Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 6, 1956

The Subtlety Of Sin

Robert H. Bunting, Orangeburg, South Carolina

False teachers, who were attempting to bind circumcision upon followers of Christ, were troubling the churches of Galatia. This false teaching had caused the members of the body of Christ to depart from the gospel of Christ, and to receive a perverted Judaistic gospel. The book of Galatians serves to remind us not only of the possibility of apostasy, but also of the dire consequences of departing from the faith. The preaching of another gospel will result in one's being anathema (Gal. 1:8, 9) and departure from the gospel results in severance from Christ. (Gal. 5:4.) Certainly these warnings should jolt the Christian to the realization there is danger in apostasy.

Not only do we find the possibility and danger of apostasy, but this epistle of Paul's also warns us of the subtlety of digression. Too many times we expect false teaching to come in, boldly announce itself, and then make an appeal for all the faithful to follow headlong to destruction. False teaching does not operate in this manner. It comes, as do false teachers, clothed in "sheep's clothing" to hide its destructive powers. In speaking of the erroneous doctrines being propagated among the churches of Galatia, Paul says, "I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel: only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ." (Gal. 1:6, 7.) There is little danger of Christians being led away by a doctrine that is altogether strange to their ears, but there is grave danger of Christians being led away by a perverted gospel that is almost right. No doubt, Mr. Judaizer claimed he taught the same thing as Paul, EXCEPT he also believed circumcision should be observed. This dangerous teaching was not a completely foreign gospel, but a perversion of the true gospel.

Later in the book, Paul referred to these false teachers in the following manner. "I would that they that unsettle you would even go beyond circumcision." (Gal. 3:12, ASV.) Paul could see the danger in departing from the faith "just a little way." The false teaching looked so much like the truth that members of the body were being deceived into accepting it. Paul would rather have the deceiver make a complete departure from the truth, and thus make the false doctrine obvious.

How often today can we see where less havoc is wrought by the obvious sin than the subtle one. Many times it is easier to convert one that has never been immersed than one that has been immersed unscripturally. Often the Christian that never attends services can be shown his sin while the "occasional attender" is harder to convince. Too many times the poker player is severely rebuked for his gambling while the bingo player is lust "having a good time." The staggering drunk is recognized as an outright sinner, but there is no harm in an "occasional beer." The outright fornicator is looked down upon by society, but the divorced person that is unscripturally married is accepted with graciousness.

This subtlety of error can be seen in the present problems facing the church. Some will stand up and strongly denounce the idea of recreation halls being built by the church, but "see no harm" in the church putting a kitchen in the basement. In answer to this a gospelpreacher has stated, "What is the difference in building a gymnasium for entertaining the young people and building a kitchen to entertain the old people?" Certainty the principle is the same, church finances are going into recreation — something that is not the work of the church. God has specified the work of the church (Eph. 4:11, 12), and we may not go beyond that specification.

Modernism is another subtle sin creeping upon those that sleep. This error does not come in loudly denying the virgin birth of Christ; but rather begins with a denial of the name Christian being God-given, shrugs at the necessity of abiding in the examples as well as the commands of the New Testament, or denying the all-sufficiency of the church to carry on its work. How much easier it is to combat the open modernism of the extremist than the now-I-believe-it-now-I-don't modernism that has arisen. The average congregation of Christians will not open their arms to a denial of the virgin birth, but how easy it is to be deceived by the will-o-the-wisp liberalism that claims to respect the word and yet cast "small doubts" in the minds of believers. The "perverted gospel" is a dangerous and subtle error.

Small city-wide and county-wide "cooperation meetings" have been exalted as examples for the nation-wide and world-wide sponsorships. Of course, one is just as wrong as the other, for New Testament churches sent directly to the place of need. The money was given for this aid on the first day of the week, and the church sending the aid approved certain ones to carry the offering to the destitute congregation. (See 1 Corinthians 16:1-4.) There was not intermediate sponsoring agency in the example given, but the assistance was sent directly to the church in need. Only God knows how much heartache could have been saved if as much effort would have been put forth to correct the "small departures" from New Testament cooperation as is now being put forth against nation-wide sponsorships and promotions. The small beginnings of a few years ago have certainly reached enormous proportions in departing from New Testament examples of cooperation. When men begin with the addition of "circumcision" it is not long before they "even go beyond." The Christian Church is certainly a living testimony to this.

Let us beware of what might seem as "little" departures from the faith, for these departures are all the more dangerous for their subtlety. It was a perverted gospel that troubled the Galatian churches, and it will be a perverted gospel that will cause the downfall of all apostates. Every child of God must recognize the necessity of "proving all things" and only holding fast to that which proves good. (1 Thess. 5:21.) It is the small departures that set the examples for the larger movements from the truth. "The gospel in purity, and not perversion!" This must be the battle cry of God's people, for sin is subtle and the danger of apostasy ever present.