You are alienated from Christ, you who desire to be justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace.
Different Good News
Apostle Paul was quite concerned, to say the least, about the first Christians in Galatia. They were apparently losing their faith in Christ. They thought the sacrifice of Jesus was not enough to redeem them. The Galatians had started to believe that, in order to obtain full forgiveness, they also needed to follow the law. The gospel Paul had proclaimed had become something else. The change, however, was so subtle that Galatians themselves still called their "gospel" the Good News. It may well be that most of them did not even realize what had happened.
What might Paul think of us modern day Christians? The original gospel he preached is definitely still the same: Jesus died for all of us on the cross, and through his blood we have been redeemed, once and for all. And yet, somehow it seems that many Christians today do not quite believe that anymore.
The present day "Good News" goes like this: Jesus gave his life for us on the cross and atoned for our sins. And now, because of his sacrifice, God forgives us as we repent, ask for forgiveness, and believe in Jesus.
Well, that sounds all right, doesn't it? There is just one problem: the forgiveness of sins has been moved from Calvary to the present time. We claim that God forgives us "because of Jesus", but in reality the forgiveness depends on us, our own deeds, and our faith. In that view, the true significance of Jesus lies in the fact that there is no need for additional sacrifice. The lambs and goats are eternally safe! But eventually, this kind of a doctrine is "good news" for goats alone because it leaves us humans under the law anyway. The forgiveness is now up to us.
How simple and unconditional was the Good News that Paul proclaimed! Jesus' death on the cross was a historical event, and so was the full redemption in Christ. It happened in the past. The sacrifice on Calvary was not even dependent on anyone's faith, for "while we were yet weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). He gave his life and redeemed the whole mankind with one perfect sacrifice. There is nothing anyone can ever add to that.
Of course, this complete, full forgiveness did not mean everyone would be saved. Our salvation depends on how we deal with Jesus now that he has risen. We are saved by faith in Jesus — that is, as we agree to receive him in our life through the Holy Spirit.
Still, there can be no foundation for our faith other than the pure, genuine Good News. The present day "gospel" may look very much like the original, but it lacks its power. Only through the message of the complete atonement on the cross we can be set free.
- Markku Sarento