Spiritual Terrorism

In Galatians 1:7, Paul says that to distort the gospel is to trouble the church.

This is a strong word which means, “to stir up, deeply upset, disturb mentally,” “to perplex” or “create fear.”

For example, in Acts 15:24, the Jerusalem Council used this exact word in their letter to the churches to describe the effect of the Judaizers false gospel, “…we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds/souls…(emphasis mine).”

John, in John 12:27, used this word to describe the deeply disturbed soul of Jesus on the night before His crucifixion, “Now is my soul troubled…”

The point of Paul in using this word is to graphically describe the havoc (i.e., spiritual terrorism) that is brought about by false doctrine (i.e., a different gospel/religion).

The Judaizers were troublemakers, spiritual terrorists, possessed by a vicious desire to distort the gospel of Christ (v. 7c).

Mark this: False gospels (doctrine) always result in upsetting a believer’s faith.

The blending of the law and gospel does more harm than anyone can imagine. Paul says that these false teachers had thrown these young Galatian believers into a state of mental confusion. To be sure, what one believes directly affects how one lives.

There are two critical criteria for living a life of holiness. The two criteria are:

1. A person must understand God’s love and favor toward him or her.

2. A person must be assured of this love and favor.

Both criteria are brought about through the Gospel. God, through the gospel and the Spirit, brings a man to understand that he is truly loved and assures him that his sins are totally forgiven.

However, a conditional gospel troubles a man’s conscience and makes him think that God is displeased with him and is his enemy. A conditional gospel leads to spiritual paralysis and terrorizes the souls of men.

Why? The reason is because as long as a man sees himself as out of favor with God and thinks that God is displeased and angry with him, that he is still under condemnation, he can have nothing but mental confusion and despair.

And, so a man, through unbelief, labors under a heavy burden trying to obtain God’s favor and holiness through works of the flesh.

Trying to be saved by good works is to bring oneself under the terms of the law. The law requires absolute perfection (cf. Matt. 5:48). Thus a conditional gospel is an intolerable burden. It can only bring trouble, doubt and inner turmoil rather than peace (Gal. 1:3).

The progressive effects of legal doctrine (“a different gospel,” Gal. 1:6) ultimately result in hatred of God and spiritual disaster. Walter Marshall writes,

    Once these people come to see the spiritual nature of the law, they will understand that God will not accept their slavish service as sincere obedience. Then, they will fall into despair for their salvation. They will see they have failed in their best attempts to keep the law and earn God’s favor. They will see how much their hearts swell up in anger and hatred of the law, and even against God who has made it so hard for them to be saved by their works. They will know they will be eternally condemned for their failures to live up to God’s law. This will fill them with blasphemous thoughts against God and Christ, and they can hardly refrain from blaspheming them with their tongues. When they are brought to this horrible state of mind, if God does not graciously reveal to them the way of salvation by free grace through faith alone, they will try to sear their consciences so they no longer feel the horror of their sin. They will abandon any religion that continues to torment their consciences as the gospel does. Or, they cannot sear their consciences, some will be convinced by satan to kill themselves rather than to live any longer in hatred and blasphemy of God, and in the continual horror of their consciences,” (Gospel Mystery, pp. 96-97).

Therefore, Paul condemns legalism in the strongest terms (Gal. 1:8-9) because ultimately a conditional gospel renders Christ of none effect (Gal. 2:21).

It empties the life, death and resurrection of Christ of all power and sufficiency and severs a man from the only source of life and hope (Gal. 5:4).

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