The Epistle to the Galatians – 01 (“No Other Gospel”)

The Epistle to the Galatians – 01 (“No Other Gospel”)

Paul’s letter to the Galatians was addressed to a group of churches in Galatia, a region of present-day Turkey, which was most probably established during Paul’s first missionary journey. Furthermore, Galatians was probably written while Paul was participating on the Jerusalem Council (A.D. 49-50). Paul had preached the gospel in those churches. He wrote to counter people who taught that Christians must be circumcised in order to be accepted by God. Paul began with a defense of his apostolic authority (chs.1–2), he then made it clear that all believers, Jew and Gentile alike, enjoy complete salvation in Christ (chs.3–4). In chapters 5–6 Paul showed how the gospel of grace led to true freedom and godly living. Perhaps the central message from Galatians is “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16). This message is also the declaration of the Fifth Sola in the Reformation’s 5 Solas – “Solus Christus” (or by “Christ alone”).

Some commentaries call Galatians, “A little Romans” and Romans are seen by many as an explanation of, or commentary on, Galatians.

Gal.1:1-9 ~ “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 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.”

While reading these opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians, you immediately detect that something is radically wrong, because Paul does not open his letter with his usual praise to God and prayer for the addresses of his letter. It is because he can’t wait any longer in order to engage in a battle for the truth of the Gospel and the liberty of the Christian life. False teachers were spreading a false “gospel” which is a mixture of law and grace, and Paul is not going to stand by and do nothing.

The irony is that these false teachers were not proselytes. The word Proselytes is used in the earliest translations of the Bible for “stranger” (1 Cron.22:2), i.e., someone who came to Palestine; a sojourner in the land (Ex.12:48; 20:10; 22:21), and the word is also used in the New Testament for a convert to Judaism. There were such converts from early times (Is.56:3; Neh.10:28; Esther 8:17).

In his letter on this matter, Paul approach the Galatian Christians in an attempt to teach them the truth about the Gospel?

In these opening verses, the apostle takes three definite steps as he prepares to fight this battle:
o He Explains His Authority (Gal.1:1–5).
o He Expresses His Astonishment (Gal.1:6–7).
o He Accursed the False Teachers (Gal.1:8–10).

3. PAUL’S AUTHORITY (vss.1-5):
In this Epistle’s salutation, Paul addresses his letter to the church in Galatia and says that this letter is coming from him and the brothers that are with him. We don’t know who these brothers were, but what is interesting is the fact that Paul refers to himself as, “Paul an apostle” and he does this with a very specific reason. He explains his authority in order to let his readers understand that they must pay close attention to what he is about to tell them. When a man speaks on behalf of God, you better listen, because he is an apostle who has received, very specific authority from God.

  • Through Jesus Christ and God, the Father (vss.1-2): Where did Paul get his authority? He says that he received his apostleship from Jesus Christ and God the Father. He was therefore, divinely appointed and commissioned.

The word “apostle” is the translation of apostolos (ἀπόστολος), a Greek word made up of apo (ἀπο) “from” and stello (στελλο) “to send,” thus referring to the act of sending someone on a commission to represent the sender. It was used of a messenger or an envoy who was provided with credentials. The word apostle as Paul uses it here does not merely refer to one who has a message to announce, but to an appointed representative with an official status who is provided with the credentials of his office and therefore he has received the necessary authority from God to reprimand the readers of his letter.

When we talk about apostles, it is important that we will realise that we only had apostles in the early church period, because these apostles had to lay the foundations of the church and write the New Testament. Their duties were preaching, teaching, and administration. Their preaching rested on their association with Christ and the instruction received from Christ, and it included their witness to His resurrection (Acts 1:22).

The last apostle (i.e. Matthias – Acts 1) was appointed after Judas’ death, but after that no effort was made to select men to succeed those who were taken by death.

Because Paul was not part of the original 12 disciples who became or were the apostles, his apostleship was always under attack (not from Christians). The first distinctive feature of Paul’s apostleship was his direct appointment by Christ, as he mentions in vs.1 ~ “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.”

The second distinctive feature was the fact that the Gentile world was given to him as his sphere of labour. He says in Gal.1:16 that God… ~ “was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.”

The third distinction was one of the most important requirements for being an apostle and that was that an apostle had to be a witness of Christ’s resurrection ~ “But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:16-18). Paul could say that he witnessed the resurrection, because his call came directly from the risen Christ ~ “Now as he (Paul) went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:3-6). Paul thus met the criteria for apostleship – he witnessed the risen Christ. Listen to what he asked in 1 Cor.9:1 ~ “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”

Paul was indeed an apostle and therefore he spoke with the necessary authority ~ “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (vs.1).

  • The purpose of the gospel (vs.3-4):
    Paul greets the Galatians with a very clever, masterful and compact, one-sentence statement of the heart of the gospel. Paul tells them in vs.3, that the gospel consists of… “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” But, he goes further in vs.4 and tells the brethren in Galatia, that as a result of God the Father’s grace, the believers were delivered from sin and the present evil age. The Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for their sins. And the Father did all of this because it was according to His will, in order for God’s elect to give Him praise and honour forever, for electing them as His children. It is all about grace.

In.vss.6-7 Paul says “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.” The word astonished in the Greek is, θαυμάζω (thaumazõ), which literally means, to be amazed. Paul couldn’t “believe his ears,” when he received news that the Galatians were moving away from Christ’s grace – they who once were fully committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The word “him” here in vs.6 refers to Paul himself. He brought the initial gospel message of grace in Christ Jesus to them. We see this also in 4:13-14 ~ “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” And what happened now? Previously they were so loyal to him and their salvation in Christ Jesus that they would have given their eyes to him ~ “What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me” (Gal.4:15). Paul cannot hide his astonishment to the fact that they don’t stick to what they’ve discovered and received through his preaching, namely… “grace and peace from God our Father.”

