In 1521, everyone was talking about Martin Luther. The talk was centered around Luther’s stance against the religious authorities of his day. Four years earlier, Luther had nailed his now famous 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. The act had brought him attention that he had never sought. Luther was challenging the theology of the religious leader’s of his day – something nobody in their right mind would have ever dreamed of doing.
Luther debated different religious leaders on two ideas that he had drawn from his studies of Scripture. For Luther there were some things in Scripture that were nonessentials and open to interpretation, but there were also non-negotiables in Scripture that left no room for error. The two ideas were: people are saved by faith (not by human effort), and Scripture (not the church) is the test of truth.
>From the perspective of the Church leadership of Martin Luther’s day, Luther was undermining their authority and they would not stand for it. As a result, Luther was “churched” by the Pope. The Pope did not stop with showing Luther the door; he declared to everyone that Luther was bound for hell. As if this were not enough, the Emperor ordered Luther, “the heretic,” to appear before his throne.
Luther jumped at the opportunity to appear before Charles V with the hopes that the Emperor would see the light and experience a conversion. Luther kept his appointment and appeared at Worms, Germany, in April 1521. As Luther walked into the room, Charles V sat with his advisers on each side of him and Spanish troops dressed in their military uniforms. Many dignitaries filled the hall that day when Martin Luther walked into the room and saw the table before him filled with books, books written by Luther.
When the stir settled, an official motioned towards Luther’s books and demanded that Luther answer two questions. He was not allowed to teach, not allowed to argue his point, not allowed to address the Emperor – only answer the questions: “Had he written the books?” Secondly, “If so, was there a part of them he would now choose to recant?”
Luther had been duped, tricked, and deceived. He thought he was going to have a chance to share what he had learned from God’s Word, but he found out that he had already been judged before he ever entered the room.
Luther’s normally booming voice was quiet as he answered, “The books are all mine, and I have written more.” Luther paused for a moment before he answered the second question. Luther finally spoke up: “This touches God and his Word. This affects the salvation of souls. I beg you, give me time.” Charles gave him one day.
The next evening, Luther entered the room that was packed with power brokers. Once again he was only allowed to answer the questions that were presented to him. “Will you defend these books all together, or do you wish to recant some of what you have said?” Luther, after having spent much time in prayer and seeking God’s counsel, spoke up. Luther said, “Some of the books even my opponents agree, contain edifying teaching.” Naturally, he would not retract these. Luther continued. “Other writings attack the Pope and his teaching, yet to retract them would only encourage tyranny,” Luther then admitted that some of his writings attacked individuals, and perhaps he did so too harshly. Even though his attacks were possibly too harsh he refused to retract the writings because the people he attacked defended the Pope’s rule.
One of the power brokers attacked Luther. He lambasted Luther’s arrogance in believing that an individual could call into doubt the traditions and teachings of the entire church. Finally, he asked, “You must give a simple, clear, proper answer to the question: Will you recant or not?”
In response to the attack, Luther spoke softly, but with no equivocation, no hesitation. Luther said, “Unless I can be instructed with evidence from the Holy Scriptures?. I cannot and will not recant.” Luther knew the weight of the words he had spoken, he knew the consequences he could suffer, and yet he spoke one final time — “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Martin Luther was not trying to make a name for himself. Luther knew that there were pillars of the Christian faith, and if for some reason these pillars were compromised, then the very foundation would be shaken. What is it that leads a person to take a stand against civil and religious authorities, knowing full well that their popularity with the powerful will take a nosedive? What is it that empowers someone to risk it all for the sake of matters of doctrine?
Many in our relativistic society would say that Martin Luther was out of his mind for making such a big deal out of things that they would characterize as “personal preferences.” After all, what we believe about God, salvation, and the Bible is personal isn’t it? Aren’t those matters of faith left open to how we interpret the Bible or how we feel in our hearts about them?
Luther may have been out of his mind, but he was firmly rooted in the Word of God. He would not, he could not, turn away from the truths of God’s Word – even when all of those around him pressed him to give up his beliefs. Luther believed there were more important matters than Church tradition, and that was Holy Scripture. Where tradition strays from Scripture’s teaching then tradition must give way and change. Remember his words: “This touches God and his Word. This affects the salvation of souls.” Matters of faith, doctrine, and theology are the most important, most critical matters of all. If we distort the truths of God then we miss everything.
