Teaching series from Galatians

No Give on the Gospel

Galatians 1:6-10

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Briefly recap the SETTING: Paul, the Galatians, and the false teachers’ attack on Paul’s message (the “gospel”) and authority.

In all of Paul’s other letters, he begins (after his greeting) by thanking God and/or praying for the recipients.  This situation, however, is so dire that he skips this and goes right to the problem—read 1:6-9.  You can see why I have entitled this teaching “No Give On the Gospel!”

Was Paul a religious bigot?

This passage contains a couple of profound insights.  But before we can appreciate them, we must first deal with the charge that Paul is a nasty, hateful, vengeful religious bigot.  Who else but bigots get angry with people who disagree with their religious beliefs?  Who else but bigots would wish eternal condemnation on people who believe differently?  But before you write Paul off, consider this analogous story:

Suppose that certain remote African villagers are being devastated by a horrible disease.  Your government has sent you to freely dispense the only medicine that will cure this disease.  You brave incredible hardships to do this, and the villagers begin to recover.  You leave these villages to go on to other infected villages.  Then you receive word that a pharmaceutical company has deliberately developed a counterfeit version of the real medicine that is actually toxic.  This company has sent sales representatives to the villages you just visited.  They have told the villagers that they are real doctors, but that you are a quack.  They have also told the villagers that your medicine is ineffective, but that theirs will cure them.  Worst of all, they charge the villagers for this counterfeit medicine!  You can only write a message to the villagers and send it back with the courier.  How would you feel?  What would you say about the sales reps, and how would you say it?  Would your denunciation of them be proof of bigotry?  No, your reaction would be one of righteous outrage.  In fact, you would be unloving if you didn’t respond this way!

Now maybe Paul’s response looks different to you.  Far from being a religious bigot, he is responding out of a fierce love for the Galatians and appropriate moral outrage against the false teachers.  Consider these important factors:

This is a life and death issue—how to be accepted by God.  If outrage over the above scenario is justified, certainly it is even more justified over this issue!  On less important matters, Paul was ready to defer and went out of his way to be at peace with people (1Cor. 8:13; Rom.12:18).

The false teachers weren’t ignorant and well-intentioned.  They knew that the other apostles agreed with Paul’s apostleship and message.  They were deliberately perverting the message in order to deceive the Galatians.  Jesus, the incarnation of God’s love, had the same scathing denunciation of religious leaders who misused their position to keep people from God’s grace (Matt.23:13,15).

Paul doesn’t actually damn these teachers to hell, nor does he relish the thought of their condemnation.  Paul taught that that vengeance is the prerogative of God alone, and that therefore we should never take our own revenge (Rom.12:19).  He also said that he was willing to be damned if that would save his Jewish countrymen (Rom.9:3).  Anathema here means that Jesus has declared that religious leaders who lead others astray will face God’s judgment unless they repent (Matt.18:6,7).   Paul agrees with God’s position, and he places himself under this same condemnation if he tampers with this message (1:8).

When I read 1:6-9 in this light, I realize that Paul is not a religious bigot.  He is a man of integrity who cares about people and knows that lies badly hurt people.  In fact, Paul’s reaction challenges me.  Do I care passionately about people’s spiritual welfare?  Do I feel outrage when people I love are deliberately deceived?  Am I willing to speak forcefully to try to protect them from harm?  If not, this is not something to feel good about—it is something to change!

Now that we’ve cleared away the “noise,” let’s listen to the “message” in this passage.  Paul reveals two insights into God’s grace that we need to understand...

Faith plus works reverses the gospel.

The false teachers taught that Jesus was God’s promised Messiah.  They also affirmed that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our sins, and called on people to put their faith in Jesus.  The only real difference between their message and Paul’s is that they taught faith in Jesus plus circumcision and adherence to kosher food laws. 

Yet Paul denies that they were proclaiming the “grace of Christ.”  Instead, he says they were “distorting” (metastrepsai – “reversing”) God’s good news into something that was not good news at all.  By adding these works as a requirement for salvation, they were reversing the fundamental nature of grace.  This is why Paul warns that anyone who proclaims a gospel “other than” (para – “more than”) the one he proclaimed is to be rejected.

