Christ ‘Plus Something’ Brings Bondage and Destroys Community

by David Prince July 30, 2015

Galatians 2:3 is not the kind of verse people often crochet on a pillow or display on the refrigerator at home, but it is one we would do well to cherish:

“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.”

Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia is a treatise on the unconquerable freedom the gospel brings to the lives of believers. False teachers had arisen in the churches of Galatia and attacked Paul’s character in order to discredit his gospel message. A simple way to explain the nature of their teaching is that they brought a “Christ + something” gospel, which Paul asserts is “a different gospel, not that there is another one” (Gal 1:6-7). In other words, it is no gospel at all.

Paul explains that the “Christ + something” false teachers in the churches of Galatia were distorting the gospel and were bringing people into slavery (Gal 1:7, 2:4). Particularly, the false teachers taught that circumcision and law keeping were non-negotiable, and so they argued that they were “+ something” actions that a person must add to the gospel. Of course, obedience to the ethical law of God was (and is) a good thing, and God commanded the ceremonial law of circumcision in the Old Covenant. However, neither should be abstracted from Christ, and both must be summed up in Him. The ethical law of God is only perfectly fulfilled and kept by Christ and our partial obedience is no ground for our justification (Gal 2:16, 19, 21, 3:2, 10-13, 23, 4:5, 5:4). The ceremonial law of circumcision is fulfilled in Christ (Col 3:11) and we now obey the purpose of the law by being set apart to Christ through faith (Gal 5:2, 6, 11, 6:13, 15).

Christ and his gospel must be the epicenter of our lives

The danger is when we think the “Christ + something” pseudo-gospel was only a problem for others in a bygone era. Our “+ something” additions to Christ are not circumcision, but nevertheless, they are still real and pervasive. Anytime we begin to believe that if God really loves us and has genuinely saved us, we will get this or that experience, then that “+ something” displaces Christ and his gospel as the epicenter of our lives and Christ has become a means to another end.

The gospel changes everything and nothing changes the gospel

In Galatians 2, Paul explains how the gospel was preserved by Peter, James, and John (Gal 2:5), because when he finally connected with them 14 years after his conversion, they “added nothing” (Gal 2:6) to the gospel that had been entrusted to him by the sovereign grace of God and they “gave him the right hand of fellowship” (Gal 2:9). There is only one gospel for the circumcised Jew and the uncircumcised Gentile (Gal 3:28-29). The church is the community that affirms Jesus as Lord; and where Christ and his gospel are the energizing epicenter that reclaims all culture for Christ. The gospel changes everything in every culture but no culture changes the gospel. Thus, this new creation, new people, and new community appreciates and delights in cruciform diversity.

A displaced or distorted gospel destroys community

A “Christ + something” culture of any kind means that the “+ something” will ultimately become the controlling center and slave master that governs and enslaves our lives. Where the gospel causes diversity to converge and be unified upon a single truth, the “+ something” additions divide us, as we inevitably favor our own “+ something” and alienate those who do not. The problem is compounded because of the functional necessity for the individual to compare his or her “+ something” performance to others, which produces either false-security or insecurity and constitutes an ever-increasing bondage to performance in his or her life. The result of any type of “Christ + something” is a distorted gospel, a culture that thrives on self-righteousness, and a comparative and factious community with certain individuals rising as purity policemen of their own “+ something” camp.

Beat the gospel into your head daily and enjoy other people in Christ

The battle for gospel preservation, gospel culture, and gospel community begins with each individual believer. An assumed gospel will quickly become a displaced or distorted gospel. Every Christian must daily battle to repudiate our own “+ somethings” that arise in our hearts and minds. There must also be a daily fight to refuse to become self-appointed judges or purity policeman over the non-sinful personal preferences of others (i.e., circumcised or uncircumcised). It is only those who are willing to beat the biblical Christ + nothing gospel into their head daily, who will enjoy other people in Christ. After all, they are God’s workmanship, unique trophies of God’s sovereign grace, and they testify to the expanse of gospel grace. We can only enjoy and value others when we do not use them as tools to validate ourselves and to construct a self-referential identity at their expense.

Christ + nothing counts for everything

The gospel frees us from comparing our lives to others for our personal identity. The core of every person’s testimony is the exactly the same—grace, which is Christ + nothing. Our identity is in Christ, and our culture is to be reclaimed for Christ, and every other culture is to be reclaimed for Christ. As Paul declares at the end of Galatians, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6:14-15). Christ + nothing counts for everything.

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