Don’t Mess with God’s Gospel
The eternal importance of pure, protected and proclaimed Gospel–Galatians 1:6-9
Christians are in a fight–not merely with the enemy and the world, but also with our own flesh. Because of that, in this life spiritual battle never ends. We know Christ wins the war, but believers can find themselves losing battles. After a while, Christian soldiers like yourselves can get tired–some worn out. While a few are hurting physically and others are hurting in heart, then add some designer trials, financial struggle, relationship tension, difficult children, marriage strain, job pressure, or failing health, and life for the believer can seem unbearable.
The only way you will survive is to depend on Christ, trust in His Word, rely upon His Spirit, lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ, seek His wisdom, desire His counsel and follow only His ways–that’s the only way you will survive. But here you are hanging by a thread, and God tells you to fight another battle. There is another skirmish every genuine Christian must fight–the battle for truth.
You may say, “Lord, that’s just too much, I can’t handle any more.” And He will reply, “But my child, this battle is for your forever soul–this fight determines Heaven or Hell. This war for truth must be fought or you are eternally damned.” What battle is this? It’s the battle for the Gospel–if you get it wrong, you’re bound for Hell. If you get it right, then you can be forever blessed in Heaven. If you get it wrong, you are enslaved to sin and deceived by error. You get it right, you are freed by grace and guided by truth.
No matter how difficult your life is this morning, this is the war God calls you to fight in Galatians chapter 1, verses 6 to 9–one of the sharpest passages in the entire Bible. Open your Bibles to Galatians chapter 1 as we continue in our verse-by-verse study of this great letter preserving the true Gospel, clarifying an accurate justification, safeguarding the good news–a warning to not mess with God’s Gospel.
In Galatians 1:6 to 9, Paul draws a clear line in the sand. Paul taught the Gospel during his first missionary journey to churches in the Galatian province. He taught them salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But some false teachers who came out of the Jewish faith, called Judaizers, began to accuse Paul of preaching an easy gospel in order to please people—“Make it free and people will like you.” And the Judaizers taught that coming to Christ and pleasing Christ involves keeping the Jewish ceremonies, laws and customs in order to be truly saved.
So Paul lovingly warns his readers, they have to fight against this false gospel and to fight for the true Gospel. And friends, maybe you are weary of warring—but if you don’t fight this battle, you will destroy the hope of salvation for you and all you love. Get this right–this is the battle the Church has fought for 2,000 years. This is the very first epistle of Paul in the New Testament. This is the hill that Luther, Calvin and Zwingli were willing to die on. The Gospel must be pure, protected and proclaimed.
But can you distinguish between the true Gospel and the false gospels of our day? Today there is the gospel of material prosperity, which teaches that Jesus is the way to financial gain. There is the gospel of family values, which teaches that Jesus is the way to a happy home. There is the gospel of the self, which teaches that Jesus is the way to personal fulfillment. There is the gospel of the Republican Party, which teaches if we get the right people elected, we enjoy peace and prosperity as a people.
There is the gospel of social justice, which teaches that getting saved must first include a commitment to hate abortion, racism, and poverty. There is the gospel of religious tradition, which teaches that Jesus is the way to respectability. There is the gospel of morality, which teaches that Jesus is the way to be a good person. There is the gospel of religious rules, which teaches Jesus wants you to live good to be saved. What makes these other gospels so dangerous is the things they offer are all beneficial–it is good to be prosperous, moral, religious, to have a happy home and be well-behaved. Yet as good as all these things are, they are not the true good news.
You see, the Church’s greatest danger is not the anti-gospel outside the Church, it is the counterfeit gospel inside the Church. The Judaizers did not walk around Lystra wearing T-shirts that said, “Hug me, I’m a false teacher.” What made them so dangerous was they knew Christian talk. They used all ‘the right terms. They talked about how they got saved. They told people to trust in Christ. They presented a gospel, but didn’t have the Gospel. Not everyone who calls himself a Christian knows Christ. And not everything called the Gospel is the Gospel. It is not mere words that save–it is the realities of the one true Gospel that save–Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection for sinners. That is why the Gospel must be pure, protected and proclaimed.
