A Quid Without Any Quo

by Jason Micheli

Length: 27:00

Galatians 1.1-5  (click to see Scripture text)

June 6, 2021

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Not only is Paul’s Letter to the Galatians at the very heart of the Protestant Reformation’s recovery of the doctrine of justification by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone according to scripture alone, by many accounts the Epistle to the Galatians was the catalyst for the Great Awakening in the eighteenth century, a movement of spiritual revival when hundreds of thousands of men and women on both sides of the Atlantic heard the Gospel proclaimed clearly for the first time and, through the preaching of the Gospel, met the Lord Jesus Christ and were converted to a living faith in him. 

For example, William Holland, a Methodist preacher who had recently returned from the American colonies to London, records in his diary that on May 17, 1738 he was “providentially directed to Martin Luther’s Lectures on the Epistle to Galatians.” 

Holland writes in his diary:

“I carried the book round to Mr. Charles Wesley, who was sick at Mr. Bray’s house, as though it were a very precious treasure that I had found, and we three sat down together. 

Mr. Charles Wesley read aloud Martin Luther’s Preface to Galatians [Wherein Luther endeavors to explain the main argument and intention of St. Paul’s Epistle as the necessary distinction between the Law and the Gospel and “the more excellent righteousness of faith; that is, God through Christ, apart from any work of our own, credits righteousness freely to our account.”]. 

Mr. Wesley read these words of Luther, “What, have we then nothing— no works of the law to perform, no good deeds to do, no commands to obey— to do? Don’t we have to work at all to obtain this righteousness? My answer is simple: Absolutely not, for this is perfect perfect righteousness: To do nothing, to hear nothing, to know nothing about the law or works but only accept Him whom God has made for us all our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” At the words, “What, have we then nothing to do? No, nothing! but only accept Him…” there came such a power over me as I cannot well describe; my great burden fell off in an instant; my heart was so filled with peace and love that I burst into tears. 

I almost thought I saw our Savior before me. 

My companions, perceiving me so affected, fell on their knees and prayed. Afterwards, when I went into the street, I could scarcely feel the ground I trod upon.”

Luther’s short distillation of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and it’s message of the Gospel of grace so overwhelmed and astounded William Holland— who was a preacher, mind you— that afterwards, every day, he took the Preface to Galatians to the houses of friends and, knocking on their doors, would say, “Here, I have a promise so wonderful I’m desperate to share it with you. Can I tell you?”

I’ve heard news so good I can’t wait for you to hear it too. 

He was a preacher, yet he was astonished by Paul’s message in Galatians. 

In other words—

It’s possible to be a preacher of the Gospel and be preaching something other than the Gospel. 

———————-

Dorothy Sayers, the twentieth century British novelist, was also a passionate and articulate Christian. 

In a justly famous op-ed for the London Sunday Times, she laments how the Christian message is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man, yet somehow preachers have pulled off the near impossible feat of making the Gospel boring.” 

We make it sentimental: God loves you just the way you are. We make it moralistic: Do unto others as you would have done to you. We make it legalistic: As a faithful follower of Christ, you must _________. Or, a faithful Christian ought not_________.  

None of which requires Christ and his shed blood in order to be a coherent message.

“We are constantly assured,” Sayers complains, “that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – “dull dogma,” as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The doctrine is the drama.”

In other words— 

It’s possible to be a community of the Gospel, celebrating baptisms and consecrating bread and wine, singing hymns and studying the Bible, preaching and praying and serving the poor, that has lost the Gospel. 

According to Sayers, a lack of eventfulness and excitement and expectation, surprise and playfulness and astonishment— drama— are the telltale signs. 

It’s possible to be a community created by the Gospel that is no longer centered in the Gospel. 

———————-

In his own journal, Charles Wesley also writes of the experience he shared with William Holland reading the Preface to Galatians: 

“I marveled that we were so soon and entirely removed from him that called us into the grace of Christ and had fallen into another Gospel altogether. 

