Galatians 1:11-24 From Persecutor to Preacher: The Origin of Paul’s Gospel

 

Galatians 1:11–24 (ESV) — For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

 

INTRODUCTION

Are you a red-letter Christian? You may have a red-letter Bible, or you may have seen one. I wasn’t sure if I had a red-letter Bible, but apparently I’ve not been paying close attention because several of my Bibles are red-letter editions.

So what’s with the red letters? The red letters indicate the words of Jesus. If you have a red-letter Bible, you can easily find the parts where Jesus is talking.

There have perhaps always been people who put more emphasis on the words of Jesus. Some people prefer the words of Jesus to the rest of the Bible. In fact, for some people, if it’s not in red, it’s not as important. It might not even be inspired. Years ago in a liberal seminary, one of my professors dismissed my quotation of Paul by saying, “That was Paul’s opinion.”

In 2007, a group of liberal “Christians” launched the Red-Letter Christian movement. They want to emphasize the words of Jesus, but are not too interested in the Apostle Paul. They may even talk about the gospel according to Jesus and the gospel according to Paul, as if they are two different gospels. 

By the way, having a red letter Bible does not mean that you are a Red-Letter Christian. Otherwise I would be guilty more than once.

We have seen that the opening verses of Galatians that there is only one gospel. All other gospels are distortions, perversions of the one true gospel of the grace of God.

Different Religions?

Note that Paul is not talking about different religions that are not even similar. Of course, the religions of this world are false worldviews and systems of belief. They cannot be compared with the gospel for they are different in every way.

It has often been said that all religions are basically the same, but superficially different. However, that is not the case. World religions may be superficially the same for they often call for people to live in peace with each other, though Islam, the so-called religion of peace, seeks to attain peace by forcing everyone to submit to Islam. The religions of the world are in reality superficially similar but fundamentally different in essence. They have different views of 

  • Who or what God is
  • The nature of man
  • The nature of man’s problem
  • The solution to man’s problem
  • Life after death
  • The meaning of life and of death

The claims of Jesus and the apostles stand in direct opposition to all other religions. The message of Christianity is exclusive:

Acts 4:12 (ESV) — And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

There is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ.

Distorted Gospels

When Paul speaks of “a different gospel,” he is not referring to the religions of the world which are in no way similar to the gospels. Paul is warning us about messages that sound like the gospel but add or subtract from it in various ways. 

  • They use the same biblical terms such as God, Jesus, Son of God, Holy Spirit, and salvation, but they don’t mean what the authors of the Bible meant.
  • The doctrine of the Trinity is diminished by false gospels.
  • The deity of Jesus Christ is denied.
  • The work of Christ is diminished.
  • They take the focus off of Christ and put it on the Sabbath, or the law, or on prosperity, or on success.

The cults take away from God and make much of man. The Judaizers used Christian terms. They believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but insisted that Gentiles add to Christ’s work in order to be saved.

Acts 15:1 (ESV) — But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Acts 15:5 (ESV) — But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

In his opening verses, Paul argues that there is only one gospel, the gospel that he preaches, and that all human opinion must be judged and tested by that gospel, his gospel.

The Origin of Paul’s Gospel

The Apostle Paul states that his gospel is normative. It is the standard. It is the measure of the truth. Any message that denies or diminishes or changes the gospel that he preached is a distorted message.

He could not be clearer in his denunciation of other gospels:

Galatians 1:8–9 (ESV) — But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

So the question comes: Where did he get this gospel? Where did it come from? What is its origin?

The Apostle Paul penned 13 of the letters of the New Testament, 13 out of 27 books. We read his letters to the Romans and to the Corinthians and are amazed at his understanding. Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians — letters that he wrote while under arrest in Rome — they are majestic, wonderful, and profound. The depths of the riches of God’s grace revealed in these letters — where did Paul get this? Are these letters the result of his creativity? Did he have a vivid imagination? Was he simply a brilliant thinker with a creative mind? Did he get these ideas second hand from the apostles in Jerusalem?[1]

The Judaizers had undermined his authority, just as Red-Letter Christians today would dismiss the Apostle Paul. The Judaizers would argue that Paul was not on equal standing with the apostles. He had gotten a condensed version, an abbreviated gospel. He had heard something from the apostles, but he no doubt failed the course in “Basic Gospel Principles” because he left out the most important parts: circumcision and keeping the law of Moses.

