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No Other Gospel

April 2 2023

Series: 200 Proof Grace

Book: Galatians

Scripture: Galatians 1:1-9

This morning I’m excited to begin a study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In 22 years of ministry, I’ve never actually preached this letter – even though it has been extremely important in shaping my own faith. But that ends today. It’s time, and I think our church is in a good place to receive this letter.

As you see on the screen, I’m calling this series “200 proof grace”. That is intentionally provocative, because Galatians is a provocative letter. The phrase “200 proof grace” comes from a quote by an Episcopal priest named Robert Cay-pon. Writing about the Protestant Reformation, when we broke away from the Catholic Church, Cay-pon says this:

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, 200-proof grace – of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.

The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps – suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…

Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale.”

The reformers re-discovered the Gospel of Grace. Pure, unadulterated grace. It must not be watered down. Nothing should be added to it. And that, in brief, is the message of Galatians.

The leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther, was especially motivated by Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He called it “his own epistle” and said that he had “wedded himself to it”.

In other words, grace is not something we receive and then forget. It shapes the entire Christian life from beginning to end.

And with that, let’s drink it together. No water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale.

1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Notice that Paul claims this title, apostle. He connects this claim directly to Jesus. It’s a title not given from men, nor through men. Meaning, humans have nothing to do with this specific call. It was something only the Lord Jesus could grant. And that’s why it is completely inappropriate for someone to claim that title today. There are no living apostles.

Second, notice that Paul immediately reminds us of the resurrection – something we will remember and celebrate together next Sunday. In simple form, Paul is already preaching the Gospel of grace with his first breath – God raised Jesus from the dead. The entire Christian faith hinges on that fact.

Finally, this letter was written to a collection of churches throughout the region of Galatia, which is modern day Turkey. Most of the people reading this letter were Gentiles – believers who were not ethnically Jewish.

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

This is the official greeting, and the first word is “Grace”.

I’m not going to assume we know what that word means. It means receiving some kindness that I didn’t deserve. It means being given a gift when I deserved a punishment.  It means getting ice cream when you deserve a spanking. It means getting a promotion when you deserve to be fired.

Grace to you, church, and peace from God. And then Paul immediately follows with a perfect summary of the Gospel message.

But in order to understand the solution, we need to clearly define the problem. None of us can honestly look at the world around us or read the news – even from just this past week – and deny that we have a serious problem with evil. We may try to ignore it, distance ourselves from it, or make excuses for it. But evil is real. It’s not an illusion, as Buddhism claims.

That’s the easy-to-understand part of the problem. Evil is real. The hard-to-understand part of the problem is what the Bible calls “sin”. And here in verse 4, Paul uses that word in a personal possessive way – “our sins”. He’s saying, we are the reason Jesus needed to deliver us from evil.

In the words of Taylor Swift, “It’s me… I’m the problem. It’s me.”

In technical terms, a sin is a thought, desire, or action that breaks or fails to keep some part of God’s law. But it’s also a tendency we have to do those things. We have a tendency to be rebellious against the God who created us. And how, then, should we be treated by God? We should be treated like rebels! We should be punished severely.

But, according to Paul, in an act of pure grace, Jesus gave himself for our sins for three reasons: 1) to deliver us from evil, 2) to carry out the will of God, and 3) to glorify Himself.

Jesus knew what He came to do and why He came to do it. And notice already that we are passive recipients of this grace. This was a rescue mission by a powerful, capable Savior to rescue helpless, powerless people. That’s what the word “deliver” means – to be rescued from bondage. And what caused the bondage? Our own sin.

But immediately following this brief, God-centered greeting, Paul launches into the purpose of the letter. No time wasted. Let’s get to the point.

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

It is clear that Paul is disappointed. He clearly wanted better things for these Christians. The word “deserting” is interesting because it carries the meaning of being a turncoat. It’s not simply that they were walking away from the faith. They were joining the enemy.

Think of it like a Ukrainian soldier joining the Russian army… or a politician announcing a switch to the opposite party.

This would have absolutely shocked the Galatian Christians – and that was exactly what Paul wanted to do. They certainly had no idea they were in danger of abandoning Jesus for the enemy, but Paul believes they are in such danger.

The danger comes from distorting the gospel message. The word distort means here to corrupt something. How do you corrupt something? By adding something to it, making it impure. But this carries even more weight.

For instance, we know that pure gold is more valuable than impure gold. And yet, impure gold still has value. But when the Gospel message is corrupted, according to Paul, it becomes no Gospel at all. When impurities are introduced, it ceases to be valuable. In fact, it becomes dangerous.

It’s more like adding a drop of poison to a glass of water.

And in the coming weeks, we will talk more about the men who were causing these problems, poisoning the pure grace of the Gospel. Paul sees them as enemies of Christ.

8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

This is also a clear and powerful warning, repeated twice for emphasis. Paul curses these men for messing with the Gospel. And this is no ordinary curse. Paul uses the word “anathema” – the same word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for someone or something that God has devoted to destruction. Paul is calling down God’s judgment down on these false teachers.

And so, if we really want to translate this into modern English, it would read more like this: if someone preaches a different gospel, Damn them! And then he says it again, in case you didn’t hear him. Damn these men. And it’s a divine damning, in case you want to put that together, but I couldn’t bring myself to say that out loud.

So, we might ask the question, “Is that Ok?” Should Paul have said something like this?

The answer is, yes, it is OK, for 4 reasons:

1) He’s writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Meaning, this is really what God says.

2) This is a universal curse, because he applies it even to himself… even to the angels. Paul says, if I change the message – may God curse me as well.

3) Other people’s souls are at stake. People may perish under the wrath of God if the Gospel message is distorted.

4) The glory of God is at stake.

I want you to think of a book or even a movie that you love. Imagine hearing someone try to explain the story to someone else, but they get the story wrong. It’s annoying, right?

Now imagine that you’re the writer. That would be even more annoying.

Now imagine how God feels that He provided the perfect plan to rescue mankind from sin and death, but people keep trying to add things to the story.

Imagine taking a Rembrandt painting and splattering some neon paint across it. Adding something destroys it.

The glory of God is at stake when it comes to the Gospel. Jesus is God’s masterpiece. He’s not OK with us adding anything to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He’s also not OK with us believing that some other story is the truth or that all stories lead to God.

And so, the conclusion we must draw from this introduction is a simple one, but extremely important. There is only one Gospel. There are not many ways to God. There is one way to God. Jesus is the Way – the One who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.