Date Preached: November 3, 1996
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-24
Theme & Division:
A Good Appearance
I. The Meaning of the Appearance
II. The Demonstration of the Appearance
III. The Motive of the Appearance
"As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh."
Beloved of the Lord, as we have gone through the book of Galatians, we have seen several times that a big part of the problem in the churches of Galatia was caused by the influence of the Judaisers who came to Galatia from Jerusalem. They sought to convince the Galatian believers that they had to do certain things in order to be saved. They promoted a work-righteousness. So distorted were their ideas concerning the Gospel that the apostle accused them of promoting another gospel, that is, a gospel which was not the true Gospel at all. Their effect upon the Galatian believers, however, was so profound that the apostle said of the Galatians that they were bewitched. It was as if these Judaisers had cast a spell upon the Galatian believers. These Judaisers were false teachers. In fact, the apostle goes so far as to call them "false brethren." They were wolves in sheep's clothing who sought the destruction of the churches of Galatia.
Now as the apostle comes to the concluding remarks of the letter which he has written to the believers at Galatia, it is to these Judaisers that he refers. In his letter he has stated his arguments. He has given his proofs. He has dealt with all the related issues. He has even severely criticized these Judaisers. And yet, he realizes that since the problem originated with these Judaisers and since these Judaisers had such influence among the Churches of the Galatians, he had to show these Galatian believers who these Judaisers really were. He has one particular thing in mind. He wants to point out the motives of these Judaisers in all of their dealings with the Galatians believers. He wants to show them that the motives of the Judaizers are far from pure. Rather than having a true concern for them, rather than having a concern for God and His truths, these Judaizers were only interested in themselves. They were only interested in their appearance unto men. All that they did and all that they said was for their own praise and honor and glory.
Thus this passage stands as a strong warning to us. We must watch out for false teachers; false teachers who are interested only in their own glory. But also, this passage warns us that we must be careful ourselves, that we do not live our lives in such a way that we seek to make a show in the flesh for our own praise and honor and glory.
With that in mind, let us consider, "A Good Appearance." Notice first of all (I) The Meaning of the Appearance, secondly (II) The Demonstration of the Appearance, and finally (III) The Motive of the Appearance.
We read in the text, "As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised." By these words the apostle Paul refers to the Judaisers who had come to Galatia from Jerusalem. They were Jews who professed to be Christians, but who were, in fact, false teachers. Notice that he says of these false teachers that they constrained the Galatians to be circumcised. The word which is translated "constrained" means to necessitate, to compel, to drive to. This is the very same word that is used of the apostle Paul to describe what he did to the Christians in order to get them to blaspheme God. We read in Acts chapter 26 verse 11: "And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities." The apostle Paul persecuted and tortured the Christians before he was converted. That was the means which he used to compel them, to drive them, to forsake the faith and deny the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the same word which is used of the Judaisers. They compelled the Christians of Galatia to be circumcised. They drove them to this. This does not mean, however, that they used physical force. They did not. They persecuted them, they tortured them, with persuasive words, with arguments. They told the Galatian believers that they could not be real Christians unless they first of all became Jews. And in order for one to become a Jew he had to be circumcised. This is the one great sign that distinguished the Jew from the Gentile. Thus they were told that if they were not circumcised, they were not Christians, no matter what they thought.
This is the way of false teachers. They do not lead a person to their ideas and practices. They do not seek to guide people to show them the way. They are not gentle in the way that they persuade. False teachers compel; false teachers force; false teachers constrain. They put on the pressure in every way possible in order to bring a person to their beliefs and practices. Not physical force, but emotional, psychological, spiritual pressure. And often that pressure is in the form of statements like, "You are not a Christian if you don't do this or if you do do this." Or, at least, "You are not a very good Christian."
That is what Arminians do with their altar calls. With persuasive speech, emotional music, and pressure from those around a person, they try to get a person to come forward and make a decision for Christ, as they say. I know all about that. I know what that pressure is like and, believe me, it is extremely strong. Their soul-winning methods are based upon the principle of force. They keep applying the pressure until finally they break you so that you come forward. It's ironic because they are the very people who emphasize free will. The decision has to be yours and no one else's. But oh how they put the pressure on that free will. That is characteristic of false teachers. And that is because they believe that they are the ones who bring a person to the truth. False teachers believe that they are the ones who have the power to bring someone to a certain persuasion or practice. They save the souls.
