Those familiar with the prison system will tell you that one of the challenges those who have served time face once released, especially those who have served a long sentence, is learning how not to live in prison. The term used to describe this is institutional syndrome. The problem is that they have been set free, but don’t know how to live free.
Paul wrote the book of Galatians to believers who had the same problem. They had been set free by Christ, but did not know how to live free. In fact, they were going back to a form of bondage instead of living in freedom. They turned from the true gospel to a counterfeit gospel. The true gospel proclaims that salvation is found in Christ alone. This counterfeit gospel was teaching that salvation is found in Christ plus something else. They had entered into salvation in Christ by grace but mistakenly believed their continued acceptance by God was found in Christ by grace and works. The true gospel of grace is not only the way to enter the kingdom of God, but is also the way to live in His kingdom.
Paul uses very strong language to express his concern: “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” (Gal 1:6). The word “deserting,” used here by Paul, was used of traitors. He is literally calling them traitors to the gospel. Paul warns them, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9b). The group preaching this counterfeit gospel is known as Judaizers. They were teaching that Jesus was crucial to getting you saved, of course, but faith in Him alone is not enough to allow you to be fully accepted by God. After you come to Christ, they taught, you would have to adopt the full range of ceremonial and cultural Jewish customs.
Paul begins in Galatians chapters one and will continue into chapter two to share his own story of coming to Christ and call by God to share the true gospel. Paul wants the reader to understand that he was indeed saved, received the true gospel and was called to share it with Jews and Gentiles alike. Gentiles are people who are not ethnically Jewish. He uses his testimony to illustrate that the true gospel is evidenced by transformed lives. He writes of his radical transformation: “‘they only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (Gal 1:23-24). Believers celebrated that this man (Paul) who once persecuted the church had been saved by Christ and was now proclaiming the true gospel.
Pastor and author Tim Keller describes the gospel as: “the message that we are more wicked than we ever dared to believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared to hope.” The true gospel brings freedom. The true gospel is about a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The true gospel empowers us to break the shackles of religious legalism. Legalism is a way of living that obeys certain rules in the belief that keeping their requirements will earn some form of blessing. Paul had once been shackled by religious legalism but had been enabled by Christ to walk the road of freedom and desired for the Galatian believers to experience the same.
It is a privilege to partner with each of you as we partner with Christ. Together let’s embrace the true gospel and encourage one another to not fall prey to the many counterfeits that would lead us astray. I celebrate that we have found freedom in Christ. Let us continue to walk in that freedom.