June 7, 2019
No Other Gospel
Galatians 1:6-10 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— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 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. 9 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. 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.
In several other epistles of Paul, there is usually a sentence or two – immediately after the greeting – where he generally compliments the congregation to whom he is writing. For example, in Romans 1:8, we get this:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
In Ephesians, its in v. 15 of the opening chapter, and in Philippians it starts in v. 3. Similar expressions are found in both letters to the Corinthians, the Thessalonians and the Colossians. But here…nothing. Instead, Paul starts right in with some rather strong words of shock and surprise at how quickly the Galatian church is turning to a different gospel.
As I stated in my first entry, the situation in the Galatian churches was that elements of Christians called Judaizers were muddying the waters for Gentile (and Jewish) believers by teaching a faith that added the obligation of obedience to Old Testament rituals and ceremonies such as the New Moon festival, the Jewish Sabbath, and other annual feasts.
Paul doesn’t mince words. He calls this nothing less than a perversion of the gospel of Christ. What’s diabolical about the Judaizers is that they were not totally rejecting the belief that Christ suffered and died and rose again for our sins. But what made their teaching a perversion was that salvation was not by faith alone, but by faith AND by keeping the Mosaic Law and Old Testament ceremonies. This perversion comes straight from hell, and its author is Satan himself.
Why is this such a devious and tempting attack on the pure gospel? It caters to our innate sinful desire to see something worthy inside us (apart from the working of the Holy Spirit) that we can enjoin to Christ’s work in saving ourselves. We want to believe that there is, indeed, something good in each of us, some power to take a step toward God. It hearkens back to the original temptation Satan used on Adam and Eve in the garden…“You will be like God…”
On one level, you’d think that any church that HAS HAD PAUL as their pastor, even for a short period of time, should never struggle with being swayed by false doctrines. They had the best of the best in teachers, and yet they succumbed to false doctrine. Is there a lesson for us here? I think so.
How well acquainted are we with God’s Word and its teachings that we can sniff out false doctrine when we hear it? By God’s grace, Trinity has been blessed with pastors who have faithfully presented the gospel in its truth and purity, and by his grace, that will continue well into the future. But there are countless examples in our society of churches and denominations who haven’t been so faithfully shepherded, where subtle changes in the preaching of the gospel have occurred and continue to occur. And before long, they’re not so subtle anymore. Like the Judaizers, the heresies are mixed with standard Christian teachings.
Consider these statistics from Christianity Today (September, 2016):
- 64% of American Christians say that God accepts the worship of not only Christians, but Jews and Muslims as well;
- 31% of American Christians OBJECT to the belief that there is one God;
- 35% of American Christians OBJECT to the doctrine that God is perfect;
- 34% of American Christians no longer believe that God answers prayer.
Keep in mind these are folks who identify themselves as Christian. The study also found a surprising level of confusion surrounding core Christian doctrine, including whether Jesus was fully divine, whether the Holy Spirit is a force or a personal being, and whether salvation depends on God or humans making the first move.
How can this happen to the church? I believe it starts when the infallibility and inerrancy of Scriptures is called into question. But heresies spread most quickly among those who are biblically illiterate or ill-prepared to combat false doctrine when it is presented. (Most people who end up rejecting Christianity in college say it happened when they could not respond to the “science” of evolution.)
Pastor Carl would NEVER do this, but what if he intentionally inserted a few sentences of false doctrine into a sermon for the purpose of seeing if congregational members would notice. How would you do?
- “God will always reward true faith with material blessings in this life.” Statistically, 46% of folks would believe that. (It’s called prosperity gospel and it’s a lie.)
- “There may be a hell, but I think it is empty.” This is a direct quote from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. Is she right? Not based on Scripture. But it appears to her that what Scripture says doesn’t really matter, because the ELCA rejected the infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures decades ago. It’s all open to conjecture and reapplication for our times. This is what eventually comes from that heresy, and it will only get worse.
Point #1: Don’t Walk Like an Egyptian, Walk Like a Berean!
In Acts 17:11, Luke writes, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
It’s clear from the Scriptures that God intends each of us to be accountable for our own reading of his Word. Don’t let others do your reading for you. To be certain, Pastor Carl is an awesome pastor and preacher, and we certainly can trust that he’s going to deliver a message that is spot on and consistent with the Holy Scriptures. But I love Pastor’s sermons not because they are his, but because they expound on what God’s Word says. Jesus says, “If you remain in my Word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
As you read and are confronted with difficulties or applications, ask questions. I do all the time! Pastor Carl and I are often engaged in discussions around difficult passages. It’s one of the reasons I started this Bible study/blog.
