DESERTERS OF THE GOSPEL
From the earliest history of military organizations, generals have wrestled with the problem of deserters — those men who had once pledged themselves to the service of their country, but when faced with the fire of the enemy, have abandoned their company. The penalty for desertion on the battlefield has always been most severe, reflecting the serious nature of the infraction.
The Christian church has not been immune to this phenomenon. Paul, near the end of his life, wrote of Demas who had deserted the cause of Christ because of love for the present world (2 Timothy 4:10).
The churches of Galatia were going through this same problem. They had become citizens of heaven and heirs of the kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ. They had entered into the spiritual conflict against sin and against Satan. But now they were deserting and going over to the enemy. And so, Paul rebukes them.
1. Paul's Amazement at their sudden Desertion of the Gospel (1:6-7).
2. Paul's Mandate concerning the Preachers of this other Gospel (1:8-9).
3. Paul's Motivation in Preaching the True Gospel (1:10).
In this paragraph, Paul outlines the problem in the churches of Galatia. The root of the problem was that a false message was being preached and the Galatians were leaving the truth to follow the lie.
What was this false message? It was a message concerning the gospel. It was an addition to the gospel. It stated that a man is only saved who believes in Jesus and then keeps the Mosaic Law.
Don t miss this! They did not outwardly deny salvation through faith. They merely said that good works were also necessary with that faith. But this message was a lie. Paul is going to announce that it is accursed.
You see, when Satan wants to preach his lie, he does not tell men that the death of Christ was worthless or that faith in Christ cannot save. Rather, he states that you must add something of your own effort to secure that salvation. His teachers agree that salvation is by grace — but then they want to add to that grace some of their own efforts. But to do so is to change from truth to error.
It is easy to distort the gospel. Just add something to it. Many modern day cults and religions are doing the same thing today. You can listen to a sermon for an hour and hear a number of things said which are absolutely true. But then the preacher turns around and adds doctrinal error to the end of his message. The result is usually a false gospel. This was the case in the Galatian churches. The false teachers came in and they used Scriptural terms and "God words" and smiled as they taught their lies. Instead of standing up for the clarity of the gospel, the Galatians sat and nodded their heads and were swept away.
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;7 which is really not another, only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7).
Immediately following his opening salutation and introduction, Paul launches into the purpose of his epistle. There is no beating around the bush. Paul comes right to the heart of the matter.
1. Amazement over the Desertion: I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him (1:6).
How can we miss the deep emotion of this passage? Paul is shocked. He is amazed. But I want you to notice just what he is amazed at. It is not over the fact that false teachers had come. He expects that. He knows that false teachers will come.
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,
Paul isn't surprised that false teachers have come into the church. What surprises him is that the Galatian believers have been so quickly deceived by their message. A general may expect a few desertions over the course of many years of warfare. But he doesn't expect to walk outside his tent on the second day of the campaign and find that his entire army has gone AWOL.
Notice that they were not merely deserting Paul or Paul's message. They are deserting the One whom Paul represents. They are deserting God.
2. The Issue of Paul's Amazement: You are so quickly deserting... for a different gospel (1:6).
The gospel that Paul had preached was that salvation was through faith in the finished work of Christ. The message that the false teachers were preaching was that salvation was through faith in the finished work of Christ — plus the keeping of the Law.
Thus the issue becomes clear. Salvation is either through faith alone, or it is through faith plus something else. It does not matter what else you add to faith. Anything will do. It can be faith plus baptism. Faith plus joining a certain church. Faith plus giving a certain amount of money. Faith plus keeping the Ten Commandments. Faith plus doing the best you can. Faith plus anything. Anything that you add to the gospel makes it a different gospel. And a different gospel is not a gospel at all. Paul makes this very clear.
3. The Problems behind Paul's Amazement: Which is really not another (1:7).
The word "gospel" is translated from the Greek word euaggelion, meaning "good message" or "good news." But a message that teaches that the work of Christ on the cross was not enough to secure my salvation cannot be referred to as good news." Such a message would be bad news. Thus Paul denies that there are two gospels.
