“The Gospel Paul Preached” (Galatians 1:11-24)
Today is the second of six straight weeks in which the Epistle reading comes from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. And we’re doing a six-part sermon series on Galatians to go along with that. By the way, last Sunday I encouraged you to read through Galatians at least once a week over the course of this series. If you haven’t done that yet, I hope you will. I think you’ll get a lot out of it.
Last week, to start our series, we began under the heading, “No Other Gospel.” Paul opens his letter by telling the Galatians how astonished he is that, since he left, they are so quickly falling for another gospel than what he preached to them, a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Some false teachers had come along and told the Galatians that Paul hadn’t given them the whole story, that, yes, Jesus did his bit on the cross, but what Paul didn’t tell you is that you also have to keep all the laws of Moses in order to be saved–circumcision, the dietary laws, Sabbath laws, etc., etc. But Paul in this epistle tells the Galatians that if you fall for that, you are missing the whole point of the gospel of Christ.
Paul now develops this idea further in the rest of Galatians 1, our text for today. And what Paul is telling the Galatians, he also is saying to us. These are things we do well to hear and heed and take to heart. So then, now let’s find out more about “The Gospel Paul Preached.”
There are three things I especially want to bring out today, based on our text: 1) The gospel Paul preached came from God, not from man. 2) The gospel Paul preached is a gospel of grace. And 3) The gospel Paul preached changes lives.
First, the gospel Paul preached came from God, not from man. The apostle states this very strongly: “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Why is Paul making such a big deal about this? Because Paul’s opponents were saying he hadn’t cleared his message with headquarters. He hadn’t gotten the imprimatur from the big boys back in Jerusalem. “So, you see, his message is a little suspect. Don’t buy what he’s saying. You see, we–we come from Jerusalem! We’ve got the straight scoop! Listen to us, not to Paul. After all, he’s not even a real apostle. He didn’t travel around with Jesus during his ministry. Paul is not one of the Twelve. No, he didn’t tell you everything. He left out the part about how you’ve got to keep all these laws. I mean, they’re in the Bible, you know.” That is basically what the Judaizers, the circumcision party, were saying. They were going around undermining Paul’s ministry, attacking his apostleship and, with it, the gospel he was preaching.
But Paul here is saying no. “Oh, it’s true that I did not get my gospel from the apostles in Jerusalem. But that does not mean I’m not speaking the truth. For I did not get my gospel from any man. I received it directly from Christ himself. So in that way my apostleship is just as legitimate as that of the Twelve, and the gospel I preach is precisely the one and only gospel there is. I haven’t left anything out. But these guys are misleading you and deceiving you by adding things to the gospel, turning it and twisting it into a mixture of grace and works, saying that what Jesus did wasn’t enough, that now you’ve got to add your works to it.” Paul here defends his apostleship, because it was by undermining his apostleship that his opponents were leading people astray, pulling them away from the saving gospel of Christ.
Paul here says he received his gospel “through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” And you remember from the Book of Acts how that happened. Paul, then called Saul, was on the road to Damascus, when suddenly the ascended Lord Jesus Christ himself spoke to Paul from heaven and converted him and conferred upon him his apostleship. Paul had a unique apostleship, to be sure, but he was no less an apostle of Christ, directly called, than were the Twelve. And over a number of years, the Lord led Paul to re-examine the Scriptures and to see them now in the light of their fulfillment in Christ. The apostle Paul definitely got the message straight, and he got it straight from the Lord.
Dear friends, this is important for us to know. We are not following any man-made religion here. The gospel that we preach here in this church is the one, true, biblical, apostolic faith. It comes straight from God. You can trust it. You can bank your whole life on it. We preach and teach the divinely inspired and authoritative Word of God. If this were only man’s word, man’s opinions, that I was up here spouting off, then I suppose you could take it or leave it, and I would have no reason to expect you to come here and hear me yap away for 15 or 20 minutes every Sunday. Who is Henrickson? Who cares? But if I preach to you the very Word of God, then you do need to heed that very closely, because, again, it is God who is speaking to you. This is the only thing that gives me confidence to stand here in this pulpit and preach. And that is the same confidence that Paul had in the gospel he preached. God wants you to be sure of this gospel.
So that’s the first point: The gospel comes from God, not man. Secondly, the gospel Paul preached is a gospel of grace. Paul writes: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me. . . .” And so on.
