Without the Gospel…

Paul loved the churches he addresses in his epistle to the Galatians. Unlike his other letters, written to one specific church or person, Galatians’ audience was the churches of a given area—the area Paul and Barnabas covered on their first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). A lot of blood, sweat, and tears were shed on that trip as the dynamic duo of church planting encountered persecution and opposition at nearly every turn; yet they saw the Gospel take root and churches started. No doubt, then, Paul’s heart broke when he heard that some of these new believers were starting to forsake the Gospel. It wasn’t a bald-faced heresy; instead, they were being duped by what seemed like Paul’s message rebooted, or “Gospel 2.0.” But it was really a perversion of the truth, a pseudo-Gospel. The same lie that you and I fall for all the time. Paul doesn’t pull any punches in telling the Galatians exactly what they were trading the genuine article for. We ought to pay attention, for we often make the same transaction.

You Are a Fool

As Paul begins the meaty part of his letter to the Galatians, he opens with a string of questions that probably left his audience in stunned silence, staring at their sandals in shame. In the middle of that interrogative barrage comes the key question of the entire book:

Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? (Gal 3:3)

This sums up the Galatians’ problem, and ours too when we seek to do life without the Gospel. The false gospel that had infiltrated the region of Galatia wasn’t the Prosperity Gospel or name-it-and-claim-it theology. It was the idea that a person needed Christ and a little something extra. (In the case of the Galatian churches, that was circumcision.) They weren’t trying to “earn” their salvation per se. They did believe in the death of Christ, for justification. Just not sanctification. That, they thought, they had to do on their own by keeping a list of rules.

Paul calls them fools. And since I often do the same thing, I’m a fool too.

Paul tells his readers that they’re outright fools to believe that they can perfect themselves without the cross of Christ. In my life, it looks like this:

  • I try to exhibit patience in my own power, without remembering the steadfast love and patience of the Father who set the plan of my salvation into motion in eternity past.
  • I try to forgive others without recalling the forgiveness I have received.
  • I try to speak life on my own, without the strength of the One who is Himself life.
  • I try to parent on my own, gleaning wisdom from here, there, and everywhere but the truth of God’s Word.
  • I try to summon compassion without recalling the compassion that the holy God showed on a wretched sinner like me.

I am a fool.

You are Cursed.

Here in Minnesota the winters can seem to go on forever. By the time we get to late March and the snow is still falling, no one is singing “Let It Snow” or “Winter Wonderland” any longer. (Anyone who dares, would probably end up wearing tar and feathers.) However, I have yet to live through a Minnesota winter that didn’t eventually turn to spring and then to summer. Though we complain, the change of season is in front of us.

Not so in Narnia.

Remember how C.S. Lewis described his fantastical land while it was under the spell of the White Witch? He says it was “always winter and never Christmas.” What an apt description for a place characterized by barrenness, hopelessness, and death.

When we live without the Gospel, it’s like we choose to go back to living in a land that’s always winter and never Christmas. Paul calls it living under a curse:

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, Everyone who does not do everything written in the book of the law is cursed. (Gal 3:10)

While true believers can never ultimately revert back to curse-riddled living, we can practically exist as if that’s the case. This could take many different forms. For the original audience of Paul’s letter, it meant that they were convinced to revert back to the Old Testament law. For you and me, it might be a different standard. But regardless, it means we embrace a graceless way of life.

The Law—and, by extension, our rules—didn’t allow for grace. It was an impossible standard, a pass/fail test. Break one rule and you’re done (James 2:10). If that sounds demanding and impossible, it’s because it was. And that was the whole point. The Law was given so that we’d realize that we don’t need the Law, but a Lawkeeper.

However, we’re often quick to revert back to impossible standards of our own. Perhaps we set them for ourselves or maybe for others as we dictate exactly how we should look or act, how big our house should be or how it should be decorated, how our kids should behave, how our husbands should act, and what kind of food we all should consume.

It’s hopeless, life-sucking, and empty. Just like living in a land that’s always winter and never Christmas.

You’re a Slave

The news doesn’t get better as we continue through the book of Galatians. Next, Paul tells these young Christians that life without the Gospel is slavery.

So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.  But in the past, since you didn’t know God, you were enslaved to things that by nature are not gods. But now, since you know God, or rather have become known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elements? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again? (Gal 4:7-9)

One definition of slavery as given at merriam-webster.com is “a situation or practice in which people are entrapped (as by debt) and exploited.”1

Satan is a master of both entrapment and exploitation. Though we have been set free by the truth of the Gospel (John 8:32; Rom. 8:2), when we return to the comfort of our flesh, we fall into a pit dug by our enemy. The writer of Hebrews describes both problem and solution this way:

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Heb 12:1-2)

We must lock eyes of the Savior; He is the start, middle, and end of our faith. He’s not just a jump-start at the beginning to get us on our way. He’s the whole engine!

Do you feel trapped by your anger?

Your past?

Your lusts?

Your expectations?

Your anxiety?

Your ambition?

Perhaps the problem is that you’ve been entrapped by the adversary. Return to the Gospel.

Return and Remember

“But how?” you may be asking. “I don’t want to be a slave anymore. I hate the curse, and I’m sick of being a fool.” On one hand, the solution is simple: breathe in the Gospel every day. Let it be your oxygen. On the other hand, it’s not easy at all. I know it isn’t for me. It’s much easier to type these words than to live them out. But here are four things that might just help us both.

Read the GospelRemember, the Gospel is not isolated to four books at the beginning of the New Testament. All of Scripture exudes Gospel truth from Genesis to Revelation. As you spend time in the Word, look for the cross, the Savior, grace, mercy, and eternal life. It’s there, I promise. If you’re not sure where to start, you could pick up a resource like Even Better Than Eden by Nancy Guthrie to give you some direction. Or, if you have kids, read The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones with them and see how “every story whispers His name.”

Pray the GospelMake it a daily habit to plead with God to infuse you with the Gospel every single day. Ask that He help you to remember your identity, to see others in light of the cross, and to never ever lose the wonder of the cross. Beseech God to take the truth of Christ’s precious sacrifice and sink it deep into your bones.

Speak the GospelEstablish a practice of speaking Gospel truth to those around you. That may look like telling your family how you see God’s grace at work in their lives. It may take the form of sharing the Gospel with your hairdresser or starting a practice of family worship in your home. Or, it might mean reminding your children or spouse of their identity in Christ when they’ve started listening to lies.

Live the Gospel—Forgive as you have been forgiven. Extend compassion as compassion has been extended to you. Love justice as the God of justice has justified you with the blood of Christ, and show mercy as you have received it. Lavish grace on others as grace has been lavished upon you. In short, live the Gospel that you have received—”to the praise of His glorious grace.”


1 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/slavery

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