UNIT ONE: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A GREAT
OPENING: Can you
tell the difference? If you had a taste test between real Coca-Cola
and the cheapest off brand cola, could you tell which was which? If
you had real Skippy peanut butter and the lowest priced stuff,
would you instantly know which was which with just one taste?
If you are doing this study with a group, try
it out! If Coke and Skippy aren’t interesting for you and your
group, how about Cheerios versus the no-name variety? (By the
way, I’ve done these tests with several groups. With peanut butter
you can generally tell which is which, but Value Time Cola often
gets mistaken for real Coke. Dedicated Coke drinkers are not happy
We’re going to be thinking of what creates an
original product and idea. The Apostle Paul focuses on this in
Galatians 1 and we’ll explore the many ways that the Gospel of
Jesus is distinctive from any other spiritual message. To get
started, consider these ideas:
As you were growing up, what things,
especially foods, were substituted for each other? Or, what did you
buy just because it was the cheapest?
What will you buy because it is the best
and the cost isn’t really a factor?
STUDY: READ GALATIANS
Paul is writing to the congregations at
Galatia, an area of Asia Minor where Paul had established several
churches. He has heard that certain men from Jerusalem, who presume
to have almost-apostolic authority, have come to the Galatians and
have undone Paul’s work. They’ve taught that one is not saved by
faith but by keeping key parts of the Jewish law. This is
completely opposite of Paul’s teaching. See Galatians 3:1-14 as a
summary of this conflict.
Paul begins his letter by questioning how and
why the Galatians would ever change from the true Gospel.
Read1:6-10 again. How
would Paul have wanted this read in the Galatian churches? What
emotion and force was to be put into these words?
Think about this with our substitution-rich
world. If you see someone buying generic cola or peanut butter, do
you warn them? Do you condemn them? Do you snatch it out of their
hand and give them the real thing instead?
So why is Paul so agitated about a
substitution Gospel? Why is this not just another valid
Let’s consider the unique aspects of the true
Gospel. In our three part study, we’ll take on several key
points that distinguish the Gospel. Let’s begin with
If you want to develop a new product, do
something unique and utterly new. I love people who invent
something and then convince us that we really need it. Someone
convinced us that, of all the parts of the chicken, we want just
the wings, really spicy. Someone invented the Swiffer and convinced
us that it was way better than brooms, mops, or getting on our
hands and knees with a sponge. So the Gospel has a central idea
that is new.
Read Galatians 4:4-5: But when the
fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman,
born under the Law,
in order that He might
redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the
adoption as sons.
What is the central good idea, the
unique direction and combination that God has in v.
Why is the incarnation of Jesus so
Notice first that there is a directional
difference in the idea of God. God doesn’t demand or invite us to
ascend to the heavens. That would be the tower of Babel, Genesis
11. Instead he comes to us when we are far from perfect and not
exactly welcoming his approach. His coming wasn’t to set a new
standard which we again couldn’t follow, or to make a brief
appearance to remind us of his unapproachable glory. He came to
dwell with us, John 1:14, 18, and to do so with thirty-plus years
For the power of this God-in-human-flesh
incarnation, see also Colossians 1:15, 1:19 and 2:9:
Colossians 1:15 And He is the image of the
invisible God, the first-born of all creation.
Colossians 1:19 For in him all the
fullness of God was pleased to dwell
Colossians 2:9 For in Him all the fullness
of Deity dwells in bodily form,
We start in 1:15 with what we expect: God is
invisible. That’s a given. So don’t go looking for him. And even if
you do find some reflection of him, it won’t be perfect or
complete. These are simple facts.
But what amazing truths come with the
new direction of God’s Gospel of Christ’s
What can we say about his being the
clear image of God? See John 14:8-11.
How much of God is actually in the
incarnate Jesus? See also John 10:30
Part of the wonder of a new, great idea is
that it combines two great ideas into one and does all that each
one does alone. Again, think of the Swiffer—easy as a broom, cleans
like a mop. Fantastic. Now imagine that with the incarnation of
Jesus we truly have the complete best of both. We have God with all
his divine power and fullness. Yet all of God is in the
approachable human flesh of Jesus who is from the very human line
of Adam and Eve that we all share. He loses nothing from either
human or divine and all fits into the one Person.
What an idea and it all comes to us as a gift.
That is the foundation of the great idea of the Gospel.
APPLY: You know when
you have the good stuff, the real thing, true Coke or Pepsi. Savor
it. So here with the unique Gospel of the incarnate God. Relish the
truth of God approaching us with all that he is to save us.
Recognize that this goes against our imagined limitations of God
and people but it is the creative genius of theincarnation.
