Our passage for study serves as the introduction to Paul's letter to the Galatians. Paul dispenses with his usual thanksgiving and prayer on behalf of the church and begins with a condensed salutation that moves immediately to the issue of "turning to a different gospel."
v1-2. Paul begins by announcing himself to his readers, "Paul, an apostle". By taking the title "apostle", Paul immediately asserts his authority. The letter is also form the "brethren", Paul's fellow missionaries, and is addressed to the churches in Galatia.
v3-5. Paul uses his typical greeting, "grace and peace to you." "Grace" is God's free and unmerited favour toward us, and "peace" is the state of wholeness we possess in Christ as a consequence of God's grace. This blessing has its source in God - Father and Son. Paul reminds his readers of what Jesus has done; "he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins." And the purpose of this action was to rescue us from this present age of shadows - this present evil age. All this is willed by God, so "may he be praised for ever more."
v6-7. Paul now confronts the problem infecting the Galatian churches. Members of the congregation had succumbed to the preaching of a false gospel. Paul is amazed that his converts are so easily and quickly persuaded to accept a fraudulent ("different") gospel and so abandon the one "who called" them, namely God. They had been called into the grace of God which is found in Christ, but now they have turned from God's free grace to a different gospel, which is no gospel at all. The preachers of this "new" gospel may well have called it the "full gospel". It was a message which contained the "little extra", the little extra that guarantees a believer's standing before God, secures their full sanctification, and thus the promised blessings of God. The "extra" is what Paul calls "the works of the law" - complete submission to the law of Moses, even down to a Gentile believer being circumcised. For Paul, salvation, complete and full, is by grace through faith, and nothing more.
v8-9. The true gospel is the one which Paul and his associates had preached to the Galatian churches. This was the message originally accepted by them. Those who present a different message are accursed.
v10. The preachers of this "different gospel" had obviously implied that Paul was a "man-pleaser", someone who watered down the gospel message to make it easier to sell to the Gentiles, that is, he did not present the "full" gospel since it would undermine his success-rate. So, Paul asks his readers if his words so far are those of a soft-sell preacher.
I always feel uneasy in the presence of someone who claims to have found that little extra in the Christian life, an extra that secures for them superior Christian standing.
Of course, it gets called different things: "full sanctification"; "complete holiness"; "the higher life"...... For Pentecostals the little extra is Spirit baptism; for Baptists it is Believers' baptism by full immersion; for Adventists it is Sabbath observance; for Anglicans/Episcopalians it is confirmation, and so on. Without the little extra we are second-grade Christians; we have failed to make it. We obviously attend a church which does not preach the full gospel.
It is no easy matter dealing with someone who confidently asserts they have an inside line on the Christian faith. We are all looking for the extra dimension in our lives and when we come across someone who claims to have found the secret, we are more than worried. We fear the value of our own understanding of the gospel. All of us have doubts, we are all struggling, and so to be confronted with the exuding confidence of someone who has "found it", is disturbing to say the least. They have the answers, we have the problems; they have found the secret, but we are still searching. We may send them packing, but if we do, we are left doubting our own faith. We may seek to understand their views more, but if we do we find ourselves adopting them. Narrow forms of Christianity which possess all the answers, whatever the brand, always seems more attractive than the simple gospel propounded by Paul and the apostles.
All that we can ever hope for as a child of God rests on the free gift of God's grace available to us through faith in Christ Jesus. If we want more than that, we may end up with nothing. When it comes to our eternal hope, depend on Jesus and nothing else.
1. In practical terms, what does it mean to be rescued from "the present evil age"?
2. How far do you think the "will of God" extends into the rescuing process? Does God go so far as to determine who actually gets rescued?
3. Restate what you think the "different gospel" was. See if you can identify some present day different gospels.
4. If our full standing in the sight of God, with all the blessings that such entails, is but a free act of God's mercy (grace) apportioned to us when we reach out to Jesus (faith), what is so dangerous with the "extras" (full gospel) type of teaching?