The Gospel Truth
“The Gospel Truth”
Series: Set Free To Be Free (Galatians)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
Please open your Bibles to Galatians, chapter 5.
While you’re finding that, let me say that I am looking forward to our members’ meeting tonight and the opportunity to give you a report on what I did during the sabbatical you graciously gave to me—and what God did in me—tonight in our evening worship service.
If you’re visiting we are in a series of messages, verse-by-verse, through the Book of Galatians. Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia is about Gospel Freedom. How the Gospel sets us free to be free; and to live in that freedom. Last week we talked about thinking about what Christ has done, thanking Him regularly, and taking that good news to others. Think. Thank. Take.
We began chapter 5 last week and left off our study at verse 6 and so today we’ll be picking back up at verses 7 and following. Galatians 5, verses 7 through 15.
Let me invite you to stand in honor of the reading of the Word. Paul is concerned about the false teachers who are teaching a wrong view of salvation, teaching that believing in Jesus is not enough. The false teachers were telling people they must also be circumcised and keep much of the Old Testament Law. Paul writes this letter to say, “No,” that is not true. We are saved not by our works, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Galatians 5, beginning in verse 7:
7 You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
8 This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.
9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
10 I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.
11 And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.
12 I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!
13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
One of Paul’s “go-to” metaphors to describe the Christian life is to describe it as a runner running a race in the arena (1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 2:16, 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:7-8), not just in his other letters, but even here in Galatians. Earlier he had said up in Galatians 2:2 that he was concerned that he might have “run, or had run, in vain.” And now this morning in chapter 5, he again likens the living out of the Christian life to that of running a race. He says to the Galatian Christians in verse 7: “You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? Who ‘cut in on you’ as you were running?”
And the picture is: you are running a race. You are going along just fine and you are approaching an area where the crowd thins out. Some runners are behind you. Others are way ahead of you. You can hardly see them. Then a few runners come up and run alongside you, they have “cut in” to the race. After a few minutes of chatting while you run, they encourage you to run with them as they run what sort of looks like a parallel option just ahead. They tell you it’s the way to go and you trust them because the path is well-worn and they say they’ve run it before. So you go along with them. It’s not until much later that you realize they led you down the wrong path and you are disqualified from the race.
This is precisely Paul’s concern in this passage. Again, he says in verse 7: “You ran well.” You know, “You were doing so well living out the Christian life. You believed we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, “who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Who has ‘cut in,” running alongside you, leading you down the wrong path of thinking? Who hindered your believing in and living out the truth and caused you to run off-course? If you continue down that path, it will lead to disqualification—and even destruction!
Paul’s writing of this letter is an attempt to set the Galatian Christians (and Henderson Christians!) on the right course. This letter—especially now in chapter 5—is Paul’s way of saying, “There is just one race course here. And there’s no other way to finish the race than by running the way described in this letter.”
The main concern is the preservation of the true gospel, the gospel that brings freedom by setting sinners free from bondage to the law and bondage to sin, and freeing them to live a loving, vibrant, soul-satisfying life in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I was studying Thursday morning, this phrase came to my mind, “Gospel Truth.” Gospel truth. People use that phrase to describe complete truth. Like, “Really, I didn’t do it. And that’s the gospel truth!” It’s a strong way for a person to indicate that he is—in no uncertain terms—telling the complete truth; the “gospel truth.” The phrase, which I don’t hear quite as much as I used to, gained popularity because people understood the gospel itself to be truth. The gospel was true so to tell the “gospel truth” was to tell something that was absolutely, and unequivocally true.
Well, I want to share three truths about the gospel this morning, three undeniable facts this passage teaches about gospel truth. Number one:
I. Gospel Truth must be Preserved (7-10)
This is Paul’s main concern in verses 7 and following. “You ran well,” he says, “but someone has come along and hindered you from obeying the truth.” Which reminds us in and of itself that the truth is not just something to believe, but something to obey.” The truth of the gospel is not just something we hear and believe. The gospel is to be lived out. We are to preach the gospel to ourselves each and every day and, by doing so, we will live out the truth of the gospel.
But someone, Paul argues, has “hindered you” from obeying the truth. This person cannot be from God, because God does not contradict Himself so, verse 8, “This persuasion (this encouragement to run alongside a different path) does not come from Him who calls you.”
Now, note this phrase in verse 9: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” It’s a proverb, a short and concise statement of wisdom. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Paul had used this phrase in application to wrong behavior back in 1 Corinthians (5:6) and he uses it here to describe false teachers. They are like a little leaven, or yeast, that has been worked into a batch of dough in the preparation of bread. That little bit of leaven or yeast affects the whole lump, or the whole batch of dough. It eventually gets to the point that you cannot separate the leaven from the dough. It has become one with it.