Martin Luther was not the first to take his stand in such matters as these. Over 1400 years before Luther stepped onto the scene there was a man named Paul of Tarsus who took his stand. Today, we are going to continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and his battle for truth. Won’t you turn with me to Galatians 1:6-10 and let’s begin our study.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:6-9 NIV)
The Apostle Paul was amazed that those who had heard the Gospel were now straying from the truth and believing a fraud. Paul’s amazement stemmed from the fact that he was the one who had planted the church, he had sat and taught them the Scriptures, and they had responded in faith to the good news of what God had done through Jesus the Messiah. How could they now be deserting the God who had called them from darkness to the light of His glory? How could they allow themselves to be fooled by manipulative men who desired to sow seeds of self-salvation and shake the foundations of God’s work? It wasn’t folks outside the church who had led them astray, but teachers within the church who denied the message of salvation by grace through faith. John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Galatians.
The most destructive dangers to the church have never been atheism, pagan religions, or cults that openly deny Scripture, but rather supposedly Christian movements that accept so much biblical truth that their unscriptural doctrines seem relatively insignificant and harmless. But a single drop of poison in a large container can make all the water lethal. And a single false idea that in any way undercuts God’s grace poisons the whole system of belief. (MacArthur, John. Galatians, pg. 14)
Can a single false idea really do such harm? Just one? Absolutely! The Apostle Paul is adamant that there is only one way to salvation and it is through the grace of Almighty God exhibited on Calvary’s cross. The false teachers of Galatia had come in after Paul had left and began to try and discredit Paul and his teaching. By undermining Paul’s authority they could then attack his theology. I can hear them now. “How can you fall for this foolishness when you know as well as we do that Paul is a fraud. He is not really a Jew, he’s just a poser. Do you think Moses would have led us astray? Would he have given us false information from the Lord? Risked his life for something that was a fraud? You know better than that!”
What were the false teachers teaching the Galatians in place of the truth, the good news of salvation by grace? That is a great question! Turn with me to Galatians 3 and let’s take a look.
1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Galatians 3:1-3 NIV)
God’s completed work of salvation was displayed so clearly before their eyes and yet they were turning away from the one who called them – Paul was astonished, he was amazed, he was flabbergasted!
Take a look at the beginning of our section of Scripture for this morning and let’s break things down so that we can understand the depth and seriousness of Paul’s accusation.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-7 which is really no gospel at all. (Galatians 1:6-7a NIV)
Paul says that he is “astonished.” The Greek word for “astonished” means, “to marvel, to stand in wonder.” The word can be used in either a positive or a negative sense.
In Mark 6, Jesus had returned to His hometown and was teaching in the synagogue one day. The people were amazed at His teaching. Mark tells us that while they were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, they also began to remember everything they knew about Him. “Isn’t that Mary’s boy? He’s just a carpenter’s son how could He know so much? Something is going on here. I mean, I’ve known Him since He was just a boy.” Mark tells us that Jesus couldn’t do much there because the people lacked faith. What he really meant was the people of Jesus’ hometown couldn’t believe because of what they already believed about Jesus. Then, in verse 6, we find that Greek word that I shared with you earlier as Mark writes these sad words, 6 “And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6 NIV)
In Matthew’s Gospel we find Jesus amazed once again, but for a totally different reason. Read along with me from Matthew 8:5-10.
5When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6″Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” 7Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” 8The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. (Matthew 8:5-10 NIV)
Jesus was astonished at the centurion’s faith, his absolute confidence in Jesus. Paul was astonished, he was amazed, but he was amazed that the Galatians, who had received the message of salvation through faith in Jesus with such open arms, were now in the process of walking away. I love Dr. Eugene Peterson’s translation of this section of Scripture. He writes in The Message,
I can’t believe your fickleness-how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. (Galatians 1:6-7a The Message)
How can you walk away from the One who calls you by His grace? I love people. I love to get to know folks, to listen to them talk, to find out what makes them tick, what motivates them, what they believe. I can tell you from 13 years of working here at Britton Christian Church and meeting folks from all walks of life that we are much more comfortable with the tangible than the intangible. We are prone to trust in that which we can see rather than that which we cannot see. We like to know more than we like to believe. Trusting isn’t nearly as welcome as working. Believing isn’t nearly as comforting as doing. When it comes to matters of eternity and thinking about whether or not we will spend eternity in heaven we like to make lists of all the good things we have done and dream of the things that we can still do to impress God.
Time hasn’t changed anything about human nature. This is the same predicament the folks in Galatia were facing. The Judaizers were fertilizer on the field of works righteousness. Paul wanted the people of Galatia to know that it was God’s grace and His grace alone that made them right with God. He wanted them to know that they were buying a lie. What was being sold to them, as good news, was really a cheap imitation.
Our salvation is the work of God. Paul makes this clear in verse 6 where he writes,
6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ?”
