Fact-Checking the Gospel

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The Disinformation Age

As the internet began to spread its web into every corner and facet of global life in the 1990s, cultural commentators declared the modern era the information age.  The moniker seemed accurate. Whatever the topic, regardless of how obscure, all one had to do was search Google to find a virtual encyclopedia of data on the subject. Sadly, it didn’t take long for the information age to become the disinformation age. 

For example, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young made headlines last year when he announced in a television interview that people in his city should not park next to white vans or they might be abducted. When asked to reveal the source of his intel, he replied, “It is all over Facebook.” That much was true, although local law enforcement confessed they had no actual reports of abductions involving white vans. 

Whether viral social media posts, statements made in Presidential debates, or data concerning the coronavirus, fact-checking has become necessary in modern life. Websites are devoted to meeting this need, such as factcheck.org, politifact.com, and good ole’ snopes.com. 

Fact-Checking the Gospel

In Galatians 2:1-10, the Apostle Paul submits himself to a gospel fact-check. After Paul left the Galatian churches he started in 47 AD, it wasn’t long before the new believers were duped by theological misinformation. Concerning the salvation of sinners, Paul had taught that Jesus did it all, but others were teaching that, while Jesus did a lot, there was still a small part for Christians to play in securing their salvation from sin and reconciliation with God. For Paul, this wasn’t good news. It was fake news of the worst kind. 

As he continues his testimony in chapter two, which he began in chapter one, Paul describes the historical circumstances of how the message he preached was fact-checked. In doing so, he validates the “Jesus did it all” gospel, presenting his credentials as it were for the Galatians to resist the false teaching to which they have been exposed. Let’s pick up Paul’s testimony in Galatians 2.

Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

C.S. Lewis, the Oxford professor who converted to Christ from atheism and authored the famous Narnia stories, wrote, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” If we use the word gospel for Christianity, we grasp Paul’s urgency to present the facts, because the core message of Christianity is the historical reality of Jesus substituting himself, taking our place in life and death. The gospel says that Jesus lived to earn us righteousness before the law and died to serve our sentence before the law. The message of substitution reveals a doctrine of salvation where Jesus does it all. 

The letter to the Galatians is a refresher course in the percentages of what Jesus contributes to the salvation equation and what we contribute. Jesus does 100%. Not 75 or 90, but 100 percent. He steps up to the plate while we watch from the dugout. In life and death, Jesus does for us what we could never do for ourselves. 

Historical and Personal Details

If you took a religion course in college, the professor likely made a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The motivation behind the contrast is an effort to show how the life of Jesus of Nazareth became a legend that evolved into a myth. According to this narrative, Jesus was an ordinary man who died a horrific death as a misunderstood peasant with a Messianic complex. It is suggested that his followers later created stories of miracles and supernatural phenomena to validate their claims of Jesus as the Christ, who was the deliverer prophesied about throughout the Old Testament. But are the religion professors dealing with recorded facts, or are they being guided by secular presuppositions? 

Thus, we circle back to C.S. Lewis, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Lewis is challenging us to fact check the claims of the gospel. Just like Paul. 

In Galatians 2:1-10, Paul’s concern is to present a reliable historical record. Since the false teachers in Galatia likely were challenging not only his message but his authority as an apostle, Paul describes a specific trip to Jerusalem where he met with the original apostles. He had connected with Peter and James years earlier, but now he would present his message to an apostolic theological examining committee. Witnesses to the fact were Barnabus and Titus, two of Paul’s partners in ministry.

What is notable as it pertains to the Jesus “plus” heresy plaguing the Galatians is that Titus, who was not a Jew, was not made to undergo the ceremonial rite of circumcision in order to be considered a fully accepted member of the church. There was no “plus” for Titus to add to the finished work of the risen Jesus. 

The fact that Titus was received by the apostles based on his profession alone, apart from ceremonial observances, confirmed that the “Jesus did it all” gospel of salvation by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone was affirmed by the Jerusalem leadership. Concerning their fact-check of Paul’s message, he says in verse 6, “They added nothing to my message,” and “recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel.”

His message wasn’t only authoritative for the church. It was true and passed the apostolic fact check process. 

Three Implications of the Gospel Fact-Check Process

This same process is vital in our day. Our context is different, but our need to be guided by theological, gospel facts is just as great. To this end, let’s consider three practical implications of applying the gospel fact check process.

1) If you relocate, fact-check the churches. 

I don’t know why anyone would ever move away from Dahlonega, but it happens. Maybe folks move out of your community, too. Whether you are a university student who graduates and finds a job elsewhere or you get transferred with your career to a new city, if you end up relocating, there is homework to do before you move. Fact-check churches.

Don’t assume your new community has a church that holds to a “Jesus did it all” doctrine of justification or has a view of sanctification dependent on abiding by gospel faith in Jesus versus trying harder to produce good fruit. Is the doctrine of spiritual adoption central to their teaching of Christian identity? And do they live out their faith in the real world (which was a passion of the early apostles, who wanted to make sure that Paul would continue to remember the poor on his missionary travels)? 

