HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 96
EPISTLE LESSON: Galatians 1:1-12
SERMON: “Will the Real Gospel Please Stand Up”
I’m curious how many of you remember a game show that began in the 50’s called, To Tell the Truth.
Those of you who remember it will recall that there was a panel of four celebrities whose job it was to correctly identify a contestant who claimed to be a celebrity, have an unusual job or to have had an unusual experience. Contestants included famous musicians, authors and politicians. The contestant was joined by two imposters who could lie or say just about anything to try to convince the panelists that he/she was the real person. The contestant however was required to tell the truth. After the panelists had questioned all three, they attempted to guess which of the three challengers was the real one. Each incorrect vote was worth $250 (in 1950’s dollars!) to the contestant. Then came the dramatic moment when the host would say, “Would the real ___________ please stand up. Although I can enjoy a good theological debate, sometimes I wish what is gospel and what is not were as clear as that moment when the “real” celebrity stood up.
The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Galatians with a standard greeting accompanied by a mini statement of the gospel: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. But it doesn’t take him long to express his dismay that they have allowed themselves to be led astray.
Paul accuses the Galatians of having turned to a different gospel. Much of the rest of his letter deals with the requirement on the part of some Jewish Christians that Gentiles must become Jews first, that is they must be circumcised and obey Jewish Law. Paul wrote, 26 In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (3:27-29).
It seems as if someone is always discovering a new “gospel” that gives us truth about Jesus of Nazareth. Some want to tell us that Jesus married, that he had children. There are a host of “Gnostic Gospels” that have been unearthed in recent years including the gospels of Judas, Thomas, and Mary Magdalene. But it’s not just first century gospels that attract attention. Go to amazon.com’s web site and enter “Gospel According to” in the search line and you will get “The Gospel According to . . . Pixar, Star Wars, the Simpsons, Dr. Seuss, Coco Chanel, and Starbucks. Some of these titles are just reflecting a book’s attempt to find themes of the Christian gospel within certain shows and characters, but others put forward a gospel that presents their own understanding of God.
Even churches engage in the promotion of counterfeit gospels. Consider the Gospel of Hate spewed forth by ‘Christians’ from the Westboro Baptist Church who picket soldiers’ funerals, believing that people who don’t follow their agenda deserve whatever tragedy befalls them.
Then there’s the Gospel of Prosperity through which certain televangelists tell their audiences that God wants them to be rich. All they have to do is “name it and claim it,” and God will give them what they want – more quickly if they’ll just send a check today to this ministry.
Pastor and author Dallas Willard coined the phrase, “"The Gospel of Sin Management"-- to describe a gospel that produces what he calls “vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else." This gospel is only concerned about getting people into heaven and makes salvation and God irrelevant to daily life."
I grew up in a church of the Social Gospel, which grew out of the Enlightenment idea of progress and reason, believes that humanity can rid itself of social evils, and that human progress will continue to make things better and better. In this gospel, Jesus provides a good example of how to make the world a better place, and his death and resurrection are mere metaphors for living sacrificially --more good advice than good news. The Social Gospel is the opposite side from the Gospel of Sin Management, claiming that it’s all about what we do to make society better and the eternal life of the soul is irrelevant.
The Apocalyptic Gospel is all about watching the sky for Christ's return and waiting for the Rapture that will suck all the right-believing Christians into the great beyond like some kind of Heavenly vacuum cleaner, leaving the rest of humanity behind to stew in hell.
There may be some elements of truth in all these other gospels, just as the imposters were coached so that they could answer some of the panelists’ questions with accuracy. Bob Kaylor writes,
God does hate sin, but continues to love sinners. God does want us to be prosperous, but in the richness of his grace, not necessarily the wealth of our bank accounts. Jesus' blood does save us, but it doesn't just save us from something, it saves us for the work of God's kingdom. Yes, God desires our participation in making the world look more like what we pray for in the Lord's Prayer ("on earth as it is in heaven"), but we can't make that a reality that without Christ's redemptive death for the world and his resurrection promise of the ultimate defeat of death. We do, indeed, await Christ's return, but he's not coming to take us away -- he is coming to take over!
The "different gospel" that the Galatians had bought into was one preached to them by some Jewish Christian missionaries who required Gentiles to be circumcised as Jews before they could become Christians (v. 6). Paul regarded this message as a non-gospel because it was based on the Law and not on reconciliation between humankind and God through the grace of Jesus Christ.
So now you are one of the panelists. What will you keep in mind as you get ready to cast your vote for the real gospel.
First, the Gospel Needs No Additions. It’s not that the false teachers are flat-out denying the gospel. They’re just trying to add some things, to improve the message by adding to it – new requirements, new ceremonies. The implication is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is somehow insufficient. Something more must be added. The Gospel doesn’t need any additions. Paul said it this way in his letter to the Romans:
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Secondly, Distorting the Gospel Is Serious Business In verse eight Paul invokes a curse on anyone, himself included, who distorts the gospel, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
Paul is saying that real problem of another gospel is not only that it is a bad idea, and not only that it lacks power because it is a fake, but that it is dangerous.
Be careful when it comes to those who say it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. I doubt that those who followed David Koresh in a compound in Waco, Texas to their fiery deaths in 1993; and the followers of Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate Cult who in 1997 took their own lives in twisted attempt to connect with extra-terrestrial visitors who were hidden in the wake of the Hale-Bopp comet, will find themselves excused because of their sincerity.
I highly value living in this country with freedom of religion. I don’t
ever want the government to dictate what we must believe or to what church we must belong. That said, Freedom of religion does not mean that all religions are equally true.
Grace is the business of the church. Grace teaches that God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). What will you do with the good news?
Jesus loves me, this I know – all the rest is commentary.