No Other Gospel (Galatians, Part 6)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
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.
What “other gospel” are the Galatians turning to?
The Galatians have been visited by some new teachers who are telling them that it is not enough to simply believe in Jesus for salvation; they also must obey the Jewish law in order to become God’s people and inherit his kingdom. The false teachers’ main focus is on circumcision (see Galatians 5:2, 6)—they are saying that the non-Jewish Christians in Galatia must be circumcised in order to belong to Jesus. So the “other gospel,” in a nutshell, is that the Galatians must meet certain requirements (i.e., do certain things) in order for God to adopt them as his children and bring them into the kingdom.
(Admittedly, we have to infer this from the letter as a whole, since Paul doesn’t spell out in detail what the issue is. And why should he? The Galatians know exactly what he’s talking about already. They know what the new teachers in town were saying, and they knew it was different from what Paul had taught. So Paul didn’t need to rehash the situation for them; he could get right to the point, which he certainly does here. But we can figure out what was going on by drawing conclusions from what Paul says. And when we do that, it becomes clear that the Galatians were beginning to embrace the idea that God wouldn’t accept them without circumcision.)
OK, but this “circumcision issue” isn’t really a problem in the church today. No one I know of is insisting that Christians have to get circumcised in order to be saved. So what does this warning passage have to do with Jesus’ people in 2016?
A lot. We may not be dealing with circumcision, but Jesus’ people are always tempted to add some kind of human requirements and act as if they were necessary for God to accept us.
Sometimes this is done consciously, and out in the open. We might treat people who drink alcohol, for example, as “not serious Christians” because we believe drinking is always sinful. Or we might impose some strict dress codes, and look down on those who break it as “not really one of us,” as if they belonged to a class of sub-standard Christians. When we do these things, we are saying that those who follow the rules are the ones who are really “in” the people of God, and those who don’t…well, we’re really not sure if they’re saved or not, but they definitely are not serious about their faith.
Sometimes we embrace “another gospel” unconsciously. Anytime we look to something other than Jesus for security, self-worth, identity, or happiness we are in essence embracing another gospel. Tim Keller calls these things—like wealth, or reputation, or relationships, or career status—“functional saviors,” because even though we may say with our words that Jesus is the one who saves us, in actuality we are looking to something else to be our savior. “If only I could get that promotion, or have a spouse who loves me, or if people liked me—then I would be somebody, then I would be happy, then my life would have meaning…then everything would be OK.”
And just like it happened with the Galatians, this happens “quickly,” doesn’t it? We are prone to wander, and it doesn’t take long for our once-strong affections for Jesus to wane and for us to pine after something else in his place.
We need to constantly be reminded that there is only one gospel. Jesus singlehandedly brings the kingdom of God to us, and then invites us in. He does it all. We simply need to trust him and love him and respond to the invitation to receive life and joy and healing and provision from the Father.