NOTE: I am currently experiencing problems with WordPress, but I was able get this morning’s message up. However, I am still trying to retrieve yesterday evening’s message (Roy Hargrave). Let me encourage you to check out TeamPyro’s blog as they have also been doing an excellent job live-blogging the conference. Here are their notes from last night.
Phil Newton is pastor of South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He served as a pastor of three other churches prior to moving to Memphis. He received his education at the University of Mobile, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary. In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, Pastor Phil serves on the Executive Board of Founders Ministries, as an adjunct professor at Crichton College in Memphis and Theologique de Nimes (France), and enjoys leading foreign mission trips annually. He has published articles in several journals and has authored Elders in Congregational Life and The Way of Faith.
Text: Galatians 1:1-10
When we think of the word “gospel,” what comes to our mind?
We think of Christ in his offices, of his death, of his fulfilling the law on our behalf, his death, burial, resurrection, ascension, exaltation, and return. He think about our being justified fully and freely in Christ, having been forgiven of our sin. But not all people think about the gospel in such terms. There are some who want to substitute things to the gospel, take away from the gospel, or add things to the gospel. There are multitudes of people today in our churches who do not have the slightest idea of what the gospel is. Apart from the cross, there is no salvation. Paul jumped right into the gospel in his epistle to Galatians. He offered a warning that we still need to hear today. We do not need to change the gospel to accommodate to our world today.
The Danger Facing the Church in Every Age
What was happening in Galatia has happened in every age. People are wanting to change the gospel to accommodate it to their sinful lifestyles or theological proclivities. The gospel is not subject to opinions. This deals with our eternity. Martin Luther understood that the Church in every age faces the danger of losing the gospel. He couldn’t be silent on what he was seeing in the Church in his time. Luther identified with Paul in his shock and amazement that so many were deserting Christ and his gospel. I hope we all identify Paul at this point – that we are concerned and passionate about the purity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why should we be so concerned? First, there is a desertion from the gospel happening in our churches today. Like those in Galatia, people are wanting to be saved by another means. For Paul, any claim of the gospel that deviated from the full sufficiency in Jesus Christ and faith alone, to him it was a different gospel. The irony was that things were being passed off as gospel that were not good news. If what you believe does not deliver you from the wrath of God, it is not good news. Second, they were also losing how they are going to live in relation to God through a proper understanding of the gospel. Even their sanctification was affected by their failure to understand the gospel rightly. False teachers came in, disrupting Galatian believers, saying that the gospel was enough to save you, but it was not enough to make you righteous. If one drop of our effort can be added to the gospel, then Jesus died for nothing.
The Distortion of the True Gospel
There are those who want to pervert the gospel, twisting the truth, and slimming down the gospel. Anything that turns our attention away from depending on Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospel is a distortion. There is a lot of distorting and perverting going on by well-meaning brethren. Putting confidence in some man-centered methodology is a twisting of the gospel. If the devil can not ruin people by persecution, he will do it by improving them (Martin Luther). Many pulpits say that the gospel is not enough. God needs us, our shrewdness, our personalities, our methodologies. Poor Paul. He just had the gospel. It is a devilish ruse to keep men from the gospel which saves and sanctifies. One of the ways the gospel is perverted is that men will preach a clear gospel, and then in the last five minutes will distort it. Is the gospel Christ + men walking down an aisle or depending upon Christ alone? When sinners are asked if they are saved, you will often hear, “When I was ______ years old, I walked down the aisle.” I don’t care if they walked down the aisle! Did they trust Christ as they Savior! When people walk down the aisle, what are they responding to? What have they heard? I fear that many walk down the aisle never understanding the gospel. Our own denomination has millions it cannot find because the gospel has been distorted and perverted. When the Philippian jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” He did not tell him to pray a prayer or walk down an aisle. What should be the sinner’s response to the gospel? He should feel to Christ in repentance and faith, placing all dependence on Christ alone. He distort the gospel today through many non-biblical methods.
