True or False Gospel? – Galatians 1:6-12

In the summer of 1780 when British Major John André was captured, the American people were amazed, astonished and disappointed.  You see Major John André carried papers that implicated Benedict Arnold in a conspiracy to hand over West Point to the British.  Late in 1779 after a few years of fighting against the British, as an American Revolutionary General, Arnold had a change of mind and deserted to other side.  General George Washington later remarked of Arnold that he was “villainous, misguide and completely evil.”[1]
What you may ask does this have to do with Paul and the Galatians?  Much I say.  In Galatians 1:6 after introducing himself and presenting a short description of the gospel – Christ died for our sins, Christ rescued us from this evil age, and Christ was raised from the dead – Paul makes this startling statement to fellow believers: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Gal 1:6).

You see on that day in 1780 when General Washington found out about Benedict Arnold, whom he was suppose to dine with the next day at West Point, who had bravely fought and captured Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, overtaken Fort Saint-Jean in Quebec capturing the largest ship on the water and who had served with honors for his successful defensive tactics at 3 other battles, Gen. Washington was astonished that this brave soldier had so quickly deserted to the other side.  Why had he changed his mind?  Why had he left his command to join up with that of King George?  I leave you to the history books for that answer.
But this is a historical example from our nation of what Paul is writing about.  He is referring to the reality that men and women, having heard the beauty of the Gospel message can so quickly abandon the grace of Christ, the free gift of life and defect to the other side for a salvation that is grace plus works.  You see, people of God, these two positions are enemies, fighting one against the other.  They are in mortal, eternal combat for our souls.
Let’s back up for a moment, and ask what normally amazes people?  We would answer that by saying that feats of daring are amazing.  So also are acts of bravery, power, or wisdom – Solomon’s comes to mind.  Well, it was no different two thousand years ago, throughout the gospels, men are amazed at Christ and what he does.  They are astonished at his magnificent works. After healing the Gedarene demoniac, Mark 5:20 tells us, “So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”  The same happens after the healing of a dumb man in Matthew 9:33 “And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.””  In fact, in a brief summary of all Christ’s actions, Matthew and Mark both record similar statements. Matt. 15:31 “The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.”
This is what normally brings men amazement and leaves them open-mouthed.  But sometimes we are amazed at the foolishness of others, their gullibility, or blatant ignorance.  The Darwin awards for criminals and others, whose genes we seriously question the wisdom of passing on, always amaze me in this sort of way.  Let me tell you one of these stories.
In our passage, Paul isn’t amazed at the workings of God; he is amazed at a people who are so quick to leave the amazing work of God on their behalf.  While the Darwin awards can be funny, what amazes us most is the stupidity of the people, the sheer folly they exhibit.  Such is the case with Paul, he is amazed that one who sees, hears, feels and touches grace, would abandon God’s gift of salvation for a human facsimile requiring grace and works.  How foolish?  How stupid?  How can they become traitors, how can they change allegiance and deny the very work of God on their behalf?
But really it shouldn’t surprise us we are fickle people.  We have all been raised in a work-oriented world, and we rebel at the mere idea of being given anything for nothing.  There is an old economic term that aptly describes human nature.  It is TANSTAAFL – There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.  And that is our belief about every area of life, whether it’s religion, friendship, business or politics.  Someone always has to pay, and if it costs them something, they are going to expect something in return from me if I am going to be a beneficiary of their actions.
But that is not the case with the gospel.  In the gospel the Triune God does it all, and we do nothing.  In 2008 John Piper preached a wonderful sermon entitled, “How I distinguish between the true and false gospel.”  In it he lists a number of things that God does for his people which act as the grid through which one can distinguish the one, true gospel from every other impostor.  Piper draws these six gospel metrics from 1 Cor 15:1-5, I am going to focus on 4 of them
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Here they are:
6 Aspects of the Gospel Without Which There Is No Gospel
  1. The gospel was planned by God beforehand (verses 3, 4: “according to the scriptures”) = Gal. 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, and we know that the will of God never changes for Psa. 33:11 assures us “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” and that plan is that Heb. 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – always rescuing us from our sins and the present evil age.
