Archive for the ‘Salvation and the New Birth’ Category

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In:II Corinthians, Obedience, Romans, Salvation and the New Birth, Sin

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By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

 

This statement is used by many to excuse their disobedience to the words of Jesus and the Apostles – what they would call the “letter.”  Anyone who insists on literal obedience to the commandments of God Almighty is accused of making too much of the “letter” which “kills.”  The accusers, in their disobedience, are supposedly enjoying “freedom” of the “Spirit” and think they have spiritual life which their “legalist” friend lacks.

 

What are we to make of such arguments? They may sound intimidating and credible when they are put forward.  After all, why be concerned about actually obeying Christ if you do not have to – or if obedience can actually tend to spiritual death?  We certainly do not want that!  But are our “spiritual” friends using the Scriptures correctly?

 

There is only one Scripture which uses an expression similar to that at the head of this article. In II Corinthians 3:6, the Apostle Paul writes that God “also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”  A similar expression is found in Romans 7:6: “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (cf. Romans 2:27, 29).

 

What is “the Letter”?

 

The question should immediately rise in our minds, “what letter is Paul referring to?”  An examination of the contexts of the above references will reveal the answer.

 

Notice what Paul is referring to in the first part of II Corinthians 3:6: He is pointing out that he and his coworkers had been made “able ministers of the new testament.” The context, then, is the distinction between the two covenants – the New Covenant of Christ and the Old Covenant under Moses.  The “letter” being referred to, then, is the old letter of the Mosaic Covenant.

 

That this is so is confirmed by a look at the broader context.

 

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.  But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?  For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.  For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.  For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious (II Corinthians 3:5-11).

 

Notice what is being contrasted throughout this passage – the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. (To emphasize this, I have bolded that which refers to the New Covenant and underlined what refers to the Old Covenant.)  Notice the back and forth contrast between the two which Paul is making – it goes all throughout this passage.  Notice also that he later uses the spirit to refer to the New Covenant – “shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?”

 

Thus we see that in II Corinthians 3, the “letter” does not refer to the New Testament commands of Jesus and the Apostles, but to the Old Testament commands of Moses.  What about the other passages where “letter” is used?

 

Here is the context for the quotation from Romans 7:

Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?  For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.  So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.  Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.  For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.  But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.  What shall we say then? Is the law sin?  God forbid.  Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet (Romans 7:1-7).

 

Notice again that the context is “the law.” Paul points out that we have died to the Law so that we are no longer under its dominion; instead, we can be married to Christ and bring forth fruit unto God.  In verse 6, he restates this principle, saying that we are delivered from the Law, so that we could serve in the “newness of spirit” and not in “the oldness of the letter.”  How do we know the “law” in this passage is referring to Moses’ law?  Throughout Romans, this has been the predominant usage of the term “law,” although there are exceptions – even later on in this very chapter.  However, notice in verse 7 how Paul reveals how he is using the term “law.”  It was “the law” which said, “Thou shalt not covet.”  What law is this?  The Law of Moses (Exodus 20:17).

 

There is one more passage of Scripture in which “letter” is used in this context, and that is in Romans 2.

 

Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law…For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.  Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?  And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Romans 2:17-18, 25-29).

 

Notice again the context of the reference to the “letter.” The Law of Moses is that which instructs the Jews.  Circumcision, an ordinance of the Law of Moses, is included in the context.  The “letter,” then, appears to mean a literal fulfillment or obedience to the details of the Law of Moses.  For instance, in verse 29, Paul points out that the true circumcision is that which is in heart and spirit – “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11b) – not the actual operation on the body, i.e., “not in the letter.”

 

What is the Death which the Letter Brings?

 

We have noticed from the context of Paul’s usages of the theological term “letter” that it refers to the Mosaic Law. In our search to understand Paul’s meaning, we must now investigate what the death is which this “letter” brings.  The answer to this question is clearly given in Romans 7.

 

What shall we say then? Is the law sin?  God forbid.  Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.  But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.  For without the law sin was dead.  For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.  And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.  For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.  Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.  Was then that which is good made death unto me?  God forbid.  But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful (Romans 7:7-13).

 

Romans 7 is a controversial chapter, but it appears that Paul is explaining the nature of the Law of Moses and its work in a man’s heart – that is, bringing the sinner to Christ – by his own experience before his conversion.  This is particularly clear in this section of the chapter.  Paul points out first that the Law is not sin; rather, it reveals sin, such as covetousness.  Sin, however, takes the opportunity afforded by a commandment to take action in a man’s heart and life.  It is human nature to want that which is forbidden.  A preacher who is also a painter said that he used to put up “Wet Paint” signs when he would paint in restaurants.  People who came through would inevitably touch the walls, just to see if it really was wet – and of course, would find that it was.  When he stopped putting up “Wet Paint” signs, the wall-touching stopped.  People want what is forbidden.  The Law, rather than restraining sin, actually stirs it up and causes it to increase in strength.

 

Paul goes on to say that “without the law sin was dead.”  Just like the people walking right past un-posted wet paint, evil did not have much appeal for Paul when he had not yet heard the law forbidding evil.  He then says that he was alive without the law once.  It seems that he is referring to his state as a young boy, before he learned the Law.  Yes, Paul was probably a naughty boy at times, but having not yet learned God’s righteous standard nor having made a conscious, mature decision to accept or reject it, he was, in a sense, spiritually alive.  However, the day came when Paul learned the Law of Moses.  When “the commandment came,” that is, when he learned about it and became conscious of God’s standard for life, “sin revived.”  The Law actually produced sin in his life!  The result?  “I died.”  Paul’s entrance into the state of spiritual death occurred when he became a conscious sinner, knowing the Law of God and failing to live up to it.  Paul points out that God ordained the Law to be “unto life.”

 

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

 

Although God ordained the Law for life, Paul in his experience found it to lead to death.  Why?  Sin took the opportunity which the Law gave, and it was sin which deceived and spiritually killed young Paul.  Paul goes on to vindicate the Law of being evil; on the other hand, it is “holy, and just, and good.”  How could something good lead to death?  Paul points out that sin, so that it could be revealed for what it was, took the Law in its hands like a sword and killed Paul.  Sin took the Law and did with it what it had not been intended for.  In this way, the Law revealed the true nature of sin – that it was “exceeding sinful,” in that it could take that which was good and use it to produce death.

 

So how does this relate to “the letter” mentioned by Paul? Remember that “the letter” refers to the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses.  This passage reveals what kind of death “the letter” works when it “killeth.”  It gives an opportunity for sin to stir itself up and revive in a man’s heart, which then uses the Law to produce spiritual death.  That this is a correct understanding of Paul’s testimony in Romans 7 is confirmed by verse 5: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.”  The killing which the letter performs is done by producing sin in a man’s life; this sin works in our body to “bring forth fruit unto death.”

 

This is all directly contrary to our friends’ understanding, who insist that the “letter” is the New Testament commands of Jesus and the Apostles, and the “death” is brought about by the “legalism” of those who insist that Christians must obey God.  The “letter” does not kill by driving to obedience, but by driving to sin!

 

What is the “Spirit”?

