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May 31, 2015

True vs. Tainted

True vs. Tainted

Passage: Galatians 1:11-2:10

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Freedom

Keywords: change, freedom, gospel, relationships, slavery, tainted, truth


This message looks at six contrasts Paul draws between false gospels and the true Gospel of Christ in Galatians 1-2.


True vs. Tainted

Freedom Series in Galatians

Galatians 1:11-2:14

May 31, 2015


  • Bhopal, India disaster: on the night of Dec. 2-3, 1984, the release of toxic gasses at the Dow Chemical plant in Bhopal, India tainted the air and water supply of nearly half a million people resulting in the death of 4,000-8,000 people within days of the tragedy. People woke up that night with symptoms of severe eye irritation, vomiting, burning in the respiratory tract, and a sense of suffocation.  Those closer to the ground such as children died at a higher rate as did those who could not escape from the city by some form of vehicular transportation.  People died of chocking, circulatory failure and fluid on the lungs.  It was the worst chemical disaster in human history.
  • The Broadway dark comedy Arsenic & Old Lace plus its 1944 movie starring Carrey Grant popularized the poisoning effects of small traces of the chemical Arsenic. In the plot line, two spinster aunts who have taken to murdering lonely old men by poisoning them with a glass of home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine, and "just a pinch" of cyanide.  Arsenic poisoning affects over 137 million people in more than 70 countries, mostly through contaminated ground water.  Symptoms that begin with things as simple as headaches and mental confusion eventually affect the lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver. The final result of arsenic poisoning is coma and death. 

Real life is obviously more tragic than Hollywood comedy.

We all know and accept that everything from food to air and water can be easily tainted and quickly become deadly.  But when it comes to spiritual truth, we somehow believe the notion that tainted truth really isn’t that harmful.  That, I’m afraid, is a product of our pluralistic generation that believes the only truly deadly truth is one anyone would hold must be true for everyone. 

The Apostle Paul didn’t grow up in our relativistic society.  He was raised and educated in a Jewish culture that understood and wholeheartedly embraced certain basic spiritual truths, truths like…

  1. There is only 1 God.
  2. All people have sinned and fallen woefully short of God’s standard of holiness.
  3. Sin has tragic temporal and eternal consequences.
  4. Unless God is loving, forgiving and gracious, none of us will ever be reconciled to Him.
  5. Other religious belief systems are wrong and destructive to human beings.

Just listing those 5 foundational beliefs held by most Jews of Paul’s day are enough to send most modern millennials and their Baby Buster and Boomer parents and grandparents into apoplectic shock.  How dare we claim that God is the standard for truth, that He has spoken to us about it and that there is any kind of binding obligation on our part to respond and submit to that truth! 

But like it or not, tainted “truth,” when it comes to our relationship with God, IS deadly.  And that’s why Paul wrote the book of Galatians that we’re studying presently.

REVIEW:  If you were with us last week, you know that Arty talked mostly about the call of God upon both Paul as an Apostle or “sent one” of God and God’s call upon us as followers of Jesus Christ.  There are many aspects of God’s call to every one of us—everything from salvation to sanctification to God’s call to be sharing the Gospel with others.  Your “calling” in Christ is not somehow less than mine as a minister.  I as your pastor am not more responsible than you are to live out Christ’s calling on each of us. We all share a divine calling to a divinely-led life.  And the profession you or I choose in life has little to nothing to do with how well we live out that calling. 

But today I would like us to look more closely at the Gospel part of our calling.  The first part of Galatians chapter 1 clues us in to the problem Paul was addressing with a “different gospel” that some were preaching and peddling in the first century church.  For this morning’s purposes, I’d like us to think about the CONTRASTS between the true Gospel and the tainted gospel both in Paul’s day and in the 21st century.  So here we go!

Let’s start reading in Galatians 1:11-12

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Here’s the 1st contrast between THE true Gospel and the tainted gospels of how to relate to God: 

Tainted gospels are inventions of people;

the True Gospel is a revelation from God.

