A World of Knockoffs: False Gospels
I read a story this week of a family who were involved in a tragic car accident taking the lives of 3 adults and 4 children in 2008 as they traveled from Dallas to Mexico. The Associated Press reported,
“A sport utility vehicle carrying eight people from Texas plunged off an unfinished bridge into a river in northern Mexico, causing the death of three adults and four children, officials said Friday.
The group was driving from Dallas to visit family in Mexico when the driver, following a dirt road, tried to cross the bridge before dawn Thursday.
The driver realized too late that the bridge didn't span the Conchos River, and the vehicle fell upside down into the water, said Eduardo Esparza, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office in the state of Chihuahua, where the incident occurred.
Esparza said there were no signs or barriers keeping traffic off the bridge.”
This tragic story serves as a great reminder to us that warnings are necessary to avoid death and destruction. This sermon series is intended to serve as a set of warnings for us to consider in the church much like signs reading “BRIDGE OUT” would have saved the lives of those family members in Mexico.
Our warning today is in regards to false gospels and we look to Galatians 1 and Acts 15 for our instruction.
Review: the book of Galatians was written by the apostle Paul to the churches located in the region of Galatia. Galatia was a providence ruled by Rome and in the southern portion, Paul founded many churches. Some of those churched that were started by Paul are mentioned in Acts 13-14 like Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, and Derbe.
Antioch was a hub of the early church when it was founded by Barnabas after the work of the Lord brought many people to faith in Christ. As Paul and Barnabas concluded their first missionary journey, seeing the gospel transform the lives of Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles, there was a notable attack on the gospel.
In Acts 15, we need to understand this story to make sense of our passage today in Galatians.
READ ACTS 15:1-11
As the early church, the Christians who were ethnic Jews by birth had to come to grips with the gospel being available to those non-Jews. There was clearly a great change taking place and there was opposition that arose. Paul and Barnabas were witnesses of the gospel being received by Gentiles and Samaritans, the fiath of these people were evident and the seal of the Holy Spirit was given to them as well as Jews who believed. There were some minority group that were demanding that the Gentile believers in places like Antioch, Lystra etc must “be circumcised and keep the law of Moses…to be saved”(v1, 5).
The debate against this doctrine carried over by Paul to Jerusalem where he submitted that question to the apostles of the church there. After discussion, Peter concludes,
Acts 15:7–11 (ESV)
7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
The conclusion very simply was that in the New Covenant with the Lord, salvation comes by faith in Christ alone by his grace alone. This was clearly decided here in the early church at this official council of leaders in Jerusalem that set the tone moving forward as more and more Gentiles came to faith in Christ.
It is believed that shortly after the council in Jersualem made this decision, Paul wrote the letter to the Galatian churches. We know it was after because Paul recounts that decision in Galatians 2. But what was decided in Jerusalem about the gospel was still an issue in the Galatian churches, so Paul addresses that in our study today.
I cannot understate the importance of this passage as we consider the true gospel in light of distortions to it in our day and age. As we stated last week, we must be reminded again that Satan is scheming continually to disrupt and distort the word and work of God in this world. We spent two weeks looking at how false conversions to Christ are a reality in the church and we must be aware.
Today, we will see the reality of false gospels as well that permeated the pulpits, classrooms, and conversations of many who call themselves Christians in places that call their organizations churches. But we need to see the true gospel and reject false gospels that rise up among us. Paul will help the church accomplish this from his letter to the Galatians.
What can we learn about the gospel from these passages that will help us discern the true gospel message:
THE TRUE GOSPEL: By Grace, through Faith! 1-3
THE TRUE GOSPEL: By Grace, through Faith! 1-3
Paul begins his letter like he usually does, by identifying himself as the author. But he does not just identify his authorship but immediately he states his apostleship, which has great significance.
Paul’s apostleship declared
The apostle was an office in the early church that no longer exists. Apostles literally means “sent ones” and it were the leaders in the church who were sent out by the Lord Jesus to take the message to the world. This term is assigned to the 12 disciples of Jesus, minus Judas who betrayed Jesus, and the Paul who was visited by the Risen Christ and called to salvation in him.
God used the apostles to spread the gospel to the nations. Some of the apostles were tasked with recording the words of God by inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the New Testament books they wrote. Finally, we see the apostles were leaders of the early church in teaching and preaching, organization, expansion, and discipline.
Paul tells the Galatians,
1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—
This is important because these sect of Jews who came in to the Galatian churches to teach a different gospel, also undermined and discredited Paul’s ministry and reputation. While it is clear that these false teachers stated Paul preached a message derived from men, Paul states otherwise in v 12,
12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
The gospel message therefore that was given to the apostles come to them by the mouth of God. Therefore, while people have tried to discredit the message and the messenger, Paul gives us the reason that we can trust his message is authentic, because it came by revelation from God. His authority is not diminished or lessened in his words that he spoke through the apostles. Instead, these words contain the words of God for men.
