We began to study this letter last Sunday. Paul wrote it to a group of churches in various cities in southern Galatia, which was a Roman province. You can read in Acts 13 and 14 what happened when Paul visited those cities and how he preached the good news that sinners are justified through faith in Jesus Christ the Saviour who died, but who was raised from the dead. And some of those who heard him believed and churches were established in those southern Galatian cities. But others did not believe and stirred up trouble against Paul, so that, in each city, he was forced to leave and move on.
But when he left, he left churches behind. And now Paul is writing to those churches. And the reason he’s writing to them is really twofold. Firstly, he needed to defend his apostleship. It seems that some were saying that Paul was not a true apostle. And so, Paul needs to make clear that he was a true apostle. That’s why he begins the letter as he does in verse 1 by reminding his readers that he was sent as an apostle by Jesus Christ and God the Father. The risen and exalted Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and appointed him to be an apostle, sent by the Lord to be an official eye-witnesses to the resurrection. He was able to testify with the authority that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ and from God the Father that the Lord Jesus, who died, had been raised from the dead and exalted to heaven. And, of course, it was necessary for Paul to defend his apostleship because if they didn’t believe he was a true apostle, they might not believe his message. And the message was the really important thing.
And so, the second reason Paul wrote this letter was to contend for the truth of the gospel. He was writing to defend the good news that sinners are justified — that is, we’re pardoned and accepted by God — through faith alone.
Some people were confusing the Christians in Galatia and were misleading them, teaching them a counterfeit gospel, a false gospel, which was really no gospel at all. And so, last week, we read the opening verses, where Paul reminded his readers of the true gospel and how the Lord Jesus gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age. He laid down his life as the ransom to set us free from the condemnation. And he died in order to deliver his people from this present evil age.
This present evil age in which we’ve living is destined to perish. It’s in its last days. It will not last. And all those who belong to it will perish with it. But the good news of the gospel which Paul proclaimed is that whoever believes in the Lord Jesus — who gave himself for our sins — is rescued from this present evil age. Yes, we’ll go on living in this fallen world, which is destined to perish. But through faith in Christ, we no longer belong to it. We belong instead to the new age to come, to the new heavens and earth, where all those who have trusted in Christ will live forever and forever in glory. That’s where you belong if you trust in Christ. And as a guarantee of that, Christ has poured his Spirit into your heart; and the Holy Spirit, who has been poured into your heart, is at work in you to renew you inwardly in God’s likeness, so that more and more you’re able to live in this present evil age as one who belongs to the age to come.
That’s why we all need to trust in Christ. This fallen world is destined to perish. But there’s a new world to come. And it’s a perfect world. It’s a glorious world. They will be no more suffering or sorrow or sickness or death. No more sin and temptation. No more shame. It will be a perfect world. And the reason the Lord Jesus came as a man and suffered and died, giving up his life on the cross, was in order to rescue you from this fallen and broken world and to bring you into that new perfect world. Believe in him. Trust in him. Trust in him to be justified. Trust in him for eternal life in the life to come.
Getting the gospel right is vital, because our eternal destiny depends on it. And so, in today’s verses — verses 6 to 10 — Paul begins to defend the gospel. In verses 6 and 7, he expresses his astonishment because the Galatians were so quickly turning from the gospel. In verses 8 and 9 he pronounces a curse on those who preached a false gospel. And in verse 10 he denies being a people-pleaser and makes clear he wants to please the Lord.
Verses 6 to 10
‘I am astonished’, Paul begins in verse 6. In Paul’s other letters, after the greeting, Paul either starts with thanksgiving or with praise. So, in Ephesians, he begins with praise:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
And in Philippians, he begins with thanksgiving:
I thank my God every time I remember you.
In his other letters, he begins with thanksgiving or with praise. But in his letter to the churches in Galatia, he doesn’t begin with thanksgiving or with praise, but with his astonishment. He is astounded, amazed, staggered by what was happening in Galatia.
What was happening in Galatia? Paul tells us: the churches were so quickly, so quickly, deserting the one who called them by the grace of Christ and were turning to a different gospel.
So God the Father had called them. He called them through the preaching of the gospel. When Paul went to those cities, he preached the good news of Jesus Christ. And as Paul preached, and summoned them to repent and to believe the good news, God was calling them by his Spirit. And when God calls anyone by his Spirit, his call is effective. It’s irresistible, we say. When I call my dog, she often ignores me. But when God calls sinners to repent and believe, his call is always effective, because he’s able to work powerfully in our mind and heart and will to enable us to believe the good news and to love the Saviour and to turn to him for salvation.
And when God calls sinners, and enables them to repent and believe, they come into his grace. Although the NIV says in verse 6 that God called them ‘by the grace of Christ’, it should probably be ‘God called them into the grace of Christ.’ Once they were under God’s wrath and curse. Once — before they believed — they were under God’s condemnation. But now — now that God has called them and enabled them to repent and believe — they have moved from being under his wrath and curse to being in his grace, or under his kindness towards them in Christ Jesus.
