Evangelism, Spiritual Formation & The Pitfall of Modern Day Judaizing
ARC GUIDE LEVEL 2
Ideal for those already acquainted with our thought process at Ammi Ruhama Community
There is a marked difference between believing that no sin can get in the way or muffle the cry of the sinner calling on the name of Jesus, and the belief that no sin should get in the way of calling on the name of the Lord. One belief puts no addition to the gospel on us as those who need mercy and the other leaves us dependent on what society believes to be an ultimate social sin which will keep us from the love of God and the fellowship of one another. One is Christ plus nothing and the other is Christ plus circumcision.
In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul is writing to a group of Christians in the Galatian area with particular bewilderment. After having received the gospel as Paul had given it to them; free and without the extra burdens of Judaism, they then very quickly turned their attention to the teachings of a sect of so-called believers called, ‘Judaizers’. Judaizers required Gentiles (non-Jewish folk) who wished to convert to Christianity to adhere to the Levitical law found in Leviticus, Deuteronomy and in the Rabbinical writings and spoken traditions; in short, the untimely born Apostle calls the efforts at Judaizing, “another gospel”. Paul reveals that the impetus behind this transgression back to the law of Moses from the Law of Christ is one of false zeal (4:17-18) and appearances to avoid persecution for the sake of the cross (6:12-13). Specifically, the Judaizers were calling all those who accepted the gospel of Jesus to be circumcised (if you don’t know what that is, ask your mother). This outward conforming act would effectively initiate them into the Jewish religion making them yet another sect of Judaism like the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes and ultimately deny that Jesus was the Christ the Son of God, but rather just a good teacher of Judaism who never intended his followers to break with the wider Jewish faith. Looking back on it now, having Galatians and other works of Paul as litmus tests, we treat any call for a return to the law of Moses and its offshoots with the highest degree of suspicion. Ironically, what we have done instead is supplant the law of Moses with our own laws and traditions that see us miss the heart of the gospel for our own dos and don’ts of the Christian life and call those who would call on the name of the Lord do the same.
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.Galatians 1:6-7 English Standard Version
At the start of Galatians, Paul indicates that he presented a simple gospel to them that was unattached to either himself or anyone else. He says that to do so would be to act as though he was trying to please men (the implication is men who are his superiors) instead of God. He goes on to defend how exactly he received the Gospel; via direct revelation from Jesus and not through any human. He takes it a step further and says that even after his revelation and training from God, he did not feel compelled to consult with the other Apostles but instead got straight to work. Only after fourteen (14) years of ministry did he go to Jerusalem privately to meet with a few Christians who he says with the clear caveat that they, “seemed influential,” to make sure that he had not laboured in vain and makes the note that his disciple Titus, being a Greek, was not compelled by those Christians to be circumcised and even he himself was not burdened by them or Cephas, James, or John who he again addresses with the caveat, “seem to be pillars”. Paul then details a confrontation that took place with Peter at Antioch. Paul uses Peter’s Greek name Cephas to prove a point about making the Gentiles live as Jews to avoid persecution by certain men who came from James, when he himself actively lived as a gentile.
All of this can get lost in the context of the passage if we think that this is strictly about Judaism–let me be clear, for the Galatians, it was specifically about Judaism because it was Jewish men committed to the old ways who were trying to convert them. For us today, we have to ensure that we are evangelizing the lost to Jesus; that we are presenting them with the gospel and nothing else; not the Baptist Faith and Message, not the Nicene Creed, or the Westminster Confession or anything else–Christ alone. The nothing else, that Paul seems to indicate, is that the unadulterated gospel is not a means to convert people to fill the pews and to bulk up our own names, ministries and denominations as a metric for obedience or success in ministry. The other part of what the unadulterated gospel does pertains to our concept of Spiritual Formation.
Call it discipleship, adult ministries, spiritual disciplines or spiritual formation, it all means the same thing: training up new and existing believers to full, reproducing maturity in Christ. So how does modern day Judaizing happen in our regular, everyday spiritual formation? Consider what Paul says about those who were interacting with the Galatian churches trying to convince them to live as Jews.
