The First Sunday After Trinity June 22, 2003
1 Kings 8:41-43
18, 775, 377(1-6), 261
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead—and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you received, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
In the name of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, dear fellow redeemed:
On a hot summer’s day, there isn’t anything much better than a nice cold glass of water. That’s what your body needs. While growing up, I would often beg my mother for a glass of pop or lemonade when I was hot and thirsty. Her response was that if I was truly thirsty there was nothing better than water. It’s truly what your body wants and needs.
Consider if you asked for water, but instead received a glass that was half water and half 10W-30 motor oil. Yes, water is still in the glass, but the addition of the oil changes everything. Now if you drank his mixture your body would be hurt instead of helped. Today we’re going to talk about what happens when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is changed. It no longer remains the Gospel at all, and will harm your soul more than help it. A CHANGED GOSPEL IS NO GOSPEL AT ALL. I. The true Gospel is Christ given for us II. Any perversion of the Gospel in effect destroys it III. This leads us to remain diligent in our defense of the Gospel. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts to receive His message this morning.
If you would die today, what would happen to you? Would you go to heaven or hell? A follow-up question would be, “Why would you go there?” These are questions, I believe, that most people have considered. If a person hasn’t pondered his future after death, then he should. Every person will one day have to stand before the judgment throne of God. These are questions that are good to ask your neighbors and other people with whom you have contact. I would guess that most people would answer that they are going to heaven, but when they are asked why it is then that you may find a wide variety of answers. Some answers would not involve grace. Some answers would not acknowledge sin. Both kinds of answers are severely lacking.
Sin separates man from God. Each person is accountable for his sin whether he is aware of it or not. Sin makes us guilty and quite often we feel that guilt to the point where we are frightened beyond our wits. There is only one way in which that guilt is lifted, is effectively removed. We find that good news in verse 4 of our text when we are told that Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins. In the very first verse we are told of how He was raised from the dead which sealed for us the forgiveness won on the cross. This is the Gospel. Christ for us—the sinless dying in place of the sinful—is the good news by which we are saved and have the certainty of heaven. Being forgiven through the work of Christ is the only way that a person can appear and stand righteous before the Lord God almighty.
There is nothing lacking in the good news of sins forgiven. The death and resurrection of Christ are not the first of many steps that we need to complete for our salvation. It is not like an adult giving a child a jigsaw puzzle unassembled and telling him to complete it. We have it all!
It is also true that the forgiveness from Christ does not come piecemeal. Even now you stand completely forgiven through faith. On the cross Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30). There is nothing to add to His work, and there is nothing that we can add. It is an insult to Jesus when it is believed that we have to make a contribution to our salvation, or finish what He started. You are not saved by what you do, but rather by what Christ has done for you. Rest assured that everything God does He does completely.
It really becomes a matter of sinful pride when man tries to make changes in the precious good news of Jesus. In the history of mankind such changing has taken place time and time again. It remains a constant battle even today. The Gospel seems too good to be true and we’d love to get our fingers in there, so that in some fashion we could take credit for the fact that we are going to heaven. In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees prided themselves on what they had done. They believed themselves to be righteous by what they viewed to be the keeping of God’s Law. They even expanded God’s laws believing that the more they kept, the holier they would look in the sight of God, and even more importantly to them in the sight of other people. There were also men who followed the apostle Paul and emphasized circumcision, refraining from eating certain meats, and the Sabbath. That sounds good to itching ears desiring to hear something different, something that makes a person look better in his own eyes. The Gospel of Christ is so precious because it follows the knowledge that we are condemned sinners.
Paul was astonished that the Galatians had turned away so quickly to this other gospel, which was really no Gospel at all. The minute that their message was perverted by putting the works of man on an equal level, then it ceased to be the true Gospel of Christ. When works are factored into why a person is saved, then salvation is no longer free, the focus is taken off Jesus, and there is dependence on flawed man rather than our perfect Lord.
Don’t get me wrong. There is an importance to what we do. As redeemed children of God and out of love for our Savior we will want to act in a way that pleases Him. Sin does lead to a destruction of faith and we need that reminder in as well, but today we’re looking at the other side of the coin. The emphasis on works for salvation is destructive because it undermines the work of Jesus. This problem did not go away after this letter to the Galatians. The battle continues in this present day. Souls are being led away from Christ and into despair because they don’t feel forgiven. Then these individuals seek certainty and comfort in their own works. How you feel doesn’t change the fact that in Christ you are forgiven. That is a fact. The Scriptures speak clearly to this point. God has called you “in the grace of Christ,” and washed you clean of all your iniquity. To say that we are declared righteous by what we do perverts the pure Gospel like adding motor oil to a glass of water. Once the oil is added it is different water—not even water all all! Likewise, to adulterate the Gospel is to make it different and unsuitable for salvation.
Because the Gospel of Jesus is so very precious we will want to do our utmost to defend it. This is easier to say than to carry out. Though there have been some exceptions, true Gospel preachers have never been very popular. Christians who defend their Lord and His Word will find that they have enemies. In the last verse of our text, Paul emphasizes his motivation. It is not to please men, but to serve Christ. It’s always easier to tell people what they want to hear rather than the truth. Problems arise because the Gospel is foolishness to man. When you are for Jesus it is also true that you will be against what He is against. In the case of the Galatians it is being against what perverts the Gospel.
Listen to the words of warning found in verses 8-9 of our text. “If we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you have received, let him be eternally condemned!” You can see how zealously the apostle guarded that message of salvation.
We also need to have the zeal to defend the purity of the Gospel because it can become tainted so very quickly. The news of forgiveness is not only what has saved us, but it is our motivation to lead a godly life. Without the news of forgiveness we are ruined. Beside being able to recognize when there is a perversion of the Gospel in what is taught, we also want to be aware of actions that change the focus. To live in sin and impenitence tramples the Gospel. Forgiveness is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin.
As defenders of the Gospel we have been viewed by some as being the church or the synod that is against everything. For instance, in the founding days of the CLC and beyond there has been an emphasis on the fellowship principle. It could be argued that maybe there has been too much of an emphasis on that doctrine. But the reason that God has given this principle to us is that it is a spiritual immune system for the church. God wants us to be like-minded when we gather together to worship so that there is not an intrusion of teaching that could pervert His Gospel. Know well that any false teaching eventually leads to the doctrine of justification which is the heart of Christianity. A pitfall of confessional Lutheranism is to forget the reason behind its actions. We are moved to defend the Gospel of Jesus because without it we are lost. That precious forgiveness of sins is to be our drive in whatever we do.
We are driven to uphold even what may seem to be insignificant teachings because we don’t want to see God’s Word changed in any way. In the past we have spent countless hours in pastoral conferences, delegate conferences and conventions concerning what many would consider to be trivial matters of doctrine. Yet, we wrestle with our study of Scripture and spend time discussing God’s Word out love for the Gospel. We are all adamant about keeping what is so valuable and not falling into a ditch of error on either side of the truth.
There are many and powerful forces working against the pure Gospel message of sins forgiven through Christ. May God preserve us personally, congregationally, and synodically in the one, true Gospel, and no other. It is by grace that we have received it, and it is by God’s grace that we would retain it. To our loving, gracious God alone be the glory! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.