Teaching a Different Gospel – Galatians 1:7-8

Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! – Galatians 1:7b-8 NIV

It is tempting to read this passage and apply it to many of the strange variations of the gospel that are being proclaimed today. And indeed, Paul would likely include many of them as being under God’s curse. But Paul’s warning was not just to others who might be perverting the gospel. There is also a very personal component to this warning as well.

I am a teacher. And I need to be very careful as I teach and write. Am I being faithful to the Scriptures? Or have I perverted the message, allowing my own thoughts, or those of others, to change the message? All of us who are Bible teachers have a serious responsibility, and should not take it lightly. Ultimately we will be held accountable for what we teach or preach. And we will also have to give answer for any that we have led astray. It is a serious responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

Lord, may the words that I speak, as well as the words that I write, be acceptable and pleasing to you. I pray that you would be glorified and your church strengthened by them. Help me to be faithful to you and your word and not be guilty of teaching a different gospel.

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The Gospel in Romans – Romans 1:1-6; 16-17

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:1-6; 16-17 NIV

Gospel is a word that has come to mean the teaching or revelation of Christ.  It comes from an old English word that means good news, and translates the Greek word evangel which has the same meaning.  It is a word that Paul uses 12 times in the letter to the Romans, with half of the uses coming in the first 17 verses of the first chapter.  Paul is a proclaimer of the gospel (Romans 15:16, 19, 20), and I believe that this letter to the Roman church is a written form of that gospel he proclaims.  So just what is the gospel?  His introduction to the Romans gives us some insight concerning it, although you really need to read all of Romans to get the complete picture.

The first thing Paul has to say about the gospel is that it was foretold in the Old Testament by the prophets.  While they did not clearly see the gospel, God did use them to prepare the way for the gospel to later be revealed.  And the early church used those clues provided by the prophets to shape their understanding of what God was doing.  Phillips use of Isaiah to share Jesus with the Ethiopian in the 9th chapter of Acts is an example of that.

The gospel is not so much about an event as it is a person; Jesus.  Jesus is described as a descendant of king David, in fulfillment of the promise made to him.  And he was also appointed to be the Son of God by his resurrection.  That is an interesting statement that is somewhat troublesome.  It seems to say that Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection, while the rest of scripture claims that he was God before creation.  But Douglas Moo, in his commentary on Romans, thinks it best to see this expression as one that is referencing a title rather than referring to Jesus nature.  He was the divine and eternal Son of God, but at his resurrection he began his reign as saviour of mankind and was given the title of Son of God.

Paul expresses to the church at Rome that he is not ashamed of the gospel.  On the surface that seems like a strange statement to me.  Why would he be ashamed of the gospel?  It may well be because the gospel is about a messiah who died a criminal’s death on a cross, a shameful death, and not something that most people would be proud of.  But Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because he recognizes God’s power in it.

The gospel is not the story of a crucified messiah, although it does include that.  Rather it is the power of God that brings salvation to a lost world, to all who will believe.  When a person puts their trust in the crucified and resurrected Jesus, God creates a new life in them, a life that is shared with him.  The gospel has the power to transform me from a man separated from God and without hope in this world, to a child of God, destined to eternal life with him.

The gospel reveals to us the righteousness of God, a righteousness that Paul says is one that comes by faith.  There is some discussion as to just what is meant by the righteousness of God, but it seems best to me to see it as a righteousness that God provides to those who believe, in contrast to a personal righteousness that we try to attain on our own.  This righteous of God, if not the predominate theme of Romans, is at least a major one that Paul spends much time on.  And it is at the heart of the gospel message.  All of those who believe will experience the righteous life that God provides, and will escape the destruction that they would have faced without the gospel.

So Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, because he understands what it has done for him, and how it will transform anyone else who believes.  The gospel is not just the story of Jesus that we share among ourselves, and occasionally with others.  It is God’s power at work in the lives of all who will believe.

 

Romans: An Introduction

The sixth book in the New Testament is Paul’s letter to the church at Rome.  The first four books are what we generally call gospels, or good news, because they share the life and ministry of Jesus, the Son of God who gave his life as a ransom for sinners.  But this letter to the Romans also deserves to be called a gospel because it tells the story of sinful mankind and a God who imparts his own righteousness to them.  This letter, the longest of Paul’s writings, is the most complete exposition of what God has done for mankind, truly good news.

Author: The letter claims to be written by the Apostle Paul, all of the early references to the letter attribute it to Paul, and there seems to be little doubt among modern scholarship that this letter was indeed written by Paul.  Paul was a well-educated Pharisee who was very zealous for the law and the traditions of his people and a leader in the initial opposition of the Jewish religious leaders in trying to stop the spread of the Jesus movement.  Paul had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus and became an outspoken advocate for his new Lord, following his commission from Jesus to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  Paul is the central figure in the second half of the book of Acts, as Luke records the spread of the gospel out from Jerusalem, to Antioch and then closer and closer to Rome, the heart of the empire.

