A lot of people today see Christianity as a set of rules. They think that you have to keep these rules to be accepted by God. Even many Christians tend to think this way. But is this what the Bible teaches?
In this letter, Paul was writing to a troubled church in Galatia, which is in modern day Turkey. Paul had started many churches there on his first missionary journey, and at first all had seemed well.
But then word came back to him that some people called Judaizers had crept into the church. These were people that were teaching that it wasn’t enough to just have faith in Jesus. In order to be truly saved, you also needed to follow the Jewish law. In particular, one needed to be circumcised. And if you weren’t circumcised and keeping all the Jewish laws, then you weren’t really a Christian.
Because of this, the Galatians were falling into confusion, and had started to buy into this false gospel. And so Paul wrote them this letter.
Right from the very beginning, he reminds them of this gospel that he had first preached to them, saying,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. (3-5)
Here he reminds them that they had received grace from God and peace with God. How? Through keeping the law? Through getting circumcised? No, this was all of God, who had planned the way of salvation, and who through Jesus Christ had paid the penalty for all our sins through his death on the cross. And because this was all the work of God, we don’t receive any of the credit for our salvation because we did nothing to earn it. Rather, it is God that receives the glory because salvation is all of him.
This was the gospel that Paul had preached to them.
But now he tells them,
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (6-7)
That first phrase strikes me. By turning to a gospel of law, to a gospel of salvation by keeping a set of rules, the Galatians were actually deserting God. They thought they were pleasing him. That they were drawing close to him by trying to keep these rules. But in reality, they were turning their backs on him. They were essentially telling him, “We reject your plan of salvation by grace alone through Jesus’ work on the cross. We’re going to follow these other teachers and add these other requirements to your plan of salvation.”
In short, they were no longer putting their total faith in God for their salvation, but in these false teachers and their own ability to keep the law of God.
And so Paul reacted harshly, telling them,
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (8-9)
Paul was saying, “This ‘gospel’ you’re embracing is no gospel at all. I don’t care who it is, if anyone, even an angel from heaven or even us, preaches a different gospel from the one we first gave you, they are worthy of eternal damnation.”
Why? Because they have deserted God. And anyone who follows a gospel of rules has deserted God too.
Which gospel are you following? Are you following a gospel that says that faith in Jesus is not enough, but that you must keep a bunch of rules as well in order to be saved? Or are you keeping your eyes on the cross, trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation?
Let us not desert God by following a false gospel, but put our full trust in him and Christ’s work on the cross for our salvation.