Scripture (Gal 1:6 – 9)
6 I am astonished
that you are so quickly
deserting the one who called you
by the grace of Christ
and are turning to a different gospel—
7 which is really no gospel at all.
Evidently some people
are throwing you into confusion
and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
even if we or an angel from heaven
should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you,
let that person be under God's curse!
9 As we have already said, so now I say again:
is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted,
let that person be under God's curse!
Paul appears to be horrified and appalled by the apparent lack of faith demonstrated by the Galatian churches towards the gospel that he had preached to them. To him, it just does not make sense that they would turn away from the foundations of living free found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ and substitute it for a gospel that is merely a farce.
In his letter, Paul admonishes the people for having put their trust in cleverly crafted teachings and underhanded sophistries employed by parties seeking to lead them astray and undermine their single-minded devotion towards the ways of Christ. He intransigently insists that there is only one true gospel – that is the gospel of Jesus Christ and to add to his belief in the immutable authority and authenticity of the gospel, pointedly declared that those who preached polymorphisms or overt mutations of the gospel be placed under God’s curse. In this issue, Paul is unrelenting and uncompromising. He refuses to stand by and watch while the people have their faiths diluted and dissected by the multitudes of success and prosperity gospels being propagated amongst them. In other words, he expects full and unbridled adherence and commitment to following the ways and leadership of Christ.
Yet, surely the people are not entirely culpable for their faithlessness? It is after all, an onerous, seemingly impossible task to consistently call ourselves to respond to the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ that requires us to constantly die to ourselves. After all, it is so much easier to get things under our control if we employed methods contained in so many of the ‘gospels’ around us. And with so many people seeking their counsel, of course it’s only common sense that we adhere to the current, contemporary trends. And once we get those two in place, we will gain acceptance and all the other desires for comfort, cravings and convenience will be satisfied. So much simpler compared to persistently having to put our lives on the line for the sake of the gospel of this God who wants to have us crucified. And if it works, then why not keep it?
Therefore, it would seem that we could rightfully charge Paul with having a parochial and pedantic mindset when he claims that there is no other gospel than that of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we can even accuse him of attempting to stifle the freedom that he claims to advocate so much in his epistles.
However, upon closer examination, surely, we find that there is wisdom and profundity behind his scathing and blunt remarks, and insight and love behind his proclamation of the ultimate truth and foundation of the gospel.
The gospel, as he testifies, is the salvation of the Lord revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, for through the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed. In other words, in the gospel, God reveals the standards and measure by which He will judge all humanity. This mark is not arbitrarily set to force us into obsequious submission to an uncompromising Master. Rather, the mark of what humanity is supposed to be reflects the ingredient necessary to bring about life and peace upon this earth. It is the sum of values and principles that set us apart as human beings meant to rule and reign in wisdom and justice.
History has shown us what happens when we fall short of that standard that is expected of us as human beings, beginning with the sin of Adam and Eve. Instead of being life-bringing vessels that channel the grace and freedom of God onto the earth, humanity has slowly degraded into death-bringing beasts that have ravaged and ruined the planet, and have enslaved and ensnared countless lives in a totalitarian, machine-like manner – plants, animals, other human beings alike.
Yet, God through His grace has revealed to us the standard of righteousness through the person of Jesus Christ, as one who proclaimed a kingdom not of control and convenience, but of power and purity, as one who lived and stood not by the fleshly might, but by a spirit-led stance, as one who demonstrated what it meant to be a true human being, led by the Spirit and redeeming creation from condemnation and cynicism into a purposeful and peaceful existence. Christ displayed to humanity the kind of life that it has to lead to bring fruitfulness and health onto this planet, and the kind of life that enables the full expression of freedom and individuality amongst each human being – indeed, the only way of life that brings about the fullest sense of purpose and meaning for all of creation.
And truly, we ignore the gospel of Jesus Christ at our own peril. Should we insist upon following the ways of the nations, yielding to their pretentious propaganda and allowing their insidious influences to surreptitiously infiltrate our hearts and minds, we would soon find ourselves, without fail, spinning once again in the spirals of corruption and condemnation experienced by entire civilisations from Adam to Christ. Should we reject the ways and leadership of the one true human being who has made it through death and came out victorious, we would not only be axing out one formula out of many other equally good ones, we would be severing ourselves from the only one true gospel that can save us from our sins.
