When John called me and asked me if I would address this gathering, he was very gracious in allowing me to choose my subject. He just gave me the theme. Being the amateur — very amateur — historian that I profess to be, I immediately drew my mind to 1776 when our nation was in its infancy. The founding fathers of this nation, they had come to the conclusion that they could no longer live under the tyranny of King George. But they had a problem, a serious problem: before they could plan a revolution, they had to have a plan, and they had no plan.
All they had was thirteen sovereign states and more on the horizon. Each one had its own separate culture and understanding. Each one had its own separate understanding of government. No one had a real army. They had Maytag and ragtag militia, and somehow they were supposed to rally this ragtag group of thirteen separate individual states into a union, and then march that union against the largest, most dominant army and navy in the world. The task was formidable, and yet they did not shy away from it.
One of the ways that they sought to rally the people was they would create a seal. And they commissioned Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams to create a seal that would represent the government of the United States. And as they were working on that seal, they decided, “What would be a slogan that would emphasize what we wanted to achieve?” and they chose the Latin words, e pluribus unum — “out of many, one.”
Now, the seal which Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams created was ultimately rejected, but the Latin phrase e pluribus unum stood because it meant something. It meant that no matter where we were along the political spectrum, we all agreed on one thing and that freedom was more precious and better and to be preferred over tyranny. And out of our disunity and diversity, we could be unified on that one point. And we know the outcome: we won.
The Many Would Be One
Well, I would suggest before Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams decided to coin that phrase and use it rather for the Great Seal of America, I would suggest that our Lord actually prayed that in John 17, when he says that, “[Father] I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me . . . that they may all be one” (John 17:20–21). That they all — the many — would be one.
Now, it is interesting that our Lord would pray that knowing that there was so much division even among the apostles, knowing that there would be division even in the church’s infancy, knowing that there would be the divisions that we have today, and yet he prayed that. And I am confident that our Lord’s prayers were quite effectual.
So, when our Lord prays that they would be one, we realize that unity in the body of Christ is not something that we achieve, but rather it is something that we recognize because it is not our prayer that grants unity in the body, but our Lord’s. And unity, as Paul says, is God’s gift to the church (Ephesians 4:3). So, it is not our job to create the unity. It is our job to realize it, to celebrate it, to worship God in it.
Yet, I must confess that I am not blind. And even though our Lord has prayed for our unity and our unity is sure, we must admit, if we are honest, that in most of our circles, that unity is barely recognizable.
I think we could just address the whole issue in our local congregations, for we know there is disunity among denominations. But as the pastoral speaker, let me address it from the point of view of your own local congregation, for there is much disunity within our own fellowships. Most of us, most of us, the vast majority of us come from homogenous congregations. Most of us come from homogenous congregations. It may not be the way we like it, it may not be the way we want it, but that’s the way it is.
This may be due to the fact of the neighborhood and the demographics in which our church is in. Some of us come from neighborhoods that are predominantly one culture over another, or it may be unfortunately that some of us maybe have been convinced by modern church growth gurus that in order to grow a church, it must be homogenous.
Well, whatever the situation, whether it’s intentional or accidental, whatever the case, even within our homogenous groups, there is much diversity. There is much division, and this division unfortunately is not along theological issues. As pastors and theologians, we like to romanticize our situation and think that people are overly concerned with theological things, but we know that is not true.
For people, usually most people come to your church or leave your church not for theological grounds, but very mundane things. How much parking is available? What do you have to offer for my kids? Do you have a singles ministry? Who’s going to disciple my teens? Does the pastor look me in the eye when he shakes my hand?
Then, even for those who stay, there is this diversity. On any given Sunday, our churches are populated with generational gaps, and so modern church-preaching gurus and technicians tell us that we must address and form our sermons along these generational gaps. Beware that you have Baby Busters in your congregation, and beware that you have baby boomers, and beware that you have this Builder’s generation, and God forbid that you should fail to address Generation X.
So you face every Sunday, week in and week out, with all of this diversity on generational scales. But then the diversity doesn’t stop there for our society divides our people, not only along generational gaps, but we’ll divide them along gender gaps as well. Even within those generational gaps, you have the men over here and the women over here. And God forbid that you would use too many athletic illustrations in your sermons.
