“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-10)
It is utterly astonishing to a believer that anyone, having heard and having professed to believe the gospel of God’s free, sovereign, saving grace in Christ, could be enticed to abandon it for another gospel (Which is no gospel at all!) of legality, works, or a mixture of grace and works (Rom. 11:5-6) But that is exactly what had happened in Galatia. Paul’s purpose in writing this epistle was to expose and reprove those as heretics who attempt to mix the works of men with the work of Christ, and to establish God’s elect in the gospel of God’s grace and glory in Christ.
False teachers had crept into the Galatian churches perverting the gospel of Christ. While professing to be followers of Christ, they sought to mingle the works of the law with faith in Christ. They were persuading the people to abandon the gospel Paul had taught them, adding to faith in Christ the works of the law. The apostle Paul had taught them that Christ crucified is the only, all-sufficient, and effectual Savior of men, and that faith in him is the only way we can receive his finished salvation (Rom. 5:11). He had proved the truth of all his declarations by miracles. These Galatians professed to believe the gospel as it was preached and confirmed by the apostle. They had been so thankful for Paul bringing the gospel to them that they received him as an angel of God, and would have, had it been possible, plucked out their own eyes and given them to him. Yet, within a short time, these converts were induced by the eloquent discourses of false teachers to renounce Paul and the gospel of Christ, and to receive in its place a message contrary to the glorious gospel Paul had taught them. Therefore, he wrote this letter by divine inspiration, filled with indignation, sorrow, and astonishment.
Here Paul declares that there is only one gospel and he proceeds to show the singularity of that gospel. This message is one of dogmatism, finality, and authoritarianism, which is a rare message in our day of broadminded compromise. Our generation is taught not to believe anything, not really. One certainly is not to be dogmatic about anything. But the gospel of Christ is, in its very essence, a non-compromising, authoritarian message of absolutes. The very reason for the flourishing of Christianity in the pagan Roman world in which it was born was the non-compromising spirit of our forefathers in the faith. Rather than relinquishing or adding to one article of faith, they would die! We must return to this dogmatism about the gospel.
The church is in desperate need of a clarion message ringing once again from her pulpits. There is too much silence regarding the message that passes for the gospel in this day. There is only one gospel. It must not be altered. It must not be mixed and diluted with human conjectures. We must uphold the gospel in its purity. Men are in a helpless, hopeless, mad dash to hell; and they will not be rescued unless Christ, the crucified Redeemer, sovereignly bestows his grace upon them. The gospel is “good news” from heaven of how that God sent his Son to save his people. It is the declaration of what God has done for sinful, helpless humanity. It is never a proposition. It is a declaration, a declaration of redemption accomplished by Christ.
The Galatian Christians had been seduced from the pure gospel of God’s grace to a gospel mixed with God’s grace and man’s merit. Such a gospel is really no gospel (good news) at all, but a perverted system of self-righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 1:19-22; 2:8-23). The gospel is a declaration of what God has done for sinners in the person of his Son, apart from anything done by men. Anything other than a declaration of God’s work is a perversion of the gospel. Paul here calls upon them to return to, and maintain the gospel in its purity.
It was Paul’s custom to give grateful acknowledgement of divine grace bestowed upon those he addressed, whereby they had been enabled to grow in knowledge, faith, and love. It was very common for him to express his inner satisfaction with the work of God upon them, and to give forth a prayer that they may continue to persevere in the faith. That is what we might expect to find at this point in his epistle. But, in this epistle to the Galatians, we are confronted with the exact opposite. What we find here is not satisfaction, but overwhelming amazement and painful perplexity.
The first thing we see in this book is their removal from the gospel. A Change had taken place among them, and this disturbed their spiritual father. As a rule Paul was a very tolerant man. He showed great tolerance in his epistles to the Corinthians, who had behaved so shamefully in so many ways. He showed great tolerance in writing to the Philippians about those preachers who, because of envy, opposed him (Phil. 1:15-18). He was usually very tactful and expressed words of encouragement before dealing with faults and failures.
But here the very essence of the gospel is at stake. God’s glory and man’s salvation is the issue; and here there is no place for tolerance. The Galatians were in the process of apostasy. They were forsaking liberty in Christ for the bondage of Moses. Paul was utterly amazed. He says, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (v. 6).
Theirs was not merely changing theological positions. They were abandoning Christ, who in his grace and mercy had called them, and turning to another gospel, which was different from his in its very essence.
By and large, Paul appears to have been convinced that those to whom he was writing had been truly born of God, called by the effectual, irresistible power and grace of God the Holy Spirit to life and faith in Christ. The One who had called them was Christ himself. It was Christ from whom they were in danger of turning, not just Paul.
There is a general call and an effectual call. The Lord Jesus Christ calls sinners by his Spirit in a general way, externally, whenever the gospel is proclaimed to them. This call is made effectual by the power of God. The efficacy of the gospel call is ascribed to all three Persons of the Trinity, though specifically it is a part of the mediation of Christ (John 10:2-3, 16; Rom. 1:6). The Galatians were replacing the gospel of Christ with another gospel and were being removed from Christ.
