One morning a mother said to her little boy: “Johnny, just last night I put four cookies in
the cookie jar, and this morning there are two missing. How do you explain this?” Little Johnny answered, “Well, it was kind of dark, and I only saw two cookies”!
Just as that mom was surprised that those cookies were so soon removed from the cookie jar, the Apostle Paul was surprised that the Galatians were so soon removed from the grace message that he had taught them, as we see when he wrote them, saying,
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6).
The first thing we notice about this verse is that Paul doesn’t actually say what I said, that the Galatians had been removed from the grace message. That was true, but that’s not what he says. He says they were removed “from Him that called you into the grace of Christ.”
Now the “him” there could be an example of Paul talking about himself in the third person, for in describing the apostasy that later swept through Asia, Paul wrote:
“…all they which are in Asia be turned away from me…” (2 Tim. 1:15).
Paul was the apostle of grace, so when the believers in Asia left the grace message, it was not inaccurate for Paul to say that they left him.
But I believe the one who called the Galatians into the grace of Christ was God. Every time Paul talks about how members of the Body of Christ are called, it is always God who does the calling. For example, Paul told the Corinthians,
“…God is faithful, by whom ye were called…” (1 Cor. 1:9 cf. Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 7:15; 1 Thes. 2:12; 2 Tim. 1:9).
As you can see from that verse and those others, believers are called by God into the grace of Christ.
Of course, they are not called in some mysterious way. God calls people with the gospel, as we see when Paul wrote of God,
“…He called you by our gospel…” (2 Thes. 2:14).
So the Galatians had been called by God into the grace of Christ by the gospel of grace preached by Paul, and were saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8,9). But once we’re saved by grace through faith, God expects us to “stand” in grace (Rom. 5:1,2). And do you know what the opposite of standing is? Isaiah 46:7 says,
“…he standeth; from his place shall he not remove….”
One of the definitions of the word “stand” is to not be removed. So when Paul says the Galatians were removed from God who called them into the grace of Christ, it means they had failed to stand in grace, and those fools were soon parted from God’s grace (3:1-3).
Leaving So Soon?
Frankly, the apostle expected this would happen. He knew from his familiarity with the Old Testament Scriptures that men have a natural tendency to depart from God’s truth in any dispensation. He only marveled that it had happened “so soon.” He thought it would have taken longer, as we see when he predicted that
“…in the latter times some shall depart from the faith…” (1 Tim. 4:1).
So here we have to ask how Satan did it. How did he manage to remove them from the liberating message of grace so quickly? What was the bait that he dangled in front of them that was so tantalizing that they just couldn’t resist it?
Well, to begin with, did you notice that Paul doesn’t say they were removed from grace to a false gospel? He says they were removed to another gospel—and he meant another Bible gospel. He was talking about “the gospel of the kingdom” that the Lord preached to the people of Israel (Matt. 4:23). It’s the same gospel He sent the twelve apostles to preach (Luke 9:1,2). But that is not the gospel of grace that the Lord sent Paul to preach! You see, the kingdom gospel included the law of Moses, as the Lord made clear when He told the twelve,
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28:19-20).
And what things had He commanded them to “observe?” Earlier He told them,
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do…” (Matt. 23:2,3).
The Lord commanded the twelve to observe the law that the Pharisees taught, and then told them to teach the law that He’d commanded them to observe to the nations.
But the Lord didn’t send Paul to preach the law. He sent him to preach the very opposite, as we see when Paul tells us,
“…ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).
That’s the grace of Christ that the Galatians had believed, but had removed themselves from unto the law of the kingdom gospel. It happened quickly because it’s easy to fall for things that come out of the Bible when the Bible is not rightly divided. And when the Galatians fell for the law, Galatians 1:6 says they removed themselves from God.
All Is Not Lost
Now that doesn’t mean they lost their salvation. It doesn’t say that God removed Himself from them. It says they removed themselves from God. Remember, “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:9), and no matter how far you remove yourself from Him, He will never remove Himself from you, as Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:13,
“If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.”
Even if you get to the point where you no longer believe the gospel of grace that saved you, the Lord “cannot” deny you, for when you believed the gospel, the Spirit baptized you into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). So to deny you, Christ would have to deny Himself, for you are now part of Himself.
But when you no longer believe the grace message that saved you, you are removing yourself from grace. And when you do that, you are removing yourself from God who called you into His grace. You are putting some distance between you and Him. Any time you go back to something God used to be doing in a previous dispensation, but isn’t doing any more, you’re moving away from God, not toward Him. That’s how important “rightly dividing the Word” is (2 Tim. 2:15).
But if the law is the other gospel for which the Galatians had fallen, why did Paul add,
“Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7).
If the Galatians had fallen for the law found in the kingdom gospel, how can Paul say that the gospel they fell for was not a gospel? Wasn’t the kingdom gospel a gospel?
Well, the word “gospel” means good news. We know this because the Lord said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel…” (Luke 4:18).
And He was quoting something Isaiah predicted He would say, in Isaiah 61:1:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings.…”
Do you see how comparing those verses defines the word “gospel” as “good tidings,” or as we’d say today, good news?
So when Paul said the law wasn’t a gospel, he wasn’t saying it wasn’t good news. What he meant was that it wasn’t good news for the Galatians. The law was certainly good news for the Jews to whom the twelve ministered it, for they were under the law, and the law made ample provision for men to be saved under it, and live in such a way that pleased God.
But the Galatians weren’t under the law, they were under grace. So the law wasn’t gospel to them. It wasn’t good news to them. It proved to be bad news for them, as you know if you’re familiar with this epistle. And it continues to be bad news to all members of the Body of Christ, as even a casual familiarity with the Christian world will attest. Christians who are unfamiliar with the liberating message of grace are miserable under the law.
