When it comes to counterfeit dollars, there are two problems. First, distinguishing a high quality imitation from the genuine note is difficult.
The second concern, whether a person is aware of it or not, are the consequences for creating and distributing fake money. From its inception, the United States has enacted stiff penalties for counterfeiting activities.
Navigating spiritual counterfeits can present an even more arduous task than identifying fake American currency. At the same time, the stakes rise exponentially. Consider, for example, the situation the early Christians in Galatia faced.
Paul had passed through Galatia teaching the gospel. They accepted his message and began to follow Christ.
Trailing along later, others had presented a different version of the gospel. Their message likely included the claim that Paul had pedaled a pleasing and soft version of the gospel by avoiding the grittier details of the full message, specifically, that they needed to be circumcised as the Law demanded. Full membership required compliance. Who was right? Although Paul was on the scene first, his motives behind his message could be suspect.
To help us appreciate their predicament, imagine trying to distinguish a genuine Albanian banknote from a high quality forgery. Without knowing how the authentic is supposed to look and feel, the task becomes virtually impossible. Decision-making is reduced to a meaningless flip of the coin.
Furthermore, Paul claimed the stakes could not be higher. Nothing less than eternal consequences awaited those who either proclaimed the fake message or embraced it (Galatians 1:8; 5:4).
To help them navigate these treacherous waters, Paul opened his letter by lighting several bright beacons.
- First of all, his voice and pen resounded with the authority of one commissioned by Christ and God (1:1).
- Second, his stern warning about the consequences revealed that he was not driven by the motive of pleasing men, but, rather, of seeking to serve Christ (1:9-10).
- Third, his message came directly from Christ himself, not his own imagination nor from some other human source (1:11-24).
The Christendom world the Galatian Christians inhabited does not differ greatly from our own. While the details are different, conflicting spiritual voices continue to pull us in fundamentally different directions regarding what the gospel is and how the gospel calls for us to respond to it.
We would do well to listen to “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father” (1:1). Considering the consequences, we should remain humble and malleable before Scripture, thus preventing any ingrained certainty from an inherited tradition to preempt the authentic message.
From those initial paragraphs in Galatians, we should feel certain that security is found in the original gospel, not in any johnny-come-lately rendition. Paul is equipped to show us the way.