a different gospel? (Galatians 1)
“I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—” (Galatians 1:6 CSB).
John Stott wrote that when the devil “cannot entice Christian people into sin, he deceives them with false doctrine.”
That is what is going on in the book of Galatians. A Christian church is being attacked, not by the Roman government, not by an angry Jewish persecutor, but an attack from within. A different gospel had been introduced, and the Galatians were turning to it instead of the gospel by which they had been saved! An internal battle is going on in the churches of Galatia.
The Holy Spirit gave us the book of Galatians as part of the Bible because every church is capable of turning from the true gospel to a false gospel. Anyone who claims to believe can be deceived and turn from the gospel to a different gospel.
That is why it is important for us to study this book. We need to know whether what we believe is the true gospel, or if we have already fallen for a false gospel.
So, we need to ask “What was different about the gospel that the Galatians were turning to?” The text of Galatians 1 answers that question.
it was human centered, not God centered
Paul warned that by turning toward that different gospel, the Galatians were turning away from the God who called them to himself (6). The people teaching the false doctrine now known as the Galatian heresy didn’t advertise it that way. They didn’t say “follow our teaching and you’ll turn away from God.” No, they were teaching the opposite. They came into the churches of Galatia and said. “Hey, y’all are doing okay, but if you really want to get on God’s good side, here’s what you need to do.”
The Galatians were being tempted away from God because they were trying to please people (10). These people pretended to be true believers in Christ. But they had an agenda that was different from Christ’s agenda. They wanted to introduce bondage instead of freedom.
But the gospel that Paul had preached to the Galatians, by which they were saved, was not “of human origin” (11). He didn’t dream it up. It “came by revelation of Jesus Christ” (12).
That word “revelation” is the same word that serves as the title to the last book in the New Testament. It means a disclosure, an unveiling. Paul is saying that Jesus himself revealed the gospel to him. He didn’t get it second-hand.
Paul was pretty stubbornly set on going against the gospel, so Jesus had to knock him down and blind him for awhile to get his attention. So, after learning the truth of the gospel in such a miraculous way, Paul was not about to allow it to be replaced by another gospel.
Paul learned that he could not serve Christ by hanging on to the traditions of his ancestors (14). Those traditions had led Paul to persecute true believers (23).
Now here is an important thing to remember. The traditions were not a bad thing in and of themselves. Many of the traditions had their origin in the Bible. Circumcision, submission to the law of God, separation from idolatry – all of these things were not bad things. What made these things wrong was the way they were being used to replace the gospel. You can take the best of human tradition and you can turn it into a dangerous evil by making it the gospel instead of the gospel of God.
What was different about the gospel that the Galatians were turning to?
it was a gospel of law, not a gospel of grace
The Galatian Christians had been “called by the grace of Christ” (6). Every one of those Gentiles were told that they could be saved from their sins and inherit eternal life, and they didn’t have to do anything for it except trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross. God’s grace did it all.
But these trouble-makers had come into those churches built on grace and they introduced them to the law.
They said if you really wanted to be on God’s good side, you’ll be circumcised. You’ll eat what we tell you to eat. You’ll stop living like a Gentile and live like a Jew. You’ll memorize the law and obey it.
What these trouble-makers didn’t tell the Galatians was that in contrast to the gospel, the law was designed to curse lawbreakers (8-9). Paul had told the Romans that all who sin under the law will be judged by the law (Romans 2:12). So, if we are thinking that obeying the law is going to get you brownie points with God, think again. Paul called it “the curse of the law” and he taught the Galatians that Christ has redeemed us from it by becoming a curse for us when he died on the cross (Galatians 3:13).
The law was never intended to be God’s solution to the sin problem. Even under the Mosaic covenant, it took a blood sacrifice to atone for sin. God’s grace is the only solution to the sin problem.
That is why Paul told the Galatians up-front that Christ “gave himself for our sins to rescue us” (4). The cross is our only rescue.
If the law could rescue anyone, Jesus did not need to die on the cross.
What was different about the gospel that the Galatians were turning to?
it was a gospel of works, not a gospel of faith
The gospel is about “the grace of Christ” (6). It is not about me and what I can do for God. It is about what God did for us by sending his Son to die in our place.
The different gospel was being introduced by a group of trouble-makers (7). These trouble-makers sneaked in and distorted the gospel of grace.
They added regulations. They went to the Galatians and they said, “Hey, read your Old Testament. You see all those regulations. You have to keep them or God is going to reject you. There is no salvation without Sinai.”
So, what was wrong with that picture? It got its biblical history backwards. God did not take the Israelites to Sinai first. He rescued them from Egypt by the blood of the lamb first. Sinai was not for salvation, Sinai was for witness. The content of the Mosaic covenant was intended to be a witness of God’s grace.
In the same way, we have the content of the new covenant: the commands of Christ. In his great commission, Jesus tells us that we are to make disciples and that involves teaching people to obey his commands. But we don’t even obey Christ in order to be saved, we obey him in order for others to be saved. We obey Christ so that we can draw others to him.
What else was different about the different gospel? They added levels of spirituality. They said. Oh, trusting Jesus is okay for starters. But you gotta take this thing to the next level. You gotta level up. The real power comes from how you eat, how you pray, what day you worship on…
They also added “conversions.” Apparently one conversion was not enough. You had to convert not only your heart but your stomach, and your wallet. You had to keep converting until you looked like they did.
But the gospel of grace says that one conversion is enough. One Christ is enough. One cross is enough. The message of Galatians is that believers should find our distinctiveness in Christ and the gospel of forgiveness through his sacrifice.
How do we live the message of Galatians today?
We need to turn back from the different gospel that we have been taught. We need to search ourselves to see if we have added anything to our salvation that was not done by Jesus Christ on the cross.
Then, once we have repented from all those false gospels, we should testify to the saving power of the cross alone.