The book of Galatians is dynamite. It is an explosion of joy and freedom. Why? Because it brings us face to face with the gospel. It’s very common in Christian circles to assume that “the gospel” is something mainly for non-Christians. We see it as a set of basic “ABC” doctrines that are the way in which someone enters the kingdom of God. We often assume that once we’re converted, we don’t need to hear or study or understand the gospel—we need more “advanced” material. But in this short letter, Paul outlines the bombshell truth that the gospel is the A to Z of the Christian life. It is not only the way to enter the kingdom, it is the way to live as part of the kingdom.¹ Paul unpacks the truth that Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
In this 14 week sermon series, the Pastors of Ekklesia will be preaching through the book of Galatians, hoping to unpack this God-glorifying, joy-increasing, life-giving truth: Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Paul doesn’t waste any time in his letter to the churches of Galatia. They had come under attack from false teachers and were being persuaded to desert the true gospel—what Jesus did on the cross is totally sufficient to save us—for a false gospel—we have to add to what Jesus did with at least some of our works. Paul makes sure these churches know that he is not speaking on his own terms; rather, he is speaking exactly what Jesus told him face-to-face. He reminds them (and us!) that Jesus + Nothing = Everything. What Jesus did on the cross is totally sufficient to make us acceptable before God. In fact, Paul mentions four distinct characteristics of the cross:
1. The willingness of Jesus’ cross—”He gave himself…”
2. The purpose of Jesus’ cross—”He gave himself for our sins…”
3. The effect of Jesus’ cross—”He gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age…”
4. The origin of Jesus’ cross—”He gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of God our Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
The one true gospel is unique for at least two reasons: 1) Because it’s origin is not in man, but in God. Paul says “Him who called you in the grace of Christ” because it’s not we who call God into our lives; He calls us into His life. 2) Because it says that our acceptance before God is based sheerly on His grace, not our works. This is good news for us! And this is exactly why Paul is “astonished” that the Galatians were “deserting” this for a “another gospel”—a false gospel. Trouble-makers had influenced the Galatians by communicating this message: I obey, therefore I am accepted by God. But that is the complete opposite order of the gospel, which says God accepts me fully in Jesus, therefore I obey. The order matters. Our good works don’t produce God’s approval. Rather, God’s gracious approval of us in Christ produces our good works. There are many who “distort the gospel of Christ” today, just like these trouble-makers did in Paul’s, but all of their messages are essentially the same—Jesus + something = everything. But to change the gospel is to lose the gospel entirely. In addition, to change the gospel message invokes a curse upon those who preach it, as Paul says, “let them be accursed” (eternally condemned). We must hold fast to the message of the one true gospel as delivered to us in the Bible: Jesus + nothing = everything. The good news is that we are justified before God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
In Galatians 1:10-24, Paul has to defend the gospel he preached in Galatia because false-teachers were trying to discredit him, and, therefore, lead the Galatians to believe a false-gospel. So this question is before us: Why can we trust Paul’s message of Jesus + Nothing = Everything? We can trust him for at least four reasons: he is not a people pleaser (1:10), he received the gospel message directly from Jesus (1:11-12), his life did a 180 (1:13-17), and his message was confirmed by the Apostles in Jerusalem (1:18-24). Furthermore, in this passage we see what it looks like to be a Christian. A Christian has been set apart by grace, called by grace, received Jesus by grace, and sent on mission by grace.
In Galatians 2:1-10, we see at least three ways that Jesus unites us. First of all, Jesus unites us in freedom. In Christ, we are set free from the weight of our sins because He died in our place for our forgiveness. But we are also set free from the weight of our performance because He lived a sinless life so that we would be counted righteous. This is true freedom! And to say that we are saved by our works in any way, is to try and bring people in slavery. Secondly, Jesus unites us in mission. We are not saved by grace to sit around and do nothing. Rather, we are saved to unite in mission with Jesus and others Christians to love people and tell them the gospel so they may be set free. Thirdly, Jesus unites us in generosity. Jesus changes us cosmically and practically. Cosmically, by changing our identity from sinner to child of God, and practically, by changing us from being a taker to a giver. Jesus makes us generous. The more we know Him and enjoy His grace, the more we will want to extend that grace to others especially through giving.
If we are made acceptable to God by grace through faith in Jesus rather than through our works, what does that mean for how we are to live as Christians? In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul outlines at least five ways in which we should live. First, we should live as though we are justified through faith. To be justified is the highest standing we could have because we are declared “righteous” by God in his courtroom! Therefore no Christian is better or worse than another. Secondly, we should live as if the gospel is true. Every time we are tempted to sin, we are tempted to disbelieve the gospel. We are tempted to live as if we need something or someone else to give us the joy only Jesus can give. Third, we should live like we are dead to the Law and alive to God. Only when we die to the Law as the means of our justification are we truly living to God rather than ourselves. Fourth of all, we should live as though our old self is crucified with Christ and our new self is alive in Christ. When we are united to Jesus through faith, his past becomes our past and his life becomes our life. Finally, we should live as though Jesus loves us, because He actually does. He proved his love for us by standing in our place and being crucified so that wicked sinners like us could become justified children of God.
