A Commentary by John Stott
After greeting his readers, in every other Epistle Paul goes on to pray for them or to praise and thank God. Only in the Epistle to the Galatians are there no prayer, no praise, no thanksgiving and no commendation. Instead he addresses himself at once to his theme with a note of extreme urgency. He expresses astonishment at the fickleness and instability of the Galatians. He goes on to complain about the false teachers who were troubling the Galatian churches. And then he utters a most solemn, fearful anathema upon those who dare to change the gospel.
1). The unfaithfulness of the Galatians (verse 6).
‘Ye are…removed’ (AV) is misleading, because the verb should be active not passive (it is in the middle voice), and the tense should be present, not past. It means not ‘you are so soon removed’ but ‘you are so quickly deserting’ or, as the New English Bible puts it, you are ‘turning so quickly away’. The Greek word (*metatithemi*) is an interesting one. It signifies ‘to transfer one’s allegiance’. It is used of soldiers in the army who revolt or desert, and of men who change sides in politics or philosophy. Thus, a certain Dionysius of Heracleia, who left the Stoics to become a member of the rival philosophical school, an Epicurean, was called *ho metathemenos*, a ‘turncoat’.
It is of this that Paul accuses the Galatians. They are religious turncoats, spiritual deserters. They are turning away from Him who had called them in the grace of Christ and are embracing another gospel. The true gospel is in its essence what Paul called it in Acts 20:24, ‘the gospel of the grace of God’. It is good news of a God who is gracious to undeserving sinners. In grace he gave his Son to die for us. In grace He calls us to Himself. In grace He justifies us when we believe. ‘All is from God’, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:18, meaning that ‘all is of grace’. Nothing is due to our efforts, merits or works; everything in salvation is due to the grace of God.
But the Galatian converts, who had received this gospel of grace, were now turning away to another gospel, a gospel of works. The false teachers were evidently ‘Judaizers’, whose ‘gospel’ is summarized in Acts 15:1: ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ They did not deny that you must believe in Jesus for salvation, but they stressed that you must be circumcised and keep the law as well. In other words, you must let Moses finish what Christ had begun. Or rather, you yourself must finish, by your obedience to the law, what Christ has begun. You must add your works to the work of Christ. You must finish Christ’s unfinished work.
This doctrine Paul simply will not tolerate. What? Add human merits to the merit of Christ and human works to the work of Christ? God forbid! The work of Christ is a finished work; and the gospel of Christ is a gospel of free grace. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, without any admixture of human works or merits. It is due solely to God’s gracious call, and not to any good works of our own.
Paul goes further than this. He says that the defection of the Galatian converts was in their experience as well as in their theology. He accuses them not of deserting the gospel of grace for another gospel, but of ‘deserting *him* who called’ them in grace. In other words, theology and experience, Christian faith and Christian life, belong together and cannot be separated. To turn from the gospel of grace is to turn from the God of grace. Let the Galatians beware, who have so readily and rashly started turning away. It is impossible to forsake it (the gospel) without forsaking Him (God). As Paul says later, in Galatians 5;4, ‘You have fallen away from grace.’