Paul states his case beginning in verse 11:

Galatians 1:11 (ESV) — For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

“I would have you know.” “Listen up, brothers. Let me make this perfectly clear. This is of vital importance. Hear me loud and clear:”

  • the gospel that was preached by me, 
  • the gospel that you heard, 
  • the gospel that you believed, 
  • the gospel by which you received the Spirit

It is not man’s gospel. It is not of human origin. 

Galatians 1:12 (ESV) — For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

  • It is not according to man.
  • It is not a human invention (NEB).
  • No one taught it to me. I did not get this at the feet of Jewish rabbis. I did not learn this from the apostles. This came by revelation of Jesus Christ.
  • This gospel is not Paul’s invention: “I preach it, but I did not invent it. I did not receive it from men as if it were already an accepted tradition handed down from a previous generation. I did not learn it from human teachers.”[2]
  • Then where did it come from?
  • “I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

In verse 1, Paul spoke of the divine origin of his apostolic commission. 

Galatians 1:1 (ESV) — Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—

Here in verse 12, Paul asserts the divine origin of his apostolic gospel.

  • This gospel is not his invention.
  • It is not a tradition that was passed on to him.
  • It is a revelation.
  • However, what Paul was arguing in Galatians was not that his gospel was different from that of the other apostles but rather that he had received it independently of them.[3]

What did Paul receive by revelation?

There can be no doubt that Paul knew quite a lot about the Christian faith before his conversion. He knew some of the facts about Jesus’ life. He knew that Jesus had been crucified. He knew what the believers were saying about him. But he had not understood the gospel.[4]

Consider Peter. Peter knew a great deal about Jesus. Peter was a disciple. He knew about his ministry, his teaching, and his miracles. But Peter did not know who Jesus was until God revealed it to him:[5]

Matthew 16:16–17 (ESV) — Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

The Apostle Paul speaks of how God revealed his eternal plan to the apostles and prophets:

Ephesians 3:5 (ESV) — which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

Five points of Paul’s gospel:[6]

  1. God raised Jesus from the dead and vindicated Jesus’ claim to be one with the Father.
  2. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God and maintained a close connection with the Church, the Body of Christ on earth.
  3. The risen Christ will come again and fulfill the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.
  4. “God has opened the door of salvation for Gentiles as well as Jews.”
  5. Gentiles and Jews are justified by faith in Christ alone, apart from works.

Was this gospel unique to Paul? No, for it was simply the full elaboration of the one and only gospel Jesus himself proclaimed.[7]s had spoken of the inclusion of the Gentiles in John 10:

John 10:16 (ESV) — And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Again in Matthew,

Matthew 24:14 (ESV) — And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV) — And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Peter had already anticipated the inclusion of the Gentiles in his mission to Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter and the other apostles had been called directly by Jesus Christ. Paul also received his call and commission directly from Jesus Christ:

1 Corinthians 15:8 (ESV) — Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Proofs from History

Paul’s argument in verses 11 and 12 is that the gospel that he preached was from Jesus Christ himself. 

How can you prove that Paul? How can you prove that you received by revelation the gospel that you preach?

Paul will give three proofs from history.

 

1. Paul’s Life Before His Conversion

Paul underlines two aspects of his life before conversion:

(1) His persecution of the church of God. 

Galatians 1:13–14 (ESV) — For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 

Paul often speaks of the churches of a region, such as the churches of Galatia, but here he is referring to the church of God, the called out people of God.

Notice that he states that he persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.

Acts 8:3 (ESV) — But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Acts 8:3 (NIV) — But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Acts 9:1 (ESV) — But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest

Acts 9:13 (ESV) — But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.

Acts 9:21 (ESV) — And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”

Acts 22:4–5 (ESV) — I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

Acts 22:19 (ESV) — And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you.

