Differences Among the Apostles 2 (Bible Interpretation)

My Oct. 26 post explains the point of this post.

One more difference between Paul and the other apostles is how they talked about salvation.

Paul is mysterious. He tells us that we are justified by faith apart from works (Rom. 3:28), and he repeats “not of works” or “apart from works” all over his letters, or at least all over Romans and Galatians, plus once in Ephesians. Yet, he also tells us not to be deceived because we ought to know that no unrighteous man will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Even worse, he tells us that if we want to live we need to put the deeds of our body to death by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13) and that we will reap eternal life if we don’t grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:8-9).

Weird! How can both things be true?

No other apostle talks like that. James clearly ties faith and works together as inseparable (2:14-26). Peter has us adding to our faith in order to be supplied with an abundant entrance into the Kingdom of our Lord (2 Pet. 1:5-11).

So what is common between Romans and Galatians that would explain why Paul distinguishes faith and works, says justification is by faith only, yet requires works to receive eternal life?

Romans and Galatians

Romans and Galatians both qualify as apologies. In both cases, Paul’s Gospel has been attacked by Judaizers (Jews who think the Law of Moses is necessary to salvation). Thus, Paul, being the scholar he was, carefully explained his Gospel and backed it up scripturally.

Hebrews is similar, defending the new covenant against those who would put themselves back under the old one. However, the writer of Hebrews is not having to defend attacks on the Gospel of faith. His readers understood salvation by faith perfectly well.

Paul’s Defense of Justification by Faith

Paul provides two defenses of his  Gospel in Romans. One is only two verses long. The other is seven chapters long and is followed by a related subject for three chapters: why the Gentiles have been admitted to spiritual Israel.

The first defense is in 1:16-17:

I am not ashamed of the Gospel of the King because it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes … For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.

Paul’s first defense is that his Gospel works. It is the power of God, and it saves everyone who believes, and the righteousness of God begins to be revealed in them.

Paul’s Gospel was effective. It changed lives.

That was the short defense.

As a second defense, he launched into explaining that Gospel:

  • Rom. 1: God has every right to be wrathful towards those who disobey him.
  • Rom. 2: God has every right to be wrathful towards Jews who speak the Law but do not do it. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile when it comes to judgment.
  • Rom. 3: The Scriptures testify that the Jews, like the Gentiles they look down on, are wicked from top to bottom.
  • Rom. 4: The Scriptures teach a righteousness that comes by faith and by grace and not pursued by deeds. Paul gives examples and arguments.
  • Rom. 5: The explanation grows. We inherited death from Adam. Because we have all sinned like Adam, we have all died like Adam. Adam gave us the horrible gift of death, and Jesus, by dying, has given us the fabulous gift of life!
  • Rom. 6: Paul has been accused of teaching that Christians can just go on sinning. He refutes this by discussing the Christian life. At baptism, we were buried with our King, and we rise again to new life. Knowing we are dead to sin, then, how can we continue in it?
  • Rom. 7: Paul explains that he is not saying the Law is bad. The problem was in us. Sin was in our body, and we had no power to overcome this, and so we died. This is the law of sin and death.
  • Rom. 8: The law of the Spirit of life in King Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. This came from God, and we carry it out by walking in the Spirit. We can overcome anything by this new life, this grace, this power that has come from God.

In his explanation, he slowly reveals to us why he can say we are justified by faith only, yet say that we will only enter the kingdom of God if we refrain from unrighteousness.

Past and Future Tense Salvation

Read through Romans and Galatians (and anywhere else in Paul’s writings, but these are the most applicable), and you will notice an interesting pattern. When Paul talks about faith apart from works, he is always speaking in the past tense. We were justified by faith.

When Paul talks about the future, however, about the judgment and inheriting the kingdom of God, you will find no mention of faith. It is all works.

Read through those two books and see if I’m not correct.

Here’s my conclusion:

  • We are all slaves to sin before we come to Christ. We cannot save ourselves because we are unable to live up to the commands of Christ or even to the demands of our consciences.
  • Therefore, God made a way for us to be delivered from our slavery to sin and forgiven for all the sins we have committed. It requires no works because we can supply no works. By faith, we can be born again and made new creatures “created in King Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
  • We accomplish this by sowing to the Spirit (Gal. 6:8), setting our mind on the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5-8), walking in the Spirit (Rom. 8:4,13-14; Gal. 5:16-18), and living by the life of Jesus within us (Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:1-4).
  • If we walk in the light, we can experience daily cleansing. This is the normal Christian life, and if we will walk worthy of it (Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:23), God will ensure that we are presented before his throne faultless and without spot.
  • If we do not walk in the light, if we refuse to “make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14) and do not “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24) or if we “yield our members to unrighteousness” (Rom. 6:13), then we will not inherit the kingdom of God, something Paul warns us about repeatedly (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5-8).

