In Galatians 1:6, Paul writes, “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, (emphasis mine)”
Paul uses strong, arresting language in v. 6. For example, when he begins v. 6 with the verb, “I am astonished,” he wasn’t saying something like, “Oh, what a surprise.” Rather, Paul is saying, “Galatians, what you are doing is so incredibly shocking it defies belief! I am astonished!”
Like the disciples in the boat (Matt. 8:27), like Pilate before Jesus (Matt. 27:14) and like Luke at the empty tomb (Lk. 24:12), Paul was dumbfounded. He was at a loss for words at the Galatians desertion.
The Galatians were spiritual turncoats!
The word, “deserting,” in v. 6 is equally strong. The arresting thing to note is how Paul characterizes the Galatian’s desertion.
The word literally means, “to bring to or set in another place,” (e.g., Hebrews 11:5 speaks of the translation of Enoch from earth to heaven). It also meant, “to transfer one’s allegiance.” Thus, Phillips, in his paraphrase, writes, “I am amazed that you have so quickly transferred your allegiance from him who called you…” (emphasis mine).
So, for example, this word was used in a political sense to refer to political traitors, those who changed their allegiance from one country to another. It was also used to speak of a military traitor, one who deserts sides in an armed conflict.
Some may recall the famous American general, Benedict Arnold. Initially, General Arnold fought for the American Continental Army in the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). However during the course of the war, Arnold switched sides to the British Army. As a result, his name became a slogan for treason in the United States.
In Galatians 1:6, Paul, by using this word characterizes the Galatians as Benedict Arnolds! They had had transferred their allegiance from the one who had called them in the grace of Christ for a different gospel.
Paul is accusing the Galatians of being guilty of cosmic spiritual treason! He characterizes them as spiritual turncoats!
Tragically, few realize that the Bible characterizes legalism as treason. Legalism is precisely this, cosmic treason against “him who called us in the grace of Christ.” To desert the gospel is to commit cosmic treason against God the Father!
Legalism is betrayal of the highest order. Paul’s characterization of legalism as treason sheds fresh light as to how serious the sin of legalism is. Adding additional requirements to the gospel for one’s justification before God is to be guilty of cosmic treason.
“Legalism is cosmic treason against God.”
By adding additional requirements to the gospel, the Galatians deserted God. Paul characterizes their betrayal as cosmic treason!
Betrayal is a dreadful sin. Judas is characterized in the Gospels as, “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him,” (Matt. 10:4).
In Matthew 26:24, Jesus speaking of Judas and his betrayal said, “…woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
So, we must pause and carefully consider Paul’s words and let them sink in.
Adding one’s works to Christ’s works for justification is to commit spiritual treason, to betray the God who calls in grace, to be guilty of the highest crime and thus deserving of the sentence of death.
The crime of desertion from a military during a time of war in Paul’s day was punishable by death.
However, far worse than betraying a political party, an army or country, is to betray God Himself.
By supplementing Christ’s works with our own, Paul says that one is guilty of cosmic treason and therefore justly sentenced to an eternal death.
Anyone who seeks to assert his own righteousness over against Christ’s righteousness for justification before God, is guilty of cosmic treason!
The truth of the matter is that all of us are guilty of the same betrayal as Judas. We are all spiritual turncoats!
But, the Good News is that there is a gracious God, who through Christ’s death and resurrection has forgiven our cosmic treason!
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, sets the Lord’s Supper in the context of cosmic treason.
“23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” (emphasis mine).
Christ, during the Passover Meal, looks at around the table and says, “This is my body which is for you…,” who are betrayers and deserters. This is all for you.
What amazing grace God has toward guilty, undeserving spiritual turncoats!
“The Good News is that there is a gracious God, who through Christ’s death and resurrection has forgiven our cosmic treason!”
Don’t fail to note the difference between how a legalist and a repentant believer respond to their sin and to grace (i.e., the gospel).
In Matthew 27:3-5, Matthew details Judas’ response.
“3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.
A legalist responds to his sin by seeking to make amends by his own actions.
To be sure, the proper penalty for cosmic treason is capital punishment. But, in Judas’ case, the punishment was right but the provision was wrong. Judas’ taking of his life in order to try and rectify the situation was insufficient.
As the Heidelberg Catechism states (Q.14), “no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin and deliver others from it,” (Ps. 130:3; Nah. 1:6).
Thus, we have here a vivid reminder of the great evil of man’s legalistic nature. Judas, having been buried in his sins and held fast in the bonds of legalism, saw no way to get out except by his own works. Therefore, he lived in the righteousness of the law and his confidence before God rested in his own works.
On the other hand, a truly repentant believer turns in faith to Christ and His provision of grace.
In Galatians 3:13, Paul writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
On the cross, Jesus took the penalty for high treason upon Himself. He was cursed. He was hung on a tree for our cosmic treason. He took our place! Unlike Judas, the penalty was just and the provision was sufficient!
Judas’ response should not have been to go out and hang himself. Rather, his response should have been to trust in Christ who hung on the cross for sinners!
Praise God for amazing grace!