My contention is that the apostasy of the Christian Church, already underway before the demise of the apostles, led to the Judaizing of the church – a tendency already present during the lives of the apostles. The NT church was plagued by both Jewish (Judaistic) and gentile (Greco-Roman) notions from early days. Many of the NT letters are attacks these very diseases. In fact, Judaism and Greco-Roman faiths had some principles in common which is why Paul was able to say to gentile believers ready to adopt Judaistic practices that this was simply a return to the ‘weak and beggarly elements’ of religious bondage and death they had left behind.
Gal 4:8-11 (ESV)
Formerly, when you [gentiles without the covenants of promise] did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more [the OT Mosaic Law, Judaism, they were being encouraged to embrace]? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
What then are the ‘weak and worthless elementary principles of the world‘ that the church were tempted to adopt, and in time did, in abundance?
I want to sketch over a few posts three areas of Judaistic recidivism now institutionalised in the professing church.
a) a Judaistic soteriology
b) a Judaistic ecclesiology
c) a Judaistic eschatology
Let me say, these posts will but scrape the surface. You will need to read and reflect much further to grasp the extent to which the Church has capitulated to a Judaizing apostasy. It is a journey of discovery that is unpalatable for it shakes our complacency. Often, when the choice is between living in our comfortable and cosy theological world and the messy world of hard truth we choose the former. We don’t like to think just how far removed our church experience is from NT Christianity for it requires adjustment and that is often painful. So before reading on I would say to you as Morpheus says to Nero in the film ‘The Matrix’ :
‘This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.’
To read on is at least to flirt with the red pill.
the gospel of the grace of god
Christianity is a wonderful story. It is the story of grace. It is the story of the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. In fact, the whole biblical story anticipates this grace (1 Pet 1:10). Yahweh (the Lord) who reveals himself to Israel in the OT is merciful and gracious.
Exod 34:6-7 (ESV)
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
His grace is evident among his people throughout the OT. However, in the arrival of Jesus and the Kingdom, God’s grace flows as never before. John tells us ‘the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ – an implied contrast surely cannot be avoided.
In the Law, the glory of God was hidden behind a curtain in the Holy of Holies. No ordinary Israelite could look on this glory and live. Thus Moses hid his face (which shone with this glory) when he came down from the mountain. Only the High Priest could enter into God’s Holy presence and see his glory and he could only do so once a year (and only with blood) and even then the Holiest was thick with the smoke of incense and his vision was faint. God was among his people but essentially hidden from them. One reason for this was that God’s glory under Law was essentially the glory of his holiness and grace was not to the fore. Thus Sinai, which lays the basic character of the Law relationship, was a place of thick darkness, thundering, lightning, and terror – the people were afraid to draw near and forbidden to draw near (Ex 19; 20:18; 34:30; Hebs 12:18-21).
It is in Christ that God is revealed in the brilliance of grace and truth. The Word became flesh and ‘tabernacled’ among us. We beheld his glory, says John, the glory of the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). The hidden God is now revealed. And of his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1:15). The heart of God that moves out in love, compassion and salvation to sinners is seen in all its glory in Jesus Christ. The gracious God – the God who is Father – is revealed in him. We know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich he became poor that we through his poverty may be made rich (2 Cor 8:9).
In his flesh, he revealed the glory of God but, ironically, if there was any veil to this glory, it was this flesh. While he lived in this life on earth the way into the ‘holiest’ (the immediate presence of God) was not open to us. But through his death all this change. We now have access into the immediate and majestically holy presence of God. We enter with confidence, anywhere and at any time, the Throne Room of God. We stand as creatures before his aw(e)ful purity and, beyond all belief, we do so without fear of expulsion, without fear of death, without fear of condemnation or accusation; we are holy and without blame before him in love (Eph 1:3).
Facing God in the filthy rags of our own self-righteousness, the way of Judaism and human religion (though Judaism did acknowledge sacrifice and grace albeit as an adjunct to a relationship of works) is an impossible thing, fearful and futile. We are crushed and condemned if we seek to face him this way. Our conscience immediately accuses us and we ‘tremble to die’. If heaven and earth flee and there is found no place for them before the holiness of God on his throne what hope has a wretched sinner? I cannot stand before God on the ground of responsibility – if I do, I am lost. ‘I’ is a weak link that will collapse before intractable righteousness and all-seeing eyes. No, if I am to be in God’s presence I must be there on another ground altogether. I need the righteousness of grace (Roms 3:24), the righteousness of God that comes through the infinite worth of the atoning life-blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ God’s Son which cleanses me from all sin. I need to be there knowing that God is for me, and if God is for me who can be against me. It is God who justifies (not, who judges, but who justifies) who then can condemn (Roms 8)?
In God’s presence the only righteousness that is acceptable is his own. And so Christ was made sin for us, he who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21). We stand as those whose sin no longer exists – without conscience of sins (Hebs 10:2). We are without stain, a new creation. We stand pure, justified, forgiven by virtue of his blood… justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Roms 3:24) and it is by faith that it may rest on grace (Roms 4:16). Blood that gives more than a merely superficial, ceremonial, temporary cleansing but cleanses the conscience forever and brings us faultless into the presence of God.
