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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:There is only one gospel - so make sure you know what it is!
Text:Galatians 1:1-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs from the 2010 Book of Praise.  Bible translation used:  NKJV

Psalm 107:1

Psalm 141:1,2,3,4

Psalm 65:1,2,3

Psalm 86:2

Psalm 89:1

Read: Acts 13:42 – 14:28

Text:  Galatians 1:1-10

* 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.

So what is the gospel?  What is the Good News of salvation?  If I was to ask you  “How are you saved from your sin?” what would you say?  How would you begin?  What would you include in your answer?  And what would you leave out?

Do you know what the gospel is?  Can you tell the difference between the true Gospel and that which is false?

When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, he was shocked at what was happening there.   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.”

A different gospel which fact was not the gospel at all. 

But what about you and me?  What about this church, a church that rightly insists on “the pure preaching of the gospel”?  Do we still know what the true gospel is?  Am I and others preaching this gospel clearly –  and are we living it?

   The true gospel, the good news of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, and how we are saved in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone must continue to be preached, believed and lived.  Because if we don’t do so, if we do not keep the true gospel at the centre of what we teach and believe, we too will be in danger of joining the Galatians in putting the gospel to one side and effectively allowing something else to take its place.

And the consequence of that is serious.  So serious, in fact, that it would affect our very salvation.  And so it is with great urgency that I preach to you the Word of the Lord today under the following theme:

There is only one gospel – so make sure you know what it is!

  1. Gospel Counterfeits.
  2. Gospel Truth.

1. Gospel Counterfeits.

The problem with gospel counterfeits is that they are not always easy to spot.  Like a counterfeit banknote, a gospel counterfeit looks like the real thing, is presented as though it is the real thing, but it is worthless.  In fact it is worse than worthless – the apostle Paul is so concerned about the devastating effects of a counterfeit, false gospel, that he writes and then repeats,

“If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”

Or as it says in the original Greek language of our text,

“. . . Let him be anathema”, eternally condemned.

Those are strong words!  Strong words that give no room for compromise, no room to be soft on what the gospel is all about.  The Bible speaks to us here in terms that are very black and white, in a way that our modern 21st century ears might not be accustomed to.  Our culture and our world likes to leave things a little vague where the truth is fluid, where there are no absolutes.  We are expected to tolerate one another’s opinions and to be cautious in declaring a belief or practice to be right or wrong.  But Paul says No!  There is a right and a wrong, there is a true gospel and a counterfeit one – and you need to know the difference!

This was a serious matter for the apostle Paul, and we can see this in the rather abrupt and terse way that he began his letter to the Galatians.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote a number of letters that are a part of the New Testament.  Most of these letters, Romans, 1st Corinthians, Philippians and Colossians for example, began in a manner such as this:

“Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the church in Rome, Corinth, Philippi etc., Grace to you and peace.”

And then having given this form of greeting he went on to write,

            “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, for your faith, for your fellowship in the gospel” and so forth.  In this way, even when he had some hard things to say, the apostle Paul regularly began his letters in a very positive way. 

But not so with his letter to the Galatians.  In his letter to the Galatians it is as though Paul starts of on the back foot: he begins with a defense.

“Paul, an apostle not from men nor through man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father. . .”

and then following a short greeting with the words of “grace and peace” in verse 3 and following he quickly launches into what the letter is all about.  Verse 6,

I marvel, [that is, I am astonished] that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel . . .”

The apostle Paul is shocked, he is appalled at what had been reported to him, and now he must write them a letter to set things straight.

So what was going on here?  How did this all come about? 

In order to gain some background information to the Galatian churches, we read together from Acts 13 and 14.  In Acts 13 and 14, Paul and Barnabas were on their first missionary journey and were preaching the gospel in the cities of Pisidian Antioch (that’s different to the Antioch of Acts 13:1, from where Paul was first sent to preach to the Gentiles), as well as Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  These cities were in Asia Minor in what is now known as the country of Turkey.  This region of Asia Minor was called Galatia, and so it is most likely that Paul’s letter to the Galatians was directed to the churches in this region.

  When the apostle Paul first preached the gospel there, he preached it clearly and his preaching had a great effect.  Acts 13:43 says that following his preaching in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch,

43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

And verse 48-49,

48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.   49 And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.

