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3. The Cross And Preaching (Gal. 3:1)

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Paul’s mission was to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:16), the gospel of the sovereign grace of God, the gospel that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ’s atoning work alone. The Galatian believers along with many others had accepted this gospel but now they were in danger of drifting away from it. They were being duped into believing a false gospel that required keeping the law, which has no power at all to save.

Satan never stops trying to distort God's way of salvation. He does this by substituting a false “salvation” through human works. Often these false gospels have an element of truth in them. That’s what makes them so insidious. Sometimes they look so genuine that its hard to separate them from the real thing. In the case of the Galatian deceivers they didn’t deny that Jesus was the Christ, nor did they deny that faith binds us to Christ. It wasn’t anything that they overtly denied that was the problem. The problem was that they added to the work of Christ. They said that, in order to be saved, you needed to keep the requirements of the law as well as trust Christ.

It is these half-truths that cause so much confusion in Christianity today. That’s why we must know the fundamental doctrines of the Bible to be able to differentiate between truth and error. What current teachings do you think have the same flavor - those who teach that you need to be baptized in order to be saved, or those who teach that only the church can impart saving grace?

It is the emphasis on outward rites that detracts from the simple gospel, so that the sole basis of salvation through grace alone by faith alone is clouded. The centre is shifted from personal union with a personal Saviour by personal faith to participation in external ordinances in order to be saved.

This is the third article in this series, “The Centrality of the Cross in Galatians.” Previously we have studied Galatians 1:3-5, “The Cross and Salvation,” and Galatians 2:20, “The Cross and the Exchanged life.” In this article we are studying Galatians 3:1, “The Cross and Preaching.” The subject of this text is “The public declaration of the one true gospel” and the central theological principle we learn from it is that Christ’s crucifixion is the paramount theme in preaching.

Up to this point in this letter, the apostle Paul has been defending the gospel from the point of view of his own experience and calling. Gradually he has been working the argument around to the topic of the gospel itself. Now he is set for a defense of the gospel as it had been presented to them. He is amazed that the Galatians had so quickly defected from the gospel (1:6-7). They had turned back from grace to law, from faith to works, from Calvary to ceremony, from freedom to bondage. He is dumbfounded that after their conversion experience under his preaching they could be so easily persuaded otherwise. He could hardly believe that they were actually heeding this false doctrine.

All of this causes Paul to cry out: “O foolish Galatians!” (3:1a). They were “foolish,” not stupid, inasmuch as they had the intellectual ability but weren’t using it. They were being irrational. They failed to use their spiritual intelligence when faced with unscriptural teaching. This is the same word Jesus used with the two on the road to Emmaus: 25 O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk. 24:25-26). Those disciples’ problem wasn’t mental but spiritual.

Similarly, the Galatians had a spiritual problem. They were adopting this doctrine of salvation by works (2:16). They were foolishly denying the necessity of grace, bringing into doubt the necessity of the death of Christ, forsaking the truth of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, following impulses rather than truth. Such a doctrine is irrational and foolish, yet that was what the Galatians were leaning towards. They were being intellectually inconsistent and self-contradictory as Paul will point out to them later in this chapter.

There are many false teachers who want to deceive us. They preach a message that appeals to our nature and our emotions, such as being able to please God based on a certain behavior, such as appealing to our ego and self-glorification. But feelings are unpredictable – they don’t form a solid foundation for belief. Faith and obedience are established through the mind, through the pursuit of truth as revealed in God’s Word and our conformity to it, the result of which is joy unspeakable. True happiness is derived from knowing and obeying God’s truth not from performing certain rituals.

How could such a reversal by them to believe such a false doctrine be explained? Paul asks the question: “Who has bewitched you?” (3:1b). This is Paul’s perhaps facetious attempt to explain what was happening to them. This is the best explanation he can come up with – that they must have been “bewitched” by someone. It’s like they had been brought under someone else’s spellbinding, charismatic charm. He is saying, “Who has brought you under their spell? This is so outrageous it smacks of utter Satanic deception. Who tickled your fancy through a false doctrine that has beguiled you into believing that you can gain merit with God through your own works?” After hearing and responding positively to his clear, accurate, and convicting presentation of the gospel, someone must have now pulled the wool over their eyes, causing them to turn away from the one true gospel that they had previously embraced - salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.

Such charmers can only hurt us if we take our focus off Christ and the truth of his word. That’s what these deceivers try to do – turn away our gaze from Christ; distract us from the only One who is worthy of our undivided attention and affection. And so our best defense is an offense, by keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Him, “looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).

