The issue in our previous reading from Acts 15 was the nature and integrity of the gospel. In Galatians chapter 1 we are confronted with the same challenge.
The Galatians heard and embraced an anti-gospel message that masqueraded as the gospel. Like some more modern cults, some of the surface descriptions echoed Christian truth. ‘We love Jesus!’ ‘Trust in God!’ and other trite phrases which, on their own, mean nothing. Paul didn’t write in opposition to a somewhat legalistic approach to real faith, he was campaigned against damnable heresy. He didn’t merely correct a wrong emphasis, he eviscerated the purveyors of Satanic teaching that poisoned the souls of people across an entire region.
This may be the most aggressive passage in all of Paul’s writings. Consider the severity of the following words:
- thaumazō = astonished/amazed/filled with wonder that the Galatians would…
- metatithēmi = (of a person) …desert Paul
- They weren’t merely leaving an idea, they were leaving the person who brought them a message of freedom and salvation, preferring instead to re-enslave themselves to the idea of trying to prove to God that they were good enough.
- tarassō (twice in the same phrase) = Paul says that people are ‘tarassoing them into a tarasso’, disturbing them into a disturbance, throwing them into an upheaval
- metastrephō = pervert, as in “pervert the gospel of Christ”. Not a different version, or merely a lesser version, but a perversion of something pure into an entirely different and toxic thing.
- anathema = curse. Paul declared an anathema, a curse on anyone and everyone who preached a false gospel. And then he repeated that curse.
What does the aggression and severity of this language tell us?
Paul gave his life – literally and metaphorically – so that people would hear the good news about the work and person of Christ. He preached forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with our creator, which is the single most pressing need of every human. Paul took that message across Galatia and people responded to it. Then, at the corrupting influence of false and Judaising missionaries, people were turning away from grace, towards the epic futility of trying to earn their religion. It enraged and devastated Paul, particularly given he was no longer there in person to refute the heretics.
There are many views about which we should be tolerant and accepting, as we understand that even our strongly-held opinions are merely opinions. For example politics, social policy, gifts of the Spirit, The Millenium, worship styles, how to spend our money and time. All of those areas are subject to greater and lesser wisdom, and none of them are divided solely between godliness and devilry, life and death. (There are godless views about those things, but there are also God-honouring views that differ.)
What Paul opposed was the equivalent of telling someone on strong antibiotics that they should keep taking those, but also pick up some dirt from the road and rub it vigorously into their open wound.
The false gospel that enraged him was the ink in water, the pin prick in a balloon. The adding of an tiny little thing (obligation of works) to an otherwise grace-filled whole (repent and believe) that obliterated and negated the whole.
Do Christians have moral obligations? Yes. We are obliged to follow Christ because if we don’t then we show we don’t love him at all and our repentance wasn’t really repentance.
What good work can we do to prove ourselves worthy or trigger the forgiveness of our sins? None whatsoever, and any caveat to that isn’t a tweak on the gospel or an adjacent view, it’s Satanic, damnable, vile, soul-destroying, human-hating nonsense.
- Galatia was a region in modern-day Turkey, and represents the only of Paul’s letters to be sent to neither a specific city (like Corinth, Rome, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Philippi and Colossae), nor an individual (Titus, Timothy and Philemon).
- Opinion is divided as to exactly when Galatians was written – AD 48 is a popular view so I’m going with that in terms of where to place it in our devotional tour, particularly because of the theme. It could even be placed just prior to Paul’s visit to Jerusalem for the council meeting, and fits very well with those events, being written from Syrian Antioch, where Paul was dealing with the exact same problem he sees were occurring across Galatia.