In a society like ours, which worships the idols of pluralism, compromise and tolerance, absolute truth claims have fallen on hard times. What is an absolute truth claim? It’s the assertion that one way, one teaching, one answer is right – and all others are wrong. We see this in education – where the goal of teaching a student formulate their own personal answer is viewed as more important than teaching a student the right answer. We see this in gender identity – where the old idea that you are born either male or female is thrown out in favor of a gender spectrum. We see it in the refusal of our nation to accept the truth that any abortion is murder. Obviously we see this in religion where it’s thought that all religions – even those that directly contradict one another – lead to the same place. In a world like ours which takes such a cavalier, subjective approach to truth, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a breath of fresh air and a necessary shock to the system. He will not tolerate any other gospel nor will he compromise the pure gospel because he contends for the absolute truth that there is no other gospel.
We will be working through the book of Galatians in our sermons over the course of the next six weeks. Galatians was Martin Luther’s favorite NT book – to the extent that he compared it to his wife, calling it “my own Katherine von Bora.”  There are two preliminary items we should cover. First, I would encourage you to read through this short letter – only six chapters – at least once a week over the course of the next six weeks. It will only take about 15 or 20 minutes and you will be blessed if you too “marry yourself” to this wonderful book.
Second, is the background. Who were these Galatians? Where was Galatia? Why did Paul write this letter? 1) Who were the Galatians? They were people who belonged to the churches in Galatia. 2) Galatia was a region of ancient Asia-Minor, modern-day Turkey. While there is much debate regarding when Paul visited this region and established these churches, it appears to fit best with Paul’s first missionary journey on which he visited cities like Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. (You can read about this in Acts 13 & 14.) 3) What led Paul to write this letter? Some false teachers had come into these congregations and were preaching and promoting a “gospel” that was different – and incompatible with – the Gospel Paul had preached to them. Like all effective heretics, they didn’t completely deny or dismiss Christ or God’s grace, they simply added some seemingly innocent and reasonable strings to the Gospel. We’ll call it a “Christ-plus” gospel and get to the details in a bit. It also seems that in order to gain credibility with the Christians in these churches, they began to attack Paul’s character and authority.
Paul confronts these accusations directly: Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia. Paul calls himself an apostle – not to brag but rather to establish the authority of his ministry and message. An “apostle” is one who is sent – and in Paul’s case he was sent, not by humans but by Jesus Christ and God the Father. As Christ’s chosen ambassador, Paul doesn’t preach his own message based on his own authority – he preaches Christ’s Gospel based on Christ’s authority. Therefore, neither he nor any other minister had the right to change that message by adding to it or subtracting from it.
Next, Paul summarizes the Gospel he had preached when he first visited the Galatians: grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of God our Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. This is a loaded sentence, but if you can remember four key concepts, you will have a firm grasp on what the Gospel really is. 1) The first concept is grace. Grace is God’s undeserved, unmerited, unearned love for us. There was nothing in us to love and yet God loved us anyway. Grace is what led God to send his only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age. There’s the second Gospel concept to hold onto. 2) Salvation is God’s free gift to us, but it wasn’t free. God didn’t give up silver and gold, he didn’t give up property or power – he gave up his Son for you and for me. And he did it to rescue us from this present evil age. That’s important. Paul makes it clear that God didn’t send Jesus and Jesus didn’t die so that you could have a better, healthier, happier life here and now. No, God sent Jesus and Jesus died to rescue you from this world. Think of a hiker who disobeyed warning signs and fell off a cliff into a ravine, suffered a broken spine, and faced certain death. Would he consider it a “rescue” if someone rappelled down to him, gave him a soft pillow, a bottle of oxycodone to dull the pain, a tablet equipped with Netflix, and a book entitled 10 Steps to Surviving in the Wilderness while he slowly died? Of course not. So why would we accept anything less than a Savior from this world – not for this world? 3) The third key concept of the Gospel is peace. By our sin we declared war with God. We rejected him as our Creator and Lord. Like Adam we determined to go our own way. But Jesus came to bring us peace with God. He ended the war by suffering the consequences, the condemnation to hell we deserved. Therefore, God not only isn’t, he cannot be angry with us anymore, because his reason for being angry, our sin, has been paid for by Jesus. Being right with God – that’s real peace. Which brings us to the last point: who gets the credit for all this? If we do in any way, in the smallest way – then we no longer are talking about grace or the Gospel. 4) Therefore, the final key to the authentic Gospel is that, from beginning to end, God alone gets all the glory. If you ever hear anything from this pulpit or any other that claims to be Gospel but is missing grace, Christ’s atoning, substitutionary death, that he died to bring us peace with God, or fails to give all glory to God, what you are hearing is not the Gospel. The takeaway then should be clear, right? Own these verses, make them your own, compare everything you see and hear to them because this is what the Gospel is!!
