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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Galatian Controversy

In the Book of Galatians, Paul admonishes the Galatian church, Why?

According to," The gospel is a matter of first importance because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. This gospel, among other things, reveals “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:22). This “righteousness of God” is the righteousness that is accounted to the one who has faith in Jesus, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23-24). Those who believe in Jesus are justified on the basis of Jesus’ death, because “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3:25). Christ died for their sins on the cross, was buried, and was raised on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4).
To the Jew First
While this gospel message was at first delivered to the Jews (Acts 2-7), it soon spread to the ethnē, the Gentiles. In Gaza, Philip proclaimed the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26f). Later on Peter is sent to preach the gospel to the household of Cornelius, a Roman centurion (Acts 10). Meanwhile, Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee zealously persecuting the Christians, was converted in a dramatic encounter with the risen Christ, who appointed him as an apostle and commissioned him especially for preaching the gospel among the Gentiles (Acts 9). The believers who came to Antioch (of Syria) after the scattering of the Jerusalem church (Acts 8:1) preached to the Hellenists, as well as to the Jews (Acts 11:19-20). Sometime after Saul (hereafter, Paul) came to Antioch, he and Barnabas were sent off on the first great missionary journey to the Gentiles (Acts 13-14).

All of this outreach to the Gentiles came to the attention of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Overall the Jewish believers were glad to hear of it. When Peter gave his report of what happened with Cornelius’ household, they glorified God,“Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Before long, however, some men came to Antioch from Judea and began teaching the Gentile brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1).
The Jerusalem Counsel – Acts 15
It was over the issue of circumcision that the first church counsel, held in Jerusalem, was convened. Barnabas and Paul, among others, were appointed to go to Jerusalem and speak with the apostles and elders about the matter (v. 2). When they arrived, Barnabas and Paul recounted all that God had done through them among the Gentiles (v. 4). Those among the Pharisaical party arose and demanded that the Gentile believers must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses (v. 5). Much debate ensued, after which Peter gave his testimony (vv. 7-11). He reminded the counsel of how God had chosen to send him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and how they had received the Holy Spirit just as the Jews had at first, thus establishing God’s approval of them. Both Jews and Gentiles must be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, without distinction, being cleansed by faith. To place on the Gentiles a burden that the Jews could never bear themselves was to put God to the test.

Once Barnabas and Paul again testified of the work God had done through them among the Gentiles (v. 12), James delivered the judgment of the counsel (vv. 13-21). Citing Amos 9:11-12 (LXX), James reasons that this grafting in of the Gentiles was foretold in Scripture. It was the judgment of the counsel, therefore, that the Gentile Christians should not be troubled to undergo circumcision or to keep the law of Moses. It was only required of them to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality.
The Galatian Problem
The circumcision issue was not isolated to Antioch. The so-called Judaizers made their way to the Galatian church and apparently managed to gain a hearing there. This occasioned one of the more, shall we say, emotive writings in the New Testament: Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. It is in this epistle that Paul lays out just what is at stake with the Judaizers’ perversion of the gospel and thus why it is not simply “another point of view” that should be accommodated in charity, but a “different gospel” worthy of the apostle’s anathema. 

What sets Galatians apart from other of Paul’s letters is that, where he otherwise begins with a note of thanksgiving (I thank God for you…) or with an outburst of praise (Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…), Paul instead cuts to the chase: “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” (Gal 1:6). Meanwhile, his greeting is laced with the true gospel: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:3-4). This gospel is not of human origin, Paul makes clear, “For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:12). This fact is the grounds on which Paul can denounce in the strongest terms those who would preach “a different gospel.”

But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! 9 As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell!
Gal 1:8-9 NET
 The “contrary” gospel that Paul has in view is the one expressed by some of the Pharisees in Acts 15: the Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved.

In what follows we will examine the anatomy of this “contrary” gospel in two steps. First, we will discern from Paul’s letter to the Galatians elements of the Judaizers’ motive. Second, we will set elements of their gospel in juxtaposition to elements of the true gospel Paul seeks to defend in the letter. This step will take up most of the discussion since the motive of the false teachers was not nearly as treacherous as the pitfall that lies at the heart of their false gospel. Nevertheless a brief analysis of motive may be helpful in identifying a person or group as a false teacher or false brother.
  1. The Motive
Paul exposes the motive of these “false brothers,” as he calls them. In the first place, he says, “[they] slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery” (Gal 2:4). Second, Paul intimates, “They make much of you [Galatians], but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Gal 4:17). Finally, he concludes, “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh” (Gal 6:12-13). From this profile we may discern at least three aspects of the Judaizers’ motive. 

