Debunking the "Jesus-Plus" Myth. Part 1
Galatians 1:6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 1:7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 1:9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians was written to condemn a false gospel that was gradually being spread by false teachers who were present in the Church. The message being preached by these false teachers is essentially a Gospel of Salvation by Works; though they recognized the need for faith in Christ for salvation, they maintained that faith alone is not enough and that one must add to the faith, the rites, rituals and observances of the laws of Moses. Cf Acts 15
It will be important to state here very quickly that these false teachers do not really believe that one can perfectly obey the law and they do not keep the law(Gal6:13); what they preach essentially is human effort and appearances. The message of the Judaizers puts the spotlight on man and what he should do if He will be accepted by God.
In Romans chapter ten, the apostle Paul makes a distinction between the righteousness in the law which a sinless person can accrue to himself by perfectly living in consonance with God's will and the righteousness of faith which a sinner receives by believing in Christ Jesus. The natural man however cannot accrue righteousness to himself and all his efforts to please God on his own can only get him a false righteousness described as filthy rags by Isaiah (64:6). This inadequate self righteousness was denounced and rejected by Paul in Philippians 3:1-9.
The "Jesus-Plus" Myth
This Neogospel was described by Paul as a gospel that goes beyond the boundaries of the Grace of God revealed in Christ. It is a "Jesus-plus" gospel. Jesus, plus circumcision, Jesus plus the Law, Jesus, plus human efforts, etc. In verse six of Galatians chapter one, Paul called this new teaching another gospel which isn't only different from the real gospel preached by Him and the other apostles but also diametrically opposed to the true gospel. A different Gospel in quality because it provides salvation on the basis of human effort which makes it diametrically opposed to the true calling of God which is based on God's own purpose and grace apart from our works. (See 2Tim1:9 and Tit3:3-7)
In the next verse, the apostle goes ahead to denounce this teaching and to say it's no gospel at all! It can only be a myth and not a gospel. There is only one gospel! The only good news to a world dead in sins and trespasses, hopeless, helpless and Godless is the message of God's Grace and Mercy. It is no good news to tell a lame man without crutches or a wheelchair that if he tries hard enough and finds his way from Lagos Nigeria to Kaduna, then he may eventually be given a wheelchair.
A "salvation-by-works" gospel is no good news to a lost sinner firstly because by definition salvation cannot be by works! A drowning man cannot save himself neither can a dead man make himself alive. Secondly, a "salvation-by-works" gospel gives no assurance of salvation because no one can tell how many good works will be sufficient for salvation and how many more one has to do after being saved to keep the salvation.
So, Paul says this is no gospel at all! There is no good news in it. If we add to the gospel or subtract from it, we do not get a revised edition of the gospel or an improved version, what we do is that we forfeit the grace of God. Everytime we seek to achieve righteousness or be good enough or claim acceptance with God on the basis of what we have done and how good we are, we make a caricature out of the gospel.
The reason why religion has failed to give us peace is because religion operates on a "work/effort based" economy. Pray as much as you can and who knows? God may hear/ Give all your money and take an oath of poverty and God may have mercy on your poor retched soul/ take a trip to this Holy Land and fulfill some rites and rituals and your sins, though they are many may be forgiven / fast and pray for seventy days and your wife may eventually conceive, etc.
That is no good news. That is no gospel. No joy or peace or assurance of acceptance with God or security in salvation in such a no-gospel. It is a perversion and a distortion of the Gospel of the Grace of God revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Errors of the "Jesus-Plus" Myth
The Jesus-Plus Myth paints a distorted picture of the Grace of God and the depravity of man. Man is sinful through and through and like the Apostle Paul said, in the flesh...in our humanity, nothing good dwells. A lot of people do not understand the depth of this and its meaning. We sometimes think what we need is an education or to wear fine clothes. Cultural civilisation, etiquette and a knowledge of the arts will not change man neither will having lots of money. Sin is coded into the very nature of man and a mere beautifying of the exterior will not do. Jesus described the Pharisees as tombs full of dead bones in the inside but painted and decorated in the outside. How picturesque!
