No Other Gospel: Satan’s Deception Through False Teachers
Galatians 1:6-10 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— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But 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. 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. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of my very favorite books in all the Bible is Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. This letter addresses a problem seen in many churches today of adding man-made requirements to being a Christian and beautifully reveals how free Christianity truly is from external salvific requirements. This is another good book to learn what separates true Christianity from many of the different cults masquerading as a superior Christianity when, in fact, they are not Christian at all. As John MacArthur points out, Galatians is not a detached theological treatise but a deeply personal letter written from the grieving heart of a godly man for his spiritual children, whose faith and living were being undermined by false teachers.[1. MacArthur, John. “Introduction.” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. Chicago: Moody, 1987. x-xi. Print. ]
The first 12 verses of Galatians 1 include Paul’s introduction and his stern rebuke of the people of Galatia abandoning the true Gospel and being swayed by those false teachers. Much like today, the false gospel these teachers espoused created a plethora of Jews who made a merely superficial profession of faith but eventually turned back to their works righteous ways. These folks were what we today would consider false converts and it was they (Judaizers) who arose within the church itself, “speaking twisted things” and trying to “draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30) Such is the danger of false conversions and false teachers within the church.
These false teachers who came to steal away the sheep in Galatia did so predominantly by attacking the validity of the messenger who brought them the Good News, Paul. All too often, Christians skim over the introductions in Paul’s epistles assuming them to be nothing more than generic salutations upon embarking the genuine meat of the letter. Do not fall into this trap! In this letter to the Galatians, Paul dispensed with the usual personal greetings and immediately began to establish the genuineness of his apostolic authority, which he later (Gal 1:11-2:21) expands on in detail.[2. MacArthur, John. “The Salutation (1:1-5).” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. Chicago: Moody, 1987. 1. Print. ]
Considering that immediately following the introduction Paul intended to harshly rebuke this group of people, he needed to remind them of whose authority he represented. Imagine you are walking down the sidewalk and a random person flags you down and says you are not allowed on that sidewalk, you need to cross the street. Your immediate thought will likely be something to the effect of, “on whose authority?” Your response will be entirely different if that person is a policeman than if it is a typical citizen. What’s different? The authority invested in the police officer by the higher power whom they serve.
Paul begins in verses 1-2, “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia…“
As was the custom of the time, he begins his letter by stating his name. A messenger (ἀπόστολος, apostolos) is, in general, ‘one who is sent’ (the word is used similarly in Jn. 13:16), but regularly in the New Testament he is one who has received a special commission from Christ.[3. Bruce, F. F. (1982). The Epistle to the Galatians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 72). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.] Further, if the New Testament Greek word ἀπόστολος (apostolos) bears some relation to the Hebrew šālûaḥ or šālîaḥ, which is probable, the authority of the person commissioned is that of the person who commissions him. So, when Paul speaks or acts as an apostle of Christ, he does so with Christ’s authority (cf 2 Cor. 10:8).[4. Ibid.] This fact obviously lends considerably more weight and authority to Paul’s upcoming rebuke of the “churches of Galatia” he founded at Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14–14:23).
He goes on to write in verses 3-5, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.“
The terms grace and peace are two of the most precious words related to the God-given Gospel; grace is the source of our salvation while peace is the result of that salvation. As MacArthur again points out, the distinctly Christian greeting of grace and peace held special meaning and significance for Paul and for other believers in the early church.[5. MacArthur, John. “The Salutation (1:1-5).” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. Chicago: Moody, 1987. 5. Print.] The gospel of works the false teachers were espousing offered no grace and no peace, thus even this small greeting was an attack on the lying Judaizers. In verse 4 Paul brilliantly summarizes the true gospel of grace and peace by writing, “who gave himself for our sins…” Salvation is only offered by a person’s trust in Jesus Christ’s saving work on the cross and its purpose is to deliver those who believe from “this present evil age.“
Thus Paul had already drawn the lines of battle by touching on two vital concerns. He had affirmed his own apostleship and had declared that the basis of man’s salvation lies solely in the work of Christ and not in any human works. [6. Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 590). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.]