Who would believe from our preaching and teaching, or from the joy and freedom of our lives, that our Church had been founded upon this important article of justification by grace alone through faith alone? I am astonished and reproached by how this strikes me as a new doctrine. 

From this time forward I endeavored to ground as many of our friends as came in this fundamental truth, salvation by grace alone through faith alone…” 

I’ve heard news so good I can’t wait for you to hear it too. 

One of those friends with whom Charles Wesley felt compelled to share the good news of justification by grace alone was his brother, John, who, hearing the same distillation of the Gospel a few days later, said that he felt his heart strangely warmed. 

John Wesley had been an ordained priest in the Church of England for ten years before it lit him on fire that all we need to do for our enough-ness before God is “accept Him whom God has made for us all our righteousness.”

Through John and Charles Wesley, the Holy Spirit unleashed a movement that converted thousands upon thousands, many of which, mind you, already identified as Christians. 

They were baptized. They were praying, good-deed-doing members of churches, and yet they responded to the Gospel as though they were hearing it for the very first time. 

Because they were hearing it for the very first time. 

In other words— 

It’s possible to be a believer and be believing something other than the Gospel. 

Having a church is no guarantee of hearing the Gospel. 

———————-

Here’s the nub— 

Nobody ever drifts towards the Gospel. 

If you can remember those six words, then you’re on your way to grasping Paul’s argument with the Galatians. 

Nobody ever drifts towards the Gospel. 

Our inertia always will pull us away from the Gospel because the Gospel does not come naturally to any of us. 

The Gospel does not come naturally to any of us because the Gospel comes as Jesus Christ and him crucified, which the Bible says is foolishness to secular people and a stumbling block even, perhaps especially, to religious people. 

Notice, for example, what’s absent from Paul’s short summary of the Gospel in our text today, “The Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age.” 

What’s missing? You and me as active agents. 

There is no mention of us contributing anything to our salvation but sin. The Gospel is God’s grace in Jesus Christ not in partnership with us but in spite of us. 

Nor is there any mention of merit. 

The our in “who gave himself for our sins” is all-inclusive. God’s grace omits no sinner. Christ is the incongruous gift of God given without any regard to the worth of its recipients. 

For those of us who like to think we’re worthy— or maybe, we think, we can become worthy with a little bit of help from God, the Gospel is insulting. 

For those of us who know those who are worse than unworthy, the Gospel is offensive. 

In a meritocracy like ours, the Gospel will always appear countercultural. 

In a just society like ours, the Gospel will always risk sounding reckless and cheap. 

In a transactional world like ours, the Gospel will always be counterintuitive. 

In Jesus Christ you have a quid without any demand for a quo. 

Your Savior is not on the other end of the line saying, “I need you to do us a favor though.” 

As Robert Capon writes, the Gospel is not that God is like an Almighty Mother-in-Law who gifts you a priceless crystal vase but then, every time she visits you, she inspects it for nicks and scratches. 

But the gravitational pull upon us from our transactional world will always be away from this Gospel that gives us a quid without any demand for a quo. 

Therefore— 

Where the Gospel is assumed, it’s safe to assume the Gospel has been lost. 

Even worse, where the Gospel has been added to, the Gospel has been annulled. 

When you make the Gospel a stepping stone to something else, you’re walking away from the Gospel. 

And this is exactly what had happened in Galatia. 

———————-

Dispatched by the Risen Christ, the Apostle Paul had gone to Galatia where he proclaimed the Gospel and, through the power of the Gospel, the grace of God had set people’s hearts on fire. 

I have a promise so wonderful I’m desperate to share it with you. 

But as soon as Paul moved on to plant other churches, false teachers followed behind Paul and, claiming apostolic authority for themselves, taught a different Gospel. 

“No,” the false teachers preached, “contrary to what Paul told you, faith in the Gospel alone is not sufficient to justify and save a sinner. You can’t just enjoy your forgiveness. 

