Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Galatians 1:6-9

V6-9 – 6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Paul gets right down to business without any buttering up of his audience in v6. He doesn’t thank God, commend the Galatian believers, or pray for them; rather, he reveals the urgency of the matter with rebuke. He is shocked to hear that they have “so quickly” deserted God, who called them to be saved “by the grace of Christ,” in favor of legalism, which as he says in v7, is not good news. Without mentioning names (“some people”), Paul determines from the evidence (“evidently”) that the Judaizers have confused the Galatians with their efforts to pervert the gospel. Why would they want to do that? The Judaizers were legalists, and they couldn’t stand the thought that Gentiles would receive the same benefits of being in God’s family that they purportedly received without having to go through the same process, namely circumcision and the regular rituals, etc. Their intent was to tear down Paul’s foundation of “by grace through faith” and restore the law to what they believed was its rightful place in Jewish theology.

Vincent Cheung says, “The immediate issue is not even whether it is good to become circumcised, to follow the law of Moses, or to obey any law of God, but whether this is the way to become righteous in God’s sight. This distinction is important in order to maintain the gospel of grace and at the same time exclude antinomianism. For if as a matter of principle it is against grace to keep God’s law or to obey God’s command, then grace would indeed lead to sin. But this is not the gospel that Paul preaches.”

In v8-9, Paul repeats with utmost urgency that his gospel is the only good news – that salvation comes by grace through faith. This is not due to the fact that it is his gospel, for he announces that even if he changed his gospel and preached a different gospel, that he should be condemned forever. There are some, namely false teachers, who expect their words to be accepted because they emanate from them, but not Paul. Paul expects his words to be accepted because they emanate from God. And if his words change, then God’s words and not Paul’s must be heeded. Paul demands here that the Christian gospel – what he preached to the Galatians (v8) and what they accepted (v9) – be exclusive. Cheung adds, “There is no room for any deviation, any modification, any modernization, or any ‘improvement’ to the original gospel message. There is no room for flexibility in its content. To say this in a positive way, this original message is accurate, precise, complete, and enduring, so that anything different from it is false doctrine.” Though many sadly deny Christian gospel exclusivity today, Paul pronounces anathema – eternal condemnation – on those who do so, even himself if it ever came to that. Cheung says:

“Paul equates turning away from the message about Christ to turning away from the person of God, that is, ‘the One who called you by the grace of Christ.’ Because the Christian message is God’s revelation about Himself and His way of salvation, to reject, abandon, or fail to accept the Christian message, therefore, is to reject, abandon, or fail to accept God Himself. This means that it is impossible for a person to reject Christianity and at the same time find God or salvation. It is impossible for a person to find his way to God or salvation through any other ‘gospel,’ religion, or philosophy. It is also impossible for anyone to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ by believing some other message or following some other system of thought. If the content of a religion or philosophy is empty of or different from the message that Paul preached, then this message cannot lead anyone to God, to Christ, or to salvation.”
Interestingly, in Romans 9:3, Paul says that he could wish himself accursed (same word) in order that the Jews might be saved. But Paul knows he cannot be cursed, thanks to Jesus’ substitutionary atonement on his behalf. Paul even mentions angels in exaggeration as if to say, “Should the impossible happen – for angels to speak against God – hold fast to God and damn the angels to hell for their falsehood.”

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