How False Teachers Sneaked In
The apostle Paul tells how false teachers entered the Church in Jerusalem during the first century, teaching justification through the Law. Paul says that prior to the time when this heresy was introduced, he and Barnabas had brought Titus, a Greek believer, to Jerusalem with them. He met privately with those among the apostles and elders that were of reputation, so that he could share with them the gospel he preached among the Gentiles. Yet none of the Jewish apostles or elders there required Titus to be circumcised. They apparently had no problem with Titus remaining uncircumcised.
But then some false brethren sneaked into the Church, while Paul was there with Titus, to spy out the liberty that they had in Christ Jesus, in order to bring them into bondage. They wanted to push Paul and Titus back into observing the Law as a means of justification. Yet Paul refused to yield in subjection to them for even an hour. Paul states:
“Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.” (Gal 2:1-5)
Peter's Fall from Grace
Although Paul and Titus did not give in to these false brethren, who were Judaizers, they apparently affected the apostle Peter, also known as Cephas. He made the mistake of going back to the Law for a while. The apostle Paul tells the story of what happened:
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2:11-14)
We learn from Paul that these Judaizers came from James, and were known as the party of the circumcision. But prior to their arrival in the Church, Peter used to eat with Gentiles. Remember, the Lord revealed to him that he was not to call anything unclean that He had called clean. The Lord had sent Peter to the Gentile home of Cornelius to preach the gospel and they had all been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Peter had learned from the Lord that it was not a problem for him to associate with Gentiles. It was only after the entrance of the Judaizers into the Church that Peter yielded in subjection to their heresy.
When he left his base in Jerusalem to visit Antioch, where Paul was based, Paul noticed that Peter began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. Out of his fear of what the Judaizers would say of him if he associated with uncircumcised Gentiles, he withdrew from them, even though they were justified believers in Christ. As Peter set the bad example, the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. It was at that point that Paul saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel and knew he needed to confront Peter publicly to his face.
Paul said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” In other words, Peter had been living like a Gentile himself, rather than like a Jew as he actually was. And now through his behavior among the Gentiles he was compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews. He was compelling them through peer pressure to observe the Law, when Peter, himself a Jew, was not even observing. This was clearly hypocrisy, which nullified the grace of God.
What Paul said to Peter in that confrontation teaches us many things. He said:
"We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." (Gal 2:15-21)
Paul’s first point was that he and Peter were biological Jews who knew that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus. Even they had believed in Christ Jesus, so that they might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law. Both Peter and Paul knew that no flesh will be justified by the works of the Law.
Paul’s second point was this: “If, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!” He meant that when a Jew, like he or Peter, seeks to be justified through faith in Christ, they would become aware in the process that they are not observing the Law. They would be conscious of the fact that they were sinners, breaking God’s Law. Even so, it did not mean that Christ promotes sin. He never will.
Rebuilding What You Have Destroyed
Then Paul likened their Law breaking to the literal process of breaking or destroying something. He said, “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.” In other words, if he or Peter would begin to go back and try to reconstruct, or put back together, the Law that they had broken when they sought justification by faith in Christ, they would only be proving that they themselves had in fact transgressed the Law and broken it in the first place.
Dead to the Law
Therefore, he was saying that they should not do so. Instead, it was through the Law that Paul died to the Law, so that he might live to God. Paul knew that the Law itself would declare him a lawbreaker if he sought to rebuild it after he had broken it. So he could never turn back to it again, once he sought justification through faith in Christ. He had died to the Law, so that he might live to God. There was no other way.
How did Paul die to the Law? He explained, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” When Paul was baptized into Christ, he died with Christ. At that point, as a dead man, he became dead to the Law and freed from it. And from that point, it was no longer Paul who lived, it was Christ who lived in him. He lived by faith alone in the Son of God, who loved Paul and gave Himself up for him.
This must be our practice as well. We must die to the Law when we are crucified with Christ. Then it is no longer we who live, and since we are dead, we cannot observe the Law. All we can do is live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Then it is no longer I myself who lives, but Christ who lives in me. It’s His life in me that’s setting me free and making me holy.
We must not go back to observing the Law, which is hypocrisy, since we do not actually observe the whole Law, but only certain parts. Doing so nullifies the grace of God, and those who do so stand condemned like Peter (2:11). Paul explained how it condemns us when he wrote to the Galatians:
“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.’ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith.’ However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Gal 3:10-14)
His first point was that everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them is cursed. He who practices them shall live by them. It’s all or nothing. If you seek to perform some things in the Law for the sake of justification, but not all, then you are cursed. The fact is that the Law justifies no one in the sight of God. So it is a futile effort to seek to be justified by the Law. Therefore, don’t put yourself under a curse by trying to be justified that way.