Here are some ways to savor the true gift of
Give thanks in your prayers today that all
that which is God has come to us, and has come to be known, in
Be relieved that when God comes to us with
all his power and might, he did so to bring us peace and
forgiveness, not overwhelming demands and death
Tell at least one person about this
amazing two-in-one incarnation—God in human flesh. Get out that
Swiffer and when someone admires your work, tell him, “You know,
this is a lot like God when he…”. Or, serve up the genuine food,
real Honey Nut Cheerios, for breakfast and remind the family that
God didn’t give us an imitation and cheap savior, but the only
I hope that you enjoy some of the real things,
the best ideas, and the genuine articles of our world. When you do,
use them as a reminder of the generosity and creativity of God
through his incarnate Son.
ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES: THE
EXCLUSIVE NATURE OF THE TRUE GOSPEL
UNIT TWO: THIS IS GOING TO
OPENING: In our
first unit, we talked about the substitutes that follow an original
product and how hard it is to tell the difference. You might not be
able to tell real Coke from Sam’s Club Cola. But if your taste buds
can’t tell the difference, your wallet can. I don’t have to taste
them. Just tell me the price and I’ll tell you which one is the
original. Think of the things that you value, the original products
that were the first on the market and are the target for every
product that comes after. Are they the cheapest? Probably not. In
fact, they might be one of the most expensive. Yet, that makes
sense to us. Or it’s so common that we don’t think of it very much.
The original costs the most. In our study today, we take on the
cost of the original idea of God’s salvation in Christ. The idea of
the incarnation is remarkable and so is the cost. To get started,
consider the following questions about the ordinary things we
What are some products that are the
original idea, that set the standard, and that also cost the
Why does that make sense in a way? If you
came up with the idea and you owned the patent now, would you
charge more than the people who are trying to make
STUDY: READ GALATIANS
Paul continues to explain to the Galatians the
wonders of God’s gift of the incarnation of Jesus being true God
and true man. This is the completely new idea. But we have to
wonder what the cost will be. Consider what this new idea of God’s
is going to do. Read Galatians 3:21-24. Notice that Paul uses two
analogies for the work of the Law.
In what two ways does the Law work on us
and hold us before the Gospel is revealed?
Let’s consider these two challenges.
Go back to your school days. What was the worst class you endured
in high school? When you finished that class, and still disliked
it, did you want to take it again? In fact, if you could have
gotten out of taking that class in the first place, what would you
have done or paid?
Paul continues this theme of great cost with
the other analogy of jail. The Law imprisons us. If you were imprisoned but you were
able to get out on bail, how much would you pay to get out until
Now imagine that these two analogies weren’t
temporary, like school days or until a trial date. Imagine that
they are the eternal judgment of God.
What would we promise and hope to do to
get out of an endless imprisonment? Now it’s time for God’s
great idea. It’s all free! Read Galatians
3:4-5 again. Jesus is born of a woman, born under the law to redeem
those who are under the law. His birth as the perfect Son of God
now in human flesh comes to completely pay the cost. Let’s put this
into perspective. Can you imagine Apple computers inventing a new
product, something that will make us forget the IPhone, the IPod,
and the IPad, and then saying, “Here, take it. We’re giving it
away. “Imagine coming to the grocery store. But, instead of being
offered a cheese sample on a toothpick, the manager says, “Load up
your cart as much as you can. It’s all free. “These things just
don’t happen! But the remarkable gift that sets the authentic
Gospel apart is that God pays the complete cost himself. He has
already accomplished the unthinkable union of God and man in his
Son. But now that union comes to free us completely. When Jesus
comes born under the Law, he takes our place as those held in
prison and those under the guardianship of the Law. Remember our
discussion on what you would pay to get out of the worst class or
out of the jail. The great idea of God is not merely payment for us
but that he takes our place. God doesn’t simply snap his fingers to
make a painless payment. Instead he puts himself under the law,
under the judgment of the law. He makes himself the one who takes
the most demanding class for us. He puts himself into judgment, is
condemned as a criminal and won’t take an escape. On Good Friday,
Barabbus leaves the prison and the innocent Son of God remains
under judgment. What an incomparable message the Gospel becomes!
The most we can imagine with our ordinary product is an original
invention that strangely reduces its price. But God becomes the
full price himself through Jesus’ whole life.
Why would God choose to make this payment
slowly through Jesus’
What does the whole life payment of Jesus
say about the extent of the debt that the world has accumulated
What does Jesus’ willingness to become the
full price say
about his relationship with us and his
obedience to the Father?
APPLY: So the best
idea ever—God taking on human flesh—comes at the most remarkable
price—free. A question remains. What value will we put on what
comes at no cost to ourselves? Let’s admit it. Sometimes we like
the fact that what we bought cost a bit more. It might say
something about our good taste or our priorities.