 

What is the “spirit” referred to in these passages? This is not made explicitly clear.  One meaning which fits the contexts is that it is the spirit or intention behind the Law.  Remember that God ordained the Law for life, but in practical experience, it leads to death.  The spirit, then, could be God’s intention for man to have life – the heavenly life of God revealed in man’s everyday, practical experience.  As Paul discovered, the carnal, unregenerated man cannot possibly keep God’s Law.  A practical attainment (or surpassing) of the righteousness of the Law requires an indwelling of the Holy Spirit – God Himself.  “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9b).  This Spirit is only given to those who obey God.  “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32).

 

Jesus’ Words

 

Let us return again to our friends, who insist that insistence upon obedience is bondage to the “letter” which “killeth.” We have seen that the New Covenant commands of Jesus are not what Paul had in mind when he wrote about the “letter.”  Such an interpretation would contradict Jesus’ own words: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).  Jesus’ words are spirit, and they are life!  They are not the letter which kills.

 

Originally published in The Witness 13(11) November 2015.

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In:Early Church, Salvation and the New Birth

Comments Off on Show Me Thy God

By Theophilus of Antioch

 

Theophilus was the sixth bishop of Antioch, the Apostle Paul’s home church. In the mid- to late-second century, he wrote a defense of Christianity based on a discussion he had had with a friend named Autolycus. The following section is the opening three chapters of the work.

 

From To Autolycus 1.1-3; translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 2, pp. 89-90. Slightly modernized.—Ed.

 

 

A fluent tongue and an elegant style afford pleasure and such praise as vainglory delights in, to wretched men who have been corrupted in mind; the lover of truth does not give heed to ornamented speeches, but examines the real matter of the speech, what it is, and what kind it is. Since, then, my friend, you have assailed me with empty words, boasting of your gods of wood and stone, hammered and cast, carved and graven, which neither see nor hear, for they are idols, and the works of men’s hands; and since, besides, you call me a Christian, as if this were a damning name to bear, I, for my part, avow that I am a Christian, and bear this name beloved of God, hoping to be serviceable to God.[1] For it is not the case, as you suppose, that the name of God is hard to bear; but possibly you entertain this opinion of God, because you are yourself yet unserviceable to Him.

 

But if you say, “Show me thy God,” I would reply, “Show me yourself, and I will show you my God.” Show, then, that the eyes of your soul are capable of seeing, and the ears of your heart able to hear; for as those who look with the eyes of the body perceive earthly objects and what concerns this life, and discriminate at the same time between things that differ, whether light or darkness, white or black, deformed or beautiful, well-proportioned and symmetrical or disproportioned and awkward, or monstrous or mutilated; and as in like manner also, by the sense of hearing, we discriminate either sharp, or deep, or sweet sounds; so the same holds good regarding the eyes of the soul and the ears of the heart, that it is by them we are able to behold God. For God is seen by those who are enabled to see Him when they have the eyes of their soul opened: for all have eyes; some have cataracts,[2] and do not see the light of the sun. Yet it does not follow, because the blind do not see, that the light of the sun does not shine; but let the blind blame themselves and their own eyes. So also thou, O man – the eyes of your soul are covered by the cataracts of your sins and evil deeds. As a burnished mirror, so man ought to have his soul pure. When there is rust on the mirror, it is not possible to see a man’s face in the mirror; so also when there is sin in a man, such a man cannot behold God. Therefore, do show me yourself, whether you are not an adulterer, or a fornicator, or a thief, or a robber, or a plagiarizer; whether you do not corrupt boys; whether you are not insolent, or a slanderer, or passionate, or envious, or proud, or haughty; whether you are not a brawler, or covetous, or disobedient to parents; and whether you do not sell your children; for to those who do these things God is not manifest, unless they have first cleansed themselves from all impurity. All these things, then, involve you in darkness, as when a cataract on the eyes prevents one from beholding the light of the sun: thus also do iniquities, O man, involve you in darkness, so that you cannot see God.

 

You will say, then, to me, “Do you, who see God, explain to me the appearance of God.” Hear, O man. The appearance of God is ineffable and indescribable, and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. For in glory He is incomprehensible, in greatness unfathomable, in height inconceivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivalled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable. For if I say He is Light, I name but His own work; if I call Him Word, I name but His sovereignty; if I call Him Mind, I speak but of His wisdom; if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath; if I call Him Wisdom, I speak of His offspring; if I call Him Strength, I speak of His sway; if I call Him Power, I am mentioning His activity; if Providence, I but mention His goodness; if I call Him Kingdom, I but mention His glory; if I call Him Lord, I mention His being judge; if I call Him Judge, I speak of Him as being just; if I call Him Father, I speak of all things as being from Him; if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. You will say, then, to me, “Is God angry?” Yes; He is angry with those who act wickedly, but He is good, and kind, and merciful, to those who love and fear Him; for He is a chastener of the godly, and father of the righteous; but He is a judge and punisher of the impious.

 

[1] A play on words – in Greek, Christian sounds very similar to serviceable or good.

[2] Modified following the footnote of the Ante-Nicene Fathers translation.

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In:Anabaptists, Salvation and the New Birth, The Church, Theology

Comments Off on The Church Obedient: A Debate

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

Philip of Hesse was an unusual man for his time. While most governments – Protestant and Catholic alike – were violently persecuting the Anabaptists, he took a milder approach, believing that they could be convinced to rejoin the state church by discussion and softer measures.

 

Among the reformers, Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito of Strasbourg were the friendliest to such an approach,[1] and in 1538, when Philip wanted to make an attempt to reunite the local Anabaptists with the Lutheran state church, he invited Martin Bucer to come debate with them.

 

Several local Anabaptists had been arrested and imprisoned, and Philip needed help to persuade them to recant. Martin Bucer had earlier complained of his inability to persuade Anabaptists to rejoin the state church, but he nevertheless accepted Philip’s invitation and came to Hesse. From October 30 to November 3, 1538, Martin Bucer debated with several Anabaptists in the city of Marburg in Hesse, where they were imprisoned. The subjects discussed included several very familiar ones which frequently came up in discussions between Protestants and Anabaptists – church discipline, baptism, the government, separation from the state church, etc. However, in this particular disputation, there were a few surprises.[2]

 

The Debate

 

On the Anabaptist side, there were two main speakers for the debate – Jörg Schnabel and Leonhard Fälber. Schnabel discussed several topics with Bucer, although the main topic between the two was whether the Anabaptists were justified in separating from the state church. Similarly for Fälber, the main topic of discussion between him and Bucer was the validity of the calling of the Protestant preachers.

 

Why are you Separate?

 

After the opening formalities, the first question asked of Jörg Schnabel was “why they had separated themselves from our [Lutheran] church.” The record says “His answer came back, that he was repelled by false doctrine.”

 

Jörg then proceeded to give his testimony of how he left the Lutheran church. After reading the Bible, he realized that usury was wrong, and also came to realize the importance of church discipline. So he went to his pastor and explained his concerns, and his pastor “conceded that things were ill in the church; he would do his duty, and he, Jorg, was answerable before God that he also look to the matter.” Notwithstanding his assurance that he “would do his duty,” the pastor let the issue drop and did nothing. When Jörg mentioned something to the pastor the second time, he received a colder reply with no apparent interest in changing the abuses in the church. So, Jörg concluded, “he declared to pastor, mayor and town council that he wished to separate from them.” Following this, his pastor told the authorities that Jörg “wanted to overthrow kings and punish all evil with the sword” – which was not true. So Jörg had been arrested.