The verb he uses here, “deserting Christ,” indicates that they were in the process of deserting the grace of the gospel, but they had not fully turned away yet. Paul wanted to remedy the situation by writing this letter.

What was this different gospel that they are busy turning to and who brought it to them? This different gospel was brought to them by false teachers who were born Jews, Jewish Christians, but with a Pharisaic tendency of those who, in Antioch and Jerusalem, sought to impose circumcision and legal observance upon Gentile Christians (Acts 15:1, 5; Gal.2:4). They demanded that the Gentile Christians should be incorporated by circumcision with the community of Israel, and should observe the leading requirements of the Mosaic law (5:2, 11; 6:12). They also laid great stress on the observance of sacred seasons (4:10). 

This message was a false gospel. It was a gospel of “Jesus Plus.” This was no different from what we are experiencing in these days all around us. Jesus plus works; Jesus plus miracles; Jesus plus, whatever.

In vs.7 Paul is very clear about the fact that there cannot be a “different gospel,” in other words, there cannot be another gospel. There is only one way to salvation, namely “Solus Christus,” by Christ and Christ alone. These false teachers claimed to be preaching “the Gospel,” but there cannot be two gospels, one centered in works and the other cantered in grace. “They are not preaching another gospel,” writes Paul, “but a different message – one so different from the true Gospel that it is no gospel at all.” The Galatian believers were not simply “changing religions” or “changing churches” but were actually abandoning the very grace of God! To make matters worse, they were deserting the very God of grace! God had called them and saved them; now they were deserting Him for human leaders who would bring them into bondage.

No wonder Paul was anxious. His friends in Christ were deserting the God of grace, perverting the grace of God, and reverting to living by the flesh and their own resources. According to Gal.3:3 they had begun their Christian lives in the Spirit, but now they were going to try to continue in the power of the flesh

Having explained his authority and expressed his astonishment and anxiety, Paul now takes the third step.

5. PAUL’S ACCURSEDNESS (vss.8-10):
The false teachers had come along and substituted their false gospel for the true Gospel, and for this sin, Paul pronounced them accursed in vs.9. The word he uses for “accursed” is ἀνάθεμα (anathema), which means “dedicated to destruction.” We find a very forceful illustration of the meaning of this word in Acts 23:12 “When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul” These men were committed and dedicated to murder Paul.

Paul tells the believers in Galatia that no matter who the preacher may be – an angel from heaven or even Paul himself – if he preaches any other gospel, he is accursed! No man may alter the Word of God. Adding anything other than that which is written in Scripture is damnable. John says in Rev.22:18-19 ~ “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” In the case of the false teachers and the churches in Galatia, they were adding to the Word and the believers who believed these lies were just as guilty, because they were gullible and starting to endorse these lies and therefore they are also on the brink of being accursed.

This was a very, very serious matter and we see this in the fact that Paul repeated his warning to the false teachers of being accursed if they preach… ~ “a gospel contrary to the one (Paul) preached to (the Galatians).”

The seriousness of this distorted gospel reminds one of the story of Achan in Jos.6. Specific instructions were given with regard to the destruction of Jericho, which Achan ignored… ~ “…But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord” (Jos.6:19). Achan violated the Lord’s instructions by keeping some of the confiscated, devoted articles for himself. We read in Jos.7:1 ~ “Achan the son of Carmi … took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.” Achan’s violation of this rule brought upon him and his family the penalty of death.

Painful and shocking as that story is, Paul intends his Galatian readers to understand that the agitators among them must be handed over to destruction. What that exactly means is not spelled out here, but at least their teaching must be shunned (Afrikaans = “vermy”).

There is only one gospel, the gospel of “the grace of Christ.” It is therefore impossible to modify or amend the gospel without destroying it. Through the preaching of this gospel of grace, the elect are effectually called out of spiritual darkness into fellowship with God.

Men have always stumbled over the simplicity of salvation. That is why there are so many cults. Each one has a unique slant on the doctrine of salvation, each corrupting the simplicity of the gospel revealed in God’s Word by imposing salvation by human works. Each one of the major cults claims to have a key that unlocks the secret of salvation, yet they are all alike in propagating self-righteous achievement as the way to God.

From start to finish, God’s Word disproves them all, and in a wonderfully consistent way. Its message, woven through 66 books, written over a span of 1500 years by more than 40 different authors, is marvellously unified and congruous. The message is simply that God graciously saves repentant sinners who come to him in faith.

When the reformers “rediscovered” the truth of justification by faith, the darkness was finally dispelled. The heart of Reformation teaching was that faith, not works, is the basis for salvation. That truth freed multitudes from the religious slavery that Romanism had imposed on Christendom. But did the Reformation allow for a kind of faith that does not produce practical righteousness? Certainly not. The clear conviction of all leading Reformers was that true faith inevitably manifested itself in good works.

Although Paul addresses the Galatians as true believers, they were in danger of embracing a perverted gospel, to the detriment of God’s glory and with the attendant danger of apostasy. The purpose of the epistle to the Galatians is to restore the Galatian churches to sound, God-glorifying faith. With this in mind, we must always be on the alert – be watchful, to stick to the true gospel.

Kobus van der Walt

Beloved are you stumbling over the simplicity of salvation? Are you always under condemnation because you “feel” not saved? Hold on to the simple gospel, namely, salvation is solely by grace through faith alone ~ “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph.2:8-9). Listen carefully: It is not by our own doing. It is not our own doing. It is not a result of our own works. It is a gracious gift from God! Believe it, repent of your sins and start living accordingly. A life of obedience to the Word of God is evidence of salvation. 1 Joh.3:10 ~ “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

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