We lean towards human gospels because they have a familiar taste and feel. They are natural to us. There are 2 main human gospels that we drift towards on an individual basis. There is 1 primary human gospel that we drift towards on a corporate church basis. All are abandonment of the true gospel that was delivered to us by Jesus Christ and proclaimed by the apostles.
Personally, on one side is license. We are in this false gospel when we feel that we may continue to sin (or that sin is not a big deal) and God will forgive because he is gracious. This is an abuse of God’s grace. See Romans 6:1-2 for this question and Paul’s response.
Personally, on the other side is performance. We are in this false gospel when we live with constant guilt because of our sin. The thought is that if we don’t perform well then God is not pleased with us. It is a gospel of human effort.
The common corporate abandonment of the gospel in our churches today is the social club gospel. This happens when the local church becomes a place where people are known and revered for their money, status in the community, reputation, relationships, etc. Jesus is not exalted above all in the church. Social issues and friends are most important. It becomes like a club and is difficult to gain entrance into unless you are just like those already in the club.
These are the issues that the apostle Paul addresses in the letter to the Galatians. The introduction to the letter is Galatians 1:1-10 (topical outline of Galatians available on the downloads page). We will cover 1:1-5 in this post. Here’s my translation from the Greek…
From Paul, an apostle (not from people nor through a man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead), 2and all the brothers together with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
³Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins in order that he might deliver us from the current evil age according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
There are 2 parts to these verses…
- Identification (1:1-2)
- A Gospel Primer (1:3-5)
The apostle Paul begins this letter differently from any other letter…with a negative statement. His apostleship is not through people or from any man. In all his other letters he simply states the positive side, that he is an apostle of Christ, a servant of Christ. In Galatians, Paul is playing defense right out of the gate. This anticipates a major theme of Galatians that will consume most of chapters 1 & 2, Paul’s apostolic authority. He immediately reminds the Galatians that this is all about Jesus, who was raised from the dead. It is not about human works, but about Jesus. The letter is addressed to the churches of Galatia (circular letter). These are churches that Paul personally started on his first missionary journey, see Acts 13-14. The letter to the Galatian churches was written less than 10 years after the starting of the churches. It is amazing how quickly a person or church can abandon the true gospel.
A Gospel Primer (1:3-5)
“Grace to you and peace from God…” In this statement Paul lays out two critical things for us to grasp if we should avoid drifting into the most common false gospels. If grace is properly known then we will not live a life of license towards sin because we will understand the great price that was paid by Jesus to rescue us out of our sin!!! If peace is received from God as a result of being justified by faith in Jesus (Romans 5:1) then we will not fall into a performance-based relationship with God, rather there will be rest in his presence.
“Jesus Christ, who gave himself…” These words anticipate the great verse, Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
“for our sins…” There’s something that you’ve got to know if you’re going to get the gospel right. You must know that you are a sinner. Sin is not external to you. Sin is in your DNA. This is why all human attempts to rescue ourselves fail…we cannot fundamentally change who we are. But the true gospel of Jesus Christ is good news because he can fundamentally change who we are. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever…” Salvation is completely of God…his plan, his power, his work. Salvation is all grace. That means that God gets all the glory, exactly as it should be. If we get any glory, then it’s a sure sign that we are in the middle of human gospel. I love these words of John Newton as he neared the end of his earthly life, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” Amen and Amen!!!
Check out the bold words above (grace, peace, God, Jesus, gave, sins, will, glory). This truly is a gospel primer that the apostle Paul presents at the beginning of his letter. Let’s stay true to the gospel!!!