1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.
1 Paul, an apostle - sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead - 2 and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! 10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
It seems for everything genuine there is a cheap imitation. You can get imitation diamonds, Rolex watches, pearls, perfumes – you name it. If there is a demand for something valuable, someone will make a cheap imitation of it. The same is true when it comes to the Gospel. There are all sorts of imitation gospels out there for people to pick and choose from. If you want the true Gospel, you must not accept any imitations. That is Paul’s message to the Galatian Church. You would think that if anyone would not be fooled by cheap imitations of the Gospel, it would be the early believers who had Paul as their teacher, but even they were being fooled by cheap imitations.
What we know as the book of Galatians was actually a letter Paul wrote to the Churches he had planted in Galatia, and his reason for writing to them was that the Gospel of Christ was in danger of being lost at Galatia – the credibility of the true Gospel was being challenged, and what made it even more dangerous was that the challenge was coming from within the Church.
A group called the Judaizers had infiltrated the ranks of the Church. They were Jews who had made some kind of profession of the Lordship of Jesus, but had turned back to the traditions of Judaism. They were determined to make Christianity an extension of the traditional system of works righteousness or keeping the law, and one of their tactics in doing so was to discredit Paul’s apostleship. If they were to make headway in the Church, they had to discredit Paul, since Paul taught the opposite of what they taught. They attacked Paul personally by discrediting his apostleship, as they undermined his authority and doctrine.
And this is what Paul attacks in his opening lines of his letter: “Paul, an apostle - sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” In verses 3–5, he declares the true Gospel in a nutshell: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” So the question is, what is the true Gospel?
The Gospel is the heart and soul of Christianity. Get it wrong, and you get Christianity wrong. The true Gospel is the message of grace and peace. Divine grace is the basis of the Gospel, and peace between God and man is the result of this divine grace. The Gospel is theocentric, which means that God is the focal point of the Gospel. The plan of salvation and the atoning death of Jesus on the cross is all about Him. The heresy of imitation gospels is that they are anthropocentric, which means that man is the focal point. They make man the focus of attention.
In 1905 Harvard University built a new home for the philosophy department, and the university president Charles Eliot invited the psychologist and philosopher William James to suggest a suitable inscription for the stone lintel over the doors of the new building named Emerson Hall. After a while James sent Eliot a line from the Greek philosopher Protagoras: “Man is the measure of all things.” James never heard back from Eliot, so his curiosity was aroused when he noticed artisans working on a scaffold hidden by a sheet canvas. One morning, the scaffold and canvas were gone. The inscription? “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” Eliot had replaced James’s suggestion with words from Psalm 8. These two lines of Protagoras and David reflect a great chasm between the God-centred and the human-centred points of view.
Salvation is not about us first and foremost. It is about God. It is about who He is and what He does. It is about His great love coupled with His uncompromising holiness. The Gospel is firstly the bad news that we are sinners under the control of this ‘present evil age’ as Paul writes in Galatians 1. Even children at a very early age understand that we live in an evil world. That is why they love stories with good and bad characters. The bad news is that we cannot escape from the claws of sin. Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s the bad news, but the Gospel is also the good news that Jesus Christ freely gave Himself for our sins and rescued us from this present evil age. He died for us to pay in full the penalty for our sin. Not only that, but His death also frees us from the power of sin, and it’s relentless control over us.
Grace does not free us to sin though - rather, it frees us to live righteous lives. Paul deals with this in Romans 6: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:1-4)
In Galatians 1 Paul tells us that the gospel is from God. It was God who willed it, and it was God who initiated it. This is what grace is all about. In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul writes, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.” He writes to his young protégé Timothy, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:12-14) Those words were written by a man who knew that in and of himself he was nothing, but all that he became was by the grace of God and by the grace of God alone.
John Calvin said, “So glorious is His redemption that it should ravish us with wonder.” This is why we cannot and must not accept any cheap imitations of the Gospel, and there are many out there. New ones pop up while old ones are recycled and wrapped up in nice new shiny packaging to make them attractive.
Paul then continues in his letter by saying to the Church in Galatia, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
In essence, he is saying to them “What in the world were you thinking?” The Greek word translated “deserting” or “turning away” is the same word used when describing military desertion, which was punishable by death during a time of war. It wasn’t that long ago when soldiers were still executed for desertion. The Galatians had gone AWOL, and Paul’s greatest concern was that they had been distracted so easily and so quickly. He even says that he is astonished. They deserted Christ who saved them by grace. They deserted the Gospel for a different gospel that was worthless. The Galatians had traded the true Gospel for a worthless imitation, and Paul was incredulous, and he pulled no punches in his letter to them. He reminds Timothy of the same kind of thing in chapter 4: “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” He says something similar to the new Church he planted in Thessalonica in Greece: “The appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed - God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6)
Paul was not shy to speak his mind when the authenticity of the true Gospel was being undermined, and he did not care about trampling on people’s toes if it meant him speaking the truth. In Galatians 2 he even took the apostle Peter to task in public when he felt that Peter was beginning to burden new Christians with ritualistic laws.
He gave sound but stern instructions to the Galatians and to us today. Don’t accept cheap perversions of the Gospel. If it doesn’t say grace by faith on the label, it is just a worthless imitation.
