For 1st Century Christians, Paul was often combating syncretism. Most believers in the early church were recent converts from pagan, Platonist and Jewish worldviews. They held an adulterated message: Christ + something else = salvation. I.e. Christ + circumcision = salvation, or Christ + secret knowledge = salvation.
The true message of Christ proclaims that there is no way to the Father but by him. He was the Door. For Paul the message of the cross is central to the gospel. The gospel is salvation by grace alone through Christ alone, followed up with—”and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:8b-10). That’s it. Anyone who preaches a message that moves beyond the cross is preaching a counterfeit gospel.
Secondly, for Paul, salvation takes us always to the cross. We go deeper into the cross, but we never move beyond it. We don’t move from the cross to a new stage of sanctification or a place of more indwelling of God’s Spirit. One who is “born again” = one who is “born of the Spirit.” These two expressions are synonymous. A believer is sanctified. He is holy. He is filled with the Holy Spirit.
This is the meaning of his warning in Galatians 1:
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But 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!
What is Paul’s exhortation? What is this “different gospel?”
- (Verse 7a) Whatever the different gospel was, this competing message was throwing the Galatian Christians into confusion.
- (Verse 7b) They were “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ which can never be changed or destroyed, only counterfeit.
- This different gospel must have been a gross distortion, for in verse 6, people were “quickly deserting the one who called [them].”
- (Verse 8) The threat for taking pagan idols into the Lord’s camp:
In Joshua 6, YHWH gives the city of Jericho to Israel:
Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it.
Paul’s threat in verse 8 has the same conviction as Joshua’s. Paul does not damn, but recognized that to be a divine prerogative. Paul warns his young church in Galatia that anyone who keeps the spoils of his former worldview is guilty of anathema.
There’s a sober reminder of what is at stake. On matters of truth, there is no middle.
- One might need to explore again where he stands on something one has already affirmed. One might need to abandon it.
- Amidst so many opinions, one must trust in Scripture alone. The Word is God’s revelation to us. Secondly, the Word became flesh in order to reveal the Father. One must not add to revelation. One must not take anything away from it. For a believer to be a faithful beholder of the mystery of God, namely Christ” (Colossians 2:2), he must not remain at cognitive rest with an idea, but challenge his idea against the knowledge of God. Let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4).
We cannot have cognitive rest in matters of truth simply because that is how we’ve always see it. One must be willing to submit himself, his opinions, his ideas, his words to the Word of God.
There are two ways to read anything. The way we read the newspaper is not the same way we read Scripture. When I read a newspaper I make the writer subject to my scrutiny. I determine the rightness or wrongness of an idea. When I read Scripture, I make myself subject to the scrutiny of the Spirit of God. The text determines what is right and what is wrong. My ideas either conform or do not, but my ideas cannot conform the text.
So where did certain ridiculous doctrines come from? Syncretism: Taking something that is not Divine revelation and adding it to that which is.