The Declaration About Anyone Distorting the Gospel
Let them be accursed. Anathema. Let him be devoted to destruction. Let him be damned to hell. Could he say it any more clearly. It may not go over well in our national meetings, but we need this warning. There is an inclusiveness in this warning. Paul was not having a pity party or a turf shepherd. Paul was distressed because these people were perverting the gospel. This was a different gospel. Paul said that even if we did it (distorted the gospel), let us be accursed. Are there different gospels being preached? There are groups that deny the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, the atoning work of Christ, the need for imputation of Christ’s righteousness. These are more obvious than others. There are gospel presentations and “plan of salvation” methods which are completely distorting the gospel. When Paul saw that Peter was distorting the gospel, he rebuked him publicly. Peter was denying the gospel by the way he was living. Paul was saying that the implications of the gospel and orthodoxy affect all of life and behavior. Does this epistle not demand that we take a long, hard look at our lives, ministries, churches, evangelism, and relationships and see if we are being straightforward with the gospel? This text reveals that if Peter and Barnabas can distort the gospel, any of us can be found distorting the gospel. We must pay close attention to our life and our doctrine, and we should help each other on this point. We do not need to be offended if others have a genuine concern if we are confusing the gospel. But not only is there inclusiveness in this warning, but there is an exclusiveness as well. Paul was speaking about something that was proclaimed, something that was delivered in clear, logical terms and truth propositions. It is first that which was stated, but it is also experiential. There are many who can quote the gospel in their sleep, but they have not received the gospel. We must press the necessity of the gospel taking root in our lives. Sometimes in orthodox circles, people are lulled into a false sense of security because they can articulate the gospel, but the gospel has had no effect on their lives. We must evaluate ourselves in light of the effects of the gospel. You can state it, but have you believed it? Have you received it? This gospel is exclusive. It is that which is preached and received. You cannot add anything to it. You cannot take anything from it. It must be received by faith alone in Christ alone.
The Distinction in the True Gospel
If you pursue the path of pleasing men, you cannot be on the same path at the same time of pleasing God. There is one or the other. There is a distinction in the truth gospel. Any person is more comfortable trusting in himself rather than abandoning himself to Christ until the Holy Spirit brings him to conviction, understanding that he is condemned and living under judgment. The issue in salvation is not pleasing men; it is understanding what makes one right and pleasing to God. It is through the God-satisfying death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son. Do not short-circuit the gospel. The gospel is not efficient. We must be patient. Leaving a person helpless before God is not popular. The gospel is not a product to be peddled in the market place of life (Timothy George). It need not be propped up by artificial means. Paul knew that he was one day responsible and that he will give an account to God for how he has delivered the gospel of which he had been entrusted. We are not trying to win a popularity contest. The nature of the gospel is offensive to men who are at enmity against God. It leaves men empty-handed of merit before God. There would have been a lot let Paul-haters if Paul had focused on appeasing men. Some of you are under fire right now. Don’t try to please unregenerate men. The bondservant to Christ is not free to offer or not offer his service. He is solely at the service to his master (Leon Morris). How do we fall prey to being man-pleasers of the gospel? When we water down the message of the gospel, when we try to be more seeker-friendly, when we can eliminate or gloss over the cross of Christ and its centrality and place our emphasis on some mechanics and outward response, then we are man-pleasers. We are pointers–calling people to look to Christ and live. If the roots of the gospel has decayed in our lives, the day will come when everything comes crashing down. It will happen with individuals, with denominations, with institutions. When the roots are rotted, you cannot stand. May God give us grace to have strong roots in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The singular most important matter for the Christian is the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is not another more weighty, more serious matter than getting the gospel right. However, we live in a day of weightless Christians because of the disappearance of the gospel in our churches. Anyone who is a man-pleaser cannot be committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are antithetical to one another. Those who are slaves to God are those who do not consider their lives of any value to themselves (Acts 20:24) but make it their ambition to please God (2 Cor. 5:9). They are to spend and be spent (2 Cor. 12:15), doing all things for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:24). Indeed, the gospel is our only hope; it is all that we need; it is our singular passion. May God help us to go to those who are blinded by the god of this world to shed the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4), and may God help us to never waver or water down the life-changing good news of Jesus Christ.