Roger's Postings

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Galatians 1:11-24. Who do we listen to, God or man? 6/6/10

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. {12} I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. {13} For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. {14} I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. {15} But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased {16} to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, {17} nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. {18} Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. {19} I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother. {20} I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. {21} Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. {22} I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. {23} They only heard the report: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." {24} And they praised God because of me.

Today in this reading we are confronted with the whole question of who do we listen to when it comes to our spiritual lives. In other words, who determines truth for us: God or man? Now this is as important a question today as it was for the people of Galatia. For there are many today who are proclaiming a different gospel, and leading people to place greater importance on human ideas and actions, above that which God has given and done for us. We are even being encouraged to accept things which go against and change what Scripture itself has to say.

So also today, we face ridicule and denigration when we make a stand for the true Gospel and God’s Word. We are branded as fundamentalist and conservative. We are told; ‘How do you know that you are right?’ or ‘What right have you got to impose your views on us, or say that we are wrong?’ We are encouraged to be more open, flexible and tolerant; and I could go on. But the point is that we face many pressures which are trying to pervert the Gospel and take our focus away from Jesus Christ and the importance of his death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. So we need to be wary of these forces and know what it is that is truly important for us.

Now in light of all of this we need to keep in mind what Paul has to say here. The true Gospel does not come from any human sources. It is God’s revealed truth to us; and we need to be prepared to stand by this revelation. Salvation by grace through faith; Christ alone; Scripture alone, faith alone; are basic truths of the Gospel that cannot be compromised. These truths and the Good News that underlies it are God’s revelation to us; that is Paul’s big point here. God has given and revealed this Good News to his Church, and we must not walk away from it or place the emphasis anywhere else.

In this reading, Paul tells us that he had studied the Old Testament Scriptures and the traditions of the Jewish faith for years; that he was a master of them; and yet, till Christ revealed himself to him, he was in the dark and worked against the Gospel. It was only after Christ had confronted him that all the Scriptures that he had read and studied, finally made sense. The Good News had then been made known to him.

So, we are reminded that we do not receive the truth through research alone; Although God can certainly do his work in us when we do. And the more time we spend in God’s Word allowing him to speak to us, the more he reveals his truth. But just because a person has done extensive theological study, that doesn’t mean they know the truth – that the Gospel has touched and changed their lives. The devil knows the Bible better than any of us; yet he does not know the Gospel. If we simply study the word to legitimise our own point of view and actions and try to use the Bible for our own purposes, it places ‘me’ in the centre and not God Almighty himself. Human logic cannot comprehend the Gospel; for as the Scriptures say it is foolishness to reason and a stumbling block to those who are seeking miracles.

The Gospel comes only by revelation from God himself: a gift from above. That is Paul’s big point here. He hasn’t simply been listening to others in order to know the Gospel – popular opinion played no part in his theology. Even though he had been devoted to the traditions of the Jewish faith and prided himself on his understanding of and practice of that faith; he was brought to see that it was all for nought. It was not the Good News of salvation. Instead, he was brought to see that it was God’s grace that had chosen and saved him and which now called him to serve. This same grace revealed Jesus Christ and the fullness of what God had done through him and his death and resurrection. This Good News transformed Paul from a murdering zealot to a faithful, suffering servant and preacher of the faith.

So also do we, today, need to look to God to reveal to us what we need to know when it comes to our spiritual lives. The true Gospel and the truth only come from him, through the means that he gives; and that is primarily through his Word, the bible. This undeserved love of God that came to Paul, has also chosen us all and seeks to reveal to us that Jesus died for our forgiveness and made it possible for us to be in his family.

He wants us all to know that he loves us and has made it possible for us to be with him in eternity. He makes it quite clear that all who simple believe: that is trust in what Jesus has done through his death and resurrection have the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of life and salvation. This is the only Good News for us all that there is. There is no other salvation; no other real life; and no other way to God.

Anyone or anything that seeks to add to this Gospel or take away from it, is a perversion. Any human work that is seen as necessary for salvation does not come from God. At a time when so much emphasis is placed on the ‘self’ and the importance of what we do [both outside the church as well as within] we need to be ever vigilant that we do not get slowly led astray. Christ alone; Grace alone; Scripture alone; faith alone, are key understandings of the revealed truth of the Gospel.

So it is this revelation of God that we need to keep in mind when we face all kinds of issues in the church and in life. No matter whether we are thinking of what it is that constitutes the Gospel; or worship issues; outreach to others; moral and ethical issues; or whatever, we need to look firstly to what God has already revealed to us. We do not merely follow the teaching of our world around us; social opinion, a bit this religion and a bit of that; or any thing else. God determines truth for us, not mankind.

That continually leads us then to a focus that is centred very much on Christ and the importance of his death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. So again, we will be wary when we hear a lot of talk about ‘christianty’ without a focus on Christ and him crucified. There is so much talk about ‘living the Christian life’ but often with little reference to Christ and the cross. Thereby our sinful human nature will grab hold of that and get us to place our trust and focus on ‘me and what I must do.’ But always, God would have us focus on Christ and what he has done for us and what wants to do in our lives.

So as we go forward, let us not be confused or led astray to ‘another gospel’ which is no Gospel at all. Let us be sure that we seek to listen, understand and follow God’s Word and not some hollow human philosophy or ideas. We must base our souls’ eternal welfare on the teachings of our Lord, rather than additions and subtractions. Remember the Gospel that comes from God is all about Jesus Christ and grace: it is all a free gift. Whereas the gospel of humanity adds what we have to do; and that is a perversion.

Listen to God and what he has to say in the Bible and you will not go wrong. Look first and foremost to Christ and the cross and you will find the help and life that we desperately need. With that, God will continue to reveal his truth to us as we go forward as his Church. Then through it all not only will we be blessed but we will also be a blessing to others. But most importantly then all glory and honour will go to where it belongs; to our gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Pastor Roger Atze
Glandore/Underdale Lutheran Parish

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