So, God the Father called them and enabled them to repent and to believe the good news. But now, Paul says, they were deserting God. And they were deserting him ‘so quickly’. Think of the Israelites in the days of Moses. Think of how God rescued them from Egypt. And he brought them safely through the Red Sea. He destroyed their enemies. He led them to Mount Sinai and entered into a covenant with them to be their God and to protect them; and they promised to obey him. And yet, so quickly they deserted him and bowed down to the golden calf. Instead of remaining faithful and true to the Lord, who loved and rescued them, they deserted him and turned to a false god. Well, Paul accuses the believers in Galatia of so quickly turning away from God who had loved and rescued them from this present evil age by his Son. Instead of remaining loyal and faithful to the Lord, they were deserting him.
And they were deserting him by turning to a different gospel. Do you see that at the end of verse 6? In other words, instead of following what Paul taught them, they were now following what someone else has taught them.
And Paul adds in verse 7 that this different gospel which they were turning to was really no gospel at all. So, whereas Paul’s message was good news, this new message was not good news. Paul’s message was good news because it was about the grace, the kindness, of God. Paul’s gospel is that sinners are justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith in Christ alone. Nothing more needs to be added to the work of Christ. We don’t need to supplement Christ’s work on the cross with our own works. He has done all things necessary for our salvation, because by giving up his life he has set us free from condemnation forever; and his shed blood covers over every one of our sins. By his one sacrifice, he has dealt with our sins once and for all. And we receive the salvation he accomplished for us through faith. That’s good news, isn’t it? We don’t have to climb up to God by our good deeds. We don’t need to win God’s approval by the things we do. We can rely entirely on Christ. That’s good news.
But, as we’ll see as we go through this letter, this new gospel which the believers in Galatia were turning to was not good news. It said that we’re justified — pardoned and accepted by God — by faith and by works of the law. This new gospel — which was no gospel at all — said that in order to be justified before God, you had to believe in Christ; but it also said that believing in Christ and in what Christ has done is not enough. You have to add to your faith works of the law. For instance, they were saying to the believers in Galatia that you had to be circumcised and to follow other Jewish customs. You had to obey the law in order to be justified before God.
But that’s not good news. And it’s not good news, because — as Paul will make clear later in his letter — no-one will be justified by observing the law. No-one. Sinners are not justified by keeping the law, because none of us is able to keep the law; none of us is able to do all that the law requires. In fact, all who rely on observing the law are under a curse, Paul will go on to tell us.
When Paul went to those cities in Galatia, he preached the true gospel, the gospel of grace: that sinners are justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith in Christ alone, because Christ has done all things necessary to satisfy the justice of God on our behalf and to reconcile sinners to God. But these other teachers moved in to the churches in Galatia after Paul left; and they preached a different gospel, which was no gospel at all. Their message was that sinners are justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith plus our own works. Their message was that sinners are justified through faith and obedience to the law. And yet none of us is able to keep the law. None of us is able to do what the law requires.
Paul had preached the good news, but they were now turning from the good news.
Verses 8 and 9
At the end of verse 7, Paul says that those who taught this new gospel — which is really no gospel at all — were trying to pervert the true gospel. In other words, they were distorting it and tampering with it. And by tampering with the gospel, they were throwing the believers into confusion. The word translated ‘throwing into confusion’ can also be translated ‘troubling’. So, they were troubling the churches. They were disturbing the churches.
As John Stott remarks in his commentary, the church’s greatest troublemakers are not those who are outside the church and who ridicule and persecute it, but they are those within the church who try to change the gospel. You see, it’s through the preaching of the gospel that sinners are reconciled to God and added to the church. It’s through the preaching of the gospel that we’re reassured of God’s love and his willingness to pardon us. It’s through the preaching of the gospel that we’re moved to live lives of grateful obedience. It’s through the preaching of the gospel that we learn to forgive one another, just as in Christ, God has forgiven us. It’s through the preaching of the gospel that we’re given hope for the future. And, of course, it’s through the preaching of the gospel that Christ is magnified. Those who said that faith in Christ was not enough were really saying — whether they realised it or not — that Christ is not enough; and that we have to add to what Christ has done. They were implying that what Christ did for sinners on the cross only takes us so far; and then we have to take over and finish what Christ started. That’s what they were saying, whether they realised it or not. That’s the implication of what they were saying. Their message of faith plus works diminishes the glory of Christ, because it implies that Christ alone is not able to save anyone.
And so, is it any wonder that Paul reacted so strongly to what these people were teaching? Look at verse 9 where he wrote:
If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned.
