No Other Gospel
Topic: The Gospel Passage: Galatians 1:6–1:10
The book of Galatians is about sufficiency of the gospel of Jesus to free us from sin, rule-keeping, the fear of death, and the wrath of God. In other words, the gospel comes fully loaded. We cannot add to it or subtract from it. There’s a problem. Something in our hearts wants to add to the simple Gospel we see in verse 4-5, "he gave himself for our sins to deliver us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and father to him be glory forever and ever."
We think there's got to be something more. Or I've got to make my contribution. Or there’s got to be something I must do to climb into God's favor or into the blessing God. It seems so natural, but is antithetical to the gospel of Christ. Well, this is the controversy that prompted Paul to write this letter. Right after a short greeting, we are thrust into controversy. In almost all of his other letters, Paul commends his readers for their faith or their love and service, not in Galatians.
Galatians is Paul’s most confrontational letter, hands down. And the reason for the aggressive tone is because some false teachers have come in, spread poisonous teaching, and it has begun to trouble the people in these churches Paul planted. The NT is not immune to this sort of thing. But we are warned over and over again of the threat of false teachers, the poison of false teaching, and the assault that these both are to God’s truth and God’s people. Every NT author addressed it. For example, Paul, anticipating the threat of false teachers in Ephesus in Acts 20:29-31a, says,
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert…
Peter, writing to believers later in the first century said in 2 Peter 2:1, “There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”
Of course, they are simply following the lead of the Lord Jesus himself who said, “Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matthew 24:11).
The history of the church from the first century to today is replete with examples of false teaching and so courageous Christians in every age have heeded Jude’s exhortation to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
The Galatians Controversy
So Paul hears of an alien message infiltrating the churches of Galatia and immediately writes to bring correction. Paul had planted these churches in what is modern day Turkey during his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). It’s personal for Paul for several reasons. Paul loves Christ, loves the gospel, and loves these people. So he pulls NO punches; he comes out swinging.
What was the cancerous teaching that was spreading in Galatia that provoked Paul? They did not deny your need for Jesus. They did teach the necessity of believing in Jesus. They taught a “Jesus AND…” gospel. Jesus and circumcision. Jesus and the law of Moses. Jesus and the rites, rituals, and the observance of days, months, years, etc. John Stott, a 20th Century British preacher, described the false teacher’s theology this way,
They did not deny that you must believe in Jesus for salvation, but they stressed [note that word, stressed] that… you yourself must finish, by your obedience to the law, what Christ has begun. You must add your works to the works of Christ. You must finish Christ’s unfinished work.
And what follows from this kind of thinking is that God loves and blesses us because of what we do. He sees something in ME which prompts his grace. This is not a slippery slope, but a sheer cliff - deadly! Paul says in Galatians 5:2-3 (READ). If you want to add to Christ’s work, it places you back under the law and you are required to keep it all perfectly! So Paul sees this false teaching as a savage assault on the gospel and responds to this assault in four ways: 1) With amazement that the churches are tolerating it, 2) with clarity on the gospel, 3) with a fierce warning about the false teachers, 4) by making his motive clear.
Paul starts off verse 6 with “I am astonished”. Paul is amazed, astonished, shocked that these churches are tolerating such a message. Notice, Paul says this waffling on the truth has happened “so quickly”. The letter of Galatians was written in AD 48. He visited and planted the Galatian churches perhaps only a year prior to the letter being written. So, they received the gospel with joy and power (Galatians 3) a year prior and already they are being moved from the gospel they received.
The term Paul uses is “deserting”. So quickly you are deserting. Deserting means a transfer of allegiance, like a soldier defecting to the side of an opposing army. So it is more than merely drifting a bit, but an act of treason. Paul says, “you are defecting!” It’s important to notice though, that it is in the present tense suggesting that the defection of the Galatians from the truth was not yet complete, but would continue unless they changed their views and turned around. Here’s what was going on. They had not fully accepted this new teaching, but they were tolerating it. They were a tolerant bunch. That’s a buzzword in our culture, isn’t it. Tolerance. And of course, tolerance rightly understood is a good thing. BUT Paul cannot believe these Christians are tolerating this false gospel in the church! And why? Look at what it is leading them away from - or rather who.
"Him who called you in the grace of Christ..."
This false teaching was carrying these believers away from the Father, who called them in grace. False teaching leads people away from God. The word called here refers to effectual calling - an act of God where he calls a person from death to life through the Holy Spirit, enabling them to respond in repentance and faith to Christ.
Paul is astonished, saying, “I taught you about grace and freedom from the law, from sin, and from God’s wrath, that you should be free in Christ and no longer be slaves. This is the true gospel. Why are you allowing yourselves to be carried away so easily from this living fountain of grace and life?”
Paul is amazed! But he doesn’t stop there. Next Paul wants to bring clarity on a gospel issue.
