Galatians 1:6 – I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel –
As we noted in our last post, Paul is writing to correct some errors that have crept into the churches of Galatia. Specifically, false teachers have been claiming that Christians must also follow the Mosaic Law in order to receive salvation. These same men have also called Paul’s apostleship into question. This was done in an attempt to discredit him. If they can convince people that Paul’s authority came from men and not from God, then they can cast aside his doctrine of justification by faith in the blood of Christ.
In the opening part of his letter, Paul expresses astonishment that the Galatian Christians have turned aside or deserted “him who called you in the grace of Christ”. Who does that refer to?
Some suppose that it refers to Paul himself, who probably first preached the gospel message to the Galatians. However, that seems to be an awkward interpretation because the main point of this letter is not to show that these people broke relationship with Paul – it was to show that they abandoned the gospel.
It makes more sense to interpret ‘him’ as God in the person of Holy Spirit. Elsewhere in scripture we find that the work of calling men to repentance is normally attributed to God.
2 Timothy 1:9 – [God] Who 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 given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
Christians are called by God into the grace of Christ, which refers to justification by faith in the blood of Jesus, apart from works.
Therefore, when the Galatians begin to embrace a system of grace plus works, or the mingling together of the gospel and the ceremonial law, Paul refers to it as ‘a different gospel’.
Notice the somewhat subtle difference – they did not reject Christianity in favor of another religion. They didn’t even deny the blood of Jesus. Yet, by adding circumcision and other Mosaic Laws to the gospel, they perverted its true nature.
Paul is astonished and concerned that they had so quickly departed from the simplicity of the true faith.
He will go on reprove their actions in love, in an attempt to restore them to the true faith and their first love to God. This is a good example for all of us. We tend to shy away from offering godly correction to those who need it. I suppose we are afraid of offending them. But correction done in love is one of the best things we can offer to one another.
Galatians 1:7 –not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
There is only one true gospel message. It was the one that Paul introduced to the Galatians.
While other false teachers called their message ‘the gospel’ it was a different religion, one which taught an entirely different method of justification before God. It was a distortion or perversion of the truth.
It was also very dangerous – under this distorted gospel careful observance of religious rites and ceremonies would replace dependence on the blood of Christ. Instead of being set free from the law, Christians would once again be burdened by an expectation of obedience that they could not keep.
In our generation, we find a belief that is no less perverted or dangerous – good works will get us into heaven. Many people believe that they don’t need to trust in Christ for salvation; if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, they will get to heaven. When you bring up the subject of salvation, they will often respond with “I’m sure I will go to heaven because I’m a good person.”
In that situation, it is often impossible to convince the person that they have sinned before God. Arguing won’t help. Perhaps the best thing is to pray that Holy Spirit will bring conviction upon them, and convince them of their need to repent.
Galatians 1:8-9 – But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Paul now proceeds to defend the authority of his doctrine. He is confident that the gospel he shared with the Galatians was the one and only true gospel. He is so fully persuaded of this fact that he pronounces an “anathema” or a curse upon those who pretended to preach any other gospel message.
In that anathema he includes ‘we’. This may refer to Paul and those who were traveling and ministering with him, or it may be a reference to Paul and the other 12 apostles.
In either case, there can be no doubt about the word ‘anyone’ – which certainly includes the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders.
He goes so far as to declare that even if an angel from heaven should bring another gospel, it should be rejected and the angel cursed!
We can’t help but notice that Paul knew and understood the gospel message. He wasn’t vague or unsure about what he believed. What about us? Are we fully confident in what we believe? If not, we could be swayed into believing false teaching just as the Galatians were.
It’s good to listen to sermons and read Christian materials (including this blog!), but there is no substitute for reading the bible for yourself.
2 Timothy 2:15 – Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Become acquainted with the principles and laws that Christ set down in the gospels. Discover for yourself how Paul (and others) expound them in the New Testament. Know what you believe – and why you believe it.
