From the Pastor's Desk 

Devoted to Destruction

1-13-19

 

            Let's pray.

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            What would you call someone who was once an Oklahoma fan and then started to wear burnt orange clothing with a longhorn logo on it?  I would imagine many OU fans would have many things to say about that, most of which wouldn't be proper for us to repeat in this environment.  But one word that we could use to describe that kind of person is a turncoat.

            A turncoat is a person who "shifts allegiance from one loyalty or ideal to another."  It is someone who "betrays or deserts an original cause by switching to the opposing side or party."  Most of the time it is a group that may make a switch as a whole or when the goal someone thought they were fighting for seems lost or too costly to achieve.

            In a military setting, it would literally be a soldier changing uniforms to that of the former enemy and joining their side of the fight.  That would be someone like Benedict Arnold who literally changed coats from American to British during the Revolutionary War.  Politically, it could refer to a person, or a group of people, changing their party allegiance.  That happened after the fall of the USSR.  Many former communists at that time suddenly became fervent supporters of capitalism.

            The military aspect of literally changing coats to join your enemy could be one possible origin of the term.  It could also hearken all the way back to 13th Century England.  At that time, two barons turned their coats of arms from one lord to another, indicating a change of allegiance and hence the term turncoat. 

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            There is also a spiritual application of the term turncoat.  As we continue on looking at the book of Galatians, we see where Paul accuses members of the churches in Galatia of being deserters, traitors, turncoats to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They had been genuinely saved through Paul's preaching and teaching of salvation being by grace alone through faith alone.  But then false teachers came along and they started to think that maybe there was something more to salvation after all.

            The book of Galatians may have been the first letter that Paul wrote, around 48 or 49 AD.  It was written primarily to four churches located in the southern part of the province of Galatia that Paul started on his first missionary journey.  Those churches would be Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

            There are two main themes and two obvious reasons for Paul writing this letter.  One he wrote it to defend the true gospel message of Jesus.  False teachers were coming to these churches and convincing the people that Jesus was good but that to be really saved you also had to perform works. 

            Second, Paul wrote this letter to defend his apostleship.  These same false teachers were also undermining Paul's authority.  They said that he was not a true apostle because he wasn't one of the 12 hand-picked by Jesus Himself.  They claimed he was only a self-appointed impostor.  Let's continue on now with our look at that book this morning by reading Galatians 1:6-10. 

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            Paul is amazed that the believers in the churches in the region of Galatia are so quickly turning away from the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Or as we've already alluded to, Paul is amazed at how quickly they have become turncoats to the truth, spiritual deserters.

            He calls them that because they are turning away from the gospel of grace and are embracing another gospel.  The true gospel is the good news of a God who is gracious to undeserving sinners.  In grace He gave His Son to die for us.  In grace He calls us to Himself.  In grace He justifies us when we believe.  All that God has done for us and is doing for us is because of grace.

            But the Galatians converts, these men and women who had received this gospel of grace, were now turning away to another gospel, a gospel of works.  The false teachers who were busy pulling them away from the truth are also called Judaizers.  Their so-called gospel is summed up for us in Acts 15:1. 

            It's important for us to understand exactly what these false teachers were teaching.  Apparently, they did not deny that you must believe in Jesus for salvation.  The problem was that they also stressed that you must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses as well.  In other words, they believed that you must let Moses finish what Christ had begun.  Another way of putting it is that you yourself must finish, by your obedience to the law, what Christ had begun.  You must add your works to the work of Christ.  You must finish Christ's unfinished work.

            Why is this such a problem?  Why is Paul going to such great lengths to correct what these false teachers are saying?  I mean, isn't Paul being just a tad bit narrow-minded?  Isn't he being just a bit intolerant of the sincere beliefs of someone else?  After all, the Judaizers did preach salvation through Christ, they just weren't preaching salvation through Christ alone.  As far as we can tell, they never denied that it was necessary also to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Savior.  That's close enough isn't it?

            Yes, it is true that the Judaizers seem to have insisted on the observance of certain Jewish rites and ceremonies unknown to the Gentile churches founded by Paul.  But is that any different than the denominational differences we experience amongst churches today?  Some churches baptize babies, others don't.  Some take communion every week, others less often.  Some churches only use the King James Version of the Bible, some more contemporary versions.  Some churches only sing hymns, some only choruses, some a mixture of both.  There are churches that emphasize certain gifts of the Spirit more than others and some who don't use instruments at all while others employ entire bands.

