Teaching series from Galatians

No Give On the Gospel

Galatians 1:6-9

Teaching t12620


Briefly recap the setting: Paul, the Galatians, and the Judaizers attack on Paul’s message (which Paul calls “God’s grace” and its synonym “the gospel”) and authority.

In Paul’s other letters, he begins (after his greeting) by thanking God and/or praying for the recipients. But this situation 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 21st century western reaction that Paul is a nasty, vengeful religious bigot. Who else but a bigot gets angry with people who disagree with their religious beliefs? Who else but a bigot would pronounce eternal condemnation on people who believe differently? But before you write Paul off, consider this analogous story:

Suppose that certain remote 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 an organized crime syndicate has deliberately developed a counterfeit version of the real medicine that is actually toxic. They sent fake doctors to the villages you just visited. They told the villagers that they are real doctors, but that you are a quack. They also told the villagers that your medicine is ineffective, but that theirs will cure them. They charged the villagers for this counterfeit medicine, and say that your free service proves the worthlessness of your medicine! You can only write a message to the villagers and send it back through a courier. What would you say about these fake doctors, and how would you say it? Would your denunciation of them prove you are a medical bigot? No, your outrage would be righteous. In fact, you would be unloving if you didn’t respond this way!

Now Paul’s response should look 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 is justified when people jeopardize others’ physical health, certainly outrage is more justified when people jeopardize others’ spiritual life! On less important matters, Paul was ready to defer (1Cor.8:13) and went out of his way to be at peace with people (Rom.12:18).

The false teachers weren’t ignorant and well-intentioned. They knew that the other apostles agreed with Paul’s message. They were deliberately perverting the apostles’ message in order to deceive the Galatians. Jesus, the incarnation of God’s love, scathingly denounced 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 he agrees with Jesus’ declaration that religious leaders who lead others astray will face God’s judgment unless they repent (Matt.18:6,7). Notice that he places himself under this same condemnation if he should tamper with this message (1:8).

When you read 1:6-9 in this light, it is clear that Paul is not a religious bigot. He is a man of integrity who cares about people and knows that falsehood kills people. In fact, Paul’s reaction challenges me. Do I care enough about people’s spiritual welfare to speak up to point them to the truth? If not in exactly the way Paul speaks up here, in whatever way is most appropriate? If not, this is not something to feel good about—it is something to change!

Now that we’ve cleared away this objection, let’s consider a couple of important lessons about the gospel that this passage teaches...

Faith plus works reverses the gospel.

The Judaizers agreed 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 and Jewish festivals.

Yet Paul denies that they were proclaiming the “grace of Christ.” By adding these works as a requirement for salvation, he says they were proclaiming a gospel “other than” (para – “more than”) the one he proclaimed (1:8). They were “distorting” (metastrepsai – “reversing”) the gospel (1:7) into something that was a “different” (heteros – “contradictory”) message (1:6) that was not good news at all.

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 gift (e.g., VILLAGER INGESTING THE MEDICINE; read Rom.4:4,5). The moment that we add any work to simply placing our faith in Jesus, we have completely voided God’s grace for 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.

This means that most of what claims to be Christianity over the past 20 centuries 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 MORAL REFORM, AVOIDING CERTAIN SINS, etc., or faith in Jesus plus FINANCIAL GIVING, EVANGELISM, etc.—this is a reversal of Christianity! Many of these works are good things—even things that the Bible commands us to do. But when they are presented as conditions for receiving and/or keeping God’s acceptance, this destroys grace and turns Christianity into one more form of works-based religion.

Read Eph.2:8-10. Salvation is by grace through apart from works. Good works are the intended result of salvation, not the condition for salvation.

What kind of reaction does this message provoke in your heart? Does this message that your works don’t count at all toward getting God’s acceptance – does it disappoint you, or offend you? If so, are in grave peril. We’ll talk more about this reaction and why it is so dangerous in three weeks. On the other hand, maybe this message that God is ready to accept you without any works, despite all your sins – maybe this message relieves you and ignites hope in your heart. If so, you are not far from salvation. Why not ask God to give you this gift today?

