…so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (Galatians 2:5, ESV)
The preservation of the truth of the gospel is something that clearly occupied the thoughts and concerns of the Apostle Paul. He had heard that those he addressed in this letter had basically abandoned the faith they had received in favor of “a different gospel” (1:6-7), a “gospel” that caused them to desert Jesus (1:6). Of course, Paul argued that there was no other gospel, other than the gospel of grace that had been preached to them, and which they had believed. What was that gospel of grace, what was that truth?
Paul told them:
16yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (2:16, emphasis added)
Paul later wrote in the same letter:
10For 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’. 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’. (3:10-11)
Why would Paul make this such an issue? It is because the concern Paul was dealing with had to do with certain people Paul referred to as “those who unsettle you” (5:12), who had infiltrated the church (not unlike what Paul talked about in 2:4) telling the Gentile believers that in order for them to be truly saved, they had to become Jews first, and be circumcised. These people, Jewish Christians who more than likely came from Jerusalem, came to be known as “Judaizers”. Paul clearly condemned this heresy, going so far as to say,
If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Gr.: anathema). (1:9)
Paul was preserving the truth of the gospel.
It is so sad that even today, nearly two thousand years later, there are those who “claim” Christianity, those who “claim” to believe in Jesus, who add to the gospel for salvation. Even more disconcerting, these folks have no Biblical basis for the works they claim are necessary for salvation. This particular belief system will be addressed in a later article.
Then there are those who make the gospel into something it is not, by claiming all one has to do is “believe in Jesus”. James addressed this view, saying:
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19)
This view will also be addressed in a future article.
Of course, because of the centrality of the truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, having the Judaizers come in telling these new Gentile believers they had to be circumcised only heaped a burden upon them. Instead of experiencing freedom in Christ (5:1), these new believers were being subjected to the law, the law the Judaizers themselves could not keep. The Judaizers added to the gospel (circumcision), making what the people did as important as what Christ had already done.
Why in the world would the Judaizers trouble these Galatians in this way? Paul gives us the answer toward the end of the letter when he wrote:
12It 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. 13For 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. (6:12-13)
Really? Yes, the Judaizers were worried about what other Jews might think of them. As a result, they reinstituted the law, made the law a requirement for salvation, which completely flew in the face of the true gospel.
One can readily see the importance of preserving the truth of the gospel. Failure to do so can and does result in people taking the curse upon themselves, rendering what Christ has accomplished to “be of no advantage to you” (5:2), thereby severing themselves “from Christ” (5:4).
Future articles will address the concerns in the church today with more specificity.