And we divide our people when they come to church. We send the babies in the nursery, the toddlers over there, the young kids over here, the pre-teens over here, the teens over there, the college over there, the young adult over there, the married over there, the unmarried over there, the singles over here, the seniors over here. We divide them along all these lines. We have classes for the married, the unmarried, the widow, the widower, the grandparents, the grandparents adopting children, the grandparents raising children. We have it all.
Then when we go into the store, they each have their own market niche and so they each have their own Bible. They have the kid’s Bible, they have the women’s Bible, the men’s Bible, the teen’s Bible, the divorce Bible, the married Bible, the couple’s Bible, the senior’s Bible. Everybody has their own Bible. This is the makeup of our churches. There is so much diversity.
I recall recently, listening to an interview of a man who was on staff with a Southern Baptist church and he made the statement that his background was so diverse, much like mine, growing up in a Baptist home, going to a Christian Church of Christ college, going to a reformed Presbyterian seminary, currently serving an independent Bible church. And the people that we preach to from Sunday to Sunday have similar Christian experiences
And this is a byproduct, friends, of our post-modern age where there is this lack of respect for tradition. It used to be that if you grew up in a Baptist home, in a Baptist church, you were Baptist born and Baptist bred, and when you die, you be Baptist dead. But that just is not true as much anymore.
Families are decentralized, and we have within our congregations a wealth of diversity. And yet, we are charged each Sunday morning to preach a message that rings in the heart of every person there. Despite all of these categories that the sociologists give us and the posters give us, despite all of these divisions, Scripture does not make it easy for us to accept these divisions.
In fact, it seems that Scripture commands us, even in the midst of this diversity, to celebrate our unity. But how are we to do that? What will be our message that crosses over racial lines, crosses over socioeconomic lines, crosses over gender gaps, crosses over Christian experiences? What message could we possibly give to Generation X that would ring true with them and at the same time ring true with senior Builders?
The Gospel Unifies the Church
It is this: it is the singularly unifying message of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s the gospel.
It’s the gospel. Young, old, rich, poor, Black, White, Brown — it doesn’t matter. Everyone needs to hear the gospel. That is where we find that which unifies the church. Where do we find that in Scripture? Well, turn with me if you will, to Paul’s first epistle — only epistle — to the Galatians.
Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, and we’re going to spend a bit of time here. And the epistle is so rich and so informative and unfortunately, there’re going to be quite a few things that we skip over, but I hope to give us a gist of Paul’s argument to the Galatians so as to know what unity should look like and how it should be worked out despite diversity.
I’d like to refer to Paul’s epistle to the Galatians as the fount of unity, that it is overflowing with the glory of unity, and that if you would get in there and that you would put yourself under this fountain and open your mouth, that it would refresh your preaching and your church because it will refresh it with the gospel of God’s sovereign grace. It is the fount of unity. And if you’re struggling with these issues in your church and how in how to across these generational gaps and how to cross these socioeconomic gaps, take your church on a trek through Galatians and see if you do not find that one unifying element that rings true in every heart.
Three Reasons Why Galatians Is Appropriate
There’s three things I think that make this epistle appropriate for our discussion this morning, and the first is that Paul wrote this epistle to several churches and not one. Which is good for us because we all come from several churches, and therefore the message that I can glean from Galatians is a message that says it is not to a particular church but to the church as a whole. That is very important for us to understand; Paul is not writing here to one church. He’s not writing to one group who had a certain Christian experience, but he is writing to the church as a whole — the churches in Galatia.
Secondly, what makes this quite appropriate is the tone and manner in which Paul speaks. There’s an urgency about that. There’s an urgency about this issue, and that is why we are all gathered here. That is why this conference has been sold out. That is why this was laid upon the heart of Pastor John because there’s an urgency here. We know that something is wrong and that there is something that we must do about it. We hear it in Paul’s language because he commences quickly and doesn’t go into his normal accommodations. Well, there is something serious that he wants to address. The reason we are here is that there is something serious that we want to address.
Thirdly, the reason that this epistle is so appropriate for our discussion is that, with most of Paul’s writings — actually, with all of Paul’s writings — there is the orthodoxy followed by the orthopraxy. There is the theoretical followed by the practical. And if what we believe in the Scriptures and what we expound from the Scriptures cannot be practically applied and understood, then there’s something wrong with our understanding because theology is practical.
And that’s what Paul says to the Galatians. Theology is foremost, but the practical necessarily follows. If our theology is not able to be worked out with the leather of our feet and shoes, then we have missed the intended meaning of Scriptures.