In this intense intro, Paul proclaims the incredible true Gospel in verses 1 to 5. But now in verses 6 to 9, Paul moves from the awesome to the awful. Perhaps without even re-dipping his pen, Paul turned from glorifying the Father for His marvelous grace in verses 3 to 5, now to chastising the Galatians for their amazing apostasy in 6 to 9. This is what caused Paul to . . .
#1 WONDER over the DEFECTION from the Gospel Verse 6
Think back to that moment when someone close betrayed you or betrayed Christ. I’ve been involved in the discipleship of hundreds of men in my life. I’ve been blown away by how God has used them for His glory. But–there were a handful of those men who later denied the faith and became opponents of Christ. One of the reasons why we experience defections is so we will know what it was like for Christ, when he was betrayed by Judas. If you want to become like Christ, that means you will suffer like Christ and experience rejection, defection and betrayal like Christ.
And recalling moments like those will help you understand what Paul writes in verse 6. “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel.” Paul says in verse 6, “I am amazed”–this is utter astonishment that anybody would do what the Galatians were doing. Paul found himself in a state of dumbfounded shock. Paul is in stunned wonder. With the Greek word “amazed”, Paul’s readers will have no doubt he is genuinely upset.
It is shocking to Paul, and shocking to pastors today, that so many then and today are so gullible and lacking discernment, that they’d embrace these spiritual charlatans. Why is Paul so disturbed? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:4, they are preaching “another Jesus” and a “different gospel”–they’ve turned away from salvation and have rejected the true Christ. Hence, the intensity of Paul’s shock–what’s he say? Going on in verse 6, “I am amazed . . .”
“that you are so quickly”–This Greek word “quickly” means either easily or rapidly and sometimes both. No doubt both meanings apply to the Galatians’ response to the heretical doctrines of the false teachers. They were easy. This shocks Paul–why? If Paul wrote Galatians sometime during his stay in Antioch after his first missionary journey in Acts 14:28, it may have taken only a matter of weeks before church attenders turned tail in the face of the bullying from the Judaizers.
They made easy progress undermining the Gospel in the midst of the new churches in Cyprus, Perga, Antioch-Pisida, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe–all in the Galatian region. Paul poured his life into these people and planted these churches, yet far too many quickly and easily fell victim to those perverters of the Gospel, resulting in Paul being continually amazed, ongoingly shocked and recurrently bewildered–why? Verse 6, they were . . .
“deserting Him”–Paul says they are, verse 6, “so quickly deserting Him.” Nothing is more traitorous than for a soldier to change sides and fight for the enemy. The verb deserting is actually used of military desertion, which is punishable by death. The word deserting means to change places, to transfer. Paul is telling them, “You are transferring yourselves”–and the form of this verb indicates the Galatian believers were voluntarily deserting grace to pursue the legalism taught by the false teachers.
Deserting also implies the complete transfer of allegiance from one thing to another–from truth to lie. Do not miss this, friends–Paul is showing you how this move, from true Gospel to the corrupt gospel, impacts God’s heart. This is God’s Word, showing you God’s convictions. When a church attender, a so-called Christian, becomes a Catholic–this is devastating. Today, the decision to join certain churches or a certain denomination can be just as disastrous.
Do not be cavalier when friends or family do this–you must fight for their soul. They’re not trading churches, they’re deserting Christ. When the Galatians turned their backs on Paul’s authentic Gospel message, they were walking away from Christ Himself. This is a huge mistake–why? Verse 6, they were betraying God, God in the flesh, the God who came to save sinners, the only way of salvation, the only one who can make it possible for you to be right with God–transformed, forgiven and go to Heaven. Don’t betray the Christ who, verse 6, “called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel.” For the genuine saints in Galatia, Christ is the one who called you by His grace in order to give you His blood-bought salvation. Verse 6 says . . .
“who called you”–Called you is literally who called you once and for all. It is a permanent call. This call in the New Testament letters always refers to the effectual call to salvation. You were dead in your sins. You were blind in your faith. You were helpless and hopeless, unable to break out of your sinful, fallen depraved nature. But God, out of a motive of love, chose you in eternity past. Then, at some point in your life, God called you–He awoke the dead person to be alive, He opened the eyes of the spiritually blind so they could see their need of salvation and turn to Christ in faith.
