Our sermon reading comes from Galatians, chapter one. Martin Luther used to call the book of Galatians “his Katie”. That was his beloved wife’s name. Galatians was precious to Luther because it hammers home the teaching we call “justification by faith”.
Justification by faith is the fact that God forgives sinners solely because of what Jesus did on the cross. Those who believe God’s Son died for their sins, stand completely forgiven.
The Galatian congregation that Paul wrote to was in danger of losing this teaching, and with it their salvation. False teachers were telling them that Jesus hadn’t actually done enough. They, the Galatians Christians, had to offer something else, along with Jesus’ sacrifice, in order for God to forgive their sins.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul repeated slays this anti-Christian idea with verses like these:
“16know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16 NIV).
“11Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith” (Galatians 3:11).
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:26).▬
The false teachers in Galatia not only attacked the Gospel of Christ and justification by faith, they also attacked Paul. As you read through Galatians (which takes about 20 minutes) you repeatedly get the sense that Paul is defending himself against specific accusations that have been made against him.
Paul defends himself in our reading for today. Apparently, false teachers were claiming that Paul’s message was of human origin and was incomplete. Paul responds to this accusation in Galatians 1, verse 11-12.
Galatians 1:11-12 (NIV)
11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Yesterday I watched “An Introduction to Scientology”. It was a free DVD that I got in the mail a while ago, and I was curious. Turns out it was an interview with L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
In the interview he talks about how he developed Scientology. He says that as a young man in the military he saw a lot of bad things and began to wonder what man really is. Over years of study he found that there was one common denominator between all humans – the desire to survive. From this he moved on to study how he might help man. How he might help people untangle themselves from their pasts so they could be “clear” to face the problems of life efficiently. At one point in the interview Hubbard said,
“Religion is basically an effort to make man good, an effort to give him a better society …and Scientology does all these things” (L. Ron Hubbard).Paul would have a serious problem with Mr. Hubbard’s thesis. Paul’s message wasn’t merely about making mankind nicer, or more efficient. Paul’s message wasn’t one that HE had researched and constructed. Paul message was about what God did for us so that we might know and love Him. And this message was revealed to Paul by Jesus Christ Himself.
You’ve probably heard the story. Paul had been traveling up to Damascus to hunt down and arrest Christians (his name was Saul back then). Along the way, the resurrected Jesus confronted Paul, and from that moment on, Paul’s life took a completely different course.
In Acts 26, verse 15 Paul tells his story to King Agrippa. We pick up the story right after Paul has been knocked to the ground by the brilliance of Jesus. Paul says…
“15So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you” (Acts 26:15-16 NKJV).▬
We also have received the revelation of Jesus Christ. The Greek and Hebrew that our English Bibles are translated from IS the inspired, unchanged Word of God. It is how Jesus has revealed Himself to US.
Obviously we know this already, right? But how often do we pause to appreciate how precious this really is? We don’t need an L. Ron Hubbard, or a Pope, or a team of scholars to interpret the Bible for us. Jesus has given us His errorless Word, and God’s Holy Spirit helps us understand it.
In verse 13, Paul moves on to present some evidence that he is speaking the truth. Verse 13…
Galatians 1:13-17 (NIV)
13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
Paul’s first bit of evidence that he had received this message from God was that previously, he had been violently opposed to it. In fact, he used to murdered Christians.
In that same conversation with King Agrippa that we heard from earlier, Paul says…
“9“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them” (Acts 26:9-10 NIV).That was then. But now, Paul was travelling around the world, facing all kinds of dangers in order TO TEACH Christ’s message!
And what was more amazing was this: Paul’s newfound ministry was aimed primarily at the Gentiles! The NON-Jews! Back then the “really good and religious” Jews wouldn’t even enter the house of a Gentile!
In fact, there was so much strife between Jews and Gentiles, God had to make Gentile Christians miraculously speak in tongues before the apostles would accept that Gentiles could also be saved through faith in Christ Jesus! You can read about that in Acts 10. (Acts 10:27-48)
Not only was Paul preaching the message he had previously condemned, this previously staunch Pharisee was preaching it to dirty Gentiles!
Paul had been changed. And all the changes in him bore the unmistakable imprint of own God’s hands.
Before we move to our last reading from this part of Galatians, I want to draw your attention to something else that Paul says here. In verse 14 Paul says that he was “extremely zealous for the “traditions of [his] fathers”.
The Jews had passed down all sorts of extra Biblical rules and regulations. These were not optional. They claimed that these rules were supposed to put up a hedge around the Holy Scripture, keeping it from being broken. The problem is, with too many hedge rows you can’t see the Scripture any longer. All you can see is the traditions laid down by people who came before you. Like Jesus said,
“…You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:9-13 NIV).Later on in Galatians, Paul writes…
“18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good…” (Galatians 4:18 NIV).Dear Christians, we must be zealous about the Lord’s message, not merely for our own personal traditions. We must be excited about communicating Christ to our current culture, not merely zealous to defend the methods we’ve used in the past.
In a word, we must change. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. We however, must grow and change. We must be molded to Jesus’ will. We must learn from His word how to go forward to the sinners who need to hear of the salvation we cherish.
Even good tradition have a way of growing stale. Losing their original meaning. Absorbing different meaning until they no longer have a proper purpose. Christians, what we do in the name of Christ must have clear direction and purpose. And to make sure it does, we must honestly evaluate ourselves and our work in Christ’s Name.
The last part of our reading begins with verse 18…
Galatians 1:18-24 (NIV)
18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they praised God because of me.
Earlier, Paul made the comment that He didn’t learn his Good News from any mere man.
He didn’t learn from the apostles. He didn’t meet any of the apostles until THREE YEARS after he came to faith. Sure, he visited Peter in Jerusalem after that time, but his visit wasn’t for schooling. He was there for a couple of weeks in order to get to know the man.
Paul also had no opportunity to learn at the Christian churches sprinkled throughout Judea. They were unfamiliar with Paul, except for hearing about his previous opposition to Christ.
Paul spends a decent amount of words here to give evidence to the Galatians that his message was God’s message. He did this because manmade religious come and go, and none of them bring people to God. Only Christ and His Good News does that.
Or to put it another way, manmade religions can’t bring spiritually dead people back to life. Only Jesus can do that, through the message of His life, death and resurrection for our salvation.
Did you notice that all our reading today had to do with resurrections? (1 Kings 17:17-24, Psalm 30, Luke 7:11-17) Even our sermon reading. Paul speaks of how God called him from spiritual death to life, by revealing Jesus to Him.
Dear Christians, by trust in Jesus, you have been justified. You have been declared righteous because HE died in your place. You have been raised to life that will not end. Don’t EVER let anyone steer you to another Savior or a different Gospel.
Consider reading through Galatians this week. It’ll be twenty minutes well spent. If you do, mark in the margin every time Paul says we’re justified by faith in Jesus.
Prayer: Father, give us strong faith in Jesus. Turn our sinners heart to you. Cleanse us by Christ’s blood. Continue to reveal Your truth and Your will to us through our Bibles. Lead us not to be afraid of changes that are good to be made. Lead us never to change Your Word. Mold us to fit the purpose You have for us here. And in every difficult time, drive us to your truth and your testimony.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.