The Painful Truth of the Gospel

February 9, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

We return to Paul’s letter to the Galatians this Sunday at Oak Hills. The heart of this letter is a defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as centered in the doctrine of justification by faith. In his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Martin Luther writes, “The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.”

Why is the Good News, the freedom found in justification by faith alone, so difficult to believe with all our heart? Why does Paul speak about “the offense of the cross” (Gal. 5:11) when the cross brings us salvation and restores us to a right relationship with God? Why do we need a letter like Galatians?

I believe Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer PCA in New York, helps us understand what “the offense of the cross” is. He writes, “The gospel is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope” (The Meaning of Marriage, p. 44). The temptation with which we wrestle is to skip the “painful” truth of the gospel and only embrace the “wonderful” truth of the gospel.

Paul spends most of his time in his letter to the Galatians defending the painful truth of the gospel: we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe. He writes in 2:16, the key verse of the letter, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Paul says it twice in this verse: no one will be justified by works of the law. Definitions are important here. Justified speaks about our acceptance before God. Technically it means “counted righteous.” To be justified, or counted righteous, is to be saved and have the hope of eternal life. The works of the law is Paul’s phrase to speak about our efforts to obey God and his revealed will, the law. So Paul is emphasizing the painful truth of the gospel that we are unable to do enough to be accepted by God.

How do we respond to this truth? I propose that we respond in one of two ways. Both are reactions to pain.

1. We take offense. We don’t like the truth that I’m not good enough or that I’m not capable. So we deny it or hide from it or make excuses for it or ignore it. The Galatians got caught up denying this painful truth of the gospel and were thinking they were capable of doing enough to become acceptable to God. To this Paul responds, “If righteousness were through the law (or, we become acceptable by our own efforts), then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).

Martin Luther would say that the “frailty of our flesh” is the tendency to take offense at the gospel. Our frailty is our pride, our sense of independence and self-accomplishment.

2. We become broken. When we acknowledge this painful truth of the gospel and confess its reality in our lives, we are humbled and become contrite of spirit. This is true spiritual brokenness. We admit that the cure in not in ourselves. We trust in the cure that comes through Christ. This brings life and is the only path to enjoying the wonderful truth of the gospel: we are more loved and accepted in Christ Jesus than we ever dared hoped.

How do you respond to the painful truth of the gospel? Do you take offense or do you become broken? Galatians is written for us so we would be led to brokenness again and again and so find to wonder of God’s love for us.


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