When the Holy Spirit guided Paul to write a letter to the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:2), some of the Christians in that region were struggling. What was going on? Someone was troubling them. How? Why?
After some brief introductory remarks, Paul gets right to the point in the book’s first chapter:
(6) I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, (7) which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
What was going on in Galatia that amazed Paul? Paul was familiar with the congregations in the territory of Galatia because he had been there before. Since his most recent time to be in that region, some of the saints had started down a path of disaster. God had called them via the gospel into Jesus’ grace (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Now, what was taking place? Some of the saints were turning themselves away from the Lord Who had called them. Such an occurrence reminds us that, yes, it is possible for a child of God to turn away from Him. It makes no sense for a person to make that decision, but it happens.
Again, though, what aspect of this turning away from God caused Paul to marvel? It was the fact that it came about “so soon” (1:6). Sometimes it is said that it only takes one generation for the church to go into apostasy. We recognize the sentiment of such a statement: a lot can change from one generation to the next, and faithful parents can produce children who are not committed to Jesus and His truth. However, what Paul describes as “turning away from” the Lord did not happen after the next generation of babies grew up. The departure from God in Galatia took place shortly after some had obeyed the gospel (or quickly after they had been exposed to false teaching).
When it comes to fast departures, we think of what went on at Mt. Sinai. When Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments in written form, down below the people were worshipping a golden calf. Listen to how God described what was taking place among the Israelites: “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them” (Exodus 32:8). Yes, it can happen in a shockingly swift manner. Jesus’ Parable of the Sower reveals that there are instances when some “immediately” receive the word, and later those same ones “immediately” stumble (Mark 4:16,17). Surely in all of this we see the value of putting forth a great effort to fortify the faith of new converts and not take the faithfulness of anyone for granted.
What was a “different” gospel? Some were proclaiming a religious message, but it was not the same as the original gospel. There is only one true, soul-saving gospel, called “the” gospel (1:7), “the truth” (2:5), and the “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5). Of course, those who were teaching a different-from-the-real-gospel message in Galatia would not admit to or warn their listeners that their doctrine was a counterfeit and could destroy their souls.
How does Paul describe those who were perverting the gospel? First, by perverting the gospel, they were “troubling” the saints (1:7). “Trouble” is from the Greek word “ /tarass ,” which means “to agitate . . . to cause one inward commotion, take away his calmness of mind . . .”) [Thayer, word no. 5015]. Saints in Galatia were being messed up mentally because some taught a message that was messed up. The saints were “bewitched” (3:1) and “hindered” (5:7). Second, Paul says that “some” were perverting the gospel (1:7). Not everyone was doing so, but more than one person was involved. In this instance, those who were perverting the gospel did so because they wanted to do so (1:7). I know. That sounds disturbing. It is disturbing. This fact is clear: at least some people who teach a false religious message know in their heart that what they are saying is not true. Paul elsewhere spoke of those who serve their own bellies (Romans 16:17,18).
How serious was/is it to pervert the gospel? The Bible says that the gospel perverters are “accursed” (1:8) – under a curse, “the more general meaning of the disfavor of Jehovah” [www2.mf.no/bibelprog/vines.pl?tofrom]. To pervert the gospel leaves the perverter accursed. What about the followers of a perverted message? They are not obeying the truth (5:7), and those who do not obey the truth cannot please the Lord (Romans 2:8). The results of a perverted message are an eternal disaster!
People pervert Jesus’ gospel when they add requirements to it, remove teaching from it, alter what it says, or substitute a man-made idea in the place of some portion of its truth. A perversion of the gospel is a corrupted message that keeps its propagators and followers from pleasing the Lord. Such a conclusion is not fanaticism. It is just a fact.
— Roger D. Campbell