Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
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.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:1-10 (ESV)
The Apostle’s Creed has historically been a sort of “Cliff’s Notes,” or a basic faith statement of orthodox (small o) Christianity. It is derived from Scripture, and we as Christians learn the Creed so that we know what and in whom we believe. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther teaches the three articles of the Creed- the first article being of God, the Creator, the second article on Jesus Christ, the Son, our Salvation, and the third article on the Holy Spirit, our Sanctification (the process of being purified and made holy.) So in the Creed we learn in short form the roles of the Persons of the Trinity as well as the simple Gospel.
God created us and the whole world and everything in it. Jesus redeemed us, took on our sins and suffered the death penalty (that we earned) for us. The Holy Spirit keeps us in faith and transforms our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.
Today, Christian believers need to be more discerning than ever. There are endless Bible studies, videos, teachings and other information out there that claim to be “Christian” but upon scrutiny don’t line up with the Gospel given to the apostles. Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians was meant to warn and safeguard them against false teachings that were being brought into the community- teachings that could keep people from hearing the real saving message of the Gospel. Paul had a problem with people coming into the early Christian communities and telling Gentile believers that the only way they could have salvation in Jesus is if they obeyed the Jewish laws (that the Jews weren’t able to do either) and if they observed Jewish rites such as circumcision.
False teachers were teaching a false gospel of “Jesus….and.”
With this in mind, we learn from Paul that he was an apostle of Jesus. He did not declare himself an apostle, nor did any human being decide Paul was going to be an apostle. God in Christ made Paul an apostle and gave him a very specific message- one that could be verified by the Scriptures and by the teaching of the other apostles.
Paul begins his letter by praying for the people of the church in Galatia. He prays for grace and peace, and for deliverance from the evil of the current age. He attributes all the glory to God. He gives God all the credit for his message- not to himself. He vehemently denies that there are things that people can do to earn favor with God.
It is easy for us to get distracted by the world that surrounds us. It is easy to hear all the messages from the media and from those around us- do this, don’t do that, here’s the way to happiness, 15 ways to financial freedom, etc. and so on. The idea of our “best life now” sells books and admissions to seminars, but the concept of a perfect life here on earth isn’t found in God’s Word. God’s Word teaches the theology of the cross. We are baptized into the death of Christ and we rise again with Him. This life of now, but not yet necessarily involves suffering, sacrifice and loss. We still suffer the human condition of the curse of the Fall (Genesis 3) until either we die or Christ returns.
Sometimes we think that we can judge from appearances who is living a moral life and who isn’t. We can succumb to the rather prideful thought that we can justify ourselves by following the rules. We want to feel as if we can contribute something to our creation, salvation and sanctification, when in fact it is God doing the acting in all three of these realms as reflected in the three articles that we profess when we say the Creed.
In Paul’s day the Judaizers (some early converts from Judaism to Christianity) taught a gospel of “Jesus…and,” as in Jesus AND the requirement of circumcision, or Jesus AND observing the Jewish dietary laws and feast days. The true Gospel message of Christ alone, Faith alone, Grace alone was getting lost in the rules and rituals.
Modern day Christians have gotten caught up in false gospels too. Nobody is telling people they have to get circumcised or forgo bacon to be a Christian today. Today’s popular false gospels sound Christian, but their influence in the church is both subtle and damaging, because the peripheral messages take the emphasis off of Jesus and the cross.
Prosperity Gospel- a message that implies that believing in Jesus and following steps such as sowing “seed offerings” (i.e contributing money to people, churches or causes) will bring a person financial and material prosperity.
Self-Help Gospel– a message that implies that believing in Jesus and following certain behavior modification techniques will eliminate bad behaviors (keep us from sinning.)
Social Justice Gospel– a message that implies that believing in Jesus and going out and doing projects for the less fortunate, or to save the environment, or championing various and sundry political and social causes.
The apostle Paul stresses that the real Gospel is not Jesus…and. We are powerless to come to faith or to save ourselves no matter what we do. All of the popular false gospels put undo emphasis on specific good things that Christians do, rather than the new creations we are in Christ. It is good and necessary for Christians to engage in stewardship and to give of our time, treasure and talents for the benefit of the church. It is good and necessary for Christians to be mindful of our behavior and how our behavior affects our lives and witness. It is also good and necessary for Christians to care for the rights of others and for the world around us.
The important thing about good works that are truly good is that they are always a result of God acting on, in and through us. We can’t earn our salvation, but we are called to respond to the Good News.
We have the gifts of the Apostle’s Creed, Paul’s letters to the churches, and the entire counsel of Scripture to keep us centered on the real Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. Paul didn’t write and preach because it made him popular. Rather, his writing and preaching always pointed to, and came from Jesus.