MESSAGE FOR MARCH 2, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 1:6-10
We return this week to our study in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Two weeks ago we introduced this powerful letter that orbits around the central doctrine of the Bible, the
gospel of Jesus Christ. If you missed that message, I encourage you
to get a manuscript at the
These false teachers—these Judaizers had come in and twisted the gospel, saying that in addition to believing the good news of the gospel, in order to be made right with God you also had to be circumcised and observe Jewish law. They taught a wicked mixture of grace PLUS law-keeping as a requirement for salvation. Paul is very impassioned about confronting this error so even in his introduction, which we looked at last time; he begins to lay the groundwork for his argument against this godless heresy in the hope of preventing the complete destruction of these believers and these churches.
This week, we come to the place in this letter where Paul would normally write a thanksgiving for God’s work in the Galatians church. He instead launches directly into his rebuke of the Galatians for their willingness to accept this false teaching. This lengthy rebuke runs well into chapter four. Let’s read Paul’s opening salvo as he wars for the truth of the gospel and by extension, for the souls of these Galatian believers and all of us recovering Pharisees. He begins in verse six, “6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But 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. 9As 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. 10For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I see three supporting truths undergirding the one main truth, which is really the main truth running through the entire letter. That is simply: There is only one gospel of grace and we must accept and believe only that for our salvation. Paul is simply blown away by this rapid spiritual decay within these Galatian churches. We don’t know the length of time these false teachers had been influencing the church. We don’t know how long it had been since Paul had planted these churches, but this verse indicates that it hadn’t been very long. These new converts were “quickly” rejecting Paul’s gospel for this false teaching. Paul is aghast that this shift in their thinking could have happened so quickly. They had doubtless been repeatedly reminded that in them there was nothing commendable to God—that the most noble, virtuous good work done in order to gain God’s approval is like offering him piece of used toilet paper—a filthy rag. Paul had taught them that they were completely helpless in their capacity to make themselves acceptable to a holy God by anything they do.
The truth that the Galatians were scuttling is that God in his grace saw us helpless rebels and did what only he could do. That is, he sent his sinless Son Jesus to live a perfect life and establish for the first time since the fall--a genuinely human righteousness. After he had done that, he died a sacrificial death to pay the penalty our sins deserved as Jesus took the punishment we had earned upon himself. He became our substitute, bearing our penalty—fully absorbing the holy wrath of the Father that we as rebels had earned. Finally, he rose from the dead to vindicate the effectiveness of his saving work. His work on the cross was FULLY SUFFICIENT—nothing needed to be added. Paul doubtless taught these Galatians that God will apply that saving work to every sinner who by his grace realizes their helplessness and cries out in faith for God’s mercy, placing their trust NOT in anything they have done, but in Christ alone and his sin-atoning work for them. Those sinners are saved by grace alone through faith alone as God forgives their sins—he totally cleans the slate of our past, present and future sins. He also takes that perfect righteousness that Christ lived out and credits it to the account of the repentant sinner ,making us as righteous and acceptable to him as his dear Son. That person is by God’s grace reborn out of darkness into light, given a new heart and a new hope for eternity with new desires and new priorities as they learn to increasingly submit to Christ as their loving King.
Paul had doubtless drilled this gospel into their hearts—he was an apostolic teacher, incomparably anointed by the Holy Spirit to speak the truth of the gospel with supernatural power to change hearts and minds, turning sinners to the gospel of free grace. Paul is astonished that these believers who had so recently received this gospel of grace would so soon embrace this false teaching that strikes at the very heart of what he had taught them. Paul begins his treatment here by revealing the grave nature of their offense. Because the Galatians had allowed themselves to be deceived, they had been blinded to both the gross nature of the lies they had believed, and the horrific consequences of believing this false teaching. Paul labors to blow the fog of deception away from their eyes and hearts by starkly stating the nature of their sin and the eternal consequences of their foolishness. His point can be summarized by saying: Turning away from the gospel of grace is deserting God himself and rejecting the only truth that can save you.
One of the necessary elements for any deception to occur is the deceived person or church must never be allowed to fully realize the consequences of believing the lie. People who commit adultery spend comparatively little time thinking about the extraordinary pain their sin will cause their spouse and children or the shame it will bring on their families and church. They don’t dwell on those consequences because that would remind them of how cosmically stupid and selfish their sin is. They instead focus on how much they need and deserve the love of this person who, unlike their present spouse, understands and appreciates them. People who try to swindle you out of your retirement don’t spend any time explaining the consequences of what will happen if their phony scheme fails. They don’t want you to think about that because it will discourage you from buying into their scam. Likewise, the Galatians in their foolishness had foolishly swallowed the false teacher’s line without thinking about the consequences of believing something very different than what Paul had taught them.
