A Confused Gospel

by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 2: Galatians 1:6-10 (video)
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A Confused Gospel

It’s not hard to get people’s attention, or to get them to flock toward something. They get wrapped up watching a high-speed chase on TV, or slow down gawk at accidents along the highway. They come pushing and shoving to fill stadiums for sports events, to see celebrities, or to try out for Talent Shows. But sometimes it can be like moths being attracted to a flame where they’re incinerated by their cravings. What they clamor for might not always be the best thing for them.

Florida homes often get invaded by those little sugar ants. They can suddenly appear by the hundreds around your kitchen or bathroom sinks. You can put little drops of a liquid poison on squares of cardboard that attracts them. They gather around it drinking in the appealing poison that they take back to the colony where it kills the queen and all those who have sipped at it.

Deceptive attractions have been used as lures for a long time. Anyone who ever went fishing understands how lures can attract fish to the hook.

People can be deceived too. They crowd in like those ants, gladly taking in things that seem so good, but are not. Friends or manipulators get them hooked on drugs that simulate pleasure feelings in the brain, but they slowly addict and dissolve away the body. Culture draws the masses into immoral behavior which can feel good at the moment, but it horribly offends God. It endangers lives with disease, conceives unwanted babies, corrupts values, and tears apart families. These deceptive lures are popular, and have become accepted behaviors among a lot of people.

The same is true about lies that appear in a form masquerading as the gospel of Christ. The gospel has been a prime target of evil all through history. The truth that transforms though Christ is replaced by a poisonous but appealing substitute. It attracts masses to something that seems to satisfy the soul, but does not. It’s a deception. The popular but confused message goes by the name “Christian”, and it aims it’s lure toward those most hungry for truth, hope, and help.

The word “gospel” is used 4 times in these 5 verses in the English translations of Galatians 1:6-10. This root word for gospel appears in this section either as a verb or as a noun 5 times in the original language. It’s the central theme in every one of those verses.

The word for “gospel” here is “euangelion” (ευαγγέλιον), which means “good message”. The prefix is “eu” (ευ). It simply means “good” as in the English word “eulogy” which means “good words”. The main part of the word, “angel” (άγγελ), means “message”. It’s the same word that’s translated as “angel”, a “messenger” sent out to deliver specific information. The word here for “gospel” combines these roots to make it mean “good message”. English often changes the Greek “u” into a “v”, so the word “heuangel” (ευάγγελ) become “evangel”. That’s where we get the word “evangelism”, the proclaiming of a good message.

In this same passage the gospel is referred to as the “grace of Christ”. It’s what the Galatians received when Paul came there with God’s soul-liberating news.

You would think that such a life-changing message would be treasured and kept pure. That’s why Paul was so amazed.

6. I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,
7. which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

It had not been that long since they received the gospel. When Paul left them, they were trusting in the message of God’s grace in Christ. But even those well grounded and truly converted can be lured away and be mislead.

Today, as it was then when Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians, we’re surrounded by subtle and well crafted attempts to get us to mold our thinking around what’s popular and commonly accepted. That’s why many good colleges, seminaries, denominations, and local congregations abandon their original soundness and fall into trendy deceptions.

The word translated “turning away” here is “meta-tithesthe” (μετα-τί-θεσθε). It says, “removed from” in the King James, and “deserting” in the English Standard Version. The original root word “meta-tithaemi” (μετα-τίθημι) in the commonly spoken Greek of Paul’s time carried the idea of “being displaced”, “moved to another place than where you started.”

These believers had been drawn away to a false gospel. The contrast here is sometimes missed because of translation challenges. The old King James says they were removed to another gospel which is not another. So is it a gospel? or not? In the original text Paul uses two very different Greek words.

The gospel they had been removed to was a different message. The word there is “heteron” (ἓτερον). That’s where the word “heterodox” comes from, a “different teaching”. In verse 7 he says that it’s not another gospel at all. That time he uses the word “allo” (άλλο) which means its “not of the same kind”. It’s a totally different message. It’s not really good news.

The NKJV is better, “… to a different gospel, which is not another …” The ESV adds some extra wording, “… to a different gospel — not that there is another one …” The Greek text could be more literally translated as, “… unto a different gospel, which is not another of the same kind.”

Those bringing this new message had introduced trouble. It was a perversion of the good news of God’s grace through Christ. It doesn’t matter what their motive was: either ignorantly or intentionally – they were wrong. What they taught didn’t agree with what God said in his word. Sincerity can’t make something right or good.

Those behind these innovations were obviously popular leaders who presented themselves as “Christian”. They were convincing. They had something that appealed to most of the Galatians. But though it was popular and attracted the larger numbers, it was motivated by the passions of hell itself.

If you change God’s truth into an appealing lie, people will run toward it like those moths to a flame, like those sugar ants that gather around the poison — enthusiastically drinking it in.

Paul warned them not to let personalities persuade them.

8. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
9. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

The Greek word for “accursed” here is “anathema” (ανάθεμα). That Greek word has directly come over into English to mean something horribly evil and cursed.

These were not anti-religion people, not consciously anti-christian. They appeared to be sincere and gifted Pastors or Elders. They weren’t just generally religious. They openly called themselves followers of Christ. They quoted the Bible, but they misunderstood or misrepresented what it said. No one has the authority to teach a different gospel message. Not the apostles themselves, not a messenger directly sent from heaven, not any one.

To recognize these misleading teachers, it’s necessary to know what the true gospel is about. The Bible needs to be studied as a whole book, as a consistent message from God. The original languages need to be properly translated. The true context of every verse is important. The individual parts need to be fit together systematically and carefully. What God said is more important than what people may want to hear in a Sermon.