The fact that the false teachers who had invaded the Galatian churches had perverted the pure Gospel is what Paul will deal with in the following verses and throughout the rest of the letter. (It’s sad, isn’t it: the Gospel is simple (just one sentence); it’s the heresies that make things complicated!) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Imagine that I began this sermon by saying “Dear members and guests of Risen Savior Lutheran Church…what’s wrong with you? Have you lost your minds? Have you gone off the deep end?” You’d probably think I’d lost it. Why is Paul so harsh and judgmental – not to mention that he was probably hurting some feelings? One very important reason: the Galatians were in danger of losing the one and only saving Gospel. Nothing less than eternity was at stake and nothing less than shock therapy could show them the danger they were placing themselves in.
Here’s where we need to discuss what the Gospel isn’t. In chapter 5, Paul makes it clear that the false teachers who had come to the churches in Galatia were teaching that you needed Christ and you needed to be circumcised in order to be saved (Galatians 5:2-3). (Circumcision here appears as representative of obedience to all of the OT ceremonial law: attending the festivals, giving tithes, sacrificing animals, etc. In other words, the false teachers were teaching that one must obey the law in order to be saved.) Paul says in no uncertain terms that if you try to add anything, anything at all, to the work of Christ, you have lost the Gospel completely. Sadly, it wasn’t just the churches in Galatia that were tempted to add something to the Gospel God had prepared and delivered in Christ. And here we could make ourselves feel good by talking about how Catholics believe that they are saved by Christ plus doing penance and saying the prescribed number of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Mary’s.” We could point out how Jehovah’s Witnesses add their own outreach efforts to God’s recipe or how Mormons trust their own good works to save their souls. We could talk about how Charismatics believe that you not only need to trust Jesus, you need to display visible evidence of the Spirit’s work in your life to be saved – by nearly perfect living, making a public “decision for Christ”, speaking in tongues, or experiencing miraculous healing. But why should we? Christ-plus is just as prevalent and seductive to confessional Lutherans as it is to anyone else.
What does the “Christ-plus Gospel” look like among us? Often I will visit someone who hasn’t been coming to church and I will ask them why they haven’t been hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament – why they haven’t been receiving the Gospel, the free gifts of God – and you know what they will tell me? “Don’t worry, pastor, I try to be good, I read the Bible and pray all the time.” That’s Christ plus reading the Bible and being good and praying – that’s not the Gospel. It’s easy for church leaders to give the impression that it’s good to trust in Christ but you have to give generously, volunteer all of your free time, and be evangelizing everyone you ever meet if you really want to be saved. That’s Christ plus offerings, service, and evangelism – that’s not the Gospel. Especially sinister are those helpful, practical, relevant, moral sermons on parenting, improving your marriage, or teaching money management skills – not because God’s Word doesn’t give guidance in those areas – but because those things aren’t the Gospel! It’s Christ plus. Christ plus anything is not the Gospel. By definition Christ plus anything equals Christ plus the Law and no matter how good our intentions, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we improve – we will never satisfy God’s standard of perfection. (Matthew 5:48) Paul states it bluntly in chapter 3: all who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. (Galatians 3:10) In short, Christ plus anything equals eternal condemnation.
Which is what leads Paul to take the gloves off with some of the harshest words in the entire New Testament: Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Just so there’s no misunderstanding, Paul is saying that if you think you will be saved because of how much you give, obey, attend, pray, study – you have forfeited salvation. You are believing in another gospel – and…guest what? THERE IS NO OTHER GOSPEL! You have twisted the gospel of God’s grace in Christ into a religion of works – and that “gospel” will not save anyone. There are many, many people who hate this message. Does that bother Paul? Am I trying to win the approval of men or God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. Paul – and all faithful preachers like him – cannot care whether people like the Gospel or not, they are called and commissioned to preach the Gospel God gave them because this is the only good news that saves sinners. Yes, if I or anyone else preach any form of Christ-plus Gospel to you, let me and they be damned – because that is not what the Gospel is.
The irony is that Paul’s harshest words do serve to lead us back to the true Gospel. Why is he so much harsher with those who would add good, or at least seemingly innocent, things (like circumcision, tithing, prayer) to the Gospel than he was with people like the Corinthians who tolerated sexual immorality and got drunk when celebrating the Lord’s Supper? (1 Corinthians 5, 11) Because the heart of the Gospel is that God the Father’s will was to curse and condemn only his Son. Not because the Father didn’t love the Son, but because God so loved the world (John 3:16). Not because Jesus deserved to be cursed, but because he took our curse on himself (Galatians 3:13). Jesus was cursed and damned by God even for all those who have ever preached or believed any perverted “Christ-plus” version of the Gospel. The Father damned his Son on a cross so that you and I would never be damned. That’s the Gospel. That is the incomprehensible extent of God’s love for us. That is the Gospel Paul is so vehemently defending in these words and in this book.
And no, many in our post-modern world may not like it – but we’re not here to please the world. As Paul said, we are Christ’s ambassadors sent to preach the Gospel of Christ – and there is no other Gospel. Amen.
 AE 26:8