Galatians 1:10 – For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
The use of the word “now” implies that Paul has changed. It implies that there was a time when he sought the approval of man. Is that true?
Absolutely! Before Paul’s conversion to Christianity (when he was still called Saul), he was Jewish in every way – circumcised at the proper time, a man who knew and could prove his lineage, and a man who was ‘blameless’ concerning the law (Philippians 3:5-6).
He studied to be a Pharisee under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), one of the most respected Pharisees of his time. Gamaliel was president of the Sanhedrin during the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. He was an eminent doctor of the Law, well known for his wisdom and great knowledge of the Mishna.
At that time Saul was violently opposed to Christianity. He made it his mission to persecute Christians. He even went to other cities and attempted to put women and children into prison for their faith – and the Jews loved it!
There is no doubt that he was on the fast track to becoming one of the major religious leaders of his time; his fellow Jews no doubt held him in high esteem.
However, that all changed when he had an encounter with Jesus (Acts 9). After that, he lived only to please God.
Philippians 3:7 – But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
So here is the point he is making to the Galatians: People who seek to please other people will often corrupt their message/doctrine to please the hearers. This corruption of doctrine springs from worldly ambition, greed, pride or any other sinful passion that the speaker has in their heart.
This describes the Pharisees who preached a message of works mixed with faith, so that they might please or at least pacify the Jews. By keeping their fellow Jews happy, they hoped to avoid persecution, keep their standing in the culture, and continue being recognized/respected as spiritual leaders.
But Paul is not preaching to please men. He now preaches the gospel with a heart that is committed to pleasing God alone. Therefore, he will not change, alter, distort or corrupt the true gospel message. His chief goal was to promote God’s glory by bringing sinners to Christ. To do anything different would be an insult to God.
When you look at the life of Paul and see the many persecutions and hardships he endured for the sake of the gospel, it is easy to see that he was indeed serving God, not man.
What’s in your heart? Are we motivated to do the right thing at all times because of the relationship we have with Christ? Are we fully committed to righteousness, or has sin crept into our lives?
Galatians 1:11-12 – For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul now goes on to further prove his case by giving an in-depth account of his spiritual life.
His first point is that his revelation of the gospel did not come through another human being. If it had, there was a possibility of corruption in the message. But since his knowledge/revelation of the gospel as well as his authority to preach it came directly from the risen savior Jesus Christ, it could NOT be man’s gospel. (You can read his conversion experience in Acts chapter 9).
When we read of his conversion on the road to Damascus, we can’t help but notice that it was a fairly brief encounter. Did God pour a complete revelation of the gospel to him in that short amount of time?
Most scholars don’t think so.
What he received on the road to Damascus was a life changing encounter with Christ. In that encounter, he became acutely aware of the Messiahship of Jesus. Once he realized that Jesus was the Son of God and that his sacrifice fulfilled/superseded the Law, things began to logically fall into place.
Almost immediately Paul retreated to the desert of Arabia. Scholars believe that during that time he received the gospel in its complete form, through reflection and extended revelation from Holy Spirit.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Paul’s understanding of the Law (which took him years and years to acquire) was crucial to understanding the full impact of the gospel. This shows us that God uniquely equipped Paul to fulfill the true purpose of his life.
The same is true for you and me. Our everyday experiences, our education, our upbringing, even our relationships will all be used to prepare us for the divine destiny God has for us.
Let me offer you some relief:
Paul spent a good portion of his life on the wrong track. He persecuted the church of Jesus. He whole heartedly approved the stoning of Stephen. But when he repented of his sin, all his guilt was washed away. It was atoned for by the precious blood of Christ.
The same is true for you and me. No matter what we have done God will wash our guilt away with the blood of his Son.
Let me offer you some strength:
Paul had a strong grip on the absolute truth of the gospel message. Because of this, he could not be swayed by false teaching.
What about you and me? Are we so confident in our understanding of the word that we cannot be fooled by any of the false teachings of today? Take some time this week and strengthen grip on the absolute truth of the gospel.