Galatians as the Fount of Unity
But let’s dig in, my brothers. Galatians, as the fount of our unity. I got six points because they’re six chapters. That’s easy enough for the preachers.
1. The Gospel Is the Foundation of Unity
Our first point is that in Galatians 1, what we see Paul doing is laying the foundation for unity. He lays the foundation of our unity. For you see here that Paul doesn’t address the Galatians with his normal accommodations, but there’s something urgent going on. Something serious and significant is at stake. And what is it? It is the gospel.
Listen to what he says in verse 6:
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. 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. (Galatians 1:6–9)
For Paul, it seems that the gospel was at stake, and where the gospel is at stake, unity is at stake. And so, in order to address the unity, Paul lays down the foundation: our unity is the gospel. The foundation of our unity is not subjective things; it is objective.
We must ground our unity in the objective. Our unity isn’t based within us; rather, it’s based outside of us, based upon objective truth. It was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said, “Whatever this unity may be, we are compelled to say that it must be theological, it must be doctrinal, it must be based upon an understanding of the truth” (Christian Unity, 37).
G.K. Chesterton reminded us that there are many ways in which a man can fall down, but there’s only one way in which he can stand upright. And brothers, there are many things upon which we can allow some disharmony, but there is one thing upon which we must not allow dissension — and Paul says that one thing is the gospel. The gospel.
For the Galatians were putting the gospel at risk, and this is important to Paul. He’s not here talking about his own reputation. He’s not here talking about his finances or his well-being. He says the gospel is at stake.
But what is the gospel? We must define the gospel. If our unity is based upon the foundation of the gospel, we must. If our unity is based upon a message, we must define that message. Well, might I suggest to you this morning that the tenant of Scripture, the message of the gospel, it’s a threefold message. For the message of the gospel, I am convinced, brothers, is a message of God’s sovereignty. It is a message of human sinfulness. It is a message of Christ’s sufficiency. The gospel is a message of God’s sovereignty: his sovereign love, his sovereign wrath, his sovereign will, his sovereign mercy.
But there’s also a message of human sinfulness: human sinful by nature, human sinful by practice. And then it is a message of Christ’s sufficiency: his sufficient life, his sufficient death. This is the message that we see. This is the message of the gospel. If you get one of these wrong, you’re going to get the gospel wrong. If you err in God’s sovereignty, you are going to err in the gospel. If you err in human sinfulness, you’re going to err in the gospel. If you err in the sufficiency of Christ, you’re going to err in the gospel.
History has borne this out to us. For most of the great theological debates and errors in history have been grounded in this. For the err of Pelagius was this: that he misunderstood human sinfulness; and what has been the era of liberalism, for all of its eloquent arguments and all those who have been duped by it, what has it been? It has been an err in understanding that sufficient work in life and person of Jesus Christ.
And what of this modern open theism? Where has it erred? It has erred fundamentally in understanding the sovereignty of God. To get one of these wrong is to get the others wrong because the gospel is so intertwined with these three messages, and you see this in Scripture.
Look at it, if you will, in Genesis 1. There you have the sovereignty of God creating all things for his glory and honor: creating things for himself, by himself, to himself — the Sovereign Creator of the world. And in Galatians 2, we have mankind coming on the scene. They fall into sin and throw their whole progeny into sin. And in Galatians 3, God comes, and he announces the protoevangelium. And said there will come one who is sufficient for all these things. The sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of man, and the sufficiency of Christ. You see it all.
Look at Matthew at the advent. There is Christ. In Matthew 1, we see God in his sovereignty: determining the time and the place and the hour and the person to whom the Christ child would be born. Then in Galatians 2, we see Herod seeking out the Christ child and engaging in the slaughter of the innocents because of his sinfulness. And in Galatians 3, Jesus goes to John to be baptized, and the heavens open up, and the spirit of the dove comes down, and you hear the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son, the sufficient one.”
Paul, in Ephesians 1, says God, the sovereign God of the universe, predestined you from the foundation of the world. He chose you in Christ. He announced these things should be true. In Galatians 2, he says that you, under the wrath of God, sinful human beings, the sinfulness of man, and later on in Galatians 3 and chapter 2. But you have been saved by grace through faith in the sufficient one, Jesus Christ.
That’s the message of the gospel: the sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of man, the sufficiency of Christ.