Illustrated another way, imagine dropping just one single drop of strychnine or poison, just one tiny drop into a pitcher of water. Someone offers you a drink of water. Would you drink from the pitcher on the chance that the part of water you drink will not contain any poison? You’d be foolish to try, because the poison would affect the entire pitcher of water. It cannot be separated from the water. It becomes one with it.
This is Paul’s concern for the churches. A little bit of false teaching, like deadly poison, has the potential to ruin the church. Gospel truth must be preserved. The church must preach and teach the gospel clearly. Man is not saved by what he does. He is saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. He cannot “mix” this faith in Jesus with anything else or the gospel is contaminated. As the means by which we are made right with God, our faith in Jesus “plus” anything else corrupts the gospel. To add to Jesus is to subtract Jesus. Faith alone in Christ alone.
Paul is confident that the Galatian Christians will recognize the error of the false teachers, these who have persuaded them to run “off course.” He has confidence in them, believing they will return to the right path. He says in verse 10, “I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind (that you will see it this way); but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.”
Whoever these false teachers are, they will give an accounting for their actions. They will have to answer for their teaching heresy, teaching something contrary to the truth. A reminder here as James says in James 1:1: “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”
Gospel truth must be preserved. Not just in the churches of Southern Galatia, but in the churches of Western Kentucky, in the church of Henderson’s First Baptist. Gospel truth must be preserved. We must continue to teach clearly the place of the law in the gospel message. We must be clear that the law—especially that moral law condensed in the 10 commandments—that this law was never intended to be the basis of our salvation. No one is saved by keeping the law. No one is saved by keeping the 10 commandments. No one is saved by “being good” or by “doing good works.”
A quick word on what is sometimes called the ceremonial law; laws given with the Israelite community especially in view, were laws like eating only certain foods, laws like the Jewish rite or ritual of circumcision, and similar laws about clothing and such—these laws were given to the Israelites largely to show that they were a “separate” people, unlike others, a people “set apart” from others as a way to point others to God. Ceremonial laws themselves are no longer binding upon Christians today. These laws are not repeated in the New Testament as they are primarily about the Old Testament Israelite community.
The moral law is law such as the 10 Commandments. These are laws that are repeated in the New Testament, because the moral law concerns every person in every lifetime. This law is written into the fabric of creation itself. Because there is truth, there is right and wrong. It is everywhere.
The problem with these false teachers was their insistence of collapsing specific Jewish customs like circumcision into the moral law in general and then teaching that people had to keep the law as a means by which to be accepted by God, approved by God, loved by God, saved by God.
And Paul is arguing here that if that is what you are trying to do, believe in Jesus, but then add to Jesus a law-keeping, merit-based “score card” way of earning salvation or being justified, declared righteous, you are in trouble because—Galatians 3:11, “No one is justified by the law in the sight of God…” If you try to earn your salvation by law-keeping, or rule-keeping, you’ve got to do a perfect job, continually, consistently, keeping all the law. And no one is capable of that—except Jesus. Everyone say, “Except Jesus!” He said in Matthew 5:17, “I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law.”
The law—like the 10 Commandments—was never given with the intention of our keeping it in order to get into heaven. The gospel is the only way into heaven. We are saved not by law-keeping, but “faith working through love,” faith in Jesus Christ alone. Saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Once that happens, we then live out the moral law as the result of our salvation, not as the way into salvation, but the result flowing out of our “new creation.” Gospel truth must be preserved. Second fact in this text, number two:
II. Gospel Truth leads to Persecution (11-12)
In addition to their wrong teaching of the gospel, these false teachers also slandered Paul. They said things about him, and about his teaching, that were simply not true. Remember, they infiltrated the church long after Paul had left and went on to other places on his missionary journeys. So when they came into these churches in Galatia, they said things like, “Look, even Paul is in agreement with us. When he was here he told you you were saved by faith in Christ alone—but—he agrees with us because he is now preaching that were are saved not by faith in Christ alone, but by also keeping the law, preaching for example, the rite or ritual of circumcision. In this letter he writes to the Galatians, Paul responds to that charge. First part of verse 11: “And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution?”
