Are You Convicted (Galatians 1)
1. Have you ever been driving and saw a bumper sticker that said, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I always used to smile at those bumper stickers and shake my head, but Paul would have challenged the car’s driver with the same question. Just as he challenges the Galatians. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is by far his harshest epistle to any church. You can almost see Paul pacing as he writes this letter. You can see him foaming at the mouth with distaste for the news he has received: False teachers have entered the churches in Galatia and questioned everything Paul stands for. They were asking the question: “Is there enough evidence to convict Paul of being a Christian?” Paul’s answer can help you answer the question.
2. Paul presents his opening statement: “The Gospel that is proclaimed by me is not according to man: for neither from a man I received it nor was taught it, but through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (vv11-12). Paul did not receive his message of the Gospel from anyone on earth, as his opponents contended. He received it directly from the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. Paul makes the statement so that the churches in Galatia will understand that the Gospel is truly the Word of God and that its only true source is the God who came into the flesh to fulfill His holy Law in their stead. Paul states as a preface to his argument, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (v6). The churches in Galatia were still in their infancy, but they were forsaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Paul repeats this refrain throughout this epistle. In chapter 3, he writes, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified” (v1). These Galatians had been “bewitched” into accepting another gospel which Paul states is “really no gospel at all” (1:7). Paul was questioning THEIR foundation! He was turning the question back on his opponents. How easily St. Paul could write these very same words to many churches in America! How many times have you flipped through the TV channels, trying to find something worthwhile to watch, and come across yet another televangelist talking about the abundant life that God wants you to have? It’s all over the place now. This “gospel” of godly prosperity and Christians being able to obtain their heart’s desire if they simply pray the right words or believe hard enough or send a large enough check to the address at the bottom of the screen. This “gospel” is “really no gospel at all.” It’s simply another bewitching of Christians by the devil who wants to distract us from the true Gospel—Jesus Christ crucified for your sins. If you listen long enough, what’s missing from their message? A dead Jesus. Without a dead Jesus, it’s not really the Gospel. Without a dead Jesus, it’s just another motivational speech. Without a dead Jesus, there is no Christianity.
3. Paul continues his defense: No other human gave him his Gospel message, and no one taught it to him either. Man does not exercise authority over the Gospel. The Holy Spirit reveals it. If man controls the Gospel, the Gospel can change at will. We see this today as some church bodies have given into social pressures to accept abortion and homosexuality—things forbidden by God’s Word. They changed the Gospel because it’s “irrelevant”, “outdated” or “inconvenient”. If man exercises authority over the Word of God, he changes the Word of God and the Gospel into something God did not intend it to be. However, God retains complete control over His Word. As Isaiah prophesies: “So is My Word be that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (55:11). God is in charge of the Word. It accomplishes God’s desire. It achieves God’s purpose. God’s desire and purpose is salvation through Jesus Christ crucified. The Holy Spirit reveals salvation as faith grasps the Gospel message that Jesus Christ died for your sins. Without faith, it sounds like foolishness. That’s why the Holy Spirit creates faith within those who have no faith. God has all the authority with His Word. God wants all to be saved. That’s the good news of the Gospel message.
4. Man’s main relationship to the Gospel is as a mouthpiece. We proclaim the Gospel in ways that are both verbal and nonverbal. Paul continues his verbal proclamation by referencing his nonverbal behaviors. Paul didn’t hide his past from the churches he founded. As a Pharisee and a persecutor of the Church, Paul was extremely zealous for the traditions handed down from his fathers (v14). He lived the best life he could under the Law. His zeal continued once he became a Christian. Sure, he didn’t live the best life under the Law. He was the first to call himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The Christians in Judea wouldn’t recognize Paul’s face, but they knew his reputation: “The one persecuting us then is now proclaiming the faith which he then tried to destroy” (v25). Paul pointed to himself and his own conduct as a module for Christians to emulate and follow. His zeal was for the Gospel and bringing people to Christ. That should be the focus of our zeal. Like Paul, we can speak the Gospel to our friends and family. For some of us, words don’t come that easily. We worry that we’ll say the exact opposite of what we want to say. Or that someone will press us beyond our own ability and knowledge. As an old African American spiritual puts it, “Don’t ever feel discouraged, For Jesus is your friend; And if you lack for knowledge, He’ll ne’er refuse to lend” (LSB #749.3). Like Paul, you don’t have to worry about the verbal message. You can volunteer at a women’s center like Loving Touch Pregnancy Center, caring for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of women in many different circumstances. You don’t have to say anything, but a caring smile and loving attitude can speak volumes without saying a single word. You can also mentor a child. Providing a Christian example for a child who may not have it at home can have consequences that may last for years to come. Just showing your genuine Christian concern for that child may advance the Gospel to that child through simple, everyday activities. The Gospel can be spread both verbally and nonverbally.
5. How did Paul answer the bumper sticker? “I’m guilty. There’s more than enough evidence to convict me. How about you?” Good question. How about you? How do you answer the bumper sticker? Can you give yourself a guilty verdict? What proof do you have? What assurance is there of your conviction? The same message that Paul based his assurance. As the Nicene Creed puts it:
- Jesus Christ, true God and true man,
- for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven
- and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary
- and was made man;
- and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
- He suffered and was buried.
- And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven
- And sits at the right hand of the Father.
In the name of the suffering, dying, risen and ascended Lord who has convicted you of being one of His brothers and sisters, who has convicted you of being a Christian. Amen.