One day, God’s going to judge you based on what you’ve done with your forgiveness. Sure, God’s done his part, wiping your slate clean in Jesus Christ, but now you’ve got to do your part, stomping out the sin in your life, standing up to sin in the world, and faithfully following his commands. There’s got to be a quo for your quid.”

The false teachers— Paul calls them Judaizers— were legalists, moralists. 

They muddled the message of the Gospel with the Law into a kind of Glawspel, but Glawspel, Paul writes in verse seven, is no Gospel at all. 

There is no middle ground at all between: “Christ has done everything for you” and “This is what you must do.” 

There is no reconciliation at all between those two messages. 

In the grace of God in Jesus Christ and nothing else, you have everything; therefore, Christ plus anything is nothing at all. 

The Gospel damns any and all additives to it, Martin Luther taught.

This is why the tone of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia is so unlike his other epistles. 

Notice, the very first word in the epistle, after Paul gives us his name and title, is NO: “Paul, an apostle— NOT from men nor through man…” 

Paul’s first word for the Galatians is a no, and no sooner than verse nine Paul’s calling for the wrath and judgment of God to fall upon their heads. 

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is proof that Paul would own everyone on Twitter. 

The epistle is angry and argumentative. 

It’s polemical from beginning to end, drawing sharp contrasts and opposing antitheses. 

Paul is so alarmed by what he’s heard of the churches in Galatia that he cuts the traditional thanksgiving from his salutation. 

In Corinth, church members were having sex with their mothers-in-law, showing up drunk to the Lord’s Table, and treating the poor like second-class citizens. 

Corinth is like the Jersey Shore of the New Testament, yet in his letters to them, Paul calls them saints and dear ones and he thanks God for them.

But for the Galatians, Paul just writes, “To the churches of Galatia.” 

And it goes downhill from there. 

Incidentally, this is another indication that Christianity is not a religion of morality; it’s the announcement of a message. 

If Christianity were about morality, then the Corinthians would be the last Christians that Paul would call saints. 

If Christianity were about ethics, Paul would not launch his most heated verbal assault on the Galatians whose only offense is muddling the message of the Gospel. 

Rather than simply trusting the Gospel, the Galatians were attempting to be good. 

And they’re the ones— not the Corinthians— upon whom Paul unleashes all his rhetorical fire. 

Take note too— 

Paul addresses the letter to more than one church. 

He’s writing to all the churches he and Barnabas had planted in the region of Galatia. 

He doesn’t single any of them out for praise nor does he isolate the ones who deserve critique. 

He lumps them all together. 

In other words—

Paul takes it for granted that everyone finds the false teachers’s quid pro quo Gospel, their Grace + _________ message attractive. 

He takes it for granted that they all find this false Gospel alluring. 

And that should be a warning to us. 

———————-

I remember about five years ago we were doing a sermon series on Galatians, and reading this letter once again prompted me to ask a friend in my congregation for a favor. 

I asked him to sit through an entire service one Sunday and do nothing but count the words we used in worship. 

I asked him to count all the Gospel language we used in worship versus all the language of the Law. 

From the announcements to the sermon, the prayers and songs and benediction, I asked him to pay attention and count how many words of comfort and promise we used compared to how many words of obligation and duty, ought and should. 

Done for you versus This you must do for God.

When he came up to me in the narthex after worship that Sunday, Mark pulled a moleskin notebook from his breast pocket and said, “I might’ve missed a few but it came out to about 85% to 15%.” 

“That’s better than three-quarters,” I replied, “That’s better than I feared. That’s pretty good.”

“No,” he said, “The other way around. “It was about 85% oughts and shoulds.” 

I grabbed his notebook and looked at his list of words. 

“Really?! You’ve got to be kidding me. Only 15% of our speech was Gospel?! I don’t know what to do about 85% or even know where to begin.”

“Repent and beg God for forgiveness,” he replied. 

I looked up from Mark’s notebook to see that he wasn’t joking. 

