In the ancient world, it was customary to open letters with some small talk—a well wish, or a reminder of good times had in the past. Most of Paul’s letters, correspondingly, open with a thanksgiving, or a prayer, for the recipients; but not his letter to the Galatians. This is a measure of the apostle’s exasperation. “I am amazed,” he jumps right into the heart of the matter, “that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ, and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel!” (Gal 1:6–7)
In first-century Galatia, as in our day, there are those who would change the gospel of God’s grace into a message of human effort—but, as Paul aptly notes, if our salvation depends on our own contribution or ability, this message is no longer “gospel”—good news—because we are sinners! If our salvation depends on something we do, we are doomed! This is why Paul says in Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes … For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith” (Rom 1:17).
The adherent of virtually all world religions, except for Christianity, seek to attain to communion with God, or to Nirwana or some other form of final state, through self-effort. Ultimately, these people are without hope. True hope comes, not through what man may do, but only through faith in what another man has already done—Jesus, the Lamb of God and the Savior of the world, when he died on the cross for the sins of the world. This is the salvation that is both the power of God and the righteousness of God, and thus truly “good news.”