But it is not just false teachers who fall into this unbiblical method. Sometimes we do too, without realizing it. We think that if a person is to be brought unto the truth, we have to pressure them. It is not just a matter of presenting the truth. We certainly believe that the truth has to be presented and we may go to great lengths in our presentation of that truth. But we, sometimes, think that we have to go beyond that; we have to compel them; we have to drive them; we have to pressure them to come to the truth in the same way that a cowboy drives the cattle to market. We appeal to emotions. We use persuasive speech. We use gimmicks and tricks. Even though we say that we are Calvinists, sometimes in our weak moments, we adopt Arminian methods. And the reason that we do that is that we want results. Anything to get some numbers; we want people. I have seen that in our churches and that is not good. That is not biblical. And that will not, in the end, lead anyone to true conversion. We believe that it is the Holy Ghost who teaches us and all believers the truth. He is the only one who can lead someone to the truth. And, yes, he uses God's Word. He uses God's Word as we bring that Word to others. But that does not mean that we are the ones who do it. The Holy Spirit does it. And He is the only one who does it. If the Spirit is not working in a person's heart and life, no matter what we say, no matter how much pressure we put on that person, nothing will happen that is truly good and of God. This is in harmony with our view of sovereign grace. It is grace and grace alone that saves a soul and that leads the believer in the ways of truth.
This leads us to the question why. Why did these Judaisers use such harsh methods with the Galatian believers? Was it that they had a real concern for them? Was it that they genuinely cared about the welfare of these people? Was it that they loved them as neighbors or as brethren? Were they concerned about their souls? About their eternal destiny? Whether they went to heaven or to hell? What was the reason that they so compelled them to be circumcised? We find the answer in the first part of the text: "As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised." Here the apostle characterizes the Judaisers as those who desire to make a fair shew in the flesh. The verb which is translated "make a fair shew" is a combination of two Greek words: the word "good" or "well" and the word "face." The idea then is to have a good face, to look good, to have a good appearance, and thus, to make a fair or good shew to other people. The Judaisers were not interested in the welfare of these Christians. All they were concerned about is that they looked good to certain people. All they cared about was that they were acceptable to other people. This is confirmed by the words, "in the flesh." The word "flesh" refers to the body or that which is associated with the body and thus with one's outward appearance. All that these Judaisers did to compel the Galatian believers to be circumcised was so that they would look good. This is what was important to them. That is emphasized by the word "desire." We read, "As many as desire to make a fair shew." This is what they wanted. This was their will. This was the thing that was uppermost for them. They did not care about their hearts. They did not care about what was on the inside. All they cared about, all they wanted, was a good appearance. They were what we call "men-pleasers" What they said and what they did, was to please others.
We ought to ask ourselves, "Why do we try to persuade others of the truth?" Why do we do anything that we do? Is it because we are concerned about the welfare of other people? Is it because we love our neighbors? Is it because we love our brethren? Is it because we love God? We all know that that's the way it should be. We probably all try, at least some times, to be that way. But, we must ask ourselves, "Is it all pretense?". Do we seek to persuade others to the truth or to do anything because uppermost in our hearts and minds we want to look good? We want a good appearance? If we are honest with ourselves, then we must all admit that much of the time that is exactly what we are doing. Much of the time we are not concerned with what is in our hearts. We do not speak and act based upon the reality that is within, but we do what we do and say what we say, because we want to look good to others.
That is always true of false teachers. They never care about the heart ¾ not their own heart and not the heart of others. They live for outward show and that is all. And that is why it is nearly impossible to get a false teacher to admit that he is wrong. When someone admits that they are wrong, that destroys their good appearance. But is that the way we are too? We don't dare admit that we are wrong ¾ not to our husband, not to our wife, not to our children, not to our fellow believers ¾ because we have to save face. We have to have a good appearance.