In Galatians 3:1-14, Paul is helping these churches see that they became Christians through faith in Jesus and continue to grow as Christians through looking to and trusting Him, not their own works. The same is true for us. We are not saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, and then graduate to trying very hard to be good so that God will keep loving us. We are to live moment by moment depending on Jesus alone to justify and sanctify us, knowing that we are acceptable to God through faith in Jesus alone. So what does this mean for us? It means all we need for the future is not found in our human-effort to perfect or finish ourselves. Rather, all we need for the future is found in continual faith in Jesus and His work to perfect us by His finished work on the cross. God “will bring to completion the good work that he began in [us]” (Philippians 1:6). In addition, it means all we need for today is not found in our “living by” or “relying on” our works and achievements. If we live by or rely on anything other than Jesus for our fulfillment and happiness, we are under a curse—“Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10). But If we live by and rely on Jesus and faith in what He’s done, we are blessed with being counted righteous and with the presence and power of God the Holy Spirit. But how did Jesus become all we need? He became all we need by becoming all that we were—a sinner under a curse. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:14). He became our perfection by taking on Himself all of our imperfections and dying in our place; He became the One who gives us the blessing, by becoming a curse for us on the cross.
Galatians 3:15-26 15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything. But what exactly is the everything that Jesus has secured for all those who come to saving faith in Him? This is what Paul shows the Galatians (and us!) in the end of chapter three and the beginning of four. Christians are adopted sons of God through faith (v 26), clothed with Christ (v 27), one in Christ (v 28), and heirs through Christ (v 29). How did all of this come to be ours? Through Jesus, our big brother. In 4:1-3, Paul is essentially saying that before we come to Christ, everyone everywhere is enslaved to “the elementary principles of the world” because we are all basing our worth and status off of our works and successes. We are all, in a sense, “under the law” and need to be set free. In 4:4-7, Paul shows us that Jesus became a man, lived under the law, and paid the price through his life, death, and resurrection to buy us back from slavery. But Jesus doesn’t pay for our freedom and let us go another place to fend for ourselves. Rather, he brings us home and God the Father adopts us into his family as sons. And the Holy Spirit keeps working in us to bring the great truth of adoption home to our hearts, as he cries out within us “Abba! Father!”
In Galatians 4:8-11, Paul tells us that there are two ways to be lost and one way to be found. Paul is saying that trying to earn your salvation through being very moral and obeying the Law of God is just as much enslavement to idols as flat out pagan idol-worship, with all of its immorality. Why? Because an idol is not simply a graven image you bow down to. An idol is anything or anyone you look to, other than Jesus, to give you your worth and fulfillment. These Galatians were being tempted to look to the Law and their obedience in order to be fulfilled, and gain acceptance with God. We can turn anything into an idol. Often times they are not inherently bad things, but good things turned into god things. The problem is, they cannot give the fulfillment and worth they promise but only leave us empty, wanting more, and alienated from God. There are two ways to be lost—the path of irreligion and of religion. The answer to our idolatry? Knowing God and being known by him (v 9). This is only possible through the work of Jesus and faith in him. He brings us into a right relationship with God—he is our father and we his children. Why is this the antidote to idolatry? We make idols because we’re insecure. Therefore, the antidote to our insecurity is being secure in the fact that you know God and, even better, you are known by him. You will never be free from the idols in your life until you see and trust that in Christ, God the Father has set his love on you and will never let you go.
Jesus likens the church to a flock of sheep. He is the Chief shepherd, pastors are shepherds, and wolves are those who infiltrate a flock in order to devour the sheep. Sometimes wolves pretend to be one of the sheep, and sometimes one of the shepherds. The latter is what happened to the churches in Galatia. Shepherds and wolves serve different masters. Shepherds serve Jesus, for Jesus’ glory whereas wolves serve themselves, for their own glory. In Galatians 4:12-20, we see at least five contrasts between shepherds who love the flock, and wolves who devour the flock. 1) Shepherds are flexible, and will change everything but the gospel for your good; wolves are often inflexible, not changing anything but the gospel. 2) Shepherds trust in the sovereignty of God, even through suffering; wolves trust in their own works. And if you’re suffering, they often believe it is due to your sin or God’s displeasure. 3) Shepherds will tell you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it; wolves tell you what you want to hear, even when they should tell you the truth. 4) Shepherds love you like a parent and want you to be dependent on Jesus; wolves use you like a prostitute and want you to be dependent on them. 5) Shepherds want you to be more like Jesus; wolves want you to be more like them. You need shepherds who love, lead, feed, and protect you. But more than anything, you need a Chief Shepherd. His name is Jesus, and he loves us so much he laid down his life for us.
In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as an illustration to help us understand that God’s salvation has never come through human effort. Rather, God’s salvation has always and will always come through his gracious acts for us. These Galatians were being tempted to produce through salvation through their Law-keeping—through their human effort (like Abraham and Hagar tried to produce the promised child themselves). But Paul reminds them that in order to be justified before God all we need is to trust God’s promise to save in Jesus (like Abraham and Sarah later did, exemplified in Isaac being born to them in their old age). Paul further uses this illustration to remind us that anyone who is trying to earn their own salvation is simply in slavery. But those who trust Jesus are free because through faith everything he did in his life, death, and resurrection counts for them. In Christ, we are already children of God through faith.
In the end, the gospel is bad news for those who want to save themselves because the gospel highlights the fact that we could never be good enough to earn God’s blessing—we were so wicked Jesus had to die for us. On the other hand, the gospel is good news for those who know they can’t save themselves and trust in Jesus’ work in their place. The gospel not only highlights the fact that we were so wicked Jesus had to die—it also highlights the fact that he was willing to die, to take away our sin and make us righteous. As Paul says elsewhere, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).
¹This summary is largely taken from Tim Keller’s introduction to Galatians For You, which you can find here.