“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” Galatians 1:8-9
“Accursed!” That is a strong word! But Paul surely means it, having repeated himself twice on this subject. Anyone preaching an alternative gospel – a gospel not in accordance with Paul’s message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone – is anathema, to use the Greek word; “accursed” in English. Indeed, so serious is Paul about distortions of the gospel of Christ that he even proclaims that himself accursed if he should preach any other gospel … and that even an angel from heaven would draw down a curse upon himself by so going! Wow! Paul is serious – literally dead serious – about our (and our preachers, in particular) getting the gospel right! And we should be as well!
So we say it again: Anyone who preaches contrary to the message of Paul (and Jesus, and the other apostles); anyone who preaches a gospel in which salvation is not by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is under a curse for the way in which he is leading people astray.
Now, I know that this is not the way that we tend to talk in our pluralistic age – an age when a person’s heart and sincerity are often thought to be more important than what he actually believes; when spiritual ‘life’ (so-called) is sometimes considered more important than biblical doctrine. It’s true, of course, that we must have spiritual life, and heart, and sincerity! These things are vital to Christianity! But if our life, and sincerity, and heart are channeled into the rut of a false gospel, then it is all of no avail. And if a person ventures to teach that false gospel, he brings down great judgment upon himself! And of course, the more a man or woman teaches a false gospel, the more his hearers will have opportunity to buy into it, and thus to be carried away from Jesus rather than toward him. And therefore many of them will end up accursed to.
This is what Paul was afraid of in Galatia. Evidently some men were visiting the churches, claiming to have a message from God, and circulating a false gospel of works in place of the biblical gospel of faith, by grace, in Christ. And he saw the people in the pews being led astray. And he was, if I read his words correctly, a little worked up about it – not because his gospel was being undermined (for the gospel wasn’t ultimately his) but because, by these distortions of the gospel, precious souls were being led astray by these wolves in sheep’s clothing.
And this is the same reasons why pastors are concerned today, for instance, about the teachings of Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholics agree with us on the doctrine of the Trinity, and on the divine and human natures of the person of Christ. But their gospel is a different gospel; their understanding of salvation takes a circuitous route around and away from Jesus. It is swamped with all manner of rites and relics, statues and saints which serve like a marshy mote surrounding the person and work of Christ, and making it all the more difficult for people to run to Him and find safety in the strong tower of His name (see Proverbs 18:10). Now, I do not doubt that there are Roman Catholics who have emerged on the other side of the bog, and placed their faith in Christ alone. But the men and women who have taught them to do otherwise (Galatians 1:8-9) are in big trouble. And because of such teaching, many of our Roman Catholic neighbors have never even raised their eyes high enough to see what was beyond the black and swirling waters of the swamp … and some of them have already drowned. And that is a tragedy – and one for which their teachers will be “accursed.”
And so I urge you to understand the gospel for yourself; and to demand it from your own pulpit; and to take it to the neighbors round about you who have spent their whole lives wading in the muddy waters of the untruth promoted by false teachers. Do not despise or criticize them for the ways in which they have been duped and blinded. But neither must you mistake their sincerity and kindness for a true knowledge of the one way of salvation before God, and the “one mediator … between God and men.” Instead, open the Bible and proclaim to them the good news that everything they need for standing righteous before a holy God is obtained by coming, in simple faith, to Jesus ... and that this Jesus is nearer to them than they have ever yet believed.