I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:6-10 ESV
Paul is astonished. It had probably only been a few months since he had been to the province of Galatia and helped launch the first house churches. But now he had received word that those who had accepted Christ were beginning to abandon the gospel message they had heard for another one. There is no doubt that Paul had made clear to them the gospel message. He had probably told them the very same thing he had said to the believers in Corinth:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 ESV
The heart of the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. That is what Paul believed and that is what he preached. He had had a personal encounter with Jesus after His death. He knew the resurrection was true. He knew the gospel to be powerful because it had radically transformed his own life. And so, when he received news that the believers in Galatia were “so quickly deserting” the gospel for a “different” one, he was amazed and appalled. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
The Greek word Paul uses is μετατίθημι (metatithēmi) and it can mean “to transfer one’s self or suffer one’s self to be transferred” (“G3346 – metatithēmi (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). Under the influence of others, the believers in Galatia had begun to transpose or translate their allegiance from the gospel that Paul had preached to another version of the gospel. Paul called it ἕτερος (heteros) – another gospel. It was different in nature, form, class, and kind. It wasn’t an expansion of Paul’s gospel, but a different one altogether. It was a distortion or perversion of what Paul and the apostles had preached. Yet those who were preaching this contrary gospel didn’t make that distinction. They were promoting it as the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were pawning it off as the real thing and that is what made it so dangerous.
Paul was so adamant in his stance against these purveyors of counterfeit gospels, that he desired them to be accursed – ἀνάθεμα (anathema). In essence, Paul was delivering them over to God’s judgment. The Greek word Paul used means “a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed” (“G331 – anathema (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). These are strong words from Paul and they convey how seriously he took the gospel. It was not something to be toyed with, added to, expounded upon or distorted in any way.
Paul was not out to win friends and influence enemies. He was out to preach the good news of salvation made possible through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was determined to preach a message of life change and transformation. His was a message of faith, not works. It was based on the law of the Spirit of life, not the Mosaic law. The gospel that Paul preached made man completely dependent upon the grace and mercy of God. No one could save themselves. No one was capable of earning favor with God through human effort. And anyone who taught that man could achieve righteousness and earn justification with God apart from faith in Christ alone was preaching a false and deadly gospel.
Paul wasn’t out to please men. If he had been, he wouldn’t have preached the message he did. No one likes to hear that they are sinners and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). No one enjoys being told that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Who wants to be told that they are under God’s wrath and totally incapable of doing anything about it? And yet, that is the message Paul preached, over and over again. He was not telling people what they wanted to hear. He was telling them what they needed to hear: the good news of God’s grace made available through the death of His Son.
There are many gospels today. Some are slight variations on the real gospel. Others are complete aberrations, distortions of the truth of God masquerading as hope. They tell people what they want to hear. They make false promises. They take salvation out of the hands of God and place it in the hands of men. Religious rule-keeping becomes the means of redemption. Self-effort replaces dying to self. Men become their own saviors and salvation becomes little more than escape from the troubles of this life rather than the promise of eternal life. False gospels almost always show up in the form of either legalism or license. They promote self-salvation or self-gratification. They become all about living up to a set of rules or living as if there are no rules. Both are false. Both are dangerous. And Paul would have us avoid them like the plague.