The Fork in the Road: A Different Gospel, Part 3 (Gal 5 part 1)

Chapter 5

We skip to chapter 5 for the sake of space.

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

V. 1 recalls that Paul had said in chapter 3 that the Law enslaves because we can’t obey it. Even if we only add circumcision as a salvation requirement, it destroys the gospel. Paul won’t allow even the first step toward legalism.

2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

You see, if you add one command, well, you have to add them all. And no one can meet that standard. Law — any law — can only save if you obey all law perfectly. If you can’t meet this standard (and no one can), then the choice isn’t fewer laws or easier laws. It’s salvation by faith. It can’t be salvation by faith + some laws or salvation by faith + better laws. No, it’s just salvation by faith.

We’d love for the system to be: faith + “laws we feel strongly about but not laws that seem less important to us.” We wish the system to be subjective or defined by the history of our denomination. We won’t admit it to ourselves, but we like being able to pick! — to be free to be gracious about some things but strict about others. But as much as we’d like to be the pope of the Church of Christ, the scriptures don’t give us that option. It’s either “obligated to keep the whole law” or “justified by faith.” Take your pick!

Moreover, Paul most definitely doesn’t say “the ceremonial law.” It’s “the whole law.” You see, to add circumcision as a condition of salvation is to declare faith in Jesus — and Jesus himself! — insufficient. And Paul will have none of that.

4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

“Severed from Christ” could be well translated “made Christ ineffective.” Either way, Paul says twice in one sentence that the result of seeking salvation other than by faith is damnation. It’s strong, strong language.

Some argue that “justifies” refers only to our initial salvation and that works become the standard after our baptism, but Peter’s error (in chapter 2) was years after his initial salvation. I addressed this misunderstanding in an earlier post.

Remember: the mistake was not seeking salvation through Judaism. These were followers of Jesus. Their mistake was adding laws to faith in Jesus as requirements to be saved.

And the mistake wasn’t in seeking to obey the whole Law. They just wanted to add circumcision and some holy days (Gal 4:10). No, having to obey the whole law is the penalty if all you do is demand faith + circumcision.

You see, insisting on circumcision as a path to salvation is denying that Jesus is our Savior. You see, it’s an effort to save yourself through obedience. (We must, of course, obey, but not to be saved.)

5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

Paul now returns to the Spirit — which we received by faith — and which gives us hope. And if Paul mentions hope and faith, surely he’ll shorly mention …

6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

… love. It’s not the circumcision that damns. It’s the seeking salvation through circumcision.

Why, Paul? Why doesn’t circumcision count for anything? Why?

Because it’s not faith and it’s not love. Period. The only things that “count” — justify — are faith in Jesus and love. And “only” means only. The “only” is what makes the argument work. After all, if there had been no “only,” then circumcision could have been added, because circumcision doesn’t keep you from having faith in Jesus or loving your neighbor. It’s the “only” that makes circumcision ineffective — even damning.

And it’s the “only” that makes it not only sinful, but potentially damning, to add a cappella music as a condition of salvation. It’s not faith or love of our neighbors either!

The Judaizing teachers would doubtlessly argue that they submit to circumcision out of love for God — and this is an even higher love than love for our neighbors! And I’m sure that was true. But it’s not faith in Jesus and it’s not love itself. And seeking salvation by making circumcision a requirement makes the entire Law a requirement.

Just so, when we insist on instrumental music as a requirement to be saved, we also add getting the Lord’s Supper right as a condition of salvation. And the love feast. And the officers of the church. And who appoints them. And how they might be removed. And how many children an elder must have. And whether we can insist that an elder step down if his wife dies. And divorce and remarriage. And the Pauline exception. And every other doctrine that we have ever disputed over. EVERY ONE. Insist on one and you’ve insisted on them all, because there’s no stopping place.

The reason the advocates for the gospel of the 20th Century Churches of Christ have never been able to say where the line stops is the same reason the Judaizing teachers couldn’t stop with circumcision. It’s all or none. Paul said so. And he was right. There’s no logical or scriptural place to stop adding laws as requirements to be saved once you’ve added one.