Faith plus works reverses the gospel.  Why is this?  God’s grace is good news because Jesus has done all of the work needed to earn God’s acceptance of us—we need to do no works to earn it.  Jesus’ death has paid the full price of our sins—we need to pay nothing.  Because Jesus did this, God offers us salvation as a free gift.  The only condition—that we put our faith in Jesus—is not a work; it is simply receiving this amazing gift (e.g., VILLAGER INGESTING THE MEDICINE).  The moment that we add any work to simply placing our faith in Jesus, we have completely changed the message into a system of earning God’s acceptance by some kind of works.

Imagine an advertisement that says “free car for the asking.”  You go to the car lot and ask for your free car.  They say, “Here you are—that will be $6000.”  You say, “You said it was free!”  They say, “Well, it’s worth $20,000—but we’re giving it to you for only $6000.”  The point is that if you have to pay anything for it, it’s not free, and the car company is guilty of false advertising.

In the same way, the good news is God’s acceptance by grace (a free gift)—yours by faith in Jesus alone.  Adding any work to the equation changes the essence of it.

Wow!  This means that most of what claims to be Christianity is not real Christianity at all!  Any sect or denomination claiming to be Christian will say that God offers us salvation through faith in Jesus.  But if it is faith in Jesus plus COMMUNION, or faith in Jesus plus BAPTISM, or faith in Jesus plus CHURCH MEMBERSHIP/ATTENDANCE, or faith in Jesus plus AVOIDING CERTAIN SINS, or faith in Jesus plus EVANGELISM—this is a reversal of Christianity!  Yes, these works are good things—even things that the Bible commands us to do.  But when they are presented as conditions for receiving &/or keeping God’s acceptance, this destroys grace and turns Christianity into one more form of works-based religion.

What kind of reaction does this radical message cause in your heart?  If you do these works (&/or haven’t done certain sins), you may be disappointed, even offended, that they don’t count at all toward getting God’s acceptance.  We’ll talk more about this objection in two weeks.  On the other hand, if you don’t do these works (&/or have done certain sins), you may relieved and excited to know that God is ready to accept you right now, just the way you are.  Why don’t you tell him this, and ask him to give you this free gift?

God’s grace can deliver us from the bondage of people-pleasing into the freedom of pleasing God

The false teachers evidently accused Paul of being an insecure, unprincipled people-pleaser, that he diluted the message for these Gentiles because he was afraid they would reject him if he told them about the “works” requirement.  After squaring off against them in 1:6-9, he says 1:10 (read): “Does this sound like something a people-pleaser would say?”  Here is a man who has been freed from worrying about what people think about him, what they might do to him, etc.—a man who is free to serve and please God.  Paul lived his life before what Os Guinness calls “the audience of One:” “I have only one audience.  Before others I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose.”1

How attractive this is!  How much emotional energy have you spent worrying about what certain people think about you (or about what you think they think about you), how they might react to what you say or do, etc.?  How often have you compromised your honesty or integrity to avoid certain people’s disapproval, or to get/keep their approval?  How many relationships have you damaged because your compulsion to please them or others interfered with healthy closeness?  Living for people’s approval can ruin your life!

Our culture realizes that people-pleasing is dysfunctional (e.g., codependency)—but its cure is worse than the disease!  Blatant self-pleasing is even more dysfunctional because it justifies virtually anything that gets you what you want (e.g., wrongful divorce; abandoning children; reject parents, etc.)!  Are we really doomed to choose between people-pleasing and self-pleasing?

No!  There is another way—and it is the way forged by God’s grace.  God’s grace can deliver us from the bondage of people-pleasing into the freedom of pleasing God.  This is what Paul means in 6:14 (read).  The cross of Christ makes me accepted by God, the most important Person in the universe.  Secure in his acceptance, we can learn how to please him instead of having to get other people’s acceptance or use them for our own ends.  Secure in God’s love, we can learn how to love people the way he loves us—to give them what they need (even when it isn’t what they need, as Paul did with the Galatians). 

In the weeks to come, we’re going to take a closer look at what this looks like.  But the first step toward this way of life is receiving God’s acceptance and living every day consciously anchored in it!

1 Os Guinness, The Call (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), p.74.