a. Slavery under the law. The Judaizers sought to spy out Christian freedom in order to reign believers back into slavery. That is, slavery under the law of Moses. This aspect hints at something of the antithesis that distinguishes the false gospel of the Judaizers with the true gospel preached by Paul. Their false gospel places those who accept it into slavery under the law of Moses, whereas the gospel Paul preached is freedom from this slavery through the death of Christ. We’ll develop this further below.

b. Avoiding persecution for the cross. The Judaizers were Pharisees, just as Paul was prior to his conversion. He himself once persecuted the church fiercely because of the cross. The Christians were proclaiming Jesus, who had been crucified (viz. hanged on a tree, as it were), as the Messiah. The Scripture stated plainly, “every one that is hanged on a tree is cursed of God” (Deu 21:23 LXX). Before Paul came to understand the significance of Christ’s crucifixion—that Christ became a curse on behalf of His people in order to save them from the curse of the law—the Christians’ message of a crucified Messiah was the height of blasphemy. The ostensibly Christian Pharisees for this reason sought to downplay the cross and emphasize keeping the law so not to bear the reproach of the cross.

c. Making much of themselves. Ultimately the motive of the Judaizers came down to the puffing up of their egos. Outwardly it might appear that the Judaizers were “making much” of their Gentile converts, but inwardly they only sought to make much of themselves and to be made much of by those foolish enough to follow their teaching. All the while, those who submit to their teaching are shut out and placed under slavery to the law.
  1. The Antithesis
Deplorable as the Judaizers’ motives were, it is the content of their false gospel that deserves the most careful scrutiny and is the real occasion for Paul’s forceful denunciation. In Philippians, Paul can nonetheless rejoice that the true gospel of Christ is being preached, even if some who preach it do so out of less-than-pure intentions (Phil 1:15-18). Now the content of the Judaizers’ gospel is not systematically laid out in Paul’s letter. Their doctrine is summed up in their own statements recorded in Acts 15 (vv. 1, 5), cited above. We may best appreciate the content of the Judaizers’ gospel and the magnitude of its danger if we consider at least three sets of antitheses (I imagine more could be teased out, but I’ll aim to condense them into the three presented below). In each set we will see how the elements of the false gospel sit in direct opposition to elements of the true gospel. 

a. Law and grace. The Judaizers’ drumbeat was obedience to the law of Moses. If the Gentiles were to be saved, it must be by keeping the law of Moses (which meant, of course, being circumcised). Even if they insisted that the grace of Christ was necessary for salvation, their gospel expressly denied the sufficiency of grace. When Paul denied,“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal 2:21), he was also asserting that to preach righteousness as if it were through the law would be to nullify the grace of God. If indeed one could be justified by keeping the law, then Christ died for nothing and the grace of God is not even necessary!

On the contrary, Paul warns, “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal 3:10). Here is the dreadful pitfall of seeking justification by the law:

I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Gal 5:2-4

The only way one could be justified by the law is if he keeps “the whole law” perfectly. Yet no human being—save for the God-man Jesus—ever keeps the whole law perfectly. So it is that anyone who seeks to be justified by the law is under a curse; such a person has been severed from Christ and has fallen away from grace. 

Paul’s gospel does not nullify the grace of God, rather his gospel is the grace of God. “For the grace of God has appeared,” Paul reminds Titus, “bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Tit 2:11-12). Paul reminds the Ephesians that, even while they were dead in their sins, God made them alive together with Christ, which is to say, “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5). “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God,” Paul testifies, which is to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20). That is grace.

It must be clarified that grace and law are not antithetical to each other in and of themselves. The antithesis comes when grace and law are brought to bear on salvation. Is salvation by the law or is it by grace? If you can be saved by keeping the law, there is no need for salvation by grace. If one attempts to be saved by keeping the law and fails (as everyone who attempts this will do), he will not find grace, but only condemnation. Yet, the one who is saved by grace is not without law, for God’s grace trains him to renounce ungodliness and unrighteousness, and to live godly and upright. Nevertheless, he is not saved because he keeps the law, but because by grace he has died with Christ and lives by faith in Him.

In speaking of the relationship between law and grace, we may also speak in terms of law and promise. The promise to Abraham and his descendants, “that he would inherit the world,” did not come by the law, but “through the righteousness that comes by faith” (Rom 4:13). “For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants” (Rom 4:14-16 NET). If this inheritance comes by law, it is no longer by promise, “but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Gal 3:18).