Friends, what destroys a church? What destroys a church? Lack of financial accountability? Maybe. People being inhospitable? Maybe. Adulterous and scandalous living? Maybe. But all of these things might destroy the church if those things undermine the gospel. But what destroys a church is when the gospel is undermined because there may be inhospitability, there may be adulterous and scandalous living, there may be a lack of financial accountability. But if the pulpit stays strong with the proclamation of the gospel, there is the church.
When the gospel is undermined, the church is undermined. Where the gospel is compromised, the church is compromised. And where the gospel and the church are compromised, the unity that the gospel necessarily brings is compromised. And that’s what Paul says in Galatians 2. For he said, “The gospel is so important, and the gospel is so important to the church and in unity in the church, that to compromise it may be the most hideous thing in the world. And to illustrate it, I even stood Peter face-to-face on the issue.”
2. The Gospel Forms the Church
In Galatians 2, we see here that if the gospel is our foundation. Paul says that the gospel is worth fighting for:
But when [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11–14)
Friends, there are a lot of things for which we ought to allow charity and diversity, but the gospel is not one of them. And Paul makes it clear; he makes it clear. And you can imagine that there is great potential here for disunity. For here is this young upstart apostle, and here is Peter, the pillar of the church. Here is Peter, the great rock, and here is this Johnny-come-lately, Paul.
You can imagine that this could be the scandal of the early church. And so you could be sure that Paul didn’t just go half-witted into this thing, but he calculated it. And you can be sure that we know from Paul’s other writings that this is not characteristic of Paul. For Paul is accommodating, for Paul is self-sacrificing, for Paul is loving, but Paul knew that more important than anything else in the church is the gospel because the gospel forms the church, and therefore, it is worth fighting for.
The division and the contention that we see here is not because of sound doctrine, but it is because of erroneous doctrine. You have heard it, and I’ve heard it said that doctrine divides. Bad doctrine divides, good doctrine unites. Heresy divides; sound doctrine unites.
I can be fairly confident, I think, that what Paul does here, he doesn’t enter into lightly. And it is very difficult for us as preachers to know just when we should allow compromise and when we should set down stakes and draw lines in the sand. It is very difficult. It is very difficult for us to know where the boundaries are, to know when we should be like Luther and say, “Here I stand,” or when we should be more like Melanchthon.
It is difficult to know these things, and they only come through a lot of prayer and fasting. And as one brother who is on this trek with you, let me say that I have not always gotten it right because it is difficult to know where the boundaries should be. But we know that there must be boundaries.
When you have determined that it is time to draw a line in the sand, when you have determined that it is time to take a stand as Paul does here in Galatians 2, let me give you a little advice. Let’s make sure that it is not over our own petty theological tyrannies because the unity of the church is at stake. But when you have determined that, keep these principles in mind.
Number one: be charitable. When it is time to draw a line in the sand, do so with charity. In all things, ought not love to be our guiding principle? And we know it has been said that might makes right, but for the Christian, right does not necessarily make might. Be charitable. But we must lead the sheep gently and recognize that love covers a multitude of sin. They may be members of our congregation, but they are the sheep of God’s flock, and he expects us, for the short time that he puts them in our charge, to love them while they’re yet sinners. Be charitable.
Be charitable. The minister, when he has ministered the truth, he must be like a skilled surgeon way out in the far reaches of civilization where there may not be any anesthetic. And you must take the scalpel of the gospel and cut where you know there will be pain, but we must do it with a loving hand. That’s what Paul does.
Look at Galatians 4 if you will. For Paul administers his truth to the Galatians, but he administers it with a loving hand. Galatians 4:19: “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” My little children. The word there is teknon. We’re familiar with it because we find it all the time in the apostle John, my little children, my little children. But do you realize that this is the only place in the whole Pauline corpus where Paul says, “My little children”? In his most vitriolic letter, he addresses them as my little children.
It’s the only place you’re going to find that language in Paul. When you administer the truth and you must draw a line in the sand, we must do it in love because they are God’s children. Not only must we do it in love, but we must also do it with patience. Patience.
This is particularly important for what we tend to do as preachers is to often time forget our former state. We tend to forget from which we have come, and this is particularly true of those of us who readily hold on steadfastly to Calvinistic doctrines. For whenever a Calvinist is described, there are a lot of descriptions, but rarely would the litany of descriptions include patience. And I can say this because this has been true among myself, that when the Lord revealed these grand truths to me, I was so adamant that everyone must hear it, I would walk around with my Bible, open it, and grab them by the back of the head and say, “Look! Look at the glory! Can’t you see that? What is wrong with you?”