  2. The gospel is an objective physical event in history (verses 3-5: “Christ died . . . he was buried . . . he was raised . . . he appeared”). = Gal. 1:1 “Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” and then later on we will find out that Jesus appeared to Paul as well, I received it by revelation in v.12
  3. The gospel is an objective accomplishment—the purchase or obtaining of redemption for all who would believe (verse 3: “Christ died for our sins”—the debt was paid) = Gal 1:4 he gave himself for our sins.  His life efficaciously brought salvation.  It was effective for his plans and purposes to redeem us.
  4. The gospel is an offer to be made to all that what Christ accomplished is free and may be had only by faith in him (verse 2: “by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.”) = Gal. 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel —
Here are the other two for those of you who need the complete list and who only have 4 of the 6 items would torment you for days to come:
  1. The gospel is an application through faith to specific people of what Christ accomplished (verse 2: “and by which you are being saved”).
  2. The gospel is an eternal and infinitely happy future destiny (verse 1-3: implied in the word “gospel” and “saved” and “sins born by another”)
Paul is amazed that any believer would turn to something other than these basic truths.  The gospel is all about God and his work through Christ, His Son, to accomplish our redemption applying it to our lives by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  It is about relationship, it is about doctrine, and it is about Christ.  This is the gospel, anything that adds to it as the basis for favor with God, or the basis for salvation or security in the hands of God is a false gospel. 
When we forget this, we are easy prey for the schemes of deceitful, scheming men and demons.  This truth needs to be firmly rooted and established in our lives, and in our hearts, and lest anyone think that the mind isn’t important, it needs to be rooted and established in our mind.  Doctrine is important.  Did you see the connection between relationship with God through Christ and sound doctrine? Gal. 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel
When we abandon the grace of God and turn to any teaching which requires special actions on our part for salvation to be effective, or requires us to do certain things to maintain our salvation, or requires us to assent to certain secondary beliefs as essential to the gospel, then we have traded the orthodox gospel for a heterodox gospel, a different gospel, a non-gospel.  There is only one gospel and anything else that is appended to it or removed from it is not the gospel.  That is what Paul is saying in very forceful language. 
It’s like this.  The Christian life is like walking on a path, fancy that the early Christians considered themselves “the Way” (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, 24:22), people walking on a path.  Well as each of us knows who has done much walking in the mountains, off of every main trail, there are an infinite number of side trails, spurs, intersections and the like which can at times appear appealing and inviting.  But there is only one main trail.  Paul is saying stay on the main trail, don’t take a side-trip, don’t let it lure you into death, you will get lost, don’t turn, stay straight, don’t be confused, hold firm.  For every side trail is a perversion of the gospel of Christ.
There are not many ways to God, as contemporary pluralism wants us to believe.  There is one gospel which is summed up with these words, Rom. 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  This is the Gospel; it’s all about Jesus.  He did all the work.  Everything else is a permanent altering of the truth.  Everything else is a perversion.  It would be like taking the world’s rarest coin, a 1933 Gold double eagle.  There is only 1 of them in existence and melting it down, recasting it into a similar coin but with some personal improvements and calling it once again a 1933 Gold double eagle. It would be a perversion, a permanent alteration, and an astonishment to say the least.  But then if you tried to pass it off as the original, every true coin collector in the world would call down a curse upon you.
Such is the case with the gospel.  IT is the rarest of gems, one that men will sell all they have in order to buy the field with the treasure, or the rare pearl.  It is unmistakably beautiful, amazingly generous, a gift of bounty, that my sins and yours are forgiven and relationship with God restored.  That the righteousness of Christ is imputed to me while my depravity and sin is imputed to him. 2Cor. 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This is the gospel.  There is no other.  Everything else is condemned, and everyone who believes and teaches anything opposed to the true gospel is condemned and handed over to God for destruction.  For there is no salvation apart from Christ and Christ alone.  There is no mixing of Christ with anything else.  The gospel of Christ can’t be mixed with anything else, just like oil and water can’t be mixed.  They are completely separate, unfusable, and unable to be homogenized, unified, married, intermixed or commingled with one another.  So it is with the true gospel and all false parodies of it.  They always separate into truth and falsehood, life giving and death bringing, true gospel or false gospel. 
