In Youth Ministry we’ve been working through a series of messages from Galatians entitled No Other Gospel.
Paul wrote Galatians to a collection of churches in the region of Galatia (modern day Turkey, Eastern Europe) because he was ‘astonished’ (1:6), ‘in the anguish of childbirth’ (4:19), and ‘perplexed’ (4:20) at them. These were no small statements of Paul’s emotion, so why was the Apostle so distressed by these churches? The rest of 1:6 tells us, it is that the Galatian believers were ‘so quickly deserting Him who called [them] in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel’. There was a religious group called the Judaizers who were ‘distorting the gospel of Christ’ (1:7) by adding to it. Where Paul preached salvation ‘by faith through grace’ (Ephesians 2:8), the Judaizers taught that people also had to live according to certain Jewish laws and customs to be made right with God.
This wasn’t a new problem: one of the Patriarchs of the Jewish nation, believing Abraham, struggled in a similar way (4:21–31). God had made a promise to bless Abraham and His descendants even though Abraham was almost 100 years old, his wife was barren, and they had no children! Instead of waiting upon God to fulfill His promises, Abraham attempted to bring them to fruition in his own way: he married his wife’s servant, had a child with her, and the result was God’s judgement through a curse. By His grace, God went on to fulfill the original promise as He had intended by miraculously providing a son (Isaac) through Abraham’s wife, Sarah, through whose line eventually the Messiah, Jesus, would come.
Though I’m sure most of us don’t encounter the threat of Judaizers or have the exact same problem Abraham and Sarah did, I’ve been struck by how relevant the message of Galatians is to daily life in the twenty-first century: We turn to insufficient things for help, comfort, and satisfaction. The Judaizers feared persecution in the form of physical harm, and social rejection that could cost them their status, families, and livelihoods, so they turned their backs on Jesus and took an option that ensured better earthly security (at least from their perspective). This was something that began to appeal to the Galatians. Culture trains us to believe that the right path for our lives is the easiest path, the path of least resistance; but God teaches us that it is through the difficulties of life that He refines His people.
This is a universal problem: we all turn to false gospels. I don’t mean Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, or any of the other world religions (although this could be the case). I mean this: when the chips are down, what do you do, and where do you turn? When you’ve had a rough day/week/month at work, when it seems your family is in turmoil, when a significant relationship in your life is breaking down, what do you do, and where do you turn? When you’ve had a really good day/week/month at work, when it seems your family is doing great, when a significant relationship in your life is really flourishing, what do you do, and where do you turn?
Do you bring these things before the Lord in prayer, and allow the instruction of the Holy Spirit through His word to direct you in them? Or do you attempt to solve them according to your own wisdom and experience? Perhaps you bury them—you fill your life with all kinds of activities that divert your attention from reality so that you never have to deal with them.
Whatever it is you turn to, Paul is crystal clear—all of those are false gospels, because there is no other gospel than that of Jesus Christ (1:6).
Paul says much in the following six chapters. Consider these two key thoughts:
The human soul is catastrophically broken. We have a fallen nature. This is proven emphatically through the witness of the Bible. Adam sinned and received the punishment of death in the garden of Eden, and as Paul tells us in Romans 5:12 and following, sin and death spread to all of Adam’s descendants. The biggest problem here is that sin keeps us separated from God, and nothing that we do does anything to remedy that.
But thankfully God provided a remedy.
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.Galatians 4:4–5
Through the work of Christ (his death and resurrection), people like you and I can be made right with God, and becomes heirs, inheritors of all of the blessings of Christ (3:29), and the way that we receive this glorious gift is through faith in Jesus Christ (2:16)—by turning away from our godlessness and turning to follow Him.
A common misconception is that the work of Christ only provides forgiveness of sin, and the guarantee of a future eternal life. Though these are wonderfully significant gospel truths, they are only part of the full picture. Trusting in Christ gives you freedom from the mastery of sin and death today. And only He can provide the help, comfort, and satisfaction you need as you work through the daily issues of life. Our faith in Christ must not just be a once in a lifetime thing, we need Him every moment of every day.
Paul begins to get at this with his question in Galatians 3:3, ‘Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected in the flesh?’ And in 5:1 he declares that Christ has set us free so that we would live freely, not submitting ourselves again to the slavery of sin. God has a present purpose in saving us: that our lives would be changed for His glory and the good of others (and ourselves!).
How does this happen? In 4:6 Paul says that God has sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts of His adopted children—this is the power by which we can have lasting victory over the daily temptations of sin in our lives, and walk like Christ. One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers is to lead us to a new way of living (5:18). He does this by instructing us in the word of God. This can’t happen if your Bible is always closed! Spend time in the Holy Spirit inspired word—on your own, with other believers, at church meetings—so that the Holy Spirit can use it to pierce to the depths of your soul, and shape you to be more like Christ.
Please be praying for all of us in youth ministry as we wrap up our Galatians series this week. And I’ll pray that these truths reshape your soul for the glory of God.