Paul, the apostle, after a very brief introduction, jumps right into his letter to the Galatians with the declaration that he was astonished.
Astonished by what? He was astonished, he says, "that you are so quickly deserting him who called you into the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel" (v.6). Where was this false gospel coming from? Troublemakers, those who wanted "to distort" the gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).
He gets even more forceful, ending this paragraph (v.6-9) with the impassioned words:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one preached to you, let him be accursed. 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.Two times he uses the word "accursed." The NIV says, "under a curse." It's basically calling down an anathema on anyone who preaches a false gospel; serious business.
Whose gospel did the Galatians believe? They believed God's gospel, given by Christ to the apostles, including Paul himself. Paul spends the remainder of this chapter and part of chapter 2 defending himself against charges that he did not preach the real gospel. The opponents of Paul wanted to add something to the gospel, in this case, adherence to the law. Paul reminds them in Gal. 2:15-16 that no works of the law will save anyone. In fact, he repeats this sentiment three times in verse 16 alone.
Would you recognize a false gospel if one were presented to you? False teachers are generally quite subtle. They don't walk up to you and say, "Hey, want to buy into a distorted gospel?" John Stott reminds us that the danger is actually within the church:
The church's greatest troublemakers (now as then) are not those outside who oppose, ridicule, and persecute it, but those inside who try to change the gospel. It is they who trouble the church.The Galatians received the gospel verbally through the apostles. We receive the gospel today through the apostles' teaching as transmitted through the Word of God. The long and short of it is that if you don't know the bible, you won't know the gospel. We either believe the gospel as revealed in Scripture or we believe in a false one.
Do we know the gospel well? Would we be able to discern whether or not someone was adding something to it? Would we add something to it ourselves? Do we let our pet moral behaviours, or our cultural preferences become extra requirements for our justification?
Do we know more about culture issues, church government issues, contemporary worship issues, or gender issues than we do about the gospel? It's okay to know about those things, but they aren't the gospel. Understanding the gospel is a life or death matter; eternal life or eternal death. More than ever, in a day when competing "truths" abound, we need to uphold the truth of the gospel. We need to know it, and protect its purity. We need to be bold, like Paul.