Second Thessalonians 2:13 and 14, “We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Second Timothy 1:8 and 9, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”
First Peter 1:15, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.”
No one can resist this call–it is an incredible act of sovereign grace and mercy. God loves you so much–He awakens you, the rebel. He resurrects the dead, sinful heart and calls you to salvation. Paul reminds the Galatians of God’s motive in verse 6 . . .
“by the grace of Christ”—”who called you by the grace of Christ.” Grace is God’s free and sovereign act of mercy in granting salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, totally apart from any human work or merit. The basic truth behind this epistle is that Paul’s Gospel is a Gospel of free grace. Paul believed with all his heart that nothing a person can do will ever earn the love of God–and therefore all a person can do is throw themselves on God’s mercy in an act of faith. All a person can do is to take, with awestruck gratitude, what God offers.
The important truth is not what you can do for yourself, but what Christ has done for you. When it is grace, that means I depend totally on God to meet my needs and save me. If it is through the Law, I will try to handle matters by myself, in my own strength. Paul tells his readers, when they add works, laws, ceremonies, or acts of worship to grace, they destroy the Gospel of grace–it is no longer Paul’s Gospel, the true Gospel. But the end of verse 6 says . . .
“for a different gospel”–the Galatians deserted the Gospel of grace for a “different gospel”, which Paul asserts, was not simply another legitimate version of the truth, but a perversion of it. Paul describes this false gospel with the Greek word “different”, or another, which literally means another of a different kind—not the Gospel.
The Galatians were actually accepting the Judaizers’ brand of gospel as a legitimate choice, but it was nothing of the kind. By adding the works of the Law to the gospel of grace, the Judaizers had changed the very DNA of the Gospel. Paul says their teaching was as different from the true Gospel as night from day, fire from water, death from life. You destroy grace when you mix it or add anything to it–then it is no longer grace.
Remember that recipe you got wrong? You added in the wrong ingredient, destroying your carrot cake? The Gospel of grace doesn’t bake, if you add any work. The Judaizers’ perversion of the true Gospel was adding the requirements and the routines of Old Testament Israel as necessary prerequisites to salvation. They taught for a person to be right with God, they had to be circumcised and follow Jewish regulations. They taught to be a Christian, you had to become a Jewish proselyte.
Plus they attacked Paul and his teaching in multiple ways . . . in verse 10, they were saying he was making religion far too easy in order to gain favor with men. But Paul lived and taught the opposite, saying this–anything added to salvation through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone distorts the true Gospel.
#2 Seek WISDOM over the DISTORTION of the Gospel Verse 7
Read verse 7, “Which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” The Judaizer gospel is in verse 7 . . .
“which is really not another”–it is no gospel. It is not good news at all, but a yoke of bondage to the Law and the obliteration of grace. There is but one Gospel, and that is of grace, not works.
This matters, because any change to the Gospel means it becomes no gospel at all. Why is that? Why is it that any change to the Gospel, however small, makes it null and void? Because, Paul says, Christians were, verse 6, “called . . . by the grace of Christ.” God called us–we didn’t call Him. God accepted us despite our lack of merit and lack of character–that is the order of the Gospel. God accepts us and then we follow Him.
But other religious systems have it the other way around–they have it reversed. They teach, we must give God something and only then does He accept us. Every religion in the world is trying to work its way to God. Only Christianity, only the Gospel of grace is God doing all the work to save us. These false authorities taught the gullible that following Jewish customs, like holy days, ceremonial cleansing, Sabbath observance was all necessary for salvation. By doing so, they were, verse 7, literally “disturbing” the true Christians—“disturbing” the almost Christians, and gaining acceptance from the tares in the churches.
Don’t forget, a genuine Christian can’t lose their salvation or become a heretic. That true salvation is more often secured over time, through a process, than a moment. That those making steps to Christ and young believers need to be protected from error. That assurance of salvation is gained not by a decision you make, but a direction of life. And that every church has genuinely saved wheat and also fake Christian tares. The true Christians and almost Christians in process were being disturbed, and some of the tares were actually embracing the false gospel. Paul describes this in verse 7 saying . . .
