Guarding the Gospel: Know the Gospel

A little over a week ago, many churches celebrated Reformation Day–the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door, calling for a debate on the theology and practice of indulgences.  This call for debate ultimately sprang from his concern for the message of the gospel itself.  We here a lot of talk about the gospel from all manner of places in Christianity today.  We have Coalitions around the gospel, supposed holes in our gospel, even callings to have our very lives connected to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Although the attention on the gospel itself has increased over the last few years, it isn’t hard to see why: the message of the gospel is central to the Bible, and to Christianity itself.

But that raises the question, ‘how do we ensure the centrality of the gospel is maintained?’  If there was ever a part of the Bible that dealt with the task of guarding the gospel, it’s Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Even in the opening verses of the letter, Paul provides some essentials for guarding the gospel; essentials we should follow today.

He says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:3-12).

Looking at the first part of this passage (1:3-5), Paul reminds us that essential to guarding the gospel is knowing the gospel.  He opens his letter by giving us, in summary form, the good news:   “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (1:3-4).

Three emphases emerge from this gospel summary.  First, we see that  Christ died for sins. This is really at the very heart of the gospel. Specifically, Paul says “gave himself for our sins” (1:4).  This is essence of the work of Christ on the cross— his death was substitutionary; he died, not for his own sins, but for ours.  Why did he do this?   Later in Galatians 3, Paul will explain that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (3:13).  The curse of the law is the death sentence we receive for failing to keep God’s moral law.   Yet, through his public execution—through his death on the cross—Christ himself became accursed in our place.   The result is that, through Christ’s death, his people were delivered from evil.

This is second emphasis:  Christ died to deliver his people. Specifically, Paul says, “[Christ] gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (1:4). This is the intent of the Christ death on the cross—a delivery.  The cross was, in every way, a mission of divine rescue for sinners.   This theme of delivery, or redemption, isn’t anything new, but is rooted in God’s redemption of his people from Egypt through the Exodus (Exodus 1-12).  There, God redeemed his people from enslavement to Pharaoh.  And he did so by commanding the people to offer up a lamb in sacrifice to himself.  When the Israelites sprinkled the blood of the lamb on their doorposts in faith, it served as their ransom.  It saved them from the judgment that came upon all of Egypt.

In the same way, Christ is our Passover Lamb.  In fact, he is the fulfillment of the redemption those first Passover sacrifices pointed forward to.  And more than mere slavery to a person, Christ achieved the redemption of his people from sin, which so characterizes this evil age.  And how did all of this happen?  It happened exactly as God intended.

The last thing we see in Paul’s overview of the gospel is that  Christ died according to God’s will. Later, in chapters 3-4, Paul explains how Christ stands at the center of God’s plan of redemption for sinners, not the Law.  The Law served its purpose, but part of that purpose was to point us to Christ. So, in chapter 3, Paul says: “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:24-26).  Then later in chapter 4, he says that “ when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (4:4-5).  You see, the cross wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t plan B, it was the very will of God, which Christ joyfully took up and fulfilled that sinner might be saved.

This means that Christ work doesn’t come by what we do, even the good work of keeping God’s law.  Instead, sinners do just believe.  Salvation doesn’t depend on us doing anything. It doesn’t depend on us being anything.  We need only trust in Christ’s work for us to find ourselves forgiven by God, even justified—declared righteous—before him. Thus, Luther says, “these words are very thunderclaps from heaven against all righteousness.”  What he meant was that Paul’s explanation of the gospel destroys any attempt on our part to bring something to offer God in exchange for our salvation. Self-righteousness is the enemy of the gospel and a hindrance to salvation.

That is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Now what do we do with it?


  1. We shall all be far better off when people like yourself let go this clinging to centuries’ old fairy tales ( created by man … ) … Religion is an antiquated concept … People kill because they think their god is the right one … Everyone else’s is wrong … We are but animals that advanced … Out of necessity ! .. Above the other flesh and blood creatures that evolved over centuries on this planet … This ‘ God ‘ , ‘ Christ ‘ , ‘ Allah ‘ , ‘ Zues ‘ … ‘ Santa Clause ‘ … ‘ Tooth Fairy ‘ nonsense has got to go if we have any chance of furthering the human existence and dominance on this rock that rotates around a star that will die one day and mark our end …

    The thoughts of goodwill and the core values of your ‘ religion ‘ are admirable … BUT thoughts of humans are at the root of conflict in our self created social existence … There is no ‘ God ‘ that created man … Men created the concept of ‘ God ‘ out of ignorance.

  2. Do you understand the 4th Cup?

    After the beginning of Jesus’ Last Passover Supper (Seder) Judas Iscariot left to do what he had to do. The twelve left in the room were at the point where the second of four traditional cups was about to be drunk.

    (The first is at the beginning of the Seder meal.) Jesus took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.”

    More of the lamb meal was consumed. During that He took a loaf of unleavened bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “This IS my body given for you; do this to recall me.” (“Recall” is a better translation of the Greek “anamnesis” than “remember”.)

    After the supper He took the third cup saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This IS my blood of the NEW and everlasting covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

    A hymn was sung, which is a combination of several psalms called The Great Hillel, and they went out to the Mount of Olives.

    What happened? The Passover ceremony and ritual was not complete. There was no fourth cup. There was no announcement that it was finished. Could it be that Jesus was so upset with what He knew was about to happen that He forgot? Doubtful!

    Not only Jesus, but also the 11 others had participated in the Passover Seder every year of their lives. No, this was done on purpose. The last supper of Jesus was not over.

    On the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.”

    He prayed that three times. Then Jesus was arrested, illegally put on trial by the Sanhedrin, then by Pontius Pilate, sentenced and crucified.

    While on the cross He wept. Jesus, who was in excruciating agony, was so merciful that He prayed for the forgiveness of His executioners. He was offered some wine with a pain killer, myrrh, in it. He refused it.

    “Later, knowing that all was now complete, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled and the kingdom established, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.‘” A man dipped a sponge into sour wine; he placed it on a hyssop branch and lifted it up to Jesus lips.

    He drank. (We recall that it was the hyssop branch which was used to paint lambs blood around the Hebrew’s door for the Passover of the angel of death.)

    It was then that Jesus said, “It is finished.” He then bowed His head and gave up the spirit to His Father.

    The fourth cup now represented the lamb’s blood of the first Passover, a saving signal to the angel of death.

    The Lamb of God was now sacrificed. The last Passover supper of Jesus Christ was now complete with the fourth cup. It was finished.

    The tie in with the Passover is unmistakable.

    The Lamb of God was sacrifice and death was about to be passed over come Easter day.

    The promise of eternal life for many was about to be fulfilled.

    Christ’s Passover was finished, but His mission was not until he rose from the dead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s