The Gospel Is for Sinners

1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:1-5)

Today we begin a new study together, in the book of Galatians. Lyndon will continue to lead us through 1 Timothy when he’s preaching, but whenever I have the opportunity to preach we’re going to be in Galatians.

In Galatia at the time of this writing, there were false teachers who had brought confusion to the church. These teachers were known as the Judaizers. Paul had taught the Galatians that salvation was by faith alone, but the Judaizers had a different message. They claimed that circumcision was a requirement for salvation in Christ. They taught that faith alone was not enough. And many of the Galatians believed them. So Paul’s mission in writing this letter was to address the false teaching, to remind the Galatians of what’s true.

You and I, in the 21st century, we may not be faced with the same false teaching, but that doesn’t make this book any less relevant for us. Because if we get to the heart of the matter, if we understand what led the Galatians to believe the false teaching, then I think we’ll see that we have the same root issue.

The error of the Galatians was not simply a matter of circumcision. Their error was distorting the gospel. It was twisting the truth about Jesus. And when you distort the gospel, you distort the true path of salvation. Paul wrote in Romans 1:16 that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Based on that verse, if you lose the true gospel, then you lose the power of God that brings true salvation. This is deathly serious. Paul is addressing a matter of eternal life and eternal death. The eternal destinies of many people were on the line.

So this letter to the Galatians is about much more than just circumcision. It’s about an issue that plagues all of us, even today. As humans, our bent is just like that of the Galatians. We are prone to stray from an uncensored, unsupplemented gospel.

For the Galatians, they tried to add something to what Christ had done for them. By believing that circumcision was needed for salvation, they were trying to justify themselves, trying to earn salvation for themselves. This would be like saying, “Yes, I know what Jesus did, and I trust in Jesus! But…[something]” You fill in the blank. Rather than, “I trust in Jesus, period,” it’s “I trust in Jesus, but…” It’s like, “Yes I’ve trusted in Christ for salvation, but now, now it’s on me to prove myself, now it’s time for me to prove my worth.” We may not say that, but we can often live like that, can’t we? It’s easy to slip into that mindset. For example, if we ever think or feel that God loves us more when we’re obedient, or less when we’re disobedient, then we’ve bought into this lie. We’ve bought into the lie that says that our worth depends on us.

We sometimes may compartmentalize things in our minds, thinking that our salvation is one thing, and then our worth, our value, that’s something entirely separate. But in reality, our salvation, our worth, our value, it is all tied up together in Christ. It’s bound together.

If we took a survey today that asked, “Where do you find eternal salvation? What is your salvation dependent on?” I’m guessing most everyone would have a fairly biblical answer. Some people may quote Ephesians 2, saying their salvation is by grace through faith in Christ.

It’s possible that some of the Galatians would have still answered that way. But the way they lived contradicted that answer. In a big-picture, abstract sort of sense, they may have still had the right answers. But on the ground level, practically, functionally, they were depending on another savior. Not just to be saved from hell, but also to be saved from people’s disapproval, from being vulnerable. They were depending on something else to save them.

Is there something like that for you? Something that’s serving as your functional savior, something you’re depending on, or chasing after, for validation? Take a minute and think. Ask yourself, “Where do I find my worth and my value?”

You may find it in comparing yourself with other people. That’s a common thing to do. Maybe it’s comparisons of spirituality. We may deem ourselves either more or less spiritual than others, and then depending on what our judgment is, we either pat ourselves on the back, puff ourselves up, or we beat ourselves up, and fall into despair.

We may make comparisons regarding how good or bad a parent we are, making judgments about how we measure up to other parents around us. Or maybe comparisons of how successful we are, according to our own definition of “success.” Maybe we just compare ourselves to the standards that other people have for us. Are we measuring up to what people expect of us? Are we earning their approval, their praise?

Another thing we may tend to do is compare ourselves to God’s standards for us, but not out of a biblical love for God; instead we do it as a way to prove something. As a way to prove to ourselves, and prove to God, that we’re worthy of His love, that we’re worthy to be called His children. And when we do that, we are essentially rejecting the perfect righteousness of Christ. We’re acting as though what He did wasn’t enough, so we need to add something to it. It’s minimizing the work of Jesus, moving the focus off of Him, and putting it on us, on our work, on our perceived worth.

These are just a few examples of ways that we try to prove our worth. Ways that we try to justify ourselves. These examples I’ve given are all ways that I, personally, have tried to find my worth and value at different times, on different days. And they are all bankrupt, they’re all empty. Maybe you can relate to the examples I’ve given. Or maybe you can think of something else, some other way that you try to prove yourself worthy.