What should we do then? Since we know the Law is not of faith, our justification will never include observing the Law. The righteous man shall live by faith. Our faith must be in Christ alone. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. Instead of going back to observing the Law as a means of justification, putting yourself under a curse, rather live by faith in Christ. He became a curse for us, when He hung on that tree, and redeemed us from the curse of the Law.
Freedom in Christ by the Spirit
Praise God, we are free from the Law! So let's not turn back again to observing it and be enslaved by it all over again. We do not need to be circumcised or observe special days and months and seasons and years. (see Gal 4:9-10)
"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal 5:1). However, we must not use our freedom as a cover up for evil. As Paul wrote: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Gal 5:13) And as Peter said, "Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves." (1 Pe 2:16).
It is possible to be justified by faith in Christ and then live according to the sinful nature, pleasing the sinful nature, and committing acts of the sinful nature. But those who live like that will ultimately be destroyed, if they don't repent, as Jesus and the apostles taught. Paul listed some examples of the acts of the sinful nature, and warned that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (see Gal 5:21).
That is why I have already been teaching all along in my other articles that we must obey God and keep His commandments. What matters is the keeping of the commandments of God (see 1 Co 7:19). But this is done by faith in Christ, as we live by the Spirit, walking in love, living for righteousness, not through the flesh. As Paul wrote:
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." (Gal 5:16-18)
Living by the Spirit and being led by the Spirit is a matter of sowing seeds to please the Spirit, in order to bear the fruit of the Spirit and ultimately reap eternal life. As Paul said:
"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (Gal 6:7-8)
Apart from Christ you can do nothing. It’s only His life in you that will please the Father, not what you can do for God. Our obedience must never be an attempt on our part to be justified. But a true disciple will obey the Lord’s commandments, and the Holy Spirit does take from the Law as He leads us in the way to live that is pleasing to God. That is part of being led by the Spirit, taught by God, allowing Him to speak to us through the whole Bible. It is not seeking justification through the Law.
The Risk of Abusing God's Amazing Grace
In fact, the Lord Jesus Himself respected and fulfilled the entire Law. And now because He lives in us, He works His desires, which are still the same, except for the sacrifices, rituals, ceremonies, food and drink ordinances, observation of special days, week, months, and years, and the separation of Jews and Gentiles. Actually we must fear God even more now than they did under the Old Covenant, because we are being led and evaluated by The Holy Spirit. Therefore, there is greater risk of abusing God's amazing grace.
This is what the Lord told brother Yong-Doo Kim, whom I have written about previously in my article, Baptized by Blazing Fire -- a Korean church's testimony. Brother Kim wrote in Baptize by Blazing Fire Book II:
"When God gives us a chance, we must take it, no matter what. Jesus said, 'That particular saint mocked God and troubled the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if she does not mourn and sincerely repent, she will not be entering heaven. If the judgment of the congregation members is hard, then how much more will I judge the Pastors who are committing adultery? The ministers must repent to the point of death. Currently, the ministers of today are mocking God, they say, "These are the days of grace, and the gospel sets us free, just repent and one will be forgiven unconditionally!" These are the days one needs to be in fear more than the days of the Old Testament.' The Lord warned us that the day is coming when we will all have to give account for our deeds."
Brother Kim continued, "As I write on this chapter, I am experiencing many hours of dismay and dissension. Jesus said, 'Do we then nullify the law by this faith. Not at all! Rather we uphold the law.' (Romans 3:31). In fact, we are living our daily life within the Lord’s amazing grace. However, living in His grace does not mean our sins just disappear. We are abusing God’s grace if we do not repent. A daily repentant life is the fastest and shortest route to God’s mercy and compassion."
Furthermore, when the first century apostles and elders in Jerusalem met to decide the case regarding the Judaizers requiring circumcision of Gentile believers, their final written decision contained provisions taken directly from the Law. They ended their letter to the Gentiles with the following instructions: "You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell." (Act 15:29). Let's not abuse God's amazing grace!
The Obedience of Faith
I encourage you to read the other articles I have written on the need for obedience in Working God's Way and Eternal Destinations, as well as right here in Seeking the Lord, especially the following ones, beginning with the first three articles in the left-hand column:
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's note: Also see The Spirit's Law of Life, The Spirit of the Law, and Baptized with the Spirit. You can access the Main Directory for Seeking the Lord, or my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." Now I'd like to ask a very important question.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.