Accept No Substitutes

Dr. Daniel Paavola—Professor of Theology

Concordia University Wisconsin

Mequon, Wisconsin

June, 2013



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 about this.)


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?




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 choice?


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 a good idea.


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, 5 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. 4?


Why is the incarnation of Jesus so radically new?


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 of patience.


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 incarnation?


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 the incarnation:


Give thanks in your prayers today that all that which is God has come to us, and has come to be known, in Jesus


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 Son.


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.








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 buy.


What are some products that are the original idea, that set the standard, and that also cost the most?


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 imitations?




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 your trial?


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’ whole perfect life?


What does the whole life payment of Jesus say about the extent of the debt that the world has accumulated with God?


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 simple 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 paid?


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 thing.










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 before?


What did you do differently once you had this?


STUDY: READ GALATIANS 4:4-11, 5:1-26


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 used?


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 off.


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 freedom?


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 ago?


What gift still has a ways to go in your life?


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 lately?


What might happen when you take this “off the shelf” and see what difference it makes in your life?


Enjoy these reminders of the unique nature of the Gospel. Remember, accept no substitute!