Summary: Part of a sermon series on Galatians
What is the Gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ? Even among Christians only 60% could answer the question correctly. Paul describes it in one of my favourite verses in Romans 1:16-17. “It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed; a righteousness that is by faith from first to last”.
The Gospel is the power of God, it is nothing to do with anything we do. It is to do with God forgiving us through Jesus taking our punishment and death on the cross and the Holy Spirit raising us to new life with Christ. Totally God. Not us. The Gospel brings salvation for everyone who believes it. Salvation means to be rescued or freed. We are freed to live the lives God designed us to live, no longer having to do what sin demands of us, but having a choice to do God’s will. When this happens we are made righteous. That means we are put into proper relationships: with God, with each other and with ourselves. We know who we are and are people of peace. All this, especially our righteousness, comes from faith – total belief and trust in the Gospel, in what God has done for us. Again it does not involve us doing anything except accepting the free gift of new life.
But there are some who say you have to do more to receive your salvation and righteousness. This is what the Galatians faced, but it is not unique to them, it goes on today.
Eddie Cooney was in his twenties when two JW’s knocked on his door. They were pleasant and Eddie was interested in what they had to say. He studied the literature they gave him and in the end, as he was Catholic, he invited a priest to come round to discuss the Bible with them. Eddie says, “I’m afraid they just tore him to shreds quoting scriptures at him and the priest ended up storming out. It wasn’t pleasant.”
“So, after that”, Eddie says, “I started going to the Kingdom Hall. I was welcomed and I felt they were living as Christians. They were zealous, sacrificial and didn’t make money out of it. I got rid of my insurance policies – after all I would not need them in paradise would I? I gave up my full time job so I had time to fit in the 80 hours a month knocking on doors which they demanded of me. Whenever I did see any of the family, which I was encouraged to do less of, I drove them crackers trying to convert them.
“But after a while the initial sense of freedom and love disappeared as more demands were made that I make myself a true follower. By then I was trapped. I had a tremendous sense of guilt; no JW can ever work hard enough to pay God back. I had to attend meetings, had Watchtower material to read, door-to-door work to do. I gave up my freedom of choice, freedom of thought. I learned not to trust other people: we were constantly being told not to trust anyone “of the world” which was totally evil. A great deal of time was spent discussing who was “weak”. One lady had to leave early to get her last bus home but it was regarded as weakness of faith”.
In the end Eddie’s wife made the break. Eddie was shocked but he began to question the elders about the movement and what the real Gospel is. They were reluctant to answer. The final confrontation came when he and two others met with the elders to discuss various Biblical interpretations. This time it was the elders who stormed out as the priest had done ten years earlier. Eddie left the JW’s and discovered the truth about those verses Paul wrote in Romans 1: “The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed; a righteousness that is by faith from first to last”.
The JW’s teach that your salvation is not complete until you do this, that and the other. Let’s be clear, so does every other religion. There is even a danger when we observe something like Lent that we see it as something we have to do to complete our salvation. It is not. If we choose to give up our job, evangelise others, fast or pray it is something which comes from our faith in God and in thankfulness that God has saved us. There is no need to do these things out of guilt because we have been told we won’t go to heaven or have eternal life if we don’t. That simply isn’t true. These things don’t get us to God, only Jesus does that. This is the Gospel. It was the Gospel Paul taught and others tried to corrupt. It is the Gospel Eddie discovered after others tried to deceive him and use him. “It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed; a righteousness that is by faith from first to last”.