Paul loves these people enough to tell them the hard truth of what believing these lies means to them on an eternal scale. He tells them that in turning away from the gospel of grace, they were in effect turning their backs on God and running away from the Lord Himself. Paul works to help them see the bitter irony here in believing a “gospel” that is not from God. That is--in their efforts to be devoted to God through these extra works, they were they were in truth arrogantly slapping God in the face and walking away from him. Paul underscores the truth that when you reject the gospel of grace, you are rejecting God himself. It’s not as if there is more than one valid interpretation of the gospel. The Galatians were not simply opting for a slightly new and improved version of Paul’s gospel. The false teachers were not simply offering the Galatians an enhanced option. God doesn’t work for Burger King—you can’t have it your way. This gospel comes with one set of ingredients and if you try to embellish or improve or adorn this gospel with works, you have rejected not only the gospel but the God of the gospel! Accepting this false teaching is an act of personal betrayal against God. The Galatians had arrogantly turned their backs on God himself.
We must see how serious this is, beloved. When we live as
if God is pleased with us based on what we do for him—when we see God’s love for us rooted in our performance rather
than his work for us through Christ on the cross, we are not making a theological misstep, we are arrogantly rejecting
God. We are saying to God, “What
you did in brutally crushing your Son on
When we try to embellish the cross with our works, that’s like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa—it ruins it! We are taking God’s greatest act—the central part of his redemptive plan that the entire Old Testament looks forward to and the entire New Testament looks back to. We are taking the work that above all others will redound for all eternity to the glory of God as his redeemed saints forever worship the Lamb who was slain. We are taking THAT and we are saying, “Sorry, God—it wasn’t enough—but don’t worry, I can add what is needed by these good things I am doing for you and by these bad things I am giving up for you. As I do that, you will love and accept me.” Now, in our deception, we don’t realize we are communicating that when we live as recovering Pharisees. Neither did the Galatians believe they were deserting God when they adopted the false teaching of the Judaizers. They were deceived. At the heart of deception is the veiling of the true nature of the act and its consequences.
see how grievous is this sin of trying to be pleasing to God through anything but the gospel. John Owen said the
greatest sin a believer can commit against God is to question his love for him.
Yet, when we try to be pleasing or acceptable to God through what we do, we are taking the cross--the magnum
opus of God’s love—his greatest expression of his glory and love and we are saying—“not enough.”
We are calling into question the sufficiency of God’s love for us as demonstrated on
As Paul continues in verse six, he says the Galatians were “turning to a different gospel…” Paul first exposes the radical shift these false teachers had proposed by calling it a “different gospel.” There is a basic, qualitative difference between what Paul taught and what the Judaizers taught. But it wasn’t enough for Paul to state that the teaching of the Judaizers was a different gospel, he brings additional clarification in verse seven, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” He brings home the truth that there is only one gospel—a gospel of grace. Therefore if it’s not a gospel of grace, it is no gospel.
When we add our performance to the gospel of grace in order for God to love and accept us, we have at that moment begun to operate under something that is not the gospel. Think about this kind of qualitative change. When you take an atom of hydrogen and add two atoms of oxygen to it, its not hydrogen anymore, its water. When you add hemlock to a piece of pizza, it’s no longer food, its poison. When you add a mustache to the Mona Lisa, its no longer a masterpiece, it’s a recovery project. There is an essential difference between the gospel of grace and grace plus our performance. When you add works as a requirement to the gospel, it’s not the soul saving gospel—its soul destroying heresy. Instead of bringing salvation, it brings condemnation. Instead of bringing joy, it brings either the anguish of guilt and self-hatred, or the arrogance of self-righteousness.
When we are tempted to try to be pleasing to God on the basis of what we do for him in addition to what he has done for us, we must realize the essential and gaping shift we are making. We are spitting in God’s face by taking the most powerful, life giving truth in the universe and twisting it into a spiritual death trap. Another point of application is this--we can have warm fellowship with other believers who differ with us on secondary, non-gospel issues. But when a person has believed a false gospel that requires works in addition to faith, we must see them NOT as a brother or sister in need of a wee bit of balance. They are a monstrously deceived person who has taken lethal doses of spiritual poison into their soul. What they need from us is the one antidote of the truth of God’s grace, not the potentially fatal deception we cooperate with when we act as if we who are under grace are their brothers or sisters in Christ.
Paul makes his second point in verses eight and nine. He writes, “8But 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. 9As 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.” Paul reveals the priority of the message of the gospel over everything else including the messenger. We could put his point this way: Those who preach a different gospel requiring works stand condemned by God. The truth of the gospel is so weighty, it is far more important than the messenger. Perhaps the false teachers had spell-binding oratorical abilities. Perhaps they were very gifted teachers or had impressive resumes. Paul says that all of that is irrelevant—the content of the message transcends the credentials of the messenger.
Paul chooses two messengers to powerfully illustrate this point. The first is himself. Paul says the gospel message that he preached to the Galatians is so crucial to know correctly, that if even these he himself—these people’s spiritual father—their first pastor, their church planter—the one who originally spoke the gospel to them—if the apostle himself were to speak something other than the gospel of grace to them, then may he be accursed. That is, he is under God’s judicial condemnation awaiting eternal damnation. There is simply nothing more fearful you can pronounce on another person. With apostolic authority, to condemn someone to hell is the worst fate you could wish on someone. And to show the gravity of the gospel’s priority, he hypothetically places it even upon himself—if he were to preach something different to them. Second, he says that if an angel from heaven would preach a contrary gospel he would also be cursed to damnation. He probably chose angels because he says in 3:19 that the law “was put in place through angels.” Angels, who played this important role as it relates to God’s holy law—if they preach a false gospel to you—then to hell with those angels.