Acts 26:9–11 (ESV) — “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

1 Corinthians 15:9 (ESV) — For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Why this fanaticism?

What Paul did encounter was a sect within Judaism that, because of their devotion to Messiah Jesus, was redefining the boundaries of the community of Israel in ways that were profoundly disturbing to such a strict Pharisaic leader as Paul.[8]

What was so offensive to Saul? The message that…[9]

  • Jesus was the Messiah.
  • The Messiah had been publicly condemned and crucified.
  • He had been raised from the dead.
  • He had been exalted to the right hand of God and was to be worshipped, the same blasphemy that had led to his death (John 10:33).
  • The Torah (the Law) was not sufficient. Even those whom the Torah would declare righteous needed to believe in Jesus. Christ, not the Torah, was the basis of salvation.

Saul took steps to defend Judaism from this danger.

 

(2) His Enthusiasm for the Traditions of His Fathers

Galatians 1:14 (ESV) — And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

Saul was the up and coming young rabbi. He was the man to watch. He had had all the advantages of Roman citizenship, a knowledge of the Gentile world, and living in Jerusalem where he was trained by Gamaliel, the most outstanding Pharisee and teacher of the law.

Acts 22:3 (ESV) — “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.

Acts 26:4–5 (ESV) — “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. 5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.

He was a zealot for Judaism. He had standing and authority and recognition. He had everything he could have wanted and was intent on destroying the faith, stamping out the sect of the Nazarenes. 

How do you explain the change from persecutor to preacher, persecutor of the faith to preacher of the faith? How do you explain that? One word: revelation.

Galatians 1:11–12 (ESV) — For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

 

2. Paul’s Conversion

Notice the contrast between the “I’s” of verses 13-14 and God’s action in the verses 15-16:

  • I persecuted the church of God.
  • I was advancing in Judaism.
  • I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

“BUT”

Galatians 1:15–16 (ESV) — But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;

 

(1) God set him apart before he was born (v. 15).

Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV) — “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Romans 8:29 (ESV) — For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Romans 1:1 (ESV) — Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

When Paul says in Galatians 2:20 that the Son of God “loved me and gave himself for me,” when did he do that? When did Jesus love him and give himself for Paul? Before or after Paul’s conversion? Before. 

Ephesians 1:4 (ESV) — even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love

 

(2) God called him by his grace (v. 15).

Paul was set apart before he was born, but he was called at a specific point in his life.[10] Paul had been fighting God, fighting Christ, and fighting the church. He did not merit God’s call. He did not deserve it. “God called him by his grace.”

 

(3) God was pleased to reveal his Son to Paul (v. 16a).

Paul knew what Stephen had preached. He had heard the testimony of various believers. He knew some of the facts. Now he knew their meaning.

Galatians 1:16 (ESV) — was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…

Yes, this gospel was “received through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). The revelation was private, but it was for public proclamation.[11]

What was Paul to preach? The Law of Moses?

No. “Him.” God “was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him,” the Son.

1 Corinthians 1:22–24 (ESV) — For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV) — For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

2 Corinthians 4:5 (ESV) — For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

God revealed his Son so that Paul might preach him, the Son, among the Gentiles.

Last words at Pisidian Antioch:

Acts 13:47 (ESV) — For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

This is what the Lord had told Ananias who prayed for Saul:

Acts 9:15 (ESV) — But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.

Paul understood his commission and ministry to the Gentiles:

Romans 11:13 (ESV) — Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry

1 Timothy 2:7 (ESV) — For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Acts 22:17-18, 21 (ESV) — “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’

21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

How do you explain a man 

  • who wants to protect Judaism from losing its identity as Jews embrace Jesus as their Messiah?
  • a man who is zealous for the traditions of his fathers?
  • a man who was intent on destroying the church because he believes that it is destroying Judaism?

How do you explain that this same man suddenly begins preaching the very Christ that he had set out to destroy? How do you explain that? 

Paul explains: God “was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (1:15). This gospel is not his invention; God revealed it to him.

 

3. Paul’s Life After Conversion (1:16b-24)

The Judaizers wanted to undermine Paul’s authority by claiming that he got his gospel from the apostles but that he had compromised it and changed it to make it more acceptable to Gentiles. Paul, they said, had changed the message. He had dropped the requirements of circumcision and keeping the law of Moses. 

Paul presents his alibis: he did not get his gospel from the apostles because he was not with them.

