by Jack Kinsella – Omega Letter Editor
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” – Galatians 2:21
The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to address a heresy that put him into direct confrontation with the Apostle Peter.
Paul was describing his recent trip to Jerusalem in which he was accompanied by Titus. Titus was not a converted Jew, but rather a converted (and uncircumcised) Greek, which had created quite a stir among Jerusalem’s Messianic community.
Those whom Paul addressed as “false brethren unawares” were ‘brought in’ as spies, hoping to “spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.” (Galatians 2:4)
Paul was upset that Titus was being ostracized by the Jewish Church, and in particular, he blamed the Apostle Peter.
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.”
Paul noted that Peter regularly ate with Gentiles when he was preaching among them. But when he received a delegation from the Apostle James, Paul said, “he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.” (v.12)
Peter was afraid of offending the Jewish authorities and had allied himself with ‘Judaizers’ — those who claimed salvation by grace through faith but also demanded adherence to Mosaic Law.
Here was Peter’s ‘fault’. Peter taught that God had pulled down the partition wall separating Jews from Gentiles. To express his conviction, he regularly ate with Gentiles.
But when certain Jews came as emissaries from the Apostle James, Peter withdrew from the Gentiles, acting as if the law was still in force and the distinctions between Jew and Gentile should be maintained.
Paul called this doctrine “dissembling”. “Dissembling”, according to the dictionary, means to “disguise or conceal one’s true nature, motives or feelings behind a false appearance.”
He noted that even Barnabas had been taken in by this false doctrine, “insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.” (v.13)
“But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” Galatians 2:14)
Paul’s main complaint had little to do with the specific subject at hand. He accused Peter of subverting the Gospel, and replacing it with legal requirements that amounted to keeping the Law, but claiming salvation by faith.
Paul repeated the plain truth of the Gospel:
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
Let’s stay with that statement for a minute. “A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.”
If it was true in Paul’s day, then it is equally true in our day. But the same heresy that so offended Paul two thousand years ago is just as active today as it was then.
Note that Paul says a man is justified by “the faith OF Jesus Christ.” Christians place their faith, first and foremost in the fact that Jesus Christ will keep His promises. Our faith is in His faithfulness.
There are many who acknowledge that Jesus Christ was as real an historical personage as Abraham Lincoln, but one can believe He existed and not be a Christian. The Muslims believe He existed, but Islam is hardly a Christian religion.
Christians are justified “by the faith OF Jesus Christ” to keep His promise that “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37)
Many in the Church today impose certain legal requirements as being contingent on salvation, just as did the early Church. They dress it up with Scriptures taken out of context, arguing that women should wear long dresses, men should keep their hair short, making lists of things that defile the temple of the Holy Spirit, etc.
Let’s hit the high points on the list and see where we disagree.
Christians who smoke are defiling the temple of the Holy Spirit. A Christian who is still in bondage to tobacco addiction is probably not REALLY saved.
(After all, don’t the Scriptures promise Christians freedom from bondage?)
A person who drinks alcohol probably isn’t really saved.
(Don’t the Scriptures say ‘drunkards shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven?)
What about the person who claims salvation, but still dabbles in drugs?
(How can one simultaneously host the indwelling Spirit of God and still continue to indulge in the sins of the flesh?)
If anything, that person is said to have a ‘head’ knowledge of Christ, but not a ‘heart’ knowledge.
That flunks the logic test. It describes a person who THINKS that he is trusting Jesus, but somehow isn’t sincere.
How can one THINK they are trusting in Christ, but doubt their own sincerity?
The dictionary defines ‘trust’ as “something committed into the care of another; charge. To have or place confidence in; depend on.”
I can’t speak for you, but my ‘head knowledge’ tells that I am unworthy of the gift of salvation. It my head knowledge that constantly reminds me me I NEED a Savior.
(My heart tends to lie to me and tell me that I am really a better Christian than Joe So-and-So because MY secret sins are less obvious or socially-unacceptable.)
If smoking and drinking and drugs are evidence that a person is not really a Christian, then what about obesity? Being fat in today’s culture is not seen as sinful, despite the proven health risks associated with being overweight.
How is that less defiling of the temple of the Holy Spirit then the other, less socially-acceptable examples of self-indulgence? Logic and Scripture both demand the recognition that lustful self-indulgence would be the relevant sin, not the object one lustfully self-indulges oneself with.
I am not making a case that it is acceptable for Christians to smoke, drink, use drugs, or indulge in riotous living. I am simply using extreme examples. Sin is sin.
You can substitute swearing, cheating on your taxes, lying about your age, wishing evil on some guy who just cut you off in traffic, or envying your neighbor’s new car.
(The more socially-acceptable ‘substitute list’ above breaks five of the Ten Commandments. So, what are your thoughts, now?)
I am making the case that our salvation is not contingent on our works. Every Christian is a work in progress, the Scriptures tell us.
“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath BEGUN a good work in you will PERFORM it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
I can attest to the truth of that Scripture. (So can you, if you are honest with yourself.) I am not the same man today I was when I first got saved. I went through a series of transformations over a period of many years.
I would hate to be judged today according to the man that I was when I first came to Christ. God wasn’t done with me then.
He isn’t done with me yet. There is no doubt there are many more changes He will work in me before He is through.
(And the same applies to you. No matter where you are in your walk with the Lord, right now, it will only get better.)
I opened with Galatians 2:21. Paul writes, “I do not frustrate (or work against) the grace of God.” Pardon for sin comes by and through the grace of God, not our own inherent goodness.
Paul goes on to make the logical point that, “if righteousness comes by [keeping] the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
The Law pre-existed Christ’s First Advent by a thousand years. If it were sufficient, then Jesus went to the Cross for nothing. I say all that to say this:
Salvation is immediate and eternal, but our sanctification in this life is a PROCESS. No matter where you are in your walk right now, that process is still underway.
This morning’s column is not the one I intended to write. But it is the one we ended up with. I am not sure who among us the Lord is addressing this morning. But you know who you are.
Being saved doesn’t take away your sin nature. It gives you the courage to keep getting back up.
Scripture promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1st John 5:17)
Don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged. God has a purpose for your life, and He can and will still use you to His purpose. Trust Him.
And get back out there on the line where you are needed.