Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Gospel of Jesus Christ in Paul's World

In the last installment of this blog, I delved into what the gospel is in terms of the origins of the word "gospel" in the Greek language during Roman times.  In light of what the gospel is and the intense meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I thought it was interesting to take a look at the first letter that Paul wrote that comprises part of what is now the New Testament.  The book of Galatians.

As we know, the Romans used the term "gospel" to signify the ascension of a new emperor to the throne or even the birth of an emperor to be.  The religious cult of emperor worship was alive and well and this earthly gospel of man was in direct contrast to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.  With this as the historical backdrop, it is interesting to note what the Galatian readers of Paul's letter would have understood when he wrote the letter to them. 

The letter to the Galatians is dated somewhere between 48 and 55 AD.  History tells us that between 14 and 68 AD, there were four emperors.  They were Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.  The living adults present at the time of Paul's letter to the Galatians literally could have heard "the gospel of man", the herald announcement of four different emperors assuming the throne in their lifetime, perhaps even more.  At least four times they heard that a king would bring peace.  At least four times they heard that their king would stay their enemies.  At least four times they were beckoned to worship the new king.

Enter the Apostle Paul as he writes to the Galatians in chapter 1, verse 1:

"Paul, an apostle - not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead - and all the brothers who are with me,.  To the churches of Galatia:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age..."

In this one short excerpt, Paul delivers a death blow to anything else that detracts from Jesus Christ being the centerpiece of the gospel.  There is nothing man-made about the gospel.  There is nothing that finds its beginning or end from the earth about the gospel.  The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ has him as its originator, deliverer and sustainer.  Reread Paul's opening line again and you'll find it all there.  It's not from man.  It is through Jesus Christ.  He was raised from the dead.  He delivers us.  He brings peace.

Enter the Judaizers.  Paul writes to the Galatians in astonishment that they have turned to what he refers to as 'another gospel'.  We may look at the Galatians with a critical eye but we should reserve our judgment.  They have been bombarded with  man's gospel.  They have been immersed in a culture of man's gospel for years and Paul even voices his concern in chapter 4 when he talks of their former enslavement to those that by nature were not gods and how they returned to observing days, months, seasons and years (all part of Roman pagan culture).  Paul does the work of converting pagans to Christ and within a few short years, people come behind him preaching another gospel, one that added to the simplistic "justified by faith" message of Paul and adding a "and by works" clause.  This news triggered a passionate, frank and in-your-face response from Paul and understandably so.

Why is this important for us today?  Like many of you who may read this, I have been a follower of Christ for several decades of my life.  During these years I've noticed that there is always something disguising itself as 'new'.  We live in a world that demands our worship.  We live in a culture that is constantly enticing us.  Not only that but there are religious enticements.  There are those that teach that faith is a force for us to control.  There are those that would have us believe that God isn't answering our prayers but he will if we write a check to their ministry.  There are those that teach that God is for us and because of that, well, if bad things happen we need to simply confess otherwise and turn the situation around.  There are those that preach that our faith is to be the object of our faith and this faith can manipulate God to change our circumstances and hosts of others that have their list of do's and don'ts in order to be a Christian. 

None of this is new.  All of this is, what Paul would say is, another gospel.  To Paul, the gospel was a was Jesus Christ.  So if anything takes away from the person of Jesus Christ, it is another gospel.  If anything is attempted to add to the work of Jesus Christ, it is another gospel.  If anyone asks of you or me anything more than, like what Abraham had, faith alone in Jesus Christ, it is just that...another gospel.

So in the walking out of your faith according to the gospel, may the words of Paul to the Galatians ring in your heart.  "For neither (outward works of flesh) count for anything, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them..."


James Zink said...

Bob, really enjoyed this post. I found myself travelling down memory lane surrounding different church experiences and the stones I was ready to throw, I set them down. Jesus is the Good News. He is central to this life and to what sets us free. Thank you for the reminder of what matters.

James Zink said...

Bob, Thank you for your post. I took a trip down memory lane and reflected on all my past church experiences and began to pick up my stones. When I finished reading I set them down and remembered the truth about the Living Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks for the context again.