Gospel Reflections

27 July 2016

As we take a two-week intermission from our series in Galatians, it’s clear that there have been several stand-out themes that continue to repeat themselves for the church.

A theme that continues to emerge in this series is the truth that the gospel [the good news of what Christ has done for us] is just as much for the Christian as it is for the non-Christian. It’s not simply the entry point, but it’s the main point.

How is this so? When we understand how God has saved us, it will radically change the way we view ourselves, other people, and the God we worship.

Repeatedly in his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul uses striking language to describe those to whom the gospel comes. He starts out by describing himself. Paul says that he was a guy who had every reason to brag about his religious accolades. On the outside, there was much to be impressed by. And yet, he was spiritually dead on the inside. What Paul strives to communicate is that no amount of law-keeping and external performance will ever secure God’s favor for us. The law brings with it a curse, because none of us can keep it, and frankly none of us really wants to keep it. Yet, the law in its diagnosis also brings with it a remedy – it drives us to cast ourselves entirely on cross-shaped grace of God by faith alone. He writes, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: ‘Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed’” (3:13). What this amazing news changes about how we view ourselves is we see ourselves as criminals given pardon. We are enemies that have been made friends. Unrighteousness declared as righteousness. None of this is because of what we have done, but all because of what Christ has done. We too can exclaim with Paul, “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (2:20). It is all for his glory (1:5). This is the means to humility and gratitude before God.

This good news also changes the way we view others. At the heart of the false gospel that was permeating the Galatian community was a legalistic message that categorized and separated people from one another. Thankfully, Paul saw this message for what it was – a message that didn’t bring freedom but slavery. He writes, “I did not give up and submit to these people for even a moment, so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for you” (2:5). We must understand that the good news about Jesus requires not only conscious belief, but an outworking of that belief in community. It’s only in relationship with others that you see what you really think, what really drives you. When we fear people, we see that we are still looking for worth and affirmation from outside God. When we deem some individuals as worthy of our attention, and others not worthy, perhaps because they are simply different, we are functionally declaring a gospel that allows us to love some and not others. Ray Ortlund’s “gospel-formula” proves helpful here:

  • Gospel Doctrine – Gospel Culture = Hypocrisy
  • Gospel Culture – Gospel Doctrine = Fragility
  • Gospel Doctrine + Gospel Culture = Power

The grace of Jesus toward sinners like us must work itself out from our hearts into our relationships with others. The gospel refuses to let us set up walls. It demands that we tear them down.

Lastly, the gospel changes the way we view God. The whole enterprise of our salvation is “according to the will of our God and Father” (1:4). Paul writes, “When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” In the gospel, we encounter the holy God of the universe as a loving Father adopting wayward, rebellious children to be His own. Not only did He send His Son, but He also sent His Spirit to renovate our hearts and transform our deepest longings so that we now cry out to Him with the language of Jesus: “Abba, Father!” We once were slaves. He has made us sons (4:6-7). This reality gives us an identity rooted in comfort, security, and confidence. It is the ground for all of our prayers and a life that desires to please him as children who seek to show their love to a Father who clearly loves them. As J.I. Packer wrote, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.” The heartbeat of Christianity is an understanding of God as Father.

This is what the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is meant to do in the life of the believer. This is why it is imperative to get the gospel message right and defend it at all costs. To add or subtract from this message is to lose it altogether (1:6-7). Jesus will either be a whole Savior or no Savior at all. A devotion to getting the gospel right and fleshing it out in community is imperative for the local church. We must not “deviate from the truth of the gospel” (2:14). The result is a countercultural community. In a society that is more fragmented than ever, the gospel holds the power to mend what has been broken. Gospel doctrine and gospel culture in the local church calls us all to humbly bow at the foot of the cross. As we stand on level ground as those who place their faith in Christ, we see that “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for [we] are all one in Christ (3:28).

The church is the setting for the diamond of the gospel to be put on display. As we believe it and flesh it out, we are awakened to its power ourselves, and enlivened to live for God as those who have been crucified with Christ (2:19). May we be those who are so amazed by grace that we cannot help but bring praise to God as we love and serve one another.

  1. Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014, p. 23.
  2. J.I. Packer, Knowing God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973, p. 201-202.

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