Galatians Part 2: Jesus Plus Nothing?

What does it mean to be a Christian?

Ask your friends what it means to be born again, and you’ll get as many answers as you have friends.

In decades of ministry, after I spoke about the doctrine of salvation many times, people in my congregation, it seems, were still confused.

I don’t know if it was my failure to communicate clearly. Or the fact that people in church listen to many other voices talking about Christianity and religion and, as a result, believe a hodgepodge of this and that about God, Jesus and heaven. Or if people haven’t really read and studied what the Bible says about salvation, especially in Romans and Galatians.

Or maybe salvation, specifically salvation by grace only, is just so out of the box in a world enslaved by doing something to get something. Indeed, the apostle Paul refers to the “scandal of the Cross,” that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to please God and somehow earn your salvation.

People love to say, “The Bible says that God helps those who help themselves.” No, the Bible does not say that. Yet it seems people prefer the treadmill of self-effort, which is at the core of every world religion, except Christianity. Only the Bible offers a radical message of utterly unconditional grace–and the gift of perfect righteousness to make us right before God forever.

Paul says it this way in Romans 1.17,

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Religion says DO. Christianity says DONE. As the great hymn of the faith proclaims, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness … On Christ the solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”

So just what does it mean to be Christian? How do you become born-again? What does born-again mean?

Or to ask the question another way, What is the “bare minimum” for salvation? What is “the least necessary” to garner the favor of God? What do you have to do to stay born again and not get yourself unborn again.

Let me stir up a little religious dust by asking the question this way: Can a person be a Christian if, let’s say, they smoke? They keep smoking?

A few years back a pastor friend of mine stopped by or church on Monday night. I took him around to see our facility. Outside one of our six buildings, a number of people were smoke. It was our recovery ministry, New Wine, something we were doing years before “Celebrate Recovery.”

My startled friend asked, “What’s that?! Who are those people?”

“Oh, that’s our smoker’s Bible study,” I replied.

What about drinking alcohol? Can Christians drink? Drink a six pack a week? Drink a six pack a day? Will you go to heaven if you die just before you drink the sixth beer on the wall?

What if you do drugs? Or watch R-rated movies? Or you used to do those things until you asked Jesus in to your life, but you start doing them again?

What about abortion? What if you “became a Christian,” had sex outside of marriage, and got an abortion? What if you got the abortion even though you knew it was wrong?

What if you are a “strong believer,” but you teach high school science, including evolution, not because you have to, but because you actually believe that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of life?

What if you were raised Catholic. In your twenties you had a personal encounter with Christ. Even though you were confirmed, attended mass, and knew about Jesus, something happened. Now you say you’re born-again. But you still attend your Catholic church. What do your non-Catholic Christian friends think? Are you really saved?

Or your friends who do not attend the “true” Church, the Catholic church, are they really saved?

What if you are a white, conservative Christian and you voted for Barak Obama? Or a Black Christian, and you’re a Republican? Can you be saved?

So are you laughing out loud, or gnashing your teeth because I’ve come too close to your sacred cow?

Did you know Billy Graham was harshly criticized, by Christians for giving the prayer at Bill Clinton’s inauguration? Rick Warren suffered similarly when he prayed at President Obama’s inauguration.

Here’s what I believe: Being a Christian is Jesus in your life plus nothing and that’s what changes everything.

I’m not just makin’ this up. It’s not just one more Christian guy’s opinion. I beg you not to dismiss me, because you “just can’t agree with my view.” Pleas, put your preconceptions aside and listen carefully, not to me, but to what the apostle Paul says about salvation in Galatians.

A Little Background

First, if you did not read “part one” (about the doctrine of salvation by grace alone in the book of Acts), you can find this study it in my previous e-news file on my website, www.garykinnaman.com. You won’t understand Galatians if you don’t understand Acts 15.

Nor will you understand Galatians if you haven’t read Romans. To summarize, Acts is the history of how the early church came to an understanding of salvation by grace alone. Romans is the only book in the Bible that actually explains salvation in a logical sort of way, and Galatians is Paul’s response to those who still don’t get it, including the apostle Peter! Galatians is the practical application of what Paul teaches in Romans.

