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“:

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