Sometimes we look to be verified by God by some mark. There are many ways in which we could do this.
- Affiliation: For some, the mark of God’s favor is membership in the “true church.” I am an accepted member of the church, therefore…
- Doctrine: Others see true beliefs on doctrines that matter as a mark. I’m saved because I know the truth on baptism, the millennium, church music, or orphan homes.
- Ministry: For others, the external mark of God’s favor is involvement. I teach, I am part of the Family Night. God accepts me because of the things that I do.
Paul uses the word “heteros” different in quality to describe what the Jews were bringing to them. They bought the idea that Jewish rituals assured them of God’s favor and marked them as children of God.
This letter we call Galatians is Paul’s answer to the Jewish Christians. Now, Paul does indeed stress the importance of obedience. In Galatians he lists the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh. But what Paul denies here is that works deserve honor and recognition. We never merit salvation nor retain a relationship with God because of what we do. This is a common misunderstanding even today.
Read again Galatians 1:6-10
Paul is shocked that the Galatians were “deserting” the gospel to embrace another. “deserting”: to transpose two things, one of which is put in place of the other. Paul gets blunt in Galatians 5:4. “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
What was so bad with these Jews teaching these Gentiles from Iconium, Lystra and Derbe? Bad: it was their motivation. They connected the rituals to salvation. These were not about heritage; they were about conditions of salvation. They bound these practices as the necessary mark of God’s acceptance.
What does this mean to them? (Gal. 1:8-10) Any gospel other than grace is a false gospel.
Paul would allow wide latitude of teaching and practices when it came to the kind of issues over which most churches fight. For example, it didn’t matter what position one taught or practiced concerning eating meats offered to idols if God was glorified. Rom. 14; I Corinthians 8-10.
But Paul would allow no other teaching when it involved salvation. There was one gospel and one method to salvation—Christ on the Cross.
So, what is the Gospel according to Paul? We are saved 100% by what Jesus did on the cross and by our apprehension of it by faith. Real point? Read verse 9 again. For the Judaizers to teach a works-based salvation of circumcision or Sabbath-keeping or any other human work placed themselves under the curse of God.
Paul says that this is another gospel and no gospel at all.
Obedience is important. God has always required obedience and has punished those who rebel. (Notice that even Abraham had to obey and be circumcised. For him and his family not to follow this command, they would have been cut off. Genesis 17). And Paul is going to stress obedience in this book. Nothing he says reduces the need to obey. But if we are not careful, we may think we are saved by obedience.
We are not saved by “Moral Goodness” or even “Doctrinal Goodness.”
Ultimately, the false gospel which is not gospel is the belief that we can be good enough morally and smart enough doctrinally to do enough spiritually to earn salvation.
What happens when we try to save ourselves?
PRIDE: What if you think you must be good enough and are good enough? The inevitable result is spiritual pride. You’ll both judge those who haven’t reached your level of spirituality and you’ll stagnate there because there is no reason to grow. You’ll be just like the Pharisees Paul faces in Galatia.
FEAR: What if you think you must be good enough but aren’t good enough? The result is fear. You’ll never be confident in God’s love or be joyful in your Christian life because you’re never sure you’ve done enough. You’ll live in the shadows of fear, doubting your status before God.
Pride or Fear? Neither is good news!
What should I gather from all of this?
I am not good, and I will never be. No matter how good I become, I will never become good enough. I am a sinner, and I will always be a sinner.
Jesus is good. At the cross He took my sin and destroyed it, and His perfect goodness was placed upon me. I am righteous because of Him.
We are saved by God’s grace. That is the only gospel.
Doug Haught, Minister at Cold Harbor Road church of Christ