He cuts straight to the point because the issue is that serious. In most of Paul’s letters, he spends some time praying for and blessing the church he is writing. But in Galatians, he says “hello” and gets right to it.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel…” (Galatians 1:6)
Paul had spent time in Galatia preaching the true and only Gospel to them: Christ died for their sins and rose again so that all who repent and believe can be made right with God and have forever fellowship with Him. And false teachers had crept in, telling the people they also have to be circumcised. Paul calls this a different gospel and a curse (Galatians 1:9).
I don’t know many churches today teaching salvation by circumcision. But we must be on guard against other gospels in our day. What would they be? Perhaps we can narrow them to six.
The Fire-Insurance Gospel
This is the gospel where all that is emphasized is that you make a one-time decision. You walk down the aisle and pray the prayer and you are set to go. You won’t go to hell when you die, no matter what. You “accepted Jesus into your heart” (a phrase that never appears in Scripture).
When this gospel is believed, you get people who pray a prayer at seven at VBS or at twenty-six when an emotional preacher at a revival moved them. And then church memberships have hundreds of people on it five decades later that nobody can identify. But you also have hundreds of people who believe they are going to heaven because they prayed a prayer once, but who are out living unrepentant lives, thinking nothing of God.
The Moral Gospel
This is the opposite of the Fire-Insurance Gospel. This is the gospel where the main point is that you are a good person. Jesus came to give you an example to follow, so you just have to try your best to be an example to others.
In this gospel, you’re never allowed to struggle again. If you ever slip into sin, you know there will be somebody who condemns you as a hypocrite and says you are the reason they don’t go to church.
This gospel is not about the goodness of God. It’s about your goodness and you can’t be a perfectly good person (Romans 3:10-12). It robs God of His glory and it exhausts you because you can never measure up.
The Social Gospel
This gospel makes our standing with God based on how much we are working to make society better. It’s usually masked behind the idea that we are to love others. God is love, so Christians will be loving others by helping the poor and feeding the hungry. Or fighting against racial injustice. Or serving the pro-life movement. Or political involvement. Or building wells in Haiti. You fill in the blank.
This gospel takes the effect and makes it the cause. The gospel of Jesus Christ moves us to serve the least of these and work for righteousness and justice in society. But that’s not the gospel itself. It’s a result of the gospel.
The Prosperity Gospel
This gospel is dramatically seen in the “health and wealth” movement where God’s will is that you will never be poor or sick and that if you are, you don’t have enough faith. Most Christians know that is silly.
My preaching professor at Southern Seminary, Dr. David Prince, used to say, “Most of us hold to at least a Wal-Mart prosperity gospel.” We don’t necessarily believe we will become millionaires as Christians. But we tend to believe if we follow God faithfully, He will keep us from any hardship or suffering. Things will go pretty well for us.
But we know that’s not true. Our Savior suffered and so will we. We will one day have a glorious life of no sickness and pain in the New Heavens and the New Earth. But not yet. In this world, we will have tribulation. Our hope is in the One who has overcome the world (John 16:33).
The Sentimental Gospel
“We’ve always done it that way.”
If I did what I had always done, I’d still be dead in my sins. This gospel says that faithful Christianity is doing it the way our traditions say. Any deviation is heresy.
There is a difference in truth and practices the Bible prescribes and the traditions of man. We hold to those Biblical prescriptions, but we recognize traditions of man are going to change every generation and across every culture.
This gospel makes righteousness before God no longer based on repentance and faith but on whether you wear a necktie to church or sing the right music.
The Inclusive Gospel
This one has become pretty rampant in the last ten years. It applies wrongly the fact that Jesus welcomed tax collectors and prostitutes. It says the point of the gospel is to welcome sinful people and not judge them. It says we must accept people exactly as they are and never challenge them to change.
But that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus welcomed sinners and those sinners always left changed. Zacchaeus agreed to repay everyone he had defrauded. The woman at the well found the thirst she had been searching for in men. Jesus welcomed sinners and lovingly called them to repent and we must do the same.
Notice that none of these other gospels are flat-out rejections of Christ. They actually take an aspect of the true gospel and make it the only thing that is important. That’s why it’s so easy to be deceived by them.
There is no other Gospel (Galatians 1:7). There are only those who want to trouble you and make you accursed by believing a message inferior to the good news of Jesus Christ. Don’t believe them.