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Galatians 1:6-9

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 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. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

There are a lot of people who throw around the word “gospel” today. What does it actually mean? The etymology of our English word “gospel” comes from Old English (earliest example of the English language which was in use about 700 years, from the 5th century to the 11th century). It is the combination of the word “god” (which is not a reference to deity) meaning “good,” and “spel” which means “news or story.” It is combined to form the word “godspel” which means “good news.” This is a good translation of the Greek word euangelion which also means “good news.” When we use the word “gospel” we mean “good news.”1

This is also generally how the secular, ancient world used the word gospel. It traditionally meant “good news” in the Greek language. An inscription in Turkey dating to 9 B.C. refers to Augustus Caesar’s birthday as the beginning of “the good tidings” (that’s our word euangelion). Whether you were speaking religiously or not, the word euangelion meant “good news.” By the 5th century, the word “god-spel” from which we get our word “gospel” was limited to good news about Jesus. In fact, what we call the Book of Mark, or “Mark’s Gospel,” begins with the title phrase in v. 1 “Beginning the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” In other words, there was good news to be told, to be declared, and it was in reference to this person Jesus Christ whom Mark calls “the Son of God.” This is the same gospel that Paul and the other apostles preached. It is the same gospel that has been passed down through the centuries. It is the goods new that Jesus died for our sins and was buried and that He rose again from the dead.

The Gospel and Grace

The gospel is called “the grace of Christ.” Grace is defined as God’s unmerited favor. The way Paul expresses it, there is a connection between the grace of Christ (Galatians 1:6) and the gospel of Christ (v. 7). The gospel is, literally, the grace of Christ. The gospel declares that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The way Paul puts it here, Jesus gave Himself up for our sin (Galatians 1:4). He did this so that He could deliver us from the ‘evil age.’ He died in our place. He took God’s wrath upon Himself. The message of the gospel teaches us that Jesus delivered us from sin according to God’s own will. The gospel began in the heart of God.

Moreover, it is to this gospel that we are called. The salvation message that Paul preached was the message of God’s grace in Jesus. There is a strong emphasis here on the message itself being verbally proclaimed (a lot like the Gospels are written declarations of the life and ministry of Jesus). Thus, the gospel calls us to grace in Jesus. The person who declared the gospel to us was a messenger of that gospel and a deliverer of God’s grace. The interesting thing about it is, while we think at the time of our salvation that we are choosing God and Jesus, He is really choosing us. Grace is not about our pursuing Him but Him pursuing us. It is not about what I have done to earn or merit God’s favor. It is what His love determines for me in calling me to salvation in Christ. That is why it is such great news. Jesus died (for our sins) and was buried. He rose again from the dead.

The Gospel Perverted

What kind of “good news” is it that alters this message? What does God call that kind of “gospel?” It is not the same thing as the gospel, clearly. Anything other than this message is not the gospel. It is a gospel of another kind, of a different quality than the one Paul preached to them. It is not the gospel of grace. Consequently, it is not the “good news.” It is not truly the gospel. It is a message that leads people away from the truth. There are “other gospels” which turn people away from grace. They turn people away from salvation. They “trouble” Christians because they want to turn people from the truth (v. 7). There is only one gospel. All other messages are false, fake. There is some speculation as to the false gospel Paul is referring to in this text. It could be a rejection of grace in favor of legalism (self-merit). Some in Galatia were certainly teaching a blend of Judaism and Christianity (Galatians 3:1-3). It may also be that the false gospel was an abuse of grace in favor of licentious behavior. That is, it may have taught that because God’s grace covers sin anyway, there is no need for righteous living. Certainly, there was a concern for people in Galatia living according to their sinful flesh.

Paul ends this section revealing that the messengers of the perverted gospel are cursed. He indicates that it does not matter who the messenger is, if his message is false then God will curse him. This applies even if Paul himself is the messenger or even an angel from heaven. The message is always more important than the messenger. Paul states it plainly—the message that was first preached to them is the right one; the message they originally received is the right one.

Christians today must be continually on guard against any perversion of the gospel. It does not matter if the false gospel is being taught by a famous Bible teacher or pastor. It does not matter if the messenger has multiple doctorates in theology. The only thing that matters is the gospel, the grace of God in Christ.

Discussion questions:

  1. Restate the gospel. What is the gospel?
  2. Does the messenger of the gospel influence whether or not you accept it? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think God’s grace is so important to the gospel?
  4. How do false religions pervert the gospel? Provide a few examples.
  5. How might a false gospel lead to legalism?
  6. How might a false gospel lead to licentiousness?