12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which[a] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.Galatians 6:12-15 English Standard Version
Again, don’t lose the lesson for the context. For the Gentiles, this is specifically about circumcision as it was the historical sign for belonging to God. For today, I want us think of all of the outward signs that have become ubiquitous with being a church-going-bible-carrying-non-swearing-sober-sombre-born-again-believer and examine our own spiritual formation to ask questions like, “How much of my so-called, ‘spiritual formation,’ was actually tutoring in how to conform to a particular Christian culture and tradition,” and also, “How much of how I form people in Christ is actually tutoring people in conforming to a particular Christian culture and tradition”. This is particularly telling when the majority of the people in our churches are all of the same socioeconomic class, and, even more so, when all of our leaders conform to that class and evangelize people within that class or, on the off chance that they evangelize the proverbial Gentile, they then spiritually form that Gentile through their tutelage into the prevailing class instead of into Christ alone.
It is really easy to write these things in the abstract, but the actual application of these teachings is rather uncomfortable for us raised within this Judaizing culture. What happens, for instance, when drug addicts, alcoholics, LGBTQ+, the formerly incarcerated, convicted child sex offenders, the abject poor, the illegal alien and so and so forth come into the church and claim to have received mercy from God? How upset will our well constructed Christian cultural norms be, and how will we endeavour to stay out of the way of the Spirit of God conducting their personal sanctification and therefore not take any form of social or spiritual credit for their ‘rehabilitation’? This, I think, is why Paul didn’t stay anywhere for very long. Because he was ever conscious of our propensity to give glory to creation, even if it is the church, instead of to God, and he, for one, was not willing to sacrifice the purity of the gospel by adding any undue burden for the sake of a perceived, well-earned pat on the back.
James 1 Lit. Test
So what do we do? A homosexual comes into our fellowship claiming unity with God through the blood of Jesus and seeking the natural fellowship of those who have also received mercy from God. Their lifestyle is very public. It will not look good to the other fellowships who are watching to see if we sit down and do nothing, and yet, how can we turn away a fellow believer in Christ; a child even? Our own souls testify against us that private, or public, we have all broken God’s law and continue to struggle with our own wilfulness and have all received mercy from God–it is what makes us a common people. How many clear gluttons do we have in our pulpits? How many wandering eyes? How many men and women filled with brazen pride? And yet, we do not call ourselves to some pre-law acceptance of Jesus, but we would call this brother or sister to conform to our law so that we may say, “Look at this former lesbian who is now married to a godly man with 5 kids,” and by doing so, avoid persecution by those we consider pillars, for the sake of the cross of Christ which saved us from our gluttony, lust and pride just as much as it has saved our LGBTQ+ neighbours from their sexual sins. Their conformity to Christ is their own journey; our part of that journey is to teach them to listen for, test, and obey the Holy Spirit of God. Let me be clear and amend a statement I have previously made about the lost and apply it to those who have received mercy. In our advocacy for our fellow people of God who have received mercy, we do not argue about the validity of their lifestyle, nor do we champion wilfully sinful practices to be seen as natural and right. We ask only that each one be given the same full quarter that we are all given in our own active wilfulness instead of the distinctly unbiblical practice of treating some people–even our own siblings in Christ, as outlaws and therefore undeserving of the mercy, grace and love of the so-called people of God who have received mercy.
I leave you with Paul’s exhortation to the Gentiles.
5 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.Galatians 5:1-6 English Standard Version
8 responses to “The Unadulterated Gospel”
[…] name’s sake but that His name would be glorified over the whole earth. We cover this in detail in The Unadulterated Gospel. I quote a relevant statement written in the same heart about presenting the Christ-plus-nothing […]
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[…] will result in increased physical ecumenism under God. This is not due to the homogenising effect of modern day Judaising, but rather that we all love and obey God, identifying with the Son of God in His death, burial and […]