How to Avoid the Galatian Curse
It’s one thing to talk about non-discipleship gospels and how they don’t make Christlike disciples, but it’s another thing to realize there’s a biblical curse on those who believe and share “different gospels.” The mood gets a lot more solemn when you start talking about curses, and people also get a lot more interested in knowing the true gospel. The churches in ancient Galatia had been infiltrated by men who travelled from church to church sharing a legalistic and twisted gospel (strains of it are still being preached today; see “Gospel of the Right”).
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The words you’re about to read aren’t wishy-washy, sugarcoated, or politically correct. Paul hit these preachers right between the eyes as the Holy Spirit inspired him. In Galatians 1:6-9, he wrote:
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—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (ESV)
Wow! Not just once but twice, Paul pronounces a curse on these “gospel” preachers. That’s a double-curse! He was serious, and we should read his inspired words very seriously. The language he uses is stunning. Not only did he pronounce a double-curse on these preachers, but he also said that they had deserted Christ and turned away from grace! If that wasn’t severe enough, later in Galatians, he emphatically stated that those who believed in “a different gospel” had been “severed from Christ” and had “fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
You may be tempted to turn a blind eye to these strong, uncomfortable, apostolic words, but resist the temptation. Don’t skip over this warning passage, don’t dumb it down or explain it away, and don’t tell yourself, “Oh, God wouldn’t do that now. Paul just got a little too excited.” Let’s be clear: the double-curse on preaching a different gospel didn’t die with the apostles; it applies today just the same. Neither did the consequences of believing a different gospel die; those too are very real realities for many people today.
If a person preaches “a different gospel” in the twenty-first century, they have the same apostolic double-curse upon them as those in the first century. What’s more, that person’s converts are “twice as much a child of hell” as they are, according to Jesus! This means that we must heed Paul’s words and let them sink in. If you do, then you’ll pay much closer attention to the gospel you believe and share. You’ll also listen more attentively to the gospel in your congregation, and your ears will be opened to hear Jesus’ gospel. If we don’t listen carefully, the possibility of drifting to a different gospel is far greater—and “a different gospel” leads to the double-curse! Now, the waiting on an answer to the simple question, “What is the gospel?” is over.
6. A more complete explanation of the five non-discipleship gospels can be found in Bill Hull’s Conversion and Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016) 32-40.
7. Matthew 23:15. Perhaps there is a direct correlation between the double-curse Paul called down in Galatians 1:6-9 and Jesus’ statement that the Pharisees’ disciples were “twice as much a child of hell” as they were in Matthew 23:15.