GOSPEL AVOIDS CONTENTION
The judaizing teachers of the first century taught a concept of grace that demanded the addition of self-sanctifying meritorious law-keeping and good works on the part of Christians. They wanted and taught the gospel, but they added their religious rites of conduct after the Sinai law (circumcision and ceremonies). By their additions they became an occasion for division among the disciples.
Their concept of grace, therefore, was similar to the religious world of today. Those of the religious world believe in the cross. They believe that Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our hope. However, in conjunction with belief in the gospel—though they often deny the necessity of obedience to the gospel by immersion—one must conform to the traditions of a particular religious heritage. Their view of salvation is the same as the judaizing teachers of the first century. They believe the gospel, but they add self-sanctifying obedience to the rites of their particular religious heritage.
We must not miss a significant point here. It was the legalistic false teachers in the first century who were binding where God had not bound. They were binding circumcision and other religious rites of Jewish heritage in order to marshal the Gentile converts into their Jewish heritage.
This is the nature of religious legalism. By binding where God has not bound, the truth of the gospel is compromised. Another gospel is being taught. It is this other gospel, the binding where God has not bound, that divides brethren. Paul wrote, “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you [from the rest of the saints], that you may be zealous for them” (Gl 4:17).
The result of the legalistic teachers’ work in Galatia and Rome was division among the saints by the recruiting of Gentile converts to the “gospel of works.” The judaizers had established what was necessary for salvation according to their system of religious codes. They thus sought to bind on the Galatian and Roman disciples what they considered to be additional requirements for salvation. Their binding where God had not bound produced trouble and division among the disciples (See Rm 16:17,18).
When religious legalism arises among disciples, division is inevitable unless all members are intimidated into conforming to the same regimented practices and religious rites. And this is exactly what the false teachers from Jerusalem sought to do when they came down from Jerusalem to Antioch in order to bind where God had not bound (See Gl 2:11-14). This is what was happening among many disciples in the first century concerning those who were teaching circumcision as a condition for salvation. Luke recorded of the situation, “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (At 15:1). By binding where God had loosed (circumcision and the law), these teachers were dividing the brotherhood of believers. In doing this, Paul stated that they were preaching another gospel (Gl 1:6-9). Therefore, anyone who would teach the gospel, plus their added religious traditions, is actually preaching another gospel.
The irony of division over the binding of religious rites is in the fact that the legalist often accuses others of dividing the church than himself. He accuses those who refuse to be bound by the precepts of the legalist’s checklist of actually dividing the church.
The legalist fails to separate his religious traditions from the gospel. His legal religious rites have become law in his mind, and thus he assumes that in order for the saints to be united, everyone must conform to his system of religiosity. He often does not know enough Bible to separate tradition from what is Bible, and thus, sincerely, but ignorantly, binds his traditions on the brotherhood of believers. When some rise up and discover that the accepted tradition is not Bible, and thus, seek to change, then these people are often accused by the religionist of being liberal and dividing the church. The religious legalist thus gives a pretense of spirituality because he is “defending the faith” against those he has judged not to be living according to the “truth” of his religious rites.
The truth of the matter, however, is in the fact that he has defined “the truth” by the addition of matters of opinion or the traditions of the fathers. He has actually twisted the truth of God to his own destruction (2 Pt 3;15,16).
The religionist’s accusation often becomes more intense as he is pressed to find scripture for his traditions, but cannot. His only recourse to maintain his position is to defensively cry out “church divider,” “liberal” or “unsaved.” However, one’s position is not proved right by the volume of one’s voice or the zeal by which he defends his religion. It is proved right only by a finger on a passage in the Book of God.
An explosion into division always lies under the surface of a brotherhood that is constructed on a foundation of religion. Because no freedom has been taught in order to produce an atmosphere of loving forbearance (Ph 4:5), the potential for conflict between parties within a religion is always present.
Among those disciples where forbearance and liberty have always been maintained in a spirit of gospel love and unity, the potential for division is always defused by love and forbearance before it has any opportunity to divide the saints. It is for this reason that Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words” (Cl 2:4). The zeal of the religious legalist may deceive one into believing that his position is correct. However, Paul warned,
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Cl 2:8).