Deserting the Gospel

Paul begins this epistle to the Galatians by expressing his astonishment over how easily they have been led astray. He writes, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him” (Gal 1:6).  This word, amazed (thaumazo), means “to be astounded, bewildered, or shocked.” Paul is dumbfounded and perplexed with the Galatians. He is stunned that they have so quickly deserted the gospel he had preached to them. He had just been with them in person and proclaimed to them the truth. It was this apostolic message they received by faith, and by it they were saved. But Paul had no more left town than these Judaizers had moved into the vacuum created by his absence and seduced the gullible Galatians.

According to the apostle, to desert the gospel is to abandon “Him,” namely God Himself. This is to say, God is the gospel. To believe the gospel is, in reality, to receive God into one’s life. No one has God in his or her life without having put their whole trust in the message of the gospel. Apart from the gospel, every person is separated from God. An enormous chasm separates holy God from sinful man. If anyone is to know God, that person must believe His saving gospel.

Deserting God and forsaking the gospel is one and the same. If anyone alters the gospel, he has become a spiritual turncoat toward God. The word “deserting” (metatithēmi) is a military term used to refer to a soldier who abandons his post in the heat of battle. By falling prey to the false teachers, the Galatians were doing just this. They were forsaking their singular loyalty to God and were abandoning their exclusive allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. The verb “you (plural) are deserting” is in the present tense. Even as Paul is writing this, they are at that very moment falling away from their fidelity to the true gospel. This makes them defectors of the worst kind, leaving God and joining with the enemy of their soul, the devil.

Paul has to remind the Galatians that it was God, “who called you by the grace of Christ” (v. 6). By sovereign grace, God irresistibly summoned them out of darkness into the glory of the light of Jesus Christ. Apart from any foreseen goodness in them, the Lord Jesus Christ effectually drew them into fellowship with God the Father. Paul charges them with abandoning the very saving call of Christ upon their lives.

The Galatians are leaving the truth, Paul writes, “for a different gospel” (v. 6). This implies there are two kinds of gospels. There is the true gospel, and there is a false gospel. Put another way, there is the saving gospel and a non-saving gospel. There is the message of divine accomplishment, and there is a message of human achievement.

The Galatians had been saved under the true gospel based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ at the cross. But now, they were giving up this truth in order that they might have a different gospel, a gospel of man, one that linked salvation to man’s actions. The word “different” (heteros) denotes a message of a totally different kind. This gospel is not simply a little different; it is completely different. Those who have been deceived have exchanged the gospel of God for a lie. This gospel offers no true salvation at all. This other gospel is a sham—a counterfeit gospel with a mangled message. It is nothing more than a rip-off religion that will damn its followers.

Concerning this contrary gospel, Paul asserts it is “really not another” (v. 7). This is to say, a false gospel is not a gospel at all. There is no other gospel by which holy God and sinful man may be reconciled than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only by the true gospel is the wrath of God propitiated toward sinners. Only by this gospel are sinners redeemed from the curse of the law. Only by this gospel is the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to hell-bound sinners. Only by this gospel can unworthy rebels be presented faultless to stand before the throne of God. The gospel of Christ is the only true gospel. When Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6), He meant it. The Lord Jesus tells us that He is the one and only entryway into the presence of God. Every other path leads to eternal perishing.

The rest of the Bible affirms this reality. Jesus emphatically declared, “Enter through the narrow gate” (Matt 7:13). This passageway is not a gate, but the gate. Standing before the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders in Israel, the apostle Peter declares, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). What part of “no” could they—or we—not understand?

To Paul’s son in the faith, the aged apostle asserts, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 2:5). There are not multiple mediators between God and man from which to choose, but only one. The apostle John was equally definitive about who inherits eternal life when he stated, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Nothing could be more clear. There are not many ways to God, but only one way, and it is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

This truth of the exclusive gospel is one of the hills that he is called to guard and defend. Paul’s amazement at the Galatians should be our amazement at so-called Christian preachers in this hour who tolerate another gospel. Now we can understand why the apostle Paul is so dogmatic. To abandon the gospel of Christ is to abandon salvation altogether.

As we look around Christendom, we note those who have tampered with the gospel by adding the necessity of human works or who preach that other religions can lead one to God. We, too, should be astonished at such widespread apostasy. We, too, should imitate Paul by confronting such error head-on.

Steven J. Lawson is the President of OnePassion Ministries. Dr. Lawson is also the Professor of Preaching at The Master’s Seminary and Teaching Fellow with Ligonier Ministries. The author of numerous books and articles, the latest of which is The Daring Mission of William Tyndale.