Let’s move quickly through this.

 

(1) First alibi: Arabia.

Galatians 1:16–17 (ESV) — …I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Paul made the decision immediately that he wouldn’t consult with anyone. Why should he? He has just received a revelation from Jesus Christ. He determined not to go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before him. 

What does that mean? It means that just as Christ had called the other apostles before him, now Christ had called Paul to be his apostle. 

So what did Paul do? Putting the various texts together, we learn that he preached Christ and he went to Arabia, not too far from Damascus. For three years he meditated on the Old Testament Scriptures and sat at the feet of Jesus.[12]

 

(2) Second alibi: Jerusalem

Galatians 1:18–19 (ESV) — Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.

Paul has already spent three years praying, thinking, meditating on the Scriptures and understanding how the life and death and resurrection of Christ had been announced beforehand in the prophets. His gospel is fully formed.

He now, after three years, visits Peter for two weeks, all the while (we read elsewhere) preaching the gospel. It was a busy two weeks, and a plot is discovered to kill him (Acts 9:29). 

Much of those two weeks in Jerusalem, we learn from Acts (9:28, 29), was spent in preaching.

To sum up, Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem was only after three years, it lasted only two weeks, and he saw only two apostles. It was, therefore, ludicrous to suggest that he obtained his gospel from the Jerusalem apostles[13].

 

(3) Third alibi: Syria and Cilicia

Paul ministers in Syria and Cilicia, far from Jerusalem and the apostles. It would be 14 years from his conversion before he visits Jerusalem again. Paul did not preach a different gospel from the apostles, but his gospel came not from the apostles, but from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. To reject Paul’s gospel is to reject God himself.

 

CONCLUSION

The verb to preach is used three times in this passage:

Preaching the Gospel

Galatians 1:11 (ESV) — For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

Preaching the Son

Galatians 1:16 (ESV) — was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;

Preaching the Faith

Galatians 1:23 (ESV) — They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

 

What are we to preach? 

  • Preach the gospel. Paul speaks of preaching the gospel 23 times.
  • Preach Christ.
  • Preaching the faith.

To preach the gospel is to preach Christ. Preaching Christ is to preach the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Galatians 1:23–24 (ESV) — They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Galatians 1:5 (ESV) — to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

 


[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians: Only One Way, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 29–30.

[2] Ibid., 30.

[3] Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 109.

[4] Ibid., 110.

[5] Ibid., 111.

[6] Ibid., 111–112.

[7] Ibid., 112.

[8] Ibid., 114.

[9] Ibid., 115.

[10] Ibid., 118.

[11] Stott, Ibid., 33.

[12] Stott, Ibid., 33.

[13] Ibid., 35.

See also “Galatians Series“:

 

Galatians 1:6-10 — Deserting God for a False Gospel

ESV Galatians 1:6–10 — I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

 

INTRODUCTION

What do you think of these verses? What do you think of these verses of holy Scripture? Do these verses in any way reflect how we feel about the gospel of Christ? Can we identify with Paul’s feeling? Can we identify with his concern?

There are two factors that make these verses very difficult for us:

  • We want to be tolerant of others and their ideas. Most of us do not like confrontation. We do not want to correct anyone. 
  • We are intimidated. We think that disagreeing with someone or having clear and strong opinions about something is a sign of arrogance. Christians are frequently accused of being arrogant: “You think that your way is the only way. You think that you are right and everyone else is wrong. Why can’t you just accept that there are many ways to God and your way is not the only way?” That is the attitude of much of the world today and not a few people in the church.

Another line of questions: Do we understand the gospel? What was the message that we heard and believed? Do we recognize counterfeit gospels?

  • “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

Many people in our churches have very unclear ideas about the gospel because far too often the pulpit is not clear. When pastors don’t take the time to study the Scriptures for themselves, the church is in grave danger.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is very pertinent to our situation. As we sat around the table at Pastor Kiel’s church this past Sunday, someone mentioned that another Assemblies of God pastor had defected to the Seventh Day Adventists. How could this happen? It can only happen because the pastor knew neither the Scriptures nor the gospel of the grace of God. Are you troubled by the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Seventh Day Adventists? We could add the Bahá’í and the Muslims to the mix.