So the gospel was preached to the people of these cities, the Galatians.  And as he preached, the apostle Paul made it clear that you are saved only by faith in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  In other words, it has nothing to do with you, with your works, the good things that you do.  It has nothing to do with who you are, whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, male or female, slave or free.  And it has nothing to do with keeping the Old Testament laws and ceremonies – not even the practice of circumcision, since this was all fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  And to underline this, Paul preached to the people of Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:38,39 saying,

38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man [that is, Jesus Christ] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

And with this clear gospel message ringing in their ears, Paul and Barnabas left them and continued on their way.


But not everyone agreed with the message of the gospel that Paul and Barnabas had preached.  Soon after they left, others, also calling themselves Christians, came to the people of Galatia.  But what they began to teach was different.  At first it may not have looked that way.  At first the people would have been struck at how much they agreed with what the apostle Paul had taught them.  They too believed in Jesus Christ, that He is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.  They too believed that salvation was not just for the Jews but also for the gentiles.  They too believed that Christ died on the cross for our sins and that we are saved in Him.  But that was not all they said.  No, they thought that the apostle Paul had got some things wrong and so they had come set things right.  “That man called Paul, who calls himself an apostle, he is not a true apostle,” they would say.  “He was not one of the Twelve, nor did he come to them from Jerusalem.  And so you need to be careful: his teaching is not quite right.  You can not fully trust this Paul and the things that He says because he has only told you half the story.  Although we appreciate and would agree with what he has said about being saved from your sin through the blood of Jesus Christ, the gospel, the good news of how you are saved is not that simple.  The problem is that this man Paul has thrown the baby out with the bathwater!  Yes, you must believe in Jesus, but for you who are not Jews, that is just the beginning!  After believing in Jesus you still need to do something else:  you need to be circumcised, you need to become a Jew.  The gospel of salvation is not by grace alone and in Christ alone, but the gospel of salvation is that you are saved by grace in Christ plus your obedience to the law.

You see, that is what the Judaizes had done to the gospel:  they added something to it!  Jesus’ death and resurrection was no longer enough for salvation.  Rather they taught that there are conditions that you have to meet in and of yourself in order to be saved.

And that is the problem with all counterfeit gospels.  Counterfeit gospels no longer preach Christ alone but preach that what God will do for you depends first on what you will do for God!  Counterfeit gospel preaching teaches that God’s love is conditional, that it depends on you, that when you stand before God you will be judged on the basis of your performance.  To use theological language, a counterfeit or a false gospel bases your justification on your sanctification.  That is, God will call you righteous on the basis of how you live your life.

And that is wrong!  So wrong, in fact that Galatians chapter 1 calls this a perversion of the gospel of grace! And anyone who preaches or teaches in this manner is to be condemned!  Because this is the consequence, Galatians 5:4 –

You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Even worse, if you try to be saved through what you do, you are denying the Lord Jesus Christ as your only Saviour.  For, as it says in Galatians 2;21, if we set aside the grace of God, if we can be righteous through keeping the law, then Christ died in vain.

And because this is such a serious matter, a matter of spiritual life or death, let us beware!  The sin of legalism, of thinking that our salvation is still based at least in part on how we act remains with us today and it can sneak up on us so easily.

  To give one example:  When we speak about the covenant that God has made with us, we often speak about this covenant containing two parts, a promise and an obligation.  And with respect to the obligation the Form for Baptism as we have it in our Book of Praise explains that “we are, through baptism, called and obliged by the Lord to a new obedience.”  Now in and of itself this statement is correct.  Through baptism we are called to a new obedience because if the Lord places His Name upon us and seals this to us in our baptism, we most certainly should be living for Him in every way.  But there are times when this appears to be misunderstood.  There are times when, even though our catechism confesses in Lord’s Day 25 that

“The Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel and assures us by the sacraments that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross”

there is the thought that “yes, but I still have to do my part!  I still have to fulfill those obligations in order to be saved.”  But then we see our salvation once more as being a combination of Christ’s death and our obedience.  There is the thought that our obedience somehow needs to be joined to the work of Christ if we are to be saved.  But that is wrong!  Your good works, the way you live your life, does not count at all to how you are saved.  Yes, we are obliged to live a life of holiness and obedience because we are saved, but this does not count to how we are to be saved.  Do you remember what we confess in Lord’s Day 23 of the Heidelberg Catechism?

