|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 2
Meditation Title: Desertion
Gal 1:6,7 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-- which is really no gospel at all.
The early centuries of the Christian Church were, in reality, years of all-out warfare over the truth. Jesus had come and gone, the Holy Spirit had come, the Gospel had gone out from Jerusalem and had been spread into neighbouring lands and further afield. A study of those early centuries shows us that the early church suffered attack from persecution, competing ideologies and heretics. The competing ideologies comprised, Polytheism (the worship of many gods versus the One True God), Philosophy (man's thinking versus God's revelation), Judaism (the refusal to move on in God's revelation), the Mystery Religions (myth versus Truth), and the Occult (counterfeit power versus God's power). The heretics were those, often with good intent, who brought in false teaching. Judaism, you will see from what we have just said, we consider a competitor although its influence brought about wrong teaching which Paul is about the address.
Paul is referring to two Gospels although, he says, the latter one is really no Gospel at all. We did refer to it in the first meditation and we will continue to do so as we carry on because it is so important. The first and real Gospel, as he refers here, is one where we are called by the grace of Christ. Now this simply means that we were NOT called to respond to rules, we are not called to a mechanistic activity of doing good to appease God and we are not called to a life of ritual as a means of ‘law keeping'. All of these we will see in this book from Paul. No, grace means that we have been offered a FREE gift that comes with no strings beyond that it is received. It is the gift of forgiveness given for no other reason than Jesus has made it possible by taking our punishment on the Cross and thus has opened the way for a loving relationship between His father and us. All it requires on our part is belief that he has done this and acceptance of it into our own lives.
The latter ‘Gospel' that he refers to here is what I would call an ‘add-on' Gospel; it is the belief that we still have to DO something to gain assurance of our salvation, whether it is perform good works or carry out religious ritual. Each of these things mean that WE are having to create our own salvation instead of allowing God to bring it to us. Now of course one of the things that we are going to have to face as we go through this, is the obvious thing that works or activity DO play a part in the Christian faith. Paul himself wrote, “we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Eph 2:10a) but, he goes on, they are works, “which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2;10b). They are things that His Holy Spirit leads us to do, not things that we try to do to somehow please Him.
Why does Paul say that this latter Gospel is in fact no Gospel at all? Because it is NOT good news! If we have to work, or have to carry out ritual to somehow please God, then we never know if we have achieved that and we will have to keep on trying. We are in a prison of achievement and it has no end. The Christian life, on the other hand, is to be a life of peace with God, where we enjoy being led by His Holy Spirit to be the people He's designed us to be and thus being as fulfilled as we can be, serving Him by blessing His world. It is to be a joy and blessing, not a hard effort.
The reason for all this is made clear: “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (v.7b). Obviously other people had turned up and said that Paul's teaching was inadequate. Error comes when people try to impose something more than Scripture simply reveals. Every now and then I come across someone who is trying to explain their special revelation or insight and it usually needs lots and lots of explanation. If a doctrine needs pages and pages of explanation, it is probably not of God. Although it is only received by those with hearts open to God, the word of God is mostly simple and straight forward and needs neither a degree to understand it nor pages of explanation.
Paul feels so strongly about the real Gospel that he speaks almost violently against anyone who would create something different: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (v.8,9). The Gospel he had preached he was so sure about, so that anything else was to be utterly condemned. We might ask ourselves are we so sure that we understand and have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is the most wonderful revelation the world has ever had? Do we realise that any alternative with an ‘add-on' is false teaching and in fact no Gospel at all? Thank God for the wonder of the free Good News that you have received. Thank Him that He loves you so much that He sent His one and only Son to die in your place that you might be forgiven. Thank Him that when you came to Him and simply received that truth, He justified you then and there and thereafter it was simply a case of receiving His love. Thank Him for the life of love that He has led you into.