The message of the false teachers is not a gospel at all. This goes directly against the grain of many religious leaders of today. People are teaching that there are many ways to God, that there is really no difference between Roman Catholics and Mormons, Christian Science and Buddhism, Judaism and true Christianity. They become angry at any teaching which claims to be exclusive. But truth is always exclusive. Truth is not the same as non-truth. Jesus taught this same exclusiveness.
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the lifer no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6).
You cannot get much more exclusive than this! Jesus didn't teach that there are many ways to find God. He did not say that His way was one from among many. He claimed to be the only way that a man can come before God. This is the gospel, the good news that Paul proclaimed. Any other message to the contrary is not a gospel at all.
4. The Disturbing Nature of this Amazement: Some who are disturbing you (1:7).
Now Paul brings his charges against the false teachers. There are two charges brought against them.
a. They are disturbing.
Notice that this is in the present tense. This activity was going on even as Paul wrote his epistle. The believers in Galatia were being agitated and confused by the false teachings which were being presented.
This is the difference between truth and error. Truth is instructive. Truth is designed to build you up and make you solid. Error is destructive. Error will always cloud the issue, pull you down, and confuse you.
b. They are distorting.
The false teachers have a specific end in view. They desire to distort the gospel of Christ. They have no sincere desire to know the truth for themselves. Their motives are not pure. They are only doing this for what they can get out of it. This is the mark of a false teacher. He has selfish motives. He wants to bring believers into bondage (Galatians 2:4). He wants to lift himself up. He does this by taking people's attention off Christ and focusing it on himself. Paul will describe this process in Galatians 4.
They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out, in order that you may seek them. (Galatians 4:17).
You see, the false teachers wanted to be teachers of the Law. If they could get people to set their attention on the laws and traditions of the Jews rather than on Christ, then they could set themselves up as teachers and leaders in the churches. Above all else, the false teachers wanted to be praised and respected and revered by men. They wanted to take the place of God.
But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accused. (Galatians 1:8-9).
Verses 8 and 9 present two hypothetical situations. At first glance they seem to be very similar. But we shall see that there are some very important differences.
Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you
If any man is preaching to you
A gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you
A gospel contrary to that which you received
Let him be accused
The first hypothetical situation is obviously improbable. It is not very likely that Paul Is going to preach a different gospel than the one which he has preached to the Galatians. It is even less likely that an angel is going to come from heaven and preach a different gospel. But even if this happens, the result will be the same. That one will be accursed.
Do you see the point? It is not the preacher that makes the gospel true, it is the gospel that makes the preacher true. False teachers come in all different shapes and sizes. You might even find a false teacher with the purest motives. But that doesn’t make him right. You don t judge the truthfulness of a message by the status of the man who is preaching it. If you do this, then you will quickly fall into Satan's trap, for his preachers often have the very best credentials.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness whose end shall be according to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Satan is a master of deceit and disguise. His church does not have a big sign outside which says, "False doctrine taught here." His followers pretend to be teachers of the truth. This is why you must always examine the message that Is being taught. It doesn't matter who is teaching. Even if the apostle Paul himself comes back from the dead or if an angel comes down from heaven to announce a different gospel, then it is not true.
The word "accursed" is translated from the term anathema. This is a compound word made up of ana (on) and tithemi (to put). Plutarch used this word to describe the consecration of offerings in the Greek temple. Later it came to describe something that had been consecrated to divine wrath with destruction as its end result.
This same word is used in the Septuagint of Joshua 7:11 to describe those things that were placed under the ban. Aachen had taken some of those things that had been dedicated to destruction and, as a result, he brought destruction upon his entire household.
This is heavy language. Paul is saying that even if he changes his message, then he is to be put in God's hands to be destroyed.