The Galatians were ignoring the clear gospel that had been preached by Paul even though they had been the recipients of that life-transforming gospel of Christ, a gospel that had not been obscured by non-essentials, a gospel that proclaims the person and work of Christ – Christ and him crucified.

Our preaching of the gospel must always be “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). We must make a conscious decision, as Paul did: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). That’s the essence of the gospel, that Christ died for our sins, rose again for our justification (Rom. 4:25), and is coming again for our glorification. Anything that takes away from the simplicity, reality and efficacy of this message is not the true gospel – its phony and deceitful.

What was happening was some sort of insanity which evoked absolute amazement. It was sin that deserved rebuke. To think that those who had been so carefully and fully taught now were turning away is beyond comprehension, especially since the gospel which had been preached to them was an open, real, and timeless declaration.

I. The Preaching Of The Cross Is An Open Declaration

1. It’s a declaration that is visual: “Before your eyes…” (3:1c). They had seen with their own eyes the visual portrayal of the gospel by and in Paul’s preaching and life. They saw its meaning and by faith had believed and received it. In other words, they hadn’t heard this report from some third party. It had been visibly presented before them in Paul’s ministry.

Paul’s preaching had been so demonstrative that the gospel was as visually clear as though they had actually been present at the crucifixion themselves. They could hear the sounds, see the sights so clearly that they were convinced of the truth of Christ’s atoning death and by grace they believed through faith in Christ’s work alone.

2. It’s a declaration that is public: “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed” (3:1d). This refers to the ancient practice of announcing news items in a public place on a placard or billboard for all to see. Applying this to his proclamation of the gospel to the Galatians, Paul is saying, “Through my preaching of the gospel, Jesus Christ has been figuratively placarded before you, set forth for all to see, publicly proclaimed, conspicuously displayed.” Paul’s preaching of Christ’s crucifixion was done in such a public way.

It was as public as though it had been placed on a billboard alongside the highway for all to see. It was publicly displayed just like some retail stores promote their products and prices on a placard paraded up and down on the sidewalk to entice passersby to respond. Paul’s preaching and the Galatians’ reception of its truth had all been done publicly. It wasn’t hidden in a corner – this was not some secret message to a privileged few.

Further, it was public in that the believers were witnesses to each other’s salvation. The Christian movement was public and their acceptance of it was public. And yet now, through some inexplicable enchantment, they were turning away their eyes from the One whom they had once seen so clearly, and in so doing they were denying the truth that they had publicly confessed.

Those who have looked upon the cross should be free from adverse influences. It is an anomaly that any who have understood the significance of the event should ever be beguiled. Indeed, it’s the preacher’s task to proclaim the gospel publicly and visibly. The gospel is to be placarded by preachers in language that is simple and plain, but in language that is demonstrative and clear as though the event is happening “before our eyes.” Like a public announcement, it must be authoritative, urgent, and understandable. We must be placard carriers, parading the gospel before those who need it, putting up verbal (and perhaps visual) billboards all over the place for all to see and know.

Not only is the preaching of the cross an open declaration, but also…

II. The Preaching Of The Cross Is A Real Declaration

1. It’s a declaration about a real person, “Jesus Christ” (3:1d). It’s about “Jesus,” the One that they knew in the flesh, same One who had been born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth, “a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs” (Acts 2:22).

Not only was he a real person whom they knew or about whom others testified, but He was a man whose life was publicly verified by God himself. This was not a fictitious character that had been written about by ancient philosophers. This was a real man, with a real family and friends. God chose to reveal himself to us in the “biography of a man” (Alexander Maclaren, Galatians, 103). He chose real flesh and blood to manifest himself to us.

It's about “Jesus” the One who is the “Christ.” It’s about the Messiah, the anointed one, the deliverer and redeemer, whom the O.T. believers knew would come but they didn’t know when or how or who. But we know him – the sent one from God.

The preaching of the cross is a declaration about a real person and…

2. It’s a declaration about a real event: “Jesus Christ… crucified” (3:1e). Christ’s death by crucifixion was a real event, which was followed by his resurrection which was also a real event. It isn’t simply that the “placard” depicts a man, but that the placard depicts Jesus Christ, the Son of God, undergoing a real crucifixion.

The picture is of Christ crucified, not of Christ in any other attitude or situation. It isn’t the upper room scene that Paul is portraying here, great as that is. It isn’t the Gethsemane scene, moving as that is. It isn’t the calming of the storm scene, powerful as that is. The picture is that of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified on the cross, bearing our sins in his own body on the tree, paying the price for our sin and depravity, satisfying the claims of a holy God on account of our sins.