I also need to say this: You can’t come up with a coherent idea of salvation by taking the whole Bible and throwing into a doctrinal blender. So many times, when I’ve taught what I will be teaching in this e-news, people have objected to my purist view of grace by saying, “Yeah, but _______.” You can fill in that blank with just about anything. Mostly, though, people fill it in with other Bible verses that seem to conflict with what Paul says in Romans and Galatians, or at least qualify his teaching.

“Yeah,” they say, “I believe what Paul is teaching in Galatians, but Peter says … but Jude says … but James says.”

But … but … but.

But hear this: Paul is the only writer of the Bible that takes on salvation by grace alone systematically–and he has to explain it to Peter, James and John. Just as we must use the New Testament to help us understand the Old Testament, so we must use Romans and Galatians as a starting point for understanding salvation.

OK … wait … you also need to hear me say this: Everything in the Bible is important, and everything in the Bible is instructive. Not everything in the Bible, though, is clear on how to have and keep a relationship with God.

Furthermore, when we study Galatians, we have to understand that Paul is not concerned primarily about the outcomes of salvation, that is, how we should live our lives as followers of Christ. Obedience. Discipleship. Yes, he gets to that in chapters 5 and 6, but you can’t leapfrog into the last couple of chapters of Galatians without first mastering chapters one to four. You will not understand sanctification (the process of working out our salvation) without first going through the door of justification (the moment we are made right with God forever).

In Galatians we will consider:

  • The problem of religion, that is, adding to Jesus
  • How serious the problem really is
  • What happens to people when they have Jesus plus something
  • Does this mean I can live like the devil?

According to Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Galatians is one of Paul’s great letters. In it he forcefully proclaims the doctrine of justification (that is, right standing with God) by faith alone. Martin Luther, the Reformer, claimed Galatians as ‘my epistle.’ So wedded was Luther to Galatians, both in interest and in temperament, that, together, they shaped the course of the Reformation and, subsequently, all of history since 1517. Galatians has been called the “Magna Carta of Christian Liberty.”

Galatians has six chapters which can be divided into three main sections:

  • Part One: A statement of the problem and a defense of Paul’s authority as an apostle, Chapters 1 and 2.
  • Part Two: A precise explanation of the Gospel, Chapters 2 and 3.
  • Part Three: Freedom in Christ/Life in the Spirit, Chapters 4 and 5.

Let’s dig into “Part One,” the persistent problem of religion. By “religion” I am referring to the power of religious traditions with or without Jesus, or what I famously refer to as

JESUS PLUS SOMETHING

Specifically, the problem in the Galatian churches was a re-introduction of Jewish religious practices, particularly circumcision, into the new Christian communities. As preachers like Paul carried the message of Christ the Savior outside the Jewish world of Palestine, many Gentiles became believers. This made Jewish Christians uncomfortable, because pagan Gentiles were not schooled in nor committed to important Jewish practices, particularly circumcision.

You think people are emotional about abortion, evolution, the gay agenda? Or undocumented aliens? Or Obama Care? You ain’t seen nothing’. In the early history of the church, circumcision was the emotional issue du jour. Eventually, Paul was arrested for starting a major riot in Jerusalem, because Jews thought he was bringing uncircumcised people into the temple. (It baffles me how they would know that. I mean, I don’t think they had circumcision scanners).

Galatians, then, is about how salvation is not based on Jesus PLUS circumcision, or that matter, anything else. Galatians makes the case that my eternal salvation is based on

JESUS IN ME PLUS NOTHING.

Think about this: If we believe salvation is based on JESUS PLUS SOMETHING, what is that “something” going to be? And how much of that “something” is necessary?

And who is going to decide? The Baptists? The Mormons? Pentecostal Holiness? The Jehovah’s witnesses? The Catholics? Billy Graham? Benny the Hinn?

Salvation is either Jesus or religion. Not both in any mixture.

Continue reading: Galatians Part 3: Jesus plus something

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