October 8, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Galatians 1)

Submitted by Alice R. from Gracepoint Minneapolis Church

Galatians 1:6–10  

  • Paul was “astonished” that the Galatians departed from the gospel of grace to embrace a “different gospel” brought by “some” who were trying to “distort the gospel.”  What steps can I take to remain strongly anchored to the true gospel in the face of other voices that seek to confuse and distort the gospel?

First and foremost I need to be immersed in the Word of God and know how to correctly handle the Word of truth by being attentive, by regularly studying and meditating on the Word of God, and through obedience, make God’s Word my own and deepen my convictions regarding the gospel.  I need to also regularly keep sharing with others to bring me back to the correct perspective of what it means to live out the gospel.  Hearing from others and sharing with others is a good way for me to calibrate my thoughts, values and perspective.

I also need to regularly examine whether I am living my life to honor God and being compelled by Christ’s love or am I seeking to win the approval of others that can potential cause me to distort the gospel.

  • Notice that the Judaizers—the people who were confusing the Galatians—considered themselves Christian.  What are some ways that people within the church today “distort the gospel of Christ?”

Some people within the church today “distort the gospel of Christ” by justifying compromises they make in regards to accumulating more money, building up their career, living a materialistic life freely by claiming that a sign of being “blessed” by God is one’s material wealth, by overly emphasizing being saved by grace that they de-emphasize the need for pursuit of personal holiness, which leads to all kinds of loose standards and deteriorating of godly values, by failing to remember that we are saved by grace and not by our works or our own righteousness and therefore overly emphasizing our performance as Christians that leads to a burdened and guilt ridden life, or by claiming that God wants us to live a peaceful, moderate, and manageable life and therefore we don’t need to work so hard, and that working hard is a sign of our own restless human pursuits to produce results.

  • Why would Apostle Paul feel so strongly against those who preach a different gospel?

Apostle Paul would feel so strongly against those who preach a different gospel because they are being led astray and leading others astray from the centrality of their relationship with God that is possible only through what Christ has done through the cross. Apostle Paul was indignant that those who distorted the gospel were dismissing that Christ is the only way to be reconciled to God by suggesting that there was something greater than or in addition to the gospel, which he saw as man’s only hope and need.  He would not allow any kind of distortion or dilution of the gospel.

I too must be protective over the true gospel and strive to not allow the gospel to be distorted so that I can pass it on undiluted.  This requires then that I examine my own life against the gospel daily and allow God to properly align me with His truth each day through times in His word and in engaging in honest confession and repentance.  This also reminds me that rather than being protective about my own ego or my own image, my highest agenda must be to protect the gospel from being distorted whether by me or by any kind of values slipping in our church.  This then requires that I be sober and alert at all times and regularly taking time to examine myself and our ministry to make sure we are truly embodying the gospel.

  • What might be the connection between Apostle Paul’s affirmation that he is not seeking the approval of man, and his stance regarding the gospel?

The connection between Apostle Paul’s affirmation that he is not seeking the approval of man and his stance regarding the gospel was that he held the gospel truth as the only thing to uphold above anything else.  He was adamant that this gospel was not “man’s gospel” and that he received it through the revelation of Christ himself.  It was clear that Apostle Paul was not trying to gain anything through proclaiming the true gospel.  He even warns the Galatians that if they hear a false gospel from even himself or an angel, that they should reject it.  His agenda was that the true gospel be known and upheld at whatever cost.

Galatians 1:11

“In distinguishing the gospel from [‘man’s gospel’], Apostle Paul is suggesting that the message of the Judaizers (i.e., those who were preaching ‘a different gospel—not that there is another one,’ v. 6-7) were ‘man-made’ and not the intent of God’s heart.  Judaizers were Jewish Christians who believed, among other things, that a number of the ceremonial practices of the Old Testament were still binding on the New Testament church, especially circumcision.  As Apostle Paul would explain in later chapters, the Judaizers misunderstood even the Old Testament, and missed God’s heart in turning a relationship with him into adherence to ceremonial rules.” [The NIV Study Bible, “Introduction to Galatians” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002) 1819.]

  • Why would anyone “make up” such an approach to God, in that it would seem to involve adding, rather than taking away, certain burdens to their religious life?

Some people would “make up” such an approach to God even though it would involve adding, rather than taking away, certain burdens to their religious life because within human nature is an innate desire to earn one’s righteousness.  There is a desire to “add” to one’s righteousness by “doing more, ” and to prove that one has somehow deserved their place with God.  Tragically, people are wiling to even subject themselves to greater burdens because in a twisted way, we can convince ourselves that more burdens or hard work is proof that we are more righteous and pleasing to God.  This line of thinking is so contrary to the gospel of God’s grace.  What Christ did on the cross to take up the penalty of my sins on my behalf was out of pure love for helpless sinners. To miss the heart of God and try to earn one’s standing with God must deeply grieve His heart.  I know that I’ve often missed out on recognizing God’s generosity simply because I was stuck on wanting to prove myself by performing well enough to earn what I thought was a better standing with God (as well as wanting a better standing before people).