And it comes from God.  No one would make up such a marvelous reality, that the innocent are pronounced guilty and the guilty pronounced innocent and both are raised to glory for the innocent can’t be condemned, but the condemned can be pardoned when the wrath of God has been satisfied in Christ’s life and death.  This is the promise of the gospel.
People of God, hold fast to the gospel.  Pay attention to your doctrine, guard Christ closely.  But be assured of this, that 2Tim. 2:13 if we are faithless [if for a while we do loose sight of Christ, or meld him to other things, it is a temporary stay], he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.  And if he remains faithful, he wont leave us in error, but will chasten us and draw us back into full communion and an even greater appreciation for the gospel he has secured for us.  To Christ be the glory, great things he has done and revealed to us.  Amen!
Here are some of my favorite Darwin Awards.  The one about the tornado is particularly humourous, yet stupid.
(31 July 2009, South Carolina)
  • Two disguised men entered the Sprint store on Sparkleberry Lane, pulled out guns, and stole wallets, purses, and credit cards before ordering the employees into a bathroom. Both men fled, but they could not flee from their own stupidity. 24-year-old James Thomas had disguised himself by spray-painting his own face.
  • Yes, in order to conceal his identity during the robbery, Thomas covered his skin with paint–a toxic substance with well muttknown inhalation risks. He began having trouble breathing (surprise!) and died wheezing shortly after the robbery took place. Witnesses were certain as to the identity of their assailant; had he lived, he would have been charged with armed robbery.
(26 September 2009, Dinant, Belgium)
  • Two bankrobbers attempting to make a sizeable withdrawal from an ATM machine died when they overestimated the quantity of dynamite needed for the explosion. Nobody else was in the building at the time of the attack. Robber One was rushed to hospital severely injured, and Robber Two was unexpectedly excavated from the debris twelve hours later.
An Unfun Whirlwind 
2009 Honorable Mention
Unconfirmed by Darwin
  • Ten years ago I was roofing vacant homes in Sun Valley, Nevada. It was the sweetest commute imaginable. I’d wake up, make breakfast, climb a ladder, and BAM! I was at work. Two things Sun Valley has: sand and dirt. Front yards: sand and dirt. Back yards: sand and dirt. Between homes: sand and dirt. Guess what the roads are made of. Yeah.
  • Dust was so prevalent that it was constantly being exchanged by dust devils. These tiny tornadoes were always wandering aimlessly about, coming tantalizingly close but never engaging me. You see, I’ve always been a reckless sort. Personal risk is something I will wager for the prospect of fun.
  • My idea was simple: Jump into the first Devil of formidable size; not some weak little twister that could only get me dirty. I wanted a contender.
  • A month passed. My Mexican helper cried out, “Miguel! Look! Look!” And there it was. A monster. My monster, with a 30-foot footprint, rising hundreds of feet into the air, and it was heading straight for us.
  • “I’m goin’ in!”
  • To which Joaquin replied, “Nooo Miguel, noooo”. At this point I must tell you, Joaquin was a very reluctant accomplice.
  • Down the ladder I went, two steps at a time, and as I ran closer and heard the roar I must say I had second thoughts. Stupidity got the best of me, so eager was I to interact with this behemoth, so in I rushed.
  • Instantly all the air was sucked out of my lungs. My eyes were filled with high-velocity sand and what breath I could draw was just detritus from the tornado. As the twister pulled me toward its center, the feeling of being planted firmly on the ground was diminishing, and something wanted my body to spin.
  • The violence was so intense that I wondered to myself, “Could one of these kill someone? Has anyone ever died inside a dust devil?” When it finally released me, I went down onto my hands and knees, choking and gagging, and kissed the ground. Joaquin rushed to my side and frantically communicated that he thought I was a goner. To which I gasped, “I’d like to do that again.”
  • Joaquin just shook his head and muttered, “Estupido.”

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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