As a follower of Jesus since September 1977 (I’ll be 36 years old in the faith on Sept. 11) and a pastor with over 20 years of ministry experience plus 7 years of formal biblical education, I have read and studied every part of the Bible, some more than others, but I have been in them all.
What I am finding interesting is how parts of it I am now receiving differently than ever before. Whether that is due to my being more mature in the faith and ready to receive something different and deeper or maybe God is using my current circumstances and understanding of the world around me, I’m not absolutely sure, but whatever the reason, the implications have been having a profound effect on me.
This Sunday, I am beginning a sermon series through Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers. In preparation, I have been translating the letter from the original Greek (I currently have 50% of it done). Maybe it’s because of this process that this is occurring to me. Again, I’m unsure.
What I do know is this: I’m coming to conclusions about what is often lived as the gospel today in contrast to the gospel Paul was given and preached. The crux of the conclusion is this: what is being packaged as the gospel today in word and application is dangerously close to a repackaging of what the Judaizers of Paul’s day were demanding of Gentile believers.
The “gospel” that these Judaizers preached was that after becoming a follower of Jesus, it was necessary for non-Jews to follow the Jewish laws with all of its requirements and regulations in a myriad of areas of life. I don’t know this for a fact, but I can see them saying that doing this would “prove” that these Gentile Christians were really followers of Jesus.
As I considered the differences between the “gospel” of the Judaizers and the true gospel which Paul preached, I have thought about the ways many pastors, teachers and theologians in the church today and throughout the years have communicated the gospel and what happens afterwards. I’m seriously beginning to wonder about the implications of that packaging.
For example, in attempts to deal with the issue of works in relation to the gospel, I have heard it statements like, “a person does those good works out of gratitude and in response to what God has done for him/her.”
The reason I’m beginning to have a struggle with statements like that is that what I find beneath it is human effort, my effort. Paul states in 2:19 that he has died with Christ. He’s dead. The life that is now being lived isn’t him, but Christ living in him. Can a dead person show gratitude? I don’t think so.
That’s a very important distinction because it is through no power of my own that I do these “works.” If the faith by which I come to Christ is my own faith, then there is the danger that is also a type of “work” in order to be saved.
These works are done because there is now a new nature (Christ) residing in this physical body, soul and spirit. What I am finding in many aspects of the teaching of the gospel today is that there is a human-centric element, if not in the core, at least in the applicable results of it. “Because of the gospel, I do…”
As I was translating, I came across something that really got me thinking, something that, at least for me, just slipped by as insignificant, but something that I now find very crucial to all of this and the true gospel which Paul preached.
In his first reference to God as Father (Gal. 1:1), Paul speaks of the connection between God the Father and Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead by God the Father. It is after this, (vss. 3 & 4) that Paul now includes the pronoun, “our,” in reference to God the Father.
It is after the resurrection that we are now able to come into that relationship with God as our Father. What that means now is that the nature (personality, characteristics, qualities) in us comes directly come from God the Father, just like our physical and human nature emanates from our earthly parents.
I don’t have to think about doing the things of that physical nature because they come naturally to me. I don’t do them out of gratitude for my parents; I do them because they are who I am. It has been way too many times for me to remember all the times I have heard, “You must be a Laupp,” from those who know my family. I’d be shocked if you have not had similar experiences.
That statement is made because there are familial characteristics of the Laupp family. I remember what a long-time friend of my oldest brother (Alton is almost 10 years older than me) once commented about me after I preached among the church of which they both belonged at that time. He said that if he closed his eyes and just listened, he would have thought it was Alton preaching because of the way I spoke phrases and my inflection and tone. He said that if he plugged his ears and just looked, he would have sworn it was Alton because we look similar and use the same type of gestures.
These characteristics come from a common source – our parents. And these characteristics come naturally; I don’t find it necessary to think about them in order to do them. And I definitely don’t do them out of some sense of gratitude to my parents.
In response to the true gospel, I have no response, because I cannot respond because I am dead. Even the faith through which I come to Christ is not my own, but is given to me by God’s Spirit. Remember, I’m dead and dead people can’t do anything.
So, what is the reality of what occurs through what was me after faith comes? It is not gratitude but it is the natural outpouring of the new nature. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit Who is within me.
Does an apple tree have to think about what type of fruit to produce? Does an apple tree have to think about how to grow apples? Does an apple tree produce apples in gratitude for being made an apple tree? No, to all three questions. An apple tree produces apples because it is in its nature to do so.
And just like there are different varieties of apple trees, there are different varieties of followers of Jesus, all with that new nature. Just as all different varieties of apples are different in some way from other apples, all of them are still apples.
Notice that the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) are character qualities, not specific actions. From this, what I mean by different varieties of followers of Jesus is that these qualities will be demonstrated in a variety of ways, but the qualities are the same. There are no requirements on how and when they must be exhibited.
And therein lies freedom for the Spirit to move as He sees fit.
So, the next time you hear someone, even a pastor or Christian leader or teacher, say you must do so and so, ask, “Why must I do that specific action or in that specific way?” The Judaizer Christians of Paul’s day made statements like that in regard as to what constituted a proper response and/or proof of the gospel.
We must not.