Particularly of those of us who did not grow up in these things, it became such a life-changing experience that we eagerly wanted everyone to experience it right now. And so what we tended to do, we would brandish it as Beowulf or William Wallace or Oliver Cromwell would brandish a sword and we’d go around crying “Freedom,” but it wouldn’t be freedom. We’d go around crying “TULIP! TULIP! You must embrace these things now! Give me TULIP or give me death!” Let’s remember our former state before God introduced us to these wonderful things and be patient with those who are still on the road.
We still have a lot to cover. And lastly, let us be sure when you draw a line in the sand, be sure that’s where the line should be drawn. Be sure. Paul didn’t here go off half-cocked, and let us not go off half-cocked, accusing our brothers and sisters when we really haven’t studied the issue. Make sure that it is not a misunderstanding of some mere matter of semantics, but make sure that the gospel is at stake here. Be sure.
How often have you thought yourself right on an issue and we’re adamant about it only to be corrected by a colleague or your wife later on? Be careful. Be sure. Test your positions in Scripture and make sure that what you are saying and where you are taking the stand is founded in Scripture. But even beyond that, might I encourage you to test your position in the history of the church.
Boy, I wish more men and preachers and theologians would test their position in the history of the church. Let’s not come up with novel ideas and draw lines in the sand based on new revelations, but test your position in the Scriptures and then test it from the perspective of history, knowing that you are not the first person that God has ever shown a Bible, but you stand on the shoulders of great men, men of whom the world has not been worthy. And it behooves us to draw upon that well and drink from it regularly so that we do not draw lines in the sand where even they would be excluded.
When I was in Bible college, I went to a Bible college that was Christian Church of Christ, and I had a Greek professor there who was raised in Alabama, in the non-instrumental church, Church of Christ in Alabama. And one day we were talking, and he said that when he was raised, they told him that no one outside of the non-instrumental Southern Church of Christ was saved. The Baptist? They were close, they were near to the kingdom, but the charismatics were demon-filled. He said he learned this coming up in high school. He went to a Church of Christ college. He got his masters from a Church of Christ college. He learned this, and this was embedded in him all of these years. And then he went to Aberdeen to get his PhD. And he said when he got to Aberdeen, he met Baptist, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, men whose devotion and understanding of Christ put him to shame.
He said he would go, and he would sit in those grand cathedrals, and he would look, and he would see how Christianity had spread all throughout the centuries, and he knew that he had a connectedness with a Christianity that was much bigger than him. And he knew at that point that he had always drawn the line in the sand in the wrong places. He was not sure.
3. The Gospel Creates a Family
But we need to be sure, for when we are sure and we draw the line according to the gospel, then we see what Paul says in Galatians 3: the gospel creates a family. The gospel creates a family. It forms God’s people into a family.
Inherently, the gospel makes for a unity, regardless of our backgrounds, regardless of our experiences. And this is why the gospel must have preeminence in our preaching, because the gospel forms us into a family. It creates the church. Now listen how Paul says it in Galatians 3:26 and following:
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26–29)
Much of the disunity that we see in the history of the church is fundamentally — at the risk of oversimplification — let me say that we can actually trace back Protestant disunity to the sacraments and the ordinances. We can trace Protestant disunity back to the means of grace.
For what separates Reformed from Lutheran? It’s the sacraments. What separates Presbyterians and Baptists? It’s the sacraments. It is not the strong contentiousness about the meaning and significance of the Lord’s Supper and baptism that ultimately separates these communities. Very strong opinions about these things, and we should form strong opinions about them because they are very significant things.
But might I suggest that we do not make the means of grace on par with the gospel of grace. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 1, you’re familiar with it:
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12–13)
And then he says in verse 17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.” Now I don’t want to infer from this that Paul is making light of baptism, and I don’t want to infer from this that Paul would ever make light of the sacraments. God forbid that we should be even tempted in that manner to make light of baptism, considering how much of an intricate part it played in the acts of the apostles.
And I don’t want to make light of baptism, particularly in light of our Lord’s words in the Great Commission. Nor do I want to, in any way, make light of the Eucharist, for no one here is more zealous for the Lord’s Table than yours truly. For in Atlanta, at our church, we celebrate the Lord’s Table weekly. And for those of you who have relegated to once a month or once a quarter or once a year, you have my sympathy, but I in no way want to make light of these things because I hold them dear.