Put another way, Paul is being persecuted for his preaching and teaching of the true gospel message. Gospel truth leads to persecution. In what way? Well, when one teaches that man can in no way earn any merit with God, man cannot “score points” with God by being good or doing good deeds, this is an offense to man. Paul refers to this understanding in the second part of verse 11, describing gospel truth as, “the offense of the cross.” Gospel truth offends man’s sensibilities. He is told that he is not as good as he thinks. He is told that there is only one way to be saved. This is, the offense of the cross.
Paul is arguing: “Look, if were preaching what these false teachers are preaching—that we can do something in order to earn God’s approval and acceptance—then people wouldn’t be laughing me to scorn, or telling me I’ve got it all wrong about God, or making fun of me or kicking me out of towns where I have tried to preach!”
So he’s saying, “Don’t listen to these false teachers. They don’t know what they are talking about.” And Paul makes this statement that is so strong in verse 12, so strongly does he express his dismay and displeasure regarding the slander of these false teachers and the way they are trying to get the Galatians to adopt the rite or ritual of Jewish circumcision that he says, strong statement here in verse 12, “I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!”
I want to be careful here. I have avoided being too literal in mentioning the ceremonial rite of Jewish circumcision. Those of us who are adults can explain this rite to our inquiring children. Most of us understand biblical circumcision as a way of indicating that God’s children belonged to Him. It was literally a mark of identity.
So I want to be reverent here. And yet I also want us to feel the force and gravity of what Paul is saying in verse 12. He is saying, in essence, these false teachers who have “cut in on you” should just go ahead and “cut themselves off,” and when he says that, I think the most of you know what he means in a literal sense, and also in a greater sense. Certainly, he means that the churches in Galatia would be far better off without those false teachers around. But the way Paul makes the point is alarmingly clear, isn’t it?
And he’s not trying to be cute or funny. He is dead serious and he says this out of love for the purity of the gospel and the purity of believers.
Gospel truth leads to persecution. It was, in fact, that very persecution that the false teachers were trying to avoid. This is clear a little later in the letter where Paul says in Galatians 6:12: “…these would compel you to be circumcised, only that [or so that] they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.”
These false teachers were trying to avoid persecution by watering down the gospel. They were telling people that they were capable of doing something in order to earn God’s favor. Doing so meant that they would avoid being persecuted for their faith in Christ, removing “the offense of the cross.”
Gospel truth is offensive to fallen man. Again, if you tell a person that “good works” or “being good” or keeping the 10 Commandments does not put him into a position of favor with God—you tell a man that there is “only one way to be saved” and that is through Jesus Christ, you will likely know something of the “offense of the cross.” Gospel truth offends man’s sinful pride. Man believes he can “do something” to put himself in a better position than his neighbor or his co-worker: “Look at me, God! See what I have done.” Like Little Jack Horner in the nursery rhyme, “What a good boy am I!”
And the gospel says, “Hey, Jack: you’re a sinner. Spiritually speaking, you are dead, dead in your trespasses and sin. And you can do nothing to earn a place in heaven. Your idea of righteousness to God is like a bucket of soiled, dirty rags.”
That teaching is offensive to fallen man. Don’t be surprised when it happens. You know something of it if you’ve ever gathered with co-workers around the water cooler or ladies gathering together having a coffee. Somebody talks about what they learned on some talk show. Another talks about religious insights gleaned from a popular book on eastern mysticism. Someone else declares with an air of scholarship that he is an agnostic. Nothing offensive thus far. And then you mention your love for Jesus Christ and the mood changes and an awkward silence fills the room. You are now treading on a path that is offensive because it is the one path, the only path, that strikes at the heart of man’s pride and tells him there is only one way to be saved.
Don’t take it personally when it happens. If I am saddened because I am persecuted for my faith in Jesus, it may be because I value the embrace of others more than I value the embrace of Christ.
Gospel truth must be preserved and gospel truth leads to persecution. Thirdly, and finally:
III. Gospel Truth changes our Passions (13-15)
If we are truly saved, believing the truth of the gospel, then our lives will change. We will be different. Our lives will be characterized by better affections, newer and stronger feelings, better desires than we had before. Gospel truth changes our passions.
Before Christ, our old affections and desires were sinful. They grew out of our fallen nature, the “old man” as Paul describes it elsewhere, or works “of the flesh,” works of the lower nature, characterized by Paul in something of a list Paul given in verses 19 and following: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness…outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions,” and so on.
Before Christ, these passions characterized our lives. They were the natural byproduct of what Paul calls “the flesh.” He’s not talking about this skin that covers our bones. He’s talking about the “old us,” the “lower nature,” the part of us that is there because of the sin we inherited through the fall of Adam and Eve. Even if we are saved, we still have the old nature with us.
