Preaching to Please God or Man?

Not all preaching pleases God.  Some preachers will incur God’s end-time wrath because of what they preach (Galatians 1:8-9), for God is dishonored when the gospel is distorted.

When Paul wrote Galatians, he found himself falsely accused of preaching a watered down gospel when he actually upheld the true gospel revealed to him by Jesus Christ.  His opponents in Galatia didn’t like his grace-centered message.  Imagine being labeled a man-pleaser because you herald the riches of radical grace in Christ!

Paul is probably countering an accusation against him when he asks, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?” (Gal 1:10a-b).  Apparently some intruders in the Galatian churches were spreading a rumor that Paul was a man-pleaser.  While the reason for the accusation is not described in the letter, possibly it pertained to the content of Paul’s preaching.  He proclaimed that God saved by grace alone, excluding human works as playing any role in justification.

On the other hand, the intruders promoted works of the Mosaic Law as integral to a sinner’s status before God (see Gal 2:4-5, 16, 21).  Therefore, according to the intruders, Paul omitted the works of the Law of Moses in his preaching because he wanted to sway his Gentile listeners with what sounded too good to be true (that grace, apart from works of the law, saves sinners).  The intruders insisted that his omission was rooted in his desire to please his audience with what they wanted to hear.

But Paul is no man-pleaser.  As proof, the opening “For” of Galatians 1:10 points back to the curse-language of 1:9: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

That doesn’t sound like something a man-pleaser would say.  Calling down a curse on false teachers is the polar opposite of telling people what they want to hear.  But Paul tells the truth, fearing God more than man.  He boldly declares the judgment of God upon anyone who preaches a different gospel than his.

Our aim must be to please God by preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  As demonstrated by the rumor in Galatia about Paul, preaching the gospel of God’s grace in Christ doesn’t always please men.  In fact, the true gospel may anger and offend men (see 1 Corinthians 1:18)!  Not all listeners will be pleased when preachers exalt the law-free gospel of God’s grace, but God will certainly be displeased when a false gospel is proclaimed.

We mustn’t be ear-ticklers, no matter how great the temptation.  But neither should we shrink from heralding the incredible message of God’s radical grace offered to us in Christ, grace that cleanses us from sin and reconciles us to a holy God.

To some, this gospel sounds too good to be true.  Don’t we have to do something to warrant this grace, to merit this mercy?  Our sinful flesh may want to assert its efforts and point to its achievements, but no one’s obedience accomplishes redemption except that of Jesus Christ on the cross.

We must preach to please God, not man, because tickling people’s ears doesn’t help their souls.  We are most helpful when we are most truthful.  And here’s the truth about the gospel: Christ, who had no sin, became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

If that sounds too good to be true, then obviously the gospel is even more glorious and amazing than you imagined it to be.

Not Paul, Nor An Angel from Heaven…

No one has the authority to change the message of the gospel.  To assume such liberty is to incur God’s fearsome judgment.

Paul said, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

Notice Paul included himself in this curse.  Not just “even if you” but “even if we.”  Not even the apostle Paul had heavenly clearance to alter the message of the gospel.  The good news was his to announce, not amend.

What about authorities other than Paul?  Could someone greater than an apostle tweak the content of God’s revealed message?  What about…say, heavenly authorities–angels?  Not even them.  Paul denied that “an angel from heaven” could ever be authorized to change the content of the gospel.

In Galatians 1:8, the “one we preached to you” was the gospel he proclaimed in Acts 13-14 to the churches established in southern Galatia.  Those churches received the true message, so for Paul to change it would be to spread a false message, one contrary to what they had initially received.

The seriousness of Paul’s warning is clearly perceived in the consequence.  False teachers are accursed.  The word “curse” refers to the end-time judgment of God.  Paul has no patience for people who propagate a false gospel.  They are under God’s curse.  Their words may flatter and tickle the ears of many, but God will crush them with righteous wrath.

Paul is excluding not only himself and angels from others charged to amend the gospel.  His next statement universalizes his warning: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

Same threat (curse), same issue (gospel), but now everyone is included in his statement (if anyone).  Paul is talking about you and me.

Christians, then, are responsible to proclaim the truth of the gospel.  Paul clarifies what the gospel is: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).

God revealed the gospel to man, and His revelation is not subject to improvement or abridgment.  Those who seek to distort the truth of the gospel will assuredly face the just judgment of God.

The penalty for false teachers actually underscores the preciousness of the gospel.  Put another way, the judgment of false messengers highlights the worth and significance of the message.  What would we perceive about the gospel if false teachers could treat it like silly putty, molding it and remaking it into whatever they wished, without any consequence?

