Who were the “Judaizers” from Galatians?

“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”
Romans 4:5

That’s a pretty unbelievable idea. Some might say, almost too good to be true. The idea that God freely gives to us a salvation we could never earn for ourselves is unsettling in nature. It’s an outrageous display of grace; a kindness we should recognize as undeserved and unmerited, but that is why we call it Good News!

Paul encounters a rather prickly issue in his epistle to the Galatians when he hears of a group of people distorting the message of the gospel. The “judaizers” were a group of people who taught a false gospel (v.7) combining God’s grace with human effort. Paul, of course, doesn’t deal kindly with those whom he feels are distorting the gospel message in a way that has eternal consequences. He goes so far as to anathematize them- declaring them

separated from the fellowship of God’s people- cut off from grace. In other words, Paul is questioning the legitimacy of the faith of those who so violently and egregiously distort the gospel message.

We can see plainly from the first two chapters that the theology of the Judaizers was
entirely inconsistent with the gospel message. The judaizers were teaching a theology of the gospel that required people to judaize (Gal 2:15) in order to follow Christ. In other words, they taught that in order to be Christians, one had to first “become a Jew” by submitted to the Law. What is the issue with this teaching? It’s not the gospel. Regardless of their
intentions, the Judaizers were teaching that faith in Christ must be met with an adherence to the Law. Paul writes in Galatians to clarify that any message that would proclaim a salvation not established solely on the merit Christ is a false gospel. For these reasons, the Judaizers were deeply in error.

What can we learn about the heresies of the Judaizers? First, we learn to be watchful because the same threat of false teaching exists today. This issue isn’t merely a historical one. In fact, we see a persistent defense of the doctrines of grace not only in the first century, but beyond. In the 16th century at the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church explicitly denied the idea of salvation by faith alone. While the distal motivations certainly varied, the proximate issue was the same. The gospel is either Christ alone or it isn’t the gospel. Secondly, we learn to take up the fight to see, savor and stand in the radical grace of God. False teaching and false gospels will never prevail, but the battle for us to stand in the truth rages on. For these reasons, we should “be watchful” (1 Peter 5:8), not only of ourselvesphysically, but of our minds. Take up arms against falsity and stand in the scandalous, outrageous gospel of the grace of Christ.

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