“only there are some who are disturbing you”–The Greek word “disturb” means to shake back and forth–literally to agitate or stir up. The Galatian churches were experiencing a deep emotional disruption–from whom? From those, Paul says who were adding the mosaic ceremonial law to faith in Christ. Paul teaches, those who do so, verse 7, want to . . .
“distort the gospel of Christ”–The Greek word “distort” is super insightful–it means reverse. That is illuminating. If you add anything to Christ as a requirement for acceptance with God–if you begin to say, “To be saved, I need the grace of Christ plus something else, you completely reverse the “order” of the Gospel and make the Gospel itself invalid. Any revision of the Gospel reverses it. That is why verse 6 said that false teachers are producing “a different gospel”, which Paul qualifies in verse 7 as no gospel at all.
Charles Swindoll says, “To change the gospel the tiniest bit is to lose it so completely that the new teaching has no right to be called a gospel.” Those who add to the Gospel make the good news into bad news.
The sixteenth-century German Reformer, Martin the monk Luther, summed it up well. “There is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness, but works righteousness; if you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ you must build your confidence on your own work.”
The genuine Christians in these churches, those who endure to the end, will be saved. But those searching, those in process, those who are young, those who are unknown–I call them the almost Christian, as well as the young Christian, students are in danger when error is taught, studied or considered. They’re vulnerable. Think of a new, potential believer’s spiritual life as a fragile seed, freshly planted in the soil. It takes time for their faith to take firm root, grow strong and bear fruit. As more mature believers, we need to protect them, and guide them during this fragile time. We need to do all we can to point them to the true Gospel.
So how does Paul respond to the truth-twisting Judaizers? Did he schedule a debate to let the Galatians weigh the merits of both sides, in a free and open discussion? Did Paul publish a journal essay to persuade his opponents by well-reasoned arguments? Or did Paul ignore the Judaizers’ madness and let it blow over like a harmless fad? No–Paul, totally insensitive to our culture today, literally damns them to Hell!
#3 Be WARNED about DAMNATION with a false gospel Verses 8 to 9
Paul is not pulling his punches! But if we believe what Paul teaches about the Gospel, then we will find his attitude justifiable. If the Galatians are really turning their backs on God and taking hold of a Gospel that isn’t a gospel at all, then their situation is dangerous. The angst Paul expresses is the same any loving parent would share, if their child was starting to go astray. Read verses 8 and 9, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
Paul was sent to proclaim a specific divine message called the Gospel. This means Paul’s divine teaching is the standard for judging who is orthodox and who is heretical, as he says in verse 9 in the NIV. “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” Even the apostle himself cannot alter, revise or add to the message of Christ. What Paul teaches is not the result of his study, research, reflection and wisdom.
In verse 8, by Paul saying “we”, he includes himself as a human authority. He is saying that he must be rejected if he ever says, “I’ve changed my mind about what the Gospel is.” As he’ll tell us in verses 10 to 12, the Gospel did not come to him through a process of reasoning–it was received, not arrived at. So, he’s not free to alter it through human thinking or experience. The Gospel is God-given, God revealed—meaning, it’s both unchanging and unchangeable.
The apostles themselves are not the origin of the Gospel–it is God’s good news, revealed to the apostles. The authority is God and His Word, meaning that the Gospel cannot change, any more than God Himself can change. Paul includes the heavenly angels and his own circle of apostles–whether sent out by Christ Himself or by missionary-sending churches, in order to highlight the fact that nobody is off the hook. The purity of this message takes precedence over the prestige of the person.
So Paul says it twice–he is to be accursed. The phrasing in Greek makes this curse universal–if anyone were to preach a Gospel different from what Paul and Barnabas preached, he deserves to be damned. You rarely hear preachers today come down on heresy like Paul did in his day. Paul calls down God’s eternal judgment on those specific false teachers.
