Stories bombard us every day. Ads, politicians, cable news shows, bestsellers (both fiction and non-fiction), and movies all tell us stories. Literary critic Wayne Booth calls this “the daily barrage of narrative.” And he was writing before the internet.
These stories can affect who we are. Each one implies something about what’s significant and worth our attention. When we hear stories, Booth says, we ask, “Should I believe this narrator, and thus join him? Am I willing to be the kind of person that this storyteller is asking me to be? … These questions might well have been asked about any story from the beginning of time.”
When Paul writes his letter to the Galatians, he knows that the gospel they believe will transform them—for better or for worse. The salvation story they accept as true will guide their lives toward either destruction or eternal life. That’s why he’s so upset that they’re “turning to a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6). This, Paul says, is the true story: The new age is here, brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through Jesus Christ, God gives grace to sinners, peace to people who didn’t earn or deserve it.
The new preachers in town tell the Galatians a different story. Yes, Jesus rose again. But the next chapter is called “Obeying the Law.” That’s the way to our goal. These conflicting narratives have confused them. They don’t know which story they’re living in. Things have gotten muddled. Most of us, at times, can relate to this. There’s no end to the spiritual “authorities” telling us stories. Gurus, teachers, movements, sects, philosophies, and “prophets” all tell us what’s gone wrong with our lives and how we can be delivered.
Which “Gospel” Is True?
Who should we believe and thus join? Who will we become as a result? Timothy Keller writes, “Since the one true gospel is so crucial, and so often and easily reversed, this awakens in us a troubling question: How can we ensure the gospel we believe is actually true? How do we know it’s not merely a gospel that we feel is true, or are told is true, or think is true or sounds to us as true—but a gospel that is true, objectively, and therefore can save, really and eternally?”
Paul reminded the Galatians of his authority as an apostle: “Paul, an apostle—not from men or through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Gal. 1:1). But the message is the source of authority, not the man. It’s God’s message. God sent Paul. Paul has authority only to tell this one true story. He tells them whom he’s accountable to: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
That’s why the Galatians should believe him. Paul’s gospel—the story he tells—is God’s. If the new teachers, “the agitators,” aren’t preaching the gospel Paul gave them, then they’re not called by God. That’s Paul’s main point: “The gospel doesn’t depend on the authority of man.” It’s God’s word.
Who Has Authority?
During the Reformation, Protestants and Roman Catholics disagreed about who had authority to speak on God’s behalf. Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin said, It isn’t we, the church, who give authority to God’s word. It’s God’s word that creates the church. God doesn’t need me or you or even the church to give his word authority. When God speaks, it’s self-authenticating.
The people that came to Galatia after Paul probably thought they spoke for God. They were likely moral, zealous men and gifted teachers. They had some of the qualities we should look for in a leader of the church. But, Paul says, if they’re not preaching the gospel that I gave to you, then they’re not called by God. People can be morally upright, talented, and seem to love the Bible, but if they don’t preach the true gospel, Paul says, they’re not called by God.
Satan wants us to ask, “Can we really believe what God has said?” He wants us to doubt God’s word. Paul’s gospel, his story of salvation, is the focus of Galatians. It’s God’s word to the Galatians, and to you. Everything depends on it. And God is absolutely trustworthy.
This is an excerpt from The Letter of Paul to the Galatians, a Core Bible study that aims to help you get the gospel right so that you can live in the freedom Christ has purchased for you. Check it out here.