Last time we looked at the importance of knowing the gospel. Now, we want to ask, what do we do with the gospel once we know it? Paul says two we should do two things. Today we will look at the first of these: guarding the gospel
The Galatians church began as a result of Paul’s first missionary journey (which you can read about in Acts 13 and 14). Because of that journey, many people were saved and many churches were started. This is makes the situation in Galatia all the more shocking for Paul. He says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (1:6). The Galatians had heard the truth of Jesus Christ, but were now leaving that truth. As we understand why they were leaving the truth, we will learn how we need ourselves need to guard the gospel.
First, we need to guard it against distortion. Paul tells us the the cause of the trouble in Galatia: false teachers had followed after Paul and were troubling the Christians there: says, “I am astonished that you . . . are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (1:6-7). Specifically, they were what we call Judaizers—Jews who had professed faith in Christ, but who also kept the law. Furthermore, these teachers told Gentiles Christians that if they wanted to be saved, they also had to keep the law (cf. 2:15-3:21). Thus, there gospel was faith in Christ plus obedience to the law of Moses. And Paul says, it’s a different gospel. More than that, he says, it’s not even a real gospel because there is only one real gospel—that which he preached to them; that salvation comes, not by what they do plus their faith, but by faith alone in the finished work of the living Christ.
Even Paul himself is not above this guarding of the gospel. He says, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (1:8). Paul says, even if I come back, out of my mind, preaching some different gospel, or even if something appearing as an angel tries to convince you of something other than the good news that was preached to you—consider them to be accursed. That is, worthy of the fullness of God’s judgment put on them. Think about what he is saying, think about how serious that makes the gospel. Paul says anyone who would tamper with the gospel is worthy of hell itself. And just so the Galatians know he didn’t speak out of turn, or get carried away, he repeats himself: “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” (1:9).
Paul is not just a man; he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. That means that he speaks with the full authority of Christ himself. So, if Paul takes the gospel this seriously, it means God takes it this seriously. We must guard against distorting the gospel.
But more than that, we must also guard against desertion. Paul says the Galatians were quickly deserting him for a different gospel. The word here for deserting was originally a military and means just what it sounds like—someone deserting the field of battle, showing themselves to be a traitor or a turncoat. False teachers were responsible for distorting the gospel, but the Galatian Christians were the ones in danger of deserting from it.
As we think about application, this is where we need to probably think the most clearly. Because we can affirm the gospel doctrinally, but there is always the temptation to think the gospel is not enough, especially when it comes to Christian living. Yet, Paul takes great pains in chapters 4 and 5 to show very practically how the gospel makes all the difference in the world for how we live as Christians. So when it comes to parenting, marriage, struggling with illness, working your job, fighting temptation, or facing addiction, the gospel is the power we need for our lives. We must not desert it in favor of something else that looks more attractive.
More than that, though, the entire church must remain focused on the gospel. We cannot desert it in favor of something more trendy, as the focus of why we’re here and what we do. Think about our own day for minute. What distortions and desertions of gospel are there to tempt us away from the truth? Pastor Ray Ortlund offers a couple high contenders. He asks the question, “What would our church look like without the gospel? What would replace the gospel as our central focus?” Here’s a few of the things he suggests:
– a passionate devotion to the pro-life cause;
– a drive towards church growth;
– a deep concern for the institution for the family;
– a determination to take America back to its Christian roots through political power;
– a sympathetic, empathetic, thickly-honeyed cultivation of interpersonal relationships.
What does that sound like? It sounds like a lot of churches today, doesn’t it? Some of those things are not even bad, but they should never be at the center of a church or a Christian’s life because they are not the gospel.
Another temptation to displace the gospel that you will hear more about in the next few years, and are even hearing about it now will be connected with social justice. Because in the last thirty years or so, that has been something the Western church has been neglectful of, an emphasis on it is making a comeback. And we would do well to listen. After all, concern for the poor and the needy should flow out of our love for Christ and the desire to share the gospel (cf. James 1:27). But already you have people saying things like, ‘If there is no social justice, then there is no gospel.’ What have they done there? They’ve put both things on a level of equal importance, and they are not equal. Social justice is not the gospel. Right now, you can get a book called The Hole in Our Gospel. It’s written by the man how runs World Vision—the supposedly Christian charity organization. Yet, in that book, he essentially says ‘we don’t need to preach Christ with words, we just need to help end poverty.’ That’s one of the dangers we face in the temptation to desert the gospel.
In every age, there are going to be distortions of the gospel—some will be doctrinal in nature, attacking the nature and work of Christ; others will be more subtle and will be a adding to the work of Christ, or even as we saw a moving of something else into the priority of the gospel. And in every age, it is our calling to guard the gospel—to not desert it or distort it. For those that do, Paul says they are accursed.
Yet, even in that word of judgment Paul pronounces, there is hope. For the Galatians have not deserted the gospel, but were deserting it. In other words, there was still hope for them to turn back to the gospel they had been taught and not fall away from Christ. Likewise for us today, we may be tempted to desert the truth for some distortion we have heard in a book or on television. But through the preaching of his word today is calling us back to the truth. He is calling us to dig in, to stand firm, to guard the gospel of Jesus Christ.