“Jesus Saves, But . . .”
Preface: Saul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road was the defining moment in his life and in the history of the early church. God changed the one-time persecutor of the church and made him His chosen apostle to bring the gospel to the Gentile world. Paul’s inclusion of Gentiles in the church by faith alone, however, proved a difficult concept for some within the church to accept—a powerful example of how preconceptions and prejudice can hinder our mission.
Galatia was a region in northern Asia Minor that came under Roman rule in 25 B.C. As Christianity spread, many churches blossomed in the region—among them Pisidia, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. It is these churches that the apostle Paul addresses in his Epistle to the Galatians.
The reason for Paul’s writing was a problem that seemed to plague many churches after his departure. Religious activists, known as Judaizers, were influencing the minds and theology of the Galatian churches and confusing them as to what kind of gospel was being preached and what should be believed. These false teachers presented to the people a way of salvation other than that which Paul had earlier proclaimed. Their view of salvation stressed only a need to keep the law, both moral and ceremonial, while the gospel Paul preached emphasized salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. Paul, like every other person who puts himself into his work and yearns for the salvation of people, is quick to rebuke the philosophies that have so soon sullied the purity of the gospel. “I marvel that you are turning away so soon,” he writes, “from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel. . . . But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6–8, NKJV). Paul calls these teachers of another “gospel” accursed twice to emphasize their danger to true believers.
Paul stresses to the churches of Galatia that nothing can or should be changed in the beautiful plan of redemption God has made available through Jesus Christ. Nothing can be taken away from it, for then it would be incomplete; and nothing can be added to it, for it is perfect. A curse rests upon those who would tamper with the gospel.
Paul insists that people must be made to feel free in Christ and not put again in bondage. This symbol of freedom was intrinsically meaningful to the people of Galatia, for the area was infamous for its illegal slave trade. To the apostle Paul the gospel was nothing if not true freedom.
We still face the same problem today as Paul’s churches did 2,000 years ago. People will tell us to do one thing or another to merit salvation. When we accept those conditions Christianity becomes a burden and is no longer Christianity. God wants us as free today as He ever did. Nothing has changed. Nothing can be added to or taken away from the wonderful work God has accomplished through His Son. We should search diligently, day by day, for the freedom that comes from loyalty to the one true gospel of Jesus Christ; and God, true to His covenant, will not fail us.