The gospel of Christ is “good news” from a far land. It is the message of grace from God in heaven for men of the earth. It is a message of what God has done and is doing for sinners in Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:19-21). It is a message of salvation alone in Christ. He is the Door. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life. In all that concerns the salvation of sinners, from start to finish, “Christ is all” (1 Cor. 1:30). The gospel is not good advice, but good news, the good news of Christ’s finished work whereby he has made all God’s elect accepted with God. It is the good news of redemption, forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, and sanctification accomplished by the blood of Christ, our crucified Substitute (Rom. 5:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Eph. 1:6-7; Col. 1:12-14; Heb. 1:1-3; 9:12; 10-14).
Neither the Galatians nor their Judaizing teachers had openly denied the gospel. Heretics are almost always more subtle than that. They did openly deny the gospel, but their perversion of the gospel (adding obedience to the Mosaic law to the finished work of Christ) was a total denial of it (Gal. 5:1-4).
Martin Luther was right when he wrote, “They made good works, which are the effect of justification, its cause.” But the Galatian error extended beyond the subtle evil of mixing works with grace in the matter of justification. Paul addresses that issue in chapters one and two. But, in chapter three, he deals with an even more subtle and more bewitching form of the heresy, that had been embraced by many at Galatia, and is embraced almost universally today. That is the mixing of grace with works in the accomplishment of sanctification (Gal. 3:1-3).
It is a hazardous thing to tamper with the gospel of Christ. It must neither be abridged nor enlarged. Any gospel that makes righteousness before God to be dependent upon the works or will of man is no gospel at all. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). Christ is all our righteousness. He is our Righteousness in redemption, in justification, and in sanctification.
Neither our faith, nor our works make us righteous before God. By faith in Christ we receive the righteousness he accomplished for us. By our works, our obedience to our God, we manifest the righteousness he has wrought in us by his Spirit.
As Satan transformed himself into an angel of light, his ministers transform themselves into ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:3, 13-15). These “deceitful workers,” as Paul calls them, beguile the souls of men, persuading them that they can make themselves righteous before God (or at least contribute something to the work), and thereby teaching them not to trust Christ as “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jer. 23:6; 33:16). It is for this reason that Paul uses the strong, bold language of verses eight and nine to denounce all who preach any other gospel.
“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (vv. 8-9).
Here the apostle tells us how those who corrupt the gospel ought to be regarded. He includes himself and all others in this stern, clear word of condemnation. If anyone comes preaching any gospel other than the gospel of full, complete, effectual redemption and eternal salvation in and by Christ alone, let him be forever consigned to hell.
The revelation of God is final, complete, and perfect. It cannot be improved upon. Christ is God’s final Word to men (Heb. 1:1-3). He is the full revelation of the Father. He came on a mission to perform the work of redemption. He has finished the work. The Book of God is final. It tells us his whole revealed will. It reveals the totality of his work. The Word of God alone has authority in his house (Isa. 8:20; Rev. 22:18-19). The gospel is final, revealing Christ, only Christ, and Christ alone as the Savior of our souls (Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:10-11).
Those who would pervert the gospel, those who preach another gospel, which is no gospel at all, are to be regarded as accursed men (2 John 10-11). We should be very cautious in charging any man with preaching another gospel. But when anyone comes preaching another Christ and another gospel, (anyone who preaches that salvation is to any degree or at any one point dependent upon what you do rather than upon what God does) our responsibility is crystal clear. We must not acknowledge them as God’s servants. We must not receive their instruction. And we must not be partakers of their evil deeds by assisting them in any way.
Men or God?
In verse ten Paul states plainly that as the servant of God he could not concern himself with pleasing men. “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.”
He did not try to persuade (that is conciliate) men, or make the gospel appealing to men. All such efforts arise from corrupt motives and result in the destruction of men’s souls, not the salvation of them. Paul never courted the favor of men. He was concerned about the favor of God. It was not his ambition to impress, please and win the favor of men. He was concerned for and motivated by the glory of God. His only principle of life was to please his one Master, Christ Jesus the Lord. The simple fact is, no one can have two masters (Matt. 6:24). Any man who, for the sake of human favor, or out of fear for human resentment, will keep back any part of sacred truth is not the servant of Christ.
Those who teach believers to live by law misuse the law (1 Tim. 1:8-9), and attempt to place upon God’s people an oppressive yoke of bondage that no man can bear. Let us use the law lawfully. We must never allow ourselves to be brought back under the bondage of the law from which Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1-4). To do so is to abandon all hope of salvation, for it is to abandon Christ altogether. Let us hold forth the gospel in its purity. It is the work of Christ, which alone saves sinners. The church of God has no other purpose for existence. We have no other mission.