Divine Mathematics of Salvation

More than ever before, we desperately need to answer the question, “What does Modern Judaizing look like?” The Judaizers were, of course, false brethren who--in the days of the Apostles--secretly came into a newly found church to spy out the freedom that Christians had in Christ. We don’t have people creeping into our churches insisting that we need Christ plus circumcision to be saved. We naively laugh at the idea that such nonsense could ever happen in Calvinistic and Reformed churches today. So, can we simply wipe our brows with a sigh of relief and go forward knowing that we are not susceptible to such a perversion of the Gospel? Do we only see in the doctrine of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses a false Gospel and "another Jesus?" How are we to apply the teaching of Galatians to our own lives? Is it to be found in certain ecclesiastical settings in which doctrinal distinctions are taken seriously by men who profess to believe them--as some have recently suggested? How are we to understand in a careful manner a modern application of the problem of the Judaizers?

The answer to these questions is found in the details of the teaching of the book of Galatians. Paul's letter to the Galatians is one of the most important, and yet, most difficult to interpret, books in the Bible. The glorious doctrine of justification by faith alone is expounded and defended throughout on account of the legalism of the Judaizers aimed at the Gospel that Paul preached. One of the difficulties with which the interpreter of Scripture is faced is making a modern day application that is consistent with historical uniqueness of the Judaizing heresy. Paul, at the beginning of this book, explained to the church that if anyone came to them preaching a different Jesus, or another Gospel, they should be accursed to the deepest part of Hell. It was not simply about being cut off from the covenant community (i.e. the social and ecclesiastical dimensions of justification) that Paul saw under attack; it was the soteriological dimension that was at stake–the question of how a man or woman was accepted as righteous by God. Paul had strenuously maintained that it was all based on the Person and finished work of Christ. It was not anything done in us or by us that caused our acceptance with God. Christ was made a curse for us, so that the blessing of Abraham (i.e. justification and the reception of the Spirit) might be ours by faith alone in Christ Jesus. The insistence that one needed to be circumcised in addition to trusting in Christ was to intimate that Christ did not provided a full and free salvation apart from anything we do.

Paul ties everything together at the end of this letter when he explained that the Judaizers were seeking to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ, and were wanting to boast in the flesh (i.e. in human accomplishments). Put basically, it appears that the great error of the Judaizers was not merely seeking to add circumcision to the New Covenant people of God for salvation–it was adding anything to the finished work of Jesus for salvation. Essentially, Paul is pressing home the principle that Jesus plus anything else that you seek to add to His saving work will end in eternal loss. Adding to Jesus is subtracting from Jesus.

J. Gresham Machen, in his outstanding Notes on Galatians, set out a careful application of the principle argument of Galatians to the church today when he wrote:

The particular form of merit which they induced men to seek was the merit of keeping the Law of Moses, particularly the ceremonial law. At first sight, that fact might seem to destroy the usefulness of the epistle for the present day; for we of today are in no danger in desiring to keep Jewish fasts and feasts. But a little consideration will show that that is not at all the case. The really essential thing about the Judaizers’ contention was not found in those particular “works of the law” that they urged upon the Galatians as being one of the grounds of salvation, but in the fact that the urged any works at all. The really serious error into which they fell was not that they carried the ceremonial law over into the new dispensation, whither God did not intend it to be carried, but that they preached a religion of human merit as over against a religion of divine grace.

So the error of the Judaizers is a very modern error indeed, as well as a very ancient error. It is found in the modern church wherever men seek salvation by “surrender” instead of by faith, or by their own character instead of by the imputed righteousness of Christ, or by “making Christ master in the life” instead of by trusting in His redeeming blood. In particular, it is found wherever men say that “the real essentials” of Christianity are love, justice, mercy, and other virtues, as contrasted with the great doctrines of God’s word. These are all just different ways of exalting the merit of man over against the cross of Christ; they are all of them attacks upon the very heart and core of the Christian religion. And, against all of them the mighty polemic of this epistle to the Galatians is turned. 1

1. John H. Skilton ed. Machen’s Notes on Galatians (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publications, 1977) p. 10

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