 

Background: The First Missionary Journey 

Let’s consider what’s happening in Galatia.

Paul and Barnabas, from all appearances have successfully completed the mission that we generally call the first missionary journey. They had been in ministry for ten or twelve years before that mission. They had worked together team teaching the megachurch at Antioch. Then, we read in Acts 13, 

Acts 13:2 (ESV) — While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

They were sent out by the Holy Spirit with the blessings of the church. They evangelized the island of Cyprus and the region of Galatia, including the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Through much hardship and in the face of much persecution, Gentiles had been saved, churches had been planted, and elders had been appointed. Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria, the sending church, and reported what God had done:

Acts 14:27–28 (ESV) — And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.

This was a time of victory! Missionaries love to share what God has done. Believers love to hear what God has done in answer to their prayers and their partnership. This was a time of rejoicing and renewal for Paul and Barnabas.

We love sharing good news.

But then came the bad news. 

Paul is shocked. 

Galatians 1:6 (ESV) — I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

Galatians 1:6 (NLT) — I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News

 

No Thanksgiving?

Normally Paul begins his letters with a word of thanksgiving. He gives thanks to the Lord for 

Romans 1:8 (ESV) — First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

1 Corinthians 1:4 (ESV) — I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,

Ephesians 1:16 (ESV) — I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,

Philippians 1:3 (ESV) — I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

Colossians 1:3 (ESV) — We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,

1 Thessalonians 1:2 (ESV) — We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,

Philemon 4 (ESV) — I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,

Here the Apostle Paul who always finds something to give thanks for… does not give thanks for what is happening in Galatia. There is no word of thanks, no word of encouragement, not even a word of prayer. Instead, Paul registers astonishment, shock at the news: “I can’t believe it! It can’t be true! How could this happen?” All that Paul and Barnabas had done was now undone.

These verses point to the utter seriousness of the gospel and of the importance of knowing and believing the truth of the gospel. Let’s consider some implications of the gospel, or “gospel truths.”

 

Gospel Truth 1: To turn to a different gospel is to desert the God who called you.

Galatians 1:6–7 (NLT) — I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News 7 but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Notice that first line: “you are turning away… from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ.” Both the ESV and the NIV speak of “deserting the one who called you.”

Galatians 1:6 (ESV) — I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

This is desertion. In the war between Russia and Ukraine, we read of soldiers who are deserting, both Russian and Ukrainian. I think it would be a good idea if everyone just went home! But in the military you could get shot or executed for desertion. Deserting God is much more serious.

How have they deserted God? They have deserted God by turning to different gospel.

Turning from the gospel of grace is to turn from the God of grace. To forsake the gospel is to forsake God. 

Galatians 1:6–7 (ESV) — I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

What is this gospel? What is THE gospel?

The true gospel is in its essence what Paul called it in Acts 20:24, ‘the gospel of the grace of God’. It is good news of a God who is gracious to undeserving sinners. In grace He gave His Son to die for us. In grace He calls us to Himself. In grace He justifies us when we believe. ‘All is from God’, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:18, meaning that ‘all is of grace’. Nothing is due to our efforts, merits or works; everything in salvation is due to the grace of God. 1

This is what we read in the opening verses of Galatians:

Galatians 1:3–4 (ESV) — Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

1 Corinthians 15:1–4 (ESV) — Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

The gospel…

  • I preached
  • You received
  • In which you stand
  • By which your are being saved
  • IF you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.

What is this gospel?

  • God wants you to be happy?
  • Come to Jesus and all your problems will be solved?
  • Accept Jesus into your heart and you will have a wonderful life?
  • You can have your best life now?
  • God has a plan for you to be successful and prosperous.

No.

  • Christ died for our sins…

Romans 4:25 (ESV) — who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

What message did you embrace? Unless we understand that we stand guilty of condemnation before God and that only through the shed blood of his Son and that alone can we be saved, we have been deceived.

 

Gospel Truth 2: There is only one true gospel.

Galatians 1:6–7 (ESV) — I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

The Message translation

Galatians 1:7 (The Message) — It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head.

The false teachers, the Judaizers, are distorting, twisting, perverting the gospel of the grace of God. This is something you can do to complete your salvation.

