The Astonishing Truth of a Different Gospel
The book of Galatians is a glorious book, yet it is also a sobering book. Sobering because the backdrop against which Paul articulates great truths of the Christian faith is the infiltration of false teachers with their doctrine and the subsequent trouble produced in the church. The Galatian church had begun to listen to a “different gospel.” Paul’s departure from his customary thanksgiving in writing to the churches to an exclamation of astonishment and perplexity further accentuates the sobriety of the issue. This is a serious matter. Lest we think it is any less serious or pervasive in our culture, Phil Ryken (former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church and now president of Wheaton College) makes this keen observation:
We worship in a church of many gospels. There is the gospel of material prosperity, which teaches that Jesus is the way to financial gain. There is the gospel of family values, which teaches that Jesus is the way to a happy home. There is the gospel of the self, which teaches that Jesus is the way to personal fulfillment. There is the gospel of religious tradition, which teaches that Jesus is the way to respectability. There is the gospel of morality, which teaches that Jesus is the way to be a good person. What makes these other gospels so dangerous is that the things they offer are all beneficial. It is good to be prosperous, to have a happy home, and to be well behaved. Yet as good as all these things are, they are not the good news When they become for us a sort of gospel, then we are in danger of turning away from the only gospel there is.
Why does this matter? What’s the big deal? In Galatians 1:6-7 Paul tells us why this is important. He answers this sobering question: Why is it so astonishing when the church turns to a different gospel?
First, turning to a different gospel is desertion of the God who saved us. To turn to a different gospel is not simply adopting one body of knowledge over against another. It is a desertion of God. To turn to a different gospel is to desert “him who called you in the grace of Christ” (v. 6). This is not a matter of indifference, it is a personal matter. It is equivalent to being a spiritual turncoat. It is to commit the same act of treason as the Israelites.
Second, turning to a different gospel is complicity in the distorting enterprise of Satan. Those who were troubling the church “want to distort the gospel of Christ.” These “troublers” were not well-intentioned, but misinformed. Ironically, well-intentioned, but misinformed is the pass that many will give to those who are purveyors of a different gospel. We cannot miss the language here. It is a willful distortion. It speaks to the motivation. The desire is to take the gospel of Christ and distort it and twist it. Satan has been doing this since the garden and those who market in the same are his functioning emissaries. Therefore, for the church to turn from him who called them to a different gospel is to align themselves with the work of the devil who is the father of lies and who, along with his minions, masquerade as messengers of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
Third, turning to a different gospel is a renunciation of the finished work of Christ. Paul establishes a contrast in verse 7. The reality is there is no other gospel. There is only one, but there are those who are willfully distorting the gospel of Christ. The contrast is between the gospel of Christ and another gospel, if there really was one. When Paul writes the “gospel of Christ”, he means the gospel concerning Christ. The gospel is about Christ. It is about what he did. It is about what he accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, to turn from the only gospel is to turn to something that is antithetical to the gospel. The antithesis to the gospel of Christ or “the grace of Christ” (v. 6) is a works based system. To turn to a different gospel is to renounce what Christ has already done and rely upon your own works and merit in order to earn something from God, namely salvation.
As Paul answers the question, we are not only shown the sobering sinister underbelly of another gospel, but also the importance of fidelity to the gospel. Fidelity is not simply and only an adherence to a codified set of doctrines. It is much more than that. It is fidelity to the Lord, his word, and his work. This is why Paul is “amazed” and why we ought to be amazed when we see it in our day. Clearly, as ministers of the Gospel, we must be tenacious about the gospel. Even when it seems to be “out of season.” We must not rob people of the rich, full banquet of the Gospel of Christ and give them a bowl of porridge. The gospel and the minister’s, and church’s, fidelity to it are not incidental. As John Stott so eloquently puts it:
Director of The Sunergos Training Network