But brothers, if I’m reading Paul right, Paul draws a distinction between them. He draws a distinction between the gospel of grace and the means of grace. For the means of grace are not the gospel of grace. And Paul says that “I did not come to preach the means of grace, but I came to preach the gospel of grace.”
The means of grace are not the gospel, and we need not put them on par. They are not the articles upon which the church stands or falls. They are not the hinge of the door of which the church opens. That is justification by faith alone. That is salvation through Christ alone. That is the gospel of God, sovereign grace. So don’t make much of the sacraments until you have made much of the gospel. Make much of the gospel. Glory in the gospel. Glory in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And when you glory in the gospel, the sacrament will naturally follow. It will be shown in the enfolding afterglow of the gospel.
This past Sunday, we were able to fellowship at Bethlehem, and John preached a stirring gospel message. And afterward, we celebrated the Lord’s Table. And one of the songs that they sang as we were celebrating the cup was, “This is my story, this is my song.” And John lifted up the cup and he said, “This is my story. Why? Because of the gospel.” The gospel made this glorious because the Word, the gospel of God, the sacrament was able to be caught up in the overflow. Let us not make much of the sacrament until we have made much of the gospel. And then we see how these things can meld, can mold us into a family.
In 1984, I think it was, at the Democratic National Convention, Jesse Jackson gave a most stirring speech in which he was giving an account of how America is the great melting pot of the world. And he gave a dramatic illustration of this by drawing a distinction between himself and Michael Dukakis, who would ultimately be the Democratic nominee.
And as he was drawing the distinction between himself and Michael Dukakis, Jesse Jackson said this:
There are differences of religion, region, and race; differences in experiences and perspectives. But the genius of America is that out of the many we become one.
Providence has enabled our paths to intersect. His foreparents came to America on immigrant ships; my foreparents came to America on slave ships. But whatever the original ships, we’re in the same boat tonight.
Well, I particularly like that illustration, and the reason I like that illustration is that I think it illustrates what Paul says here at the end of Galatians 3, that some of you came to Christ on Jewish ships and some of you came to Christ on Gentile ships, and that some of you came to Christ on slave ships and some came to Christ on free ships, but it doesn’t matter the ship that brought you to Christ, as long as you are on the same boat now. And that’s the good ship, the gospel ship.
And that’s what I want to say to us, that some of us may be in the front of the boat with the Presbyterians or in the back of the boat with the Baptists or off the top of the mast with the Lutherans and the Anglicans, or perhaps you’re in the hall with the charismatics, but it doesn’t matter what part you’re on as long as you’re on the ship, the good ship, the gospel ship.
And once we ensure that we’re all on the ship, then we can start trying to convert people to our different parts of the boat. But let’s be sure that we’re all on the ship. Let me rush on.
4. The Gospel Shows the Fortune of Our Unity
In Galatians 4, we see the fortune of our unity. For Paul says that we are heirs of the king. The gospel is the heir and the right inheritance of the children of God. And when we do not give the gospel to the children of God, we deny them their inheritance. The gospel is their inheritance, and when we give them less than the gospel, we give the pauper’s portion to the children of God. The heirs of such a fortune need not be beggars. They need not be wallowing around in the beggarly elements, but they should be given a steady diet of the riches of the gospel.
When Sam Walton died, he left his five children a magnificent fortune. Each one of his five children is worth over $18 billion a piece. What business would Sam Walton’s children have been in a soup line? We are heirs to the king. And when we don’t give our people the riches of the gospel, we put them in the soup line when theirs is the great inheritance. This is the fortune of our unity.
5. The Gospel Bears Fruit
In chapter five, we see the fruit of our unity. For when the gospel is preached, when the gospel is exalted, when the gospel is proclaimed faithfully, it forms the people of God into a family. They enjoy the riches of their inheritance, and there they begin to bear the fruit of the gospel.
Those in the family of God, realizing their inheritance, realizing their fortune, begin to bear fruit that is visible and unifying, for it is faithful fruit. And they begin to walk in love because the gospel creates a love atmosphere and roots out legalism. And so they understand that they do not have to agree in order to get along, for they walk in love.
