In one of Paul’s strongest passages, he stated, “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” (Gal 1:8–9 ESV). Some thoughts to take away:
First, the recipients of this letter were believers. There is some obvious “anyone” and “you” language, distinguishing between the readers from those who taught a false gospel among them. Though Paul skips his usual thanksgiving for the readers in this letter, Paul does not begin by cursing them―he curses the false teachers. If the readers are believers (cf. “brothers” in Gal 1:11), they will return to faithfully holding the gospel they first believed.
Second, as noted above, the curse is reserved for the false teachers, and it is assumed that the action is by God. To be “accursed” is to suffer the condemnation and wrath of God for teaching a false gospel. Paul is pronouncing what is already the case as it is true of these false teachers.
Third, this warning was repeated in multiple ways. Not only did Paul pronounce his curse twice in this letter (1:8 and 1:9), but he also warned the Galatians of turning from the gospel when he was first with them (note, “As we have said before,” i.e., when he was first with them). Some warnings apparently cannot be repeated enough.
From the above, it should be clear that believers should not tolerate teachers of a false gospel within their local churches or in the body of Christ as a whole. So what do we do when we find them in our midst?
Other passages help answer this question. We warn them once and then twice and then have nothing more to do with them if they persist in their false gospel (Titus 3:10). These confrontations will involve witnesses and even the whole church as necessary (Matt 18:15–18; cf. 1 Tim 5:19–20). But we would hope that we might restore the transgressors with a spirit of gentleness (Gal 6:1–2). Nonetheless, if they persist in heresy and are put out of the church, we watch out for them and avoid them (Rom 16:17). We do not even give them lodging or wish them well on their way and thereby take part in their wicked works (2 John 10–11). It may even be that such ones leave the church on their own because they were never truly part of it in the first place (1 John 2:19).
And while that last paragraph may seem neat and tidy, we know from history and maybe experience that applying these passages can be messy, heart-breaking, and painful, whether in a local church or some other type of fellowship that enforces its unity around the gospel.
Let us be sure we know our gospel and be careful to distinguish ourselves from those who promote another. And let us not be confused to extend our fellowship as God’s people to those who are actually under the wrath of God.