I see a little pattern here, for some reason. Most evangelicals are completely ignorant of who the Judaizers were, and from what I see most from the conservative Lutheran and Reformed traditions are not. Why is that? Are we cooler or something? No. I don't want to make it sound like I think we are, either, but I do want to stress that I believe this is due to a difference in mindset. The mindset I wish we all had, across the board, is one of vigilance and discernment when it comes to the heart of the Gospel: justification.
Judaizers did not flat out teach salvation by works. Its just not that simple. They taught Christ! Yet Paul rebuked them and their teaching severely in his epistle to the Galatians, saying that they were teaching a false Gospel and were therefore worthy of anathema! They taught, in brief, that you must believe in Christ to be saved, BUT you must also be circumcized and observe other such things in addition or you can forget it. Paul's response to them was blunt, cutting, and certainly not what many today would consider "loving". Paul didn't really fit in with all of our ecumenism and mushy-gushy ideas of what "love" is. He knew love must go hand-in-hand with truth and reproof. He insisted before the Galatians that if they went ahead and were circumcized that Christ would be of no value to them. To add to Christ is to rip His Saviorhood from Him and effectively deny our need. Today, Paul would probably be thrown out of most churches for his no-compromise stance on things.
I know I am just a nobody, not an apostle, but I still find it so odd to receive so much opposition when I talk to other Christians about the free justification of God. Who would have thought a Christian would object to that! I have to confess that I do have a particular Christian friend in mind. Let's call this person "Jack." Jack objects, perhaps because of miscommunication and misunderstanding, whenever I stress the freeness of justification by grace. Jack's objection is, "What about our good works? You need to have good works, too!" Jack is right in some sense, and I try to explain that true faith produces good works from love as its fruit, which all are the fruit of the regenerate heart God gives us. So, Jack is right to insist that good works are present, but Jack is also very wrong, too. Our salvation is not informed by our good works done -not one bit (Titus 3:5-7). On the contrary, our good works are the result of our salvation. They are the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of true conversion and true faith, which are gifts of God themselves. If there is no sanctification, there was no justification, but we aren't God's because of our sanctification. We can't add to Christ and to try to is a grave sin. I can't help but look at the problems in Galatia in Paul's day and think there is a common theme.
Sometimes the distinction can seem subtle, but we can't let that excuse go by because Paul insisted it was not subtle and certainly not excusable. The whole Gospel hinges upon it. You either have the Gospel, or you have "another gospel" which is "no gospel at all." That's right -no gospel! We effectively eviscerate and destroy the whole message of salvation if we add one iota of cooperation or dependence upon us or our works. Given this, how am I to confront my friend Jack in a loving manner? I'm not sure. The issue of free justification has come up more than once, so I'm sure it will come up again. I just pray to God that I will have clarity myself and especially that the Gospel would go forth with clarity.
This whole thing upsets me for a few reasons. First, it upsets me because it indicates that Jack's pastor has not been doing his job (assuming Jack actually pays attention to the teaching). If this kind of distinction is not taught, if there is no clarity about how we are accepted by God, then we might as well stand at the pulpit and babble incoherently or stare silently at one another. The rest has no footing. Second, it upsets me because Jack is also responsible to know the truth through study and to not reject it. Yes, we all fall into error, and we all even resist the truth of God (even Christians), but this fact doesn't excuse us -especially when we are talking about such a core article of our faith. Our standing before God must be on Christ alone, or we have none at all. Praise God that He works for us in spite of our corruption, in spite of our suppression of truth, our arrogance, our lack of love.
I pray that God would grant me wisdom, and all of us wisdom and discernment, to make the necessary distinctions that the Word of God makes and convey them in love. I also pray the Spirit of God would so move as to make these distinctions apparent to the hearers and burn them upon their souls.