You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? … Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! … As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Gal 3:1; 1:8; 5:12)
Here begins the Second Epistle of Mike Mason to Paul the Apostle:
What fierce, even crude, language you use as you re-preach the gospel to people who should have grasped it already! It’s amazing that such language hasn’t been edited out of our Bibles.
What made you so angry? It was the fact that some troublemakers in Galatia were changing the gospel message, turning it into “a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all” (1:6). They hadn’t changed it much; they’d just added a few little regulations to keep the job of running the church (no easy task!) more orderly and manageable. In their own eyes, they weren’t causing trouble, they were setting things straight. No offence, Paul, but they probably read your letter and wondered why in the world your tail was in such a knot.
I know what you were up against. I myself wonder why one hardly ever hears the gospel preached in most of our churches. I can’t remember the last time I heard a gospel message clear and resounding enough to rock my socks. Instead I’m encouraged to pull up my socks, to split theological hairs, to jump through legalistic hoops, to contribute more to the church, and so on ad nauseam. Most pastors keep piling burdens on their people instead of lifting them off. It’s just as Jesus said about the Pharisees: “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. And so they shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Mt 23:4,13).
When do I ever hear that I don’t need to do anything because Christ has done it all? Oh yes, I know, Paul, that all of your letters are full of instructions on how to live the Christian life. In fact, all of your letters—except Galatians—are divided about equally between the gospel message in the first half and moral exhortation in the second. But Galatians is different. In this letter, nearly five of the six chapters are totally devoted to a blistering plea to return to the purity and simplicity of the true gospel that first set these people free. Because only when we’re free—and know it—do we have any hope of living the way we’re meant to. As Psalm 119:32 puts it, “I will run in the way of Your commandments, / because You have set my heart free.” How important is that little word because! If we try to fulfill the law without a free heart, we put the cart before the horse and get all tangled up.
The Letter to the Galatians is about putting the horse where it needs to be: in front. One of my favorite books about you, Paul, is called Apostle of the Heart Set Free. The reason you talked so tough to those foolish Galatians is that you knew the power of the true gospel to set people free—so free that they would stand forever amazed and brimming with thanks before their glorious Savior. Get this one thing straight, you knew, and all good works would flow from it as naturally as water from a deep, pure well. But add one little kink to this gospel, and get ready for trouble, including exactly the sort of phony, hidebound religion so prevalent today. For the good news “was not something man made up” but “was received by revelation from Jesus Christ” (1:12). I pray that we might hear your stunning wake-up call and return to “the only thing that counts, which is faith expressing itself through love” (5:6).
Thanks, Paul, for writing so honestly and forcefully!
With love in Christ,
Next Post: Best Marriage Book of All Time!