Galatians Part 1 – No Other Gospel
In my middle twenties I led a Bible-study in a prison every Wednesday night. From time to time one of the attendees would complete their sentence and return to their home. More often than not it would only a few short weeks later that they would be back re-attending the Bible-study. Despite being free they found themselves unable to stay free. For Paul in his letter to the Galatians he has a similar concern. The Galatians, despite being set free in Christ from spiritual bondage, had fallen back into fear and slavery.
The Apostle Paul had planted the Galatian church some one and a half to two years previously. They’d heard the gospel and had tasted the freedom of being united to Christ and the forgiveness and justification he brings, but later slid back into the bondage of self-righteousness—which is really no righteousness at all. There would hardly be a believer on earth who has not slumped back into this position at some point and so the words of Paul to the Galatian church are as relevant now as ever.
Paul begins his letter by reminding the Galatians that the gospel is not a human invention and that their status and freedom is a gift of God’s grace and not something they have earned. Grace is a word which has been so overused that it has almost lost its meaning. Sometimes we refer to grace as merely the ‘unmerited favour of God’—which is true—but this is only one tiny aspect of this huge reality. Grace is overwhelming; it is the very essence of everything God is wrapped in his mercy that he has directed toward us as a pure gift. It’s bigger than words can describe.
ThusPaul is perplexed and amazed that the Galatians could trade all that they had gained through thegospel for a shabby replica of the real thing in the form of self-justificationsaying,“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.” (Gal 1: 6)Note they are deserting “the one,” not just a doctrine or theological position, but a person—Jesus Christ.
He then goes on to say that the gospel is being ‘perverted’ by certain moralizing Jewish legalists (v7). The word perversion can mean to “reverse” or “turnabout”—like using something back-to-front. Which makes sense for the gospel is an announcement that we are reconciled to God before and apart from a change in our behavior. If, however we reverse the order to make behavior the key to reconciliation, then we have reversed the gospel, and thus have perverted it, making it into no gospel at all.