 

Bucer and Schnabel then went back and forth, arguing the point – were the Anabaptists justified in separating from the state church? Much of the discussion focused on usury and church discipline, since in Schnabel’s mind, these were the two most important issues leading to the Anabaptists’ separation from the Lutherans.

 

Unfortunately, neither of the two seemed to realize that the whole discussion was pointless, since separation was not the root of their disagreement. Rather, the root of their disagreement lay in their differing definitions of the church. If the two could have openly discussed the nature of the church, they would have understood each other’s positions regarding separation better, and would have been better equipped to critique their respective opponents. As it was, the differing definitions were stated more than once, but the nature of the church was never discussed in its own right.

 

Bucer twice defined the church during the debate:

Wherever there is a church which gladly hears God’s Word, that is a Christian church.[3]

 

To this, Jörg replied that

 

if it were the church of Christ then it would have gone ahead with such an understanding; since it hasn’t done it, it is no believing church and he won’t accept it unless he is convinced by the Bible itself.[4]

 

In other words, the true church of Christ would have obeyed God’s Word. Jörg further said:

 

A church would not be condemned which is organized according to the true order of Holy Scripture, namely, with repentance, faith, baptism, doctrine, the laying on of hands, even if it has inadequacies.[5]

 

On the second day of the debate, Bucer directly asked Jörg “if he conceded it to be a church where they believe in the Word of God.” Jörg replied, “those who commit themselves to the truth and stand obediently in Christ, them he respects as a church.”[6] Bucer contradicted him: “Where teaching is Christian, there is a church.”[7]

 

Ultimately, the Anabaptists could not be reconciled with Bucer’s state church because the two had irreconcilable views of what the church was. These different views were the foundation of the entire discussion on why the Anabaptists had separated themselves from the state church. The two views stayed behind the scenes in this particular debate, although each view visibly undergirded each party’s approach to the question of separation, and each side did, more than once, clearly define the church in the debate.

 

To Bucer, the church was the territorial church, and a church was defined or known by its doctrine. He defined the church as the place where the Word was truly preached. The Anabaptist defined the church as that body of people which is obedient to the Word of God.

 

A True Christian Pastor

 

After Jörg’s examination was over, Leonhard Fälber was interviewed. When he came to the witness stand, “First he asked Mr. Butzer from whence came his calling to preach according to the rule of Christ.”[8]

 

This is a surprise! The early Anabaptists were constantly being challenged by the Protestants as to the validity of the calling of their ministers. They were continually challenged to prove that their ministers had been legitimately called and ordained. This is a new twist – in this debate, the Anabaptist turned the tables on the state church, and asked Bucer to prove his own calling! Leonhard added further, “But he [Bucer] hasn’t thereby sufficient evidence as to who sent them.”

 

Bucer was probably quite unprepared for this line of questioning, and gave some vague answers. Leonhard pressed his point: “When I see you come with such signs as Christ commanded of them [ministers], namely that they should be born again, joined to Christ with the death of sins, then I will believe in you.”

 

Bucer rejoined that the Lutherans did not allow anyone to be a preacher who was not “at one with Christ,” to which Leonhard answered by quoting John 3:7 and stating, “Now I know none [no Protestant minister] who has been resurrected in such a rebirth through falling away of the first life; I find that they take the opposite position, do not gather with Christ but rather scatter.”

 

As with the discussion on separation, the discussion of the calling of the preachers was based on another, deeper disagreement – namely, the definition of a Christian. Bucer defined a Christian: “because they confess the faith we must recognize them as Christians even though they haven’t renewed the baptism.” In other words, even though they have not obeyed all of the teachings of the Word of God, they must be acknowledged as Christians based on their oral confession. Leonhard gave a stinging answer to this:

 

I feel that you don’t have a living word for which God sent his beloved Son to us; you have a dead word, as evidenced by your fellowship, else you would draw away from the evil.

 

That is, a true preacher will be known by the fruits of his followers. The Protestant ministers’ congregations were not populated by people who had “been resurrected in such a rebirth through falling away of the first life” – rather, evil abounded! Thus, the Protestant ministers, in Leonhard’s view, did not have a life-giving word from God, but rather a dead word. When Bucer counter-challenged Leonhard, asking if the Anabaptist ministers “had an act or a living word,” Leonhard responded:

 

They have a living word that can bring the people from evil to good and totally renew them.

 

Amen! Drawing people away from evil to good through a total renewal and regeneration of life is the duty of a true preacher of God. Because the Anabaptists saw this truth, and because they knew what a true Christian was, they were able to establish truly holy churches while the Protestant churches sank lower and lower in sin. Why did the Protestant churches degenerate in this way? Remember what Bucer said – “because they confess the faith we must recognize them as Christians”. Confession of faith was all that was necessary to be recognized by them as a true Christian.

 

Conclusion

 

This delightful discussion contains a good challenge for us today. How is it for us? How do we define the church? Is it the place where the Word is rightly preached and the sacrament rightly administered – regardless of how the people live, or whether they know God? Or is the church the body of people gathered to obey God’s Word?

 

What is a Christian? Is it someone who “confesses the faith” with his mouth, who may or may not be living a holy life? Or is it someone who has been drawn from evil to good, and been totally renewed by Christ?

 

Are we Protestants, or are we Anabaptists?

 

[1] Although Bucer did approve of some forms of persecution.

[2] Translation of the debate minutes in Franklin H. Littell, “What Butzer Debated with the Anabaptists at Marburg: A Document of 1538,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 36(3) (July 1962):256-276. All quotations from the debate in this article are from this translation.

[3] Page 262.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Page 263.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Page 276.

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In:Ephesians, Galatians, James, Romans, Salvation and the New Birth

Comments Off on Works versus Works: Demonstrating Harmony Between Paul and James

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21).

“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (Romans 4:2).

“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).

 

Two authors.  Two books.  Two audiences.  And it appears…two contradictory points of view.  But is it true?  Or is it an illusion?

 

Is it possible that all four statements are true at the same time, and that they naturally harmonize with each other when we take the time to investigate the contexts of the statements, without letting preconceived ideas get in the way of understanding?

 

It is not only possible, but true.  If we understand the context in which these statements are made, and what each author meant by the word “works,” the solution falls neatly into place.

 

James

 

Let us begin with the book of James.  The book of James was probably the first book of the New Testament to be written.  It was not written to argue against Paul, since it was written before any of Paul’s epistles were written.  In James 2:14-26, we read:

 

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?  can faith save him?  If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?  Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.  Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?  Seest thou how faith wrought [worked together] with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?  And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.  Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.  Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:14-26).

 

James here teaches that Abraham was justified by works, and that we are not justified by faith only, but by works.  But what kind of works was he talking about?

 

Looking carefully in the passage, we notice that he is talking about good works. Specifically, there are two kinds of good works which he is talking about: 1) Works of obedience, such as Abraham offering up Isaac, and 2) philanthropic works of kindness, such as Rahab saving the spies from certain death.  Abraham and Rahab were justified by these works.  They obeyed God.  They did good to their fellowman, motivated by faith.