Paul ends verse 6 by saying, you are turning to a different gospel, but immediately wants to clarify, “not that there is another…” There is no other gospel. There is only one. But these false teachers have come in and were troubling the churches. The word trouble means “to agitate, stir, disturb, or unsettle. And that is what they were doing. These Galatian Christians were believing the gospel and resting in Christ as their all in all. And then a group of “super-Christians” came along and said, “You believe in Jesus? Well, good, you must believe in Jesus. But to be saved or really blessed of God, you also need ________.” Well, of course this began to unsettle the fairly young Galatian churches. “O I thought it was just Jesus! I thought I just needed Jesus…”
So this false teaching was brought in which troubled the people, and was also distorting the gospel. The word distort means to turn something around or to make it its opposite. It is the same word used in Acts 2, when Peter quotes an OT prophecy which says, “The sun will be turned to darkness.” So this “different gospel” is no gospel at all. Rather than being good news, it is bad news. Rather than being the gospel, it’s actually an “anti-gospel.”
This pious addition to the gospel of Christ is to make it no gospel at all – or as Paul says, “not another”. The NLT paraphrases verse 7 this way,
You are already following a different way that pretends to be the good news, but is not the good news at all. You are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ.
There is no other gospel! Paul already gave a great summary in verses 4-5:
[Christ] gave himself for our sins, to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The gospel is accomplishment of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the eternal plan of God, for God's glory.
What can we possibly add to this? Nothing! Why would we try! This is a promise, to be received by faith alone! The gospel is about God’s purpose, Christ’s work, and God’s glory. Any talk of gospel which puts the onus on us to make something happen or complete it is no gospel at all!
This leads us to Paul’s fierce warning, asserting his apostolic authority. The purveyors of this anti-gospel are called out!
Paul never speaks so harsh as he does here, pulling no punches. He uses hyperbolic language, to make a strong point. He says, “If I, or those with me, or even an angel from heaven preaches a contrary gospel, let him to be accursed.” Then he says it again, “if anyone comes with a contrary gospel, let him be accursed.”
Accursed (“anathema”) means “devoted to God for destruction without hope of being redeemed.” Paul repeats this curse twice for emphasis. THis is how ancient writers would emphasize. Whereas we may highlight, underline, use italics or bold text, they would repeat something to emphasize. These false teachers are bad news and Paul wants the Galatians to know! Why do people buy into false teaching? Because of the appeal of their teachers. They look and sound so good. They are so nice. They seem so devoted and zealous. They have such charisma. Powerful presence and presentation. They are so smart. Very attractive. They appear to be successful. None of this matters. Paul says, “What are they preaching?”
Let’s think through this a bit. If an angel, bright and shining - so bright we are nearly blinded. And he says, “Jesus has sent me and I have a message for you…” What should we do? We should not sit there with our mouths open thinking, “Wow, whatever you say Mr. Angel!” Paul would tell us to open our bibles. And if this angel’s message begins to deviate from the gospel, we should say, “Excuse me, Mr. Angel. Your message is contrary to the gospel. Jesus did not send you. Take a hike.”
False teachers who bring another gospel are accursed. It’s even more serious. Those who receive their message are too. So false teachers assault the gospel and by consequence they are wolves preying on sheep. This is ultimately what is at stake. A different gospel is is bad news. It distorts the true gospel and destroys people, which is why he speaks so strongly.
So Paul is not just trying to be mean. He makes it clear in verse 10 what his motive is. It’s not to earn the approval or please man but to please God. He has been freed by the gospel from the enslaving need to be approved by man. He has been freed to be a bondslave of Christ. He lives for the Lord’s approval. And if we would be faithful to Christ and his gospel, we must as well.
When you hear Paul in these verses, do you privately think to yourself, “That’s a little extreme! He’s making a mountain out of a molehill.” Does it really matter what we believe? If someone says they believe in Jesus, isn’t that enough? Do we really need to get into the details? Well, as they say, the devil is in the details. Here is what Paul is really worked up about: Is Christ’s work sufficient? Are we saved by the work of Christ alone? Or do we need to add our work to his unfinished work?
The book of Galatians is a book to help us learn to rest fully in Jesus Christ alone. Who he is. What he has done. And this only is the grounds of all your assurance. If you would have assurance that gives you freedom from sin, the law, fear of death, God’s wrath, and climbing the ladder to God’s favor - it only comes through the accomplishment of Jesus.'
Imagine there are two men who must get from one side of a lake to another and the lake is covered with ice. They have been told that the ice is a foot thick. One guy timidly steps out on the ice, slowly shuffling his feet across the lake, nervous the entire time he might break through the ice. The other guy takes off romping and stomping across the lake, having a blast. Which of the two men make it to the other side? Well, both of course. The ground for their security is not the intensity of their confidence, but in the thickness of the ice.
Our ground for assurance before God is not our works or the intensity of our faith, but in the fact that Jesus “gave himself for our sins, to deliver us from the present evil age…” Our study through Galatians is to show you how thick the ice is so you can go through life confident and free in Christ and approach death confident and at peace in Christ - not troubled you haven’t done enough. Is all your hope in Jesus Christ and not at all in your contribution? May the words of an old hymn be our confident assurance:
I need no other argument, I need no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.