I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV)
A well-known preacher of the United States was asked to say a few words to a gathering in an open-air meeting. At the close of his address, an atheist stepped up to him and challenged him to a debate, assuring him that he would bear all the expense of renting the hall and advertising. The preacher said, "I accept on one condition: When you bring with you fifty people who have been helped by your philosophy, I am ready because I will bring you hundreds who will testify to the transformation this Gospel has wrought in their lives." Needless to say, the challenger departed and never returned.
There is only one life-changing gospel. There is only one gospel that brings life and peace to the sinner.
Paul was astonished – John MacArthur, in his commentary on Galatians stated the following: "The most destructive dangers to the church have never been atheism, pagan religions, or cults that openly deny the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, but rather supposedly Christian movements that accept just enough biblical truth that their unscriptural doctrines seem insignificant and harmless" (MacArthur, 1987. p.14.).
There are a lot of false gospels:
1. Works Based Gospel – You can earn your way to heaven!
2. Self-Improvement Gospel – 5 Steps to a better you!
3. Prosperity Gospel – God saved you to make you rich.
4. Social Justice Gospel – Creates unbiblical categories and classes among God’s people and places secular progressive politics over scriptural authority.
5. Perverted Grace Gospel – Do anything you want! “Get out of jail free card!”
6. Interfaith Gospel – Every religion basically gets it right and we just need to take a piece of each one and blend them together. There is after all not any real objective truth.
7. Universal Gospel – God will just save everyone in the end.
In all of these false gospels, they deny…
- Original sin, man’s utter sinfulness, the holiness of God, the righteous judgment of God against sin, the right of God to demand payment for sin, the authority of Scripture and they go with what man thinks rather than what God has said, all men born in Adam and under condemnation of sin, the work of Christ and His atonement for sin, the power of the resurrection, one Savior, the peace that comes from having salvation in Christ, free justification.
Martin Luther in his commentary on the book of Galatians states:
"St. Paul wrote this epistle because, after his departure from the Galatian churches, Jewish-Christian fanatics moved in, who perverted Paul’s gospel of man’s free justification by faith in Christ Jesus.
The world bears the gospel a grudge because the gospel condemns the religious wisdom of the world. Jealous for its own religious views, the world, in turn, charges the gospel with being a subversive and licentious doctrine, offensive to God and man, a doctrine to be persecuted as the worst plague on earth.
As a result, we have this paradoxical situation: The gospel supplies the world with the salvation of Jesus Christ, peace of conscience, and every blessing. Just for that, the world abhors it" (Luther, 1535).
This world fueled by Satan and under his system hates the gospel of Jesus Christ and it will hate anyone who preaches it and certainly those who have been transformed by it. Martin Luther is a true story of this gospel transformation.
In a short E-book entitled, “Life Of Martin Luther” by Diana Kleyn & Joel Beeke it states about Luther:
"Luther tried to win God’s favor by praying and fasting often. He whipped himself and lived in a cell that had no heat. He slept very little and recited many prayers. He tried to think of every sin he had committed so that he could do penance for them all, but that did not make him feel any better. He did not know about the love of God. Rather, whenever he heard about God, he was afraid. Luther’s trust was not in the Savior, but in saints and angels, good works, doing penance, and paying for his own sins. Luther, along with other Roman Catholics, had been taught that God was so holy that He could only be approached through the saints. No one had told him that the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ alone can satisfy God’s justice.
Most monks and other clergy members (like Luther) of the Roman Catholic Church did not think much about their souls. They obeyed the rules because it was required of them by the church. But most often, their obedience was done out of a sense of duty. In addition, it is sad to say that most of the clergy lived a wicked life, even though they professed to serve God. They seemed pious during religious ceremonies, but their lifestyles were full of sin and injustice" (Kleyn & Beeke, 2009. p.5.)
How could this be? It is because religion does not save and it can not transform the human heart. The greatest need of man is to be born again or born from above and have his heart of stone removed and replaced with a heart of flesh and a heart that truly loves God and obeys Him out of that love.
God does not desire a religious or ritualistic heart but a broken and repentant heart that comes from one who knows how truly sinful they are and how desperately they need a Savior.
Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “God has surely promised His grace to the humbled, that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves.”
The book on Luther’s life goes on to say:
"Unlike the religious monks and clergy of Luther’s day, the Holy Spirit would not allow him to be like the others. For that reason, he could find no peace in the monastery and its rituals.
When Luther went to Rome in 1510, his eyes were opened. In a chapel connected with one of the main churches in Rome, there is a flight of white marble steps called the Scala Sancta, which means “holy stairs.” The priests claimed that these stairs were the very same stairs Jesus climbed when He went from Pilate’s judgment hall to Calvary and that an angel transferred them from Jerusalem to Rome. They also informed the people that whoever went up those stairs on his knees would have all his sins forgiven. Tradition says that Luther went up those stairs on his knees, praying and kissing each step. How Luther hoped to find peace for his troubled soul! But his hopes were cruelly dashed. He did not understand why he could not find peace. The Lord had a reason for all of his unrest, however. He was showing Luther his own sin, the wickedness of the church, and the necessity of finding salvation only in Christ.
Finally, when studying Romans, Luther read, “The just shall live by faith.” and it changed everything for Luther. He no longer tried to pay for his own sins, but he trusted in His Savior. Now he wanted to obey God, not out of fear, but out of love" (ibid, p.7.).
Martin Luther had found the true gospel. He had found the gospel that saves. The gospel of Jesus Christ.
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,
Notice that in contrast to all false gospels, that in contrast to all that man attempts to conjure up, in contrast to all that Martin Luther had tried in vain, the true gospel is by Jesus Christ and God our Father by his grace and mercy. It is not by man or through man or accomplished by man. Jesus Christ himself gave himself for our sins and we contribute nothing to it. Salvation is completely of God and by God. Our Savior is unlike every other religious leader that has ever lived in that He is a risen Savior and a risen Lord!
John MacArthur points out that grace and peace are two of the most beautiful words in regards to salvation. He states in his commentary about Galatians that grace is the source of our salvation and peace is the result (MacArthur, p.5.)
God Himself gave Himself for our sins. He left the throne of heaven and entered into His very own creation so that He could voluntarily give His life to make atonement for our sin. Now, through the power of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and our subsequent repentance and faith in the only Savior, we will have life eternal in Jesus Christ. We will no longer be in Adam but in Christ. Our salvation is full and free and eternal and it comes only through one gospel.
The most important thing that we can do today as Christians and in our churches is to preach the one true gospel. We need to refute the false gospels and not allow anything or anyone to distort the clear teachings of Scripture. When we obey God and live for Him we are able to stand back and boldly proclaim, "Whoa! Look at what He did!" because the message of the one true gospel is to point to the cross and boldly proclaim, "Look at what He did!"
MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. Chicago, Illinois. Moody Publishers. 1987.
Luther, Martin. Commentary On The Epistle To The Galatians. 1535. Translated by Theodore Graebner. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan Publishing House. 1949.
Kleyn, Diana & Beeke, Joel. Life Of Martin Luther. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Reformation Heritage Books. 2009.