiles did not need to be circumcised, did not need to become Jews in order to be Christians.  And, as Paul wrote in Galatians 2:7, the other apostles recognized that Paul had been set apart by the Lord Himself to preach the gospel to the Gentiles just as Peter had been set apart to preach to the Jews.  And so Peter, James and John, pillars of the church at Jerusalem, gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship that they should go to the Gentiles while the apostles at Jerusalem would continue to focus on the Jews.  Their only request was that Paul and Barnabas remember the Christians at Jerusalem and care for the poor there – something that Paul and Barnabas were only too happy to do.  But the gospel that was preached by Paul and the gospel that was preached by Peter and the other apostles was the same gospel of grace.  And the reason for this is that the gospel did not originate with or come from men but it came from the same source, Jesus Christ Himself.  There is only one gospel – and the churches of the Galatians could be certain that it is true.

And so can you be certain that it is true!  And because it is true, we too may be sure that God receives us as His children only by grace through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross. 

  And that means that we are all the same.  There are no second class or second rate Christians.  We are all sinners in need of the grace of God and there is nothing in who we are or what we can do that would make God more ready to accept us.  Not one of us is more worthy than anyone else to stand before the throne of God.  Not one of us can claim that he deserves God’s grace more than others.  But not one of you can think that God will not accept you because of what you have done or where you are from.   That is the gospel!  That is the good news!  Believe it!  Trust that it is true.  And don’t let anybody take the gospel of God’s free grace for sinners away from you!   Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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