Q. How are you righteous before God? 

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.  Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ.  He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only accept this gift with a believing heart.”  (Lord’s Day 23, Heidelberg Catechism.)

You see, the gospel is not about what you have to do for God but it is about what God has done for you in Jesus Christ.  And that is the gospel truth that we shall see further in our second point.

2. Gospel Truth.

I understand that this sort of Gospel preaching can make some people nervous.  I understand that the gospel of grace can be and has been abused to suggest that if you are saved by grace alone and in Christ alone then that the preaching is no longer balanced, that is leads to sin and carelessness, that it makes Christian complacent and it sends them to sleep.  I understand that because such concerns are nothing new:  they have been both raised and answered many times in the past.  Already in the Bible the apostle Paul had to deal with this in Romans 6.

“What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not!  How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

The Reformed believers also had to hear this charge leveled against them by the Roman Catholics in the 1500s.  That is why Lord’s Day 24 of the Catechism asks,

Q. Does this teaching not make people careless and wicked?

A. No.  It is impossible that those grafted into Christ by true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.

A saved person is a changed person.  If, as it says in Galatians 2:21, you have been crucified with Christ then it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you.  And then you will indeed seek to live before the LORD God in all holiness.  However – and this is the point – how you live having been saved in Christ has nothing to do with how you are saved in the first place!  The only way to be saved is through the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.  We may add nothing to this, nor may we take anything away.

And that is what the apostle Paul wished to make clear right away at the beginning of his letter to the Galatians.  Galatians 1:3-4,

 “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 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. . .”

Grace to you and peace!  These are God’s gifts for sinners.  He shows His grace to undeserving sinners that they might have peace with God through death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  It is the grace of God that enables us to have our sins freely forgiven and to be delivered from evil through Jesus Christ, the One who gave Himself for our sins!  That is the gospel truth that we must always hold on to and never let go!  The gospel is that Jesus Christ, in obedience to the will of God the Father, gave Himself up for our sins so that in Him we might have life!  And that is what must be preached if we are to have the pure preaching of God’s Word here in this Church.  Yes,

I am a sinner, I have fallen far short of the glory of God – and there is nothing that I can do about it.  I can not take away my own sin, and I can not make myself more acceptable to God – either before I am saved or after!  But God so loved the world – yes, He so loved me –  that He sent His only Son.  And this Jesus has taken my sin upon Himself and in its place He has taken His righteousness and placed them on me!  He has clothed me with His righteousness so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

That is the gospel truth that the apostle Paul preached to the Galatians.  And that was the truth that he had received from the Lord.   And so how dare these imposters, these false teachers not only peddle a counterfeit gospel but even dismiss Paul as one who was not a true apostle?  As if he has no authority to preach as he did?  You see, that is why Paul began his letter the way that he did, defending the fact that he too was an apostle, called not by men but by Jesus Christ Himself.  It was not his own good name, his own honour and reputation that Paul was so concerned about but the gospel of our salvation.  Yes, even more, the name and reputation of Christ Himself and the glory of God’s holy name.

“Make no mistake,” the apostle Paul wrote.  “The message you have heard, the gospel of grace is the only true message, the only gospel there is.  And if this is the true gospel then all other so-called gospels are false.  Yes, verse 8,

“. . . 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.”

Is that an ultimatum?  Is the apostle Paul saying that the true gospel is incompatible with any and every distortion of it?  Is this an intolerant thing to say?  Yes it is.  It is an ultimatum, it is a strong statement of condemnation on all who oppose the message of grace.  It is saying that the true gospel is incompatible with the counterfeit.  It is saying in the clearest way possible that there is only one gospel, one way by which we may be saved.  And in that sense it is intolerant of the Bible to state this.  But the point is that there is no other gospel:  it is this or nothing.

  But on the other hand we do not need another gospel!  We do not need another way to be saved.  For in Jesus Christ and His one sacrifice on the cross we receive all that is necessary for our salvation.

Do you believe that?  Do you know that to be true – not just for others but also for you?  Is it this that you come to church to hear?  Is this the gospel that come to hear preached?  Let us beware that we never set the gospel truth of the grace of God to the side.  Let us beware that we never try to change this or add to it to make our salvation a combination of Christ’s work and ours.  But may the Holy Spirit of God guide us in the truth of the gospel of grace so that we might seek and find our salvation in Christ alone.  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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