Meditations for Troubled Times
Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by jumping straight into the problem, and the shock of the opening of the letter drives home the seriousness. In verse 6, Paul exclaims, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel!” The six chapters that follow explain some of the details of the temptations for Galatia, and they demonstrate that this impassioned letter is fueled by a yearning for their souls and a jealousy for the beauty of Christ, both of which are on the verge of being lost. This is an insidious apostasy because it masquerades as Christianity, but has no salvation. Paul makes this very clear in verses 6-9:
“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—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 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. 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.” (Galatians 1:6-9)
Since we already covered Why this is important, I want to meditate on the What? How? and Who? of this “different” gospel.
First, what is the different gospel? Not the content of the different gospel, but what does the different gospel actually mean. Paul explains that they are deserting the God who called them in Christ! They are flat out leaving the faith! And they do this by turning to a different gospel. If there were any doubt in us of how exclusive Paul’s theology is, he makes himself clear. Right after calling the heresy “a different gospel” he clarifies, “not that there is another one.” Paul is saying that this different gospel is not Christianity at all! The question coming from this observation is this: Do we know the gospel well enough to be able to discern the true gospel from different gospels? An undiscerning heart and mind can lead quickly to apostasy!
This is especially difficult because of how this different gospel comes. Paul tells us that the different gospel comes as a distortion. Underneath the hood, they are completely different things, but in their presentation, they just seem like a small tweak. In fact, they masquerade as angels of light. If this gospel called itself something other than Christianity, it would not be so dangerous. It would be clear that they are leaving the faith. Every heresy is a twisting of the truth that wants to carry the label of orthodoxy. Are we discerning about ideas that carry the label of “Christian”?
Finally, this is made even more dangerous because of who delivers this false gospel. Paul says that it could come from anybody. He does not even exclude himself or angels from heaven! Who then can we trust? Paul’s answer is that our only source of the true gospel is Christ Himself. For you as a believer, this means that you need to discern all teaching through Christ’s own Word. But this warning also brings hope—Christ is your authority, and He stands beside you! Even if an angel from heaven were speaking to you face-to-face, God’s Word is clear enough for you to see the truth! In the midst of distortion and confusion (even within our churches!) God continues to speak His truth.