———————-

Nobody ever drifts towards the Gospel. 

This is why in his salutation the Apostle Paul does not refer to God as the Maker of Heaven and Earth or the Lord of Israel or the Father of Abraham, but immediately Paul refers to God as the Father of Christ Jesus who raised him from the dead. 

From the very first sentence of his letter to them, Paul points the Galatians to the resurrection because, as Paul writes, “Christ was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” 

As Luther writes in his commentary, “Paul has nothing in his heart but the righteousness of Christ” because the empty tomb is the passageway whereby Christ’s very own righteousness becomes ours free of charge through faith. 

You see— 

From the get-go, with nearly every word and sentence of his letter, Paul is calling them back to the promise so wonderful he’s still desperate to share it with them.

And so am I, desperate to share it with you. 

Because not only must we never assume the Gospel as a Church, we must always assume there’s someone present in the Church who desperately needs to hear the Gospel. 

And their need to hear the Gospel will always trump whatever else (politics, advice, life lessons, inspirational stories, etc.) we might like to talk about on any given Sunday. 

We can never assume the Gospel or add to it because we must always assume there’s someone here, hanging on for dear life, who needs to hear the Gospel and nothing but the Gospel. 

The doctrine is the drama.

For instance— and this is just one example, I could tell you story after story after story:

Last Sunday afternoon I received an email from a man who had visited us in worship that morning and stayed after for the Memorial Day service as well. Let’s call him “Greg.”

He wrote:

“Dear Pastor, 

It was great to be back in church today. It’s been too long. 

I stayed behind for the Memorial Day recognition and listened to your “bonus sermon.” At least from my experience, I think you were spot on.  

I have been “a good Christian” my entire life. I’ve gone to service and given to the church and served the needy and kept the commandments. But in my work, on behalf of the nation, I cannot avoid the reality that I have personally and directly contributed to the death of hundreds if not thousands of people— people that my government, rightly or wrongly, viewed as evil. Even if they were evil, they’re all still individuals for whom Christ died. 

I’m retired from the military now, but I still go to work every day and I labor to make our military more efficient and lethal in destroying other people.

Thou shalt not kill?  

I pray constantly, pastor, that when I meet my Maker, he doesn’t turn his face from me for what I have done and what I continue to do. 

I was willing to sacrifice my life for my nation’s will, and I suppose I still am willing; nevertheless, I now live with the burden of guilt of what I did and what I do.”

———————-

Nobody ever drifts towards the Gospel. 

We can never assume the Gospel because we must always assume there’s someone here who needs to hear it. Of course, the truth is we all need to hear it. Because the Gospel is seemingly too good to be true, we never advance beyond needing to hear it, Sunday after Sunday. 

Greg certainly needs to hear it. 

So Greg, if you’re here today, I have a promise so wonderful I’m desperate to share it with you, a promise I too depend upon like a desperate, drowning man clinging to a life preserver. 

The promise is that in Christ and him crucified you have been delivered into a new age, not of works but of grace. 

On account of Christ, everything that belongs to you— your sin— is his now. In Christ, everything that belongs to him— his righteousness, his perfect, permanent record— is yours now. 

Henceforth, for Christ’s sake, God will never deal with you on the basis of your goodness or your badness but only the basis of Christ’s finished work. 

There are no pearly gates and St. Peter’s off doing something else because the only record God will ever examine is Christ’s. God will never deal with you on the basis of your goodness or your badness but only the basis of Christ’s finished work.

And Greg, I’ve been a preacher of this promise long enough to know that, eventually, you’re going to wonder, But…but isn’t there something I have to do? 

The answer, Greg, is simple. 

And we have to hold fast to it because the Gospel itself is at stake. 

The answer is, “No!”

“Absolutely not, for this is perfect perfect righteousness: To do nothing, to hear nothing, to know nothing about the law or works but only accept Him whom God has made for us all our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” 

 

 

 

 

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me,

 

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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