With that curt introduction penned, Paul turned his attention to the many false teachers in Galatia writing in verses 6-10, “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— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But 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. 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. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Conspicuous by its absence is Paul’s usual expression of thanksgiving to God for his readers. Instead he vented his astonishment and anger over the Galatians’ defection. When compared with the opening of 1 Corinthians this is even more striking, for despite the Corinthians’ deep moral defection Paul nonetheless expressed commendation. But here in the face of theological departure he did not express thanks, thus emphasizing the more serious nature of doctrinal apostasy.[7. Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 590). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.]
Satan and his crew are masters of deception. Paul warns that one day the Antichrist will come “by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” The sad truth is that he and the demons deceive through human beings and most often religious leaders. Among such religious leaders are those who pose as Christians, whom Paul describes as “false apostles, deceitful works, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” (2 Cor 11:13) He acknowledged the human agents used by Satan when he spoke of the “deceitful spirits” who propagate “doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars.” (1 Tim 4:1-2) Satan has effectively accomplished his most destructive deception through demon-energized false teachers who pose as God’s spokesmen.[8. MacArthur, John. “Devoted to Destruction (1:6-9).” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. Chicago: Moody, 1987. 10. Print.]
Think about the current landscape of American Evangelicalism; the inane ramblings of unregenerate men (and women) calling themselves “pastor” and wreaking spiritual havoc on those in their care. These men (and women) are merely pawns being effectively used by Satan to cast doubt and confusion upon his primary target, the Doctrine of Salvation. If people are confused about salvation they have no way of coming to God in the first place and remain under the deceptive control of Satan. He seeks to undermine they very heart of the Gospel, salvation by grace made possible by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Dr. MacArthur points out that false prophets are also more interested in popularity than truth. Their concern is not to serve the Lord and minister to His people but “to make a good showing in the flesh” (Gal 6:12) and to gain a following for themselves (Acts 20:30). They are in their work for money; and “in their greed they will exploit you with false words, ” Peter says, because their hearts are “trained in greed” (2 Pet 2:3, 14). [9. MacArthur, John. “Devoted to Destruction (1:6-9).” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. Chicago: Moody, 1987. 11. Print.] How many preachers, teachers, conference speakers, etc. can you think of off the top of your head right now who are more interested in gaining a following for themselves than to teach truth?
Paul could not hardly believe that the Galatians were abandoning (deserting, μετατίθεσθε, metatithesthe, as in a military desertion) his preaching so soon after he left. He was astonished (θαυμάζω, thaumazó) and bewildered. To be certain, Paul was not surprised at what the false teachers were doing, rather he used a strong word like θαυμάζω because he was shocked that the Christians in Galatia received these charlatans so favorably. The Galatians quickly and easily came under the influence of heretical doctrines. To emphasize the fact that the true gospel of the grace of God cannot be changed, Paul first stated a hypothetical case. If he (a divinely called apostle) or an angel (a heavenly messenger) were to alter the gospel message—a highly improbable situation—then let him be accursed or eternally condemned (anathema).[10. Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 590–591). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.]
Paul included anyone, potentially, in the curse: himself (this is what the “we” means primarily though he may have wished his co-workers to take note, too!), an angel, any man. Any of these who would proclaim as good news of salvation any doctrine contrary to that which Paul proclaimed and which the Galatians received deserve this curse. As noted, verse 9 in effect repeats verse 8. But there is a significant difference. Verse 8 speaks of Paul himself and an angel from Heaven. Paul doubted either of these would ever proclaim a false gospel. He expressed this in Greek in the subjective mood, the construction for mere possibility: “But though we, or an angel … preach.” In verse 9, however, Paul speaks of “any man”; he knew that some had already been preaching such a false gospel. He expressed this in Greek in the indicative mood, the construction for actuality: if, in fact, anyone is preaching.[11. Picirilli, R. E. (1973). The Book of Galatians (pp. 11–12). Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications.]
