There is no gap for you to make up. There is no fruitless striving for you to do. There are no blessings that you could ever deserve or earn. The good news is, there is nothing we can do, and so Jesus has already done it all for us.

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This is as good a time as any to talk about the word “gospel.” When Paul writes “gospel,” he is not really talking about the books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John (John’s gospel was probably written after Paul died). The Greek meaning is basically, “message of good news.” As we see it used in the New Testament, it is not just any good news about anything, but rather a specific, established, consistent message: that is, the message about Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done.

Jews in the time of Paul used to talk about “the Law.” “The Law” was a specific, established message given by God through Moses, who wrote and spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Technically, what Jews call “the Law” (the Torah) is made up of the first five books of the bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). We will talk more later about different ways that the word “law” is used, but for now, it’s helpful to know this.

All of the other books of the Old Testament – those that come after the first five – are called by Jews “the Prophets.” First and Second Samuel, which we have just finished studying, are part of “the prophets.” They too represent a specific, established message given by God through people who wrote and spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

By the time of Jesus, no one would think of changing the Law or the Prophets. The message was already established. Paul sees “The Gospel” as the third and final piece of God’s special revelation to human beings. It is the fulfillment of “the Law,” and “the Prophets.” It is the specific, established message given by God through people who wrote and spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the case of the gospel, the message completes the law and prophets, and is very good news for human beings.

The point is, in the eyes of the New Testament writers, you cannot change the Gospel. It is as established as the Law and the Prophets. It goes with the Law and the Prophets. If a Jew would be shocked if someone changed the message of Moses, so a Christian should be equally shocked at someone trying to change the message of Jesus Christ.

Paul gives the Galatians the gospel message in a nutshell in his greeting:

3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord2 Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.

That’s it: grace and peace are available to us only in Jesus, because he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins, attaining forgiveness for us, and a restored relationship with God, rescuing us from the devil. We have some additional clues to the kinds of things that Paul preached to the Galatian Christians. In Pisidian Antioch, he said this:

Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39, HCSB)

In Iconium, this is what happened:

So they stayed there for some time and spoke boldly in reliance on the Lord, who testified to the message of His grace by granting that signs and wonders be performed through them. (Acts 14:2-3, HCSB)

The gospel is a message of grace. It is good news. Jesus has done for us what we cannot do. Jesus lived a perfect life on our behalf; and Jesus accepted the punishment for sin, on our behalf. Whatever was required from us has been provided by Jesus.

In Lystra the Lord did a miracle through Paul, and healed a lame man. The crowds wanted to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, thinking they were pagan gods. Paul said this:

“Men! Why are you doing these things? We are men also, with the same nature as you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, although He did not leave Himself without a witness, since He did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and satisfying your hearts with food and happiness.” (Acts 14:15-17, HCSB)

His message: turn from these worthless things to the living God. What worthless things? Certainly, their pagan gods. But also this: the idea of offering sacrifices, as if you could actually please God. Paul is saying, “turn from trying to do what has already been done for you. Turn away from the worthless activity of trying to earn something from God. Jesus has already earned everything for you.”

Paul goes on to explain that God gives good things – even to pagans – to show them that he was both real and full of love and grace. You don’t get good things by being good. Instead, you get good things when God chooses to be gracious to you. You cannot earn grace. If you could, it would not be grace. It is God’s free gift, given by His choice, not in response to something you do or don’t do.

So, when Paul writes to these Christians, he is deeply distressed, because he is heard that they are already turning away from this message of grace. Apparently, certain Jewish leaders in the churches were saying something like this: “Yes, Jesus is the messiah. We need to believe that. But of course, we still need to keep the Jewish law. You can’t expect to please God if you don’t follow Jewish rules like circumcision and kosher eating. You can’t have God’s favor unless you are one of God’s chosen people – that is a Jew.”

We don’t have any writings from the Galatians themselves, so we don’t know exactly what they were saying. But it seems that the basic message was what I just shared. Now, as I mentioned before, today, you don’t hear many Christians saying that. But we do have many churches and individuals who seem to preach “a different gospel.”

What are those “different gospels” that we might hear today?

Here’s one: Jesus has done what you cannot do. But he won’t do what you can do. Suppose God is a thousand yards away from you. You, flawed human being that you are, can only move one yard in his direction. So Jesus comes 999 yards to meet you. But if you don’t move that one yard in his direction, you’re screwed, because Jesus won’t do that extra three feet when you are capable of doing that yourself. A lot of churches teach this, without putting it so obviously. I have many friends who were raised Roman Catholic, and many of them experienced something like this. The problem is this: we are always left wondering, “Did I move my full three feet? What if I’m a few inches short?” Practically speaking, you are left still trying to work your way to God. There is still a separation between you and God – and you are responsible to close that gap yourself. You always feel a little guilty, a little unsettled, because maybe you haven’t done quite enough. It doesn’t really matter if the gap is one mile or one yard – if it is up to you to close it, this isn’t good news.