So, let the one who preaches this distorted gospel be condemned by God forever. That’s what he’s saying. And look: it doesn’t matter who it is — even if it’s Paul himself or even an angel from heaven — whoever it is who teaches a distorted gospel, let him be condemned.
There are big names in the church, aren’t there? There are big names everywhere: important people; impressive people; powerful people. And we’re often over-awed by these ‘big names’. And perhaps those who were preaching this counterfeit gospel in Galatia were ‘big names’ in the church. Perhaps they’d come from Jerusalem; and the believers in Galatia were so over-awed by these ‘big names’ that they were taken in by their false gospel. But Paul’s point is that it doesn’t matter who is saying it. If it’s not the true gospel, don’t listen to it. Don’t listen to it, because false gospels cannot save. You can only be saved by believing the true gospel, which is the wonderful message that sinners are pardoned and accepted by God through faith in Christ, who did all things necessary to bring us to God.
From what we read in verse 10, it seems that some of Paul’s critics were claiming that he was a people-pleaser. Instead of seeking the approval of God, he was seeking the approval of men.
Now, it’s not entirely clear why they accused Paul of this. But we can make a good guess. You see, the false teachers were saying that in order to be justified sinners had to believe and they had to be circumcised and follow other Jewish laws and customs. That’s what they were teaching. By contrast, Paul was saying you don’t need to be circumcised. And you don’t need to follow those other Jewish laws and customs. You don’t need to worry about those things. The only thing that matters is faith. That’s what Paul was teaching.
And perhaps the false teachers were saying that Paul disregarded circumcision and the other Jewish laws and customs in order to please the Gentiles. Paul wanted to make things easy for them in order to please them. And so he said to them: ‘You don’t need to be circumcised. You don’t need to follow these other laws and customs. Don’t worry about them. They’re not necessary.’ The false teachers were saying that if Paul was really interested in pleasing God, he would insist on these things. But since he was more interesting in pleasing people, he disregarded these things.
That’s perhaps what they were thinking. But Paul denies it all: he’s not a people-pleaser. And he adds that if he wanted to be a people-pleaser, he wouldn’t have become a servant of Christ. Do you see that, right at the end of verse 10? So, think of Paul’s life: As a servant of Christ, he’d faced the hatred of the crowds in the cities of Galatia and in other places. And he’d suffered persecution, being beaten and stoned and whipped. He’d been imprisoned. Being a servant of Christ meant the world was against him. So, if he wanted to please people, he wouldn’t have become a servant of Christ, because serving Christ had brought him so much trouble and pain. People hated him, because of his service to the Lord. And so, he denies what they are saying about him. It’s just not true, because he was prepared to suffer all things for Christ his King.
What Paul says in verse 10 highlights for us one of the surprising things about the effect of the gospel in the lives of God’s people.
What’s the gospel message? The gospel message is that sinners are pardoned and accepted by God through faith in Christ who has done all things necessary to bring us to God. So, our salvation does not depend on what we do; it depends entirely on what Christ has done for us. We don’t have to climb up to God by our good deeds. We don’t have to win God’s approval by the things we do. Instead of trying to please God in order to be justified, we rely entirely on Christ. Instead of trying to please God in order to receive eternal life, we rely entirely on Christ.
And yet what’s the effect of the gospel on our lives? Once people believe the gospel — and are pardoned and accepted by God — what happens to them? Well, like Paul, they become servants of Christ; and they want to please him in everything: in everything they do and in everything they say and in everything they think and in everything they feel. Once they’ve trusted in Christ for salvation, they want to spend the rest of their lives pleasing the Lord.
Isn’t that interesting? The false teachers who were preaching a false gospel had it turned around; they had it the wrong way round. They put their good deeds before justification: so if you do enough good things and if you live a good enough life, then God will justify you. He’ll pardon and accept you. And isn’t that the way so many people think today? How many times have people said to me that they’re not sure whether they’re good enough for God? They’ve got things the wrong way round, thinking that in order to be saved, they must live a good life first. They’ve got things the wrong way round.
The right order is this, the correct order is this: we’re justified first; we’re saved first by trusting in Christ. And then, living a good life comes second.
And living a good life, serving Christ, comes second, because living a good life, serving Christ, is the way we show God our gratitude for what Christ has done for us.
Once Paul was not a servant of Christ. But once he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and received from God forgiveness for his sins and the hope of everlasting life, he became a servant of Christ and spent the rest of his days obeying the Lord and doing his will.
Have you believed the good news? You need to believe, because you cannot be justified — pardoned and accepted by God — unless you believe in Christ. You cannot have eternal life unless you believe in him. So, have you believed the good news?
If you have, then you’ve now a servant of Christ. And he calls on you to love and serve him only. Instead of trying to please people — and being worried what this person thinks of you and what that person says about you — instead of trying to please people, make it your aim in life to please the one who loved you and who gave up his life for you. He’s the one you’re to serve.