Truth matters.  Getting the gospel right matters.  Lord, help us love the Truth, and guard our minds from deception.

No Other Gospel of Christ

When Paul expressed astonishment that the Galatians were turning to a different gospel (Gal 1:6), he didn’t want them to wrongly conclude that he was actually acknowledging other gospels as legitimate.  This concern led him to quickly add, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (1:7).

For Paul, the gospel is the message about Christ, and there is no other legitimate gospel for sinners.  Other messages distort the true gospel.  Put another way, other messages lead to a false understanding of Christ and salvation.

Christians must beware of falsehoods that smell good and look genuine.  Our five senses do not detect deception, so we need to pray for discernment from the Holy Spirit and cultivate a love for the truth of God’s Word.

There is no other legitimate gospel other than the good news about Jesus Christ.  All other messages are illegitimate and powerless to save–thus, those messages are bad news masquerading as something worth believing.

Other Gospels Lead Away from God

Paul told the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6).

Two observations about this verse:
(1) The phrase “him who called you” refers to God the Father.
(2) They are (literally) “turning from” the Father “to another gospel.”

Now we can draw three conclusions:
(1) Other religious messages do not lead to more knowledge of God.
(2)  Turning to other gospels is simultaneously desertion from God, or apostasy–because other gospels aren’t actually legitimate (1:7a).
(3) If the Father called them in the grace of Christ, then turning away from God is also a departure from His grace.

Underlying Paul’s concern is this truth: other gospels aren’t legitimate messages that save sinners but, instead, are deceptive messages that distort  the way of salvation, lead away from a true knowledge of God, and substitute a system of works for divine grace.

Like the Galatians, we need the reminder to hold to the biblical gospel about the grace of God displayed in the cross of Christ on behalf of sinners.

Heresy, by Alister McGrath

In this book, McGrath converges Christian history and systematic theology in ways that are insightful and instructive.  I loved this book.  It was thought-provoking, and there were many “aha” moments.

Basically, Heresy is about what its title indicates.  McGrath discusses the nature of heresy, the rise of heresy, some classic heresies, the reemergence of heresies in our day, and much, much more.

Some of the more emphasized points in the book include these:

(1) Classic heresies were not advocated by people who thought of themselves as deviating from Christian orthodoxy–in their minds, they were trying to uphold Christianity, not subvert it.

(2) Over time, heresies are recognized to be such because they (if left unconfronted) would pose a corrupting and destructive threat to Christian orthodoxy.

(3) In the first few centuries of the church, it is clear that orthodoxy triumphed over heresy because of the intellectual and theological veracity of the truth, not because of political or social powers who had an agenda.

(4) Heresies do not go away; they simply reemerge in different packaging.

In 10 chapters, McGrath treats the topic of heresy in a way I have not yet encountered before.  His treatment has references from the patristics, all the way to our present day with authors like Dan Brown and Richard Dawkins.

I learned a great deal from this book, and I think every Christian will be immensely helped by chewing through its chapters.  Get and read Heresy.  You will love the truth more as a result!

The Health-Wealth Gospel Is From Jacob’s Well

Jesus contrasted the living water he provides with the impermanent nature of the water in Jacob’s well (John 4:13-14).  The temporary quenching of Jacob’s well-water made me think of the temporary “quenching” of things in the world.  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17). 

There you have it.  The things of this world are passing away.  And yet…there are many televangelists who preach from Jacob’s well.  They preach the things found in this world.  They preach that God’s will for believers is health and wealth.  Get rich, get well, halleleujah.  The danger in such a message is that Jesus’ emphasis is completely missed: being a True Worshiper of the Father through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (John 4:23-24). 

Preachers should not rely on Jacob’s well for sermonic content.  The Bible doesn’t promise the American dream for believers, and preachers commit a terrible deed in misleading people that the Bible assures such a thing.  To hear that God wants “your best life now” is to hear a message from Jacob’s well.  It is not “living water.”  It is not transformative.  It is a temporary quenching, and you have to return again and again for such messages (John 4:13). 

A message that promises bigger houses, finer cars, healthier bodies, better relationships, and a “better you” is a message from Jacob’s well.  It’s not about getting more.  Jesus is not a self-improvement, life-enhancement product.  Jesus is Lord of the universe.  Repent of your sins and believe in His death on the cross for sinners.  Drink of the “living water.”  Be changed by the water from Jesus, not the water from the world. 

And don’t believe the message of health-wealth gospel preachers.  Such a message is from the bottom of Jacob’s hundred-foot-deep well.  In fact, the message is from a place much deeper than that.