Etched across the ancient scroll that is Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians is a reminder so vivid that it stops the reader dead in his tracks. Galatians 1:9 reads, “As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned.”
This is palatable to you and me if by another gospel we mean some pagan propaganda. But Paul is not writing here to pagans; he is writing to Christians. And the concern is not some heathen misinformation. The concern Paul has relates to the awful stench of legalism that corrupts Christian freedom and mesmerizes Christian control-mongers.
Deep within the bowels of a healthy, vibrant, Christ-centered church is a treasure chest in which are found the sparkling jewels of grace. By grace we understand that wonderful gift given that is totally undeserved, that gift which is freedom in Christ—a freedom that encompasses forgiveness, joy and the offering of love without unduly obligating the beloved. Sadly, however, this kind of treasure makes too many believers uncomfortable. Like the handmaiden looking contemptuously at the matron’s bejeweled finger or neck, there are sons and daughters of the King who are ill at ease with such obvious and seemingly showy wealth. Thus, their typical tactic is to establish mechanisms of control engineered to prohibit the enjoyment of that liberty which cost the Savior so much. Like the religious elite of the Galatian church, they “judge by external appearances” (Gal 2:6), are consumed with “the approval of men” (Gal 1:10), and arrange supposedly spiritual hoops through which the unsuspecting must jump (cp. Gal 2:3-4).
Now Paul’s words drip with a bitterness that betrays his intense emotion: Let them be eternally condemned. These woeful words do not so much reflect his desire. Rather, they reveal the disdain Paul has for those who would “spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus . . . to make us slaves” (Gal 2:4).
Let me ask you two very important questions. Are you promoting the kind of grace-filled liberty our Lord bought with His own life? Or—heaven forbid—are you reeking of the awful stench of legalism—an odor that permeates your life and the lives around you? If your honest assessment of these questions causes you to recognize a foul smell, then I urge you repent of this destructive persona and humble yourself before the Eternal One who at great cost bought your freedom. As you do consider Paul’s excellent summary: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Gal 2:21).