Stemming from a series of sermons delivered at his church, pastor Josh Moody presents the gospel of justification by faith alone, as proclaimed in Galatians. He examines thirty-one reasons Paul gives for this gospel.
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About the Author
Josh Moody (PhD, University of Cambridge) serves as the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and president of God Centered Life Ministries. He was previously a fellow at Yale University. Josh and his wife have four children.
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The God-ness of the Gospel
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.
In the heart of everyone lies an atheist. Not perhaps the kind that thinks in a strict literal sense that God does not exist. There may be some in church like that. When Christians gather, we are never to assume that all believe; rather, we are to hope that those who do not believe come so that we might present the truth of God in word and deed.
There may be some reading these words who struggle with the reality of God when difficult things are happening and times are tough. But the kind of atheist I am talking about, which lies in my heart and in yours, is the kind which believes not that God does not exist but that God is not able. We are practical, not theoretical, atheists. We come to church. We are busy in God's work. We serve. We talk the talk; we even walk the walk. But we tend to act as if God and the gospel are not sufficient to achieve what needs to be achieved. We are people who have the gospel but for whom the gospel has become a starting point rather than the reference point for all our efforts. We are religious; we may call ourselves evangelicals, but the evangel (that is, the gospel) does not impregnate every aspect of our theology nor every part of our lives.
In short, we are tempted to believe that what happens in church on Sunday morning is a human event. That is why Paul begins his letter with such a fierce denial — "not from men nor through man" (v. 1). As we notice that, we realize that straight away, unlike many of his letters, Paul seems to feel the need to begin by establishing his authority. Why does he do that? It is just one of the many puzzles that Galatians presents to the Bible student. But for all its complexity, and we will gradually unravel some of those knots together, Galatians is a book of fire and ice. It reminds me of the story of the young man who was first being set aside for the ministry. He was asked whether he was zealous. He said that he was but that he was not the kind of person who set the Thames River on fire. The man interviewing him said, "I don't want you to set the river on fire. What I want to know is, when I throw you in will there be steam?"
Despite all the complexities in which Galatians has been tied up throughout the years of human interpretation, it still sets up steam whenever it is read. It, of course, was the book that really kicked off the Reformation. Martin Luther called it the love of his life; it was "Katherina Von Bora," his wife. He studied it repeatedly and found in it the release of the gospel to free him from his legalism. It has done that to many another since. It was John Wesley who, through the reading of Luther's preface to the book of Galatians, found that "his heart was strangely warmed."
In fact, I think we may take it as a rule that Galatians is one of those books of the Bible that the Devil loves to try to blunt. It is a sharp sword, and my suspicion is that today as never before it needs to be unleashed to our world and to our church, yet scholars know that there are many head-scratching moments that it produces and that people ponder over. Our task will not be to enjoy scratching our heads together over its difficult bits but to clarify and then unleash. Like any part of the Bible, it does not need defending. "Defend the Bible," Spurgeon said once, when asked about his approach to answering difficult questions of Scripture, "I'd sooner defend a lion." As no other, this is a lion, and together we simply need to study it carefully so that we can clearly listen to it roar.
In this chapter we are dealing with just two verses, so we don't need to tackle all the questions at once; these two verses will be quite enough for now. What I want us to learn here is that it is absolutely essential that we have our religious authority in the right place.
I'm a parent of three young children. Before I was a parent, there were certain things I thought I would never do as a parent. One was lick the corner of a handkerchief and wipe the face of my child. I remember seeing someone do that and thinking, I'll never do that. Another was resorting to the copout, "Because Daddy says so." Why are we going to do this, why that? "Because Daddy says so." But there are times when that assertion of parental authority is not only necessary but essential. "Don't cross the road. There's a car coming. Stop!"
