The churches of Galatia, taught and nurtured by Paul in the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, were falling prey to false teachers. Self-promoting legalists were trying to put them back under the bondage of the law, to be “subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Like today, they desired the prestige of more followers while they sought to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:12-13).
The message disturbing the churches of Galatia promoted a doctrine of Christ plus circumcision, or salvation by grace through faith, plus works. To this the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul, replied:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:6-9).
The gospel of grace in Christ is precious to God, and He does not look kindly toward anyone who perverts it. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). “By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1Corinthians 1:30-31). God protects His glory, the glory of the person and saving work of Christ, and the salvation of His people.
The American Culture & Faith Institute recently conducted a survey of people who claimed to be born-again Christians, defined as those who believe they will go to heaven when they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. Of this group:
- 52% believed Jesus lived a sinless life
- 37% believed it was impossible to earn your way to heaven (presumably, then, 63% believe you can earn your salvation by works)
- 70% thought that having faith is more important than the object of faith
The survey results are troubling on many levels, but to name a few, if Jesus sinned, He deserved condemnation, He cannot save anyone, we are dead in our sins. He also destroyed the purpose of His saving work to display and communicate God’s glory. Given God’s glory consists of the beauty and perfection of His attributes, His holiness and justice, at a minimum, would be casualties of a sinning Savior. Like a Christianity without the resurrection, we are wasting our time if our Savior is fallen—we would do better to eat, drink, and be merry.
Additionally, those trying to earn their way to heaven are under the curse of the law, while many confident of a future in heaven may be teaching or believing the cursed view of the Galatian false teachers. And given that less than half of those surveyed read Scripture during a typical week, it’s no surprise so many professing Christ as Savior do not understand the Gospel. One marvels how people claiming God as their first love can care so little about getting to know Him. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6).
To name just a few more problems with adding works to the Gospel, salvation by works requires perfect obedience. “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision…he is under obligation to keep the whole Law” (Galatians 5:2-3). “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). Failure brings condemnation: “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’” (Galatians 3:10). No wonder Paul speaks of “bondage” and “slavery” in describing the error.
As noted above, a sinning Savior destroys the ultimate purpose of God to display His glory by corrupting the display of His attributes in Christ. In the same way, salvation by the works of fallen people compromises the righteousness of God’s justice. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Thy throne” (Psalm 89:14). But, an unrighteous judgment corrupts not only God’s justice, but His entire rule over the universe. In acting contrary to righteousness, our object of faith would become untrustworthy and the foundation of His rule would crumble. God would no longer be God. Our “righteous” sovereign would be arbitrary and corrupt. Moreover, our holy garments as Christ’s bride would be ruined as mingled with the “filthy rags” of our works.
Further, the addition of tainted works as contributions to our salvation diminishes Christ’s perfect accomplishment as the only one to meet the requirements of God’s justice. It implies that Christ’s payment for sin was insufficient. Yet, what kind of life and sacrifice can be improved by the sinful works of fallen people? Our tainted works, themselves, require atonement. And, if we can be saved by our works, “Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:21), rendering His life and ministry a farce, a cruel perversion of justice.
In the end, the false teachers among the churches of Galatia undermined God’s glory and the salvation of sinners, as do the teachers of salvation by works among us today. The stakes are high: “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3). And that salvation is by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24-25).
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995. Used by permission.
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