A Different Gospel? How False Teachers Mislead the Church

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Is there another gospel besides the gospel of Christ? Of course, the answer to this is a resounding “no”. But it is interesting that in Galatians Paul calls the false message given to the Galatian church “a different gospel”. He exclaims to them, “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).

It should be apparent that Paul is using hyperbole. And he is using this language to highlight the absurdity of the Galatians’ actions in turning to a false message. James Boice comments on Galatians 1:6-7, saying that Paul’s statement in verse 6 “might suggest that there are after all various gospels among which a Christian may choose. This is the opposite of what Paul is saying”. Paul’s statement here was one of sarcasm and hyperbole. And in fact Paul says in verse 7, “not that there is another [gospel], but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of grace”. Boice says that Paul wants to clarify that “there cannot be another gospel as long as the gospel is understood to be God’s way of salvation in Christ”.

But why does Paul use this hyperbole, calling the false teachers’ message a “different gospel”? Why wouldn’t Paul simply tell us from the outset that their message is dangerous heresy? I think that Paul wants to make a point by calling this false teaching a “gospel”. First off, when you read through the book of Galatians, the false teachers were not opposing the Christian God. In fact, they were claiming to have more apostolic authority than even the apostle Paul! This is why Paul spent the first 2 chapters of Galatians defending his ministry. Second, they weren’t even denying the work of Christ. In fact, they were claiming that their doctrine was in more alignment with Christ than Paul’s! Lastly, they were claiming that their teaching was the teaching of true Christianity.

In this way, these false apostles were truly clothing themselves in a false version of the true gospel. Spurgeon once said that the difference between the true gospel and false teaching is not the difference between black and white. It’s more subtle than that! The difference between true and false teaching is the difference between white and off-white. For this reason, these apostles peddled a gospel so similar to the true gospel, that the Galatians were misled, and had nearly thrown off Christ altogether (Gal 5:2). In fact, these teachers were affirming Christ’s work; but, they were also adding to his work. “Yes Christ, but also Judaism was their gospel. They claimed that if one were to be truly justified before God, they must have Jesus as Messiah and adherence to the Mosaic Law. Interesting that these false teachers never once opposed Jesus (outwardly at least), but slyly added a work on top of it.

For this reason, their message looked so much like another gospel, when if fact it was blatant heresy. But this is how false teachers work — they clothe themselves in just enough truth and mix it with lies.

John Stott wisely says, “the church’s greatest troublemakers (now as then) are not those outside who oppose, ridicule and persecute it, but those inside who try to change the gospel…Conversely, the only way to be a good churchman is to be a good gospel-man”.

Martin Luther, in his great commentary on Galatians adds, “here we see the devil’s tricks. No heretic comes to us claiming errors and the title of the devil; nor does the devil himself come as a devil in his own likeness…In spiritual matters when Satan appears white, like an angel of God himself, he disguises himself in a most deadly way and offers for sale his most deadly poison instead of the doctrine of grace”.

Let us then be good Gospel-men, who can tell even the difference between white and off-white. Because this is the only way we can recognize the true gospel from a false one.

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