Friday, March 1, 2013

Another sample..who knows how many freebies I will post?

When The Good News Becomes Bad News

         Before we read a couple of passages out of Galatians, let’s think about who these people were.  They were wonderful, moral, and active people.  They were of such high caliber, that Peter and Barnabas felt at home with them.  They followed all the rules, dotted all the ‘I’s’ and crossed all the ‘T’s”.  They were a praying, serving, fasting, preaching, evangelizing, abstaining, fellowshipping and worshipping group of people.  They would not only be admitted, they would quickly become deacons, small group leaders, ministry heads, associate pastors, and elders in virtually all of our churches.  They were the cream of the creamiest crop.  This church could put up photos of Paul, Luke, Timothy, Peter, Barnabas and others shaking the hand of the pastor.  The church was growing.  The people were leaving paganism and joining the fellowship.  Missionary work was happening, cultural impact was going on.  This was the church that the church growth experts would write books about.  It is extremely important to understand this.  These guys were outwardly great.  That was the problem.  It was all smoke and mirrors…the insides were in trouble.  From God’s perspective, these guys were looking like a well groomed cemetery.  Nice grass, but don’t dig too deep!

         So, look at the first words that God has to say to this incredible group of people.

(Gal 1:3)  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

(Gal 1:4)  who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

(Gal 1:5)  to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

(Gal 1:6)  I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;

(Gal 1:7)  which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

(Gal 1:8)  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

(Gal 1:9)  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

         God starts out by summing up the true gospel.  Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins that He might rescue us. Period.  He did it.  This is the point of this entire book.  Jesus did not try to rescue us, nor did He begin the process of rescuing us.  He rescued us.  He did it.  Now the Galatians were like you and I.  They had no trouble believing that we are saved by faith.  They would echo the shouts of the Reformation…”Faith Alone!  Grace Alone!  To The Glory Of God Alone!” 

         But they had one minor flaw.  Not a big deal.  It is the same little issue that we have in our church.  They trusted Christ to save them, but then felt that in order to stay saved, in order to continue, for sanctification, or just for plain old Christian growth…they had to follow rules and rituals.  They had to read their Bibles, pray, go to church, and try to get other people to read their Bibles, pray and go to church. They were a great bunch of Christians, doing some wonderful things.  However, the reason that they were doing what they were doing was hellish.  They were trying to purchase favor, earn brownie points, or impress God.

         So, here is their gospel:  You come to Jesus by faith alone, then you grow in your faith by doing good works.   Sounds like the church that I started.  Sounds like the message we inadvertently preach each week when we give our ‘ought to’ and ‘ought not to’ sermons.  To my embarrassment, when I look back over the first several years of my preaching ministry, this is what I taught.  You are saved by faith, and now you bad little Christians have to do this, that, this, then more of that, then add some of this, multiply that…and by the way, why aren’t you doing this?  My discipleship curriculum could have been published by a Galatian Printing Press.  It was all about working harder.  So…what is God’s response to this great group of guys?

First of all, (Gal 1:6)  I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel..  He finds it amazing.  I had the opportunity to go to the Grand Canyon one time.  I stood there looking at this massive canyon.  It is 18 miles across, over one mile deep and 277 miles long.  As I stood there at about sunset…I was simply awestruck.  Words cannot describe the Grand Canyon.  It is incredible.  This emotion, this almost disbelief if I did not see it with my own eyes feeling, this is how God felt about the Galatians.  He said that He was amazed.  This is a word that means to marvel, to wonder, to be in awe.  It is a word that is used to describe the emotion that people had towards Jesus as He taught and healed…they were amazed at Him.  They were amazed at what God did, now we can see what amazes God when it comes to our lives.  God said that the fact these people (and us) believe that Jesus only began to rescue us but that now we must save ourselves through our good works (or grow, or stay saved, or whatever you think those works do for merit), is simply awe-inspiring. In a word picture, God is sitting on His throne with His mouth open…He can hardly believe His eyes!

What do you think of when you hear the word, “Deserter”?   I think of things like: traitor, liar, turncoat, fiend, coward, or enemy.  That last word is what happens when you do more than desert, but you actually join the opposing ranks. This is the term that God used to describe what we do when we believe that our spiritual growth is tied to our works.  He said that we have changed sides.  We have left salvation by grace and joined the cults and heresy that preach salvation by works.  To me it is amazing, but at the height of my spiritual adventure…when I thought I was the most like Christ…I was actually a deserter. When I was going through Basic Training…I was a deserter.  I thought I was a General in the Army of God, and instead I was a covert op for the other side.  When I felt like I was defending the faith, in reality I was deserting it.

Look at that verse one more time.  We have turned away from the One Who called us by grace and joined a different gospel.  Once more, we have to remember that these people whom God is talking about were very good Baptist, faithful Pentecostals, and dependable Bible Church members.  They were wonderful people, only they were following a different…this means that they had left the true gospel and were now going down a different path.  They had turned left at a fork in the road where the map called for a right turn.  They were heading in the wrong direction.