The law came 430 years after the promise. The law did not annul or add to the promise, “It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (Gal 3:19). The “offspring” is Christ, who is the singular offspring of Abraham par excellence (Gal 3:16). Meanwhile, the rest of Abraham’s offspring were held under the curse of the law because of transgressions. Yet, in the fullness of time, Christ came from God, born of a woman and under the law, in order to redeem us “from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:13-14).

b. Works and faith. Corollary to law and grace is the antithesis between justification through works of the law over against through faith in Christ. In his perplexity, Paul inquires of the Galatians,

Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith– 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
Gal 3:2-6

Paul points back to Abraham, the forefather of all who believe, who was counted as righteous by faith. Paul reasoned in another letter that Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness before he was circumcised. It was afterward that “he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, so that he would become the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised, that they too could have righteousness credited to them” (Rom 4:10-11 NET). 

The Spirit that the Galatians had received was given them by grace through faith in Christ. By grace they had been redeemed from the curse of the law because Christ died on the cross, in order that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that together with the Jews they would receive the promised Holy Spirit (Gal 3:14). This blessed gospel, bound up with justification by faith, was announced in advance by Scripture when it recorded God’s promise to Abraham: “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal 3:8; Gen 12:3). The Galatians–insofar as they had genuinely trusted in Christ and His cross-work–were heirs of that promised blessing not through works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, the Heir of Abraham par excellence

Rather than trusting Christ alone, the men who were troubling the Galatians trusted and boasted in their works (which is what it meant when Paul said that they “want to make a good showing in the flesh”). They boasted in the outward mark of circumcision. Herein lies the depravity of their so-called righteousness. It is little wonder that Paul (in Phil 3:2) shames them with the monickers: tous kynas (literally, the dogs), tous kakous ergatas (literally, the evil workers) and tēn katatomēn (literally, the mutilation). Circumcision was what distinguished them as devout, godly Jews from the godless, unclean Gentiles—they were the “circumcision” while the filthy Gentiles were the “uncircumcision.” Yet Paul saw them as no more distinguished from Gentiles than they Gentiles from dogs. 

Conversely, those who trusted in Christ alone for justification were hē peritomē (literally, the circumcision), which is to say, “we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3 NASB). Herein lies the heart of the difference between justification by works and justification by faith. The Judaizers’ confidence was in their circumcision, in their flesh; Paul’s confidence was in Christ. The Judaizers boasted in their works; Paul gloried in Christ Jesus, in whom he had received circumcision of the heart (Col 2:11-12; cf Rom 2:28-29). Indeed, if one could be justified by works done in the flesh, “he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Rom 4:2). However, the Judaizers’ boast was empty, “For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law” (Gal 6:13; cf Rom 2:17f). The only boast that has any worthy—and a surpassing worth at that—is to boast in the Lord and in His cross, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4). The righteousness that comes by works boasts in itself, to its own destruction. In stark contrast, the righteousness that comes by faith says, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). 

We must again clarify that the relationship between works and faith is not in and of itself antithetic. After all, as James said, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Abraham was justified by his faith in God and His promise. Nevertheless, that faith was seen in his obedience. When God told Abraham to go and sacrifice Isaac, his promised son, he did so because he “considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb 11:19). (Of course, at the last moment Abraham was halted before completing the act and a ram was provided as a substitute) Furthermore, Abraham, having been counted righteous by faith, received circumcision as a seal of that righteousness. 

This balance was not lost on the apostle Paul either. The same Paul who wrote, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” (Eph 2:8-9) went on to say in the next verse, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). That same Paul gave this instruction to Titus,“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). Again, “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). These instructions are very much bound up with the mercies of God in the gospel:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
Tit 3:4-8

Examples could be multiplied, but the point should be sufficiently established that while we are not justified by works, nevertheless Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). 

c. Slavery and freedom.
We finally come to consider the antithesis between slavery and freedom. Here all that’s been discussed comes to a head. For the antithesis that lies between justification by works of the law and justification by grace through faith in Christ is slavery verses freedom. Paul again draws from the life of Abraham to illustrate this:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”
Gal 4:21-27

Paul immediate makes application to the Galatians (and to believers in general),“you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now” (Gal 4:28-29). The children of promise are those “born according to the Spirit,” which allows us to develop the antithesis between slavery and freedom in terms of flesh verses Spirit. Paul’s opponents in Galatia (the Judaizers) were children of the slave woman, “born according to the flesh.” They are still enslaved to the law; their “mother” is Mount Sinai and “the present Jerusalem.” They are in opposition to the children of promise and seek to bring them back into slavery under Sinai. The believers in Galatia, however, were born of the Spirit. Their mother was the free woman, who corresponds with “the Jerusalem above.”

Before Christ came, everyone was indeed held captive under law—whether the law of Moses given to Israel or, in the case of the Gentiles, the law that was written on every person’s conscience. Thus, Paul explained, “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:22-24). Paul goes on to explain that a child, as long as he remains under a guardian, is no different than a slave. Therefore, “we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Gal 4:3). Yet in the fullness of time, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Now that Christ has come, “we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal 3:25-26). In other words, both the children of promise and the children of Sinai were once held under the custody of the law. The children of the free woman were no different than those of the slave until Christ came and redeemed the children of promise from the law’s custody and bestowed on them the right and freedom of adoption. Thus, John wrote, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Joh 1:11-13).