That's what Paul is doing. Not by man, but by God. In fact, the whole first two chapters of this letter are really taken up with Paul's asserting his authority as an apostle. He interweaves complex doctrine, especially at the end of chapter 2, a long story about how he became an apostle, and about when he confronted Peter, and it's all saying, "Not by man but by God." Then in chapters 3 and 4 he outlines in more detail the message of the gospel as against those who had agitated the Galatian Christians with their message of the necessity of law. The agitators were saying that Jesus was not enough; you also needed lots of rules. Paul denies it there and explains why that is nonsense theologically as well as experientially. Then in chapters 5 and 6 he gets very practical and explains how his gospel (God's gospel) actually does what the agitators said the law could do. His gospel reconciles. His gospel produces moral fruit. His gospel has the power of the Spirit and frees people from the bondage of habits that self-destruct.
Paul is saying, "You're asking why. I've heard you're off on the wrong track. Okay, I'm going to explain, but you've got to get this first, partly because the apostle says so." It's a straightforward, bold authority claim.
I want you to understand from these first two verses, as we begin to get into Galatians together, that it's very important that we have our religious authority in the right place. If we are crossing the road and about to get hit by a massive truck because we're looking the wrong way, we need to have that voice say, "stop," so he begins with this claim to his apostolic authority, "not." What we need to learn at the outset is this: believe the message of God's messenger. Paul gives us three reasons why we should do that.
Believe God's Messenger Because God Sent Him
First, believe the message of God's messenger because God sent him. "Paul, an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father"(v. 1).This looks like a traditional ancient greeting, but, like all of Paul's greetings, this is the summary of the message of his letter. It's like an e-mail heading: From, To, RE. This is what this letter is about. There are three practical implications for us.
1) If God can use Paul, he can use you. There is a unique aspect to Paul's sending, which we will get to, but Paul's conversion is also constantly used in Scripture as a model for what God can do. He was Saul. He was the religious terrorist. He was converted. He became a church planter and preacher, an evangelist and missionary. We are practical atheists if we limit God's usefulness of us to our personality. God did not so greatly use Paul because he thought Paul had all the right credentials. It was not "Oh, Paul, he knows the Bible and has good connections; let's get him." No, it was the religious terrorist. How unlikely is that? God delights to take unlikely people and use them because then the focus is on God, not on the unlikely people.
I've heard Billy Graham preach live two or three times. I was never impressed with his rhetorical skills, but I was deeply impressed with the power of the Spirit. I've met powerful religious leaders, and then I've met the dear old lady with the faraway prayerful look in her eye. I know that "the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him" (Ps. 25:14), and that the lady is moving heaven and earth for the Billy Grahams of the Lord. She will be at the front of the line to the throne of heaven. There are lots of talented people around church today, and I don't despise that. We used to joke when I pastored near Yale that we were probably the Baptist church with the highest average IQ in America, and at the church where I worked in Cambridge, one practically needed a PhD to run the overhead projector. Fine, God can use our talents. He's given them to us. But as soon as we think our talents are why God chose us, rather than that God delighted to use us, the chief of sinners, I suspect that God may begin looking for another weeping widow or broken man, for God raises up the humble, and pride comes before a fall. It is the Sauls that God makes Pauls. That is a statement of practical theism, not practical atheism.
2) If Paul was an apostle, we are not. There are two kinds of apostles in the New Testament. There are the apostles of the churches, those sent by the churches for various tasks, and then there are the apostles of Christ, those sent by Jesus himself. Of course, Paul is claiming here to be the latter sort of an apostle of Christ. But where does this word apostle come from? Some have said that it was a Jewish term used of an official position. That is possible, but the evidence for it is later than this, and those positions were different in some ways from this anyway. Others have said the word was just taken from the Greek, but in Greek it was rarely used in this way; sometimes it was used of a naval expedition or of a boat. The answer is that the word comes as used by Christ, and he is picking up on the word from the Old Testament, all of which is fulfilled in him. So Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you" (John 20:21). He called them to himself and designated some apostles. That word apostle in the Greek translation of the Old Testament is used repeatedly of Moses and his sending by God and of Isaiah and his sending by God. "Here I am, send me. ... Go, I am sending you."
