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Duty or Delight?
Today is Mother’s Day. Imagine that I gave a Mother’s Day gift to my Mom and said, “Mom, today is a day when people are expected to give a gift to their mother, so here’s a gift from me to you.” How do you think she’d respond? She’d probably think to herself (because she’d be too polite to say it), “Well, if he’s only giving me this gift he feels he has to, it really doesn’t mean much to me.” When a gift is only given out of a sense of obligation, there is no joy for the giver or the receiver.
In our culture, giving your mother a gift on Mother’s Day is considered by most people a duty. But for the person who truly loves and appreciates his or her mother, giving her a gift is also a delight. Religion makes obedience to God merely a duty. (I am defining "religion" as the attempt to gain acceptance with God by one's good works.) But the gospel makes it a delight. Religion is about what I have to do. The gospel is about what I get to do.
Don't Change the Gospel!
The word “gospel” means “good news.” The gospel can be summed up with three words: problem, solution, and response. The problem is sin, the solution is Christ, and the response is faith.
We are all guilty of sin, but God made a way for us to be made righteous (innocent of sin) before him. “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The Christian does not have “a righteousness of [his or her] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9).
The gospel is the good news that justification (being declared righteous by God) is received as a gift, not earned by human effort. It is possible only because of God’s grace. Christ “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).
J. D. Greear writes that justification by God’s grace “means that God could not love me any more than He does right now, because God could not love and accept Christ any more than He does, and God sees me in Christ. God’s righteousness has been given to me as a gift. He now sees me according to how Christ has lived, not on the basis of what kind of week I’ve had" (Gospel, pp. 46-47).
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he rebukes the Galatians for drifting from the gospel to religion, from grace to law. They were listening to false teachers who were claiming that Gentile believers had to follow the Old Testament law in order to be justified. In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul confronts this error, by emphasizing two vital truths about the gospel.
1. There is only one gospel.
Paul writes, “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—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (vv. 6-7). There are many versions of the gospel, but there is only one true gospel. A “different” gospel is a false gospel; it’s a distortion of the gospel.
2. There is nothing more important than the gospel.
By turning from the true gospel, the Galatians were “deserting him who called [them] in the grace of Christ” (v. 6). “Getting the gospel right is of the highest possible importance because straying from that truth is literally deserting God himself” (Tim Smith, "What It Means to Live a Gospel-Centered Life").
To Paul, there is no greater sin than changing the gospel: “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. 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” (vv. 8-9). To put it bluntly, Paul is saying, “If anybody preaches to you a false gospel, let him go to hell.”
The Right Motivation
The good news is that we are not saved by religion, but by God’s grace through faith in Christ. “To be gospel-centered means to focus on Jesus, who he is and what he has done, not on who we are and what we have done or will do for God” (Justin Holcomb, "What Is the Gospel?"). Religion produces pride (“Look at me!”) or fear (“Does God really love me?”). The gospel produces grateful joy (“God loves me! Look at what he did for me!”).
Religion says, “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” The gospel says, “I am accepted, therefore I obey.”
Religion tells you what to do; the gospel gives you power to do it. “The gospel produces not just obedience, you see, but a new kind of obedience—an obedience that is powered by desire. An obedience that is both pleasing to God and delightful to you” (J. D. Greear, Gospel, p. 18).