“To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need.” J. I. Packer wrote these words in his 1958 introductory essay for a reprint of John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. While Packer went a pertinent direction for that period of time, his statement is no less applicable to us today.
In fact, we find the same concern Packer raises in 1958 coming to the fore of the Apostle Paul’s thoughts in his first century letter to the Galatians:
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 – which is really no gospel at all. (Galatians 1:6-7a)
That ‘old, authentic, biblical gospel’, Paul says, is something you have set aside for a new gospel that is … well, to be honest, not even a gospel at all.
In the church today, we are no less in danger of exchanging the ‘old, authentic, biblical gospel’ for something that is not the gospel. We must bring discerning attention to what the real gospel is so that we do not exchange it for middle-class morality, therapeutic psychology, or dutiful religion.
What, then, we should ask, is the real gospel? In concise and passionate prose, Paul helps us to understand the nature of the gospel in Galatians. Not only for the fledgling church of the first century, but also for us in the 21st century, Paul’s words keep us on track as we grasp the gospel in our contemporary time.
Here are five things we see about the ‘old, authentic, biblical gospel’ in Galatians:
- The real gospel is not of human origin – rather, God is its source (1:11-12).
- The real gospel readily admits human sinfulness – and also believes that God is the rescuer from sin (1:3-4; 3:13).
- The real gospel does not focus on human effort – instead, God is the gracious giver of the salvation gift (2:15-16).
- The real gospel does not establish new human duties and laws as a means to righteousness (e.g., circumcision) – but God provides His Spirit as the seal of our salvation (5:16-18).
- The real gospel is not aimed at human glory or reputation – rather, God gets glory for ever and ever through those He saves (1:4b-5).
If we want to know whether the gospel we encounter is the real gospel, then starting with these five considerations should help us discover whether we are looking in the right direction.
[For further reflections on Galatians, read my series of posts that begins with “I Have Been Crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20)“]