So we find that Paul is indeed the apostle of faith if we are talking about how we “get saved,” i.e., became born again. If we are talking about heaven, however, Paul is every bit as much of an apostle of works as James is.

James, Peter, and the Letter to the Hebrews

The other writers of our “New Testament” were not under the same obligation as Paul. While they knew, including James, that one enters into the church by being born again purely by faith, they did not have to categorically explain themselves like Paul did. Their circumstances were different. Peter’s authority was more settled. He was one of the original twelve. Paul was not.

Thus, both James and Peter talk about salvation as a whole. For James it is faith and works because works must be the product of our faith or at the last we will not be saved (cf. Jam. 5:19-20). This is no different than what Paul teaches; it is simply said differently.

Our Modern Mistake

We are making one mistake only. When Paul says that we are justified by faith alone (Rom. 3:28), or that we are “having been saved” by faith apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9), we think he’s including going to heaven in this salvation that we have experienced.

He is not. Like Jesus, he tells us that we must do the will of the Father if we want to enter God’s kingdom (Matt. 7:21). Of course, Paul is speaking after the Spirit has come to the church, so he speaks more of walking in the Spirit than doing the will of the Father, but I hope all Christians recognize those two as the same thing.

Condemnation and Truth

I have been told before, and I think I’m finally getting it, that my pursuit of truth often results in terrorizing others. I’m trying to correct our thinking so that the writings of the apostles fall neatly into place for us, and so that we agree with the teachings of the earliest Christians, who heard the apostles teach or grew up in their churches.

In the process of discussing the phenomenal lives of the early Christians, it is possible to terrorize those who are hearing it the first time so much that all they see is condemnation.

The judgment is something that has always been there. It should have terrorized us in the past because Jesus said he is going to condemn all doers of evil (Jn. 5:27-30). Paul says that the “terror” of that judgment motivates him to persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11).

In the present, the promise of the Gospel does not completely remove the fear of the judgment (1 Pet. 1:17), but it does give us a way to arrive at the judgment without embarrassment, clean before him (1 Jn. 2:28; 3:22).

God has called us to himself through Jesus Christ, so that we might receive great and precious promises:

  • the forgiveness of sins
  • deliverance from sin (Rom. 6:14)
  • the power of the Holy Spirit
  • fellowship with God himself (Jer. 31:31-34)

What a wondrous deliverance!

But we cannot mistake the call. Jesus is looking for disciples, and if we do not forsake everything, we cannot be his disciple (Luk 14:33). If we do not walk by the Spirit, but instead continue in the flesh, we will reap corruption and die (Gal. 6:7; Rom. 8:12).

This is the truth. Let us lay hold of the incredible grace of God, believe his great and precious promises, walk in the light, be cleansed by his blood daily, and pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. We are to “make every effort” to add to our faith (2 Pet. 1:5-7), and for those who do so, the reward is phenomenal: immortality in paradise (2 Pet. 1:8-11 paraphrased w/ terminology borrowed from other Scriptures).

Free Bonus!

These quotes are included to show you that the writings of those who heard the apostles include the same sort of “born again by faith only” and “go to heaven by works” terminology that Paul uses. I’m only giving two examples, but I could find this sort of talking in every second century writer.

Polycarp, AD 110-150

Into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that by grace ye are saved, not of works. (Letter to the Philippians 1)

He who raised him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do his will, walk in his commandments, love what he loved, and keep ourselves from all unrighteousness, greed, love of money, evil speaking, and lying. (ibid. 2)

Clement of Rome, AD 95-96

Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works and not our words. (1 Clement 30)

All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. (ibid. 37)

Note on Related Articles Below

The articles referenced below are not because I agree with or endorse them. They are to give you a different perspective. I often make a point that modern interpretation methods create dozens of difficult verses. I’m hoping that what I write will be seen to be comprehensive, pulling together all of Scripture, understanding everything Jesus said and the apostle wrote in a plain manner, and that the picking and choosing of modern evangelicals will be apparent.

I don’t always reference posts with differing views than mine, but often I do, and today both posts represent the modern may of looking at faith and works.

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2 Responses to Differences Among the Apostles 2 (Bible Interpretation)

  1. Nathan says:

    Great post! I mostly want to say that I think this is the clearest you have explained this issue of how the apostles actually are saying the same thing about faith and works. I’ve been following your blogs for many years and know that you have written about this several different times, and possibly it’s because of that, but this post has brought it to the most clarity for me that I actually feel I could now explain it to another person.
    Thank you.

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