As in the time of the Apostle Paul, the attempts to compromise the gospel has taken a toll on the Church universal. Paul battled this tendency during his life and wrote a letter to the Galatians churches to warn them of those who wanted to compromise the one true gospel. At the beginning of that letter, he declared,
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).
While the circumstances differed from those of today, the dangers remain just as high. Other so-called gospels bring about a curse from God. The one true gospel has its source in Him. It concerns His declaration of the means of redemption found in His Son, Jesus Christ and informs us of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the promise of redemption. To compromise the gospel is to compromise not only God’s revealed word but also the work of God in redemption and God Himself. A compromise of the gospel affects all three: God’s word, God’s work, and God Himself.
Paul informed the Galatians that such a compromise led them back into slavery to the fallen flesh and its corruption highlighted in the Law of Moses. Those who preached another gospel to the Galatians churches raised doubts about God’s word to the apostles, God’s work of redemption through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and the very nature of God. This letter explores all three of these theological issues and explains the outcome of compromising the gospel.
Today, we live in a world in which religions proliferate like ants. Just open the telephone book or an Internet page for churches within a given city, and you will discover a variety of churches. Many teach another gospel than the one from the Bible. Not only are numerous churches preaching another gospel, but also there are a myriad of religions spread across the world. Most believe in many gods (polytheism). Others believe in some ominous spirit that permeates nature (pantheism, panentheism). Others believe in no gods at all (atheism, humanism) or claim that we cannot know if God exists (agnosticism). Each has its own gospel (or good news) for bringing hope to humanity.
While Paul does not address religions per se in his letter to the Galatians, he makes it very clear that any other message than the gospel he preached receives a curse from God. If such messages receive God’s curse, how serious should we take the one true gospel rather than following cursed messages from whatever source?
As we go through this letter, we will encounter terms Paul uses to describe the gospel that need our special attention so that we can understand his message. The original readers of this letter were well aware of what these terms meant because of the problems they encountered with the false teachers who came to them. It is important to place ourselves in their shoes, their culture, their historical context, and their language so that we can understand what they did and not walk away from reading this letter with a different message. These terms consist of law, flesh, faith, promise, justify, righteousness, grace, and liberty. These words have context out of which Paul’s message arose. We will walk through this letter carefully, paying attention to the repetition of these words so that we can come to grips with Paul’s message. Not only will we do this, but we will also determine how Paul’s message encounters the pluralistic (many religions) world in which we live. As we do this, we will be able to discern the one true gospel as opposed to the many false gospels spread across the world.