 

We, also, cannot be justified without the good works of obedience to God’s commands and goodness to others.  (Justified or justification usually means “to make righteous or just.”  It can mean “to prove something as correct, righteous, or just.”  A discussion of the meaning of justification is beyond the scope of this article.)

 

Paul

 

What about Paul?  What kind of works was he talking about when he said Abraham was not justified by works, and that we are justified by faith?  Was he talking about good works, dead works, works of faith, evil works, works of the law, or any and all types of works?

 

What advantage then hath the Jew?  or what profit is there of circumcision?  Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God…What then?  are we better than they?  No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin…Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.  Where is boasting then?  It is excluded.  By what law?  of works?  Nay: but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.  Is he the God of the Jews only?  is he not also of the Gentiles?  Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.  Do we then make void the law through faith?  God forbid: yea, we establish the law (Romans 3:1-2, 9, 19-31).

 

What kind of works is Paul talking about in this passage?  Notice who he is talking about at the beginning of the chapter – the Jews, the people of circumcision (verse 1).  Unto them were committed the oracles of God (verse 2) – the Old Testament, the Law of Moses.  Notice that he continues talking about the Jews throughout the passage, and the Law.  This is the Law of Moses, the “oracles of God” from verse 2.  It is not just any set of rules or a code of morality.  It is a specific law, the Law of Moses.  The “works” which he is speaking about in this passage are the works of that Law.  So when he says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds [same Greek word as that which is translated “works”] of the law,” he is talking about the works of the Law of Moses – Sabbaths, feasts, new moons, dietary laws, and especially circumcision.  This is further confirmed as we move into the next chapter, and see what he says about Abraham.

 

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?  For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.  For what saith the scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.  Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.  Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also?  for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.  How was it then reckoned?  when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?  Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.  And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.  For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.  For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.  Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were (Romans 4:1-17).

 

Abraham – the father of the Jewish nation – was going to need to be addressed by Paul if he was going to get the Jews to pay attention to his argument.  If circumcision was not necessary for salvation, as he argued in chapter 3, he is going to have to address the case of Abraham, to whom circumcision was first given.  Paul does so by pointing out that Abraham was justified and his faith was counted to him as righteousness before he was circumcised.  So when Paul says, “if Abraham were justified by works,” he is talking about the works of the Law of Moses – specifically circumcision.  And he proves that Abraham was not justified by such works, because he was justified before being circumcised.  Therefore, circumcision is not necessary for justification.

 

Therefore, to take verse 5 (“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness”) out of context as support for a faith-alone view of salvation is wresting the Scriptures.  In its original context, this was intended as a repudiation of the works of the Law of Moses, not of obedience to Christ’s commandments, basic morality, or of the authority of the church.

 

Historical Background

 

To fully grasp these teachings of the Apostle Paul, we need to understand the historical background in which he was working.  We are first introduced to the Judaizers in Acts 15.  “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).  These were Jews from Judaea who were coming to Antioch (Acts 14:26-28).  Antioch was a church composed of both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:19-20; 13:1).  It had been a stretching experience for Jewish Christians to accept the fact that God had accepted the Gentiles into the fold of faith (Acts 11:1-18).  Some of them got the idea that the Gentiles could come to faith in Christ and be accepted, but that they still must observe the Old Testament/Mosaic ceremonies, such as circumcision.

 

Antioch was Paul’s home church.  It was the church which had commissioned his first missionary journey.  And it was Ground Zero for the teaching of the Judaizers.  Paul was right on the scene when the trouble began, and he encountered it head on: “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15:2).

 

Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, where the Jerusalem Council discussed and settled the question.  Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James all spoke in favor of the point of view eventually adopted by the Council under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – namely, that the Gentiles who converted to Christianity did not need to keep the Mosaic Law; the only items from the Law which would be enjoined upon the Gentiles were the necessity to abstain from things offered to idols, from fornication, and from eating meat with blood in it and animals that had been strangled (Acts 15:20, 29; cf. 21:25).  When this decision was made known to the Gentiles who had been converted, “they rejoiced for the consolation” (Acts 15:31).

 

Unfortunately, although the issue had been officially settled, the Judaizers continued to make trouble for the church, and would continue to do so for the next few centuries.  Paul’s letters had much material intended to refute the claims of the Judaizers about circumcision, as well as about Sabbaths, new moons, feast days, etc.  When Paul talks about “works” and “law,” as opposed to faith and the grace of God, this is the type of works and law which he is talking about – that promoted by the Judaizers as necessary for salvation, i.e., the Law of Moses.

 

We know that Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” and in the earliest years of the church (i.e., those covered in the Book of Acts), he was more involved with evangelization to the Gentiles than the other apostles were.  Of course, it was Gentile converts who were being targeted by the Judaizers.  Thus, it makes sense that his writings would contain more on this topic than those of the other Apostles.

 

This we will now demonstrate by a careful examination of the letters of Paul.

 

Paul’s Letters

Romans

 

The book of Romans is Paul’s longest surviving letter, and it has much to say regarding the subject of the Law of Moses and its relationship to salvation today.  Paul’s statements in the book of Romans about works and law have been taken out of context by those preaching a “faith alone” salvation.  However, in the second chapter of the book, we have a very surprising statement which is usually ignored by those preaching “faith alone”:

 

[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God (Romans 2:6-11).

 

Every man – Jew and Gentile – will be judged according to his deeds.  Those who seek for glory and honor and immortality by patient continuance in good works will be rewarded by God with eternal life.  Those who do not obey the truth, but rather practice unrighteousness, will be given tribulation and anguish.  Thus, what can we conclude about Romans 3:28?

 

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Romans 3:28).

 

Paul had already said that we will be judged according to our deeds in chapter 2, and defined those deeds as “patient continuance in well doing,” as opposed to “do not obey the truth…obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath”.  Therefore, we know for a fact that when Paul says we are justified by faith “without…deeds” in chapter 3, he is not talking about those deeds mentioned in chapter 2.  Reading the rest of the sentence, and seeing it in context, tells us exactly what kind of “deeds” he is talking about: “justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”  It is the deeds of the Law which are irrelevant to our justification – particularly circumcision.  As we have seen above, this theme is continued into chapter 4 regarding the circumcision of Abraham.

 

Galatians

 

The book of Galatians has also been a stronghold for those who teach “faith alone.”  However, even a cursory reading of the book will show that the specific works and law which Paul is arguing against in this book are those of the Law of Moses.

 

Paul quickly gets to his main point in the sixth verse of the book.  “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Galatians 1:6).  What this other gospel was, we are not told immediately.  Rather, the rest of chapter 1 and most of chapter 2 consist of an autobiographical account of Paul’s conversion and ministry, in which he defends the gospel which he had preached to the Galatians.  However, we get an idea of what the problem was in the account of his confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2:11-16.