The gospel is more important than its messengers

Re-read 1:8. Paul is saying that the gospel is more important than its messengers. He poses two hypothetical situations to emphasize this point. If he himself should return to Galatia, but come with a different message, they should reject him as a false teacher. If even a majestic angelic being should appear to them, but declare a different message, they should reject him as a false messenger.

QUALIFICATION: Of course, Paul is not downplaying the importance of Christians conducting ourselves in a manner consistent with the gospel (Eph.4:1; Phil.1:27). There is a connection between the way we live and how likely others are to receive our message. Our good conduct can “adorn” the gospel (Titus2:10), and our bad conduct can influence people to “dishonor” God’s Word (Titus 2:5). This is why half of Paul’s letters exhort Christians to live in ways that commend the message of the gospel to non-Christians.

But though our conduct can help or hinder people’s response to the gospel, our conduct does not make the gospel true. The inherent truthfulness of the gospel, and its inherent ability to save people who believe it stand apart from the conduct of the people who communicate it. This is what Paul means in Rom.3:3,4 (read). The fact that most Testament Jews during the Old Testament period didn’t believe or obey God’s Word did not nullify the truthfulness of God and His revelation. Even if every single Jew rejected truth, God and His message would still be just as true.

The New Testament applies this insight in two main ways – one negative and one positive:

Negatively, miracles don’t prove that the messenger is speaking the truth. Paul performed a healing miracle in one of the Galatian cities in which he preached the gospel (Acts14:8-10). So 1:8 includes this proposition: “Even if I come back and perform more healing miracles, but preach a different message, you should reject me as a false teacher.” Power does not prove truthfulness!

This is because demonic spirits can perform miracles to deceive people (quote Matt.24:24,25; 2Thess.2:9,10. This is why God told the Israelites that if a someone performed miraculous signs but called them to follow another god, they should reject him (read Deut.13:1-3). This is why John tells Christians not to believe prophets (who presumably perform signs) unless they agree that Jesus is God-incarnate and the unique Messiah (read 1Jn.4:1-3a).

An angel named Moroni may have appeared to Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. Even if this angel guided Smith to golden plates containing the contents of the book of Mormon, these supernatural phenomena do not prove that the book of Mormon is true. Since it denies the deity of Christ and teaches that faith in Jesus plus works are required for salvation, it is not from God. Even if Moroni appeared publicly every year at the Mormon Tabernacle, Mormonism would still be false.

Positively, God can save people through messed up Christians who communicate the gospel. This is because it is the gospel that saves people when they believe it (Rom.1:16), even when the gospel comes to them through very imperfect people.

Hugh Laurie’s character in “House M. D.” illustrates this point (SLIDE). House is a nasty person in many respects. Yet he gets the right treatment to his patients – and that’s what ultimately matters!

Martin Luther was a rough character in many respects (SLIDE). He could be rude, he had a bad temper, and he was subject to period of intense depression and doubt. Yet he understood the gospel, and he communicated it to the people of his day. And thousands of people received forgiveness and eternal life because they believed the message Luther proclaimed.

This is why Paul can say Phil.1:15-18 (read). He is critical of those who preach the gospel with wrong motives. He approves of those who preach it out of love. But he rejoices even about the first group because they preach the gospel – because the gospel has the power to save those who believe it. Conversely, Paul would not rejoice if people were not preaching the gospel even if they had good motives toward him.

This is encouraging to me, and it should be encouraging to you! You don’t have to become a super-saint for God to work through you to draw people to Himself. This should be obvious, because God works powerfully through brand-new Christians to save people – and we know they’re still very messed up! Ask God to transform your character and conduct, and cooperate with His discipline – so that you may become more effective as God’s messenger. But God will work powerfully through you now to influence people toward Christ, if you tell them about the gospel! After all, the good news is not how great we are; it is how gracious Jesus is to mess up people like us!



Q & A