Paul himself was saved by grace, and that was the gospel he preached: A gracious God who forgives sinners for the sake of Christ. And Paul ranked himself as the “chief of sinners,” as he says elsewhere. Paul had been so zealous, and yet he was so very wrong. He was doing the exact opposite of what he should have been doing. He was persecuting the church, the church God had established, and he even thought he was doing God a service by doing so. That’s how blind and wrong he was. Remember how Paul, then called Saul, had cooperated in the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr? And as the zealous Pharisee Saul, Paul was traveling on that road to Damascus in order to round up and arrest the Christians there. So throughout the rest of his life Paul was always very aware of his own sinfulness and how God had had mercy upon him and forgiven him his sins and saved him purely out of his grace. Paul knew he didn’t deserve anything from God except damnation, and yet God had given him the great and unsurpassed gift of knowing Christ his Savior and even let him have the privilege of preaching this same saving gospel to others. Paul never got over how wonderful and beautiful God’s grace is.
And neither do we. What a wonderful thing it is to know Christ our Savior! This gospel of God’s free grace in Christ is everything to us! It is our life and our salvation! It is the joy and the refreshment of our life in this world, and it is our hope of eternity. God has forgiven you, my friends, forgiven you all your sins. You and I don’t deserve anything from God, and still he gives us everything! All for the sake of Christ.
Grace. “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense,” that’s one way to remember it. “Grace” is a gift word. It speaks of God’s undeserved favor, lavished upon us freely, and yet, at the same time, at great cost–the cost of Christ’s holy precious blood, which he shed for us on the cross. God sent his own Son into the world, and Christ Jesus went willingly to that cross, for you, that you might be saved. Our sins had condemned us, and death is the sentence that is required. But Christ’s righteousness covers us, and his sacrifice atones for our sins. There is nothing as wonderful or unfathomable as this gospel of God’s grace in Christ for sinners. This is the gospel Paul preached, and it is the same gospel that is here for you today.
First, the gospel Paul preached came from God, not from man. Second, it is a gospel of grace. And now, third, the gospel Paul preached changes lives. Think of it: It changed Paul. He went from being Saul the persecutor to Paul the apostle. From persecutor to preacher, that’s the turnaround the gospel effected in the life of Paul. As the Christians at the time said: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
The gospel changes lives. In some ways, this last point may be the hardest part for us to believe. Sure, we can see it in the life of Paul. And maybe we can see it in the lives of other Christians we look up to and admire. But what about in my life? When I look at my own life, I don’t see as much change as I think there should be. I am frustrated by my own lack of holiness. I see too much sin that I can’t shake off. But even Paul saw that in his own life, even after he was converted and became a great apostle. He says as much in Romans 7: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” Christians still are saddled with their old Adam, that old sinful nature that gets in the way of our sanctification and drags us down. We daily need to repent and to find that grace, that forgiveness again, in Christ.
Nevertheless, that same gospel also transforms us, changes us, so that now we do have new life in the Spirit, and we do want to please God, and we do learn to love and serve others in the name of Christ. This is the transforming power of the gospel. This is due to God’s work in us. God gifts us and equips us as Christians to live life in new ways, in his ways. We may not notice this so much in ourselves, because we have to live with ourselves every day, and we know our sinful thoughts. And we would surely never boast of our good works as any sort of cause for our salvation–all the glory goes to God. Even so, God does give us his Spirit, so that now we do begin to love and serve him. We are new people in Christ, believe it or–well, believe it. God says it, and does it, and therefore it is so.
Not many of us are going to be called to be preachers or to go out and be an apostle to the Gentiles, like Paul was. But God does call us to live lives of love and service, according to our various vocations–husband, wife, father, mother, citizen, worker, church member, you name it. In all these walks of life, there are good works that God has equipped us to do, and he will give us opportunities to do them. So believe God’s Word when he promises that he will help you to live as the new person you are in Christ. The gospel changes lives. It did for Paul. It will do that for you, also.
Today we have heard about the gospel Paul preached: That it came from God, not from man, and so you can be sure of it. That it is the gospel of God’s great and abundant grace in Christ, forgiving all your sins, giving you perfect righteousness and eternal life in Christ your Savior. And that it is this same gospel that will change your life, continually calling you from the old life of sin and selfishness to the new life of love and service that are the hallmarks of our life in Christ. This is the gospel Paul preached. It’s the gospel he calls the Galatians back to. And it’s the gospel that gives us life, and new life, today.