The Real McCoy

It is ironic that there are so many stories surrounding the origin of the cliché “the real McCoy”, if you goggle the phrase you will find several possibilities of its genesis including confusion over a particular brand of whiskey, the feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families, and Elijah McCoy, the Canadian inventor, who made a successful machine for lubricating engines which spawned many copies, all inferior to the original. All of these compete for the distinction of spawning the phrase that is used to describe the real thing, the genuine article. But my personal favorite of these origin stories is that of the American welterweight boxing champion of the early twentieth century, Norman Selby, who fought under the name Kid McCoy. As the story goes, one day a drunk challenged Selby to prove that he was indeed McCoy and not one of the many lesser boxers trading under the same name. After being knocked to the floor the drunk rose to admit that “Yes! That’s the real McCoy.” Just as it difficult to determine which of these stories is “the real McCoy” many today have difficultly in distinguishing between the genuine Gospel and its counterfeits, which has been a challenge throughout the history of the church.

In Galatians 3:6-7 the Apostle Paul writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Addressing these churches that were being infiltrated by false teachers, Paul challenged them to return to the genuine gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ. A brief history is helpful in understanding the context that Paul is addressing. Acts 13 and 14 give detailed accounts as to what Paul preached in these cities of the region of Galatia. In Acts 13:23 preaching in the Jewish synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia, Paul declares “God according to his promise raised unto Israel, a savior, Jesus…” And continuing in verses 38 and 39; “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man (Jesus) is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses.” After Paul proclaimed this message establishing these churches on the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, false teachers infiltrated them attempting to dissuade them from the original message. This group of false teachers known as Judizers plagued the early church with the false teaching that trusting in Christ was not enough to secure salvation but in addition it was necessary to keep the Law of Moses, specifically, in addition to Jesus they taught it was necessary to participate in the rite of circumcision. In essence, the gospel message was no longer “saved by grace” it was “saved by surgery.” Sadly what was true for the churches of Galatia is often true for churches today, as there are continuing attempts to add to the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. The issue is no longer circumcision, but other exterior dress codes or rules of behavior, or efforts to pacify the needs of the congregation at the expense of the truth of Scripture, or dogmatism surrounding particular doctrines of emphasis. We would do well to heed the warnings of Paul to the churches as recorded the book of Galatians, not to depart from the genuine Gospel. Paul admonishes these believers in the First Century and by extension all of us by emphasizing the following truths.

First, Paul warns those who embraced the false gospel of the Judizers. He warns that their own works of goodness or practices of piety have replaced Christ as the object of their faith. This false gospel places humanity at the center of the story of salvation, and not Christ. In the economy of this false gospel, what they could do for themselves became equally important to the work of Christ, if not more so. This false understanding set them for one of two outcomes, either despondency over their personal failures or the pride of self righteousness and often a combination of both, all of which in despair.

Next, Paul makes it clear that the Gospel is not centered in the cult of personality or even the supernatural; in verse eight he warns: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than what we have preached unto you let him be accursed.” Many today are fascinated with the supernatural, even in the church, as if it is a panacea. However, the Old Testament was full of God’s demonstration of the supernatural but yet the Israelites continually rebelled. In the New Testament Jesus demonstrated that often the crowds became more fascinated with the miracle than with the miracle worker. Paul emphasizes that the answer is not another miracle but rather a return to the centrality of the miracle of the Gospel.

Finally, Paul reconnects the Gospel with good news personified in Christ Jesus, in verse 11-12 “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ”

In the final analysis the genuine Gospel is one, that like Kid McCoy’s punch, devastates us, knocking the feet of our own good works out from under us. False gospels seek to prop us up, making us feel better about our efforts and ourselves. By contrast the genuine Gospel knocks us to the ground of repentance with the realization that we are sinners in need of a savior, it is then and only then that we can truly rise to walk in the newness of life. 

This is what continues to make God’s grace so amazing.

Sadly, Norman Selby “Kid McCoy” took his own life in Detroit on April 18, 1940, leaving a note behind that read in part, “To all my dear friends … best of luck … sorry I could not endure this world’s madness.” Perhaps Norman had difficulty living up to the expectations of the false persona he had created? I’m reminded that those who opt for the false identities generated by counterfeit gospels end up being crushed by their own inabilities to measure up, because in the final analysis, none of us are really that good. We are a hodgepodge of failure and mediocrity with occasional successes based solely upon the fickle expectations and measurements of a flawed world. Only Jesus can speak to us from the authenticity of the gospel of grace and say “I love you just as you are, completely and without condition.”

This is the Gospel. Good news indeed.

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