The apostles were God's sent people, uniquely authorized, as were the prophets in the Old Testament, specifically following on Christ's sending into the world by God the Father, carrying on that mission. This was a special sending, no longer in existence, that Paul had uniquely "as to one untimely born" (1 Cor. 15:8) through his Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ himself. Therefore, our authority must be, practically speaking, taken from Scripture, not from tradition or culture or what humans of any kind, dead or living, say. They can help, but they can never go toe-to-toe with Scripture, and when they do, the Bible must win. When preaching, I want people flicking through the pages, staring down at the Bible, believing the Word that comes through me, not just the human speech. When we plan, it is the Bible that must guide. Our worship must be Bible-centered in order to be God-centered.
3) If Paul was not from man nor by man, we who minister God's Word must at least be not from man if we are also necessarily by man. Ministers of the gospel are called by churches. They are "by man" in that sense, but they are also to be from God ultimately, that sending which the church confirms. No one is to be in the pulpit — ordained as a missionary, church planter, pastor, elder, or otherwise set aside by God for Word ministry — unless he is in an ultimate sense put there by God, even though that calling must be confirmed by the church in a regular and proper fashion to keep the lunatics out, and because there are no apostles in Paul's sense any more today.
No one in his right mind signs up for God's work for the fun of it. There are better ways to get beaten up. "Paul, you've got to go and do this, and let me show you how much you will suffer for my name."
"Moses, you want to go."
"Actually, no, I don't."
"Well, you've got to anyway.
"Isaiah, will you go?"
"Here I am, send me"
"Oh, and by the way, no one's going to listen."
"Jeremiah, you're on, but your ministry will have no impact, and the people will go into exile, and you'll be known as the weeping prophet."
"Thanks, God. Sign me up."
First you'll be spit out, then you'll be beaten up. Some people will hate you. They'll twist your words. People like the Galatians, for whom you have given your heart and soul, will line up to get circumcised if you turn your back for five minutes. Sounds like fun. If God wants you, he'll get you, and you'll need this burden that you are there because God wants you there. Even Augustine was made a bishop against his initial desire. We should serve willingly but not willfully. God is real, and he gets his people where he wants them. That is practical theism.
Believe God's Messenger Because God Raised Jesus from the Dead
Second, believethe message of God's messenger because God raised Jesus from the dead. "Paul, an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him [that is, Jesus] from the dead" (v. 1). People wonder why Paul mentions the resurrection at this point. They think it's strange that it comes before the cross, which we find in verse 4. The resurrection is mentioned here because it's part of Paul's establishing his authority. God raised Jesus from the dead, and Paul received his commission as an apostle by seeing the risen Jesus on the Damascus road. So we may guess that the Galatian agitators — those who were in one way or another causing difficulty in the churches in Galatia — were saying that Paul's experience was just a mystical one, a personal conversion experience. Paul is going to show that he received it all from Jesus, not from man, as he goes on throughout this first section of the letter. Right here at the beginning he includes that God raised Jesus from the dead. Paul is saying, "I did not have a personal mystical experience — I actually saw Jesus."
Why does that matter for practical atheists like us? It matters because Jesus is alive. We don't worship a dead hero; we worship a living Lord. Jesus rules the church, and he rules by his word. Prayer makes a difference. Private repentance is the bit of yeast that makes a difference to the whole batch of dough. So is the private sin. This is a spiritual reality. We are not playing at church. Heaven and hell stand on the brink, eternal decisions are being made in the secrets of all our hearts, and I want you to know that Jesus is alive. He has the power to rescue you. He breaks you that he might remake you. He has put you here reading for this very purpose, that your theft at work may stop, that your marriage may be healed, that your life may be turned around. The church is not a tomb for a dead Lord; it is a vehicle for a living Savior, vibrating with his Holy Spirit.