Audience: There is some debate as to the intended audience of this letter.  Some manuscripts omit the two reference to Rome in the first chapter, and some lost manuscripts appear to omit the last two chapters of the letter.  This has led some to speculate that the letter may actually have been written to another church, such as Ephesus, or that it was written as a general letter to be sent out to a wider audience.  But most seem to accept that it was indeed written to the Roman church and that the original is what we have today.  It is possible that there was a shortened version of the original that was sent out to others, but that is only speculation.

Another question arising about this letter concerns who the audience was in Rome.  The church there was likely originally composed of Jewish believers, but had likely become a predominantly Gentile church by the time Paul writes to them.  Did he write to the church as a whole, primarily to the Gentile believers, or primarily to the Jewish believers?  I have seen arguments for all three positions, with much of that argument centering around the discussion of the Jews in chapters 9-11.  Is it written to Gentiles to answer their questions about where Israel sits in God’s plan, or to Jews to assure them that they have not been abandoned?  Or does it do both?  I have heard no compelling argument either way and so assume that it was written to the church as a whole; although as the apostle to the Gentiles, it would not be surprising if he focused just a little more on the Gentile side of the house.

Date: Most scholars date this epistle to around A.D. 56, give or take a year.  This is toward the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, likely after his long stay in Ephesus, when he was paying a short visit to Corinth and preparing for his trip to Jerusalem to take the offering collected by the Asian church to the poor saints there.

Purpose: This letter is easily Paul’s most complete and systematic exposition of the gospel he proclaims.  But why did he direct it to a church where he had had no personal involvement?  Paul gives us no reason, so we can only speculate on his purpose in writing.

I have often thought that Paul’s purpose in writing may have been to impart some spiritual gift to them (Romans 1:11), providing them with the gospel he would have proclaimed if he had been there in person.  We do not know who was responsible for founding the church in Rome, or what kind of leadership they had prior to this.  It may simply be that Paul was wanting to ensure that this church, which was central to the Roman empire and one he wanted to develop a relationship with, had a good understanding of the gospel and God’s purpose for humanity.  In a way, what Paul is doing here is putting into writing what he would ordinarily provide verbally to a new church he is working to establish.

It seems clear from the letters introduction and closing that Paul is hoping to establish a relationship with this church as he develops plans to take the gospel further west, into Spain.  And in light of that, it maybe that Paul’s purpose in writing this is to make clear to them just what the gospel is that he proclaims.  It is hard to know just what rumours the Roman church have have heard concerning Paul and his teachings, and this letter could serve to alleviate any concerns they might have had in partnering with him, making it clear that the gospel he proclaimed was God given.

Major Themes: Romans has a series of major themes that build on each other: sin, righteousness, sanctification, the Jews, and practical Christianity.

Sin: Sin is the common condition for all of mankind.  Sin starts with a rejection of God and focusing on the creation instead.  It does not matter whether you are a Jew or Gentile, following the Law or conscience.  All of us have sinned and fallen short of what God had planned for us.

Righteousness: As humans we are incapable of being good enough to be considered righteous in God’s eyes.  But God has provided us with a way to experience the righteousness that only he can provide.  That righteousness is made available through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Sanctification: Because of our new identity in Jesus, we have died to sin and been resurrected into a new life.  This life is one that is lived under the control of the Holy Spirit, a life that has no place for sin, but rather is dedicated to God.

The Jews: In turning to the Gentiles, did God reject the Jewish people?  He did not!  While most of them have turned from God, there is still a remnant that are faithful, and God’s purpose for them will be accomplished.

Practical Christianity: As followers of Christ we should be transformed, not conforming to the standards of the world around us, but rather serving in the kingdom of God while being good citizens of the earthly kingdom we find ourselves in.  As members together of the body of Christ we should love each other and help those who are weaker and struggling in their faith or life.

Who Ya Gonna Listen To? – Acts 4:19-20

Early in the life of the church, Peter and John are brought before the religious leaders of Israel, who also doubled as the political leaders under Roman rule.  The problem is that Peter and John has been teaching the people about Jesus, something that the religious leaders took great offense with.  And during this hearing, Peter and John are forbidden to publicly speak about Jesus.  While the parallels with today and not exact, it is becoming more challenging to freely share about Jesus out in the community and the workplace.  And I believe Peter and John’s response to the religious/civil authorities is instructive to us.

But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

– Acts 4:19-20 NIV

I believe that Peter and John recognized the authority of those who were questioning them and who had forbidden them to speak in the name of Jesus.  But they also recognized a higher authority, that of God.  And they made clear that if those two authorities provided conflicting directions, that they were going to follow the higher authority, that of God.  God had told them to speak about Jesus, and thus, that was their plan, regardless what the religious/civic leaders directed them to do.

After their release Peter and John meet with the church and prayed for boldness to continue to speak about Jesus.  Going on from there, they continued to preach and teach about Jesus.  And once again found themselves standing before the religious leaders, accused of spreading their propaganda about Jesus.  This time they end up beaten and again forbidden to speak of Jesus.  I believe their response this time is particularly relevant to us.