 

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.  For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.  And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.  But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?  We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

 

With this passage, Paul is getting to his main point about works and law.  Peter, a Jew himself, had overcome his prejudice against Gentiles and had come to the point where he could eat with the Gentiles – even though “it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation” (Acts 10:28), as Peter himself had told Cornelius.  However, when other Jewish Christians came to Peter in Antioch, he was embarrassed to be seen eating with the Gentiles, and withdrew himself.  This poor example was too much like the Judaizers for Paul, and he asked Peter “why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” – which was the main issue at stake in the controversy with the Judaizers.  Three times in the ensuing context, Paul names “works of the law” as that which cannot justify.  Again, it is the works of the Law of Moses which are the issue.

 

In chapter 3, Paul gets to the meat of his argument in trying to persuade the Galatians.  They had not received the Spirit by the works of the law (3:2).  Miracles are done in faith, not by the works of the law (3:5).  Being subject to the works of the law brings the curse of the law – which Paul proves by quoting the Law of Moses (Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26).  Throughout chapter 3, it is very clear that the “law” is not a theological abstraction, but a specific reality grounded in history.  This is demonstrated by the thoroughly historical approach which Paul takes in proving the superiority of the promise – the specific promise given to Abraham, “In thee shall all nations be blessed” (verse 8) – to the law, which came later.

 

Paul’s specific description of the error which the Galatians were falling into is given in 4:9-10:

 

But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?  Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

 

The Galatians were falling into bondage to the requirements of the Law of Moses, and were observing “days, and months, and times, and years.”  Paul encourages them in 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”  This “yoke of bondage” which Paul is talking about is not any law, or any requirement, or any restraint, or any authority.  The liberty he is speaking of is not the liberty to do whatever one pleases.  It is the liberty of Christ from the Law of Moses; the yoke of bondage is the requirements of the Law of Moses.[1]

 

The next verses specifically name circumcision as the heart of the issue:

 

Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.  For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.  Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.  For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.  For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love…And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution?  then is the offence of the cross ceased (Galatians 5:2-6, 11).

 

The “works salvation” argued against in the book of Galatians is the teaching that obedience to the Law of Moses is necessary for salvation, specifically the salvation of the Gentiles.  This idea is thoroughly refuted in the book of Galatians.  However, the book has nothing to say against the good works of obedience to God, helping the poor, prayer, baptism, or any of the other New Covenant works.  To believe in and practice them does not fall under the condemnation of Paul nor of God.

 

Ephesians

 

The book of Ephesians is the home of the famous verses, “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But what kind of works is Paul talking about that salvation does not come from?  From the context of his other writings, concluding that he meant “works of the law” is reasonable.  However, the following context helps:

 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.  Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace (Ephesians 2:10-15).

 

Paul is not speaking against good works; rather, in the very next verse he declares that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works!  The ensuing verses ground the context in the subject of the Gentiles coming to be accepted, with Jews, in the new community of Christian faith.  Paul declares that it is the blood of Christ which brings the Gentiles close to God, and that the “law of commandments contained in ordinances” had been abolished by Christ.  These statements, made in the context of the ongoing controversy with the Judaizers, help to ground Ephesians 2:8-9 in its historical context.  It is not by the works of the Mosaic Law that we are saved.  Circumcision, sabbaths, new moons, dietary regulations, etc. have nothing to do with Gentiles coming to Christ.

 

Philippians

 

Paul declared in fervent love for Christ, “I count all things but loss…that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).

 

Wait a minute – something is wrong with that quotation.  Did you catch it?

 

If you guessed that a phrase was missing, you were right.  What Paul actually said was, “not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith…” etc.  What law?  Verses 2-3 say, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.  For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”  He is again addressing the issue of the Judaizers, warning the Philippians against them.  The “concision” are the Judaizers.  Paul declares that Christians are the true circumcision (cf. Colossians 2:11).  Paul’s own righteousness, which he rejected, was that “of the law” which gave him the list of reasons why he “might trust in the flesh” given in verses 5-6: He was circumcised the eighth day, was a genetic Jew, he was a Pharisee, had persecuted the church, and followed the righteousness of the law.

 

Titus

 

Paul’s letter to Titus was one giving instruction and guidance to his younger associate, who had been left on the island of Crete to care for the church there.  Titus’s assignment was to ordain elders for the churches in Crete and to give them a good, solid spiritual footing for life in God’s kingdom.  Paul was giving Titus instructions on things which he needed to teach the Christians in Crete.  In Titus 3:4-5, he told Titus: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done [not: which we are doing], but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:4-5).  Again, faith-alone teachers have taken these verses as proof for their position, but we must ask: What kind of works is Paul talking about?  What is the context of these words?

 

Earlier in the book, Paul had told Titus that there were false teachers to combat:

 

For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake…Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth (Titus 1:10-11, 14).

 

We see in this passage that part of Paul’s concern was that Titus effectively combat the errors of “they of the circumcision.”  We are not specifically told if it was Judaizers or unbelieving Jews that Paul was concerned about; he had combated both throughout his ministry.  It is quite reasonable to conclude, therefore, that when Paul says that “Not by works of righteousness which we have done” in 3:4-5, he is talking again about the works of the Law of Moses.  That he is not here discouraging the performance of good works is proven by the fact that only a few verses later, he says:

 

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.  These things are good and profitable unto men.  But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain (Titus 3:8-9).

 

Paul was not teaching that we are saved by the mercy of God apart from living righteously.  Jesus, Paul, and the other New Testament writers continually make clear that it is necessary to live a righteous life (see, for instance, I John 3:3-10).

 

What About Today?

 

We have seen that when Paul puts law or works in opposition to grace or faith, he is speaking of the works of the Law of Moses – specifically, circumcision.  But do these passages have any relevance for us today?  Do they teach us anything, other than to not be deceived into believing that circumcision is necessary for our salvation?

 

Yes, they do.  We must be careful not to take these words out of their historical contexts, and any application we make must honor them in their correct contexts.  However, we can learn from passages like Titus 3:4-5 that no works we do can provide our salvation.  These provisional works – works which create or provide our salvation – have all been done by God through Christ.  Provisional works include Jesus’ death on the cross, sending the Holy Spirit, etc., which created our salvation or made it available.  However, God has enjoined on man conditional works.  These works include repentance, faith, baptism, obedience, and good works.  God has made our salvation conditional upon our response to Him in these types of works.  Unless we obey Him, we cannot expect Him to give us salvation.  These works do not earn our salvation, but unless we do them, we cannot have salvation.[2]

 

Shocking Statements by Paul

 

In light of the discussion above regarding Paul’s use of the words “works” and “law,” it is worth noting that there are several passages in his writings which should be quite shocking to those who use his writings to “prove” a “faith alone” gospel.

 

Sin is not tolerated in the kingdom of God; repentance from these sins is necessary for salvation:

 

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (I Corinthians 6:9-11; compare with II Corinthians 5:9-10, 11:15).

 

Our salvation is conditional upon our separation from the world:

 

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.  Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (II Corinthians 6:14-7:1).

 

Salvation requires cooperation between God and man:

 

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

 

The grace of God is a teacher:

 

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:11-12).

 

Faith is active:

 

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love (Galatians 5:6).

 

We must live in a way worthy of God:

 

Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory (I Thessalonians 2:10-12).

 

Christ is the author of salvation only for those who obey Him:

 

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:9).

 

Holiness is necessary if we wish to see the Lord:

 

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled (Hebrews 12:14-15).