Even today, these methods of study are diminished in our post-modern churches. Very few schools that prepare pastors spend much time on these disciplines. Counseling classes often deal with making the counselee feel good or blame others for his problems, rather than dealing with underlying failures to live and believe as God’s word instructs us. Some pastoral skills classes are centered on marketing, making worship seem less serious and more fun. They learn to choose words that can be taken in many ways so nobody gets offended.
They cherry-pick the Bible translations they use to fine the one that best backs up the point they want to make, rather than the one that best tells what God actually said.

This leaves well intended leaders unprepared to see the problem with wrong teachings. Some actually condemn and make fun of those who take a more careful and biblical approach. They accuse them of making it all just “academic”.

It sounds so nice and appealing in our times of so many conflicts to avoid and marginalize differences, and to make it all seem simpler. But that’s the very essence of lies, and a well known tactic of Satan all through history.

The details of the deceptive message are expanded upon in the rest of this Galatian letter.

  • The mislead teachers there attacked the liberty believers have in Christ.
  • They felt superior, more pious and spiritual by replacing God’s clear moral boundaries with bondage to strict rules and false standards. (2:4)
  • They re-defined the relationship of God’s law with God’s grace. (2:16)
  • They denied the unity of God’s people, denying the covenantal link between the Old and New Testaments. (3:14-29)
  • They confused who Jesus Christ was and did, while still saying they followed him. (3:16)
  • They separated the Lordship of Christ, from his work as Savior.
  • The love of the Savior became more an emotional feeling than a thankful submission to God’s truth.

So Paul reminded them of what had moved him to teach what he did.

10. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.

Paul wanted the believers in Galatia to think about the motives of these false teachers. They decided what was right by how it benefited them, how people responded, what gave them a bigger audience, prestige and income. Did they think they could persuade God to be and to do something different?

Paul obviously wasn’t trying to do any of those things. He was plainly telling what God said – sometimes hard truths — but always true truths. If he did what those popular teachers did, he would not be a bondservant of Christ. It was his loyalty to Christ that compelled him to tell the truth, even when it was hard to hear, and obviously unpopular.

The differences between these popular and seemingly successful “other gospels” aren’t unimportant. They aren’t just theological details, or minor denominational differences. They touch (though sometimes very subtly) the very foundation of what guides our daily walk with Christ.

All around us our friends and neighbors might be among those caught up in deceptions. They feed on substitutes, and are starved of the central hope of God’s truth.

The influence and confusion comes from popular TV shows, music, movies, books, even from our friends, and those we work with or go to school with. It come from political leaders, and the influence of bad laws that create a confused culture. Some who preside in our courts protect criminals more than their victims. Cultural leaders and celebrities defend and practice all sorts of moral perversions.

But it’s not this secular message that’s most dangerous. That’s not what most of the New Testament is about. There were Roman and Greek pagan religions all around the Empire at that time. But very few warnings in the New Testament are directed at them. It’s mainly about modified religious messages, ones that come from popular and successful Jewish and Church leaders, many who even called themselves Christian.

When you modify Christianity, it’s no longer really Christianity. It becomes another gospel, one of a different kind that’s not really a good message at all. That’s what Paul’s letter to the Galatians was about.

And God preserved this letter in the Bible because this has been a danger to Christians all through church history, and it’s still a major issue today.

The influences that surround us can draw even believers to the poisons. The popular message seems so appealing, well accepted, and satisfying for the moment. But in the long run, it robs them of their peace of mind, and peace with God. The false hope it offers isn’t what’s needed as people face life’s real challenges.

So what can you do about it?

First: You need to know the truth, the whole truth as God gave it to us in his word, not as it’s so commonly watered down and twisted around. Just as you need to study and learn to know how to read, write, do math, and know history, you need a systematic and careful program to study God’s word.

You need to personally be a student of the Bible every day. You need to use family time to train and educate your children and spouses. You need the regular and systematic teaching of a sound Bible-teaching church. This is why we promote Regular Sunday Worship, Sunday School, and Bible Study Groups. One class in God’s word every week isn’t enough to combat the wrong teachings that surround us and indoctrinate us all week.

Second: You need to get that truth to others. You do it personally by explaining what you’ve learned when it’s appropriate, by inviting them to church to worship, to attend Sunday school, Bible studies, and by directing them to good websites, solid books and devotionals.

Third: You need to be a good example in your daily life. You need to be consistent in your commitment to God’s ways as they’re taught in the Bible. You need to live kindly and compassionately, in spite of your inner urges to be rude or apathetic. You need to love Christ above all else. Others need to see that this is what matters most to you, and that it benefits you.

Lies and confusion spread very easily because they appeal to what people want to hear. By saying nothing, you give the impression that you go along with the popular beliefs of our fallen community.

The truth spreads by telling it, living it — by appreciating it first and foremost for yourself. Paul didn’t just shake his head in sadness when he heard about what was going on in Galatia. He wrote this important letter to help them come out from the confusion and get back into the light.

Don’t just quietly let those around you feed at the soul-numbing poisons. Let them know about the liberating truth that may not be popular, but it’s right and good.

You can do this by drawing from the power of the Risen Christ in you, and by knowing his word well, and by living the way it teaches you. It’s never too late in your life to become a true evangelist, not the ordained type, but a personal messenger of the true good news.

You can make a difference — and enjoy doing it.

1st John 4:4 says, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. ”

(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)

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