You’ve probably heard the oft-repeated criticism that “all religions are just people making up God in their own image.”  While it sounds cute, it simply isn’t true.  This is the great difference between the Judeo-Christian understanding of God and all other notions about god or gods.

In many other religions like pantheism or polytheism or even deism, people look at something in nature and thus create a concept of God from what they observe.  They see competing forces in nature and invent the notion of competing, finite gods like the Greeks did.  They see beauty as well as brutality in nature and invent the idea of a host of gods of differing moral uprightness or immorality and evil.    

Other religions like Buddhism or New Age eastern religions look inside man for further enlightenment about ultimate reality.  Yet in calling people to “get in tune with god within”, they end up losing individuality and real humanity in a sea of surrendered desires. 

Then there are the Christian cults and whole religions such as Islam that have looked to angels or to singular human sources (like prophets) that radically change the Gospel of Christ into something at odds with what God has previously revealed either through His prophets or directly in Jesus Christ, God in human flesh. 

Paul tackles this last group first in 1:8 when he says to the churches, “But 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.”  Paul recognized that while even he might end up preaching something other than the truth, if it contradicted the already-revealed truth in Jesus and the Word of God, it was something to be rejected immediately and completely. 

So let’s keep reading.  1:13-14

13) For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14) And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 

            Notice who the subject is in both these verses.  It’s Paul.  It’s Paul in his former religious life.  It’s religious zeal apart from grace and God at its best. 

  • I persecuted the church of God violently….
  • I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age…
  • extremelyzealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 

These are all the things religionists and false-gospels depend upon and reward: 

  • Stamping out other religions
  • Beating the competition in your own religion.
  • Showing fanatical zeal for religious traditions that have developed over the centuries.

In contrast to these marks of a false, tainted gospel, notice where Paul puts the focus when he starts talking about his new life in Jesus Christ.  Vs.  15ff

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

            Now Paul can’t stop talking about everything that God has done.

  • “…heset me apart before I was born….”
  • “…[He]…called me by his grace….”
  • “…[He] was pleased to reveal his Son to me….”

And then Paul goes on to talk about what he didn’t do rather than point to something he did that made him look like a winner. 

Notice that when it comes to the true Gospel, God is the active agent even before we come into existence or onto the scene. 

I’m not trying to pulpit-pound for Calvinism in this observation.  But neither can we explain or understand the biblical text in its plain meaning if we deny that God is the primary and most active agent in the every part of our salvation.  A theology that puts us primarily in the driver’s seat when it comes to salvation has a heck of a time dealing with these and other similar passages in the New Testament (Romans 8; Eph. 1).  But a theology that recognizes that no one will be rightly related to God in salvation without God initiating, developing and completing salvation for us can take these passages at face value. 

So here’s the 2nd contrast between THE true Gospel and the tainted gospels of how to relate to God:

  • Tainted gospels focus primarily on human effort.
  • The true Gospel focuses primarily on divine work.

Put another way, tainted gospels focus on what humans can attain while the true Gospel focuses on what humans can simply receive. 

From here Paul goes on to tell us about how he didn’t go around trying to get some Apostolic Gold Medal Seal of Approval from the big-shots in Jerusalem, Peter or James.  Instead he just preached the Gospel given him by Jesus and lived the Christ-centered life.  The result was another (our 3rd) contrast between the true Gospel and tainted gospels: 

  • Tainted gospels give glory to the “saint”.
  • The true Gospel give glory to the Savior.

Every one of the false religions and every one of the cult offshoots of Christianity are known by some supposed human leader.  But the true Gospel always starts with God, points to God and ends with God. 

APPBeware of human leaders, pastors, spiritual gurus, people whose teaching and ministry lead people to talk a lot about them and little about Jesus. If people are praising a human leader as much or more than they are praising God himself, that’s not the true Gospel of Christ.  God certainly uses human beings to bring the Gospel, to live out the Gospel, to inspire others to embrace and engage with the Gospel.  But divinely inspired ministry always points to the Divine.  God-inspired ministry always makes much of God, not His servants. 

