Paul gets right to the point. The Galatians are in danger of leaving the faith and falling into apostasy. They have accepted a different teaching and Paul cannot believe it. He has no time for further introduction or for asking after their general welfare. He wants to make them understand their eternity is at stake. The teaching they are hearing is not additional truth or a new gospel – it is heresy. They are accepting a message from hell that will ultimately lead them there.
He tells them he is amazed. He cannot believe what he hears about them. How can they leave the gospel so soon after their conversion? When he was there they received the truth and were joyfully converted. They reveled in the good news that Christ died for all men – gentiles included – and that they could come to God. They accepted the free gift of God’s grace paid for by His Son. They heard Paul’s teaching and believed and Paul left rejoicing over their belief. And yet now they turn away from it. All it took were men questioning Paul’s credibility and teaching, and the Galatians are ready to leave the faith. How can this be?
Paul uses specific words to drive home to them the gravity of what they are about to do. They are not just deserting a doctrine, they are deserting a PERSON. Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. He is not amazed at their leaving his teaching; he is amazed they are leaving their Father who provided their salvation and sent Paul to proclaim it to them. How can they leave HIM?
They desert Him who called you by the grace of Christ. The Father called them through the work of Christ to come to Him. It is all of Him. It is a free – but cosmically costly – gift of grace. It cannot be earned. The Galatians turn their backs on the cross of Christ when they believe the false teachers who tell them it is not enough. They effectively tell God, “Thanks, but we need more.” This is what horrifies Paul. It is WHO they are deserting and what that says about their attitude toward His gift.
What they are leaving the gospel for does not even truly exist. They are leaving for another gospel, and yet by definition there is no such thing. There is only one gospel of Christ – there is only one Savior and He can only have one message of good news for salvation. Paul is Christ’s apostle and communicated to them Christ’s gospel. If what they choose to believe now is not the gospel Paul preached to them then it is not Christ’s gospel – and thus is not the gospel at all. One Savior, one message – and the message can only come from the Savior. If they do not believe the Savior’s message they cannot enjoy His salvation. Thus they leave the Savior’s gospel for a distortion.
Paul’s logic here is that what the Galatians do is not only dangerous and tragic – it makes no sense. They desert God, who called them by the grace of Christ, for something that is false by definition. They leave God to believe a myth.
Thought: Isn’t this what sin always is? Whenever we choose a different way we leave God for an illusion – something the enemy or our own minds make up. Eve did this in the garden. She believed she could have something better than what God promised her. And every subsequent sin in world history has followed the same course. We choose what we think is better than the message of God. We choose truth apart from God who is the source of truth. So by definition what we choose cannot be real. How foolish is it to choose what is not there over God?
Understand too that the Galatians do not realize what they are doing – that is the reason for Paul’s letter. They are completely deceived by the false teachers into believing there is a better way than what Paul taught them. Sin always deceives. And the ultimate deception of sin is to keep us from realizing that it is in fact sin that we have chosen. We choose myth over God, and apart from a Spirit-renewed mind we can live without understanding the choice we made.
These verses also point to why it is important to continually preach the gospel to ourselves. We must constantly remind ourselves of the completed work of Christ so we do not fall into the trap of living as if we earn our standing before God. Our natural mind can lead us to believe a false gospel; that if we obey today we are in God’s favor and if we disobey we are under God’s wrath. God certainly disciplines us for disobedience but we must remember that our best doesn’t deserve His grace and our worst sin is not beyond Christ’s redemption.
In the midst of Paul’s strong condemnations these verses do express hope. Note the verb tense he uses. The Galatians are deserting the gospel. He does not say they have deserted it. They have not gone so far they cannot come back. Paul writes with urgency because he knows what is at stake but he does think it is in fact worthwhile to write them.
Paul makes two statements in these verses to ensure the Galatians realize just how high the stakes are. He tells them first that even if an angel from heaven were to preach to them a different gospel than what Paul preached that angel would be damned (accursed). He then basically repeats the warning in verse 9 and says again that if any man preaches a different gospel he is accursed. Anyone who distorts the gospel is subject to eternal punishment.
Paul repeats the charge of verse 8 again in verse 9 to show that it is not some rash statement he has not thought through. He very purposely states that the ones who pervert the gospel are now marked for damnation – they are set apart for destruction (“anathema”). As extreme as this sounds it is not the emotional raving of a hurt man but the deliberate word of God written by His apostle. To pervert the gospel is to be damned.