1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,
Peter calls the commands of the Lord and Savior that came through the apostles therefore they delivered for us an accurate word from the Lord to us. Therefore, what they say about the gospel correctly interprets the gospel message and what they do not say about the gospel, should be avoided.
In our day, the gospel and all of the word of God has come under attack. Some critics state that Jesus never spoke out against homosexuality and Paul’s message about them should be rejected since it did not come from Jesus himself. These statements are not rooted in honest exegesis of the Scriptures but instead, they twist the Scriptures to try and fit their beliefs and sins.
Literally, Paul makes the case that he clearly shared with others what he received from the Lord and therefore, his authority is actually God’s authoritative word to man. His opponents wanted to say that Paul was not truly an apostle since he never followed Jesus before his death and resurrection. But Paul testified of his salvific interaction with Jesus.
24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Also, the witnesses in the early church saw that Saul had changed from his former self. The disciples in Damascus and the church in Jerusalem all testified that this Paul was a transformed man by Christ This is why in Galatians 1, Paul states his apostleship was not
given by men v1 (awarded)
given through men v1
done to please men v 10
Paul’s authority is validated
Paul’s authority given: v 1, that his commission comes through the “Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”
Paul is stating that he has a right to speak a true word on the gospel because the Lord himself called him to be an apostle and also the Father validated the authority of the Son by raising him from death as the Messianic fulfillment foretold. You can understand the links of the chain, Father’s authority- passed to the resurrected Son- passed to apostles called out by Son and empowered by Spirit.
The True Gospel:
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,
What does Paul tell us about the gospel? In his opening salutation, these introductory comments are not wasted words, their are theologically rich morsels of gospel meat to chew on. This is not your everyday, “whats up” “howrya” or “howdy.” Instead, we see that GRACE and PEACE are the fabric of the gospel tapestry of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation by grace is the theme of Galatians. This means salvation is a gift from God, not of works of merit of men. While the opponents of Paul were telling the church something different about the way a person receives the blessings of eternal life, Paul’s message about the gospel was purely driven by grace.
This means that salvation is God’s choice to save you not your choice to be saved. Paul was content in living his life as a Pharisee hunting down the Christians. He enjoyed the killing of Stephen and the incarcerating believers.
But God, by his great mercy, caused Saul to be born again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3) He was called by the will of God to be an apostle(1 Cor 1:1) a chosen instrument of the Lord’s to carry his name before the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), even when he was dead in his trespasses, was made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5) by grace he has been saved. Salvation is all of grace!
So also in your own life follower of Jesus and understand that God richly and graciously set his eye on you to save you before you were ever born into this world, not because he looked forward to something good you would do for him. Instead, he chose to save you merely to glorify himself in saving sinners through his Son. Therefore, you can more greatly cherish the beauty of God’s saving grace in your life.
Peace also is the foundational component of the gospel because as Paul makes clear in his writings, sinners stand in opposition to God. He refers to unbelievers as spiritually dead, unrighteous, sinners, enemies and hostile to God, and slaves to the devil. Therefore, in Galatians, Paul makes his argument that peace comes through justification, a legal term that means a person is in right standing before the Judge. Therefore, Paul makes the argument that the law of Moses, could not free a man and justify him, but grace in Christ can.
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Therefore, a follower of Jesus who accepts the reality that man in himself is helpless spiritually and needy of even a faith to believe and who trusts fully in the work of Christ to save him, therefore is transformed personally and positionally. Personally a new man is born of spirit and not of flesh. A new man is a babe in Christ who must learn and grow to know more about what God has done in Christ for his or her salvation. But also a change of position occurs whereby once a person is a slave to Satan and now a slave to God. Once he was guilty before God and now sinless in his sight. Once he was a beggar, now a son of the Most High.
This is victory and transformation is mentioned in v 4,
4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
Here you have a beautiful statement of the faithful act of Christ to willingly give himself as the victorious substitute for sinners. His deliverance and redemption comes by the purpose and plan of God and the blessings of that work on the cross is merited freely to all who trust in Christ alone. His redemption is offered freely by the love and grave of the Father by the work of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Finally Paul concludes v 4 with the purpose for the good news, the glory of God for all eternity. Salvation by grace alone is not for the ultimate purpose of making heaven a populated realm of existence. Saving sinners was the will of the Father for his own supreme glory. We exist for his glory, we are saved for his glory. Our lives are intended on bringing God glory in all our being. Therefore, salvation is not about us, sin is all about us. Salvation is all about the glory of God
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Friend, if you are here today and you don’t know Christ, then I hope that you can understand the sacrifice that Jesus made upon the cross. He lived a perfect life, gave himself unto death so that sinners can be saved. His death paid the sin debt that we all owe. He was buried and He rose on the third day! This good news is worthy to believe in and have your sins washed away by the blood of Christ. If not, then you will pay the penalty for your own sin instead of Christ paying it for you.