Let’s move on into chapter 2. 

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

            Paul isn’t expressing doubt here that the Gospel he’s been preaching for at least 14 years or more was the wrong Gospel.  He’s not saying that all those years would have been wasted effort if the Apostles hadn’t confirmed to him what he was preaching was actually “the Gospel.” 

His whole argument in chapter 1 has been that he knows this Gospel is true because he received it directly from Jesus Christ himself.  But he’s going to shift in chapter 2 to the second reason why he knows this Gospel is the true Gospel.  He’ll argue that it is because the Apostles in Jerusalem affirmed the same thing when he went to visit them on various occasions.

            Between the information Paul gives us biographically in Galatians and what we have recorded by Luke in the book of Acts, it is not totally clear how many visits Paul made to Jerusalem and exactly when those visits happened.  But let me propose what some think is actually what happened, when and why.

[Explain Chart, p. 88, The NIV Application Commentary on Galatians by Scot McKnight.]

So back to Paul’s statement at the end of vs. 2 in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”  I think Paul is here expressing what every believer and certainly every leader in the church of Jesus Christ should express when there are doctrinal differences: HUMILITY first…and strong conviction & cooperative ministry second.  How so.

            The very fact that Paul went to Jerusalem on more than one occasion to hash out with this mother church some of the more challenging issues of doctrine and practice in the early church, shows to me a very humble, very non-independent view of ministry.  As this chapter is going to teach us, that didn’t mean Paul was weak in any way about how strongly he held to his convictions about how God’s people were to transition from the Mosaic Law to the Gospel of grace. We’ll see that he got in Peter and Barnabas’s faces in a rather public way when he found them drifting back into law-keeping Christianity rather than the liberty-promoting, grace-grounded Gospel.   So clearly strong convictions can go hand-in-hand with a passion for unity and humility in the church. 

            But here we have one of the first and certainly one of the most beautiful examples in the early church about how to handle differences.  The theological question was, “Will we have a Gospel that combines the Mosaic Law and the grace of Christ OR will we have a Gospel that is free of the Mosaic Law and full of the grace of Christ?”    The practice question was, “Will we require circumcision and keeping of the Mosaic Law of ALL new converts to Christ?” 

This all sounds very academic and dry to our ears, I’m sure.  So let me try to put it in a context that you might be able to appreciate a little more in our contemporary culture.

ILL:  Imagine that you were raised in one of the very wealthy, very privileged and very famous families in America…say the Rockefeller’s or Kennedy’s or Busch’s (as in Anheuser-Busch beer).  For generations your family had built their family empire, fought and clawed and scrapped their way to the top of the social heap.  Your family had set up some of the leading schools and universities in the country.  They had bought and developed the best private estates and country clubs. They had married into the right family lines and kept the family empire going.

            Then along comes a new law that says, your family estate now belongs to a bunch of people who never worked a day for it.  They get to come on your property and join your family reunions any time they wish.

And those country clubs that you built and which you continue to pay millions of dollars a year to maintain now must open up to people who haven’t paid a membership fee in their life and don’t have to pay anything to get in now.  All they have to do is agree to abide by the same code of conduct any member of that club has.  

And when it comes to family line and marriages, their children have just as much right to marry one of your kids as the social elite of the country have to marry into your family.  Everything has changed.

Now if you were one of the Rockeffers or Kennedys or Buschs, wouldn’t you be wanting to hang onto a lot more of the past than any of these new, green middle or lower class upstarts moving in on your estate, your daughter and your family business?  Can you begin to feel how hard it would be to overnight learn to look at people very different from you like they were part of your family? 

