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The gospel and other gospels

8 March, 2008

b and lilyI’m often discouraged when I think of all the other ‘gospels’ vying for allegiance out there today, even among the churches; it seems that for every really edifying conversation I have about the gospel, I hear of five things that are striving against that gospel by seeking to replace it or ‘supplement’ it. I’ve been studying Galatians lately, which has been extremely encouraging, since Paul addresses so clearly and powerfully this very thing — not so much discouragement over it (although Paul feels that too, Gal 4:11, 19, 20), but the true power of the true gospel.

Just one example of this, in a roundabout way, is Paul’s sheer confidence in the gospel he preached and God’s power through it, because it is ‘not according to man’. Take Gal 1:11-12:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul is of course making this claim over against his Judaizing opponents, implying they do preach a gospel that is ‘according to man’, a man-made mixture of the grace of God, the work of Christ, and personal works or faithfulness. This is their gospel, which is contrary to Paul’s gospel of the grace of God and righteousness and faithfulness of Christ alone as all our righteousness before God, in the fellowship of the Spirit by faith.

The thing I want to highlight is that, by making such an assertion, Paul doesn’t merely pit himself against his opponents ‘head to head’ as representatives of two competing interpretations or understandings of the apostolic message, who then must argue concerning whose presentation is more faithful to that message. On the contrary: Paul’s opponents claim that they are interpreting the apostolic message more faithfully than Paul; yet Paul claims that he is not only a messenger of the apostolic proclamation, but himself an apostle commissioned by the risen Christ to bear the very self-testimony of the Lord concerning his words and works of salvation. This is the message accompanied and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the redemption of all who receive it, as well as the condemnation — ‘Let them be accursed’ (Gal 1:8, 9) — of all who ultimately reject it.

This is a remarkable difference in approach! Paul’s opponents claim to represent and to follow the apostles more faithfully; Paul claims to be an apostle, whom they are rejecting in unfaithfulness. Paul’s opponents claim to understand the gospel more truly and fully; Paul claims to have learned the gospel at the feet and from the lips of the ascended Lord himself, and yet they are rejecting this gospel and thus the one who gave it. It is a remarkable testimony to Paul’s divine commission and authority that even while these very things are being questioned and undermined, he exercises them continually.

So Paul was not merely one of the parties on trial in this struggle of competing gospels; he also spoke authoritatively on behalf of the Judge. He was simultaneously in different respects defendant and prosecutor, defending himself while speaking for God.

While I’m certainly not Paul and certainly don’t have his apostolic commision or authority, I do by the grace of God have his apostolic gospel and its Spiritual power according to the faithful promises of God. So even though I (or anyone else today) am not called to exercise Paul’s office — authoritatively calling down the wrath of God on certain people or groups, etc. — all Christians are called to submit to and recognize that office, primarily in receiving and clinging to the apostolic message. It is so encouraging to read of Paul’s confidence in this gospel, even in the midst of such clever and dangerous attacks upon it. And it’s so encouraging to see that the battle of the gospels is not evenly matched! Things are not always so black and white, and our ‘post-apostolic’ eyes often are not given to identify opponents so clearly and confidently–but if it has been given to us to identify and believe the gospel, just like the Galatians (1:9), then it also has been given to us to turn from any ‘other gospel’ (which is a contradiction in terms), and to hold fast to and testify to and defend the apostolic gospel we’ve received.

‘According to man’ versus ‘not according to man’, for Paul, is the difference between condemnation and justification, death and life, the spirit of this age and the Spirit of the next, powerlessness and powerfulness for salvation. When we embrace the gospel that is ‘not according to man’ but according to God, we embrace the truth and power of the age to come, because we embrace righteousness through Christ and life in the Spirit by faith, the same gospel that by the same Spirit is at work among us and in us and through us to accomplish all the good purposes of God — no matter how discouraging it looks on the battlefield. May we have the confidence in the gospel of Christ that Paul had.

  1. 8 March, 2008 10:04 am

    A great and encouraging article Brannan! You make some excellent points concerning Paul.

  2. 10 March, 2008 1:14 pm

    Good post! I share your frustration and discouragement with the opposing gospels which are no gospels at all. I attend Kuyper College which is supposed to be a Reformed Institution, but has lost the Reformed distinctives long ago. This past week I was trying to get the point across to the discussion group I was part of in class that you cannot speak about grace without speaking about Christ. It felt like I was speaking a foreign language.
    In my opinion, the worst offenders today who promote false gospels are the emergent folk.

  3. 10 March, 2008 9:30 pm

    yup. the whitehorse inn just taped a show at Danny Hyde’s Oceanside URC called “Christless Christianity” that speaks to this. should be airing soon. Rev. Hyde told me it was one of their better shows.

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