The One True Gospel

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Being a pastor takes on a few different forms. There is marrying and burying. There is studying, leadership, budgeting, decisions, negotiating, discipling, advising, and counseling. Profiling people for positions both employees and volunteers. Like any job you have to prioritize what to major on and what not to major on. What I have found is that in life there are really only a few things worth dying for.

For Paul, the one that rises to the surface is to defend the message of the Gospel. We are called to guard the gospel’s message and the gospel’s application in people’s lives at all cost. The state of a person’s soul should be our chief concern over all other things. This to God’s glory but nevertheless a concern that is God’s concern. When Paul said “Woe is me if I don’t preach the gospel” he was not thinking in terms of job satisfaction. Nowhere else conveys Paul’s heart more strongly on this than Romans 9.

ESV Romans 9:1-3 I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit– that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

The same word for “accursed” or “anathema” is used in Paul’s opener in Galatians. If you think about life in terms of these priorities, then your problems take on a whole new priority scale. This kind of paradigm shift practically turns you from being a “man-pleaser” to a “God-pleaser” which picks right up on Galatians 1:10. Verse 10 becomes sort of a banner verse for the remainder of chapter 1.

ESV Galatians 1:10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

This verse finishes what Paul’s just said. Paul’s not seeking man’s approval, why? He’s just pronounced and prayed down an eternal curse on anyone who’s preaching a “different” or “false-gospel.” This is the opposite of people pleasing.

By the way, people pleasing is suffocating and joy-stripping legalism. What a joke it is to live under the tyranny of what another man thinks regarding your calling. Paul was free! He was free from this slavery. Christianity affords this freedom like no other religion or self-help organization can. Christianity is real. Christianity is true, based in Truth. Christianity is being in Christ and Christ is God! True Christian freedom is not temporal but eternal. It is redemption from all sin.

In the next 13 verses finishing chapter 1 and the next 21 verses in chapter 2 Paul stakes his entire life and calling on this by sharing his testimony!

Paul acquits himself of man-slavery by asking two rhetorical questions. Is Paul looking for man’s approval or God’s approval? Obviously God’s approval. Is Paul “trying to please man?” No! As I already said the answer is based on what he just said- an emphatically No! Paul in verse 10 makes the case for how you cannot be both a “man-pleaser” and a “servant” or a “slave of Christ” (v. 10).

There’s some serious theological algebra going on here! The math goes like this: If you are a “people-pleaser” then this cancels out being a “slave of Christ.” If you are one, then you are not the other. This is a zero sum in the Bible. We so often find ourselves lost in the sea of “if only we were to arrive in this situation or that, then I would be happy, then I would be free” and this is never the case. You are free when you are a committed “slave of Christ.”

Seeing these churches understand, get there, and stay there is Paul’s burden. So how does he begin this journey through the next 6 chapters of Galatians? Paul wants to get these Galatians free by getting them back to bedrock, to their foundation. He’s doing this by taking them to the gospel’s source. The message that frees originates with God not with man. Paul’s message was not Paul’s message at all. Paul’s message is God’s message because this message originates with God.

Prop: By his testimony, Paul proves why his gospel is the true gospel

1. Christ, not man, was the only Source of the true gospel to Paul (vv. 11-12)

Paul’s appeal is to “brothers” whom he loves. And what he wants them to know is that what he preached didn’t originate with Paul. Paul indicts false-teachers preaching “other”, “another”, and “different” “gospels” that originate in them. This all comes back to where we place the authority. Any authority anyone of us have goes no farther than what the Scripture says.

Beginning with verses 11-12, these verses reflect what Luke recorded in Acts 9:1 ff.

Paul’s missionary journeys can be described as him founding and establishing churches throughout Asia-minor and then cycling back through and encouraging them.

After these journeys Paul told the Ephesian elders he had to return to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-23) and that “afflictions await [him]” (Acts 20:23).

He goes to Jerusalem and a prophet named Agabus confirms this trouble, that he will be bound and imprisoned in Rome (Acts 21:10).

Paul goes anyway because Paul is an evangelist! What does Paul do? He preaches persecution onto himself.

Paul preaches his testimony over and over again. Beginning in Acts 22, Paul offers 6 defenses which fill out what Paul writes in brief in Galatians 1 and 2.

These defenses are:

Acts 22:1-22

Acts 22:30-23:10

Acts 24:10-21

Acts 25:1-12

Acts 26:1-29

Acts 28:17-29

I want to share a few highlights from each testimony

These six defenses illustrate Paul’s point in verse 12. Paul did not receive the gospel from “any man, nor was [he] taught it” (v. 12). Paul received the gospel directly from the risen Christ himself. Christ was his teacher!