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. 

– Acts 5:41-42 NIV

They did not complain about the violation of their rights.  They did not try to replace their leaders.  They did not wallow in self pity.  Instead they left rejoicing at having been counted worthy of suffering for Christ.  And they continued to obey God by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus wherever they went.

To respond to abuse with rejoicing, and continued obedience.  What an example they set for us today!

On This Rock – Matthew 16:15-18

In Matthew 16:15-18, Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is.  Peter responds with “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”  To which Jesus responds that God has revealed this to him, and that upon that rock he would build his church.  Many believe this ‘rock’ that the church is built on was Peter, but most of the rest of us believe that the rock was the truth that God had revealed to Peter concerning Jesus identity: that the church is built on Jesus, the Son of God.

Who

But what is the church?  This word is used twice in the gospels, both times in Matthew, and frequently throughout the rest of the New Testament; but never with a description of what, or who, the church is, and what its purpose is.  The word generally translated as church is the Greek word ekklēsia which more literally means “called out” or “called forth”.  It was generally used in Greek to reference a civic assembly that was called together for a specific purpose, i.e Acts 19:39.

So you might think of the church as an assembly of those that God has called out of this world, an assembly that is under the authority of Jesus.  The church, contrary to some, is not a building, it is not an activity we engage in on Sunday morning, it is not a social gathering.  The church is people, people who have been called out of this world by God, and who have responded to that call.  Sometimes it refers to the called out believers in a specific location, and sometimes it refers to the called out believers across the world, but always it refers to called out believers.

Why

That is the ‘who’ of the church, which is part of the ‘what’ question.  But ‘why’ is also a very important part of ‘what’ the church is.  Why is it that we are called out of the world and into assembly together?  For too many people in the church, or hanging around the church, the answer is either a blank look, or something like “to worship God”.  Now I find it hard to believe that God had no purpose in ‘calling’ us out.  Nor do I really believe he takes great delight in us assembling together on Sunday to sing a few songs and listen to a sermon; as inspiring as either might be.

While we may not always designate Jesus followers prior to Pentecost as the church, they were the ones he had called out from the rest of the world, and had been assembled with him for over 3 years.  And the last thing he does with them before his return to the Father is to commission them.  Matthew’s version, in Matthew 28:18-20, or Luke’s version in Acts 1:8, both tell the same story.  We are to go out into the world and tell people about God, bringing others into the assembly, making disciples of them.

I believe that commission contains our marching orders, to represent God to a world that is sorely in need of him.  And that is the picture we see painted in Acts, as the gospel is taken into wider and wider circles; into all the world.  Here the church is intentionally sharing the gospel where they are, and going to places the gospel hasn’t yet reached.

Nowhere, apart maybe from the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3 do we find a church that withdrew from the world to be a safe haven for beleaguered believers.  And yet too often that is what we have become today.  Too often we sit within the comfortable confines of our safe walls, singing nice songs, studying the Bible, and moaning about how the world around us is going to hell in a handbasket.  And the closest we come to taking the gospel to them is when someone wanders in off the street and sits through a sermon.  And we wonder why the church is not growing!

Body Life

Of course there is more to life in the body that proclaiming the gospel.  It is appropriate for us to worship our Lord; to grow and develop as disciples; to love each other in personal and practical ways.  Worship should be a natural expression of who we are.  One of my favorite parts of Revelation is the scene described in chapters 4 & 5.  Here we see the 4 living creatures praising God, followed by the 24 elders, bazillions of angels and every creature, including those on the earth.  Too often we follow the lead of a worship team on the stage at the front of the building we meet in on Sunday to set the tone of our worship.  Consider following the lead of the 4 living creatures instead, and be constantly in a state of worship around the throne.

Part of the Great Commission in Matthew is teaching the disciples to follow Jesus direction.  And the example of the earliest church is that they were devoted to the teaching of the Apostles.  The New Testament church was eager to learn all they could about God, the good news about Jesus, and about living as God’s called out ones.  Following their example would help us to grow in our knowledge of God, both intellectually and relationally, as well as becoming more effective in sharing with an increasingly skeptical world.

The church is not just an assembly of believers while we hang around earth waiting for our promotion.  The church is also described as the bride of Christ and one of the most interesting parts of John’s vision in Revelation is his description of the bride of Christ in chapters 21 & 22.  Here the bride is described as a pretty spectacular city; an eternal city.  The church will be around for eternity, not the SBC or the Roman Catholic, or Methodist, but the assembly of called out ones.  That may be why Jesus and his apostles were so insistent that we love each other and get along here.  A part of being the church, the body, the bride, is to lose ourselves and become one, like Christ and the Father are one; to love one another.

Thoughts

  •  How does the church you are apart of compare to the church described in the book of Acts?
  • Is there a passion for taking the gospel to the lost around you?
  • When you come together to worship, do you have a sense of having entered into God’s presence?
  • What can you do to improve the quality of life in the body?
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