So, a sign of unity is our ability to disagree on minor adiaphora, on minor things; to drink this or not drink that, to be circumcised or not be circumcised, to eat pork or be a vegetarian, to serve this or that, to have instruments in worship or not to have instruments in worship, to have contemporary approaches or to use more traditional styles. When the gospel is proclaimed, we are able to walk in these things in a unified manner.
The greatness of America is not that we all agree, but the greatness of America is that we understand that we don’t all have to agree. The greatness of a gospel-centered church is that everybody in there realizes that you don’t have to agree on how every “I” is dotted and every “T” is crossed because gospel-centered preaching produces faith that works itself out in love and produces the fruit of the Spirit.
The works of the flesh sow discord in the body, for the works of the flesh, within them, are disunity, dissensions, and heresies. And when you preach anything less than the gospel, you are appealing to the flesh, and the works of the flesh will be magnified. And there you will find disunity because the works of the flesh are heresies and disunity. But when the gospel is proclaimed, then God is there molding us into one.
Why? Because the gospel is there to produce, and we’ll produce the fruit of the Spirit, and we do not have to concentrate on being like each other. You don’t have to concentrate on being like me, and I don’t have to concentrate on being like you because the gospel is creating us into the image of Christ. And we both, being in the image of Christ, will ultimately be in the image of one another.
Christ is middle C. You don’t tune your piano to me; you tune your piano to Christ, and I’m going to tune my piano to Christ, and ultimately, our pianos will be in tune with one another. That’s what the gospel does. It lifts up middle C and gets us in tune with middle C, and then we’ll be in tune with one another.
6. The Gospel Produces Practical Fellowship
That ultimately leads to Galatians 6 which is the fellowship of our unity. Here, Paul says the theoretical in Galatians 1 — the gospel — produces the practical in Galatians 6 — the fellowship.
And what does the gospel-centered church do? It bears one another’s burdens. Because you realize that when the gospel is proclaimed, you realize that you ought not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to. You realize, except for the grace of God, there go I. And so you begin to bear one another’s burdens. You lift one another up. You do good to one another, especially those of the household of faith because the gospel creates a fellowship of unity.
Paul ends Galatians with this. He says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). That’s the end of the matter.
What do your people hear you boasting in? Where is your boast? In how full the parking lot is? Where is your boasting? In how tight you can put together logical and theological arguments? In your abilities? Where do they hear you boasting? In the programs? In your building projects? Where is your boasting? Paul says that, “My boasting is in the cross.” I boast in the cross, I boast in the gospel. I lift high the glory of God in the gospel. And when I lift high the glory of God in the gospel, then all of these other things will be put into their proper perspective. Don’t lift anything, however good or great it is, above the cross. Lift up the cross.
Baptism is great, but don’t exalt it above the cross. The Lord’s Table is wonderful, but don’t exalt it above the cross. Calvinism is awesome, but don’t exalt it above the cross. The cross is our hope. It is our stay, the cross.
No one could question Spurgeon’s commitment to the gospel nor the integrity of his theology. But despite how biblically accurate and doctrinally sound Spurgeon was, Spurgeon said this, “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.’”
And brothers, I am convinced that the sacraments are two: the Lord’s Supper and baptism. And I believe they are the means of grace whereby the gospel is visibly proclaimed. And I believe in baptism on a credo basis. And I believe in the real spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And I believe in the weekly observance of the Eucharist. And I am convinced today of the premillennial return of Christ with a mild-preterist leaning — now, you figure that one out.
But whatever the case, John did not invite me here, and God did not call me to preach those things. He called me to exalt the cross. And if I exalt the cross, then all those things will have their own fine place. But my call and my admonition to you this morning is to exalt the cross and let it have its place. That is our message. That’s where we find unity. That’s where we should draw lines in the sand: at the cross.
I’ll leave you with a Scripture from Paul and the interpretation by Calvin. Philippians 3:15–16, Paul says, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
Philippians 3:15–16, Calvin said this:
Does this not sufficiently indicate that a difference of opinion over these nonessential matters should in no wise be the basis of schism among Christians? First and foremost, we should agree on all points. But since all men are somewhat beclouded with ignorance, either we must leave no church remaining, or we must condone delusion in those matters which can go unknown without harm to the sum of religion and without loss of salvation. (Institutes 2.4.12)
Brothers, I don’t know about you, but I am befogged on many things. And so I understand that there are some things that must go unknown without harm to the sum of religion and without loss of the cross of Christ.