“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”(Galatians 3:1, ESV)
When Paul had originally proclaimed the gospel in Galatia, the people received it with great joy. But Paul soon learned that their acceptance of the gospel of Christ was overthrown by their warm embrace of a false gospel brought in by those who sought to pervert its purity. The conversion from truth to error and from a saving gospel to a damning gospel was so quick that the Apostle likens it to an act of sorcery that had “bewitched” those who had rejected the truth in favor of a lie.
Paul had preached to them a simple gospel–as he said, “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” By this, Paul means that he painted a picture of the gospel with clarity and plainness. Like a billboard that sits alongside a main thoroughfare must be clear and to the point, so too Paul’s gospel was portrayed to them. How could they mess it up so badly?
This reminds me of the need to preach a simple gospel to the lost. As we grow in the faith we will learn more doctrine and deeper theological truths. These are good and necessary in our Christian walk. But these things can also become a hinderance to sharing the simplicity of the gospel. The Galatians couldn’t claim that the message was muddy, nor could they say they didn’t understand it. They had, and this was what bothered Paul so much. He strove to make the gospel as clear as possible, and yet they rejected it and replaced it with a false and damning message of works-based salvation.
The great Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon saw this danger of overcomplicating our message as well. He wrote:
A good many years ago, when I was about fifteen or sixteen years of age, I wanted a Savior, and I heard the gospel preached by a poor man who said in the name of Jesus, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isa 45:22). It was very plain English, and I understood it and obeyed it and found rest. I owe all my happiness since then to the same plain doctrine. Now suppose that I were to say, “I have read a great many books, and there are a great many people willing to hear me. I really could not preach such a commonplace gospel as I did at the first. I must put it in a sophisticated way, so that none but the élite can understand me.” I would be—what would I be? I would be a fool, writ large. I would be worse than that: I would be a traitor to my God. For if I was saved by a simple gospel, then I am bound to preach that same simple gospel till I die, so that others too may be saved by it. When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus, put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone.Charles Spurgeon, Galatians, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).
I pray that we never go beyond proclaiming a simple gospel. Not simplistic, but simple. There will be time and occasion to bring a babe in Christ to understand the deeper things of the faith, but as we point the unbeliever to the cross, may we do so with gospel simplicity and clarity.