“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which was preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-8
False teachers and false teachings had invaded the Galatian churches and were winning a great number of Christians away from the Gospel and into legalism. Paul makes it clear, in the above verses, that it is beyond him how anyone could possibly turn their back on grace for a works based religion. Once the Galatians had accepted Jesus as their Savior how did they end up believing circumcision was necessary for their right standing before God?
The false teachers probably had the best of intentions. They believed that Paul was only preaching part of the Gospel and it was their duty to straighten out the churches to the reality of their responsibility to God. They believed Paul gave the Galatians a good foundation in presenting Jesus as Lord and Savior but there was much more to be being a Christian than simply believing in the grace of God. For these teachers the Jesus teaching was good, but to be a real Christian you had to follow the rules and regulations that came down through Judaism. They didn’t reject the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary as the source of their salvation, but instead saw it as only part of their salvation. Anyone who claimed to be a Christian also had a contribution to make as proof of salvation, and that was circumcision.
In the book of Galatians Paul comes out swinging in defense of the gentile Christians who have found salvation through the merits of Christ and not of their own works. He writes to the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ.” (v. 6) The idea of deserting comes from the unimaginable image of a Roman soldier running away from his legion just before a battle. It is inconceivable to Paul that a Christian could in a similar way desert Jesus for anything else. He asks the Galatians how they could run to another gospel, but then checks himself and reminds them that adding anything to the pure gospel cannot even be called gospel.
This is important for us to remember. In our day, just as in the time of Paul, many teachers and preachers want to add to the gospel. These preachers will often talk glowingly about grace and then add, but there is more, to the conversation. I am often accused of teaching grace to the detriment of the Christian walk, but that is not so. I teach about grace alone because it is the Biblical view of salvation. I understand that a Christian life bears fruit and every Christian who truly believes in grace will live in harmony with that grace. I simply don’t believe that there is merit in the Christian walk.
In other words, the fact that my life has changed because of my accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior does not add one iota to my standing before God. My salvation is based on what Jesus did and not on what I am doing. As soon as the Galatians wanted to add circumcision to the mix they undermined the wonder of the cross. The Christian walk is the result of grace and never contributes to it.
Paul goes so far as to say that adding anything to the gospel is perverting the gospel. He then goes on to make one of the most remarkable statements in the Bible. “But even if we or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which was preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8
Paul makes it clear throughout Galatians that there is no place in the gospel for adding circumcision or any other teaching to the sacrifice Jesus made for us at Calvary regarding our salvation. In Chapter 3 he writes, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with Faith? (v. 1, 2) He then asks, “Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (5)
As Christians who have put our trust in Jesus it is wrong to “be bewitched” by the idea that there is anything we can do to add to that sacrifice. Nearing the end of the book of Galatians Paul reiterates his teaching when he writes, “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5:3, 4
So, what exactly should a Christian life look like when we turn our back on works and accept grace into our lives? Once again Paul makes it clear, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6 To be born again is to trust in the merits of Christ for our salvation and the result transforms us spiritually. The Gospel carries us from selfishness to love of others, just as the love of God carries us to the Kingdom.