Faith Plus Works

The churches in Galatia were in a tumult. They had come to the knowledge of God through the preaching of the Apostle Paul, who proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom to them in the midst of personal suffering (Gal. 4:13). They had entered into the liberating power of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:8, 9) and had hit the ground running, abounding with joy and good works (Gal. 5:7; 6:9, 10).  They had known the powerful indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, had witnessed many of His mighty works, and had endured suffering for their conversion to Christ (Gal. 3:1-5). By all indications a true Gospel work had begun among the Galatians.

But troubling words soon reached the Apostle. The Galatians, it seems, were deserting the Lord they had professed to believe (Gal. 1:6). They were beginning to embrace "a different gospel" - not the true Gospel of the Kingdom, but a perversion of that Gospel which held out false hopes and twisted requirements for those who would know the blessings of God.

A team of preachers had followed Paul into Galatia proclaiming that, in order to be a true follower of Jesus, a person who believed had to submit to circumcision, and to observing certain holy days and seasons (Gal. 2:3-5; 4:10). Real Christians, these false preachers declared, obeyed select ceremonial protocols from the ancient corpus of Hebrew law. This was their great obligation and privilege, if they really wanted to enjoy the blessings of God's covenant (Gal. 4:21-31).

Now this preaching troubled the Galatians, and worked great hardship among them, for many of those who had converted to Christ under Paul's teaching were Gentiles, and the prospect of adult circumcision was not exactly appealing. Nor was the confusion of having to adopt ways of worship they had heretofore recognized as being the province of one particular ethnic community. Yet the Galatians were willing to undergo these hardships, if by doing so they could be assured of belonging to Christ.

Thus the "different gospel" to which the Galatians were turning went something like this: Jesus has come to bring in the full blessings of God's covenant. Repent and believe in Him, and show that you really want to be a child of Abraham by submitting to circumcision and certain other regulations of the ancient Hebrew law.

Faith, that is, plus works equals salvation.

Let Them be Accursed!

Jesus Christ was superficially at the center of this different gospel. But there were additional requirements for those who professed to believe in Him, which were presented simply as logical and reasonable ways of demonstrating true faith. By submitting to these regulations, as part of their faith in Jesus, believers could be assured of being in the line of Abraham's children, heirs of the covenant, and true beneficiaries of the promises of grace.

Concerning this "different gospel" Paul said "not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the Gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7). This "different gospel", it seems, was distorting the true Gospel of the Kingdom by compromising the work of grace, minimizing the exclusive place of Christ, leading believers to trust in false works, and encouraging them to pursue priorities and practices more in line with "worthless elementary principles of the world" than the true teaching of Scripture (Gal. 4:9).

The Galatians had begun to seek a glory associated more with the worldly happiness of men than the liberty and love of the Gospel of the Kingdom (Gal. 4:13-15).  Concerning those who came to the Galatians preaching this "different gospel", Paul wrote, "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." And just in case they didn't hear him correctly, he declared that same solemn admonition twice (Gal. 1:8, 9).

Believed in Vain?

Evidently it is a very serious matter to compromise the Gospel by obscuring the grace of God, minimizing the work of Christ, imposing false obligations, and muddying the hope of the Gospel.

Obscuring the grace of God: Another gospel is being proclaimed when human works, in any form, are somehow included as part of the means of salvation.

Minimizing the work of Christ: Any gospel that makes human happiness, rather than the honor of Jesus Christ, the primary end of salvation, and, to that end, selectively appeals to the redemptive work of Christ, emphasizing some aspects while almost wholly ignoring others, is not the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Imposing false obligations: They who insist on obligations or practices said to be indispensable for securing the blessings of God, but which create a kind of spiritual smugness and lead believers away from the truth path of Kingdom righteousness, are preaching another gospel and not the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Muddying the hope of the Gospel: The Gospel of the Kingdom is compromised when people are led to hope, long for, and seek anything other than the glory of God and the righteousness, peace, and joy that come from knowing and loving Him.

In every age, our own include the Gospel of the Kingdom has come under assault from false preachers who, in the guise of proclaiming the Truth that is in Jesus, preach a "different gospel." In one way or another, the telltale signs of a "different gospel" can be observed; meanwhile, multitudes are happily following the teaching of false preachers in the belief that the gospel they have embraced is the very Gospel preached by Jesus and the Apostles.

In fact, what many have come to cherish is not the Gospel of the Kingdom but a "different gospel" - bearing many similarities to the true Gospel, to be sure, but a "different gospel" nonetheless, and therefore, no gospel at all.

We can only discern these wayward "winds of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14) when we have a clear picture of the Gospel of the Kingdom. The better we understand and the more wholeheartedly we embrace the Gospel as Jesus and the Apostles taught it, the better able we will be to counsel and lead our fellow believers who may be ensnared in the thrall of a "different gospel" and therefore in danger of having believed in vain (Gal. 3:1-6).

For more insight to this topic, get the book, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God, by George Eldon Ladd, from our online store.

Or read the article, "The Rest of the Gospel: Advancing the Kingdom," by Regis Nicoll.