 

Finally, if Paul had to summarize his entire message in just one sentence, what would you expect him to say?  We do not have to guess, for he did just that for King Agrippa:

 

Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20).

Conclusion

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21).

“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (Romans 4:2).

“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).

 

We now come back to the two pairs of verses with which we started, and we conclude that they are in fact in harmony, not contradiction to each other.  Abraham was justified (became a righteous person) by his good works of obedience to God in offering Isaac on the altar, but not by his work of circumcision.  We are justified by our conditional works of repentance, faith, obedience to God, baptism, etc., but not by the deeds of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision.

 

James and Paul agreed with each other completely on the subject of salvation and of the Law.  However, they used words – specifically, the word “works” – differently from each other in their writings, which can be confusing for the modern reader.  A careful reading, however, reveals the source of the difficulty and makes the solution plain and obvious.

 

[1] Furthermore, due to the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts, Moses allowed bondage to various evils to continue under his system.  For instance, divorce and remarriage was permitted, whereas Christ’s teachings free us from that bondage.  Moses allowed war and the hating of enemies; Christ’s teachings free us from this bondage, etc.

[2] This point is admirably explained in the highly recommended book by Aaron M. Shank, Faith and Works in Salvation, 2011.

 

Originally published in The Witness 13(4) (April 2015):3-10.

by

In:Salvation and the New Birth, Sin

Comments Off on A Conversation Between a Protestant and an Anabaptist

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

This is an imagined conversation between an Anabaptist and a Protestant regarding the way of salvation.  By using the term “Protestant,” we do not mean to say that all Protestants would agree with every statement made by the Protestant in our story.  Rather, we hope this story will be helpful and thought-provoking to you in your interactions with those who claim that works of any kind play no role in salvation.—Ed.

 

Worldly man.  Men and brethren!  What must I do to be saved?

 

Anabaptist.  If thou would enter into life, keep the commandments.[1]

 

Worldly.  Which?

 

Anabaptist.  Repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.[2]  Cease to do evil; learn to do well.[3]

 

Worldly.  I live with my girlfriend; I shoplift often; I steal from my employer; and I am very covetous.  Must I cease all these?

 

Anabaptist.  Do not let anyone deceive you with vain words – fornicators, thieves, and covetous men, who are idolaters, shall not inherit the kingdom of Christ and of God.[4]

 

Protestant.  Now wait a minute, Friend Anabaptist.  Are you not teaching salvation by works?

 

Anabaptist.  How is that?

 

Protestant.  Why, you just told Mr. Worldly that he must cease sinning to be saved.  That is a doctrine of works.

 

Anabaptist.  I still do not understand.  How would you explain it to Mr. Worldly?

 

Protestant.  We are saved by faith alone.  Nothing we do has any bearing on our salvation, now or ever.

 

Anabaptist.  So you are saying that ceasing to sin is doing something, and thus is works salvation?

 

Protestant.  Yes.

 

Anabaptist.  Well, continuing in sin is doing something too.  So is having faith, for that matter.

 

Protestant.  Now it is I who does not understand.  What are you getting at?

 

Anabaptist.  Hold a minute, and you shall see.  First, let me ask this: Are you saying that if Mr. Worldly stops fornicating, stealing, and coveting, that it would prove that he is embracing a salvation based on works?

 

Protestant.  Yes.

 

Anabaptist.  So if he would continue in these sins, yet believe in Christ, that would prove that he is seeking salvation by faith alone?

 

Protestant.  None of us are perfect.  We will continue in sin all our lives.  God understands that and forgives us because of our faith.

 

Anabaptist.  That is not an answer to the question.  Is continuing in sin a proof that one is seeking salvation by faith?

 

Protestant.  [Uncomfortable]  I cannot say yes…but it does prove that one is not seeking salvation by his own efforts, but simply trusting in the merits of Christ.

 

Anabaptist.  I will take that as a qualified “yes.”  So in other words, you are saying that faith would motivate a life of sin.[5]

 

Protestant.  Not exactly – he may stop his sins later, after coming to faith.  But those living in faith do still sin.[6]

 

Anabaptist.  The Scriptures say that whatsoever is not of faith is sin.[7]  Therefore, all sin is not of faith.  The two are radical opposites.  If one is sinning, he is not believing; if he is believing, he is not sinning.  Faith cannot motivate sin, and sin is never an evidence of faith.  If Mr. Worldly continued in sin, that would give the clearest proof that he does not have faith.  If he repents, it must be by faith.  Therefore, faith permeates all the counsel which I gave to Mr. Worldly at the beginning of our conversation.  One can only repent by faith.  Faith is obedience; faith is righteousness; faith is doing the will of God.  Whatsoever is not of faith is sin; what is done by faith cannot be sin.

 

Protestant.  Stop!  You’re calling my own faith into question now.

 

Anabaptist.  No, I am not.  I do not know your life; if the Holy Spirit is convicting you of faithlessness and unbelief, then give the glory to God and repent.

 

Protestant.  You are teaching works righteousness and will probably go to Hell for your rejection of Christ’s Blood and seeking to gain Heaven by your own efforts.

 

Anabaptist.  Say so if you will; God is Judge, and will be the Revealer of the secrets of all hearts on the Last Day.[8]  If Christ and His Apostles were teachers of works, I will be one too.

 

Worldly.  God, be merciful to me, a sinner!  Help me to repent by faith!

 

[1] Matthew 19:17.

[2] Acts 26:20.

[3] Isaiah 1:16-17.

[4] Ephesians 5:5-6; I Corinthians 6:9-10.

[5] See Romans 6:1-2.

[6] See I John 3:3-10.

[7] Romans 14:23.

[8] I Corinthians 4:5.

 

Originally published in The Witness 13(4) (April 2015):13-14.

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In:Early Church, Salvation and the New Birth, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin

Comments Off on “We Follow God”: by Justin Martyr

From Justin Martyr’s First Apology, addressed to the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius. Justin was martyred c. 165 A.D. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, pp. 166-167.

 

What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied, as we have been taught that the only honor that is worthy of Him is not to consume by fire what He has brought into being for our sustenance, but to use it for ourselves and those who need, and with gratitude to Him to offer thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him…

And thus do we also, since our persuasion by the Word, stand aloof from them [the demons], and follow the only unbegotten God through His Son—we who formerly delighted in fornication, but now embrace chastity alone; we who formerly used magical arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to every one in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all.

 

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In:Early Church, Miscellaneous, Salvation and the New Birth, Sin

Comments Off on Are We Born Dead?

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

It is often said that “We are born spiritually dead” or “We are born dead in trespasses and sins.”  In other words, as soon as a little, pure, sweet, innocent baby is born, he is spiritually languishing in corruption, sin, and death.  Some would go so far as to say that any infant or child dying unbaptized (or unsaved) will go to hell for eternity.  Others say that although the infant is spiritually dead, if the baby dies, he will go to heaven despite being unsaved (?) due to the grace of God.  Are these claims true?

When Does Spiritual Death Occur?

The Apostle Paul teaches very clearly in Romans 7 regarding spiritual death and when it occurs.