The natural man has nothing of the goodness of God in him and given the right circumstances, the cute little boy that could not hurt a fly yesterday will rape his mom and murder his own father. That is just a glimpse into the depth of our lost and dead state. So to say that man can do something for God or please God by himself is to disregard God's assessment of man and deny the inability of man.
Secondly, the "Jesus-Plus" Myth is a message that troubles the mind. In Gal1:7 Paul states that the false teachers are provoking an agitation among the Christians in the Churches of Galatia. The word trouble there is from tarasso which means to "disturb mentally" with excitement, perplexity and fear. This is so instructive!
This no-gospel at first excites the mind because the natural man is proud and is always looking for ways to prove a point and look good and make a sterling appearance; however in time, he discovers that no matter how hard or how much he tries, he cannot meet up, he simply cannot please God, so he becomes perplexed and confused. If he does not take a break from his efforts and simply trust in the finished work of Christ(like Paul did in Romans 7), this perplexity degenerates into fear and this fear will manifest in various ways from an obsession to religion and trying out different types and different means to please God to a need to be a super achiever in life who doesn't "need" God to frank atheism where one claims that God does not even exist.
So it does not give peace or assurance of salvation and acceptance with God, rather it troubles and disturbs and causes agitations in the mind.
Thirdly, it undermines and undervalues the magnitude of the Grace of God and his mercy towards man. This Salvation by Works gospel does not pay close attention to the redemptive work of Christ— its meaning and its significance. The crucifixion of Christ Jesus in the cross is the basis of salvation; the shed blood is what perfects the believer and makes him acceptable to God. Sanctification is not through our works but through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ. See Hebrews10:1-14
While speaking with Nicodemus in John3, Jesus alluded to the lifting up of the Brazen serpent in the wilderness while Israel journeyed from Egypt to Canaan and he drew a theological parallel and said in his death i.e. faith in Him, in what his death means and accomplishes will be the basis of salvation. This reality is undermined by the "Jesus-Plus" nogospel that places the emphasis on what man can do for himself instead of what God has accomplished in Christ.
Fourthly, what God started by Grace through Faith will be maintained and completed by Grace through Faith. By reminding the Believers of how they got saved in the first place and how God wrought redemption and regeneration in them by His Spirit, Paul called their attention to God's method of relating with man— by Grace (on the divine side) through Faith (on the human side). Faith is a response to what God has done for us in His Grace. If we became children of God by faith in Christ, our spiritual growth, maturity and development will also be by faith in the Grace of God.
In the third chapter of Galatians, Paul presses this point by two assertions and two examples. The first assertion is that salvation is entirely by faith in God not by works of the law (see Eph2:8-9, Rom10:1-13). The second assertion also posed as a rhetorical question is that if Salvation came by Grace through Faith, then spiritual maturity cannot be by human effort(the flesh here describes all that a man is apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit — i.e his body, soul, spirit, his achievements, natural abilities, his physical endowments, his accomplishments, philosophies, etc). In fact Paul was so surprised that the Galatians bought into the lie that he had to ask if they have lost their common sense.
Again, Paul gave the Galatians two examples. First he looks into the Galatians and points their attention to the miracle working power of God which is manifest in the Church. Here, Paul reminds them that the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the miracle working power of God are gifts of Grace not results of human ability or strength or works of the law. (cf 1Cor12:1-7, Eph4:7, Heb2:1-4) The second example given is the justification of Abraham. Abraham was not justified before God because of circumcision or because of his efforts to please God, instead his faith in God was the basis of his justification. So again we see that justification is a response to what God has done not a result of what man has done.
What does all these mean to us? Firstly, it all begins with God, not man. Secondly, our efforts will not add to or subtract from what God has done instead, attempting to complete what God has started in grace by our works or attempting to perfect grace by efforts misses out on the blessedness of peace and acceptance with God.
The "Jesus-Plus" Myth must be censured in very clear terms by the church and false teachers must be shown the error of their ways. Jesus alone is sufficient and Faith in the Grace of God is all that is needed for salvation, spiritual growth and spiritual maturity.