Paul did not take lightly the false teachers whose cruel “gospel” imperils men’s souls.[12. Ibid.] He was vehement. “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed” (v. 8, RSV). Paul becomes more explicit in the expression of his anger in Galatians 5:12. But even here as he begins his letter, he can’t restrain himself. Anyone who would pervert, water down, minimize, abuse, or corrupt the gospel of God’s grace, freely given, requiring no law, involving only a response of faith, is to be accursed.[13. Dunnam, M. D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon (Vol. 31, p. 22). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.] Paul would make no pretension at being religiously tolerant, if being tolerant means that it doesn’t really matter what persons believe so long as they believe. How naive and glib we often are: “What persons believe is their business—a private matter. We don’t need to be too concerned about theology or doctrine. Being brotherly is what matters, living by the Golden Rule, doing good, refraining from harmful activity—that’s what counts. And if you are sincere, you’ll be led to the right truth and in the right path.”
“Hogwash!” Paul would say. “What you believe eventually determines how you live. You can’t encrust the gospel of grace with a system of law. To do so diminishes the sovereignty of God and puts salvation back in the hands of humans to be earned by merit.” Whatever the case, Paul warned against a gospel that was not centered in one gift—the grace of Christ—and in one event—the Christ event in which Crucifixion and Resurrection could not be separated. He could have pleased the Jews by preaching law observance, and the pagans by making the death of Christ a mere sacrificial transaction that placed no obligation upon the follower. But from the moment he became a Christian Paul knew nothing else but Jesus crucified. This freed him from the law, but it called him to be crucified with Christ. The only way to prove he was pleasing to God rather than men was to keep the scandal of the Cross at the heart of his preaching and take the consequences of the Cross to the heart of his living.[14. Ibid. (pp. 22–23)]
Men-pleasers simply do not hurl anathemas against those who proclaim false gospels. Indeed, if the apostle had wanted to please men, he would have remained a zealous Pharisee and promoter of the Law rather than becoming a servant of Christ.[15. Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 591). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.] Brothers and sisters, there is no other Gospel than that of Jesus Christ and him crucified. Do not take lightly those preachers, teachers, and conference speakers among us who sully the name of Christ and peddle a gospel of works-righteousness. Further, turn away from those who in practice illustrate their lack of faith in the Word of God, our sword, and make a mockery of teaching the word of God by engaging in all manners of nonsense to attract an unbelieving world.
From the start of his ministry among them. Paul had warned the Galatians of imminent gospel perversions. The gospel which you received refers to the once for all (aorist tense) preaching of the good news of grace in Christ which they had previously believed.[16. MacArthur, John. “Devoted to Destruction (1:6-9).” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. Chicago: Moody, 1987. 11. Print.] John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Galatians:
False teachers not only should not be believed or followed but should be left to God’s judgment to be accursed. Accursed translates anathema, which refers to that which is devoted to destruction. The apostle John wrote, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist… If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 John 7, 10-11).
Christians are to have nothing to do with false teachers, no matter what their credentials. It is both naive and unscriptural to believe, for instance, that staying in a religious school or church that denies the Bible and distorts the gospel gives a believer the opportunity to be a positive influence for the Lord. Even a leader like Timothy, well-trained in divine truth, was warned to stay away from error and to concentrate on the pure truth of God (1 Tim. 4:6-7, 13; 2 Tim. 2:15-17). To subject oneself to false teaching, no matter how orthodox one’s own convictions may be, is to disobey God and to compromise and weaken one’s testimony and to tolerate distortion of the grace of God in Christ.[17. Ibid.]
False teachers, the false gospels they preach, and the false converts they create are destroying the church in America. The one true church shall never die (Matthew 16:18) but do not be so naive as to think the church in America is safe.
Be respectful, be loving, be discerning.