I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. Galatians 1:6-7 (NIV)
In Galatians 1 Paul doesn’t introduce his letter in the usual way with a greeting, but instead gets straight to the point with a reproof. He confronts the members of the church with a stark fact – they were turning away from the truth of the gospel to other teaching.
Paul tells his readers that he is ‘astonished’ at the fact that they have so quickly deserted the truth. There is a distinct hint of irony here! The Greek word used here can mean ‘wonder’, ‘marvel’ or ‘astonied’. I like the word ‘astonied’ because, although it is rather archaic, is full of meaning. It can mean:
- filled with consternation.
Paul’s astonishment is not one of awe, but of disbelief. It is as if he is saying that he is dumbfounded that the Galatians have chosen to go away from the truth of the gospel.
It is worth clarifying that the untruth being accepted by the Galatians was that those who professed Christ would additionally have to follow Jewish customs (principally circumcision).
Despite this introductory reproof to the Galatian church, Paul later reminds his readers that:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)
Thinking about this and its application to us today, it is obvious that we don’t have people in our churches telling us that we have to be circumcised to be true believers. However, there may be other things that are added to the gospel and people are expected to do, as evidence of their true belief. These things might be very obvious and relate to what is done in church (e.g. manner of dress; worship style), or could be related to what is done away from church (e.g. going to the cinema, drinking alcohol). Paul reminds the Galatians about the freedom that they have in Christ and not to be bound by human rules.
Understand that Paul is not saying that a Christian can do whatever they like and live as they please. He is standing up against a doctrine that places human rules as equal, or superior, to belief in Jesus. Anything that is added to the gospel must be seen as such.
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