  • What are some examples of similar man-made approaches to God among Christians today?  What are some ways in which I could fall into a similar mindset?

Some examples of similar man-made approaches to God today include a black and white approach to what are “acceptable” activities versus and unacceptable activities as a Christian.  Rather than approaching God relationally, often, Christians can reduce their approach to God to coming up with their own list of do’s and don’ts that though are burdensome, would rather just want to be told exactly what to do to appease God.

Another example is when we are over-reactive to situations after we’ve been corrected about some sin or character issue.  For example, rather than trying to understand the spirit behind the call to be selfless and generous after having been pointed out for being stingy, a person may just focus on avoid making the same mistake and automatically over compensate for it without really thinking and struggling through the issue and come to a clear and personal conviction.  This can lead a person to become rather rigid and impose unnecessary rules for themselves when it comes to this area, and yet never learn the heart behind true generosity.

For myself, I’ve had a similar mindset of wanting to just follow some rules about what is acceptable and what is not in Christian living and in ministry, even if it might add to more burdens in some sense, rather than really wrestling through an issue over God’s Word and in prayer.  Especially as my responsibilities as a spiritual leader continues to grow over the years, I realize that I cannot just settle for some kind of short cut or try to apply a formula in ministering to others, as the stakes of my decisions are much higher.

Personal Prayer

Heavenly Father, Your grace displayed through the cross is truly all sufficient for me.  However, there have been times when I try to add on to the gospel, trying to make-up for my inadequacy on my own effort, when You just call me to humility and repentance.  As I strive to be properly anchored in the gospel, please help me to also lead others to also find their all sufficiency in Christ through the gospel truth as I see many others also struggle and burden themselves with trying to add on to the gospel to relive themselves of guilt and shame.  Thank you once again for Your love and grace through what Christ has done on the cross for my sake.  Help me to keep marveling at the fact that a sinner like me has received forgiveness, freedom and salvation that could never have been earned by my own efforts.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Submitted by Josiah W. from Gracepoint Minneapolis Church

Galatians 1:6–10

•          Paul was “astonished” that the Galatians departed from the gospel of grace to embrace a “different gospel” brought by “some” who were trying to “distort the gospel.”  What steps can I take to remain strongly anchored to the true gospel in the face of other voices that seek to confuse and distort the gospel?

To be strongly anchored to the true gospel, I first have to know the true gospel, be able to recognize it when I hear it and be able to discern when something false is being taught. What then is the gospel? Simply put, it’s the message that I’m a hopelessly sinful person, that my sins have earned me nothing less than death, that Christ died as a substitution for me, and through faith I have received his justification and rebirth, and I continue to receive his grace to walk in this new life with a mission to persuade others to receive him as well. But I’m constantly reminded that there are many ways of taking such a short statement of the gospel and twisting it to look very different from what we find in the Bible. The other day I was listening to the radio and heard a statement of the gospel which sounded something like this: “Christ suffered so that we don’t have to suffer anymore.” Earlier in my Christian walk, I used to get really confused by statements like this and think, “This makes a lot of sense to me… I guess I’m doing something wrong if I’m still suffering as a Christian…” And so the fact that Christ died in my place would be morphed into Christ suffered in my place. This is why it is so important that I continue to study the whole Word of God, to seek the entire counsel of God on matters of the gospel as it pertains to everyday life and growth as a Christian. In so doing, I would become familiar with and quickly be able to recall verses like Philippians 3:10, in which Paul himself expresses the longing to join in the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. This little incidence this past week has reminded me that I really need to keep memorizing more passages from the Bible and to refresh my memory of previously-memorized verses.

But even if I study the Bible 16 hours a day, and memorize several verses a week, I’m not sure that I would be able to recognize the difference between the gospel of grace and a “different gospel” if I don’t see and experience it being lived out in the church every day as we study the Word of God together. For this reason, I think that one of the most important things I can do is to join with other brothers who also refer to the Bible as the final authority on the gospel and who are willing to let scripture reshape their misunderstandings. With such brothers, I can freely discuss what’s on my mind and receive an extra set of eyes to look at my life and say, “I think you’re turning to a different gospel in this area…” There are so many other voices around me, constantly telling me how I should live my life, how I should find happiness and security, even how I can be a “better church-member.” So I absolutely need these corrective influences from brothers in my life on a daily basis before my mind and emotions get swept away like the Galatians were by these Judaizers.

•          Notice that the Judaizers—the people who were confusing the Galatians—considered themselves Christian.  What are some ways that people within the church today “distort the gospel of Christ?”