            What our society and culture would like us to believe is that these differences don't matter, and many of them don't.  Frequency of communion, version of the Bible read or your style of music aren't very important differences.  Our society would say that all differences don't matter and who are we to tell someone else they are wrong?  Who are we to say that we are the only ones who know the truth? Maybe it would be better for us to spend time with others who believe differently than we do.  They are sincere; they have original thoughts.  If they're wrong on some point, maybe we could influence them to a right way of thinking. 

            Do you know what Paul would say to that?  He would say, "No!  There is right and wrong; there is black and white.  If anyone preaches or teaches something that is wrong, according to God's revealed Word, then they are in trouble with Him.

            Paul was so adamant about opposing these false teachers because they were distorting what it takes and what it means to be saved.  What we believe about salvation is the most important thing.  It isn't just that the Galatians have turned from the gospel of grace; it is actually much worse than that.  To turn from the gospel of grace is to turn from the God of grace.  It is impossible to forsake the gospel without forsaking God.

            The reason why the Galatian converts were deserting God who had called them in grace was that they were being troubled.  The Greek verb translated trouble means "to shake or agitate."  The Galatian congregations had been thrown by the false teachers into a state of turmoil.

            This trouble was caused by false doctrine.  The Judaizers were trying to pervert or distort the gospel.  It says in the Holman that they wanted to change the good news.  That word could be translated reverse.  They were not just corrupting the gospel; they were actually reversing it, turning it back to front and upside down.  You can't modify the gospel or try to supplement the gospel without radically changing its character.

            So the two chief characteristics of the false teachers are that they were troubling the church and changing the gospel.  Those two things go hand in hand.  To tamper with the gospel is always to trouble the church.  You cannot touch the gospel and leave the church untouched, because the church is created and lives by the gospel. 

            The church's greatest troublemakers are not those outside the church who oppose, ridicule and persecute it.  The church's greatest troublemakers are those inside who try to change the gospel.  It is they who trouble the church.  The only way to be a good church member is to be a good gospel-person.  They best way to serve the church is to believe and to preach the gospel.

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            Paul's first reaction to the Galatians abandonment of the gospel message is utter astonishment.  He simply couldn't believe how quickly they deserted the truth.  Paul's utter astonishment then turned to indignation.  He was so indignant over the false teachers and what they were teaching that he pronounced a solemn curse upon them.  The Greek word that is translated cursed here is the word anathema.  It was used in the Greek OT for the divine ban, "the curse of God resting upon anything or anyone devoted by Him to destruction."

            The story of Achan provides an example of this.  God said that the spoil of the Canaanites was under His ban.  No one could take it or use it because God had devoted it to destruction.  Even though Achan knew what God had said, he went ahead and stole some things anyway.  He and his family were then killed as punishment.

            Paul here is saying that he believed and wanted these false teachers to come under the divine band, or a divine curse.  In other words, He wished that God's judgment would fall upon them.  If God's judgment was on these false teachers, Paul would expect the Galatian churches to also reject them and their teaching.  They should refuse to listen to them or even receive them because they are men who God has rejected. 

            Paul calling down a curse from God on these teachers may seem a bit harsh to us. Maybe he was just giving a knee jerk reaction out of personal venom toward rival teachers.  I don't think so Tim.  The curse of God which Paul desires is universal in its embrace.  It actually rests upon any and every teacher who distorts the essence of the gospel.  There is no exception to it.  Paul includes himself and even angels.  He is so zealous for the gospel that he even desires the curse of God to fall upon Himself should he be guilty of perverting it.

            There is a very good reason why Paul is so adamant about this:  why he feels so strongly about this false teaching.  The glory of Christ is at stake.  To make men's works necessary for salvation, even as a supplement to the work of Christ is derogatory to His finished work.  It is to imply that Christ's work was in some way unsatisfactory and that men need to add to it and improve upon it.  It is to declare the cross redundant.  Gal. 2:21.

            In addition to that, men's souls are at stake.  Paul here is not concerned about some trivia doctrine; he's writing about something that is fundamental to the gospel.  He's also not only talking about those who merely hold false views, as bad as that would be, but he's talking about those who teach them and mislead others by their teaching.  To corrupt the gospel is to destroy the way of salvation and so to send to ruin souls who might have been saved by it.  Jesus also warned about causing others to stumble.  Mark 9:42. 