This is what the Gospel of Christ was demanding of the Jewish followers of Christ.  No longer did everyone have to rise to your level of behavior or education or class or refinement.  Instead, you were being asked to embrace anyone and everyone who simply claimed love for and submission to one of your most famous family relatives.  And that relative was by no means warmly embraced by all of your family.  Some of your relatives actually hated him, despised him and were willing to persecute and disown anyone in the family who was willing to follow him.  You were being asked to let go of some of the core practices and behaviors that defined your family for hundreds of years so that a whole lot of nobodies could actually become somebody in your family.  That was a BIG pill to swallow.

In essence, Paul was forcing his family of Jewish followers of Jesus to answer the question, “What is required for anyone to join our family…our spiritual family of God?”  And furthermore, “What outward evidences will they be required to engage in so that everyone will know they are in this family of God?”

            Here is Paul, the most Jewish of them all, in the past more zealous for Judaism than anyone reading his letter, showing his less-zealous and less-Jewish family members that Jesus Christ has so changed his life that he has now embraced the farthest people from their family line possible—the Gentiles.  He didn’t just embrace wayward Jewish relatives.  He didn’t just open up his heart to average, everyday Jews though he was from the elite Jewish strata of society.  He was embracing people who had no claim on his family, no right to barge in and no credentials other than the testimony of their lips and the work of the Spirit in their lives.  This is the faith and witness that was so astounding to the Apostles and the Jewish church of the day.  And this was what Paul didn’t want to see blow away in the winds of religious tradition.  All his “running” and all his “labor” could so easily have been washed away by the tide of Mosaic legalism and Jewish tradition. 

APP:  Kind of makes our little differences of income or education or ethnicity or whatever look pretty insignificant, doesn’t it?  When the heart of Jesus Christ for ALL people becomes our heart, the difference that normally keep people apart in any culture must melt away and be replaced by a loyalty, a love and a longing for our spiritual family unity that drives us to our knees and leads us to the hard work of living as one family. 

Well let’s wrap up the contrasts between the true and tainted gospels.

But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Our 4th contrast between the true Gospel and tainted gospels: 

  • Tainted gospels lead back to life-stealing slavery.
  • The true Gospel leads to live-giving freedom.

Both “slavery” and “freedom” are grossly misunderstood today when it comes to spiritual matters.  The slavery Paul is worried about here is one that turns relationship with God into rules and ritual.  It is a slavery that calls you to rule-based living, not Spirit-led liberty.  Let me give you a simple example.

            ILL:  Under the Law of Moses, how much of your income or harvest or wealth did you need to give to God?  (The tithe…plus first-fruit offerings…plus a bunch of other sacrifices.) 

But under the Gospel of Christ, do we have any set percentages or amounts that God demands we give at specific intervals or in specific types of offerings?  No.  I think we are hard pressed to find any specific amounts, percentages, dates or types of offerings we are bound to give in order to be in a growing relationship with God.  Instead, we are called to give freely, joyfully, generously, frequently, whenever we see a need we can address…and at the prompting of the Spirit of God. 

            BUT, you know what most of us do?  Most American Christians turn that liberty and freedom into license NOT to give.  Most give far less (though we have far more) than the O.T. Jews were commanded to give.  On the other hand, some just settle into a different form of “law” or “legalism” by thinking, “I’ll give the tithe or 10% to God and then I can do what I want with the other 90% (or 70% after taxes).”  That’s not the kind of “freedom” Paul or God had in mind.  It’s more a new kind of slavery—slavery to religious tradition or materialism or spiritual stagnation. 

            Life in Jesus Christ is to be a life led and guided and moved and dominated by the Spirit of God, not some religious law.  This example could be multiplied a hundred times over in a week’s time in most of our lives.  You complete the sentence:  In order to have the blessing of God in my life I must…(you fill in the blank with whatever activity of action you think you need to experience or demonstrate in order to have a blessed day or week or month).  We so easily replace the Mosaic Law and “traditions” of our elders with new “laws” and “traditions” that bind us just as fast to spiritual routine and lifelessness. 