And when we start piling obligation upon obligation, we turn the gospel of grace into slavery — and we divide and divide — and we make our baptisms a mockery of the cross.

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7 Responses

  1. Jay,
    One of the realities that started my change of thinking years ago is how many legalist in the Church of Christ will speak critically of the creative law making of the non-cooporational, non-Sunday School and one-cup churches, yet pay no attention to the observations of others who see them being just as creative in making their tradional ways of seeing and doing things into salvation essentials.
    Are we supposed to be fearful of what people say? No, it should never be what governs us. But what people say can be a pointer to wisdom, especially if they use our own words to show us just how much we still need to grow.

  2. Have you officially moved membership from the anti-instrument sect to the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ? If not, better hurry while you still have a head on your shoulders. Your repudiation of the basis for the anti-instrument sect surely will call for loyal adherents to that doctrine to refuse further fellowship with you. Won’t it?

    I’m a long-time member of Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. I observe that some in our number are not perfect (of course I am, but some disagree with me). We seek to be non-sectarian and non-denominational. It appears from your writing that you are one of us despite years of membership in a “Church of Christ.” Note that many of “our” churches continue to wear the name “Church of Christ.” If the congregation of which you’re a member agrees with your teaching, it should be one of us rather than one of “them.”

  3. Jay:
    Your three essays and the resulting note chains have helped me better understand some of your goals in OneinJesus and part of the “Progressive-Conservative Debate.” So, am wading in a bit more with you/et.al.

    First, I have appreciated your challenges to humanistic religion (what you call the “Galatian heresy”) and also your description of baptism as an act of God’s grace. Our participation in the Lord’s death and resurrection (via water immersion) is just that — an act of God’s grace (Titus 3:4ff.), without being a sacrament (Lat. sacramentum).

    Second, I will suggest that the risen Lord’s counsel to the churches of Asia presents us with an important portrait. It helps us see how the Lord sees people. Certainly, he sees us as individuals. He also sees us as congregations. In that way “churches of Christ” as Paul uses the words reflects the view of the risen Lord. Either a given congregation honors him or it does not. He does not see “Progressive” or “Conservative.” Indeed, the identity labels humanity applies can themselves become examples of the humanistic religion you have challenged.

    Third, as I read your essays regarding the Galatian heresy, the grace of God, and the aspect of “works,” let me offer that I believe you have “pulled apart” something that Paul has woven together. Ephesians 1:3-14 announces a powerful teaching. Paul reveals that the Word of God is an expression of God’s grace too. And that Word includes apostolic teaching that gives diverse counsel. Hearing and submitting to given teachings in the Word of God should not necessarily be seen as a “work” or an example of humanistic religion. Paul’s use of “work” does not announce such. But yes, we do face the temptation to treat it as such (just as we do any response to His grace).

    Consider the example of Jesus’ war in the desert. When Jesus spoke Scripture in his responses to Satan, do we believe he was thinking, “Look how many Psalms I know!” or “My arguments are good ones!”? Is that what any of us hear, or do we hear the Son of God depending on His Father and His Father’s Word with all of his strength? Jesus guides us to the answer when he points to what sustains all of us: every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The Word of God represents an expression of His grace. My leaning on the Lord and His Word with all of my heart in a world under spiritual siege is no expression of humanistic religion. Instead, it represents a loving and grateful response to His grace — that honors Him.

    In practical application I will suggest that the “mark” of vocal music that has been indicative of churches of Christ should be seen as nothing less than our response to God’s grace. Song to the Lord represents people hearing the Word of the risen Lord in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-21 and responding with love and thanksgiving — and we have every reason to encourage all to sing to the Lord.

    We should see other apostolic teaching regarding congregational leadership and organization (e.g. 1 Timothy 2-3, Acts 19, 1 Cor. 11-14, for example) and other doctrines as similar expressions of grace. Not necessarily “rules.” Not necessarily “works.” Our response of following the risen Lord’s teaching can represent our hearing and submitting to His Word in love — depending on the grace of the Lord. In that way we avoid the temptation of humanistic religion and follow the example of Christ.

