When I was a younger man, we were told to bring people to church so that they could hear the gospel. And many people were brought to church, and many people heard the gospel message – and some responded to that message. And you sort of graduated from the gospel, to other teachings and deeper spiritual principles. But is this the limit of the gospel? Is it’s only good news for those outside the church? Well not according to Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia.
Jesus + nothing = everything
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Galatians 1: 6-7
Paul writes this letter to the church, urging them to return to the true gospel, which they have abandoned for a ‘new gospel’. I used to think that this must have meant that they had left the faith and started believing that Jesus wasn’t their saviour. And in a way, that is right – but not the way I thought. You see, I thought that the only way we can lose the gospel, is if we subtract from it. We take away Jesus, stop putting our faith in him – perhaps start living a less ‘christian’ lifestyle. Paul is not concerned about the church for their lifestyle slipping – but rather for their pursuit of a more religious lifestyle.
“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” Galatians 2: 2-3
Paul calls them foolish, but why? Paul preached to them the gospel, the good news: “It’s not our decisions and actions that makes us tight with God – it’s Jesus perfect performance. There is nothing we can do – we were unable to rescue ourselves – but Christ in his love rescues us completely and fully through faith in him.” And many people listened to this message and believed – and the church grew. But after Paul had come and gone, other teachers arrived, telling the church that although Paul was telling the truth – if you really REALLY want to be a good Christian, you also need to be (amongst other things) be circumcised. After all, Jesus and all the disciples were all Jews, and they were all circumcised. So we’re not changing what Paul said – you still need to believe PLUS obey these other bunch of rules too. Then you’ll be really spiritual, and closer to God. Doesn’t this seem so familiar? Paul was so angry at them, because they had ADDED to the gospel, and had therefore lost it completely.
Jesus + Anything = Nothing
The gospel reminds Christians of why we came to Jesus in the first place – we need a saviour. The Bible says that we were spiritually dead. Dead men tell no tales – grab no life-rings – agree with no argument for God – make no decisions. Our faith didn’t rescue us. Our good decisions and choices didn’t rescue us. Our morality didn’t save us. We were powerless. God did the rescuing, and then the resuscitating. When we add to the gospel, we are essentially saying that Jesus + behaviour = a Christian, that simply believing that Christ has done it all is not enough to get us ‘in’ with God.
The gospel is essential for Christians
The gospel then, is what stops us from falling into the trap of the Galatians – and thinking that we had a part to play in our rescue. When Christians accept Christ, we suddenly realise that our lives aren’t good, and we’ve made a mess – and we marvel at what love God has shown to us – at infinite cost to him, and at no cost to us. And God’s love melts our hearts, and moves us to respond. This is supposed to be the pattern for how we do our whole Christian life. We see our weaknesses, our immaturity, our failings yet marvel at God’s wonderful one way love and respond in action. When we add to the gospel, we lose the ability to marvel, and we look down our noses at those who haven’t chosen, sacrificed, snipped, believed, studied, learnt or acted like we have. The gospel is what grounds us, stops us from becoming arrogant, and just like the pharisees of old. The gospel IS for those outside the faith, but just as much for us inside.