The gospel was being distorted in Galatia by a group called the Judaizers. Essentially they were teaching that the Gentiles had to accept circumcision alongside the message that Jesus was their Lord and Savior. While it was a small change, it was still a change. A change that made all the difference. Remember the gospel tells us that we can do nothing to earn our own salvation, and here the Galatians were being taught that they had to do something.
There are a number of things we can add to or replace the gospel with, but doing so changes and distorts the gospel so that it’s no longer good news. It is just another form of works based salvation labeled as the gospel. When we change the gospel today, we are essentially committing the same error as the Judaizers in Paul’s day.
But we shouldn’t change the gospel. Why is that?
Why shouldn’t we change the gospel? (vs. 3-8)
As I have already alluded to:
(1) Changing the gospel makes salvation impossible.
If we are forced to rely on our own works, we’ll never experience salvation.
When I was in college, I let my credit card get a little bit out of control. Nothing too crazy, but it wasn’t something I could pay off while I was in college. I just worked part-time at a climbing wall. It was a fun job, but it didn’t pay a lot, so I ended up graduating college with some debt. Now, I didn’t keep that debt for long. After I got my first job out of college, I paid it off quickly.
We often think of salvation like that. Like it’s a debt we have to work off by doing good works. If we do enough good works, God will forgive us and we will experience eternal life. But that’s not how it works. God doesn’t accept our works as payment towards our debt. He only accepts the work of Jesus on our behalf.
Paul makes this clear in Galatians 1 when he says,
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Ga 1:3–4)
You see, it was Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf that gave us peace. It was His sacrifice that delivered us. Not our works. That’s the case because that’s how God designed it. Notice that Paul says that this is “according to the will of our God and Father,” Since God doesn’t change, the payment He requires doesn’t change. So, if we change the gospel to a works based system of salvation, we make salvation impossible because God doesn’t accept our work as payment towards our debt.
(2) Changing the gospel leaves us with a disturbed conscience
Starting in the middle of verse 7 Paul says,
“but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Ga 1:7b)
The idea here is that changing the gospel doesn’t help us instead it hurts us. Paul tells us that these folks are troubling the Galatians. It troubles them, it troubles us because a works based system produces emotional distress. It makes us uneasy because we don’t know where we stand with God. We know that’s true because when you talk to folks who are caught up in a works based system you hear them more often than not say something to the effect of: “I sure hope I have done enough.” The point being, they don’t know if they have done enough. They just hope they have done enough, which means they are left in limbo, always wondering if they are good enough. That affects us. It affects us emotionally producing a disturbed conscience.
But as Christians we don’t have to worry about where we stand. If we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are God’s children. We will experience salvation instead of eternal damnation. We can be sure of that because Jesus’ work is enough. It has satisfied God’s wrath, so we don’t have to worry. Nor do we have to live with a disturbed conscience, but those who change the gospel do.
(3) Changing the gospel means we aren’t delivered from bondage.
In verse 4, Paul tells us that Jesus
“gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” (Ga. 1:4)
If we add works to the gospel, that means we don’t understand or believe the gospel. We aren’t trusting in Jesus as our Savior, which means He hasn’t delivered us from bondage. Since we can’t deliver ourselves, we remain in bondage. Satan remains our master and we his slaves.
(4) Changing the gospel means that we are taking worship away from God.
In verse 5, Paul tells us that our salvation should result in God’s glory forever and ever. But if we make salvation a work that we do, we steal God’s worship away from Him. Instead of it being about God’s grace and sacrifice on our behalf, it’s about our work. What we do. Our ability to muster the effort, to crack the code of salvation. When we think like that, we’ll find that we start praising ourselves for what we’ve done, instead of what God has done in our lives. So changing the gospel steals worship away from God.
(5) Changing the gospel means that we will face a curse.
In verse 8 Paul says,
“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.” (Ga 1:8)
The idea here is that those who change the gospel will face a curse, and that curse is eternal damnation.
We must see that changing the gospel isn’t a good idea. It might be tempting because we often think we have to do something in return for what we are given. But that’s not so with the gospel. It’s a gift of God that’s freely given. Nothing is required of us. We should rest in that understanding. If we don’t salvation is impossible, we will most likely experience a disturbed conscience, we will continue to live in bondage, we won’t give God the worship He deserves, and ultimately, we will experience eternal death instead of eternal life.
While change can be good, when it comes to the gospel, it’s not. What we need to do, then, is rest in the biblical gospel, trusting in God’s wisdom for salvation.
Question for Reflection
- Do you see why changing the gospel is not a good thing?
- What are some other reasons we shouldn’t change the gospel?
Post developed from my sermon: Why shouldn’t we change the gospel? You can listen to it here.