            Tainted gospels lead to the lethargy and deadness of legalism’s slavery.  But the true Gospel of Christ leads to a life of freedom in the Holy Spirit that brings freshness and life.

A 5th contrast between the true Gospel and tainted gospels is this:

  • Tainted gospels change the message depending on the audience.
  • The true Gospel changes the audience but not the message.

On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 

The true Gospel of Christ moved one of the most ardent Jews in human history (Saul of Tarsus or Paul) to go outside of his racial and cultural group in order to deliver the same Gospel of the grace of God in Christ that had transformed him. 

But you will find the tainted gospels changing their message depending on their audience.  If the audience is a bunch of seriously religious people, the message will be “Jesus + your religious good works.”  It will be “Jesus + some form of legalism, some external code of conduct.”  The gospels of leftover legalists always come with their demands that everyone adhere to their list of rules.

Since we live in a pluralistic and fiercely independent society, tainted gospels in our culture more often swing the other direction.  Law and legalism is already out of favor in our land.  But license and individualism, love that can be defined as anything you want it to be—these are the new gospels that have changed the message from many being lost apart from Christ to all being saved in the end.  The new gospels downplay the truth that all are condemned sinners, rebels of the soul destined to live life and eternity separated from God unless there is reconciliation through Christ.  The new gospels find fault with a God who passes eternal judgment… or is actually holy…or pours out His wrath against human sin on His Son…or says that there is only one road to saving relationship with Him, and that road is faith in Jesus Christ. The audience is pluralistic, relativistic and materialistic western culture so the “gospel” has been modified to be more palatable to our critical culture. 

ILL:  conversation with my son a couple of weeks ago about a lecture and panel discussion at a local Christian university about homosexuality and the gospel/Bible.  Not one presenter or person on the panel took the clear, straightforward position of Scripture that marriage is to be limited to the union of one man and one woman.  And just this week I had a conversation with a brother in Christ I just met who said they were sadly leaving what I had considered was one of the new evangelical churches in our community because the church leadership now believes that marriage sanctioned by God can be between two men or two women as well as two heterosexuals. 

Don’t misunderstand me.  What you or I hold to on marriage is not a salvation issue.  But when God’s people feel compelled to change what God has clearly said in both the Old and New Testaments regarding marriage because of the sexual trends of the current culture, you can be sure that those same people will change the very Gospel itself very shortly to make it more palatable to modern minds. 

Which leads us to the last and 6th contrast between the true Gospel and tainted gospels

  • Tainted gospels have little genuine relational transformation.
  • The true Gospel transforms human relationships.

10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

When the life of Christ truly grips our lives, there is no way on God’s green earth that we’re going to be able to live without compassion for those in need.  Jesus was so marked by his ministry to the poor, with the poor, among the poor, that it is impossible for someone being transformed by His life and Spirit to claim there are experiencing the true Gospel without experiencing a change of relationship to those in need. 

            Paul, the man who willingly watched and participated in the execution of Stephen, a man who had been chosen by the Jerusalem church because of his Spirit-filled life to care for the poor in the church, had now become a man who found loving and caring for the poor of the church something he could not separate from being a genuine follower of the genuine Gospel o

  • Tainted gospels are inventions of people; the True Gospel is a revelation from God.
  • Tainted gospels focus primarily on human effort; the true Gospel focuses primarily on divine work.
  • Tainted gospels give glory to the “saint”; the true Gospel give glory to the Savior.
  • Tainted gospels lead back to life-stealing slavery; the true Gospel leads to live-giving freedom.
  • Tainted gospels change the message depending on the audience; the true Gospel changes the audience but not the message.
  • Tainted gospels have little genuine relational transformation; the true Gospel transforms human relationships.

Do you see why Paul made such a big deal of holding onto the true Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord?  So much hinges on the true Gospel.  So much is lost when we fall for any of the myriads of false gospels.