And this event we know is real…

(1) Because it was witnessed by the apostles – 1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1 John 1:1-2).

(2) Because it has been recorded in history and never been disproved. Even His enemies could not prove that it didn’t happen.

(3) Because it was witnessed by many people over many days, including individuals, groups, and crowds. Paul affirms this: 5 He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor. 15:5-8).

The reality of the crucifixion is the heartbeat of the gospel message. It is the vital point from which the Christian faith derives its power and truth.

First, then, the preaching of the cross is an open declaration that is visual and public. Second, the preaching of the cross is a real declaration about a real person and a real event. Third…

III. The Preaching Of The Cross Is A Timeless Declaration

1. It’s a declaration about a present reality: “Jesus Christ…crucified” (3:1e). This is a perfect passive participle (“having been crucified”), indicating an historical event with continuing results into the present - a past event with lasting, contemporary consequences. What the cross accomplished it continues to accomplish. It never leaves off. It is the continuing and eternal payment for all sin. And every sinner who trusts Christ’s atoning work is forever and continually being forgiven.

If the work of the cross were not a present reality we would be lost. For we cannot stay saved by anything else. Works will not keep us saved anymore than they could save us in the first place.

The preaching of the cross is a declaration of a present reality, also…

2. It’s a declaration about a permanent reality: “Jesus Christ…having been crucified” (3:1e). Again, this perfect passive participle indicates not just an historical event but an event of permanent significance. What the cross accomplished and continues to accomplish, it will forever do. It’s significance and efficacy are permanent. “The cross keeps on moving powerfully and relentlessly through history and it will stand forever as living proof that men cannot redeem themselves” (John MacArthur).

Final Remarks

In this study of Galatians 3:1, “The cross and preaching,” we have discovered that the subject of the text is “The public declaration of the one true gospel” and that the central theological principle is that Christ’s crucifixion is the paramount theme in preaching.

Here then, in summary, is the structure and thrust of Galatians 3:1, concerning the centrality of the cross in preaching:

I. The preaching of the cross is an open declaration that is visual and public.

II. The preaching of the cross is a real declaration about a real person and a real event.

III. The preaching of the cross is a timeless declaration about a present and a permanent reality.

The gospel is still openly declared through preaching and the cross is still its central theme. We thank God for the enduring truth of the cross of Christ and the freedom we have to publicize it. Many antichristian authorities in other parts of the world are restricting Christians today from the open, public preaching of the cross. But that is the very means which God has ordained for the gospel to be declared, explained, and applied. What a privilege we have, here in the west, to preach the gospel freely and openly. And every time we hear it preached with clarity, accuracy, and conviction, the cross of Christ is once more being visibly portrayed before our eyes.

You might claim that you don’t have the gift of preaching and so you are unable to participate in this great declaration. But remember, that proclamation of the gospel takes place in many different ways. Yes, the public preaching of the gospel is the primary means that God has ordained for its proclamation, but there are ways in which every Christian can participate in this great privilege. You can explain the gospel and its central theme of Christ and him crucified in your personal conversations with others who are not Christians. You can distribute it in written form. You can invite non-believers to come to your church and hear the truth.

Furthermore, the centrality of the cross is publicly proclaimed every time we gather as Christians to remember the Lord in his death, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). This is why the remembrance of the Lord, as he established it, is so important. The Lord’s supper, as we call it, is a public, visual, and audible proclamation of the gospel. It’s public in that anyone present can witness what Christ has done on the cross. It’s visual in that the symbols of bread and cup represent Christ’s atoning work, the bread representing the body of the Lord Jesus given in death for us and the cup representing the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for us. Through these symbols, the remembrance of the Lord is a real declaration of the gospel, picturing a real person who died and a real event that happened. The remembrance of the Lord is also an audible declaration of the gospel in that relevant Scriptures are read and usually commented on.

So, let as many of us as are truly born again Christians and have clear consciences before God (i.e. no known, unjudged sin in our lives) take every opportunity to gather around the table of the Lord to respond to his request, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19), and in so doing, to proclaim the Lord’s death “until he comes.” Let us keep this timeless testimony alive through this symbolic service. Let us openly declare before the eyes of all observers that the work of Christ is still effective today in the lives of all believers and that the cross is our central theme for time and for eternity: 5 To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5-6).

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)

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