There is placed in this verse one of the greatest foundational truths in all of Scripture – God calls. How many times have you heard people say, “I remember when I found the Lord.” I’ve got news for you – you didn’t find Him. He came for you and me, He called you and me, and He has saved all of those who have responded to His call.
The Greek word Paul uses in this verse for “called” means, “to call, to call aloud, utter in a loud voice, to invite.”
This idea of God “calling” is not unique to Paul. We find the word used throughout Scripture. Let me show you a few examples. Turn with me to 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 and let’s read together.
13But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 NIV)
God chose to save you and me. God called and you answered. God didn’t set the bar and announce to humanity, “If you can clear this bar then I will let you in to Heaven.” God didn’t find the market value on Heaven and announce to the world, “If you can pay the price then I will allow you admittance into Heaven. No coupons allowed.” God chose us to be saved. He sent His Son to pay the price! He sent His Son to bridge the gulf! God initiated our salvation! He is the completer and sustainer of salvation for those who will believe.
In 1 Peter we see that it is God who has called us from the darkness of despair into His glorious light. Read along with me in 1 Peter 2:9.
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 NIV)
In Peter’s second letter he picks up on the theme of God’s call once again when he writes,
3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)
Today, there are many like the Judaizers of the first century who do not deny Scripture, the life of Jesus, or many other truths of the faith. They are not seeking to disprove Scripture; they are merely trying to improve on it. They would say that Jesus’ death upon a cross was God’s provision for our sins, but in response to that we must work, we must do good things, or we must be tolerant, accepting of other ideas about God. They would say that we need to be sensitive to our modern-day, diverse, cosmopolitan culture. I would absolutely agree. We need to be sensitive to the world around us; listen to their heartache, share their hopes, pray for their burdens, step into their emptiness, and share Jesus’ hope and salvation with them?every one.
The road to salvation is so precious a path that we dare not compromise its passageway. We dare not try and build a tollbooth of good works on the free way of grace. We dare not try and negotiate the price that was paid to clear its trail for those who will believe that God has acted on our behalf. We must trust God’s Word; we must believe God’s Word, and only God’s Word. Pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon once wrote,
The Bible is a vein of pure gold, unalloyed by quartz or any earthly substance. This is a star without a speck; a sun without a blot; a light without darkness; a moon without its paleness; a glory without a dimness. O Bible! It cannot be said of any other book that it is perfect and pure; but of thee we can declare all wisdom is gathered up in thee, without a particle of folly. This is the judge that ends the strife, where wit and reason fail. This is the book untainted by any error; but is pure, unalloyed, perfect truth. –Charles Haddon Spurgeon
The Word of God is perfect truth, the only truth. No matter how loud society may cry out for other alternatives than the truth God has given us, we must refrain from giving in. No matter how outdated society says the Bible is, we must cling to it as our only hope for understanding the truths of God. If we fail to do this then we must prepare to be duped, hoodwinked, and bamboozled by every slick, charismatic teacher that comes along and says he or she has come to enlighten us.
I spent an evening a few years ago with some young Mormon missionaries. These were great guys, sincere guys, very passionate about their faith. After talking about the Bible for a few hours the young men left my house unchanged, thoroughly convinced that the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and other Mormon books are accompanist to God’s Word.
The young men and their faith are prime examples of Martin Luther and Paul’s concern that we not undermine the foundational pillars of our faith or the very foundation of our faith will be shaken.
In Doctrines of Salvation we read about the Mormon belief that Jesus’ death on the cross was for our sins, but that there are some sins that need something more than the blood of Jesus. Let me read this to you.
Blood of Christ does not atone for all sins. “Do you believe this doctrine? If not, then I do say you do not believe in the true doctrine of the atonement of Christ. This is the doctrine you are pleased to call the “blood atonement of Brighamism.” This is the doctrine of Christ our Redeemer, who died for us. This is the doctrine of Joseph Smith, and I accept it. Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressors beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone…This is scriptural doctrine, and is taught in all the standard works of the Church.” (President Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 1, pages 133-138/ Mormon Doctrine, pages 92-93)
I don’t know what stories, theories, or propositions you may have heard in the past about how you can get right with God. “Do better, act right, say your prayers, pay your tithes, honor your parents, tolerate, moderate, or refuse to retaliate.” There are a million and one ideas that you will find in society regarding how to get to God, but all of them are dead end roads. We can’t get to God, but He has come to us! He is calling some of us this morning to acknowledge the call and cry out, “Yes Lord!” Won’t you receive His call, receive His Son, and know that your sins are forgiven, your future is secure, and your foundation is solid as a rock?