Study 9: Ch.2:1-6
Chapter two continues the same theme as Chapter one: Paul’s example, of walking and living in the Spirit as opposed to that of the flesh. In this chapter we will consider:
1. The false brethren who were responsible for the trouble;
2. Some believers, who were mixed up in the Judaizing teaching.
3. Paul's response to all this.
False brethren, one who professes to be a Christian yet lacking the true life within, one who professes godliness but denying the power thereof.(II Tim.3:5) Christianity is first and foremost the life of God planted in the hearts of men and women by new birth; it is not living a life according to rules and ceremonies; there are many, who profess to be Christian, yet they have not had this new birth at all, they are still in the unregenerate state; there are also those who once knew the truth but have gone back to their old ways, and have ended up in a worse state ( II Pet. 2:22-23)
Whether these false brethren once had the truth and had simply gone back to the flesh and denied their Lord, or that they were not born again to begin with we are not told but the result is the same – they came in bringing a perverted gospel message. Now they probably didn’t sit down and conspire deliberately in order to bring a false gospel, but rather the message they preached was the bad fruit of their lives, the result of living in the flesh. The gospel is so contrary to the flesh that only those who are born from above and walking in the Spirit can understand and live it, anyone not in the Spirit will simply produce a religion of the flesh.
The quote here from Acts regarding these people is interesting, it was the souls of the hearers they were subverting; the word conveying the idea of producing distress, confusion and disorder. In this case these people making circumcision a condition of salvation; imagine what the early Gentile believers, who had repented and had been saved by grace through faith, would have thought on hearing this. Originally they were told of God’s free gift without them having to bring any good works to account, and now they were being told to be circumcised. Just think of the confusion and heaviness of heart they would have. And this is what such false brethren bring to people.
Those who would seek to impose a flesh religion seek to impose an external code in order to regulate the inner life. And it brings distress to many hearts, confusion and even fear amongst the brethren. Circumcision is not an issue now with believers, but there are other subtle ways in which believers can be enticed into ‘Galatianism’.
Distress, in that an external code binds a soul to live to someone’s expectations and forever looking for approval from them. This is especially true if the persons involved are strong in character, they can make others feel inferior and this plays on minds to the extent that those not living up to their ideas come under accusation (implicit or otherwise).
Confusion because it is contrary to the Spirit of God and those following such a code find an inner conflict of Spirit and Flesh. The Spirit leads one way, a life of liberty and joy in God, and the flesh into one of self effort in the opposite direction. God is not the author of confusion, so whoever brings confusion has not received it from God.
Now in the visible churches there has always been a mixed multitude, or tares as well as the wheat, to use Jesus’ parable. So it is no surprise when these things happen, but this does not mean that we have to accept them! We are to admonished and then reject a heretic after giving adequate warning.
But neither does it mean that we go ‘witch hunting’ making inquisition about every professing believer we meet; there are some believers who are so suspicious that they have to analyse every part of others’ lives to see if they are acceptable; this is unhealthy and unloving and leads to a hyper-critical spirit that that in itself can bring division and much distress. Extremes are not God’s ways and getting the balance right in these things can be difficult, but when the situation does arise we should be ready to face and deal with it.
The Christian faith is one of liberty. And to define this liberty we only need to read II Cor 3.
This liberty is from the Mosaic Law, and by implication any law that might be imposed; we need to remember that God gave Moses the law, so if we are free from that how can we be bound to man made regulations? The whole of II Cor. 3 deals with the difference between the old and new covenants, and it is this failure to understand the difference between the two that results in legalism, a topic that is developed later in Galatians.
In the Old Covenant there was a vail on the peoples’ hearts so that they were blinded in their minds and were not free to come directly to God; instead they had a system of rules and laws in order to approach God, and even then it was only through a mediator. We in the NC have no such law; we have had the vail removed from our minds, and the throne of grace freely accessible without any go between, whether it is a man or a system of regulations. Christ has made the way open to all, and no law or regulation can alter that.
Yet false brethren would seek to impose some form of legalism in order to bring us back into bondage, in order to bring blindness once more to peoples’ hearts trying to please God by laws and regulations.
It appears that these false brethren were overcome by legalism, that is they have to have their lives checked against a list of laws and regulations to see that they are ‘good’ enough; and has been already mentioned, if that were not sufficient they seek to impose it on others.
They have been overcome by it and are therefore in bondage; they are blind and have their hearts vailed from the truth in Jesus. They do not have the liberty in Christ themselves and therefore can not understand how a man lives the life that God wanted without regulating behaviour in some way. But what is worse is that they try to bring others into it as well, making them twofold more the child of hell than themselves. At the back of it all is the flesh trying to rule and regulate the things of God, which it cannot do.
What is the reason given? To bring us into bondage; they are in bondage so they seek to bring others into that same state. They not only want to bring us into bondage they have but also they want to be the ‘masters’, making others slaves to them and their ways.
This is not only true of individuals but also of groups and denominations; by their self made regulations and conditions they turn believers into slaves of systems. And the great tragedy is that many believers do not know that they are slaves to systems and are not living in the liberty in Christ, and like it that way!
In order for the truth of the gospel to continue we must not give place to these things at all.
In the next study we look at some other aspects of these false brethren.