The warning is grave because eternity and the glory of God are at stake. To believe the gospel of the false teachers is to sentence oneself to hell. It is not the gospel; therefore belief in it does not save. The false gospel also effectively shows Christ’s death to be incomplete – obedience to the Law is required to fill up what is missing in Christ’s atonement. So Paul says the false teachers are marked for destruction because they cause others to be damned and their teaching diminishes the glory of Christ.
Understand that Paul speaks of men who come from “within” the faith. The false teachers are telling the Galatians how to be Christians. These are not critics from outside the church who want to destroy it – they are teachers who call themselves believers. They claim to have the full answer for salvation instead of the incomplete version taught by Paul. The most dangerous threats to the gospel are often from within. The Enemy knows that a frontal attack is typically not as effective as covertly infiltrating the camp.
This is why Paul compares their words to his own and says his are the standard. He is the apostle speaking the words of God. Thus the Galatians must know Paul’s words in order to refute the false teaching. They cannot fight against a false gospel if they do not know the true one. This is obviously true for Christians of any age. The only way to recognize and fight false doctrine is to make sure to thoroughly know the truth. Knowledge of the word of God is key.
In verse 10 Paul seems to respond to criticism that he teaches an easy gospel for the sake of currying favor with men. Perhaps the false teachers say that Paul’s gospel is too easy – just believe and you are saved, do not worry about obedience to the Law. The false teachers bring the real truth because it requires hard work and sacrifice; what Paul teaches is easy believism for the sake of persuading men to his way.
Paul takes this on directly. He has just said that anyone who preaches a different gospel is damned. Those are not the words of someone who craves acceptance. He has also described himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ – that alone means his allegiance is not to man. Now he makes it clearer: he is a bond-servant of Christ. A bond-servant is effectively a slave. A slave serves only one master and does not choose his own way. He is someone else’s property. As Christ’s slave Paul cannot answer to anyone else because that would mean he is not in fact Christ’s slave at all (If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ).
This is why he is willing to be so forceful in issuing curses on the false teachers. What they think of him is of little concern compared to the importance of serving his Master. His allegiance is to Christ and since their teaching is a direct violation of who and what Christ is they must be condemned.
It is interesting that Paul says, “If I were still trying to please men…” Perhaps this refers to his time of persecuting the church on behalf of the Jewish authorities. In the next few verses he will refer to that time and will say in verse 14 that he advanced in Judaism beyond many of his contemporaries. Maybe Paul now sees that during that time he worked more for his own ambition than the purity of the Law. And since he sees what he used to be it makes him even more adamant to refute the accusation that it is true of him today. It may also make him more zealous to condemn the false teachers because he has personal experience with what lies at the heart of their evangelism. The false teachers themselves are likely guilty of what they accuse Paul of.
Paul shows very clearly in this verse that pleasing man is diametrically opposed to pleasing God. It is impossible to do both. As Jesus said about money, a slave cannot serve two masters. This does not mean Christians try to alienate others or look for ways to oppose them. What it does mean is that the overarching goal of life is to please God regardless of the cost and regardless of what it does to reputation or means. Nothing is higher than allegiance to our Father in heaven.
The mystery of this allegiance is that great freedom comes from enslavement. The slave of God is no longer bound by the words and expectations and priorities of men. He is free of man’s criticism, free of desire for praise and earthly rewards, free of ambition for status and privilege, free to please only one Master. The freest men on earth are those who are enslaved to its Creator.
The most thrilling implication of verse 10 for me personally is this: The absoluteness of Christ’s lordship is gloriously liberating. It frees me from having to worry about pleasing one person here and another person there. It brings unity and integrity to my life. When you live to please only one person, everything you do is integrated because it relates to that one person. Shall I go to this movie? Read this book? Make this purchase? Take this job? Go out on this date? Marry this person? What a freeing thing it is to know that there is one person who is to be pleased in every decision of life—Jesus. Sometimes pleasing him will please others. Sometimes it won’t, and that will hurt. But the deep joy of a single-minded life is worth it all. – John Piper
There is only one gospel. To turn away from that gospel is to believe a lie and to desert the One who called us to it. To leave the gospel is to leave a relationship. To believe a different truth – which by definition cannot be truth – is to be damned. To believe the gospel, however, is to become the slave of the One who called us by the grace of Christ. Through this grace we are free from the Law and through our enslavement we are free from this world.