Paul wrote Galatians for a people who had the same problem as us. And he tries to cure them of the disease of their self-salvation efforts, by reminding them of the gospel. Let’s look at what he says. Galatians, chapter 1, beginning in verse 1…

1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia: (Galatians 1:1-2)

Paul begins this letter in his usual way, by saying that he is an apostle. And then, as he often does in his other letters, he clarifies that he can’t take any credit for being an apostle. He says that he is an apostle, “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.”

Paul is doing two things here with his opening words. First of all, he is reminding the Galatians that his words are not just his words. As an apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he is actually writing on behalf of God. 

The false teachers in Galatia were trying to smear Paul’s reputation. They were trying to discredit him, discredit his authority. So Paul simply reminds them where his apostleship came from. This wasn’t a matter of one man’s ideas being pitted against the false teacher’s ideas. Paul was called, by God, to his position of authority. And what he writes, he writes on God’s behalf.

So he reminds the Galatians of this…and he reminds us of this. As we look at this letter, we need to remember that it is not just the thoughts and ideas of a man who lived 2,000 years ago. It is the Word of God, the living God, given to you and given to me. This is God speaking to us.

Paul reminds us of that. But he also does something else with this introduction. In a subtle way, he points his readers to their need for the gospel.

Paul is writing to people who had received grace, who had turned from themselves and trusted in Christ. Yet these people were now trying to be justified by their works. And when Paul tells them that he didn’t become an apostle because he earned it, or because he deserved it, what he’s doing is using his own life to show the Galatians the foolishness of depending on their own good works, depending on obedience to the Law.

Being an apostle was a high position, a high honor. And if anyone could have earned or deserved apostleship simply by following the Law, Paul would have been the person to do it. He wrote in Philippians 3…

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6)

For those people in Galatia who were teaching the importance of circumcision, for those who were teaching that salvation required following the law, Paul would have had the perfect resume. He would have been the one that they aspired to be like. Yet, listen to what Paul says next, starting in the very next verse of Philippians 3…

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ…For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7, 8b)

Paul did not make himself an apostle, because he couldn’t have made himself an apostle. Paul didn’t make himself a Christian, because he couldn’t have made himself a Christian. He says that in order to gain Christ, he had to stop putting hope in his earthly accomplishments. He had to let go of himself. He knew that as a Christian, all the good that he had done came through Christ. His salvation, his transformation from Saul the murderer into Paul the apostle, it was all by the grace and power of Jesus.

Any good that we do, any good fruit we bear, any growth in our lives, anything and everything in us that we’re proud of, it is all there only because of the grace of Jesus. We are who we are because of Jesus, not because of us.

Paul was an apostle and a minister of the gospel, and his ministry was incredible. But he was the first to admit his own insufficiency for that ministry. He recognized that he was simply an empty vessel that had been filled by God’s grace. He writes elsewhere, in 2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”

Paul used his own life, he used his apostleship to remind the Galatians, and to remind us, that we cannot take credit for any good in our lives. And if that’s true, that we can’t take credit for any of it, then we need to accept the fact that trying to justify ourselves, trying to prove ourselves worthy is a hopeless endeavor. We are saved by faith alone, in Christ alone, through grace alone. And all our worth and value is tied up in that.

After introducing himself in the first two verses, Paul says in verses 3-5…

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

In the first two verses, Paul pointed the Galatians to their need for the gospel in a subtle way, by giving all credit to God for his position as an apostle. And now here, in these next few verses, he clearly, but succinctly shares the gospel message.

First, he says that grace and peace come from God. By saying they originate with God, he’s also saying that they don’t originate with us. Grace and peace are gifts from our loving Father. We could not purchase them, on our own we couldn’t find them, but they abide with us anyways. They have been freely given, and they will never be taken away. We live in abiding grace and abiding peace with God.

Every single letter that Paul wrote, that’s part of the Bible, has this greeting in it of grace and peace. But I don’t think he wrote this as a mere pleasantry. He didn’t write it over and over again because it was just the standard greeting of the day. I think he wrote this at the beginning of each letter because everyone that he wrote to needed to hear it.

In times of trouble, and also in times of prosperity, we can tend to forget that God is a joyful giver. That He unceasingly gives us grace. He unceasingly shows us favor, no matter how little we deserve it. And He is actually happy to do so. He gives us a peace that can abide in the darkest of times. Because everything in our lives, including evil things and hard things, it all works for our good, for our benefit. All things work to bring about our future glory, which is all to the praise of God’s glory.

After mentioning grace and peace, in verse 4 Paul says that Christ “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” It says Jesus “gave” Himself. He was not forced. He wasn’t backed into a corner, and had no other choice. He had the full right and authority to keep His life. He had the authority to keep Himself from enduring the greatest suffering of all time. He could have remained in blissful glory with the Father. But He chose instead to lay His life down. He chose to give Himself. And he did it, the text says, “for our sins, to deliver us from the present evil age.”