There is an important application of this truth for us. That is--in an age where the personality and charisma of the speaker are often elevated in their importance above the content of what is being said, this is so important. Some preachers and televangelists are so charming and witty and bright and articulate and appealing. Today, we can be tempted to overlook the fact that what they are saying doesn’t square with the truth if we are wowed by their personality or personal charisma. Other preachers may be impressive or even a bit intimidating to us because of their education—maybe they have multiple doctorates from high powered academic institutions. Maybe they have great intellects. Paul’s point is—we should never allow any teacher, no matter how appealing, to transcend the message. The Bereans are our model here. They weren’t impressed by Paul’s advanced degrees or his peerless academic credentials. Acts 17:11 says, “…they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The Bereans checked Paul’s message with the only infallible source we have, the word of God. Sadly, the Galatians in some way allowed the messengers—the false teachers to have more influence over them than the apostolic word they had heard. We dare not replicate their error by being more influenced by the messenger than the message.
Finally, Paul says in verse 10, “10For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” This almost seems like a disconnected tantrum Paul throws here but it’s still related to his main theme. His point is simply: Warring for the truth (especially the gospel) is mutually exclusive to any selfish desire we may have to please people. Paul inserts this here because he has just said one of the hardest things imaginable. He hypothetically condemned to hell angels and himself and by implication, anyone else including the Judaizers who would read this letter. That is hardly a way to win friends and influence people. The reason he highlights that hard statement is surely because his detractors had undermined his ministry by accusing him of being a wishy-washy, people pleaser. They doubtless based that false attack on Paul on the fact that part of Paul’s philosophy of evangelistic ministry included the strategy that he would “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some”[ 1cor 9:22]. When he was with the Jews he became a Jew, when he was with the Gentiles he became a Gentile. At face value, that can sound like the strategy of a people pleaser.
What the Judaizers didn’t say was that Paul’s message never changed. He simply made wise accommodations to external cultural patterns in order to give the gospel a hearing. He was not compromising the truth of the gospel. Paul knew it would be foolish to set up unnecessary cultural barriers to the gospel and so in that sense he became a Jew to the Jew and a Gentile to the Gentiles. But he also knew that the gospel itself was an offense and he never tried to make the gospel more appealing by remove its offense. That was God’s job. Preaching the gospel of Christ crucified was “…a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” and Paul never tried to remove that stumbling block. There is a big difference between on the one hand, accommodating the culture to get a hearing for the gospel and on the other, compromising the gospel to be accommodating to people.
Paul says that his boldness in cursing these false teachers is an example of the fact that he is no people pleaser. Now, we must understand what Paul means her by not “pleasing man.” There is nothing wrong with pleasing people per se. In fact, we are called to please people in many contexts. Paul tells us in Romans 15:2, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Paul says of his evangelistic strategy in First Corinthians 10:33, “just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of man, that they may be saved.” Paul is saying that when it means doing something genuinely good for someone, we should earnestly work to please people. There are some people who proudly wear their refusal to please people on their shoulder like a badge, “You’ll never catch me being a people pleaser!” These people are probably more obnoxious than principled. Anyone who tries to impress people by bragging about not being a people pleaser is suspect.
Paul worked to please people constantly because it was part of his service to Christ. When pleasing people becomes sinful is when it is done not to serve Christ, but to serve self. If your top priority is serving Christ, then you will be willing to sacrifice a valued relationship to be faithful to speak the truth. If you compromise the truth of the gospel in order to preserve a relationship or stay popular, then you have made pleasing people more important than pleasing God. Paul tells us that if your goal is to be popular—if keeping everyone around you happy and impressed with you is a top priority for you, then you need to find another religion because Paul says, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” At the end of the day, seeking the favor of man and the favor of God is incompatible. If you are with someone you know and value as a friend or loved one and God orchestrates the conversation in such a way that you know you need to give them the hope of the gospel and you refuse, you have chosen to sell out Christ. Paul’s identity was firmly fixed he was a servant of Christ. That meant that although he did not unnecessarily offend people by calling them to change their culture before they could become a believer, he would not hesitate to risk offense by calling them to repent of their sin and believe on Jesus as their only hope.
If you’re here today and you have not placed your trust in Christ to forgive your sin and be made right with God, do that today. If you sit here today as a person who regularly leans on your own performance in order to be pleasing to God, repent of your sin and by faith receive the full acceptance and pleasure of God purchased for you at Calvary. Live out of that grace and you will know joy unspeakable will walk in triumph over sin for God’s glory. May God give us he grace to do that.
Page last modified on 3/11/2008
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