Within the early church there was an ongoing conflict between two groups who both claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ. One group held to the teachings of Jesus as taught by the apostles regarding salvation in Christ alone. The other group also held to the teachings of Jesus but added certain Jewish religious practices, particularly circumcision. As the New American Commentary explains, "...Paul waged a steady campaign against a group of false teachers, commonly known as Judiazers, who had sown great confusion among the apostle's recent converts by teaching that becoming Jewish was necessary for salvation."
It is interesting to note the many beliefs held in common by both the original followers of Christ and the zealous Judiazers. Apparently, both of these groups claimed Christ as savior, both held to the authority of Scriptures, both acknowledged the presence of the Holy Spirit, both were "evangelistic," and at one time or another both groups were accepted as genuine followers of Christ by many first-century Christian congregations. Certainly, both groups claimed to love Jesus and His Gospel.
So, why the conflict? Weren't they all Christians? And what became of each of these groups?
Paul was particularly forceful in his instructions regarding the Judiazers and their gospel+religious works. The apostle charged, "Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ." Paul's solution to this problem was that "even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" The gospel of the Judiazers "is really no gospel at all." (Galatians1:6-9)
The apostles instructed believers to give no ground when it came to preserving the purity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. John pointedly stated, "Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God." (2John 9) The writer of Hebrews warned, "We must pay more careful attention therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." (Hebrews 2:1)
Obviously, regardless of how many other biblical truths might be held in common, anyone or any group that addes anything onto the Gospel receives the sternest of rebukes and a severe condemnation by the inspired Word of God. Dr. John Walvoord points out the seriousness of such an act, "When the gospel message is corrupted, the way of salvation is confused and people are in danger of being eternally lost."
We must remember that these "Judiazers" confessed to be Christians and did hold to a high view of Christ, morality, and evangelistic zeal. As the New American Commentary explains, "Obviously, the Judiazers and their disciples did not for a moment believe that the imposition of circumcision involved their alienation from Christ. To the contrary, they saw it as an enhancement, a necessary additive required for the true possession of salvation."
And yet, God's Word tells us that Paul considered these individuals "false brothers" -- an amazingly strong statement regarding men who believed the Gospel but added just a little onto it. In today's modern culture of placing social politeness above obedience to God's Word, such a dogmatic statement aimed at specific individuals would earn anyone the labels of "offensive," "rude," "unloving," and UNCHRISTIAN!!! The Judiazers could go into many churches today, proclaiming "We love Jesus; Yes we do!" and they would be accepted without any question. Boy, would the apostles ever be in trouble in churches today!
Anyway, back to the story of the Judiazers... So, what happened to them?
Apparently, for the most part they lost the argument regarding their view that circumcision was necessary for salvation. But, belief in religious works does not die easily, and it was not long before another religious work took the place of circumcision. History records evidence of a growing effort to impose baptism as a religious work necessary for salvation.
Now, preaching the Gospel with baptism added as NECESSARY for salvation, individuals influenced by the Judiazers beliefs found new life for their faith in the power of religious works (known as "sacraments" today). It was not long before this teaching developed into baptism as THE MEANS by which salvation was conveyed to an individual. With this belief in place, soon came the call for conveying salvation through baptism to newly born children. The effect of this was to convince people that they were made right with God on the basis of a sacramental religious work performed by a church official. Obviously, this was the very opposite of what Jesus and the apostles taught.
Gradually, though, these "evangelistic" Judiazers infiltrated churches throughout the world with their gospel+works message. To the undiscerning their religion looked more like genuine Christianity; in truth it was the same perversion of the Gospel... baptism or circumcision or whatever, ANY religious work added to the Gospel makes it "no gospel at all." Biblically, baptism is only for those who have already been made right with God through faith in Christ alone. To the heirs of the Judiazers heresy, religious works called sacraments took the place of faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Spread out over several generations, the change was so gradual that most people didn't realize the contrast between true biblical faith in Christ and sacramentalistic faith in Christ plus religious works. In fact, these were actually two distinctly different religions... one was true biblical Christianity and the other a deceptive counterfeit. Both of these religions have lived and multiplied through the centuries under the banner of "Christianity."
This is why we have multiplied millions of people in the world today
who believe they are Christians, even though the gospel they have been
taught is terminally flawed, being "no gospel at all" according
to the Bible. Consider these quotes from the official teachings of three
different worldwide groups that claim to be "Christian"...
"Holy Baptism is the sacrament by
which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body,
the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.... Infants are baptized
so that they can share citizenship in the Covenant, membership in Christ,
and redemption by God." (Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal
"The Lord himself affirms that Baptism
is necessary for salvation.... The Church does not know of any means other
than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she
takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to
see that all who can be baptized are 'reborn of water and the Spirit.'
God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism...." (The
New Catholic Catechism, 1994)
"In baptism infants enter into a
new life in Christ as children of God and members of the Body of Christ.
The baptism of an infant incorporates him or her into the community of
faith and nurture, including membership in the local church." "We affirm
that... the sacrament is primarily a gift of divine grace. ...baptism is
an act of God in and through the Church." (United Methodist
So, is there a Judiazer in the house? Today, the Judiazer heresy of
sacramentalism is alive and well; its well-meaning adherents are as "evangelistic"
as ever, bringing false confidence to millions. What can we do? It seems
like such an insurmountable problem! God's Word has the only answer...
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God....
Some today speak as if obeying this part of God's Word will harm our
Christian witness or cause division among Christians. Dear brethren, is
it not well past time to stand on God's Word and do God's work in God's
way? Evangelism will not be sold short if we obey God's Word to contend
for the Faith within the Church, but rather, true evangelism
will increase, for God honors His Word and blesses the obedience of His
God has decreed that the road to Heaven is indeed very NARROW; it is
not broad enough to include any means but Christ alone. Faith in religious
works insures death, eternal death, whether such belief is founded upon
the official teachings of a group calling itself Christian, or the privately
held confidence of an evangelical church member who has been "baptized"
yet has never truly trusted in Christ alone. There is but one true Christ,
the Christ who is all-sufficient. Any Jesus who needs the religious works
of men to help them gain their own salvation is indeed another Jesus. Paul
scolded the Corinthian church, saying, "if someone comes to you and
preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a
different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from
the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. ...such men are
false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ."
(2 Corinthians 11:4,13)
To have faith in Christ+religious works is to have no Christ at all; to trust in Christ alone is to have all of Christ and in Him, eternal life.