This week’s passage: Galatians 1:1-10
This weekend, we’re starting a new series going through Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. Like so much of the New Testament, the letter to the Galatians came about as a result of some serious issues in the Galatian churches. The Galatian Christians had accepted God’s rescue in the person of Jesus, quite probably as recorded in Acts 13ff. They had heard the good news that there is forgiveness of sins and the offer of life with God through Jesus. They had put their trust in Him. But then, some short time later, news came to Paul that these same Christians were abandoning the good news. They were deserting the God who had called them and shown them incredible mercy and grace. And they were switching allegiance to a new gospel.
There had come into their midst some people who twisted God’s good news into a dark imitation of good news. These people still claimed to be following Jesus; they still insisted that Jesus was necessary. But they also insisted that Jesus wasn’t enough. They taught that in order to be rescued from this present evil age, one needed more than trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Their “good news” was one of JesusPLUS. For those people, in particular, it seems to have been JesusPLUS Judaism; an insistence that for one to be truly right with God, one had to effectively become Jewish.
The gospel of God – taught by Jesus and all of his apostles, including Paul – is that the Kingdom of God is near. The gospel of God is that God has come to rescue us; that God sent His Son to die for us while we were still sinners; that God did what we cannot do because of the weakness of our sinful natures (Romans 8). The good news of God is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8). As Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished!” And the gospel says that Jesus is all that we need.
So Paul wrote to the Galatians to address the terrible damage that the “twisters” of God’s gospel were doing. He writes not merely as a “concerned Christian”, but as an apostle – as Jesus’ messenger; as Jesus’ agent. Paul wasn’t just defending his interpretation of the good news: he was defending the good news that Jesus Christ and God the Father had entrusted to him to share. He wrote with the authority of God – and in the power of the Spirit. He was writing scripture, as the apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 3:16. And although he wasn’t commissioned by them, the believers with him fully endorsed his letter: the church stood behind the apostolic version of the gospel and against that of “those people” who had come and perverted the gospel in Galatia.
Paul was passionate about the gospel: simply summarising it in a few words as he does in verse 4 was enough to drive him to give glory to God. And God’s rescue is amazing. God has done it!
Which is perhaps why the idea that they would exchange God’s rescue for a JesusPLUS gospel was so shocking to Paul. And, sadly, they were doing so so soon after trusting in Jesus. In maths, anything TIMES nothing is nothing. Paul doesn’t mince his words; he makes it very clear that in the maths of the gospel, Jesus PLUS anything is nothing.
JesusPLUS being Jewish was the particular flavour of JesusPLUS Paul was confronting. But JesusPLUS is a heresy that comes in almost as many flavours as you can imagine. Not many of us today are being told that unless we convert to Judaism, our faith is useless. But are there still varieties of JesusPLUS vying for our allegiance? What is it about JesusPLUS that made it so alluring to the Galatians, and that continues to make it alluring to us today? And is it really as big a deal as Paul makes it out to be?