Yet, despite the persistent and perspicuous clarion calls that Paul and many other apostles have resounded throughout their lives, it would seem that we, as an obstinate species still find it extremely distasteful to commit and submit our lives to the purposes and promises of the Lord, preferring instead the many other success models that are crafted by human hands.
Indeed, when will we truly learn that all these other gospels are really not gospels at all, and at what point can we truly set our eyes again towards the one true gospel that brings salvation and life to all humanity?
Today, we see a plethora of advertisements and signposts pointing to many forms of success schemes and prosperity gospels. We hear a cacophony of voices leading us to venture into all sorts of directions to seek the best and most successful way of getting things done right.
We believe we will succeed in bringing peace and prosperity to all nations and the people around us by having a better structure or perhaps having more favourable circumstances to implement our agendas. Hence, we commit most of our time trying as hard as we can to devise and contrive and draft out bigger, grander structures that appeal and appease. We do whatever it takes to tweak the circumstance, even slightly, such that it becomes supportive of our visions for a better humanity.
Yet, without the foundations of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the life-giving spirit leading us in the process of designing these structures, we often find that our intentions, as good as they might be, often end up mutating into death-bringing and enslaving machineries.
Consider for example, the vision of communism. In a communist nation, all individual properties become publicly owned and each individual is paid based on their contributions and their needs. Communist economics is centred upon the needs of the people rather than profits and productivity. In essence, communism defends the rights and livelihood of the poor by creating an environment where all resources within the state are shared as a community. However, without the spirit of grace and love that arises as the foundation of the communist structure, we often find that this form of government often degenerates into a form of dictatorship or totalitarian regime, with the whole entire power structure of the state dominated by a group of elites while the rest of the nation suffers just to obediently serve the “visions” of the leaders.
Even democracy, titled the champion of individual liberty, can often spin out into the worst forms of anarchy and disunity. If there is no spirit of unity and grace leading and flowing within the democratic government, what usually results is polarisation of people into different factions with subsequent partisan politics and unnecessary wrangling among these splintered tribes. We can readily trace the history of democratic governments down global timelines, and we observe that without the spirit of peace and unity at its core, most democratic governments disintegrate into warring tribes and revolutionist parties, even more futile attempts at creating other hybrids of governments without God at their centres.
We can thus see now the reason Paul is so deeply passionate about fixing the gospel of Jesus Christ as our core foundation in life. We can now readily see why he is so jealous with a Godly jealousy when he sees his brothers and sisters turning away from the gospel of life to follow other gods of power and productivity. It is not because he wants us to get ourselves free tickets to heaven, nor is it because he is trying to sell a product or advertise a special group that he is part of.
No, the reason for his loud and uncompromising call to return to the gospel of Christ is clear – it is the sole gospel that brings about peace and hope in any circumstances, it is the sole message that teaches us to live a life of radical abandonment, baptised and immersed into a whole new world where there is clarity of God’s grand schemes of bringing life and fruitfulness to this earth and all of humanity.
So, the big question then: Are we prepared today, to fully immerse ourselves once again in the gospel that we have or may have forgotten? Or would we continue wallowing in the marshes with the dazzling array of ‘gospels’ that deceive and detract us from the greater things that God wants to do in us and through us in all of creation?
Father Lord, thank you for revealing to us the righteousness that you desire through the person of Jesus Christ. Thank you for showing us what it truly means to live life as a true human being, uncontrolled by the flesh, unbridled by condemnations and cynicism, led by the Spirit bringing grace and love to all of creation.
Lord, we are so aware of the jealousy you have for us when we forget the gospel to which we have been called, when we choose instead to follow the other ‘gospels’ that are not gospels at all. Forgive us for our weaknesses and our lack of faith in your promises for us.
And in this place of grace and mercy Lord, continue to lead us, we pray, so that we can once again learn what it means to be proclaimers of the gospel, both in word and in deed. And in doing so, we too learn to submit ourselves to the purposes that you originally meant for us as humanity and at the same time to anticipate your works of transformation and restoration of our fallen nation to its former glory.
So let it be. Amen.