            Of course, today, we live in an age in which it is considered very narrow-minded and intolerant to have any clear and strong opinions of one's own, let alone to disagree sharply with anybody else.  As for actually desiring false teachers to fall under the curse of God and be treated as such by the church, the very idea is inconceivable to many people.  I would guess that if we cared more for the glory of Christ and for the good of the souls of men, we too would not be able to bear the corruption of the gospel of grace.

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            Paul was accused of being a people pleaser.  His adversaries said that he would change his message to fit his audience in order to simply attract a following and have each group like what he was saying.  Paul did admit to being all things to all people; but he only did that in order to win them to Christ.  It is relevant and viable for us to seek to connect with people and seek to get to know them in order to try to influence them for the gospel.

            In fact, his opponents said that Paul was making religion too easy and that he was doing it to ingratiate himself with others.  Paul was doing the opposite of that.  If it was possible to earn salvation through works, that might be possible to be fulfilled.  Paul taught that religion is a matter not of satisfying the claims of the law, but of trying to meet the obligations of love.  That is not making it easier, it's actually making it harder.  Paul would not be and could not be a servant of Christ if he pleased men.  If we're the servant of men, we can't be a servant of God.  Matt. 6:24. 

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            But we can't be seeking to always please people.  We can't be seeking to tickle people's ears and change and alter the gospel in order to have people like us, or in order to attract a large crowd here to our building.  We shouldn't be seeking to please people; we shouldn't be going out of our way to try to offend them either.  Our job; our goal; our business is to preach the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

            One question that we need to ask ourselves is this:  are you seeking to please men by your religion?  Are you trying to impress people with how righteous you are and with how involved you are with good, church-related activities?  Is your motivation for being involved in good church-related activities being well liked and accepted by others?  Do you think that it's a way to be liked; a way to be included in certain social groups; or a way to get ahead in some endeavor?

            If any of those attitudes and mindsets describe you, they your religion isn't worth very much.  We are one thing if nothing else:  servants of God.  If we are servants of God, then we take orders from Him and from Him alone.  That means we need to not seek to shape our character and our life according to society or according to what people want from us or what they might think of us.  It doesn't matter what other people think of us.  That truth is hard to apply because we all want to be liked and accepted.  But the only person that matters is the Lord Jesus Christ.

            So instead of being religious we need to seek to be righteous before the Lord.  Jesus has given us His righteousness; that's what enables us to live for God and before God.  Because of Christ and who He is and what He's done for us, we can be fearless; we can be bold; we can be courageous as we live for Him. 

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            We also need to make sure that we don't subtly and even unintentionally deliver and preach a different gospel message.  Our culture rejects truth and says that it is all relative.  They say there is no absolute truth, or if there is, there is no way that we can know it or find it.  Paul didn't think that way at all.  He believed in a God who is capable of revealing Himself adequately and accurately to human beings.  Paul believed that there is absolute truth; that absolute truth comes from God and that we can know what it is.

            Therefore, it's not what Paul thinks or what Paul says.  It's not what I think or what I say.  It's not what any teacher or preacher or leader thinks or says, no matter how eloquent they are or no matter how big their church is, how many books they've written or how many people watch them on TV.

            It is all about God.  It matters what He thinks and it matters what He says.  We can know what He thinks and we can know what He says because He has given us His Word.  Paul didn't think that he was some sort of intellectual zealot who had a corner on truth.  He believed that God is all-knowing and that He is all-powerful and therefore able to reveal to us His divine nature, His plan and His will accurately and adequately. 

            Do we still believe in the concept of revelation from God or not?  Do we still believe that the Word of God is the actual Word of God?  Do we believe in the falleness of humanity?  Do we believe in the need for redemption and rescue because of our sin?  Change, radical change for the better is possible in a person's life.  That change comes from God and through God.  When such change comes upon us, it comes with a new sense of vocation a new call on our lives to serve God and to serve others in some form.

            As our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to living a life of righteous truth, righteous truth found in the Word of God.  Don't distort it; don't change it; don't downplay it or ignore it.  Live what God says; proclaim the gospel as you live your life for the Lord.  If there is some profession of faith you need to make today, some work of God in your life that you need to share with us, we invite you to do that now as we stand and sing.

 

            Prayer.