Today’s passage: Galatians 1:10-2:10
This weekend, we’re continuing our journey through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. As we saw last week, Paul wrote to the Galatians in response to some very disturbing news that had reached him: the Christians in Galatia were in the process of abandoning God! They were giving up on the good news that Paul had preached to them in favour of a new so-called “good news” that was anything but. We heard last week that there had arrived in their churches people who were arguing that while Jesus was well and good, one couldn’t really be acceptable to God unless one became part of the people that God had chosen. Which is fair enough. But what they said was that one became part of that people by submitting oneself to the Mosaic law, including the rule of circumcision for all men. Their “gospel” was one of JesusPLUS: JesusPLUS the law.
As we saw last week, there have been and are many JesusPLUS “gospels”. Many teachers who have said that in order to be acceptable to God, Jesus alone – grace alone, faith alone – isn’t enough.
Paul, on the other hand, taught exactly that: Jesus is enough. He taught that we are saved by grace alone. We are rescued by God. We are set free by God. And not because of anything that we have done; simply because of the kindness and mercy and compassion of our God. Paul’s argument is that if we add anything to Jesus, we don’t end up with a “more rounded” gospel. Rather, we end up with nothing. For if we insist on earning our acceptance with God, we reject God’s free gift. It’s an either/or: Either we are saved by God’s grace alone through Jesus, or we are not saved.
Abandoning Jesus for JesusPLUS is like having been rescued at sea, and then getting out of the lifeboat to swim to shore from where we are.
Reading between the lines, it seems like one of the ways that the JesusPLUS folk had managed to win people over to their side was by questioning Paul’s authority and motives for preaching as he did. Galatians 1:10 certainly reads as though Paul had been accused of tailoring his message so as to please people. I can well picture the JesusPLUS preachers saying that Paul had dumbed the good news down so that he could win more people to his preaching.
These JesusPLUS folks (and there’s a danger that we all have a tendency to JesusPLUS) have been consistently found to not be in line with the good news of God. But they raise an important question for us: why should pay any attention to Paul? Why not just focus on reading what Jesus said in the gospels. And maybe on reading what the apostles chosen by Jesus while he walked the earth wrote. Why should Paul’s presentation of God’s good news find equal footing on the theological table with that of Peter or John?
In fact, their question helps us approach an even bigger question: on what basis are we to know when someone is speaking on God’s behalf. God does still speak today. There are still gifts of prophecy and words of knowledge active in the church today. How do we know if people are speaking on God’s behalf?
It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t answer their challenge to his gospel’s authenticity with a series of proof texts. He could take the time and back up what he taught from the Old Testament. Paul was well trained in the Old Testament. But instead, he chooses to tell the Galatians a bit of his own history. And as he does, we can’t help but see how ridiculous the assertions of the JesusPLUS crowd against him were. His gospel was independent – a direct revelation of God. But it was also the same as that of the Jerusalem apostles. Paul never went to learn from them, but after years of preaching, they gave him the right hand of fellowship!
Independent but the same.
How does that help answer our questions about whether someone is speaking for God?