Now Paul repeats his mandate. However, within the repetition there are some very important distinctions.
This begins with a different type of conditional clause than we find in verse 8. There are four conditional clauses in the Greek language. Each type has a different implication.
It is this third class which was used in verse 8. It is unlikely that Paul, his companions, or an angel from heaven would preach a different gospel, but it is still a remote possibility. But here in verse 9 we have the first class condition. It indicates that the condition was in fact a reality. There were at that moment men who were preaching a contrary gospel to the Galatians.
If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you
If any man is preaching to you
Third Class Condition: Perhaps it is true and perhaps it is not true
First Class Condition: It is assumed to be true
There is no doubt about it. Paul is directing this mandate toward the false teachers. This is more than just a scathing rebuke. It is a pronouncement of judgment. Instead of Paul and angels, this mandate is directed to anyone who is preaching a false gospel.
Do you see the point? It does not matter who is doing the preaching. The important thing is not WHO is doing the preaching, the important thing is WHAT is being preached.
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10).
Now Paul turns to the question of motives. He evidently had been accused of changing the truth of the gospel so that he would be more popular among the Gentiles. It had been said that he was making it easier for Gentiles to become Christians by doing away with the Mosaic Law — that his message of salvation through faith alone was a watering down of the truth. The same charge is often made against those who preach salvation through faith today. They are denounced as preaching "easy believism" and accused of making the gospel to easy and too simple for people to accept.
Paul did have a tendency to tailor his actions based upon those who were his recipients. He says that to the Jews he became as a Jew to with those who were under the Law. And to those who were apart from the Law, he became as one who was freed from the Law (1 Corinthians 9:20-21).
But Paul's message did not change when it ran into opposition or became unpopular with a certain group. To the contrary, he was ready to stand up for the truth of the gospel to the point of death. This had been demonstrated at the Galatian church of Lystra where he had been stoned and left for dead because of the anger of the Jews at his message (Acts 14:19-20).
By the same token, Paul would not be using the type of stern rebuke that he was making toward the Galatians and toward the false teachers if he were only interested in pleasing men. The very fact that he has just spoken so harshly is evidence that he is not out to win a popularity contest.
Let's face it, Paul wouldn't have made a good advertisement for the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People." He would have made a terrible politician. Look at the things that he called the Galatians: Deserters, accursed, foolish (and he repeats this twice in case they didn't get it the first time).
Thus, Paul is able to clearly demonstrate that it is God whom he is trying to please and that it is Christ whom he continues to serve. He is no renegade from the army of heaven. His status is not that of a deserter from the gospel of Christ. He is not a turncoat. He is an apostle of Christ Jesus. And the gospel that he preaches is the gospel of Christ.
1. The Precariousness of the Church.
Paul had left the churches in Galatia in reasonable health. From his words, we gather that there had not been a great deal of time that passed since he had last been with them.
How long does it take for sheep to go astray? I have never watched sheep, but I used to have a friend that did. You can take your eyes off them for just a few moments and they will be scattered. Put a wolf in their midst, and the scattering will be to the four winds.
The lesson is that we need to be on guard, both personally and for the church in which we serve.
2. The Passion for the Gospel
Paul does not see this as a mere theological issue that can be calmly debated. It is not on the same level as disputes about Calvinism versus Arminianism or various views of eschatology. This is a matter of life and of death. And Paul speaks out with a passion that befits the seriousness of the issue.
Do you have a passion for the gospel? You ought to have a passion for those things about which God is also passionate.
3. The Poison of a False Gospel
It doesn't take much to turn the truth into error. It does not take much to turn the true gospel into a false message. It only takes the addition of a little error.
Imagine someone offering you a cup of coffee, but as you prepared to drink, they said, "Oh by the way, I put a couple of drops of arsenic into your drink. But it was only a few drops and the coffee is mostly good, so drink up!"
It does not take much to poison a cup of coffee. And it does not take much to poison the gospel, either.