But what does the full, free payment of
Jesus’ life tell us?
How might it be tempting to miss the true
cost of his forgiveness, imagining that it was all
and free for God to say, “You’re forgiven? “What parts of Jesus’
life, death and resurrection remind us of the full cost that he
His payment was made for the whole world
and reflects nothing about our goodness. So what
does his payment say about us?
Enjoy imagining your favorite product given
away. What a great fantasy! Now think of the reality. The
incarnation of God comes as our complete payment without cost to
us. That makes the Gospel all the more distinctive, the real
ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES: THE
EXCLUSIVE NATURE OF THE TRUE GOSPEL
UNIT THREE: LET’S DO
OPENING: I grew up
on a dairy farm in Minnesota where we used Craftsman tools. They
were good, solid, and reasonably priced. Every so often, the
Snap-On tool man would come over and try to sell us tools. (Snap-On
tools are professional grade tools that were sold by a man driving
a van filled with the tools.) They were fantastic tools, but, oh,
the price! So we never had any and I grew up imagining that there
was no difference. Then one day, a few years ago, I won a set of
Snap-On screwdrivers in a drawing after a race. Ok, I thought, I’ll
use them but they won’t be any different. I was wrong. I’m no
metallurgist but there is something different about these
screwdrivers so that screws that won’t budge with ordinary tools
now turn right out with these. What a great discovery. That
afternoon, after I saw what these screwdrivers could do, I walked
around the garage, the shop, and the whole house, looking for
things I could unscrew and screw back again. “Honey, don’t you
think we should replace all the door knobs in the house?!”When you
have something that really works, it changes everything. Think
about these opening ideas:
When have you discovered something
that really works, better than anything you’ve used
What did you do differently once you
STUDY: READ GALATIANS 4:4-11,
Paul is describing the radical changes that
come because of the great idea of the incarnation that comes to us
at the free price of Jesus taking our place under the Law. This
combination of an original idea at no cost to us changes us, or it
should. Paul struggles first with the lack of change in the
Galatians who are still acting either as they always did, or they
have taken on new challenges of circumcision and other
restrictions. Paul points out that they have been set free from
their former evil and the new obligations. In fact, he is amazed
that they have turned to these after being told of the free gift of
the incarnation and God’s payment.
When have you returned to the old way of
doing something, even though the new gift is there, waiting to be
Why do we do this, even when the old way
is slower and more difficult?
So Paul struggles with the return of Galatians
and ourselves to the former ways of living. Perhaps we can’t
imagine the strange freedom of no longer excusing or proving
ourselves before God. Maybe we’re used to comparing ourselves to
others and we would miss that if our good deeds weren’t the basis
of our relationship with God. Perhaps we don’t know exactly what to
do in a forgiven life. For any number of reasons, we find the old
ways more familiar and we settle back into them. Paul stubbornly
insists that he did not teach them this way, 5:7 and 5:21. But then
he turns from the negative to the positive. It’s time to put this
new gift to work. Paul speaks of the new life as freedom in action,
love showing itself as an expression of faith, 5:1, and
5:6.Remember when you found something new that really worked? Was
it a chore, a pain, to use it? Not at all. Someone else might think
its work and with the old tools it was. But honestly, changing the
brake fluid on my motorcycle is a pleasure now with the Snap-On
screwdriver as those nasty little screws actually spin right
What is refreshingly new of a life of
forgiveness, of faith showing itself in love?
How do the fruits of the Spirit,
5:22-23, give us the chance to use this new
Finally, great ideas last and good tools
aren’t for one use only. The Snap-On set works as well today as it
did the first day years ago. The freedom of forgiveness through the
incarnation of Jesus is a life-long gift. In fact, it probably
takes us a lifetime to grasp its possibilities. Notice how the
gifts of the Spirit, 5:22-23, have no law, no expiration date, no
limit to their growth.
What two or three gifts of the Spirit
have you seen growing in the last few years? For example, how do
you have way more patience than you did ten years
What gift still has a ways to go in
Imagine years from now what it will
be like to have even more love, joy, peace, patience…and there is
no age limit that says, “That’s all for you.”
APPLY: We’ve looked
at the original idea of the incarnation of God, true God and true
man, in one Person, Jesus and then seen that God uses this to make
the full payment of life and death for us without charge. This is
unique in the world’s religions and is a difference we can see. The
difference of this idea and gift make a difference in us.
So what is something you haven’t used
lately and it’s time to get it out and remind yourself what a great
product this is?
And what is one of the gifts that God
has given through the incarnation and the free gift of Jesus’ life
that has not been fully appreciated and used
What might happen when you take this
“off the shelf” and see what difference it makes in your
Enjoy these reminders of the unique nature of
the Gospel. Remember, accept no substitute!