Standing for the gospel may mean standing alone.
People argue and fight over all kinds of things. I can recall things that I thought were so important when I was young that I would argue with people over them. Years down the road now, I look back and realize that I was making a mountain out of a mole hill. It’s easy to lose perspective and confuse our preferences in life with what is essential.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians puts forth one of those essentials in life that is indeed worth fighting for. Paul doesn’t fall into the trap that many a church member has fallen into – fighting over things like the color of the carpet, pews vs. chairs, Pastor wearing a tie in the pulpit, women’s dress lengths and whether there are drums in worship or not. Paul goes after what is essential – core historic Christian doctrine – justification by grace through faith alone. Taking a stand on essential doctrine may leave you standing alone.
Justification by grace through faith alone was the cornerstone of what would become known as the reformation movement. Pastors and theologians like Luther, Calvin, Huss and Knox would risk their lives to proclaim Jesus plus nothing makes a person right with God. Even more the pure gospel of grace not only leads to life but also teaches believers how to live.
The Apostle Paul will use some shocking and powerful language to convey his point that there is no salvation apart from Jesus and faith in Him alone. I believe that many Christians simply read this letter in a passive sense and miss the urgency and imperative nature of Paul’s rebukes and teaching.
After greeting the church in Galatia (1: 1-5) Paul turns quickly to the matter at hand – why he’s writing (1: 6-10). He begins not with praise but a perplexed expression of astonishment that they (Galatians) are deserting from Him (God the Father) who called them by the grace of Christ for contrary teaching regarding life with God. He calls this teaching another gospel but in actuality it isn’t another gospel at all. He refers to Jesus in this section of his letter as Christ. Christ is a royal title that comes from the Old Testament expectation of a redeemer Who would set all things right – the Messiah. The gospel of grace includes a triumphant King in the Christ Who is ruling over an unfolding Kingdom.
The powers of this world both natural (e.g. Caesar Claudius) and supernatural (demons/the devil) took notice at the resurrection of Jesus that the Christ had come. The powers of this world that run the affairs of mankind are watching to see how this Kingdom will unfold and affect their monopolies over the hearts and minds of men. The gospel is far more than how a person gets saved; it is that plus how people are to live. The impact of the gospel of grace is far more than fitting individuals for heaven – through the citizens of this unfolding Kingdom – the world will be changed.
In verses 8 and 9 the Apostle pulls no punches; he cuts to the chase with severe language. Paul makes clear if he (including his companions and other Apostles) or even an angel from heaven come and teach a gospel that is different to what Paul originally delivered they are to be accursed. Paul repeats this rebuke for emphasis. Accursed means set side for destruction. One could infer from this that Paul is rebuking anyone (including himself) who would teach a different gospel to damnation; essentially telling them to go to hell. This isn’t to be taken lightly or read as irreverent. Paul is deadly serious because of all that hangs in the balance – eternal life and life now.
You see, what we understand about the gospel speaks to our understanding of the very nature of God Himself. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. To twist that grace and teach that God’s grace needs for mankind to do something for it to be effective is to twist the character of God. The false gospel (when thought through) presents a God who saves on condition that you perform to a certain level of religious activity. The gospel becomes Jesus plus what you have to do to make yourself right with God.
Think of the impact of this teaching as it impacts real life. Paul used the husband and wife to illustrate Christ’s relationship to the church. Marriage is historically understood as a total commitment – both parties are all in. God is all in when He sends Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the world. Replace that teaching with God sends His Son to die on the cross; however, if you want to appropriate it’s benefits – you need to do __________. The affect marriage would be a 50/50 proposition – do your part and I’ll do mine. You have my love; however, you need to perform up to a certain standard for this thing to work. That kind of marriage relationship breeds fear that comes from uncertainty.
The impact on all relationships (when biblical grace is removed) is equally damaging. Friendships can quickly become utilitarian in nature – you are valuable to me as a friend as long as you bring value into the relationship. Think about wider culture – a person is only as valuable to a society as long as they provide some kind of value. Utilitarian relationships breed discouragement and depression.
Paul wasn’t arguing about dusty old theology that lays in a book on a shelf – he was arguing for the pure and powerful gospel of grace. Grace is more than an ideology or theology it is life and leads us in how to live. As image bearers of God – Christians are to live lives impacted by grace and extend grace into their worlds. This is the type of issue worth taking a stand and fighting for - the gospel of grace because it impacts real lives. Standing for the gospel may mean standing alone.
2 Important things to take away from Paul’s heavy rebuke against false teaching.
1. Ask yourself what are you willing to take a stand on in life? What is really important and essential to you and does this line up with what God sees as important and essential? Are you willing to take the risk of being misunderstood or rejected by friends because of love, grace, mercy and freedom?
2. Practice giving grace this week. Find one person – at least one person this week to show grace to. Look for an opportunity to do something for someone who can in no way repay you. Do that thing and accept nothing in return – rely they owe you nothing (no debt). As you have freely received grace – freely give it. Forgive someone you might otherwise hold a grudge over. Serve your parents by washing and detailing the car without being asked. Empty the dishwasher, do the laundry and make dinner for your spouse or roommates. Pick up the tab for dinner and movie with your friends. Look for the unexpected and special ways you can step up and graciously serve and bless someone else. You know that mom struggling at Safeway with 7 kids hanging on her like possum while she’s shopping – buy her groceries. Be creative.
In a world that revolves around pain, abuse, neglect, anger, malice and revenge – you have an opportunity to break the cycle in your home, relationships and community by stepping in with grace. People caught in cycles of abuse, neglect, malice and revenge are miserable. They are looking for something different.
Set someone free this week! Why? Because you have been set free by God in Jesus Christ – your sins have been forgiven and you’ve been shown how by grace, sacrifice and love.
Grace impacts real life. You’ll be surprised by how good it feels; it’s freeing to be gracious and blesses the lives of others.
Carry this into the week. Be willing to take a stand for grace; even if you find yourself standing alone.