This is a very serious matter which we must be very careful about. For one who is only interested in his appearance is a man-pleaser. He is someone whose life and actions are determined by what other people will see and that is all. We have a calling to be God pleasers, not men pleasers. Our calling is not to live because of what we think others will see in us, but to live for what God will see in us. Even if it means that we will not look good to other people, we must live to please God. And that means that if we are wrong, we admit it. We don't worry about saving face. We are concerned that in our hearts God sees that we are true, that we are repentant. God looks upon the heart. He doesn't care about outward appearance. The big show that we might put on for other people, God cares nothing whatsoever about. That's like the shell of the egg and God sees right through that to what is on the inside. That is why we must be concerned about the heart and not the outward appearance.
This statement of the apostle concerning the Judaisers was very damaging to their character and that is why in verse 13 he goes on to demonstrate or to prove that what he said was true. He proves to the Galatian churches that the Judaisers cared only about outward appearance and only the pleasing of men. We read in verse 13, "For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh." First of all let us notice that the apostle informs the Galatian believers that these Judaisers, who made such a point about them being circumcised, did not keep the law. Oh, they had been circumcised. They had kept that part of the law, but there is much more to the law than just being circumcised. The old dispensational ceremonial law involved all kinds of different things. But they didn't care about those things. In fact, earlier in this letter we saw that the apostle says of these Judaisers that they lived like Gentiles. They were Jews, but they lived like Gentiles. They had no concern to try to keep the law in its totality. It was just this matter of circumcision that they were so concerned about.
So what is the apostle's point here? Why tell the Galatian believers that these Judaisers do not keep the law? The answer is that he wants to prove to them that the Judaisers did not compel them to be circumcised because of a conviction which they had concerning the law. If that were true, if these Judaisers had a conviction about keeping the law, then they would have kept the whole law or, at least, tried to keep the law. But they didn't. They didn't care about anything else. And that revealed the fact that they had no such conviction. This whole matter of compelling the Galatian believers to be circumcised had nothing whatsoever to do with the truth. It had nothing whatsoever to do with desire that the Galatians follow the truth. The whole matte r had nothing whatsoever to do with the truth. Now that is strong proof that these Judaisers were only interested in a good appearance. You see conviction has to do with the heart.
This is so typical of false teachers. There are some false teachers who do have convictions about what they teach, strong convictions. But there are also many false teachers who have no conviction about what they teach. Many of them teach their heresy for reasons that are far less noble. And that is what makes a false teacher especially hideous and utterly wicked. They don't even have a conviction about it. They care nothing about truth as they might see it. It's not a principle matter. There are many so-called ministries which have nothing to do with a conviction concerning the truth. This ought to warn us that we must not be that way. We must not seek to persuade others concerning what we believe, unless we have a strong conviction that this is the truth. We may not lead someone to the Protestant Reformed Churches just because this is our church. We must do that only if we have strong convictions that what is taught here in this Christian church is the truth. Men and women, we must have convictions, strong convictions. We must do what we do and say what we say because of the truth.
It can easily be demonstrated whether or not we have conviction. All one has to do is look at our life. That's what the apostle did to the Judaisers. He just looked at their life and he said, "They have no conviction." And so all we have to do is look at our lives and we will see whether or not we have convictions. We must ask ourselves, "Do I keep the law?" as it were. That is, do we seek to live our lives according to the Word of God? Not just one or two points, but the whole of God's Word. If we say that we have a conviction about the truth, but we do not live that truth in our lives, where is our conviction? If we say that we have a calling to train up our children in the ways of the Word of God, but we do not labor diligently to maintain a Protestant Reformed Christian school, where is our conviction? If we say that we believe in sovereign grace, but use Arminian methods of evangelism, where are our convictions? If we say that we believe in the antithetical Christian life, but we live like the world and are ungodly, where is our conviction?
The answer? We have none. If that's the case, then we have no convictions. We are just like the Judaisers. We might compel people to do this or that, to live this way or that way, but not because of any principle reasons. We are proved to be hypocrites. We talk a lot, but we do not really believe what we say. If we did have convictions, it would show up in our life.