The Revised Standard Version brings it out: ‘You are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel.’ In other words, there are certainly different gospels being preached, but this is what they are—different. There is not another, a second; there is only one. The message of the false teachers was not an alternative gospel; it was a perverted gospel. 2

Paul’s message is a denial of pluralism, the idea that there are many roads to God. It is a denial of universalism, that everyone will be saved. The Scriptures are clear. There is only one way, one mediator, and no other name.

One way

John 14:6 (ESV) — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

One mediator

1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV) — For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

No other name

Acts 4:12 (ESV) — And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

But the Galatians have deserted the gospel of grace:

Galatians 3:1 (NLT) — Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.

Galatians 4:11 (ESV) — I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Galatians 4:11 (NLT) — I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.

 

2.1. The troublemakers and their false gospel.

What had happened? Paul clearly states that there had been troublemakers 

Galatians 1:7 (ESV) — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

Who were these troublemakers? Who were these people who were peddling a false gospel and what was the message they were purveying?

They were not Hindus, or Buddhists, or Bahá’í, or Muslims, or some other strange religion. These false teachers did not deny that you must believe in Jesus for salvation. They considered themselves to be believers. They believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the Christ. We find them in Acts 15:

Acts 15:5 (ESV) — But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

Acts 15:1 (ESV) — But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Illustration: Pure water, just add Scaleaway!

Paul calls them false brothers:

Galatians 2:4 (ESV) — Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—

They had falsely presented themselves as coming from Jerusalem:

Acts 15:24 (ESV) — Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions,

John Stott says of them,

They did not deny that you must believe in Jesus for salvation, but they stressed that you must be circumcised and keep the law as well. In other words, you must let Moses finish what Christ has begun. Or rather, you yourself must finish, by your obedience to the law, what Christ has begun. You must add your works to the work of Christ. You must finish Christ’s unfinished work.

The work of Christ is a finished work; and the gospel of Christ is a gospel of free grace.

This doctrine Paul simply will not tolerate. What? Add human merits to the merit of Christ and human works to the work of Christ? God forbid! The work of Christ is a finished work; and the gospel of Christ is a gospel of free grace. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, without any admixture of human works or merits. It is due solely to God’s gracious call, and not to any good works of our own. 3

By accepting this message, the Galatians are severed from Christ:

Galatians 5:4 (ESV) — You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

 

2.2. Doctrinal maturity is a necessity.

We see that the counterfeit was very close to the true gospel. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They considered themselves to be believers. Their message seemed to complete what Paul had not said. They made much of the Galatians: “Oh, we are so proud of you! You have made so much progress. There’s just this little thing of circumcision and our food laws… you are so close to becoming full Jews, part of the people of God.”

There have always been and always will be until the Lord returns, troublemakers in and out of the church. The Apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders:

Acts 20:29–30 (ESV) — I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

There are false believers all around us, people who call themselves Christians but are not.

  • The Mormons are not even close, but they call themselves Christians while believing in many gods and believing that they will become gods. Mormonism is a different religion.
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christians, but they deny the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. They are a cult, but they are not Christians.
  • The Seventh Day Adventists — the name says it all: “Seventh Day.” If you want to be saved, you must observe the seventh day, the sabbath. It’s just one small requirement that you must observe if you want to be saved.

Christ gave pastor-teachers to bring us to maturity and stability:

Ephesians 4:11–14 (ESV) — And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Illustration: Searching for the Keys to Heaven

Have you heard the story of the man searching for his keys under the street light? His friend saw him and stopped to help. After some minutes he asked, “Exactly where did you drop your keys?”

“In my house,” the man answered.

“In your house? Then why are we looking out here?”

“Because the light is better out here.”

You’ll never find what you are looking for unless you look in the right place.

You’ll never find what you are looking for unless you look in the right place. Today people are looking for spiritual life, but like this confused man they are looking in the wrong places. Originally the Galatians knew where to find the key to salvation. They had heard Paul’s message and had been saved by putting their faith in Jesus Christ. Now they were confused. They began to listen to the legalists who said that they needed both the keys of faith and good works (the law) to be saved. Confused, the Galatians were looking for the key to salvation and Christian maturity in the wrong place.

