I’ve been studying Paul’s epistle to the Galatians lately. Paul wrote this book to combat a false gospel which had broken out in the church. It was a gospel which preached salvation by works of the law as opposed to Christ alone. It was a gospel which demanded obedience to God in order to be saved. Paul wrote to correct this mindset, and free them (Gal 5:1) from the bondage of legalism. He wanted to them to get the full-orbed theology that is salvation by grace alone. Paul preached a gospel which said that salvation is free because Christ “gave himself for our sins”, and substituted himself for us (Gal 1:3-5). It was a gospel which said that Christ has done all the work, and therefore, we don’t have to do any work. Christ wins our salvation for us.
However, Paul came up with some issues when combating this false gospel. Paul’s reputation was coming under fire by people who were trying to discredit him. Some of Paul’s opponents had accused him of preaching free salvation in order to win “the approval of man” (Gal 1:10), not to serve God. In other words, they accused Paul of watering down his message in order to gain a following. They supposed that Paul made entrance into salvation easy in order to appease his crowds. He wanted them to like him, and so he made the gospel easy to obey.
However, when you think about it a bit more, the biblical gospel of grace, of free salvation, is not all that easy. Yes it is a gospel of grace. Yes, it is a salvation won by the merit of someone else. But it is also a gospel which presupposes man’s utter depravity in sin. It is a gospel which, while preaching freedom, also preaches man’s total bondage to sin (Rom 8:6). It is a gospel which despairs of all of man’s goodness. In this way, then, Paul’s gospel is not easy. It is not a crowd pleaser. And actually, Paul points that out. He asks in Galatians 5:11, if my gospel is such a crowd pleaser, “why am I still being persecuted?”. And in fact, Paul was persecuted severely for the gospel he preached.
Now why is that so? Well, I think it’s clear. It’s easy to be saved. But it is equally hard to admit your need for salvation. As Paul says, before we can be saved, we must be “found to be sinners” that need grace (Gal 2:17)! And it is hard to admit your need for grace.
As Martin Luther said, commenting on this truth:
[Paul] is saying in effect, … By my preaching I do not seek human praise or favor but rather desire to set out the benefit and glory of God…[For] we condemn human free will, strength, wisdom, and righteousness and all religion of human devising. In short, we say that nothing in us can deserve grace and the forgiveness of sins. We preach that we obtain grace only by God’s free mercy, for Christ’s sake… This is not preaching to gain human and worldly favor, for the world can abide nothing less than to hear its wisdom, righteousness, religion, and power condemned; to speak against those mighty and glorious gifts of the world is not to flatter the world but rather to provoke its hatred and indignation. If we speak against men or against anything linked to their glory, we must expect cruel hatred, persecution, excommunication, murder, and condemnation…
I show that people are sinners, unrighteous, wicked, objects or wrath, slaves of the devil, and damned, and that they are not made righteous by what they do or by circumcision, but only by the grace of Christ. Therefore I provoke people’s deadly hate, for… they would rather be praised as wise, righteous, and holy. So this is proof enough that I do not teach human doctrine
The gospel is truly offensive. But it is all the same free! What a paradox!