What shall we say then?  Is the law sin?  God forbid.  Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.  But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.  For without the law sin was dead.  For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.  And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.  For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.  Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.  Was then that which is good made death unto me?  God forbid.  But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful (Romans 7:7-13).

Paul had been teaching earlier in the chapter that by the death of Christ, all those in the New Covenant are dead to the Law of Moses, and we may now “serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”  Immediately, then, Paul anticipates the question which may be asked: Is the Law inherently wrong or sinful, since the “motions of sins” were actually “by the law” and “did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (verse 5)?

To this question, Paul gives an emphatic no.  The Law points out what sin is (for example, covetousness), but it is human nature that what is forbidden is doubly attractive, simply for the reason that it is forbidden.  The Law, then, makes opportunities for sin, and Paul says that the commandment against covetousness actually helped to foster covetousness in his own life.  The sin (such as covetousness) was “dead” in Paul’s life before he knew God’s standard.

Now we come to the sentence which is important to our question: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”  Notice that Paul was “alive without the law once.”  Does this mean physical life?  The context tells us that it does not, for “I died” later in the verse obviously refers to spiritual death.  (Paul was physically alive when he was writing the letter to the Romans.)  So from this we learn that children, such as the Apostle Paul as a little boy, are born and grow up spiritually alive.  Is the spiritual life of children the same as that of mature adults who make a conscious decision to follow Christ?  No.  However, although children have not experienced the new birth, they do not need to until they have died spiritually.  The Apostle Paul did not need to experience the new birth when he was “alive without the law once,” nor could he have.[1]

So when did Paul die spiritually?  Notice that he says “when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”  The spiritual death was the result, not of some guilt imputed to him from Adam, but of his own personal, conscious sin against the will of God.  Paul was able to sin on this level once he came face-to-face with God’s righteous standard revealed in the Law of Moses.  Was Paul a naughty little boy on occasion before then?  Probably he was, just like all little boys (and girls) are.  But he was not in conscious sin against the Law of God on the same level as when he was older.  When did the commandment come to Paul?  Did his parents teach him from the Law?  They probably did, at least the Ten Commandments and probably more; Paul’s father was a member of the Pharisees, “the most straitest sect of our religion” (Acts 23:6; 26:5).  We cannot say exactly when Paul had the experiences recounted in the following verses.  Perhaps it was due to his father’s or rabbi’s teaching from the Law; perhaps it was due to his own reading from the Law; or perhaps it did not occur until he began to sit at the feet of Gamaliel and learn the Law.  In any event, it did not occur until he had the knowledge and mental understanding of what God required and he was able to interact with the Law (so to speak) at a mature level.[2]  The exact timing of these events in Paul’s life is a side question; what we can see clearly in this passage is that it was only once sin had been stirred up in his life by the Law of Moses that he died spiritually.  We can say the same for every infant – born and raised spiritually alive, but dead spiritually when, like Adam, they knowingly and willingly sin against God stirred up by the prohibitions of God’s will.

Savior of All Men

For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe (I Timothy 4:10).

In what way is God the “Saviour of all men,” and why is it said that he is “specially” the Savior of those that believe?  This must mean that He is also, in a sense, the Savior of those who do not believe.  Comparison with other Scriptures (such as Romans 7) leads us to the conclusion that God is unconditionally the savior of all men in infancy, but is the savior of those mature people who meet the Gospel conditions – such as faith (belief).[3]

Many Go in Thereat

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Related to the idea that people are “born spiritually dead” is the statement sometimes made that people are “born on the broad road.”  In Matthew 7, however, Jesus teaches us that the broad gate which leads to destruction is a gate which “many…go in.”  People must enter into the broad way; they are not born there without any personal choice in the matter.  When a man comes to the age of understanding, he must make a personal choice whether he will go into the broad way or the narrow way.  Praise God, a man on the broad way can repent and enter the narrow way; but they are not born onto the broad way.

Of Such is the Kingdom of God

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.  But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.  Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.  And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus welcomed the children to Himself and blessed them, and specifically said that “of such is the kingdom of God.”  Had these children been baptized?  We have no hint of it in this passage.  Had they experienced some kind of crisis conversion?  Not likely.  They were simply, as Paul was, “alive without the law,” and Jesus gave them what they needed and could have at their age – a blessing from God.

The Mouths of Babes and Sucklings

And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say?  And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?  (Matthew 21:15-16).

Jesus taught that God has “perfected praise” out of the mouths of innocent little children.  Their praises are highly pleasing to God.  How can this be reconciled with the idea that they are lost sinners?  “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight” (Proverbs 15:8).

Dead in Trespasses and Sins

You might be thinking, “But doesn’t the Bible say, ‘born dead in trespasses and sins’?”  It actually does not.  This is a misquotation of Ephesians 2:1: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (compare with Colossians 2:13).  Notice: They were dead, not “born dead.”  The following two verses show that the people being referred to could not have been infants; they are said to have “walked according to the course of this world” and to have lived “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.”

The Early Christians

The early Christians believed that infants and young children were innocent and pure, and that, if they died, they would be saved.

Hermas (c. 150) wrote:

…they are as infant children, in whose hearts no evil originates…for all infants are honorable before God, and are the first persons with Him.[4]

Irenaeus (c. 180), a disciple of Polycarp (who was a disciple of the Apostle John), wrote:

And again, who are they that have been saved, and received the inheritance?  Those, doubtless, who do believe God, and who have continued in His love; as did Caleb [the son] of Jephuneh and Joshua [the son] of Nun, and innocent children, who have had no sense of evil.[5]

Tertullian (c. 198), regarding the idea of infant baptism, wrote:

And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children…The Lord does indeed say, “Forbid them not to come unto me.”  Let them “come,” then, while they are growing up; let them “come” while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ.  Why does the innocent period of life hasten to the “remission of sins?”[6]

He also wrote (c. 207):

But, behold, Christ takes infants, and teaches how all ought to be like them, if they ever wish to be greater.  The Creator, on the contrary, let loose bears against children, in order to avenge His prophet Elisha, who had been mocked by them.[7]  This antithesis is impudent enough, since it throws together things so different as infants and children,—an age still innocent, and one already capable of discretion—able to mock, if not to blaspheme.  As therefore God is a just God, He spared not impious children, exacting as He does honor for every time of life, and especially, of course, from youth.  And as God is good, He so loves infants as to have blessed the midwives in Egypt, when they protected the infants of the Hebrews which were in peril from Pharaoh’s command.  Christ therefore shares this kindness with the Creator.[8]

Cyprian (c. 250) wrote that “Infancy is still yet innocent and unconscious of worldly evil.”[9]

Origen (185-254) was one of the most famous Christian teachers of his time and wrote the first surviving set of Bible commentaries.  While teaching that even infants are subject to sin’s defilement (he quoted the Septuagint rendering of Job 14:4-5 several times: “No one is pure from uncleanness, even if his life should be one day long”),[10] he nevertheless taught the following in his Commentary on Romans (written c. 246):

But this law [referring to natural law, or the law of the conscience] is found in man neither at all times nor from the beginning, when a man is born, but rather he lives without this law for a certain time, while his age does not allow it, just as Paul himself acknowledges when he says, “I was once alive without the law.”  Therefore, at that time, when we lived without the law, we did not know covetousness.  He did not say: I was not having it; but: “I was not knowing it,” as if covetousness existed, but it was not known what it was.  But when reason arrives and the natural law finds a place within us in the advancement of age, it begins to teach us what is good and to turn us away from evils.  Thus, when it says, “You shall not covet,” we learn from it what we did not know before: Covetousness is evil.