Point # 2: Embrace the Fact that We Don’t Fit This World
What could compel a church to soften or compromise true biblical doctrine? The answer is alluded to in v. 10 where Paul asks rhetorically, 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.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy (4:3-4), he addresses the reality that the gospel will always be fundamentally objectionable to the world: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
This is probably the hardest part of this whole discussion. One of our strongest urges is to be liked and accepted by others. The temptation is for us to make slight adjustments to our doctrines so that we won’t be quite as objectionable to unbelievers. But Jesus himself told us that we should expect such rejection. Jesus is quoted in John 15: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Am I right? Don’t take my word for it! Let God have the last word!
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 1:4
If you haven’t signed up to receive this blog and you’d like to start receiving it, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – Rick
May 31, 2019
Welcome to this Bible study blog on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. This is my first attempt at an “online” Bible study, with a select group of friends and colleagues whose faith I admire and whose take on Scripture I respect. My intent is to develop a deeper dive into Scripture, but on a pace (approximately one entry every other week) and via a forum that allows you to participate as you are able. I invite you to make this truly a collaborative effort, which is to say I invite your input along the way. Please add your thoughts and insights and as if this were a Bible study where we’re all sitting together around a table or in a living room.
Having said that, as would be the case if we were meeting face-to-face, no one is required to chime in. Your engagement in this study can be whatever you want it to be. This is gospel, not law!
To guide our study, my blog will consist of my thoughts on the reading. I may add a few discussion questions, but this is really more about hearing your thoughts.
Introduction to Galatians
This was one of Martin Luther’s most written about epistles. He had this to say:
“He [Paul] boasts that his doctrine and office are from God alone, in order that he might silence the boast of the false apostles…He says it is not true, even if an angel were to preach differently, or he himself…and concludes that everyone must be justified without merit, without works, without law, through Christ alone. He shows that the law brings sin and a curse rather than righteousness. Righteousness is promised by God, fulfilled by Christ without the law, given to us – out of grace alone…he teaches the works of love that ought to follow faith.”
At first read, there doesn’t seem to be a lot here for the purpose of meditation. But there is. We know the backstory on how Paul became an apostle. Here he feels the need to remind his readers (who were a mixture of both Jews and Gentiles) that his credentials come from Christ and the Father. It’s like he’s preparing in advance for what may be some pushback on what he’s about to say, and he wants to make it clear that his words come with the authority of God Himself.
Paul had visited the areas of Galatia on two previous occasions, so he knew these people and they knew him. It’s believed that the reason for this letter was that the churches had sent messengers to Paul to make him aware of troubles among the believers, and to seek his help in addressing them.
Grace and peace…why these two words? Grace – we know what that is – the unmerited goodness of God to us sinners. Peace – is the consequence of grace. They go together like cause and effect. Grace is a Greek greeting, and peace a Hebrew greeting. So Paul is not so subtly addressing both groups within these Galatian churches.
Peace is one of those words that has layers of meaning, and most people probably never contemplate the depth of peace that Paul is using in his greeting here. It’s peace that comes from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We often hear those words as an introduction from the pastor before he begins his sermon, and they may just fly past us.
As we’ll see in the upcoming chapters, the Galatians were under attack from people known as Judaizers, Jews who insisted on an adherance to Old Testament ceremonial laws and rituals – alongside the gospel of Jesus Christ. The result of that equation is anything but peace.
to rescue us from this present age…The consequence of Christ’s atoning sacrifice is certainly eternal life with Him, but Paul adds here that there is a present benefit as well – a rescue from our current conditions here in this world.
How often have you thought, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to face this [whatever tragedy comes along] apart from a relationship with Jesus.” That’s what Paul is talking about here. The knowledge that there is something better to come makes living in the evils of this present age bearable. Check out 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Ephesians 6:12 for more on this.
As ambassadors of Christ, we are called to represent him in this present age of evil. That means we are to embody grace and peace – not an easy task. There’s no way we can do this on our own. As men of God, we need to go constantly to God for the strength and courage to truly imitate Christ and reflect His image. And then, when we fail (because we WILL fail) we go to him for his forgiveness and ask to be sent out again tomorrow, where new opportunities will exist. See Ephesians 2:10.