Besides the gospel of a suffering-free life, there are so many other “distortions” of the gospel which seem to be prevalent these days. Since we are a very active church, I receive criticism from other Christians who say that I’m just being “way too busy… running around doing a bunch of things but never taking time to enjoy God’s creation and his blessings.” What’s going on here? I think that it often comes down to a misunderstanding of the nature of the gospel, perhaps a complementary heresy to the one being taught in Galatia—that I am saved by grace and not by works and, therefore, if I’m busy doing work for God, I must be striving to earn my own salvation. And so I’m really looking forward to the coming DT’s in Galatians because I know that it will help silence these voices as we go back to the nature of grace and works and how both fit into the gospel.

•          Why would Apostle Paul feel so strongly against those who preach a different gospel?

Indeed, Apostle Paul appears to feel very upset with the Galatians, using words like “astonished,” “deserting,” and two-fold repetition of “accursed.” These Judaizers weren’t just preaching something silly or clearly-wrong… they were preaching something which sounded very familiar, probably with many of the same words  and metaphors and maybe even a similar flavor. Perhaps, it seemed even more compelling than what Paul preached to them because it was more in line with their original way of thinking. All it took was a little “tweak” in Paul’s message to get them to turn to a different gospel because they came as wolves in sheep’s clothing. The most aggravating thing about it is that they have taken his words and bent them. They have taken the true gospel of God that he planted there and distorted it just enough to send the Galatians in a completely different direction. Personally, I know how angry I get when someone misquotes my words. Now, when it comes to a misquotation of God’s Word, how much more is this something to get mad about! And so this vicious attack through such subversive tactics with the unsuspecting flock in Galatia is enough to bring out some of the strongest words in Paul’s writings.

•          What might be the connection between Apostle Paul’s affirmation that he is not seeking the approval of man, and his stance regarding the gospel?

Paul’s stance regarding the gospel is this: “What I first preached to you is the truth—I’ll stand by and back it.” Probably, the Judaizers had come, preaching a message of the gospel with a short disclaimer, “This is what Paul said and he was right except that he missed this one little detail so we’re here to clarify everything…” Now, how is Paul going to respond? He can’t just say, “No, I didn’t miss that detail… they’re wrong!” He is forced to give his reasons for responding to them. So he explains that he is not trying to save face. He is trying to correct the wrong teaching they’ve spread and bring the Galatians back to right teaching. The gospel that he preached is what he received from God, not from man, and so it does not change and it is not prone to error. Anything that is taught in opposition is therefore a distortion of the gospel. He’s making a case for what is true and right rather than a defense of his ego.

•          Why would anyone “make up” such an approach to God, in that it would seem to involve adding, rather than taking away, certain burdens to their religious life?

At first glance, it does seem quite contradictory—that anyone would want to be burdened by additional rules and regulations; however, I feel like this is such a familiar scenario. How often do I try to find the “rule of thumb” for every situation, trying to simplify the situation so that I don’t have to think about it too much, so that I don’t have to struggle over it? This happens a lot as I try to minister to other people. I often just hope that my leaders will tell me what to do so that I don’t have to think about it. I often hope that there will be a Bible verse to tell me, in no uncertain terms, exactly how I should respond to someone’s question or what action to take in a difficult situation. I want to have that assurance that if things go badly, I can always go back to the source and say, “Well, he told me to do it.” I don’t want to have to talk to God about it, to wrestle in prayer, to exert all of this emotional energy. I’d rather just exert a little bit of extra physical energy. And so I’ll gladly work to create rules and regulations, to follow a disciplined schedule without budging, so that I don’t “get in trouble.” In similar fashion, for the Galatians, it must have been really tempting to take the Old Testament regulations as a short-cut for getting to know God, even if it felt like “more work.”

•          What are some examples of similar man-made approaches to God among Christians today?  What are some ways in which I could fall into a similar mindset?

This is very similar to the way that we approach God when we reduce pleasing Him to a set of do’s and don’ts. We think, “God is happy when I volunteer to help out at every activity, study the Bible both in the mornings and in the evenings, encourage everyone around me, always have the right answer to people who ask and stay at peace with all people.” I see myself doing this a lot. I take something that generally pleases God and make it a point to be proud about or a bargaining chip to make up for the things I do to displease God. For example, I used to take pride in being “early to bed and early to rise,” in being the one who always does his DT on every day of the week, and on knowing (most of) the answers in Bible quizzes. And I took pride in not wasting my time watching movies or surfing the net. And so I felt like God must be pretty pleased with me. Then, I realized that there were things much deeper in my heart which were much more concerning to God than these. So I want to keep going back to the gospel and the heart of God displayed through Christ to see what is really pleasing to God in the different circumstances that I face.

Personal Prayer

Heavenly Father, I know that my heart is so easily deceived by such persuasive distortions, by other gospels which sound so familiar yet which could be deadly to my spiritual life. Please help me to grow in my convictions about the gospel, to grow in the depth of my understanding of it so I can at least sense when something doesn’t seem right. And then help me to have the courage to bring it up with others in the church to receive advice and, together, piece together a picture of what’s right and true and pleasing to You.

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