Faithful to the Gospel Message

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

A cult is any religious movement that has teachings and/or practices that deviate from the doctrines of historical, orthodox Christianity. Deviation means the abandoning, the distorting, or the opposing of doctrines and teachings of biblical Christianity. To be orthodox means to affirm those beliefs and teachings regarded as fundamental by the majority of Christians, since the church was formed on Pentecost in the first century.

Cults arise for various reasons. Specifically, cults originate by adding spurious and unorthodox beliefs and ideas to the Christian faith. Cults subtract certain biblical doctrines and truths from the Christian faith, which often is expressed by denying fundamental biblical teachings. Cults develop certain isolated truths, and then distort or overemphasize them. Cults attempt to combine many religious beliefs and faiths into a unified doctrinal system, and prosper because of outright fraud.

Although they claim to be aligned with Christianity, and may even confess belief in Jesus, cults invariably do not believe that salvation is a gift of the grace of God, which comes to a sinner through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ. Cults may even affirm teachings that are contrary to what Jesus taught. They do not affirm and recognize the Bible as the supreme and final authority in all matters of belief, doctrine, and faith.

Although cults assert belief in Jesus, they teach that He is not sufficient for salvation, and thus one must do other things in addition to believing in Jesus. Cults affirm that salvation is achieved through Jesus plus works. When the book of Galatians was written, the Judaizers were saying the same error: “believe in Jesus Christ, but there are also wonderful things to add to what you believe.” Judaizers preached the gospel plus observance of the Law of Moses.

In the current day, counterfeits of the gospel of God’s grace—through faith in Jesus Christ—preach “the gospel plus” their extra-biblical ideas and beliefs, their religious organization, their regulations, their rules, and (alleged) special revelations. In response to such false teachings that add to the gospel of grace, the Bible declares, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Gal 1:8).

Faithful Stewardship
In the early church, a group called “Judaizers” arose challenging the believer’s freedom in Christ. The word Judaizer is derived from the Greek verb ioudaizō, meaning “to live according to Jewish customs.” The word appears in Galatians 2:14, where Paul confronted Peter for compelling Gentile Christians to “judaize.” Judaizers taught that one received God’s approval by conforming to the Law of Moses. The doctrine of the Judaizers was a combination of grace (through Christ) and works (keeping the Law).

The Judaizers denied that salvation (justification) and maturity (sanctification) are by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Sadly, the Judaizer’s false teaching was influencing many believers. Even today, many wonder if God’s grace is truly sufficient, so they become dependent upon a few good deeds just to be safe. As opposed to living by faith, many who profess faith in Christ evaluate their perceived righteousness by adhering to a set of religious standards. What people need to understand is that striving to be “on the safe side” can result in one being “on the wrong side.”

Galatians was written to magnify God’s grace in salvation, and to explain the nature of Christian liberty. In Galatians 1:1, Paul identified himself as “an apostle” (meaning “sent one”). Paul’s apostleship was not of secondary origin, for it came directly “through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” The only means for Paul to receive his apostleship from the Lord Jesus was Christ being raised from the dead, without which there would not be a gospel to proclaim or any apostolic authority. While he received his commission directly from Christ Jesus, the apostle did not labor alone and so acknowledged “all the brethren who are with me” (v. 2).

Two things are amazing in the book of Galatians: the grace of God and the foolishness of those who were deserting the gospel of grace “for a different gospel” (v. 6). Precisely as cults today, the Judaizer’s combination of law and grace was not any good news, for it was a distortion of truth (v. 7). Adding to or subtracting from the gospel message is to destroy it, which is why a person who proclaims a gospel requiring more than God’s grace for salvation deserves “to be accursed” (vv. 8-9).

Paul’s defense of his apostleship was crucial because God revealed the truth of the gospel through him (2:1-10). Believers today are now entirely subservient to that revelation. False teachers were influencing Christians to heed the Law of Moses for their salvation, which caused Paul to fear that he had “run, in vain” (v. 2). The Christian life is also similar to running a race (vv. 1-5; 5:7; 1 Cor 9:24-27; Phil 2:16; 3:14; 2 Tim 4:7-8; Heb 12:1-2), and believers must be certain they are on the correct track and headed for the correct goal. The Judaizers were attempting to place true believers into bondage and thereby detour them (Gal 5:7). God has committed the gospel of grace to His people, and they must guard it and share it with others (2:6-10).

