No Other Gospel (1:1-9)

Bible Passage: Galatians 1:1-9

This sermon will introduce a new series on the letter to the Galatians, and it would be good to spend some time setting the context for what is to follow. Galatians is a letter written by Paul (v1) and colleagues (v2), and is believed to be the earliest of Paul’s writings, dated to somewhere in the late 40s or early 50s AD. The recipients were not a single church, but a group of churches (v3) in the region of Southern Galatia (in modern day Turkey) where Paul had evangelised and planted churches in 47-48AD. Of all Paul’s letters it is by far the harshest in tone. The reason for this is set out by Paul in these opening verses. The gospel itself is under threat in these churches.

Paul’s Gospel Greeting (v3-5): It can be easy to overlook the opening remarks in the epistles, as though they are mere formalities before getting on to the ‘real content’. This would be a big mistake. In greeting the Galatian churches in verses 3-5, Paul reminds them of the gospel message that he wants to draw them back to. He does so through a simple chiasm (or ‘sandwich’) structure, starting and ending with comments about God the Father, and a comment about the Lord Jesus Christ in the centre.

From God the Father (v3) Paul wishes the Galatian believers grace and peace. Both of these are gospel terms, highlighting the free and unmerited gift that we have been given by God, and the reconciliation that we have both with God and one another. All of this comes through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (v4) and particularly his death on the cross, where he died in our place, taking the punishment for all our sins that resulted in our alienation from God. This also set us free from ‘this present age’, meaning (as we will see throughout the letter) that we need not be slaves to either sin or law, but rather can enjoy the freedom that we have in the gospel. This was not something that Jesus did on his own initiative, but was according to the will of God the Father (v4-5). The gospel is from God, and it is to God that all the glory and praise goes for our salvation.

Do Not Distort the Gospel (v6-9): Having set out the gospel message positively, Paul now comes to the problem that he wants to address. The believers in Galatia were deserting the gospel of Christ’s grace, and looking instead to a different so-called ‘gospel’. The specifics of this in Galatia were regarding the Jewish law. Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ through Paul’s ministry, and then some other supposedly Christian teaches came in and taught that because Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, if anyone wanted to become part of the people of God then they had to also be brought into the Jewish people and keep the Jewish law (including circumcision for the men). This issue came to head with the Council of Jerusalem, which is recorded in Acts 15, and most likely took place a matter of months after Galatians was written, where it was determined once and for all that there was no requirement for Gentiles to follow the Jewish law.

Whilst the details of this false gospel were specific to the Galatian context, the problem is one that we must be always vigilant against. The gospel is that God’s grace alone is enough, and any suggestion that something else needs to be added to it undermines everything. There are no religious works, good deeds or spiritual experiences that are necessary for salvation. Jesus plus anything goes against everything.

We must take care what we believe, and also who we are willing to listen to. Paul is strong in stating that whoever preaches a false gospel should be accursed, even if it is an angel from heaven. In verse 1 he emphasised that his gospel was not from a human authority but from Christ himself, possibly suggesting that the Judaizers were attempting to use human authorities to boost their credibility. But wherever a message is from, it should be rejected if it runs contrary to the gospel. With so much access to information in our day, there is a great need to take care who we listen to and not fall into the same trap the Galatians did.

Potential Applications:

  • There may be some in the room who have never heard the gospel before. This is a great opportunity to invite people to respond to this message of grace and put their trust in Jesus.
  • Invite people to think about how they might be tempted to pervert the gospel by adding to the message of free grace and to repent of bringing those things (some of them may even be good things) into a place that they don’t belong.
  • Challenge people to think about who they hear teaching from, and to carefully consider how consistent that teaching is with the gospel.