Toxic Cocktail: mixing law & gospel
In the same way that putting arsenic into a drink turns a cocktail from being refreshing to toxic, the false teachers in Galatia mixed God’s law with God’s gospel in a misguided effort to ‘balance’ out the grace Paul was preaching.
Paul was preaching that salvation was by grace and faith in Christ alone, so the religious leaders came in and changed the message to “one part grace, one part law.“
When Paul heard about the toxic, glawspel cocktail being served to the church in Galatia, his love for them provoked a passionate, fiery response. The tone in the beginning of the letter sounds as though Paul is running around the room, knocking the glasses out of the hands of the church, yelling “Don’t drink that – it’ll kill you!“
“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.” ~ Galatians 1:6-7
There are two things worth noting about Paul’s insistence that salvation is by grace alone apart from the law. First, Paul was an expert in the law and second, he didn’t conjure up “that grace stuff” – Jesus gave him the message.
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” ~ Galatians 1:11-12
Notice the words, “not man’s gospel“.
Interestingly, the gospel is contrary to every other religion, which all operate on reciprocal systems of earning. You do your part, the gods do theirs. It’s pragmatic, tit-for-tat human reasoning.
The gospel is otherworldly because it doesn’t offer us a system of redemption so we can save ourselves, it offers us a Redeemer who saves us. The teachers of all the world religions came to teach the works that merit your salvation whereas in the gospel, Jesus comes to be our salvation. The core of Christianity is trusting, not doing.
The gospel announces total substitution, whereas the false gospel insists on contribution.
The ‘law’ that was insisted upon by the false teachers was the Mosaic ceremonial worship laws. It included things like dietary stipulations, cleansing rituals, circumcision, tithing, and seasons of feasting and fasting. Is anyone really trying to bring those back? Is this passage still relevant for the church today?
The only Mosaic law I have ever experienced being being taught in the context of the Old Covenant was the tithe. Growing up having prosperity teaching as foundational and prosperity teachers as my role models, I was taught that tithing brought God’s blessings and a failure to tithe brought God’s curses. It was years until I was challenged to see how that false teaching contradicts the New Covenant. The curse of sin is eradicated by Christ’s cross, not our tithe. Today, the church gives freely and generously. We are free to tithe, but not required to.
(I have written an article on the pitfalls of prosperity teaching which can be READ HERE if that would be helpful.)
Most likely, we aren’t looking to reintroduce Mosaic laws into our churches. Having said that, when Christ’s gospel gets moved from our focus into our peripheral, it is easy for us to create our own little “L” laws that we think make us acceptable to God. Then we take these little “L” laws and impose them on ourselves and others.
They can create cultures of comparison in our hearts, our families and our churches. Over time, everyone gets slotted into a sliding scale of “better or worse” than us or “clean and unclean” in relation to us, based on externals.
Some of our little “L” laws might look like Jesus plus our daily scripture reading, meditation or prayer around the dinner table. Jesus plus our church attendance or commitment to the programs. Jesus plus our volunteer involvement or our community involvement. These are all excellent disciplines, but they aren’t what make us acceptable to God.
Some of our little “L” laws might be nothing more than personal preferences like whether or not we drink alcohol, put our children into Christian schools or enjoy the arts across a wide spectrum of genres and mediums.
Regardless of whether our our little “L” laws are good things based in scripture, or nothing more than personal preferences we choose to embrace, none of them are making us acceptable before God.
We could never do enough or be enough, but Christ is enough and we’re in Him.
The ‘Jesus + Nothing’ gospel that Paul proclaimed presents the Christian life as a life of celebration because of our union with Christ.
We are no longer in the impossible position of needing to keep God’s law with our obedience to earn His acceptance. We are now in a liberating position because Christ kept God’s law, which means our obedience is done freely because we already have God’s acceptance.
United to Christ, God’s law guides us. Keeping it isn’t what’s saves us.
While we don’t keep Mosaic ceremonial worship law, we do desire the guidance of God’s moral law. God’s moral law is known as the Ten Commandments, which guides us into societal flourishing and shapes how we love our neighbours.
Jesus famously summarized God’s law by saying:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”~ Matthew 22:37-39
We desire to keep this law because we are united to Christ. The problem is, none of us are keeping it as it is meant to be kept because it’s a 24/7 requirement, which is why we don’t mix the requirements of God’s law with the gift of the God’s gospel for salvation.
Mixing the law and the gospel doesn’t ‘balance‘ out God’s grace – it erases it altogether. It is God’s grace that produces the desire in our hearts for the guidance of God’s law. Living a life of love is not what the gospel is but living a life of love is what the gospel does.
Good News …
Everything God expects from us He has provided for us. The demands that God makes of us in His law, He provides for us in His gospel. Thus, Christ’s last words on the cross were “it is finished” – paid in full.
The more we rest in the fact that Christ’s work was so sufficient that we can’t do anything for God, the more we’ll want to do everything for Him.