Heb 9:11-26 ;10:19 (ESV)
But when Christ appeared… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God… For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf… he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself… Therefore, brothers we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…’
All rests on grace. And if it is grace it is no longer by works or grace would not be grace (Roms 11:6). Being justified by faith we have peace with God and stand in grace (Roms 5:2). We need no further redemption, justification, sacrifice, or reconciliation before God. All has been accomplished, once for all, by Christ’s death, a death that by the grace of God he experienced for every man (Hebs 2:9). Our sins and iniquities God will remember no more forever. We have been enriched in him with every salvation blessing out of the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:7) – the God, who is the God of all grace (1 Pet 5:10) . By grace we have been saved, and that not of ourselves, not of works [of Law] lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8,9). God’s throne has become for us a throne of grace where we find grace (Hebs 4:16). Indeed, we have, by immeasurable grace, been raised with Christ and find ourselves not merely standing in God’s presence, but seated there; seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 1). We have been chosen by grace (Roms 11:6) not merely to be forgiven sinners but to become family members, sons of God and co-heirs with Christ (Roms 8). And all is of grace. Our security and salvation rests on the reliability of grace for we are not ‘under law’ but ‘under grace’ (Roms 6:10). We live in ‘the reign of grace’ (Roms 5:21). Through the one man, Christ Jesus, ‘we receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness’ and ‘reign in life’ (Roms 5:17). The invincible and inexhaustible grace of God in Christ is the source and guarantee of everything.
We can be sure, if all rests on grace, not only of forgiveness and filial relationship but also of freedom. Freedom from all that destroys and enslaves. We are no longer in bondage to sin because we are no longer under law but under the rule of grace (Roms 6:10; Cf Gals 5:1). The Law of Moses could not bring this freedom. In fact it only accentuated our slavery to sin and death (Acts 13:39; Roms 7). It made demands that none could keep and that fallen human nature rebelled against. Indeed to be ‘under grace’ is to be ‘free from law’, the only way to produce fruit for God (Roms 7:1-6). It is God’s all-powerful all-enabling grace (not law) that has appeared in Christ to all men that is ‘ training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in m the present age waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’ (Tit 2:11,12).
All we are and ever will be rests solely on the grace of God (1 Cor 15:10). His providing grace is sufficient, indeed more than sufficient, for our every requirement (2 Cor 9:8,14, 12:9; Jas 4:6). If God did not spare his Son but gave him up for us all will he not along with him graciously give us all things (Roms 8:32). Every skill and calling we have is a gift of grace (1 Cor 3:10; Eph 4:7; Roms 12:6). Our salvation is to the praise of God’s grace, and to that grace alone (Eph 1:6). The gospel is grace from first to last. All is from God.
And there are immeasurable depths to the riches of this grace that only eternity will reveal (Eph 2:7). Thus we live, growing in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus (2 Pet 3:18) having our hearts strengthened presently by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:1: Hebs 13:9) and our hope set fully on the grace that is to be ours at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:13). The gospel, in entirety, is the good news of the triumph of grace. It is intoxicating, glorious, heady, liberating wine for the soul.
As usual classic hymns capture the heart of the apostolic gospel so well. John Newton exults in the triumph of grace when he writes
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
And so too does Philip Doddridge in his eulogy of grace
Grace, ’tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to mine ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.
Grace first contrived the way
To save rebellious man;
And all the steps that grace display
Which drew the wondrous plan.
Grace first inscribed my name
In God’s eternal book;
’Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.
Grace led my roving feet
To tread the heavenly road;
And new supplies each hour I meet,
While pressing on to God.
Grace taught my soul to pray
And made mine eyes o’erflow;
’Twas grace which kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.
Grace all the work shall crown,
Through everlasting days;
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise.
O let Thy grace inspire
My soul with strength divine
My all my powers to Thee aspire,
And all my days be Thine.
Such is the gospel of the grace of God, the word and grace of God in truth (Col 1:6) by which the Church of God has been called (Gals 1:6), made a partaker (Phil 1:7), and with which it is entrusted as with a precious deposit (Acts 20:24; 1 Cor 9:17; Eph 3:2; 1 Tim 1:4; 2 Tim 1:8-14). The gospel to which Peter referred when he wrote his first letter and urged:
1 Pet 5:12 (ESV)
I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.
When we begin to grasp the dimensions of grace in the gospel we understand the dismay, grief and anger of Paul when this gospel began to be subverted by Judaizing teachers and the faith of God’s people established in grace was being shaken, defected and potentially lost. Listen to his words to the Galatian believers
Gal 1:6-9 (ESV)
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Elsewhere he will say of those Judaizers that they are ‘dogs’ (an abuse rich in ironic intent for it was usually reserved by Jews for gentiles Phil 3:2 Cf. Mk 7:27) and wishes that they would ‘emasculate themselves’ (Gals 5:12). He hates what they teach for it ‘severs’ from Christ those who believe it (Gals 5:4).
What did the Judaizers (often called, the circumcision) teach? Simply put, yet truly, they taught that the grace of God in Christ was not enough added to it must be the Law of Moses. They taught salvation in Christ plus Moses or salvation by grace plus works. The very covenant of death that Christ had come in grace to deliver from and render obselete they wanted to reinstate, to rehabilitate. Their teaching is a lethal virus that has invaded the church ever since in one form or another. Tragically, the story of the professing church is all too often one of Christ plus Law for the flesh (self) cannot endure grace. Grace exalts man, even to divine glory and divine excellency, but it sets aside self wholly. Thus flesh neither trusts grace nor tolerates it. Flesh always wants to glory in flesh and cannot bear exclusion. Flesh demands that something in my salvation must be my accomplishment – the predicate of all human religion. And, all too often it is the flesh and not the Spirit that has been heeded in the institutional church resulting inevitably in an apostate church – a church that is fallen from grace (Gal 5:4).
We shall explore this in the next post in this series: a Judaistic soteriology.
In the meantime…
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with your spirit (Roms 16:20; 1 Cor 16:23; 2 Cor 13:14; Gals 6:18… the benediction at the end of most Pauline letters).