    Jay, I am praying that you reconsider your conclusions at points.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  4. With your rejection of the fact that Paul is only condemning the ceremonial law are you seriously arguing that we can be immoral and still be saved? That he is only talking about the ceremonial law is made clear in Galatians 4. Following the ceremonial law is bondage to elements of the world or elemental spirits as some translations have it. Observing the moral law is not bondage to elemental spirits, unless you believe that demons want us moral and God wants us immoral. Of course mandmade laws are meaningless for salvation, but in order to toss out manmade laws is it necessary to toss out the moral law? Paul clearly still believe the moral law is necessary for salvation in Galatians 5 when he lists many immoral actions and says “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” I’d like an answer on this.

  5. I might add that everything you debate the ‘conservative’ churches about is ceremonial anyway. Instrumental music or acapella–ceremonial. One cup or however many–ceremonial. Big gutbusting meal or symbolic meal–ceremonial. Why therefore do you have to throw out the moral law to defeat your opponents? Is you agenda perhaps much wider than you let on?

  6. Bruce wrote,

    Hearing and submitting to given teachings in the Word of God should not necessarily be seen as a “work” or an example of humanistic religion. Paul’s use of “work” does not announce such. But yes, we do face the temptation to treat it as such (just as we do any response to His grace).

    I agree. There’s no sin in obedience. And while there may be sin in obeying what you believe to be a command that isn’t really, it’s not damning, as the obedience is done “unto the Lord” — and God accepts it, as Paul plainly teaches in Rom 14. Therefore, I have no beef with those who believe God requires only a cappella singing. They are my brothers and not in the least jeopardy of damnation — unless they turn a cappella singing into a salvation or fellowship issue. When it becomes, in their minds, a mark of the church, so that the instrumental churches are considered damned, they are guilty of the Galatian heresy and risk falling from grace.

    “Hearing and submitting to his word in love” is, of course, not only proper but a necessary response to grace. Yes, of course obedience is expected! The scriptures are plain that we are supposed to obey whatever we are commanded to do. I have never, ever said otherwise.

    My concern is when we damn and separate ourselves from those who have obedient hearts, who genuinely intend to worship and organize as God commands — because they’ve interpreted the passages differently. This is a great sin, it’s horribly divisive, it violates Rom 14, and it even creates a humanistic religion that can damn.

    As you note, we can treat obedience to such commands as a response to grace (good) or we can specify that certain commands and inferences are boundary markers that define the boundaries of the kingdom, thus turning a response to grace into a work — which is the Galatian heresy.

  7. Jay:
    I have decided that trying to know who you are and what you believe is a little like trying to grab hold of boiled okra.

    You say you have “no beef with those who believe God requires only a cappella singing,” but then you lash out at a cappella (by name) with satire. Please know that I have left the offense behind (it is between you and the Lord), but it still raises a question. Who am I talking to?

    Further, you wrote this:
    “The Law required perfect obedience, and so does 20th Century Church of Christ theology — at least when it comes to pet issues: issues that vary from editor to editor and school of preaching to school of preaching. I mean, never have the Churches even agreed among themselves on which issues are the salvation issues. Indeed, some even say they are all salvation issues!”

    Jay, some of your statements are nothing less than bombastic. I have heard similar statements in other Bible debates/classes (yes I know the context of what you write). The statements reveal a humanistic starting point, not the Lord’s view.

    For example:
    Does not the Lord look at His people on a congregation by congregation basis? Does what you wrote above accurately represent? Let me help: No.

    Jay, your discussion of “doctrine” and your treatment of individuals and congregations walk different paths. And that is not the will of the risen Lord. That was one of the things I was emphasizing in my note above — and you seemed to fly right over it. I am praying you consider.

    There is more on my heart, but that is for another post and perhaps another day. My heart hurts as I have read some of what you have written in the past few days.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

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