God did not seek “those who were of high reputation” (Gal 2:6); rather, He looks for those who are faithful stewards (1 Cor 4:1-2). What is the requirement for stewards? The only thing that truly matters for a steward is to be found faithful to the one whose property is managed. God is the one to whom all servants must answer because success will be judged by Him alone (1 Cor 3:2-5). Understanding that God’s stewardship is a trust granted by Him to be administered on His behalf is indispensible.

When there is the possibility that someone else is undermining your faithful stewardship, it is frequently necessary to confront that individual to be certain all you have accomplished is not undone. Face-to-face explanation of your intents may elicit blessing as opposed to disagreement. When your goals are rejected, you will find yourself in contention, yet it is most prudent to heed the biblical example for confrontation seen in Galatians 2. There will always be individuals spreading falsehood, yet God’s stewards must never abandon truthfulness. Confronting error is always necessary; yet do not neglect the unity of true believers (cf. Eph 2:11-22).

While it is easy to become confrontational when promoting a good cause, when combating error for the sake of biblical principles, it is wise to joyfully welcome all who are in agreement with you. Artificial and unnecessary divisions arise frequently in one’s zealousness for what is true. Paul opposed Peter, yet also recognized that God “effectually worked for Peter” and “effectually worked” for him also (Gal 2:8).

Faithful Vigilance
The conduct of Peter in neglecting truth demanded refutation (Gal 2:11-14). Peter’s actions expressed a public message, which is why the counter-message could not be given in private. Paul opposed Peter “to his face” (v. 11) rather than slandering him in secret. The confrontation was “in the presence of all” (v. 14). Boldness is frequently required when challenging those who are spreading falsehood, as opposed to gaining favor and avoiding confrontation.

Perpetual vigilance is essential to maintain liberty, and that truth is applicable to the believer’s spiritual liberty also. Falsehood is not only communicated by inaccuracies, but also through a bad example. Peter’s conduct was inconsistent and thus necessitated a discussion contrasting the Law and faith (vv. 1-18). The Law of Moses fails to grant righteousness before God; therefore, both Jew and Gentile (viz. all humanity) must receive righteousness through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, the Law never produced blessing, for it was only by faith that blessing was received from God. The same salvation is necessary for both Jew and Gentile. The purpose of the Law was to bring a person to faith by proving that he/she was under judgment. Stated negatively, no person is “justified by the works of the Law” (v. 16). Positively, salvation (justification) is “through faith in Christ Jesus” (cf. Eph 2:8-9).

Faith in Jesus makes a person dead to the Law and unbound from its control. Righteousness must be received through the Savior. The authentic Christian life is pleasing a Person, Jesus Christ, as opposed to adhering to a set of regulations and rules. The life of Christ is reproduced within the believer by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus did not abolish the Law (i.e. act in opposition to it); rather, He fulfilled it (Matt 5:17-20). Jesus’ death tore the veil of the Temple in two (Luke 23:44-45), and “broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14-18). For someone who believes in Christ Jesus to revert to the Mosaic Law is to rebuild what Jesus “broke down” and to assert that He did not truly save those who trusted in Him (Gal 2:15-21).

Jesus Christ died for humanity because no person can achieve his or her own salvation. If a person wants to work for salvation, he or she is saying the death of Jesus Christ was unnecessary. Salvation (justification) is attained by faith in a Person. Godly living (sanctification) is also trust in a Person: the Lord Jesus Christ!

The gospel message is “living water,” and whoever partakes from it finds that it is “a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14; 7:38). False teachers were polluting the gospel by requiring Christians to obey the Mosaic Law. Many today seek to earn God’s favor through a set of rules or various rituals. Whenever someone tries to earn God’s favor or eternal life, they are drinking from a polluted and deadly stream.

Midnight Call - 04/2018

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