This is a pretty strong statement against wonderfully moral Christians.  But it gets worse.  Look at verse 7.  These people had been truly good Christians living by faith, but someone disturbed them.  The idea is to bring water from room temperature to a boil.  It means to agitate.  They were agitated until they changed gospels.  This gospel is worse than just a different one. It is a perversion of the truth. It is distorted.  It is twisted.  Only the perversion is so deep that the original has been destroyed.  On time I was in the Louvre in Paris.  My wife and I were looking at these famous works of art—which I cannot name because I have no culture, but I could vaguely recognize just from their fame.  Anyway, an English speaking tour came by us, so we did what any smart North American would do…we followed them, staying just far enough behind to not be accused of mooching a free tour, but close enough to hear every word.  It was fun to hear not only about these paintings, but what made them famous.  As we were looking at one that the painter had never finished, I told my wife that I should pick up a paintbrush and finish it for him since he was dead.  Denise laughed and replied that I would destroy it if I touched it because I have absolutely no talent.  She is right. I am not an artist.  I even have trouble drawing a paycheck (badadum!)

This is what we do to the gospel masterpiece.  It is beautiful.  It is art.  It is love.  It is priceless.  We pick up a five inch camel hair brush and start throwing colors all over it. We turn on a jet engine and throw a bucket of paint into the air to be blasted on the canvas.  When we are finished ‘adding to and touching up’ the Masterpiece of God—it is no longer recognizable. It is perverted, damaged, and destroyed.  Works added to salvation in order to complete, finish, or touch up our salvation—simply perverts and destroys everything it touches.

So, these wonderful, moral, right-wing Christians had deserted the gospel, were preaching a different gospel message, and had perverted and destroyed the truth.  These are pretty serious words targeting this fine group of actors: desert, different, pervert, destroy.  But God still is not finished.  Now, these next words cut me to the heart, honestly.  This is because, although I did not mean to, I was for a large part of my ministry a fulfillment of them.  Sad to say, most of my friends in the ministry are still doing this.  Now, literally people will look at this passage and say that this applies to cult members and false prophets.  However, remember the context.  God was talking to Galatian Christians.  (as you read this, just for a theological fine point, I am not teaching nor do I believe you can ever lose your salvation).

(Gal 1:8)  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

(Gal 1:9)  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

         This gospel message of Christian growth and discipleship being: read your Bible, pray, go to church and try to get other people to read their Bibles, pray and go to church and try to get other people to get other people to….this gospel message of “Jesus saves us by faith, but it is up to whatever system we currently follow to keep us saved, make us grow, or disciple us”….this gospel message that says it is Faith PLUS My _________....God says is different than the Gospel.  It is a perversion of the gospel.  Now we see that what we typically preach is the enemy of the gospel.

         Remember earlier I said that when I thought I was defending the gospel I was actually deserting it?  It is far worse than that.  When I thought I was defending the gospel, I was actually attacking it.

         The gospel message is that the Person and Work of Jesus Christ—His Life. His Death, His Resurrection; that is all I need.  It is all I need to know God.  It is all I need to be forgiven of all my sins.  It is all I need to become like God.  It is all I need to spend eternity with God.  It is all I need to __________________. 

         It is all I need.  He is all I need.  His life, death and resurrection rescued me.  It is over.  He has done it all.  That is the gospel truth.  Then, along comes a pastor and sat down beside her…and we are frightened of this truth.

         So, we add just a little to make it better.  Like taking a can of spray paint and adding graffiti to the Mona Lisa, we add this to the gospel.  Once you are saved, then you have to (for simplicity sake use my discipleship formula): read your Bible, pray, go to church and try to get other people to read their Bible, pray and go to church….

         What is so bad about that?  All we are saying is that after you come to faith in Christ by grace alone, you will change your life, modify your behavior, and do a certain set of things.  You will become like the group.  These things are not bad.  Don’t cheat on your wife, steal from your boss, or lie to your friends.  Work hard and vote for small government.  Avoid movies that have more than a PG rating and don’t listen to classic rock.  Wear simple clothes and don’t drive expensive cars.  Now, the list is different in various areas of the globe, but the point is that there is a list.

         Saved by faith in Christ…grow by ____________(the list).  This isn’t bad. People are better off because of it. We stop doing all sorts of little wrongs and we become great community leaders and activist.  We change political policies and help strengthen families (oops, I was talking about Mark the Mormon again).  That is my point.  Does God bring us to faith in Christ by grace alone so we will be Mormons minus heretical teaching?  Is it all about behavior?

         Look at those verses.  This teaching of faith plus _______ for spiritual growth is not the gospel.  It is not just a different gospel.  It is not merely a distorted gospel.  It is the enemy of the gospel!  It is contrary to the gospel.  It is the message of false prophets and hell!  If someone teaches this, even if it were Michael the Archangel himself, that person ought to go to hell!  This is what God says about my previous preaching.  I thought I was helping people be more like Christ, and instead I was nudging them away from Him.  Instead of helping them follow Jesus, I was giving them a list to follow, and the list led them away from Him.  My message, as nice as it sounds: read your Bible, pray, go to church and try to get other people to read their Bible, pray and go to church and…., that message is contrary, opposed, against, the enemy of the true gospel.