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The Fools Gold Gospel

Text: Galatians 1:10- 24

Proposition: When the Gospel is mistaken for an alloy of brittle legalism and vain glory it is fool’s gold, exposed when compared to the beauty of Christ’s Gospel. 

Introduction: There was a term we came across in the Yukon called ‘salting a claim’. It meant they sprinkled a tiny bit of gold dust on the ground that could be easily found and which would lead someone to conclude this spot was a real find. Sometimes if they were dealing with a child they might put a piece of fool’s gold in their pan and then exclaim they’d found an incredible nugget. Fool’s gold is found often in the same depths and properties as real gold but in constitution it’s an amalgam of iron pyrite. You can tell fool’s gold from the real thing with a few simple tests. If you hold it up to your nose and if there is faint smell of Sulphur…fool’s gold. If it can scratch glass… fool’s gold. If you hit it with a hammer and if it shatters… fool’s gold. If it’s attracted to a magnet… fool’s gold. Real gold is the opposite in many ways. It’s soft not brittle, it’s non- magnetic and it’s very rare, 3 parts per billion on the earth’s crust, which makes it very valuable, a level teaspoon is about $2000.

We’ve started to look at the Book of Galatians, a letter written by Paul to a region where he and others had planted a number of churches. The problem was that the gospel he had first preached to them was being exchanged for an amalgam or legalism and strict works of trying to be good enough for God. It looked genuine on the surface but it was worthless in value. It was a fool’s gold gospel. Have a look at how Paul seeks to reveal that as he shows the opposite properties that make up the purity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Turn with me to Galatians 1:10-24.

I. The Gospel, It’s About God’s Opinion of Man, Not Man’s Opinion of God.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Tulsa preacher Carleton Pearson who has become known for his departure from the African American Pentecostal movement. Pearson pastored a church of 5000 people until he claimed that he heard God telling him that everyone is going to heaven. The message that he started to preach to this evangelical church caused it to crash and a ministry that involved thousands world wide ended in ruins. The Gospel he preached was called inclusivism, a claim that a loving God would never send people to Hell. All go to heaven, even Satan if he would repent. The essence of that Gospel was partly built around what Carlton Pearson thought God had said to him but mostly on Carltons opinion of God. What he began to preach violated the truths of Scripture that declared God’s opinion of man. Something very similar had happened in the Galatian churches. Listen to verse 10 as Paul speaks to the roots of this, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” The pure gospel of Christ was not designed to please men, it was designed to save them. There’s that old line from one of Bob Dylan’s songs, “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you're gonna have to serve somebody.” That’s why Paul says that he’s a bondservant, one who willing subjects themselves to serve out of love not duty. What makes the gospel of Christ so powerful is that it comes not from a man’s opinion of God but from Christ’s knowledge of the Father. Paul says, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Part of Paul’s argument here is to address the claims of the false teachers that Paul was not really an apostle, not like Peter or John were. As such these false teacher’s challenged his authority and challenged the gospel he had preached about being saved by grace through faith and not by works like circumcision or not eating certain foods. The pure gospel or good news that Christ reveals to us by faith is that God’s opinion of man is that the very best works that man could do would be like filthy rags when it comes to atoning for sin. The good news of the gospel of Christ is that God sees and knows our sin and knows the ruin it creates. God’s opinion of man is that the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. When Paul says that he learned the truth of the Gospel not through man’s teaching but through the revelation of Christ he is making reference to the dynamic way that Christ stopped him in his tracks on the way to Damascus that day. He’s referring to the way that Christ brought him understanding, revealing to him what he had heard many times, what he had read and seen. God’s opinion of man is that we are like sheep who desperately need a shepherd. Just as sheep don’t anticipate what a shepherd does, can’t see the best way forwards as a shepherd does, so we too need Christ. It’s as though we are desperate without knowing it, things seem good, lots of grass to eat, the way home is laid out for us and the shepherd is there to protect us. But if the shepherd were not there we would be in a very desperate situation. God’s opinion of man is that He knows we are desperate for Him without knowing it. We are lost without Him, thirsty for what He leads us to. It’s why we have the 23rd Psalm, that we shall not want, that by blood of the Lord Jesus Christ He would restore our souls. That restoration comes through the cross of Christ, it comes by the gift of faith and the forgiveness of our sins. It comes by repentance, turning around and agreeing with Him about our desperate need of Him.

II. The Gospel Is Not About What You’ve Done, It’s About Who You Are.

One of the things that I’ve seen is that so much of our lives are about identity, who we are. The thing about identity is that in our minds it’s always changing. Your identity changes when you leave home for the first time, it changes when you get married, when you become parents together. Identity can also change with death, you become a widow, you had a father but now you don’t, had a son but now don’t. The reason for this shifting identity is that it’s so often perceived in terms of what we’ve done. What if what you’ve done is terrible, what if what you’ve done is not good enough or what if what you’ve done was at the last minute. The wonderful truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that your identity in God’s eyes, which is your actual unchanging identity, doesn’t depend on your actions for God but rather God’s actions for you. Listen to how Paul describes his life before Christ, “I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” (vs 13)  He was zealous but zealous for the wrong things because by that zeal he sought to find and establish his identity. And all the while God was whispering to him, nudging him, calling to him, drawing him. Listen to how he puts it in verse 15.16, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me…”, that sounds like God knew who Paul was from the moment he was born and even before. Our identity is like what old gospel song says, ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found”, found by Who? “Was blind but now I see”, what do you see?. Is it that you are found by the Shepherd Who wouldn’t give up on you. Was it that now you see not only Him who found you, (though you could never be lost to an omnipresent, all knowing God), you also see who are in Christ. Paul’s point in this chapter is that he didn’t learn the Gospel from Peter or James or John but from Christ. He says that he spent three years in and around Damascus before he ever went to see the apostles in Jerusalem. He was virtually unknown by face in all the churches of Judea yet the news spread about who this man named Paul really was. “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.”  His credibility of who he is an apostle of Christ, one who has seen the resurrected Christ, rests not on what he has done but on what God has done in him and then through him. Look at the last line in this chapter, “And they glorified God in me.”  That’s the testimony.                                                                                              

When it comes to you following God know that false teaching will abound and it will always center on man’s opinion of God. There is nothing new under the sun including the various opinions mankind has about God. So know the gospel, the real gospel, it’s God’s opinion of you that makes the ultimate difference. Know that Christ covers you with the identity of His righteousness. As you grow and change know that it is not what you do that counts, it’s what God has done for you and in you, it is who you now are in Christ. The inner directs the outer. Let the testimony be, “And they glorified God in me.”  That’s real gold.

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