Martin Luther in his commentary on Galatians urges us to be intimately familiar with the gospel and to beat it into our heads continually! We need daily reminders of the gospel. Without the gospel, we would either veer into the ditch of inflated pride and legalism or the ditch of deflated guilt and condemnation. Milton Vincent in his book “A Gospel Primer for Christians” writes these very encouraging words: “There is simply no other way to compete with the forebodings of my conscience, the condemning of my heart, and the lies of the world and the devil than to overwhelm such things with daily rehearsings of the gospel.”
What exactly is the true gospel? And is there such a thing as false gospels? Paul addresses this issue very poignantly in the first chapter of Galatians. He gives what I call the “gospel in a nutshell’ in 1:4-5 which states, “… the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
The gospel tells us first and foremost that we are helpless and hopeless sinners under God’s condemnation who need to be delivered or rescued. The gospel is absolutely not the message that we are all children of God and that God accepts us no matter what we do and that we are all okay. The gospel begins with the terrible news that we are lost, depraved, and condemned and in desperate need of rescuing.
Founders of other religions came to teach people how to live, not to rescue them from sin. That is what sets the gospel of Christ apart from all other systems. Every other non-Christians belief system assumes that we are all inherently good and just need to be taught how to love God or to live a good life. They don’t come with the fallen condition of humans as helpless, hopeless, and lost who need the substitutionary death of Christ.
Paul also says that Jesus voluntarily gave himself up for our sins. There is power in that little word “for” which means “in the place of” or “on behalf of”. In essence, Jesus died the death we should have died by absorbing the full weight of God’s wrath against our sin. He paid the penalty for our sin in his body on the cross. At the heart of the gospel is the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ for helpless and lost sinners who stand not only separated from God because of our sin, but also under His just condemnation. Without the death of Christ, all of us would get what we deserve—hell.
Paul also tells us that this gospel was according to the will of God for the glory of God. We in our sinful and rebellious state did not initiate this rescue from Jesus. We bring nothing to the table. There is nothing within us that merits God’s choice to save us. This is the very definition of grace. The gospel is not the “feel good” message that everybody is a child of God and they just need to understand that God already accepts them. The gospel tells us that we are an enemy of God and he does not accept us because of our sin and we desperately need the death of Christ on the cross to forgive us of our sins and to pay the debt we eternally owe an infinitely holy God.
And yet as Paul continues in Galatians, he gives a stark warning to those who are in the process of deserting Jesus and turning to a “different” gospel—as if there is another gospel! Here is where it gets scary. If you turn to a different gospel you are damning yourself to hell and showing that you have abandoned Jesus. Listen to Paul in Galatians 1:8-9: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
The word “accursed” means to be eternally damned to hell. Denying and/or distorting the gospel are serious issues of eternal life or death. What Paul is saying is that there is direct correlation to what you believe about the gospel and your personal relationship with Christ. To abandon gospel theology is to abandon Christ personally. People who claim that they are Christians and yet distort the gospel show the penetrating reality that they do not actually know Christ personally.
Paul is “astonished” that these Galatians are so quickly deserting Jesus and turning to a different gospel. Any other gospel that does not adhere to the absolute sinfulness of humans who are under God’s wrath, to those who need rescuing from sin through the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross, to God’s wrath against sin being appeased by Christ, is not a gospel at all and is in fact damning. Dear readers, don’t so easily embrace or accept “false gospels” that are so prevalent in our culture. Don’t accept any gospel that downplays the reality of sin, the reality of God’s wrath against sin, the reality of the cross of Christ, and the reality that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. If anyone preaches a gospel contrary to that, he or she is to be eternally damned to hell. These are stark words, but not my words. These are the loving warnings from the pages of Scripture to those who are in danger of flirting with false gospels and whose very eternity is on the line! Embrace the one and only true gospel today!