Many years ago, I was on the debate team and enjoyed swaying people to view the world through my eyes. It didn’t matter whether or not I was right or wrong. I was only interested in one thing, winning. Getting people to see things my way gave me a sense of accomplishment. I felt that I had done something wonderful. In one breath I believed in one thing and in the next was arguing against what I just gave as truth. Winning was the only thing that meant anything to me.
As I reflected back upon my years of debating, I began to see that facts and people could be easily manipulated into saying or doing anything you wanted. The key was being confident in what you were saying. As long as you were confident and spoke with authority, people would believe you and ultimately preach your words to others.
I was reading the Book of Galatians the other day and began to think about Paul's words to the churches in Galatia. Paul had founded this church and was concerned because the new Galatian believers were being influenced by the Judaizers, Jews who taught that salvation required keeping the Mosaic Law, specifically circumcision, as well as believing in Jesus.
The believers in this church, made up of both Jew and Gentile converts, were so easily influenced away from the truth given to them by Paul. The Judaizers taught that Gentiles had to be circumcised before then could fellowship with the Jewish believers. These teachings ran contrary to Paul’s message that salvation came by faith alone through the grace extended by God through His son, Christ Jesus, to anyone who believed. In short, it wasn’t by strict adherence to Jewish law and tradition, it was by faith.
I am sure that the Judaizers meant well, but they misrepresented the message of salvation and gave little thought to the teachings of Paul. For whatever reason, they misled the members of the early church and caused confusion. In some cases, you could say that they perverted the gospel of Jesus and replaced it with their own interpretation.
Paul, in chapter one of his letter to the Galatians, expresses his concern in his greeting by saying, “I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.”
Notice what Paul says about the individuals. They are deliberately twisting the truth and Good News. For whatever reason they had, several leaders in the church began to substitute their words for “the Word”. Truth became whatever they wanted it to be. Since the people had recently converted to Christianity, they were infants in their daily walk with the Lord and people took advantage of this. Instead of seeking wisdom to discern the truth, many chose to listen to the words of those who pretended to be spiritual leaders of the church. They blindly accepted the words of the leaders as truth and supported them in their twisting of the truth.
The same holds true today. Instead of seeking wisdom, many are content with just accepting the words of individuals or groups that seem to run contrary to certain principles that have been the bedrock of their beliefs. Instead of questioning them, many blindly accept their dogma as truth and support it.
Later in his letter, Paul asks the believers to think about the truth they had been given, “I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.”
This is the same question we need to ask ourselves when it comes to our faith. Is the Good News being perverted to the selfish ends of others? Is what they are preaching the truth or some misrepresentation of God’s word?
If their words are contrary to God's word and are done out of selfish motives, then the message they are providing will lead to damnation and destruction. You must always be on guard when it comes to the words of others. They will manipulate the scriptures to suit their message to all those who listen. Those false teachers are eager to win you over to their way of thinking and take you away from God’s way.
In chapter four, Paul tells the Galatian believers, “Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them. If someone is eager to do good things for you, that’s all right; but let them do it all the time, not just when I’m with you.”
False teachers will do anything to win you over and have you follow them rather than follow Christ Jesus. Words can easily sway some and have them walking down the wrong path. As believers, we have a couple of responsibilities. The first is to always seek God’s direction through prayer and through the scriptures. The second is to not lead others astray with your own interpretation of God’s plan of salvation.
The message is very clear. God sent His son to live among us to show the world His love for us. His son died for us to repay the debt of sin that we had accumulated. Jesus’ resurrection gives us the gift of eternal life with the Father. By accepting this gift and believing in Jesus, we are renewed and given a new life. This is the message. It is only through faith that we are able to receive this gift. There is nothing we alone can do to receive this salvation. Simply following the law and acting good doesn’t get us into God’s grace.
Paul doesn’t mince his words when it comes to faith. He, in chapter five, tells the members of the church, “Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.”
If you believe that you can just follow the words of someone who professes to be a leader and preaches his or her own interpretation of the Good News and is eager to win you over, then I ask you to question the leader and ask God for wisdom to discern His will in all that has been preached in His name. Don’t blindly accept the words of those who bend and twist God's word into their own version of the Gospel. Look to God and seek Him. When you do that, you can definitely stand firm in His grace.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.