Sadly today many people are also looking in the wrong place for the key that unlocks a relationship with God. Even churchgoers aren’t applying the key of grace to unlock salvation and a relationship with God. 4

 

An Assemblies of God pastor who defects to the Seventh Day Adventists needs to be in the Seventh Day Adventists because he has never understood the gospel. We do not need pastors in the Assemblies of God who do not know the Bible. Reading, studying, and understanding the Scriptures is not an option. It is not a luxury. It is imperative that you and I and all our members understand the gospel of the grace of God.

1 Corinthians 14:20 (ESV) — Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

 

Gospel Truth 3: Troublemakers and those who follow them are under God’s curse.

We must be clear about these matters. Understanding the gospel and believing the gospel is at the heart of our relationship with God. If you believe that you are saved because of something that you do, you are surely lost. If you believe that you must do something to complete Christ’s work on the cross, you are deceived. 

Galatians 1:8–9 (ESV) — But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

What are we to think about this anathema? Let’s remember that Jesus himself pronounced judgment on people?

Mark 9:42 (ESV) — “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Jesus pronounces “woes” of judgment at least 23 times in Matthew and Luke.

Note first that this curse is universal. “It rests upon any and every teacher who distorts the essence of the gospel and propagates his distortion. 5” It includes angels, and it includes Paul himself. Verse 8 is more hypothetical. “If we or an angel were to preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Verse 9 is more direct: “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” And by implication, you are to have nothing to do with him.

Note also that this curse is not an insult or a display of anger. It is quite deliberate. 

The glory of Christ was at stake.

To make men’s works necessary to salvation, even as a supplement to the work of Christ, is derogatory to His finished work. It is to imply that Christ’s work was in some way unsatisfactory, and that men need to add to it and improve on it. It is, in effect, to declare the cross redundant: ‘if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose’ (Gal. 2:21). 6

The second reason why Paul felt this matter so keenly is that the good of men’s souls was also at stake. 7

He knew that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. Therefore to corrupt the gospel was to destroy the way of salvation and so to send to ruin souls who might have been saved by it. 8

John Stott speaks to hesitancy to believe and speak the truth:

Of course we live in an age in which it is considered very narrow-minded and intolerant to have any clear and strong opinions of one’s own, let alone to disagree sharply with anybody else. As for actually desiring false teachers to fall under the curse of God and be treated as such by the church, the very idea is to many inconceivable. But I venture to say that if we cared more for the glory of Christ and for the good of the souls of men, we too would not be able to bear the corruption of the gospel of grace. 9

 

Gospel Truth 4: The Servant of Christ Seeks to Please God.

Galatians 1:10 (ESV) — For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

When you live to please only one person, everything you do is integrated because it relates to that one person. Shall I go to this movie? Read this book? Make this purchase? Take this job? Go out on this date? Marry this person? What a freeing thing it is to know that there is one person who is to be pleased in every decision of life—Jesus. Sometimes pleasing him will please others. Sometimes it won’t, and that will hurt. But the deep joy of a single-minded life is worth it all. 10

In summary: The underlying truth of this passage is that there is one, and only one, gospel. It is therefore astonishing to turn away from it—away from God who calls, and away from grace in Christ. It is not only astonishing, it is tragic, because the person who rejects the gospel is anathema, accursed and cut off from God. But on the other hand, if you embrace the one true gospel, not only are all your sins forgiven by God, but a thrilling unity and integrity and liberty come into your life because there is only one person to please, Jesus Christ, and he only wills what is best for you. 11

 

CONCLUSION

  • There is one, and only one, gospel.
  • To reject the gospel is to be accursed.
  • To embrace the one true gospel, your sins are forgiven, and you find the unity and integrity and liberty of pleasing one person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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1 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians: Only One Way, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 22.

2 Ibid., 26–27.

3 Ibid., 22.

4 Max Anders, Galatians-Colossians, vol. 8, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 10–11.

5 Stott, loc. cit., 25.

6 Ibid., 25–26.

7 Ibid., 26.

8 Ibid., 26.

9 Ibid., 26.

10 John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1980–1989) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).

11 Ibid.

See also “Galatians Series“: