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—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).
(W)hat is apostasy? It’s desertion. When you desert what you once held dear or turn away from what you once treasured, you commit apostasy. To apostatize is to embrace the Christian faith, then reject it later on.
In the USA apostasy happens every day. In fact, studies show that an alarming number of young adults leave the faith during their time in college. Despite being reared in Christian homes, involved at church, even baptized as teens, when these young adults head off to university, they desert the faith in droves. And statistically speaking high percentages never return.
How do we respond to news of someone forsaking the faith? Does it tear us up inside? Are we overtaken, like Paul, with heartache and astonishment?
Apostasy ought to grieve us deeply. For what could be sadder than for someone to turn his own life-story from gospel triumph to heart-rending tragedy!
Paul is astonished because he knows apostasy is such a tragedy.
Apostasy is tragic because it means that individuals desert the gospel. Those who apostatize typically don’t see it that way; they often think they’re enhancing, rather than abandoning, the gospel. Surely the Galatians didn’t think they were abandoning the gospel. But this, Paul says, is precisely what happens when you add anything to the gospel. The gospel equation is this: Jesus + Anything Else = Nothing! Which is why Paul accuses the Galatians not of adding to the gospel but of turning to “a different gospel” altogether (1:6).
When we apostatize, we also desert grace. This is what makes the Galatians’ situation so sad: they’d been called “in the grace of Christ” (1:6). But now they’re abandoning this place of grace in order to return to a place called bondage (cf. 4:9; 5:1).
But the real tragedy of apostasy is this: we desert God. To apostatize is to forsake the living God for a dead idol, a golden calf of our own making. This is what the Israelites did at the base of Mount Sinai; this is what Paul sees the Galatians doing after his departure. Like Israel of old, his converts are “so quickly” (1:6) turning from him who called them.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” . . . And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:1-4, 7, 8)
The Apostle Paul, then, like Moses, confronts wilderness apostasy. The Galatians, like the Israelites, are forsaking the God who called them out of Egyptian-like bondage to sin and are turning to a different gospel—a lifeless idol that can neither speak nor save. They think they’re improving the gospel, but what they’re actually doing is forging a golden calf in the furnace of unbelief. This is the real tragedy of apostasy: we try to improve the gospel, only in the end to find we’ve abandoned it for an idol made by human hands.
Adapted from Galatians: Gospel-Rooted Living by Todd Wilson