It was just one week ago. Connie and I were out in the backyard working when Annie came out to tell us that someone was at the front door. I left my work and opened the front door to greet two young guys who were dressed like corporate executives in white shirts and ties. They had nametags pinned to their shirts. They introduced themselves and asked me if I was familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I said, “Sure. I am a pastor at a church in Oklahoma City.” They began telling me about their church when I said, “I’m pretty familiar with the theology of your church. My theology is quite different from yours, but I want to tell you that I admire your passion and commitment.” I told them that I was pretty sure that nobody from our church was out knocking on doors on Saturday morning and neither was I.
I reiterated my admiration for their commitment and told them that our beliefs are worlds apart. One of the young men asked, “How are they different?” I said, “Well, I believe that there is no accompaniment to the Bible…it is the Bible alone.” One of the young men said, “I read my Bible this morning and I read it every morning along with the Book of Mormon.” I said, “I only read the Bible as the Word of God.” I also told them that I believe that salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone – there is no other way to God.
One of the young men began telling me about the Book of Mormon’s record of God’s work in America when I stopped him and said, “Several years ago I spent several hours talking with two Mormon missionaries about our beliefs. When we finished talking they left my house unchanged and I closed the door behind them unchanged from the time they came into my house. I decided then that I was not going to debate theology with Mormon missionaries ever again.” I said, “God promises that He will reveal Himself to those who seek Him with all of their hearts so I want to encourage you guys to continue to seek the Lord with all of your hearts and He will show you the truth. Have a good day and thanks for stopping by.”
That was the end of our conversation. Five minutes max. As the young men left my front door step I prayed that God would open their eyes and reveal to them the error of their beliefs and the Truth of His Word. Was that arrogant of me? Was it religious superiority that overcame me at that time? Hardly. I was thinking of Paul’s encounter with the false teachers of His day. Everywhere Paul traveled he saw the fingerprints of those who had come into the Church and misrepresented the Truth of God.
In our study for today we are going to take a look at a situation that arose because of Paul’s defiance of false teachers. The false teachers of Paul’s day were quick to say that they believed in Jesus, but in addition to Jesus there were other works that Christians needed to receive salvation. Paul’s answer to the false teachers was always the same…Christ alone. Let’s read our Scripture for today found in Galatians 2:1-10.
1Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. 3Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. 6As for those who seemed to be important-whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance-those men added nothing to my message. 7On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. 8For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:1-10 NIV)
We’ve already taken one look at this section of God’s Word and we learned that the Gospel transcends race, culture, economic status, educational achievement, and every other measuring stick that society uses to categorize people in our day. God’s grace has gathered people from all walks of life and joined them together in a family of faith, a family joined together and held together by His grace alone.
Today we are going to look at another powerful lesson from God’s Word. If you will remember from our last study Paul took Barnabas, a Jew, and Titus, a Gentile, along with him to Jerusalem fourteen years after his conversion. This was a powerful illustration to the Jerusalem church of how the Gospel had touched the lives of Jews and Gentiles, two groups of folks who had great animosity towards one another.
Paul had gone to Jerusalem because he had received a revelation from God that he should go to the church leaders there and present his message of salvation by grace through faith. Paul didn’t go and see the church fathers in Jerusalem because he was working under their supervision or because he needed their approval – he was called by God to declare the Gospel. He went to Jerusalem because the Gospel he was preaching to the Gentiles was the same Gospel they were preaching to the Jews. Paul’s visit was a move of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate to the accusers, the antagonists, that these men called by God were being used by God to accomplish His purpose and will for humanity.
When Paul arrived to see Peter, James, and John there was another group of church folks waiting on him. You say, “How do you know who was there when you weren’t?” That’s a good question. Read with me from verses 3-5.
3Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. (Galatians 2:3-5 NIV)
Paul’s comment in verse 3 seems almost out of place if you stop reading there. In verses 1-2 Paul tells us that he went to Jerusalem because God called him to go and present his Gospel to the church leaders there. Then, all of a sudden, we read about his refusal to have Titus, a Gentile, circumcised. Where did that come from? If we keep reading we can see the context of Paul’s comment. Paul says, “This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” Let me unpack this comment for you.
Everywhere Paul went there were men who had infiltrated the Church and represented themselves as brothers in the faith. On the surface they talked like Christians. They knew all of the worship songs sung during the service. They had a heavenly look upon their faces when they spoke of Jesus. They could pray like nobodies business. They always carried their Bibles with them when they went to church. They even had Christian symbols and Scripture references on their business cards.
Underneath the obvious, the apparent, was a totally different reality. They looked for an opportunity to spread their own beliefs. They would catch folks after church and tell them, “Oh yes, we believe in Jesus, but you need to know that if you want to become a true Christian then you must also… You can’t abandon the Law of Moses. You have to continue to go to the Temple. You must not eat food sacrificed to idols.” For these men the Gospel was “Jesus + good works.” The best of all good works for these teachers had to do with keeping the good work of circumcision – the covenant sign that God had given to His people through Abraham. The false teachers dogged Paul everywhere he went about this covenant sign that God had given His people in Genesis 17:1-27. The sign of circumcision had become a badge of pride, a symbol of superiority for all Jews.
Many years later we can look back and see that when God cut a covenant with Abraham He gave Abraham and all of those in His household, family members and foreigners in his service, a reminder of His covenant. God never intended for circumcision to be the means of salvation, only a sign of God’s choosing.
By reading God’s Word you can see how God was trying to redirect His people’s understanding when they got off track. Let’s turn to Deuteronomy 10 and read together.
16Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:16-20 NIV)
Our walk with God is a matter of the heart. Anyone who serves God is called to have a tender heart towards the things of God. God doesn’t call us to ritualized religion; He calls us into relationship with Himself. The people of Israel were performing rituals, but their hearts were far from Him. Look at Jeremiah 4:3-4 with me.
3 This is what the LORD says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns. 4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done-burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:3-4 NIV)
Paul, a good Jew, a Pharisee, who was raised with the strictest observance of all of the rituals of his faith, wrote those powerful words to the Church in Rome. Turn with me to Romans 2:28-29.
28A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29 NIV)
Paul didn’t write these words because of a fixation he had, he wrote them because he was constantly dealing with the false teachers who were infiltrating the Church and teaching people that if they didn’t keep the Law then they weren’t truly saved. If you read all of Paul’s letters you will find that he dealt with this “circumcision group” in Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Colossae, and Galatia. They were everywhere and they were trying to undermine the truth of the Gospel.
The opponents of the Gospel are still with us today. Their “hot topics” aren’t the same as those Paul dealt with, but the principle of their error is exactly the same. Paul pounded the pulpit — “Jesus + anything” is no Gospel! When it comes to this central pillar of our faith there is no compromise, no surrender. Still to this day, the followers of Jesus must hold fast – “Jesus + anything” is no Gospel! I want you to notice some interesting traits and methods of the opponents of the Gospel. Read with me beginning in verse 4.
4This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. (Galatians 2:4-5 NIV)
First of all, they are “false brothers.” The Greek word, for “false brothers” means “one who ostentatiously professes to be a Christian, but is destitute of Christian knowledge and piety.” These folks have all of the outward appearances of being a Christian, but there was no substance underneath the surface. They were like a Hollywood movie set with elaborate, beautiful buildings and scenery…made of cardboard.
When Paul wrote to the people of Corinth about the false teachers who were working to lead them astray, he wrote,
13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:13-14 NIV)
False teachers are not called by God. They are not motivated by godly motives. They are not led to accomplish God’s will. They have, as their goal, their own desires and they will try to achieve them any way they can. In Timothy George’s commentary on Galatians he writes,
It is a sad but undeniable fact that in the visible church of Jesus Christ there are false brothers as well as true ones, sham Christians alongside genuine believers. The preaching of sound doctrine and the administration of remedial discipline are intended to safeguard the church against those who would subvert its fellowship either through theological compromise or ethical misconduct. This side of heaven, however, these remedies are not foolproof; thus the church ever faces anew the same danger Paul confronted long ago. (Timothy George, Galatians, pg. 148.)
