So I'm reading through Galatians and Tim Keller's Galatians For You. Though I've read the Bible a lot throughout my life, I'm not sure I could have ever told someone who had never read Galatians what it was about. I would have simply described it as a letter from Paul to the church in Galatia. BUT holy Toledo, Galatians is currently kicking my butt and making me realize I had ascribed to some false doctrines about salvation. While I would gladly tell you that salvation is NOT about works, I still have a tendency to intertwine the two, especially in my judgements of others.
Here's the thing about false teachers: I'm not fully convinced all of them know they are false teachers. It's easy for us to point to others and tack on that label without ever thinking that we ourselves are capable of being "those" people. The truth is, if not all false teachers know they are false teachers, we are in a lot more danger of becoming one than we think we are. The gospel has a funny way of telling us to stop pointing at others and start looking at ourselves. It's a mirror that shows us our own blemishes while simultaneously reminding us that God the Father sees a photo-shopped version of ourselves—blemish-free because of Jesus.
Step 2 — Reword the gospel; believe in self-salvation.
The church in Galatia had started to believe the lie that works are a part of salvation. "If you add anything to Christ as a requirement for acceptance with God ... you make [the gospel] null and void," says Keller. "People think that we are saved by a strong belief and trust in and love for God, along with a life committed to Him." When we tie good deeds, or a life of church commitment, to our salvation, we nullify the gospel. When we share that wrong perception of the gospel, we become false teachers preaching a false gospel.
Step 3 — Become enslaved, or rather, pretend that nothing enslaves you.
2 Peter 2 talks all about false teachers. Peter says that these teachers are slaves. It's easy to point to the slavery of teachers and preachers when they are enslaved by external sins: adultery, debauchery, greed, etc. But what about when they, or should I say we, are enslaved by internal sins? Starting in Galatians 4:8, Paul discusses the slavery of biblical legalism. "The false teachers were not encouraging the Gentile Christians to ignore God's law, as they had in their pagan days. Rather, they were urging them to adopt all the Old Testament Mosaic law, in order to be justified and pleasing to God," says Keller.
A false teacher is anyone who preaches a lie—and preaching happens with our lives, over coffee with a friend, in small group, writing a blog that others read, speaking one's mind. Anytime there's an audience, there's a preacher. It's easy for us to point out the irreligious preachers and tell ourselves they are false. But the religious ones are harder to pinpoint. "If anything, the idolatry and slavery of religion is more dangerous than the idolatry and slavery of irreligion, because it is less obvious. The irreligious person knows he is far away from God, but the religious person does not." Keller points to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. Both sons are far away from their father, one physically the other emotionally. Physical distance is easier to measure. Emotional distance can seem invisible. Both sons struggle with idols in their lives. The father tries to reconcile both relationships, but only one son parties with his father.
Step 4 — Convince yourself renewal rolls over.
Romans 12:2 tells us that we can only be transformed by renewing our minds. This is something that must happen regularly. If we assume that our renewal moment from last week, last month, or last year is still valid today, our revelation of the gospel becomes stale. The Word is living — which means like all living things it grows. The spiritual lesson we learned five years ago might be the same one we are learning again now, but we cannot assume we've been there, done that with the gospel. We build on what we have learned in the past, but we cannot stop building. What we've read in the past will come alive afresh with new stages of life and new circumstances that surround us. It's not a linear race that has a finish line after we read all 66 books of the Bible. The race is more like the path a slinky forms in that the lessons learned are cyclical, yet ever-increasing as the Word is revealed more and more in us and in our circumstances.