If you plan to relocate, fact-check the churches before you commit to moving. Browse church websites. Read their statement of faith. Listen to online sermons. Practice due diligence. I assure you the pastor will appreciate your commitment to theological clarity and gospel centrality.  

2) Allow theological facts to override emotional fallacies. 

What do we mean by emotional fallacies? One is the sense that God is disgusted with you because of your remaining sin. Rather than look to Jesus, you may find yourself doing things that you hope will make up for your guilt. Some religious traditions call this penance, a painful duty that you fulfill that obligates God to grant forgiveness. 

For the Galatians, this painful duty was circumcision. For you, it could be beating yourself up with words of condemnation, with hopes that self-loathing will compel God to mercy, thus earning your way back into the Father’s favor. Can you relate?

But that is not how the gospel works. Our guilt was objectively nailed to the cross in the body of Jesus. He has suffered the painful duty in your place. He did not pay a lot of the debt. He paid it all

The apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Did you notice the word all? If we confess the objective reality of our sin, he purifies our souls completely—of all unrighteousness. Not partially but perfectly. 

Theological truth says that he now forgives and accepts you, not because of your obedience and sacrifice but because of Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice for you. He is not disgusted but wants you to believe that you are forgiven and loved. 

You may not feel forgiven, but in Christ you are. You might not feel loved, but in Christ you are. You might not feel treasured by the Father, but in Christ you are. English slave trader turned pastor, John Newton, wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. He spoke to the “factness” of grace when he said, “Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater.”

One of my favorite Twitter folk is Dr. Mike Reeves, the President of Union School of Theology in Wales. Recently, he posted some comments in the spirit of John Newton that relate to our theme of gospel fact-checking, particularly how truth should override our emotional fallacies. He wrote, “Christian, don’t look to your behavior, your feelings, or your faithfulness for your standing before God. Jesus Christ is your righteousness and your status.”

If one emotional fallacy is related to our identity before God, another concerns feelings of anxiety and worry to cloud out the hope and peace that could be ours if we embraced the sovereignty of God. In a New York Times podcast called The Argument, one of the co-hosts, Michelle Goldberg, observed that “2020 started off like 1974 (an impeachment crisis), quickly became 1918 (a pandemic), turned into 1929 (economic crash), and is now 1968 (massive urban unrest).” David French reflected on this amalgamation of once in a generation events, saying, “With everything politicized, with an unending torrent of bad news, and with algorithms that confirm and amplify our worst fears, no wonder it’s been a stressful year.”

Even those of us, myself included, who give a nod to the sovereignty of God, can be pulled to and fro by our emotions in such a way that causes us to functionally deny God’s control over all things, or that he is working all things for the good of his people, as Paul affirms in Romans 8:28. Again, Mike Reeves, posted a helpful tweet that caught my attention, saying, “There is no place for despair as long as Christ is on the throne.”

3) Introduce intellectual doubts to gospel facts. 

It is likely that each of us will face doubt at some point in our personal, spiritual journey. Is Christianity really true? Can I rely on the gospel of grace to be the compass for my life? Or have I been deceived by well-intentioned but blinded religious fanatics who lived 2,000 years ago? 

Again, we come back to C.S. Lewis, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.” If Christianity is true, then the facts will stand in the wind of any intellectual challenge. This gives us confidence not to avoid our doubts but to look them straight in the eye. 

Existential Truth

In 1981, Stuart McAllister was part of a missionary team that transported Bibles to believers in countries behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. While attempting to cross the border from Austria into Communist Czechoslovakia, Stuart was arrested and imprisoned after guards discovered his hidden cargo. 

Writing about his experience, Stuart wrote, 

“In such circumstances, we are forced to face what we mean when we speak of faith… In my time in prison, I expected God to act fairly quickly and that I would sense his intervention… When this did not occur in the way I expected, or in the timing that I thought it should, I was both confused and angry.”

Reflecting on his struggles and doubts, he continues, 

“I was unaware of how many unexamined assumptions I was living by. I did not realize how little change had penetrated my heart, and under pressure, the gaps were painfully revealed and felt. From the perspective of time, I can now answer these questions meaningfully, but I needed the experience of doubt and hardship to show me how much I did not know [and how much] was not rooted in the biblical answers to these core questions. A worldview that merely answers questions intellectually is insufficient; it must also meet us existentially where we have to live.”

You don’t have to be confined to a communist prison for the opportunity to grapple with doubt. There are plenty of contexts that will challenge our faith in the truth of the gospel. You may be there now. If so, it could help to put yourself in the Galatians’ shoes and be the recipient of God’s desire to convince you, right here and right now, that the facts of the biblical record concerning the mission of Jesus are true. Not legend. Not fable. But historical, space-time reality. 

Maybe this is the moment when you cross the threshold into assurance, with existential confidence that Jesus lived for you, died for you, rose, and now reigns.  If you are ready to confess your need for Jesus as Savior and follow him as Lord, let me invite you to receive him now by expressing your faith with a simple prayer thanking God that the salvation equation is 100% grace.


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