That’s why we often say in the helpful saying: “sin no longer reigns—as a dominating force—sin no longer reigns, but sin remains.” There is with us this sinful nature that is part of the “old us.”
But let’s be clear: the old nature is eclipsed by our new nature. We are new creations! We have the Holy Spirit within us to defeat the old nature, to conquer the sinful desire that tries to rear its ugly head. And because God has changed us, AND BECAUSE GOD IS NOW IN US, we have new desires, new dominating passions evidenced by love for Jesus Christ and bringing glory to God! We are different now!
So Paul says in verse 13, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Paul issues forth a caution about our new freedom and liberty in Christ. It’s as though he is saying, “Look, it really is true that God loves you and accepts you, not because of your religious performance or your good works, but because of what Jesus Christ did for you. You are saved not by your works, but by grace through faith in Christ alone. You are no longer under the burden of the law, feeling the sting of its condemnation every time you sinned. You are free from bondage to the law. You are as loved by God, approved by God, accepted by God because of Jesus as you will ever be! You have been justified—declared righteous by God, declared ‘Not Guilty’ of all sin by God—justified by faith in Christ. Forever!”
So lest you get the idea that because you are always justified by God, and God has set you free from the law’s condemnation, lest you somehow get the idea that because all sin is forgiven, that your freedom would give you permission to live like the devil—whoa! Time out!” Verse 13, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” If you’re truly saved, you have new desires. You would rather not sin, but you would rather love. You would rather serve. Gospel truth changes our passions.
And Paul concludes in verses 14 and 15:
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (a quote from Leviticus 19:18).
15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
Don’t “bite and devour one another.” Love one another. Live out the moral law as a “Thank you note” to God for His grace. You see the place of the law here? The moral law is not kept as the means by which we hope to be saved—on the front end, so to speak—no. The moral law is what we live out once we have become saved—not as the way in, but because we are in. We live it out gladly, freely, lovingly, because of God’s love for us in our Lord Jesus Christ whom we love! And because He loves us and we love Him, we can love others. Gospel truth changes our passions.
Paul builds on this idea of living out the right passions, the new passions rather than the old passions in verses 16 and following where we’ll get into this teaching on the fruit of the Spirit, actions that flow as a natural byproduct of our faith in Christ. And we’ll be talking in future studies about how to walk in the Spirit and conquer the old desires. So many Christians have been helped by understanding this teaching rightly. I look forward to learning with you that we may have even greater victory in Jesus Christ!
For now: gospel truth must be preserved, gospel truth leads to persecution, and gospel truth changes our passions.
In a moment we’re going to have our time of response, responding to the Word together. And that is the time for us to respond as the Lord is leading—some to follow Jesus and be saved, some to come requesting baptism or membership. This time of response is for us to respond through praising, thinking, praying, reflecting, coming forward.
Do you know Christ? Really know Him?
Paul has been consistently contrasting two approaches to salvation. One is based on human effort, achievement, or performance. This is the way of circumcision. It is a belief in Jesus, to be sure, but it is an attempt to add human works or religious performance to one’s faith in Christ. This is the wrong way.
Then, there is the right approach to salvation. It is the way not based on human effort, achievement, or performance, but based solely upon faith in Jesus Christ alone. There is nothing to add to faith in Jesus. It is faith in Christ alone. This is the right way.
So put yourself into the equation. One day you will die. Maybe today. Maybe Thursday evening. Maybe before Christmas. Maybe 10 years from now, 80 years from now. But you will die. And if you can imagine yourself before God and you’re standing at the gate of heaven. And imagine God says to you: “Why should I allow you into My heaven?” How would you respond?
Would you say, “Well, I’ve tried my best.” That’s a works statement. That won’t cut it. You say, “Well, I’m not perfect, but I’ve been as good as I could.” Works again. You could even say, “Well, I believe the Jesus of the Bible and I’ve given money to the poor and lived a pretty decent life.” That’s Jesus plus. Remember from last time? “To add to Jesus is to subtract Jesus.”
But if God were to say to you: “Why should I allow you into My heaven?” I might suggest something like this: “Well, there really isn’t any reason for you to allow me into heaven. I mean, as far as I go, there’s nothing to commend. I am a sinner. I have rebelled against you. There is no reason for you to allow me into heaven based upon my performance. As your Apostle said, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything.” But God—you made a promise, a promise fulfilled in your son, Jesus Christ. And I believe the promise and I am clinging to it. “All I have is Christ. Jesus is my life.”
I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still
But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You
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