This is the reason Jesus died. He died “for our sins.” For our sins. He died for the sins of the Galatians, and for every person who would trust in Him. He died for your sins, and mine. He knew us, even though we hadn’t yet been born, and He stood in our place. And He did this “to deliver us from the present evil age.”

We struggle, in this present evil age. Things are not as they should be, they’re not as God created them to be. Sin is prevalent everywhere we look. We can’t escape it. But Jesus came as a deliverer. He came as a conqueror of evil. He came as a Savior. He rescues us from the present evil age.

We see this happen in two main ways. Ultimately, our fullest deliverance is found in the future. It’s found in our eternal communion with Jesus, when we will be delivered from the present evil age in every way, as we enter into glory. But Christ has also won for us a present-day deliverance. We are delivered in the sense that the sin and evil that once controlled us has been stripped of its authority. We have been given a new master, who loves us dearly. And because of His love, and through His power, we live free, heavenly lives full of grace, and full of the Spirit – lives of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

This freedom we have, this deliverance, both in the present, and in the future, it gives us hope on the darkest days. It gets our eyes off of present-day struggles, off of ourselves, and on to our Deliverer. We fix our eyes on Him, and we find hope that carries us through this life and into eternal joy.

Paul says in verse 4 that this deliverance came “according to the will of our God and Father.” He willed it, He chose to do it, end of story. It was His own free will that made all of this happen for us. And since our deliverance from the depths of sin came only because of the will of God, it is so fitting for Paul to conclude this paragraph, in verse 5, by saying that all glory belongs to God forever and ever.

The gospel gives God all the credit, all the glory. But when we create and live out our self-salvation plans, seeking our worth in something we do, something we can achieve, rather than resting in what Jesus has done for us, what are we really doing? We’re trying to glorify ourselves. We’re trying to earn glory for ourselves.

We find out later in this letter that the Galatians had a similar motivation for failing to abide in the gospel. In chapter 4, verse 17, Paul is writing about how the Judaizers have led the Galatians astray. He says, “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.” The Galatians wanted to be made much of. They loved how the Judaizers would speak well of them, would puff them up. And why did the Judaizers do those things? It was so that they themselves would be made much of! In both cases, for both groups of people, the pursuit of self-glorification is what drove them astray. And it’s the same for us. We want others to make much of us. And we want to make much of ourselves.

The Bible doesn’t always paint a very attractive picture of mankind. It says things about us that we don’t like very much. It says we’re sinners, we’re depraved. But God doesn’t leave us there. He doesn’t leave us in our wickedness. He comes to us. The God of light enters into our darkness. He values us. Enough to give up His only Son for us. Because He wants us to be His sons. He wants us to be His daughters. We are children of the King. For everyone who enters into His embrace, He says, “You are mine. My beloved. My delight. My precious child.”

Is that enough for us? Are we satisfied with what God says about us? I think the answer to that question explains so much about why we live the way we live. Are we satisfied with what God says about us? Are we satisfied with the truth that we are sinners, hopeless to redeem ourselves? But that God, in His grace, wants us anyways? That He loves and cherishes us anyways? That He chose, by His will, to save us? Not because of who we are, but in spite of who we are.

If we are satisfied with what God says about us, satisfied with His view of us, then there is no reason for us to try proving our worth in some other way. There’s no reason for us to try justifying ourselves.

The Galatians weren’t satisfied. They weren’t content with being sinners saved by grace. They weren’t content with the lavish love of God, given freely in Christ. They wanted, they needed, the praise and approval of other people. What about you? What about us?

Earlier I asked the question, “Where do you find your worth and your value?” Whatever the answer is, just ask yourself, “Why? Why is this other thing so important to me?” Do you spend your days satisfied with what God says about you? With what the gospel says about you? Or are you preoccupied with your own plan for glory, for validation, your own plan for salvation?

God saves through the gospel. That’s His plan for our salvation. We don’t need a better gospel, a better way of salvation. There is no problem with the gospel, no deficiency in it. The problem is with us. We are sinners. We are fallen, we’re weak, we’re fragile jars of clay. Even as believers, we are still all of those things, and we will be until we die. But praise God, the gospel is for sinners. The gospel is for the weak and fragile. It is for us.

And because of the gospel, we don’t have to try validating our existence. We don’t have to prove ourselves. We don’t have to redeem ourselves. Jesus has already done that for us. We’re free from all of those burdens. And we’re free to enjoy and glory in our Jesus, our Savior, who loves us dearly.

1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:1-5)