Often the most dangerous deceptions are the ones that sound very similar to the true Gospel, but with just a few little tweaks here and there. Take the Judaizers for instance. They believed many correct things. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah and that He died and was raised from the dead. They believed in the oneness of God. They believed in the sinfulness of man. So what was the problem with their belief system? They crossed the line into deception when they believed and taught that more was needed than just belief in Christ. The work of Christ was not completely sufficient. They weren’t completely overthrowing the gospel, they were just adding to it. An example is what we read in Acts 15:1 – “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’” They were teaching a “Christ-plus salvation.”
If the message doesn’t say grace by faith, it is just an attempt to confuse you, and this is what concerned Paul so much that he wrote such a strongly worded letter to the Galatian Church. The false teachers had created confusion, and their doctrine and teaching was causing a rift in the Church. Remember, when the foundations are wobbly, there is a danger of the whole building collapsing, and that same principle applies to our faith. We must base our life of faith on the truth of Jesus Christ. If we don’t, and add all our manmade bits and pieces to it, we will find ourselves in trouble.
False teachers and their doctrine always confuse people. Confusion causes chaos, which causes many to move away from their faith. Many people in the Church today are confused. They say that they believe in Christ, but will then go on to say that they must live a good life in order to be saved. When they say that, what they really mean is that the work of Christ is insufficient because there is more they must do. We are to live a good life, but this is because we are saved – not in order to be saved. There is a vast difference between these two principles, and the key is an understanding of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. The world will tell us that in order to be saved we must DO. But the true Gospel says that we are saved because we put our faith in what God has DONE. You can’t mix the two. They are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum.
If the message doesn’t say grace by faith, it is just a perversion of the gospel. In Paul’s day and in our day, false teachers are turning the true Gospel on its head by making it into something it is not.
There are many religious organisations out there that have taken the Gospel revealed in and through Jesus, and they have added their own perverted doctrines to it. Many of them even use the words Church or Christ in their names, but they are not Christian Churches. An example is the Mormon cult who call themselves the ‘Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.’ Their teachings and doctrines are radically different to Biblical truth. Just one example is their teaching that Jesus was born as a normal human being. He is not the eternal God, but due to His sinless life He attained deity, and ‘became God.’ This means that what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints teaches is a false gospel. Any religious group or sect which teaches that salvation is Christ plus something else, is false. Don’t be fooled - stay true to the Gospel.
But still Paul is not finished, as he makes an even stronger statement. He says that it doesn’t matter who the person is, if he doesn’t preach the true Gospel, you must reject it. “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
The Judaizers had some impressive credentials. They came from Jerusalem, which was where the Church began. From an early age they could recite the Mosaic Law, the prophets and the Psalms. They had degrees from the finest Jewish schools. They were masters of persuasion. Who would dare argue with them? Paul did. If it’s a different gospel, reject it. It doesn’t matter how many degrees they have at the end of their name or how big their Church is, if they don’t preach the true Gospel, reject it. Reject it because it is false. Paul says reject it because those who preach a different gospel are eternally condemned. The word he uses in the original Greek is anathema. It is the strongest condemnation that Paul could possibly use. It translates to “let them be under God’s curse.”
Some may wonder whether Paul could be a little more tolerant.
Does that sound familiar? Post-modernism teaches us that all beliefs are equal and that so long as you’re sincere, that’s all that really matters. Now that may sound all nice and cosy, but you won’t find that in Scripture. What did Jesus say? “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except the sincere?”
Paul refused to compromise when it came to the Gospel, and he didn’t care what anyone thought about him when it came to the Gospel. He wrote in verse 10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
And we can’t give in either. It doesn’t matter who the person is, if you are not hearing the words of the true Gospel, reject it.
I need to add though, Paul's words in Colossians 4:3-6. “Pray for us, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” This is where we sometimes – often – get it wrong. We need to learn to speak the truth in grace. Paul very specifically says ‘Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.’ This is not about watering down the Gospel and making it user-friendly. That’s what the false teachers do. This is about being full of grace, while at the same time being resolute and uncompromising in proclaiming the true Gospel of Jesus.
Does it really matter? Yes it does – very much so. Salvation is in Christ and in Christ alone. That’s why it matters, because satan will continue to try and fool those who have bought into the lie that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere. Paul sounds the warning against any gospel that is not the true Gospel of salvation by faith in Christ alone.
On Boxing Day in 2004 Tilly Smith, a ten year-old English girl was on Maikhao Beach in Phuket, Thailand with her parents and hundreds of other holidaymakers. When the sea began to bubble and rapidly rush away from the shore she remembered something she’d learned in her geography class. She ran to her mother and told her they should leave the beach immediately, as she thought there was about to be a tsunami. They didn’t understand her warning until she called it a tidal wave. They and everyone else heeded her warning and evacuated the beach. That was the only section of beach along the shores of Phuket where no one was killed or even seriously hurt. Hundreds of lives were saved because they heeded a little girl’s warning.
We all remember those dreadful images from ten years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people died that day, but one little girl warned a few, and many lives were saved. The warning Paul gave to the Galatians is for us too, and it is infinitely more important than what happened in 2004. We’re talking about eternity here. Will you heed the warning to accept no imitations of the true Gospel? Will you believe the words of Jesus when He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me?”