A Church that lost its way Gal 1: 6-9
Faced with a church in a mess, the Apostle Paul was no “cut and run” merchant. He proved himself to be a far more difficult character who stays and fights. Nothing illustrates this better than his letter to the Galatians, and these opening verses give us a taste of what was to come. Look at what he writes to these young Christians.
1. Deserting the Grace of God 1: 6-7
Paul is using strong language. ‘Deserting’ v.6 means to transfer allegiance, and was sued of soldiers revolting against their commanders. Paul calls them religious turncoats. So, are the churches empty? Have they all reverted to atheism or paganism? No. they seem to be still there meeting and praying. They haven’t denied the deity of Christ; they still seem to be willing to call Him Lord …but the truth is that the challenge is far more subtle and dangerous! As we read through the letter, it is what has been added to the Gospel that has astonished the apostle: an insistence on circumcision (2:3, 5:3), trying to be justified by the Law (5:4). All very religious, all very proper, all very traditional. Yet Paul describes this not in terms of differences of churchmanship, not as if this was just a different way of viewing certain doctrines, not in impersonal terms at all. Shockingly, this is ‘deserting’ the ‘one who called you’ (1:6), the God of Grace. They are turning back on him and looking elsewhere, saying he hasn’t done enough in Christ to win them. Evidently some people then were throwing the Galatians into confusion (1:7) So they do now. The commonest heresy inside the Church and out remains the idea that Christianity is DIY religion (‘Trying my best’). Yet every time we add to reliance on Christ’s generosity and mercy we pervert the gospel or reverse
it.(1:7). It is so easily done. Insisting on the observance of religious rites, as if only those who have enjoyed certain spiritual experiences to belong to certain groups or denominations are the real Christians, is to become a Gospel pervert. That attitude and behaviour says that when Christ declared ‘it is finished’, he got it wrong.
2. Distinguishing God’s Gospel Grace (1: 8-9)
Frighteningly, any different gospel from the one Paul had preached is no gospel at all (1:6-8) So to reject Paul is to reject God! That is why he spells out so carefully the need to be discerning, for nothing can be more dangerous than to take it for granted that we are being told the true Gospel because someone seems qualified to do so. The message is ‘don’t be fooled by appearances’. Don’t be dazzled by learning. Professors can be wrong, letters after the name can’t guarantee the Gospel. Don’t be dazzled by religious standing. If apostles’ preaching (note the ‘we’ in v. 8) is still to be checked, so must the teaching of mere bishops, clergy, archbishops and popes. Don’t be dazzled by spirituality. If as spiritual a being as an angel preaches a different gospel, it is no gospel and he is to be condemned. Don’t be dazzled by results. The number of converts is not the issue, but the question is to what gospel were they converted.
These are not merely theoretical possibilities, indeed 1:9 takes it all out of the hypothetical and into the immediate and very personal. In a word: judge people by the Gospel and not the Gospel by people.
The author of this exposition, Hugh Palmer, is on the staff team of Christ Church Fulwood, Sheffield.