FALSE GOSPELS: By works! (vs. 6-7)
FALSE GOSPELS: By works! (vs. 6-7)
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.
Secondly, then we look at Paul’s immediate concern for the Galatians. Paul was informed that false teachers had come into Galatian churches and undermined his ministry and the clear message of the gospel. Much like those in our story in Acts 15, so these Judiazers as they are called, came behind Paul and taught the churches that circumcision is necessary for salvation. Look with me at a few verses to prove that:
1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
It is clear that Paul is contending with this false gospel that was being preached in his absence. Looking back then to Pauls warning in chapter 1:6, Paul states that the Galatian churches are “deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ”
Desertions: setting something (affections and belief) in another place. Used in military and political defection. Paul is warning the Galatian churches of defecting back to their old ways of thinking. These false teachers had come in like in Acts 15 and began teaching the people that the gospel was not enough. Instead, the taught that circumcision was a necessary addition to be saved. Paul states that when we believe such a thing about the gospel....we defect from Christ.
The true gospel can only be what was delivered from the mouth of God, by his authority, with his words of salvation. There cannot be another true gospel, competing with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible strictly speaks of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, as the only true and applicable way of salvation for sinners.
What Paul confirms then is the existence of false gospels… or distortions of the true gospel...just as there distortions of the one true God. This distortion is just one of many distortions throughout the history of the church. All the distortions to the gospel are ways that Satan has tried to distort the true message of the gospel, the liberating way in which Christ sets us free. For the Galatians, it was believe in Jesus and be circumcised. For the early church, it was circumcision and the full obedience to the Torah. For some, it is Jesus and baptism saves. For others it is believe in Jesus and do these religious activities in order for Christ to save you. These distorted gospels are all gospels of works not grace!
We must see through the smoke screen of Satan’s schemes and come to understand that False gospels are not detours on the same journey to attain salvation but instead they are distortions of the true path that lead to destruction.
JC Ryle stated,
False doctrine has been the chosen engine which Satan has employed in every age to stop the progress of the gospel of Christ. —J. C. RYLE
Distorting the gospel is not merely misspoken moments of error. Any of us can mistakenly speak incorrect things and upon discovering our error, correct our mistakes. But when the gospel is distorted, then those actions are not actions of innocence. Instead, they are clear acts of spiritual violence against God and his people. Paul tells Timothy to be aware of these distortions,
1 Timothy 4:1–4 (ESV)
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,
Notice that Paul warns Timothy of the “doctrine of demons” which would include any distortion of the truth of God’s word. This makes clear that distortions to the gospel are full on attacks by Satan and his demons to distort the work of God and the message of truth that God has delivered to the world.
As the church, we must not be apathetic to such error being preached and promoted. Apathy leads to acceptance and if we are not willing to speak out against distortions to the gospel, then we will eventually fall prey to believing distortions ourselves.
What is the consequence for believing a distorted gospel?
The Bible is clear that deserting Christ leads to falling away from the faith. This may confuse you because you were under the impression that a follower of Jesus Christ could not lose their salvation…which is true. But a person who has heard the gospel, who had grown up around spiritual truth can be so educated about these doctrines of God and yet reject them. This is what the writers of Hebrews says when he writes,
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
Commenting on this verse, John MacArthur writes ,
"The Holy Spirit is saying to everyone who hears the gospel: “Respond to Jesus while your heart is still warmed and softened by His truth, while it is still sensitive. Respond to His sweet love and His call of grace. Wait too long and you will find your heart getting hard and insensitive. The decision will become harder and harder as your heart becomes harder and harder. If you continue to follow your evil, unbelieving heart rather than the gospel, you will forever depart from the living God, and forfeit salvation rest.”
For some people that may even mean initially responding to the truths of God but not being persistent in belief. Being led astray by false gospels is not losing one’s full salvation in Christ. Instead, it is losing momentum toward a faith yet attained.
The best example is the parable of the soils with Jesus,
20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Both of these scenarios in the parable of Jesus, initial response to the gospel does not prove lasting and final. It is a temporary faith, a fleeting faith, and false conversion like our story last week with Simon.
There is a true gospel and a distorted one. There is one Savior and Lord
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.