But the apostle is not through with his demonstration yet. He goes on. Not only did these Judaisers not keep the law, but he says, "...that they may glory in your flesh." Look at that. Instead of having a conviction about the truth, they wanted to glory. They wanted to boast. They wanted to be able to brag, to lift themselves up. They wanted praise and honor and glory of man. They not only sought to please man; they not only sought to look good to man; but they wanted to be glorified by man.
Notice that they wanted to glory in the flesh of the Galatians. That is, they wanted to be able to boast of the fact that the Galatians circumcised their flesh. If they could get the Galatian believers to circumcise their flesh, then that would be a means whereby they would be praised. We have to ask the question, "Who would praise them for persuading the Galatians to be circumcised?" The answer, the unbelieving Jews. Remember, these Judaisers were Jews. They professed to be Christians, but they were only nominal Christians. And because they were Jews, they had a very close attachment to the unbelieving Jews, who did not even profess to be Christians. They did not want to displease the fellows of their own ranks. Since the unbelieving Jews considered circumcision to be so important that no one could be a child of God unless he was circumcised, these Judaisers made it their calling to compel the Gentile believers to be circumcised. All that they did to the Galatian believers, all that they said, was so that they would receive the honor and the praise of other Jews.
All false teachers seek glory. All false teachers seek to be praised and honored of men. That is their trademark. They never say that. They pretend to be humble. They pretend to be interested in people and interested in the truth, but their highest priority is to lift up themselves and be honored and praised of man. You can see that in the TV and radio evangelists and preachers. Everything revolves around the preacher. The preacher does this, the preacher does that, and people praise him for it. And how he loves that praise. Watch out for preachers and teachers who seek glory. They will only lead you down the road of destruction. For glory in self always leads to destruction.
This ought to warn us against seeking glory ourselves. We, by nature, like to be praised. We, by nature, like to be honored and glorified by other people. And sometimes we do what we do and say what we say because that is what we are after ¾ glory. Husbands like to be praised by their wives. Wives like to be praised by their husbands. Children like to be praised by their parents. Believers like to be praised by other believers. In fact, some churches are nothing more than mutual admiration societies. Everybody praises everybody else because that's what everyone wants. But that is wrong. That is very great sin. We may not glory in our flesh. We may not glory in anything that is of ourselves. We may not exalt ourselves. We may not seek praise and honor of men. We must never forget that we are nothing. Of ourselves, we deserve the curse and condemnation of God, not praise and honor. Of ourselves, we are not praiseworthy. We are dishonorable. Of ourselves, there is nothing in us in which to boast. If we seek glory in ourselves or in any other man, then we act contrary to our reformed faith. We act contrary to sovereign grace.
Remember the words of the apostle in Ephesians 2 verses 8 to 9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." The very fact that we are saved by sovereign grace alone means that we have nothing in which to boast. And, therefore, one who seeks glory in himself, one who seeks to be praised and honored of men, is in conflict with this basic principle of God's Word. He is in conflict with the principle of salvation by grace.
That was true of these Judaisers. They promoted a salvation by works, a salvation based upon the deeds of man. Their desire to be praised and honored and glorified of men, therefore, was in perfect harmony with their theology, their heretical view of salvation.
In spite of all that the apostle has said thus far, we still have not gotten to the bottom of the motive for the actions of the Judaisers. Yes, they were concerned about their appearance. No, not because they had any conviction about the truth, but only because they sought to be praised and honored and glorified. But there is something deeper. Why was it that they were so concerned to receive the praise of their fellow Jews? The answer is found in the last part of verse 12, "...only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ." Here we find what is the ultimate motive for the action of the Judaisers. They were afraid of persecution. The Jews persecuted the Christians. All you have to do is read the book of Acts and follow the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul and you will see that when he went from city to city it was the Jews who so hated him and persecuted him. And not only him, but also the believers of the churches which he established in those missionary journeys. It was such persecution, that the Judaisers were afraid of. They did not want to be mistreated. They did not want to be tortured. They did not want to be ridiculed by their own countrymen.
