An Unchanging Message for an Ever Changing World
by John Hamby
“One of the most frequently used phrases in Christian circles is “the gospel.” Amazingly few adults know what this term means. It could either refer to its literal translation, “good news;” or to the perspective that salvation is available only through the sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ and a person’s acceptance of Christ as their savior. Less than four out of ten adults (37%) knew this; 34% had other, inaccurate perceptions of the meaning of the term; three out of ten adults did not offer a guess. Even among born again Christians, only 60% correctly identified at least one meaning of this expression. (1994)… [From Barna Research Online]
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, (7) which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (10) For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
In the past thirty years there has been a proliferation of “new gospels” in the United States. Some such as the “new age” belief system are rooted in eastern mysticism, such as Hinduism. Others are based more on pop-psychology than they are on the gospel. But whatever their origin they are misdirecting men and women away from the only truth that can save you from you sin.
The core of this letter is that the people at Galatia have been turned from the life changing truth of God’s word. Paul says in verse six, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.”
The Greek word used here (thaumazou) is “to be astounded or bewildered.” Paul’s astonish-ment is not that false teachers exist, but that the church was following them. He had expected false teachers and in fact had warned the Ephesians elders (Acts 20:28-30) that false teachers would come. What he is so surprised about is that the church is so easily mislead.
In the four verses that we are going to consider today the apostle gives us four abiding principles concerning the word of God, the gospel.
First, The Gospel Needs No Additions
Note that these false teachers are not opening denying the gospel message. They only wanted to improve the gospel by adding to it; requirements, new ceremonies and new standards. It is as if they are saying, “We believe in Jesus Christ – but we have something wonderful to add to what you already believe!” What is at least implied is that the faith that these believers have is not sufficient, some -thing more is needed.
What they viewed as a different gospel was actually a distorted gospel. The word translated “distort” means to transform into something of an opposite character.
He goes on in verse seven to clarify that by saying, “which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” The New Living Translation renders these verses this way, “I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who in his love and mercy called you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ. You are already following a different way (7) that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ”
Paul says that this new gospel or “good news,” is in reality not the gospel or “good news” at all. It is a counterfeit. In verses six and seven, Paul uses two different Greek words, to describes their spiritual defection to another [heterous – another of a different kind] gospel, which is not another [allos – another of the same kind].
Not Only Does The Gospel Not Need Any Additions but….
Secondly, Distorting the Gospel Is Serious Business
In verse eight Paul invokes a curse on anyone, himself included, who distorts the gospel, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
Paul is saying that real problem of another gospel is not only that it is a bad idea, and not only that it lacks power because it is a fake, but that it is dangerous. In our sensitive English translation we lose some of the heat of this verse in the original language. He says in verse eight, “If anyone comes with another gospel let him be damned.” And in verse nine he continues the thought by saying, “And if you believe it you will be damned too!” Well if nothing else I probably just got your attention! This is not a curse word, it is using the word in its proper sense – that is these individuals will be damned, separated from God and eternally punished. Those who distort the gospel message are rejecting the authority of Christ and are therefore cursed (anathema). Paul is not talking about church discipline, his language is far too strong for that. He is invoking God’s final damnation and wrath on people who distort the gospel.
I fear that those who followed David Koresh in a compound in Waco, Texas to their fiery deaths in 1993; and the followers of Marshall Applewhite’s (Heaven’s Gate Cult) who in 1997 took their own lives in twisted attempt to connect with extra-terrestrial visitors who were hidden in the wake of the Hale-Bopp comet, will not find themselves excused because of their sincerity. And those who led them into that error will bear a greater judgment.
One modern distortion of the gospel is preached in order to fit Christianity in a materialistic society. The message of this gospel is which we can call “the gospel of success” or “the prosperity Gospel,” is based on the premise that God wants to bless you therefore you can only expect good things from him if you follow him. The problem with this gospel is that it ignores the fact that in Christian life there is sorrow, there is suffering, there is death. The key of the gospel of Jesus is not the avoidance of life events, but the possibility to overcome them.
Distorting the Gospel Is Serious Business because….
Third, Only the Gospel Saves
Back in verse four, Paul reminds the believer that was Christ “who gave Himself for our sins.” As Christian’s in America we believe in the freedom of religion. But Christian’s need to realize that does not make all religions equally true. While we defend the right of each individual in this country to worship as they choose, in so doing we not defending that all religions are also “the” truth. The words of Jesus grant this elusive claim only to faith in Him when he said in John 14:6,”I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The writer of Acts reiterated that thought when he said in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”
Only the Gospel Saves and …
Finally, Only The Gospel Produce Real Life Change
“The strongest argument for the Gospel of Christ is the personal testimony of someone whose life has been changed by it. Charles Bradlaugh, an avowed infidel, once challenged the Rev. H. P. Hughes to a debate. The preacher, who was head of a rescue mission in London, England, accepted the challenge with the condition that he could bring with him 100 men and women who would tell what had happened in their lives since trusting Christ as their Savior. They would be people who once lived in deep sin, some having come from poverty-stricken homes caused by the vices of their parents. Hughes said they would not only tell of their conversion, but would submit to cross-examination by any who doubted their stories. Furthermore, the minister invited his opponent to bring a group of non-believers who could tell how they were helped by their lack of faith. When the appointed day arrived, the preacher came, accompanied by 100 transformed persons. But Bradlaugh never showed up. The result? The meeting turned into a testimony time and many sinners who had gathered to hear the scheduled debate were converted.” [Source unknown -Bible Org]
When we lose the gospel of Grace we lose the only message that has the power to heal. We witness the power of the gospel in the story of the demon possessed man in Luke 8 (26-39). The demon possessed man experienced many horrors at the hands of neighbors, family and even friends in their attempts to deliver him from the demons who possessed him. Luke 8:29 states that they had “had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles.” In spite of all their attempts to cure him, he was no better off. Multiple attempts had obviously been made at deliverance but had failed, but one encounter with Jesus brought deliverance and sanity. When the townspeople investigated what had had happened we are told in verse thirty-five that they, “found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” There were no chains. He was no longer screaming and attempting to hurt himself. He was not sedated, he was “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”
That is what we lose if we lose the gospel, the power to change lives.
In verse ten Paul tells the reader why he is saying these things. “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” Paul says that he is not trying to be sensational. He is not saying these things, as some preachers do, because he knows it is a good safe topic and he can count on some hearty Amen’s. He is saying them because there is only one truth and the gospel message that Jesus Christ came and died for men’s sins is the only real truth.
The Unchanging Message for an Ever Changing World is the Gospel!
• The Gospel Needs No Additions.
• Distorting The Gospel Is Serious Business.
• Only the Gospel Can Save Men From Their Sins.
• Only The Gospel Produces Changed Lives.