By Mike Willis
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. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy. But when I was there they were not straight-forward 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?”
Peter’s apostasy was a weakness of the flesh. When the Jews from Jerusalem came to Antioch, he was afraid (2:12) of what their reaction might be when they saw him eating with Gentiles in violation of the law of Moses. Consequently, he withdrew from them and stood aloof. The rest of the Jews in the congregation at Antioch followed his lead, including Barnabas, Paul’s devoted companion.
Many of my brethren are telling me that sins which come as a result of weakness of the flesh are automatically covered by God’s grace. They write that the perfect obedience of Christ is imputed to the believer so that sins pertaining to weaknesses of the flesh are automatically forgiven by God. Yet, Paul said, “he stood condemned” (2:11). Now, who am I to believe, my brethren who ,say that the perfect obedience of Christ is imputed to the believer to cover such sins which come as a weakness of the flesh, or the apostle Paul who said that Peter was condemned? I choose Paul, what about you?
We observe also Paul’s method of handling this disagreement. Instead of just “lovingly overlooking these differences,” Paul withstood Peter, as the ringleader of the apostasy, to his face. He publicly rebuked him-in the presence of all. Who can believe that Peter’s apostasy was of such a nature that he was denying the seven facts of the gospel or the one act that brought one into fellowship with God. If the gospel-doctrine distinction were true, this apostasy was a doctrinal apostasy. Yet, Paul could not extend fellowship to the man who was apostatizing; instead, he publicly rebuked him. I would that some of my “grace-unity” brethren would take a lesson from this and spend a little of their time rebuking to the face in the presence of all those brethren who are preaching that instrumental music in worship violates no scriptural principles, that sponsoring church organization is not organizational apostasy, that sending funds from the church treasury to support benevolent homes and colleges is not a violation of the scriptures, and that church involvement in recreation is not a violation of the mission of the church. Instead, they mingle with those who pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ without ever rebuking them of their sins.
I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
This passage appears in the context of the Galatians observing days, months and years. By reverting to the observance of these Jewish feast days, the Galatians were recognizing the Mosaical law as binding on them. Consequently, Paul considered their observing of these days as a sign of their belief that the Old Law was still binding on them. To go back to the Old Law and keep its commandments would make Paul’s labor be in vain. Why would his labor be in vain? The reason seems obvious; it would be void of result. He had labored to save the Galatians; if they reverted to observing the Mosaical law, they would be lost and his labor would be worthless, so far as productive fruit was concerned. Hence, this passage is further proof that one could lose his soul through returning to observe the Mosaical law. Doctrinal apostasizes about matters other than the seven facts and the one act are damning.
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, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
This doctrinal apostasy broke one’s relationship with Christ and, consequently, with the disciples of Christ. Those who taught and accepted the doctrine that one had to be circumcised in order to be saved were severed from Christ and fallen from grace; Christ was of no benefit to them. Furthermore, they were morally obligated to obey the entire Mosaical law for the same reason that they felt compelled to obey the ordinance pertaining to circumcision.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord, that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.
The danger of this doctrine spreading throughout the Lord’s church concerned Paul. He knew that it had to be stopped. Consequently, he expressed the confidence in the Galatians that they would follow his commandments as expressed in this epistle and adopt no other view. Indeed, it is a shame that Paul had not been liberated from the legalism of the Law! Poor soul, he had not yet learned that there are a multitude of views. He did not know that the Lord’s church is divided over thirty-seven thousand different things and that, therefore, we cannot expect everyone to understand the Bible alike. He was naive, so naive that he expected everyone to have the same view of the matter! Pardon my sarcasm, but when I compare what the apostle of inspiration said with what the apostles of the grace-fellowship faction are saying, I get rather upset. These men are denying the gospel which saves us.
Paul again indicated the damning influence , of this heresy which existed among the brethren in the churches of Galatia. He said, “the one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.” Like the passage in 1:6-9 and 2:11, this passage indicates that this doctrinal apostasy would damn one’s soul. Even if the gospel-doctrine distinction were true, one would still be obligated to prove that deniers of doctrines revealed in God’s holy word can be received in the fellowship of the saints. Passages such as the one which we are studying certainly would negate the premise. Paul expected everyone to adopt the same view; those who did not would bear his judgment.
Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of gentleness; looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.
As I read the literature that is circulating among us, I see articles written which imply that the man who sins through ignorance or through the weakness of his flesh will not be held accountable for these sins. To these people, the grace of God is somehow automatically extended to forgive these men, whether through the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account or through some other theological manipulation. Yet, this passage shows that the man who is “overtaken” (AV) in a fault is guilty of sin, separated from God and in need of restoration. “The point of the prolempthe is that Paul has in view a fault into which the brother is betrayed `unaware,’ so that it is not intentionally wrong” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. TV, p. 14). This sin committed in ignorance was not automatically covered by the grace of God. Though it occurred “unawares,” the man was still guilty before God and in need of restoration. A saved man does not need to be restored. The man who is separated from God is the man in need of restoration. Hence, this passage shows that those who are unintentionally guilty of transgressing God’s holy commandment stand guilty before God and in need of salvation.
Those among us who are willing to extend the right hand of fellowship to false brethren among us, need to learn the lessons pertaining to fellowship found in the book of Galatians. Apparently, those who extend the right hand of fellowship to those who are using instrumental music in worship, supporting from the church treasury missionary societies, distorting the government of the local church through the sponsoring church arrangement, perverting the mission of the church through involvement in church support of recreation, education, and benevolence of non-Christians, etc. do not view these men as false teachers. If one reads their writing, he will soon see that this is the case. They engage in no exposure of these sins; rather, the only sin that they seem interested in exposing is the “sin” of exposing false teachers!
The situation in these papers resembles to a greater degree than I like to admit what I see going on in America. In America, Anita Bryant is castigated for condemning the sinful homosexual. In the church, the man who exposes these false teachers for what they are is the can condemned. A man can call for church involvement in any activity he may desire with impunity in the eyes of the majority of the brethren, but let him expose one of these false brethren who are involving the church in sinful activities, and he becomes a “troublemaker.”
My brethren, we need to go back to the Bible to let it be our guide in matters pertaining to whom we will fellowship and how much false doctrine can be tolerated. When we decide to conform ourselves to the Scriptures, we will not be arguing among ourselves over whether or not those who pervert the work and worship of the church can remain in the fellowship of the saints.
Truth Magazine XXII: 26, pp. 419-421
June 29, 1978