There have always been those who balk
at the idea of
being offered freely to those
They reason that such a grand gift as forgiveness from such a holy God must require some kind of payment from us. We thank God for His grace, but we understand that He expects us to somehow earn that grace—in other words, there must be something that we can do to pay off the debt we owe to God.
In the early church, those who taught a combination of God’s grace and human effort were called “Judaizers.” The word Judaizer comes from a Greek verb meaning “to live according to Jewish customs.” The word appears in Galatians 2:14 where Paul describes how he confronted Peter for forcing Gentile Christians to “Judaize.”
A Judaizer taught that, in order for a Christian to truly be right with God, he must conform to the Mosaic Law. Circumcision, especially, was promoted as necessary for salvation. Gentiles had to become Jewish proselytes first, and then they could come to Christ. The doctrine of the Judaizers was a mixture of grace (through Christ) and works (through the keeping of the Law). This false doctrine was dealt with in Acts 15 and strongly condemned in the book of Galatians.
At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, a group of Judaizers opposed Paul and Barnabas. Some men who belonged to the party of the Pharisees insisted that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were first circumcised and obeyed the Law of Moses. Paul made the case that, in Christ, there was no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile, for God had purified the hearts of the Gentiles by faith (Acts 15:8–9). He said it plainly in Galatians 2:16: “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
To add anything to
the work that Christ
did for salvation
is to negate God’s grace.
We are saved by grace alone,
through faith alone,
not by returning to the Law.
“I do not set aside the grace of God,
for if righteousness could be gained
through the law,
Christ died for nothing”
There are many groups today with beliefs/practices very similar to those of the Judaizers of the New Testament. The two most prominent would be the Hebrew Roots Movement and the Roman Catholic Church. The teachings of the Hebrew Roots Movement are virtually identical to those of the Judaizers whom Paul rebuked in Galatians. A primary focus of the Hebrew Roots Movement is to put followers of Christ back under the bondage of the Old Testament Law.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches a doctrine similar to that of the Judaizers of the New Testament in this way: its doctrine is a mixture of law and grace. At the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the Catholic Church explicitly denied the idea of salvation by faith alone. Catholics have always held that certain sacraments are necessary for salvation. The issues for the 1st-century Judaizers were circumcision and Sabbath-keeping. The issues for modern-day Catholics are baptism, confession, etc. The works considered necessary may have changed, but both Judaizers and Catholics attempt to merit God’s grace through the performance of ritualistic acts.
First Timothy 4:3 says that, in later times, false teachers will “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” This sounds suspiciously close to some of the teachings of Roman Catholicism, which requires priests to be celibate (“forbidding to marry”) and proclaims some food to be off-limits during Lent (“abstaining from certain foods”).The Judaizers upheld the Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation; Catholics uphold man-made tradition as necessary; both view Christ’s death as being insufficient without the active and continued cooperation of the one being saved.
The Bible is clear that the attempt to add human works to God’s grace overlooks the very meaning of grace, which is “undeserved blessing.” As Paul says, “If by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). Praise the Lord, “Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
The incident at
recorded in Galatians 2:11–14,
involved two apostles,
Peter and Paul;
of the gospel;
Jews from Gentiles;
and a public rebuke
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he exhorts the believers spread throughout the region of Galatia to understand that, just as their justification was by faith and apart from works of law, so was their sanctification. After Paul explains how he received the knowledge of that truth directly from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11–12), he describes his early ministry and how he first engaged with the other apostles, including Peter, whom Paul refers to as Cephas (or Kephas), Peter’s Aramaic name (see Galatians 1:18; John 1:42). While Peter and Paul were both remarkably used by God as apostles, Paul records an incident at Syrian Antioch in Galatians 2:11–14 that reminds us that even God’s apostles were only human and could make serious mistakes.
When Cephas came to Antioch, Paul opposed him (Galatians 2:11), because Cephas had stopped engaging with Gentiles out of fear of the Jewish leaders (Galatians 2:12). He had been eating with the Gentile believers, but when a contingency of Jews arrived from Jerusalem, Peter withdrew from the Gentile crowd. Many of the Jews in the region, along with Barnabas, fell into that error, following Peter’s example. Paul branded that as hypocrisy (Galatians 2:13). Seeing that this segregation was not consistent with the gospel, Paul rebuked Peter openly, saying, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (Galatians 2:14).
Peter knew that he had been justified by faith and not by law, but he was still requiring that others live like Jews (as under the law, Galatians 2:14). It appears Peter was motivated by fear of what the Jewish believers would say about his fellowshipping with Gentiles. That fear led to hypocrisy. Peter had received the gift of justification by faith and then, in essence, required others to pursue sanctification by works.
It is worth noting that, when Paul refers to Peter’s apostolic work, he calls him Peter (Galatians 2:7–8), using the name Jesus affirmed when commissioning Peter (Matthew 16:18). Paul acknowledged that Peter was an apostle sent primarily to the Jewish people (Galatians 2:7). But Paul uses the name Cephas when challenging Peter for hypocritically leading people back to bondage under the law (Galatians 2:18–19, 21; 3:1–3).
It is possible that the incident at Antioch in Galatians 2:11–14 preceded Acts 15:5–12, which records Peter’s standing up to those who would place Gentile believers under the law and require circumcision. If so, it is evident that, after the incident at Antioch, Peter became a champion of grace. If, on the other hand, the incident at Antioch in Galatians 2:11–14 took place after Acts 15:5–12, then it is apparent how far Peter had fallen from his knowledge of God’s grace and the freedom provided in Christ. Either way, the incident at Antioch is a cautionary tale and reminds us that anyone who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12)—we are never too big to fail. Peter learned that lesson on more than one occasion (recall his insistence that he would never deny Christ right before he did just that).
After what must have been a painful lesson in the incident at Antioch, Peter wrote extensively of God’s grace (1 Peter 1:10, 13; 4:10; 5:10, 12; 2 Peter 3:18, etc.). In his epistles, Peter affirms that sanctification is a work of the Spirit of God (1 Peter 1:2) and not a result of works or obedience to the law. Peter also affirmed Paul, referring to him as a beloved brother to whom God gave wisdom (1 Peter 3:15). He referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture, even if sometimes they were hard to understand (1 Peter 3:16).
Despite the failings of both Peter and Paul, both men faithfully presented God’s message of grace, and Peter closes out his own writings by encouraging his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).