The apostle Paul wrote many letters to various churches during the first century. He deals with moral problems, church leadership, doctrinal instruction and many other subjects. In all of his letters he is very kind and addresses them to the saints in whatever church he is writing. All of them accept for one. I am talking about his letter to the church in Galatia. This was the only letter where Paul loses his cool.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” – Galatians 1:6-9
In the church of Galatia, there were certain agitators among them teaching that in order to be justified (declared righteous before God) you had to be circumcised according to the law of Moses. They were adding their own works to the finished work of Jesus in order to be saved.
“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” – Galatians 2:15-16
He is abundantly clear in this letter that justification is by faith, apart from works of the law.
“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” – Galatians 3:10-12
It is of first importance that we get the gospel right. Throughout history there have been attempts to change the gospel to include works done by us. It remains the same today. What Paul is beating into the heads of the Galatians (and us by extension) is that Jesus earned our salvation, apart from our works and it is to be received by faith alone. Christ has accomplished it. We receive it through faith. Period.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” – Galatians 3:13-14
Any good works on our part are solely out of gratitude for what God has already done for us. We can boast of nothing we have done. Not even our faith is a meritorious act that is added to the finished work of Christ. It is simply the instrument by which we are connected to Christ and his saving work. Any attempt to earn or add to our salvation is a denial of what Jesus has already achieved on our behalf.
There is no other gospel other than what was taught by the apostles in the first century and found in the pages of the Bible. It was foretold by the Old Testament prophets and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is God’s gospel and it is not our place to change it to fit our liking or make it less offensive to the world. We are all by nature helpless haters of God. He had to do all the work in order for us to be reconciled. He has done everything because we can do nothing to save ourselves.
Paul even goes so far as to declare that if he or an angel from heaven say anything different, let them be damned. We may add to that Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Buddha, the Pope, Oprah, Joel Osteen or anybody else that preaches a different gospel. That goes for you and me as well. The message rules over the messengers. Without the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, Christianity falls, the church falls and ultimately you and I fall with it.
Stand with Christ and his apostles in believing the only good news that can release us from the heavy bondage of earning our own way to God. We are now set free to serve God and our neighbors by the power of the Holy Spirit without the motive of earning divine brownie points with our creator. Christ earned our righteousness with his perfect law abiding life, took our deserved curse in his death on the cross and was raised from the grave for our justification.
It has been settled, once for all. Don’t try to add to it. Don’t try to turn such an amazing gift into something that God owes you because of something you have done. Accept it with the empty hands of faith and let your good works be a thankful response to the one who loved you and gave himself for you.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20