Trouble in Paradise
Now if you’re not convinced that the law was the other gospel the Galatians had fallen for, did you notice Paul used the word trouble to describe the effect it had on them (Gal. 1:7)? That’s the word James used for the law after the Jerusalem council met to decide if Paul’s gospel of grace was legit. After he heard the arguments on both sides, he decided:
“Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them…And they wrote letters…after this manner…we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must… keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment” (Acts 15:19,20,23,24).
James called it troubling to tell those new Gentile believers in the Body of Christ that they had to keep the law, and he determined to put a stop to it. And all saved Jews accepted his decision, and embraced this dispensational change, just as Jews who were saved under the law accepted the dispensational change God made when the Lord added the kingdom program to the law (Luke 16:16; John 17:6).
But unsaved Jews did not accept this dispensational change. They left the Jerusalem Council and went around troubling the new Gentile converts in the Body of Christ with the law. And that word “trouble” here in Galatians 1:7 shows that eventually they troubled the Galatians with the law as well.
And what do we call people who make trouble? Troublemakers! What else would you call someone who perverts the gospel of Christ, as it says in Galatians 1:7? Come to think of it, what do we call someone who perverts things? A pervert!
Interestingly enough, my old 1951 Webster’s dictionary defines the word “pervert” as someone who has forsaken the true religion for a false religion. A pervert, it goes on to say, is the opposite of a convert. A convert is someone who believes a false religion but converts to the true one. But a pervert goes the other way—usually because someone perverted the gospel.
Of course, nowadays the word “pervert” is usually only used to talk about sexual perverts, and people get pretty outraged by them, and rightly so. But grace believers ought to be just as outraged when someone perverts the gospel of grace with the law.
Paul was! You can tell because he goes on in our text to say,
“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
What Do You Mean “We”?
Now don’t overlook that little word “we” there. Paul was including himself in his warning about men who might pervert the gospel. So, what’s up with that? I mean, didn’t he trust himself to continue preaching grace, not law? To answer that, I can think of a couple of possibilities.
First, Alzheimer’s might have a new name, but it is not a new condition. And it always starts by erasing the patient’s short-term memory, leaving only old memories. And what old memories might the Apostle Paul have had from his days as Saul of Tarsus? Memories of the law he grew up on, of course! That may explain why he included himself in his warning of men who might pervert the gospel of grace with the law.
But it is also possible that he was just humble enough to know that all the persecution he went through might eventually make him forsake the message that was drawing all that persecution! If you’re not that humble—if you think persecution would never make you fall from grace—you need to heed Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12:
“…let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
Lastly, it’s possible Paul was thinking of something he warned the Thessalonians about when he wrote them saying,
“…be not soon shaken in mind…by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand” (2 Thes. 2:2).
Someone had written the Thessalonians a letter telling them that the day of the Lord (the Tribulation) was at hand, and signed Paul’s name to it! The apostle had to write them and say that he hadn’t written that letter, and that he didn’t teach that false doctrine. He taught that the Rapture would come and take us to heaven before the day of the Lord was at hand (1 Thes. 4:13-5:8).
And that might be what Paul is saying here as well. Something like, “If you get a letter purporting to be from me, saying I’m now teaching the law and not grace, I didn’t write it, so curse it and put it on the pay-no-mind list!”
The Voice of an Angel
It’s interesting that Paul adds that even if an angel preaches the law that believers should pay him no mind. If you’re wondering if an angel would teach something undispensational, the answer is that a fallen angel would! I know Paul is warning about “an angel from heaven,” but that’s where the fallen angels live, and will continue to live until Michael boots them out in Revelation 12:7-9.
But what’s it mean to be accursed? Is Paul talking about being cursed to hell? Was he saying that if he preached the law he would lose his salvation? Of course not! We know from many Scriptures that our salvation is eternally secure. So what does being accursed mean then?
Well, let me ask you: how would you go about cursing someone to hell? You don’t have any power to curse anyone to hell. But Paul doesn’t say you should curse someone to hell if he preaches the law. An unsaved man who preaches the law is already going to hell; Paul just says “let him be” accursed.
Compare that to what Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 14:38:
“But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
The men that Paul was talking about there were already ignorant. He was just telling them to recognize and accept their ignorance. And similarly, he was telling the Galatians that if an unsaved man preached the law to them, they should just recognize that he was accursed.
But if a saved man preaches the law, how is he accursed if saved men can’t lose their salvation? Well, in the Bible, the word curse is set in opposition to the word bless over thirty times.
Here’s one example:
“Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:10).
And that’s true! Those things ought not so to be.
But if cursing is the opposite of blessing, and Paul was saying that even a saved man like him would be accursed for preaching the law, he must have meant that he’d be cursed to losing his blessing, not his salvation.
What Have You Got to Lose?
So what’s it mean to lose the blessing of grace? Well, consider what Paul asked the Galatians in chapter 4:
“Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? For…if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me” (Gal. 4:15).
The word “blessedness” there is talking about the effect that grace had on them. When they got saved by grace, they were so thankful to Paul for introducing them to grace that they would have given him their eyes to help with his eye affliction.
Compare that to how Paul described them after they had fallen for the law:
“…ye bite and devour one another…” (Gal. 5:15).
The law caused them to go from being willing to give themselves to him to being people who bit and devoured one another. And when Paul added,
“Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:26),
it’s obvious that they were provoking and envying one another, or he wouldn’t have had to say that. That means they went from being Christians who were willing to give what they had to others to envying what others had instead. It sounds to me like they lost the blessedness of grace.
That’s the curse you reap if you remove yourself from grace. But it’s a curse you can avoid by standing in grace, and not falling for the law. And that’s a stand you’ll be eternally glad you maintained!