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  • Writer's pictureVicar Matt Doebler

Matins Devotion: July 12, 2023

Usually, Paul likes to begin his letters with some note of praise or thanksgiving to God for the saints that he’s writing to. But not this time. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is his only letter that departs from this pattern. It’s written with a deep sense of urgency and concern. Paul has no time for pleasantries. He goes straight from the amen at the end of his doxology, to voicing his astonishment at the foolishness of the Galatian believers, to pronouncing an anathema—a curse—on anyone who preaches something other than the true, pure gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul is that parent watching their child about to chase a ball out into the middle of a road with heavy traffic whizzing by. The Galatians, by listening to these false teachers who have come among them, are putting their eternal souls at risk. They are chasing after another gospel. They are on the verge of abandoning the one, true faith. And Paul is pleading with them to stop, repent, turn around—before it’s too late.

Paul’s sense of urgency shows us how crucial the true gospel is to the life of the church. In fact, without the true gospel there can be no church. The Lutheran Reformers who penned our confessions certainly understood this. That’s why they don’t point us to man-made traditions, rites, or ceremonies as a way of recognizing the church. These inventions of man can all be useful. Things like lectionaries, voters meetings, and even church fellowship dinners can serve an important role in the life of the church. But they themselves are not its essence. You can have all these good things and more and still not have the true church. That’s why the Lutheran Reformers state unambiguously in our confessions that “the Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered.” Only the word of the gospel makes us Christian. Only the proclamation that Jesus is Lord—that he died for your sins and rose for your justification—that he gives you new life in baptism—that he forgives your sins by giving you his body to eat and his blood to drink—only this message—only this good news—defines the essence of the church.

You know, in the Greco-Roman world, Christians weren’t the only ones to use the word “gospel.” In fact, that word—euangellion in the Greek—was frequently used to describe the supreme accomplishments of emperors or the brilliant victories of military generals. But it was almost always used in the plural. A messenger would go all throughout the empire, from town to town, declaring the “glad announcements”—he would tell the people of all the different “gospels” that were intended to raise their spirits and make them proud to be Roman citizens. It was only because of Christians that this word began to be used in the singular. Why? Because for Christians, there was only one message that was truly good news. There was only one gospel by which men could be made truly glad. Because there was only one name by which men could be truly saved.

May the Holy Spirit keep us steadfast in the faith and may our hearts hold fast to the one, true gospel by which we are brought into the one, true church.

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