Brothers and sisters, this is not the message of the gospel. Jesus came all the way to get you. You can’t move an inch to meet him, and you don’t have to. There is no part of the gap between you and God that you are expected to close. Jesus has done it ALL. Do not listen to a false gospel. The good news is truly and completely good.

Here’s another false one. Jesus has done it all. Now you are set free to try and live a good life. You’ll fail, of course, but God forgives you because of Jesus, and so you have an infinite number of opportunities to keep trying to get it right.

I read something on Facebook just the other day that captures this idea. Someone mentioned Ephesians 4:17-32 and said:

While it is impossible for us to do we are to work at it daily. When we fail we shouldn’t beat ourselves up nor should we make excuses, just pick ourselves up again and keep trying.

Does that sound like good news to you? It sounds sadistic to me – to have to keep trying to do what both God and I know I will never be able to do. To try and fail infinitely: that sounds discouraging, exhausting and frankly, pointless. It almost sounds like punishment, not forgiveness.

Thankfully, that is not the real gospel either. The real gospel tells me I can’t do a single thing to measure up. Jesus has done all the measuring up for me. I can’t add to what he’s done. I am free from pointless striving. In Jesus I have never sinned. In Jesus I have already done every good, and never failed to do what I should.

Now, in our small-group last week, the question came up: If that’s so, then why are there so many passages in the New Testament that tell to do certain things (like use our money and talents for God) and to not do other things (like getting drunk or committing adultery)?

We will get into that more deeply as we go through the book of Galatians. The short answer is this: if we truly believe the good news and trust Jesus, he lives in us, and our lives will naturally begin to look more and more like Jesus as time goes on. It won’t be us striving – it will be the life of Jesus increasing in power in our lives as we surrender to him and trust him more. If that doesn’t happen, if we never show any improvement, the appropriate response is not to try harder to do the right thing, but to examine whether we really trust Jesus. Those commands in the New Testament are there to help us see if we are really trusting Jesus or not. For instance, in Ephesians 4:17-32, which led to the quote above, people always miss the first part

But that is not how you learned about the Messiah, assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus. You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. (Eph 4:20-24, HCSB)

You don’t keep trying to do what you can’t. Instead, through faith, you “put on Jesus.” As you trust him, your spirit and your mind are renewed, and as a result, your behavior begins to change. You don’t change your behavior – the Holy Spirit changes it as you trust Jesus and daily.

There’s a final “other gospel” that I want to point out, one that is becoming more and more common in America. That false gospel is something like this: Jesus has forgiven our sins. Because of that, now if we do good works, God will give us blessings in this life. This particular false gospel has two errors. The first is that it puts the focus of our faith on getting blessings in this life. I know far too many people who have been sucked into this. They are focused on getting good finances, good health and good relationships through God. God is just a means to their goal, and their goal is a good life here and now. Paul says this about such people:

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

These folks usually do believe in heaven and are happy enough to think they’ll go there someday. But for now, what they’re really after is good stuff here and now. Faith isn’t about being reunited with God. Instead, it treats God like Santa Claus. If the boys and girls are only good, they’ll get lots of presents. By the way, I think these folks do more to turn other people off Christianity than all the atheist clubs in the world.

The second error is that those blessings are based upon what we do. We earn them. They are not given by God’s grace. This false gospel says if you just believe right, behave right, and speak “in faith,” that means that God has to do what you want him to do. God is a vending machine: you put in good works, and get blessings in return. If you want to gain a lot of followers, that is what you should preach. A lot people do. But Paul says he is not preaching to please people. That isn’t the gospel. The gospel is about our eternal relationship with God. Sometimes he blesses us here and now – certainly more than we deserve. Sometimes he doesn’t.

The real gospel is the message that we are completely and totally dependent on God’s grace, and he has given us that grace fully through Jesus Christ. There is no gap for you to make up. There is no fruitless striving for you to do. There are no blessings that you could ever deserve or earn. As we trust him, he changes us (we don’t change ourselves). And the hope of eternity outshines and dominates the struggles and disappointments we encounter in this life.

I encourage you to receive this message more and more fully each day. And let no one lead you astray to any “false gospel.”

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