2. Christ was the only One who could change someone, as lost as Paul, to Christianity (vv. 13-14)

Paul goes right into his testimony in verse 13. Paul’s confession that he “persecuted the church” is a severe one. Paul’s life was built around “persecuting” or literally diokw to track down and to do so “violently” or “destructively.” Paul’s goal was to end the church. To shut down what he thought was the ultimate blasphemy.

Verse 14 says, Paul was “advancing in Judaism beyond any of [his] own age” (v. 14). Paul was the top of his class. The Greek says he was “chopping ahead” or cutting his own path and for most of us – we hated classmates like these. For all of Paul’s zeal to achieve – though it felt like an internal drive to do the right thing – all this was – was external “people pleasing” legalism! The “traditions” were not Scripture! Nor were they the gospel. These were of man-made ideas from who Paul called “my fathers” (v. 14).

[Cross Reference: Philippians 3:4].

ESV Philippians 3:4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:

Martin Luther’s testimony of coming to faith in Christ resonates with Paul’s conversion.

I crucified Christ daily in my monkish life, and blasphemed God through my false faith, wherein I then lived continually. Outwardly, I was not as other men, extortioners, unjust, whoremongers; but I kept chastity, poverty, and obedience. Moreover, I was free from the cares of this present life…I fostered under this cloaked holiness, and trust in mine own righteousness, continual mistrust, doubtfulness, fear, hatred, and blasphemy against God…my righteousness was nothing but a filthy puddle, and the very kingdom of the devil…Satan loves such saints, and accounts them for his dear darlings, who destroy their own bodies and souls…deprive themselves of all the blessings of God’s gifts…bondslaves of Satan (Martin Luther).

3. Christ was the only One qualified to call and train Paul as an Apostle (vv. 15-24)

Verse 15 speaks to God’s sovereign election in salvation. Interestingly, Paul’s conversion and calling to be an Apostle go hand in hand. Paul had been “set apart before being born” or literally “set apart in his mother’s womb before he was born” (v. 15). This language is graphic and specific pointing to what God had done in his mind before Paul was born. Before Paul could literally have anything at all to do with his conversion! So, Paul was called by God’s “grace” (v. 15). Remember this is not just talking about being called to salvation but also speaks to his calling as an Apostle as this leads into verse 16.

I remember my first thought of what I would be when I grew up was to be a preacher. This was as if God had this planned all along. I still remember signing my name on a clipboard to be an evangelistic preacher as a freshman in college. That decision set the course for my entire life. I still remember smiling all the way back to my dorm knowing I had suddenly committed myself to preach and sensing God’s pleasure in this.

Verse 16 gives language that beautifully describes being born again. When did this happen? On the Damascus Road (Acts 9).

When God regenerates you, he illuminates you to see Jesus with the eyes of faith. Paul’s explains this experience in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.

ESV 2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The reason you believe in Jesus and believe in him as described by Scripture is what’s called the “self-attestation” of Scripture. This, by the way, is why we preach. “We believe and therefore we speak” out of the convictions of our hearts.

Sometimes people come to me, recognizing my voice, or whatever and say, “You’re the preacher from Anchorage Grace.”

They typically don’t compliment me or say very much by way of making a personal connection.

But, what I have heard over the years is “I can really tell that you love the Word of God.” This makes sense to me because this is the only place where the authority is!

People sometimes have come to me and said, “Whatever you do don’t change your preaching style” for which I say, “I can’t because I don’t know any other way to preach.”

To understand Paul’s chronology in verse 17, you have to return to Acts 9. Paul was saved and then immediately preached in Damascus. It is between verses 22 and 23 that Paul was in Arabia for three years.

Why did he go there? We don’t exactly know but I have two ideas.

First, Paul went there to meet with Christ. Just as Christ walked this earth with his disciples for three years, He too walked with Paul.

Second, Paul preached. There were people to evangelize there.

Paul’s key point here is that he wasn’t created by the Apostles in Jerusalem. They didn’t make him an Apostle. He was not a “Mamma-Called” preacher!

In verse 18 Paul very explicitly states that Paul just went “to visit” Cephas [Peter]. He was only with them for 15 days which means they couldn’t have trained him. Jesus was Paul’s trainer.

Verse 19 echoes this line of thinking. James, Jesus’ half-brother (cf. 1 Cor. 15) was certainly another witness but not Paul’s trainer. Verse 20 shows that God was Paul’s witness!

And then verses 20-23 prove out that all Paul was about was preaching! Paul preached as risk of slander, persecution, and death. As passionate as he was to persecute he was equally if not more passionate to preach! And then verse 24 that all this was to the glory of God!

Conclusion: Paul was his own guy! The Gospel is like that. We are not called into a religious membership. We are called by Christ himself, given very personal convictions, with a very specific plan to fulfill! For this, we are not people-pleasers but God-pleasers! We follow Him and His gospel alone!

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