He is God. Notice how Paul just assumes Jesus' divinity here. It's not by men but by Jesus. Jesus is not just a man. He is God. He and God the Father are one. It's important to notice the internal logic of Scripture, as John Stott is said to have called it. Jesus is alive. He is God. He is Lord. He knows the secrets of your heart. He knows your pain. He knows all. He is not distant and dead; he is present by his Spirit, and there is a unique moment now when Christ, as you receive him by faith, can come and do his renewing work in your heart.
It seems to me that the great difference between practical theism and practical atheism is the church of the living God. Jesus is alive, and we can't keep that a secret. It is not okay to think, When they get to know us, they'll realize that Jesus is alive. It has to be front and center in our worship, our smiles, our greetings, our interaction, our preaching — in everything we do, Jesus is alive. Church is not an evangelical golf club. It is the church of the living God, and we need to indicate that. We don't want to give the impression that Jesus died and went to heaven in 1950. He's still alive and doing things today. A church that decides it has "arrived" is a breath away from dying. Pride becomes a fall. We need practical theism, a resurrection theology, the power of the Spirit through the Word of God.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "No Other Gospel"
Copyright © 2011 Josh Moody.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 The God-ness of the Gospel, 13,
2 The Gospel of Grace and Peace, 23,
3 A Different Gospel, 31,
4 The Gospel Antithesis, 39,
5 The God-Pleasing Gospel, 45,
6 The Relevance of the Gospel, 55,
7 Gospel, Not Religion, 61,
8 The Authority of the Gospel, 69,
9 The Gospel of Freedom, 77,
10 The Unity of the Gospel, 85,
11 The Gospel of Second Chances, 95,
12 The Gospel and Justification, 105,
13 Answering the Common Objection to the Gospel, 115,
14 The Gospel and the Cross, 121,
15 The Gospel, Not Moralism, 129,
16 The Gospel and Abraham, 137,
17 The Gospel and Legalism, 145,
18 Gospel and Covenant, 153,
19 Gospel and Law, 159,
20 Living in the Light of the Gospel, 167,
21 Gospel versus Religion, 175,
22 The Gospel and Formalism, 183,
23 True Gospel Zeal, 191,
24 Gospel Identity, 199,
25 Maintaining the Freedom of the Gospel, 209,
26 Defending the Gospel, 217,
27 The Use of Gospel Freedom, 227,
28 The Gospel and the Spirit, 237,
29 Walk by the Spirit, 245,
30 Gospel and Community, 253,
31 The Gospel Harvest, 261,
Epilogue: The Gospel Underlined, 269,
General Index, 277,
Scripture Index, 285,
What People are Saying About This
“Paul’s Letter to the Galatians so strongly and passionately articulates the gospel of grace that it has proved transforming in many generations of preachers from Luther to Wesley and beyond. Here Josh Moody reinforces that heritage for the twenty-first century.”
D. A. Carson,Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Cofounder, The Gospel Coalition
“These expositions are clear, well-organized, exegetically careful, and theologically faithful. They're also filled with good illustrations, personal application, and a proper dose of British wit. These qualities make for very good preaching and a very good book.”
Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor,Christ Covenant Church, Matthews, North Carolina
“Josh Moody’s No Other Gospel blends attention to the text, theological insight, and pastoral application in a model of Scriptural exposition. His focus on Galatians is a great choice, since this letter addresses so clearly the nature and importance of the gospel – a critical matter in an age when so many Christians and so many churches are confused about the gospel and its centrality.”
Douglas J. Moo, Kenneth T. Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies, Wheaton College; Chair, Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV
“Pastor Josh Moody takes us verse-by-verse through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Along the way, he exposes our tendency toward man-exalting ‘gospels’ and then focuses our attention on the good news that exalts Christ. No Other Gospel is a model of compelling biblical exposition and a timely reminder to the Church of the unchanging good news.”
Trevin Wax, Director for Bibles and Reference, LifeWay Christian Resources; author, This Is Our Time; Eschatological Discipleship; and Gospel-Centered Teaching