Summary: In this section Paul uses a couple of key terms to help us understand what the gospel is. These are not the only terms that describe the gospel, but these are the ones Paul uses in this section.
Today we continue our study in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
I have previously expressed my view that Martin Luther’s Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians was extremely influential in Western Civilization. When the first English edition of Luther’s Commentary was published in 1575, the translators assured their readers that among the many other godly English books, they would find few as useful as Luther’s Commentary.
The reason Luther’s Commentary was so useful is because he understood the gospel in a new, fresh and powerful way.
The problem Luther faced in the 16th century was the same problem that the apostle Paul faced in the 1st century. They were both dealing with people who were distorting the gospel. Luther found Paul’s explanation of the gospel powerfully helpful. Rather than there being many different gospels, there is no other gospel than the one Paul preached.
Let us read how Paul expressed himself in Galatians 1:6-10:
"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— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 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! 9 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!
"10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-10)
The early Roman writers have given us a very clear picture of the character of the Galatians. On the one hand, they were noted for their sharp and quick minds, prompt and vigorous action, eager impressibility, and enthusiastic craving after knowledge. On the other hand, they were also known as inconstant and quarrelsome, treacherous in their dealings, incapable of sustained effort, and easily disheartened by failure.
There is one aspect of their character, however, that seems to fit very well with Paul’s description of the Galatians that emerges in his letter to the Galatians. It is their desire for change.
Julius Caesar, in his Gallic Wars, mentions that this character trait was the great difficulty against which he had to contend in his dealings with the Galatians. He complained that the Galatians, with scarcely an exception, were driven by a desire for change.
It seems to me that this character trait—the desire for change—is descriptive of many in America today. You may recall that Bill Clinton ran his first Presidential campaign in 1996 on this very issue: change! He argued that people want change. Change in leadership. Change in the economy. Change in values. Change in almost every arena of life. And, of course, he won.
Even Christians are not immune to this desire for change. Denominational loyalty, for example, is a thing of a bygone era. If people don’t like the denomination, the preacher, the music, the building, the (fill in the blank), they simply change churches.
It is this desire for change that has led some people to speak of Americans as the Galatians among the nations.
In Galatians 1:6-10, the apostle Paul mentions the word “gospel” five times (in vv. 6, 7a, 7b, 8, and 9). That tells us that Paul is talking about the gospel in this section. It also tells us that the gospel is extremely important for Paul.
In fact, Paul says to the Galatians, “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” (1:6, 7a). The main point that Paul makes in this section is this: There is only one gospel! There is no other gospel! Do not change the true gospel for a false gospel!
Paul makes some exceedingly strong statements about those who would like to change his gospel. For example, he says in verse 8: “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!”
Then, to emphasize his point, he repeats himself in verse 9: “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!”
Surely we must ask: Why such strong and unyielding language?
First, Paul perceived that the glory of Christ was at stake. The gospel is a gospel of grace. It is the good news about Jesus Christ and his penal, substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes it (cf. Romans 1:16). And so, to add anything to the finished work of Christ is to degrade the cross. It is to declare that the cross is superfluous and perhaps even redundant. To make any work necessary for salvation is to dishonor the gospel of Christ. As Paul himself said later to the Galatians, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (2:21).