In our hypersensitive, politically correct culture, Paul’s words sound harsh, don’t they? Notice, however, that Paul includes even himself in the threatening curse in verse 8, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed.” The Greek word “accursed” is anathema, and it means devoting someone to destruction in eternal Hell–be damned to Hell.
Paul repeats the curse in verse 9, demonstrating that he is deliberate and controlled in his rebuke. Paul’s curse is not a slip of the tongue, a brief fit of rage, or a regrettable exaggeration of an emotional preacher. Changing the Gospel damns you. So when Paul says in verse 9, “As we have said before, so I say again now,” Paul is reminding the Galatian churches what he taught them on his first missionary journey. Paul is calling his readers to remember what they know about the true Gospel.
Then verse 9, “If any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received”–this is Paul transitioning from the hypothetical case of verse 8 (an apostle or angels preaching a false gospel) to the real-life situation faced by the Galatians. The Judaizers were teaching a dead gospel–and the result is they, all of them, no matter how godly or devoted or righteous or compelling they seem–each one of them were to be devoted to destruction because of their damning heresy.
Even though Paul essentially damns these false teachers, this language doesn’t fall under the category of vulgar cursing. Paul is not fiercely shaking his fist at his opponents and shouting, “Damn you!” Rather, he shakes his head and pointedly expresses a clear theological fact–altering the Gospel is a damnable doctrine. People’s souls are at stake. The church’s testimony in the region of Galatia was at stake. In fact, at this early stage in the preaching of the Gospel, the very future of Christianity was at stake.
With so much at risk, Paul couldn’t afford to sweet-talk or beat around the bush. So Paul hypothetically uses exaggerated examples to make His point–Paul refers to himself and holy angels as examples for false teaching. The Galatians must not receive a preacher or teacher regardless of how impeccable his credentials are (even an angel), if his doctrine of salvation differs in the slightest degree from God’s truth–revealed through Christ and the apostles–now clearly taught in God’s Word.
A slight tweak of the telescope and you lose the planet or star you’re studying. And a slight bump to the Gospel and you lose the grace of God. Just one wrong number in a google address can send you to another part of town. And just one change to the Gospel will send you to eternal torment forever–salvation is in Christ alone, through faith alone, and by grace alone.
#1 Seek to embrace the BIBLICAL Gospel
Paul teaches here grace, faith and Christ plus no works brings you to salvation. James teaches that once you have saving faith, it will work, or it is not saving faith. Some think you are saved by a strong belief, trust in, and love for God–along with a life committed to Him. Therefore, you feel salvation comes by you generating a high degree of spiritual sorrow, hunger and love in order to get into Christ’s presence. Then you must somehow maintain this, if you are going to stay saved.
But in actual reality, that is teaching the idea that you are saved because of the level of your faith. But the Gospel says you are saved through your faith by God’s gift of grace in Christ alone. The wrong approach makes your performance your savior, and the right approach makes Christ’s performance the Savior. Your faith is to be in Christ, the God/man, who took God’s wrath for our sin upon Himself, rose from the dead–and when you put your faith in Him alone, He can justify you in genuine salvation.
#2 Scrap the false gospels of our day
Paul’s instruction today is designed to expose all other gospels as false. I am concerned for those of you who live for material gain, family values, political issues, social justice, morality, traditions, even earning your salvation through obedience. Friends, when you come to Christ, it is by grace through dependence upon Him—faith.
And when Christ is truly your Savior, when He has saved you by grace, when He has changed your nature through faith and indwelt you with His Spirit–Christ becomes your first love, the passion of your life. Everything else becomes secondary. He may not show up first all the time, but you are willing and want him to be your first love.
Examine your heart today and make certain you have a relationship and not merely a religion. You know you have a born-again heart by looking for fruit–gracious words, a priority of service, sacrificial giving, following Christ when no one is around are all evidence you came to Christ by His grace through faith. Reject the false gospels of today and rely on Christ by faith every day.
#3 Share the true Gospel with everyone
Share with those who never go to church and people in the church. Everyone needs to know, needs to hear the good news of what Christ accomplished for us, which is offered free to you through faith. The Gospel must be pure, protected and proclaimed. Let’s pray.