Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1320
Dr. Ed Pettus September 24, 2017 Galatians 1:1-5
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“What God Has Done”
To the Churches (of Galatia)
The letter to the Galatians was sent to correct problems with false gospels. For the very same reason that makes it a great letter to churches in every generation since. Not to single out Galatians over any other letter or any other scripture, but to say that there have always been false gospels floating around and we need to be aware that there will continue to be people seeking to distort or replace the gospel of Jesus Christ. This letter was sent to more than one church. Sent to a region. We might consider it something like sending a letter to the churches of Princeton where one significant problem could occur affecting only the churches in our area. Or expanded to the state if West Virginia had a particular issue alone. Yet, what we discover is that letters that may have been intended for one region dealing with one issue also has deep meaning for all believers and all churches. That is true of all our Sacred Writings.
This letter was also sent to an area where there were problems with false teachings and “add-ns” to the gospel. Particularly was the notion that Gentile believers had to be circumcised as a part of believing in Jesus. Basically that teaches that one had to become a Jew before becoming a Christian. More dramatically it placed someone under bondage to the law as a part of accepting the grace of Jesus Christ, thus an add-on to the true gospel. This is not unlike some of the teaches that are added onto the gospel in our time.
Another significant aspect of this address is that the letter is intended for all believers. That sounds obvious to us as it is a part of the canon of scripture, part of the Bible, but I believe it adds something extra to that understanding. It is why we have come to understand that one of the purposes of scripture is that it once spoke to particular issues of its time written, but it has held power throughout time by its inspiration from God. It is not just an ancient book for a time long ago, but the authority for our lives today and forever. Some people today want to demote the Bible to a useless document for modern problems but that is a serious miscalculation of its authority.
His greeting includes an introduction into who Paul has become. Paul, an apostle. An apostle is one who is sent. Paul has been sent to the Gentiles to preach the gospel. As he says it, not from or through men, but sent through Jesus Christ and God the Father. Paul understood that his encounter with Jesus was also an encounter with the Father. Paul knew that his calling and sending was from God directly because of his experience on the way to Damascus when he was struck blind and had a conversation with the risen Christ (Acts 9). The other thing that Paul does here is include others in his greeting. Look at verse 2, “and all the brothers who are with me.” In one sense he is building a stronger foundation by having other witnesses to his confession and proclamation that God has sent him to preach and teach the gospel.
Paul writes the Galatians to address the false gospel that seeks to tear down what had once been established in the churches. What I find fascinating is that Paul packs some of that gospel into his “hello”. There are four significant teachings that reveal what God has done and why God has done it.
God Raised Jesus from the Dead
Paul’s first major revelation is resurrection. God raised Jesus Christ from the dead (verse1). The same God who raised Jesus is the God who has sent Paul. We can say the same thing; the same God who raised Jesus from the dead has called and sent each one of us individually and all of us as a community of faith, to share the gospel in word and deed.
This short sentence affirms three things in the gospel:
God has the power to raise the dead.
Jesus really did die.
Jesus really is alive again!
One of the affirmations of the Old Testament is that there is no other god like our God. This is true in describing that God has the power to raise Jesus from the dead. No other god (little “g”) has this power or ability. That is because no other god is a living God like our god. There is one God. This is the God who created all that is, delivered Israel from Egypt, raised Jesus from the dead, and saves His people.
The second statement is that Jesus really died. There were lots of conspiracy theories making the rounds from the time of Jesus resurrection even into our time. One of the reasons for the Apostles Creed was to affirm this truth that Jesus really did die. There are actually four references to death: crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. I want to point out two reasons why this is important. First, a true sacrifice requires a death. Life comes from the lifeblood. It was the shedding of blood that brought forgiveness to Israel in the Old Testament times and Jesus became the ultimate and final sacrifice, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Second, you cannot have a resurrection without death. We would be lying to to claim that God raised Jesus from the dead if Jesus had not actually died.
