Summary: The Marks of a True Messenger of God: he speaks the true gospel and he defends the true gospel.
Do you know how to detect a virus-laden email? It used to be that if you received an email from someone you didn’t know and it had an obscene subject heading, chances are that email had a virus and should be deleted promptly. Nowadays virus-laden emails can come from people you know and trust. Once a virus takes over a machine it will often send itself out to everyone on the infected computer’s mailing list. Without anti-viral software it’s now virtually impossible to keep your machine virus free. While anti-viral software costs a bit of money, it’s worth it to protect your investment.
Do you know how to detect virus-laden messages that are reportedly from God? God warned us that we would be inundated with false teachers sending out such messages until Christ returns. Of course it does one no good to know such messengers exist but not know how to recognize them. In our sermon text this morning the Apostle Paul demonstrates for us the marks of a true messenger of God. A true messenger of God will both speak and defend the true gospel.
Our text is taken from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul wrote this letter to Christians living in (present day) central Turkey because false teachers, known as Judaizers, had moved in after his departure. The Judaizers taught that you needed to believe in Jesus and keep the Old Testament Ceremonial Law by being circumcised and observing the Sabbath Day to be saved. Paul, on the other hand, taught that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Paul denied that there was anything a person must do to be saved for God has done it all for us. The Judaizers saw this as a watered-down version of the gospel and told the Galatians that they didn’t need to listen to Paul because he wasn’t really an apostle anyway. As far as they knew, Paul had not been personally commissioned by Christ, as had the other apostles. Paul hadn’t even been sent out by the mother-church in Jerusalem but by the predominantly gentile congregation in Syrian Antioch!
Paul dealt with these attacks on his apostleship in the very first verses of his letter. He wrote, “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1). The reality was that Jesus himself had appeared to Paul at his conversion and personally commissioned him to share the good news of salvation. Not only that, after Paul was baptized in Damascus he went to the desert region of Arabia where Jesus himself taught Paul what he needed to know and share (Gal. 1:11-24).
It’s important for us to know that Paul was indeed an apostle called and trained personally by Christ for Paul wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Since Paul was an apostle we can be certain that what he wrote was inspired by God and not just his own opinions as is often thought. Even the Apostle Peter recognized Paul’s writings to be inspired by God. Peter wrote in his second epistle, “…our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15, 16). Since Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit what he tells us about Holy Communion, the role of men and women, the doctrine of fellowship are really God’s teachings, not Paul’s, and therefore demand our attention and obedience.
But now how were the Galatian Christians to know that Paul indeed was a true messenger of God? They could know this from the true gospel Paul had preached to them. Paul summarized the true gospel message in his greeting to the Galatians. Paul wrote, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Gal. 1:3-5).
The true gospel message is the good news about what God has done to save us. It’s all about how Jesus gave himself over for our sins. Like the goalie’s pads absorbing the strike of a slap shot, Jesus absorbed the punishment for our sins. Every other religion and even many Christian denominations teach, however, that we must first give ourselves to God before he will do anything for us. That’s simply not what the Bible teaches. Think back to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). After Adam and Eve sinned did they go running to God to confess what they had done and promise not to do it again? No! They ran away from God and when confronted with their sin blamed God for it! In spite of their sinful denial God gave himself over to Adam and Eve when he first tracked them down and then promised to send them a savior (Gen. 3:15).