Why did the Jews so persecute the Christians? Look at the text, "...for the cross of Christ." The Christians were persecuted because they believed in the cross of Jesus Christ. This is the one great point that separated the Christians from the Jews. The Jews did not believe in the cross of Christ. The Jews did not believe that the suffering and death of Christ had any value whatsoever. To the Jew, the death of Christ was meaningless, no different than the death of a common criminal. But the Christian believes that the death of Jesus Christ is of infinite value, that it is the basis of the whole of our salvation. The Christian believes that the death of Christ is the atoning sacrifice, which washes us from our sin, which gives to us forgiveness, which makes possible for us to have eternal life and live with God forever in glory. That is why the Jews persecuted the Christians. They could not tolerate such a view concerning the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus Christ is the death blow to all work-righteousness. Who needs circumcision if you have the cross of Jesus Christ? But this means that in promoting circumcision, the Judaisers denied the value of the cross. It means that in order to save their own skins from persecution, they were willing to throw away the heart of the Christian faith. In order to keep from being persecuted, they compromised. They compromised that which is the most important of all doctrine.
Today there's no difference. False teachers care nothing about the cross of Jesus Christ. They hate the cross of Christ. There is nothing more detestable to man in general than the cross of Christ, because the cross of Christ takes away man's glory. The cross of Christ reduces man to a sinner. The cross of Christ makes man worthless. The cross of Christ smashes to pieces man's work-righteousness. But not only do men in general hate the cross, many who profess to be Christians hate the cross of Jesus Christ. The loudest cries against the cross often come from "the Church." Thus the persecution. If you stand up for the cross of Jesus Christ, you will be persecuted. You will be persecuted without a doubt. If you stand up for the cross of Christ, if you insist that the cross of Christ alone is the basis of salvation, the cults will persecute you. Roman Catholicism will persecute you. Liberals will persecute you. Arminians will persecute you. And when the persecution comes, the temptation will be to compromise. We don't like persecution. We don't like to be mistreated. We don't like to suffer. We don't like trouble. We don't like to hurt. And so we will try to avoid it and sometimes, sometimes, we will even give up Christian principles because we so want to avoid the hurt. Since people get all upset about certain truths, we just won't talk about those truths. Then they won't get upset and we won't be persecuted. We will round the sharp edges. We will temper the truth. We will make it a little bit more palatable for man. We will compromise to save our skin.
This temptation will be very great in the days that lie before us. Antichrist is coming. And when he comes in all of his fullness the persecution will be fierce. It will be the greatest persecution that has ever come upon the face of the earth. Then we will have to decide what is more important ¾ our comfort, our pleasure, saving our skin, or the truth? What are we going to do? In the official preaching of the Gospel that goes forth from our pulpit, are we going to compromise so that we can avoid trouble? In our evangelism work, are we going to compromise so that more people will show an interest in our literature, in our tapes, in our worship services? In our denominational mission work, are we going to compromise so that finally after all these years we can get some numbers?
In your daily witness for Christ, are you going to compromise so that you're not the object of ridicule, disdain, or even physical persecution? Don't tell people about our view on divorce and remarriage, whatever you do. That will get you into a lot of trouble. Don't tell people about our view concerning unions. You'll have no friends. Don't tell people about how strictly we insist that the Sabbath day be observed. And whatever you do, don't tell people about sovereign grace. Don't tell people that we don't believe in common grace or the free offer of the gospel, because then you will isolate yourself from just about everyone, even in the Reformed church world.
Is that the way it's going to be with us? If it is, then we join the Judaizers. Then we do exactly what the Judaizers did. Then we live our lives with the ultimate motive to avoid persecution. God forbid! God forbid that anyone of us, as individuals; God forbid that we as a congregation; God forbid that our denomination, should stoop to such a level. May God give us grace to stand in the truth, to have a strong conviction in our hearts concerning the truth, to live our lives in order that God might be glorified and not for our own glory.
Gracious God, our Father, we thank Thee for thy Word. We thank Thee for this admonition which reminds us of how human we are, how sinful we are. We beg of thee, give us grace that we might not be like these Judaizers. Work in our hearts a strong conviction of the truth and a desire to be God-pleasers and not man-pleasers.
For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Rev. Steven R. Houck
Ordained: September 1979
Pastorates: Home Missionary (Hope PRC, Walker) - 1979; Peace, Lansing, IL - 1990
Emeritus: 2009Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Rev._Steven_Houck
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