I hate the fact that I have friends who will strongly disagree with the following. On the other hand, God had strong words to say to those who should have warned, but did not warn, and to those who said, “peace, peace” when there was no peace.
I sent this when a friend emailed me telling me that Calvinists claimed that my book, Rebuilding the Foundations, is the error of the Galatians:
This will be a fun email to write.
Of course people raised up in Reformation traditions will immediately write off everything I wrote in Rebuilding the Foundations as legalism and the error of the Galatians. That is what they have been trained to do. For your sake, let me tell you that from the beginning, all churches founded as a result of the apostles’ ministries agreed with what I taught in the book. It is amazing to me that the divided, mostly nominal churches of today are willing to call the united, mostly holy churches of the second century legalists. Really? The apostles were such terrible teachers that all their churches fell into the error of the Galatians in one generation, and all of them into the same error?
That’s ridiculous. (For just a little evidence that my claim about the early churches is true, see https://www.christian-history.org/faith-versus-works….)
Ok, so, the error of the Galatians. Reformation descendants like to say it is faith vs. works. Not so, it is Spirit vs. the Law. You probably know that in Romans 7 and 8, the issue is that the law cannot subdue “sin in the flesh,” but the sacrifice of Jesus condemned “sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3), so that by the Spirit we can fulfill the righteous requirement of the law. Fulfilling the righteous requirement of the Law would be works, right? However, in Romans 7 and 8, Paul is not saying to do good works so you can fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law, he is saying that in our flesh, we can’t do that (all of Romans 7). By the Spirit, though, we can do good works (fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law).
Paul did not change his mind in Galatians. Paul gives a testimony about deliverance from the Law, and especially about deliverance from Jews over Gentiles, in Galatians 1-2. Then he launches into his argument. He begins with, “Just answer this, did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish, having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3).
Works are not at issue here. The issue here is “being perfected.” There is a goal. The goal is to be perfected. Will that happen by the Spirit, or are you deceived into trying to be perfected by the Law, which is just depending on the flesh?
This is why, after talking about walking in the Spirit vs. walking in the flesh through the start of Galatians 5, he then gives a list of works of the flesh, that if we practice (Gr. prasso), we will not inherit God’s kingdom. Then he gives the fruit of the Spirit. Notice that it is “deeds” or “works” of the flesh, but it is “fruit” of the Spirit. We are trying to do good works, and the route to those good works is walking in the Spirit, for good works are the “fruit,” i.e., the result, of walking in the Spirit. In Galatians 6:7-9, he puts the ball in our court. Sow to the flesh, you will reap corruption. Sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life. Not only that, but if you sow to the Spirit, according to verse 9, you will “not grow weary in doing works,” and if you do not faint–i.e., not grow weary in doing good works–only then will you reap [eternal life].
This stuff isn’t deep or hard to find. It is sitting right on the surface. Walk in the Spirit, and you will be “perfected,” which, as he goes on to say, means producing the fruit of the Spiriit and continuing in good works. You will need those good works to reap eternal life (Gal. 5:19-21; 6:8-9), but you will never get them by the law. If there had been a law that could give life, then righteousness could have come by the law, but there is no such law (Gal. 3:21). Despite the fact that no law can produce righteousness, righteousness is still the goal! This is because righteousness produced fruit for holiness, and the result of holiness is eternal life (Rom. 6:22; Heb. 12:14).
The reality is that Paul was speaking what is true for everyone, even Christians, in Romans 2:5-8. There is a judgment, and those who patiently continue to do good will be rewarded with eternal life. God has provided the means to patiently continue to do good, which is by the Spirit. Galatians agrees, in an obvious and easy to understand manner, with Romans 8. Walk by the Spirit and you will live; walk in the flesh and you will perish (Rom. 8:12-13).
Predestination is complicated. What I wrote above is plain, obvious, and super important. Predestination is a theory about God’s role versus our role in being saved. Everyone has their own theory about it because there is no practical application to prove anyone right. We all agree, even the Calvinists and even the most eternally secure Baptists, that walking by the Spirit is the route to good works and righteousness.. We cannot do it in our own flesh, but only by the Spirit.
Where we don’t agree is whether that is optional or not. As you can see above, it is not optional. As 1 John 3:7 says, it is not optional. If you want eternal life, you must live according to the Spirit.
The next thing that the tradition-loving rather than Bible-loving will say is that I should say, “live according to the Spirit” rather than “good works.” Yes, if the Reformation and Luther and Calvin were my authority, I should say that. If the Bible is my authority, though, then I should “affirm confidently that those who believe in Christ should be careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8).
Let’s be clear, those people you are talking about and asking about care more about what Luther and Calvin say than about what the Bible says. That’s a problem. Jesus did not react well to people who chose tradition over the Word of God.