“And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Galatians 2:4-5).
While there are many Biblical topics that may engage our interest, there is one subject that may receive far less attention than it deserves. That topic involves the need to identify and protect against false teachers, bad doctrine, and those who possess deceitful spiritual motives. (1) The passage quoted above provides us with one such example; in fact, the book of Galatians is almost entirely dedicated to this subject.
While two or more people of good conscience can often reach different conclusions on secondary aspects of the Christian faith, this portion of Scripture serves to remind us that there must be agreement on some essential elements. Those “essentials of the faith” would certainly include the following…
- The triune nature of God.
- The deity of Christ, His virgin birth, and sinless life.
- Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection.
- The gospel message of repentance from sin and salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone.
- The future bodily resurrection of every human being to eternal reward or punishment.
Some, like author and apologist Greg Koukl would add an additional element: the ultimate authority of Scripture. In this view, the authority of Scripture serves as functional necessity for without it, none of the other elements can be affirmed or asserted with confidence. (2)
Of course, this list is not intended to represent an exhaustive list of core beliefs. However, it can serve as a quick way to determine which teachings (and teachers) have a foundation in genuine Christianity and which do not. One commentator explains the importance of identifying such “false brethren” in the context of Galatians 2:4-5…
“…although these people passed themselves off convincingly as Christians, there was reason to view their profession as a sham. These pseudo-Christians did not announce their purpose, which was to curtail Christian liberty (5:1, 13) and to bring Paul and his converts into the bondage of Jewish legalism (6:12–15). These false brethren maintained that one had to keep the Jewish law in order to be saved. They refused to confess that salvation was God’s gift through faith alone. For this reason, Paul would not recognize them as genuine Christians.” (3)
(1) While these examples may seem to refer to the same thing, there are important distinctions between them. “False teachers” signifies the presence of someone who instructs others. “Bad doctrine” can be separated from the presence of a teacher, as in the poor theology one might encounter in a book or on a website. “Deceitful spiritual motives” implies an intentional effort to lead others astray. False teachers and those who promote bad doctrine may be sincerely wrong in their beliefs but have no intent to mislead. Those who hold deceitful spiritual motives are people who knowingly seek to inflict spiritual injury upon others.
(2) Greg Koukl, Essential Christian Doctrines © 2016 Stand to Reason APR https://www.str.org/articles/essential-christian-doctrines
(3) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1519). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.