When Paul preached the gospel of the crucified and risen Christ to the Galatians and they believed in Him, they themselves had received “the right to become children of God.” They were no longer slaves to sin under the law. They were sons and heirs of the blessing of Abraham and so had received the Spirit of God. Thus Paul exhorted, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). The false gospel of the Judaizers was “a yoke of slavery.” The gospel Paul proclaimed to them was freedom in Christ, freedom from the yoke of the law.

While this freedom was a freedom from the law (in a sense), it was not a freedom from righteousness or holiness. Thus Paul instructed the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal 5:13-14; cf. 1 Pet 2:16-17). In Christ they were called to freedom, not to sin as they pleased, but freedom to walk by the Spirit they had received. Paul exhorted, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). Their own flesh and the Spirit would always be at war, but “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:17-18). In them, the Spirit would produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). In their struggle against the flesh and its desires they would stumble, but whereas under the law there would be condemnation, under grace “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal 6:1).
The Diagnosis
The Judaizers’ false gospel fundamentally denied the sufficiency of grace and the efficacy of Christ’s death on His people’s behalf. They may well have claimed the necessity of grace, but by preaching “you must to circumcised to be saved,” they nullified the grace of God and emptied the cross of its power. If one could be saved by circumcision and keeping the law of Moses, then Christ died for nothing and the grace of God is unnecessary. If one attempts to be justified by keeping the law, he must keep the whole law or be condemned. If one seeks, then, to be saved by circumcision and keeping the law, Christ and His cross are of no value and in fact he is severed from Christ and His grace. Therein lies the fatal pitfall of the Judaizers’ false gospel. Any gospel that denies the sufficiency of the grace of Christ and the efficacy of His sacrifice for sin is a false gospel.

In stark relief is the gospel of grace preached by Paul and the other apostles. This was no human gospel, they had all received it from the Lord Jesus himself. This was God’s gospel! This gospel proclaimed redemption from the curse of the law for everyone who flees to Christ and rests in Him. This gospel leaves no room for boasting, except for boasting in the Lord and His cross. It is only by the grace of the Lord Jesus that anyone is saved and declared to be righteous in God’s sight. This gospel is the only hope for sinners, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6:15). 

The Judaizers’ false gospel also failed miserably to strike the correct balance between law and grace, works and faith. To put it one way, they have confused the root of justification (grace and faith) with the fruit of justification (faith working through love, thus fulfilling the law). Justification by faith apart from works does not mean that the justified live without good deeds. Rather, the justified do good works as a result of God’s saving work, because in Christ they are a new creation “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” 

We are almost twenty centuries removed from Paul’s time and the controversy surrounding the Judaizers. Nevertheless the Judaizers were only walking and teaching according to a pattern of false teaching that preceded them and that to this present time still troubles the church. In closing, then, we must consider two points.

a. Anatomy of a false teacher. It is important to note that the Judaizers, while obscure to us in the twenty-first century, were clearly men of considerable influence in the first century church. Luke identifies these men as believers from the party of the Pharisees. What sort of influence did these men have if, upon their arrival in Antioch, the apostle Peter—who in their absence freely ate with the Gentile believers—withdrew from his non-Jewish brothers? The most dangerous false teachers are not the ones out on the fringes. Rather, the most dangerous false teachers are those that sneak into our midst. It is a pretense of love and faith in the Lord that masks their true motives. Moreover, it is the barest minimum of orthodoxy that distracts from the deadly pitfall of their heresy.

b. Anatomy of a false gospel.“But I believe Jesus is Messiah!” The Judaizers may have confessed Jesus as Messiah, but the gospel they preached fundamentally denied the gospel of grace the apostles were given by Jesus to preach to both Jews and Gentiles. Many false teachers, past and present, affirm orthodox statements such as “Jesus is the Son of God” or “Jesus is the Christ.” No less do false teachers affirm the necessity of God’s grace for the salvation of sinners. Yet, just like the Judaizers, they preach a gospel of salvation by grace plus the law or justification through faith plus works. What lies behind such a message is a fundamental denial of the sufficiency, not only of grace and faith, but of Christ and His meritorious work in dying for our sins and being raised from the dead. It is the gospel that adds anything to the finished work of Christ that is properly called a false gospel. The gospel of Christ, the true gospel, is that everyone is a guilty sinner before a holy God and the only way anyone is saved is by His grace alone through faith and repentance towards Christ Jesus alone, for His is the one who died in our place and was raised and who intercedes for us.

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