This leads to our third affirmation, that Jesus is alive again. He lives! This is our Easter proclamation and celebration. It is the reason we hope and love and worship and live. This is our hope and the only hope for the world.
Jesus Gave Himself for Our Sins
The second revelation in this greeting is the sacrifice of Christ. Verse 4, Jesus, “who gave himself for our sins”. One of the greatest passages of scripture Paul gave us on this truth is from Philippians 2:5-11,
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus gave Himself for our sins. This fact and the attitude that lead Jesus to this work is what Paul calls us to share. Have this attitude, this mind, among yourselves. It is the attitude of a servant, humble and obedient. Jesus gave Himself and we are called to give ourselves in many ways. Give ourselves to God, to give ourselves to others, and we do this by giving ourselves in humility and obedience to God’s word.
To Deliver Us From the Present Evil Age
Other parts of scripture talk about being delivered from sin and death. As we also see here in the same verse, he died to deliver us from sin and Paul adds, we are delivered from the present evil age. The “age” has been going on for a long time. Present evil age could have certainly meant the age in which Paul lived. We could also see as the age we live within today. But perhaps it is the age of sin, beginning all the way back to Adam and Eve and partaking of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The serpent brought the seed of doubt, or what might be better called, the seed of mistrust to Eve’s recollection of what God had told them. No matter what time frame we give to the present evil age, we know that it is present and it is evil.
Paul helps us to see this in two other letters. Ephesians 5 speaks of evil days,
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (15-17).
Or Philippians 2:14-16,
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
What makes doing the will of God more difficult is all that we face in the world. We must take care how we live. We live in evil times and in a crooked and twisted generation. Our task is to shine the light of the gospel in a darkened world.
According to the Will of God
This is God’s will, that Jesus died on the cross, that God raised Him from the dead, that we would be forgiven of sin and delivered from this evil age. So many want to know what God’s will is for their life. They are looking for some detailed plan of who we might marry, where we might work and live, and all the details of life. But I don’t think it works that way. I think God’s will is in things like this, that Jesus died for us and was raised up for us and we live in God’s will when we live in and out of what God’s purpose was in that good news. The purpose or purposes are spelled out all over scripture. Things like loving God and neighbor. Things like keeping the ten commandments and those things which Christ commanded. It is being obedient to scripture and to the life giving gift of the Holy Spirit. These are the things that make up the will of God. Now, in whomever we marry and whatever job we take, we are to do God’s will within those avenues of life. God will certainly lead us and guide us into good decisions about our life when we are seeking to please Him by doing His will according to scripture.
Let’s look at some places where God’s will is mentioned. The first is Romans 12:1-2, I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The will of God is to present ourselves to God as a sacrifice. That sounds just like what Jesus did! God’s will is to not be conformed to the world. God’s will is to renew the mind so that we can discern God’s will. That is, we do what God wills in scripture so that we can make decisions that are good and acceptable and perfect!
The next is 1 Thessalonians 4:1-4, Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,
The will of God is in seeking to please God. The will of God is becoming sanctified. The will of God is in abstaining from sexual immorality and controlling one’s body.
1Thes. 5:16-22 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.22 Abstain from every form of evil.
This is the will of God, to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, giving thanks, not quenching the Spirit, and so forth…
Two scriptures speak of our pursuit of the will of God.
1 Peter 4:1-2 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
1 John 2:15-17 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
In 1 Peter we are told that we might live for the will of God. It is the classic struggle of living for and into our human passions and desires or living for the will of God. I John basically says the same thing. The love of the world, the love of the flesh is the enemy of doing the will of God. You see the scripture reveals the will of God in two ways, first by telling us what to do. Second, by telling us what not to do. Jesus died and was raised again to help us discern those two paths of life, death in sin or life in God.
What we affirm today is all that Paul says about the gospel is according to God’s will. Jesus gave His life for our sins, to deliver us from this present evil age, and God raised Him from the dead according to His will. This is the news that we cherish and share with others so that they may also cherish and believe that Christ lives and reigns in this age and forever more.