The second identifying factor of those who opposed the Gospel was that they were “spying” on the freedom of the Christians. Later in Galatians Paul will write, “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 NIV) Christ came to set us free, not to burden us with rules, regulations, and rituals. Those who were false teachers kept their eyes on the followers of Jesus to see what they were doing wrong. They measured them by their own human standards. They were always on the prowl to condemn rather than encourage the followers of Jesus.
The Greek word for “spy out,” means “to inspect, view closely,” or “in order to spy out and plot against.” I’ve learned something this past week about this little word that caused a light to come on for me. The word for “spy out” is closely related to another Greek word that is used of church leaders. The Greek word for “overseer” is used of Jesus, our Shepherd, in 1 Peter.
24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25 NIV)
Jesus saw our sin, but rather than keeping an eye on us to condemn us, He carried our sins to the Cross. He paid the price and by His wounds we have been made whole. In John 3:17 we read, 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. The false teachers came to condemn, enslave, and burden people down with man made rules and regulations.
When Paul wrote to Titus about church leadership, he described the kind of leader that Titus was to put into place. Listen to Titus 1:7-9.
7Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless-not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:7-9 NIV)
There is a stark contrast between a godly church leader and someone who worms their way into leadership to lead others astray. Did you notice the qualities that Paul told Titus to look for in a leader? Not overbearing, one who is upright, disciplined, and someone who holds firmly to the message so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine. What Paul is describing is a leader who is under God’s authority.
On the other hand, everywhere Paul traveled he ran into folks who were seeking to lead others astray, away from God. While Paul was in Miletus, he sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus. When they arrived he spoke these words to them.
28Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31 NIV)
Paul warned the elders of Ephesus to watch for those who would distort the Truth and lead people away so that they could have their own following. God leaders will never claim followers of themselves -they are leading people to Jesus!
Paul would not deviate from the one message he had been given – Christ alone is the means of salvation! Paul knew how important it was for those who led the Body of Christ to hold unswervingly to this one message. Paul resisted the false teachers because, as he writes, 5We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. (Galatians 2:5 NIV)
What we need today are not more rules, more religion, or more regulations. What we need, what we desperately need is Christ alone. Lorenzo taught us a few weeks ago from Colossians and he quoted Paul — “Christ in you is the hope of glory!” We can’t add anything to that glorious message!
Today, there are still plenty of folks who want to add something to God’s completed work of salvation. It may be Jesus and baptism, Jesus and communion, Jesus and the Book of Mormon, Jesus and giving your goods to the poor, or Jesus and acapella music. Regardless of what is added, the message of salvation is mangled! In Romans 10 Paul wrote,
9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10 NIV)
Paul did not write, “That if you confess with your mouth and attend church you will be saved.” He didn’t say, “If you confess with your mouth and are baptized, then you will be saved.” Salvation is to be received as a free gift from God. We can’t work for it, we can’t earn it — we can only receive what God has already accomplished on our behalf through His Son Jesus.
We glory in Christ alone! We cling to Christ alone! We appeal to Christ alone! Christ alone is the hope of glory! Christ alone is our sufficiency! Christ alone can transform a broken human life and make something beautiful of the mess we have created. Christ alone can comfort a shattered heart and restore hope where hopeless once ruled the day! Christ alone can make a sinner a son or daughter! Christ alone can turn an addict into an advocate of the Gospel! Christ alone can set the prisoners free! Christ alone! Christ alone!
Have you surrendered your heart to Jesus Christ? Will you lay down all that you have tried to add to what Jesus has already accomplished and cling to Christ…alone? Won’t you receive Him this very morning?