“But sin, receiving an opportunity, worked in me through the commandment all kinds of covetousness.”  That law of which he says, “For I would not have known covetous desire had the law not said: You shall not covet,” is also called the commandment.  Thus he says that by an opportunity afforded by this commandment, in which we are forbidden to covet, sin was kindled all the more intensely within us and worked all kinds of covetousness within us.  For because the flesh lusts against the Spirit, i.e., against the law that says, “You shall not covet,” it is likewise opposed to it and engages it in battle in a certain manner, so that not only would it satisfy the covetousness but also it would conquer an enemy.

This then is the opportunity that he says comes from the commandment.  For these things that are forbidden are somehow longed for more passionately.  On this account, though the commandment is holy and just and good—for what prohibits evil must of necessity be good—yet by prohibiting covetousness it instead provokes and kindles it; and through the good it worked death in me.  The Apostle is showing by these things, however, that the origin of sin has arisen from covetousness.  As long as the law is issuing prohibitions, whether it is Moses’ law, which says, “You shall not covet,” or even natural law, as I have explained above, whatever is forbidden is desired all the more tenaciously…

“For apart from the law sin is dead.  But I was once alive without the law.  But when the commandment came, sin revived.  I, however, died; and the very commandment that was unto life was found to be unto death to me.”  Up above has already been conducted a full investigation of practically all these matters.  Therefore, in order that we not be constantly repeating the same things, we shall briefly call to remembrance what was previously said.  We showed how sin is dead in us without law, i.e., before the mind within us grows vigorous when it reaches the age of reason, when we introduced the example of the little child who strikes or curses his father or mother.  In such a case it would appear that at least according to the law, which forbids striking and cursing the father and mother, a sin was committed.  Yet that sin is said to be dead since the law is not yet present within the child to teach him that what he is doing ought not be done.  It is certain that Paul and all men have lived at one time without this law, namely, the age of childhood.  After all, during that time everyone is equally not yet capable of this natural law.  For Paul’s confession concerning this would not seem to be true.  Indeed how will it be proved that Paul once lived without the law of Moses, seeing that he declares himself to be a Hebrew of Hebrews and circumcised on the eighth day according to the precepts of the law?  On the contrary, in the way in which we have said, in childhood he also once lived without natural law.  He did not say that sin did not exist in man at this time, but that sin was dead and afterward revived when natural law came and began to forbid covetousness.  This law raised sin from the dead, so to speak.  In fact this is the nature of sin, if what the law forbids to be done happens.  Therefore, when sin revived, he says, “I died.”  “I.”  Who does he mean?  Doubtless, the soul that had committed what the law was forbidding to be done; for “the soul that sins,” as the prophet says, “shall itself die.”  The commandment, therefore, that had been given unto life, i.e., unto [the life] of the soul, that it might teach the soul the works that lead to life, was found to have surrendered it over to death when it does not flee the things forbidden but desires them all the more passionately.[11]

Summary

The idea that “we are all born spiritually dead” cannot be found in Scripture; rather, there are several Scriptures which clearly teach against such an idea.  The early Christians believed that infants and young children are pure, innocent, and saved, and sinful actions which they do are not counted as sin against them until “the commandment [comes]” and sin revives.

Knowing the truth on this subject can help safeguard us against such errors as infant baptism and child evangelism and can provide comfort in knowing that our departed little ones are safe with Christ.

 

[1] This is one of the problems with child evangelism – little innocent children, who should be taught to love Jesus at a simple, age-appropriate level, are instead pressed to “ask Jesus into their hearts” so that they can escape the damnation of hell.  At the stage before the Law has stirred up the lust to sin in them, they are still “alive without the law” and must not be pressed into an adult experience with Christ.  Trying to do so may result in so-called “conversions” in the short run, but in the end can cause confusion at best; at worst, it may cause sin, doubt, and apostasy.

[2] This probably happens for most people well before 20 years old.  Paul explains that for heathens who have no knowledge of the true God or of the Scriptures, they still are accountable for the revelation of God through their own consciences (Romans 2:12-29), so the “law” comes to them in the form of “natural law,” the law in their consciences.

[3] I am indebted to George R. Brunk I and his son, George II, for this commentary.  They explained this Scripture in this fashion.

[4] Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), volume 2, p. 53.

[5] ANF, volume 1, p. 502.

[6] ANF, volume 3, p. 678.

[7] This was written against the Gnostics, who claimed that the Creator God (the “Demiurge”), the God of the Old Testament, was not the Father of Jesus.  These two sentences give a Gnostic argument urged against the orthodox Christians, to which Tertullian replies as follows.

[8] ANF, volume 3, p. 386.

[9] David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, 1998, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 93.

[10] For this reason Origen supported infant baptism – the first Christian teacher known to have done so.

[11] Thomas P. Scheck, translator, Origen: Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 6-10, 2002, Catholic University of America Press, pp. 31-33.

 

Originally published in The Witness, February 2014.

Peter Riedemann was a prominent early Hutterite leader.  He spent years in prison, during which time he wrote many letters and two confessions of faith.  He was also a prolific hymnwriter.  This hymn is #470 in the Lieder der Hutterischen Brueder; translation by Peter Hoover.  Used by permission.—AVS.

 

The Lord God is my strength and shield, the fortress of my trust. He never leaves me without the comfort of his Holy Ghost.  Though tribulations try me to the limit and anguish fills my soul he gives me love and patience, willingly, to overcome.

 

I will trust and believe in the Lord.  He will not break his promises.  He purifies my heart, gives me a glad conscience, and the power to overcome my fleshly desires.  With compelling temptations and naked lust the wicked one lures my soul.  But the Lord gives me victory!  He lets me overcome the devil and all things that hinder me.  Though they burn me with fire and torture me to death I will testify for my Saviour with irresistible joy!

 

Look, the bridegroom is at hand!  He stands by the cross and waits on his church, the bride.  Great comfort he will give her in the land to which they will go.  Pleasures unending that no one can describe await them there.  So let us go willingly through the narrow door!  Let us squeeze our way into it, leaving the sights and sounds of the tempting world behind us to gain Christ!

 

Even though we must suffer shame, persecution and death for Christ, it is worth it to live forever with him.

 

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In:Anabaptists, Salvation and the New Birth

Comments Off on Hymn by Wolf Sailer

From Lieder der Hutterischen Brueder #283; translated by Peter Hoover.  Used by permission.

 

Wolf Sailer wrote several hymns for the suffering Hutterite brotherhood.  They are still preserved by the Hutterites today.

 

Early in the morning I thank God with my whole heart for having brought me through the dark night in which I lay in great pain. I thank him for opening my eyes so I may avoid the world’s abominations in which so many have become entangled. I thank him for waking me up and sweeping sin out of my life.

 

Lord, lead me out now, into the clear light of the sun! Guide me with your rod and staff through dangerous times. The whole world lies in wickedness, paying no attention to the calamity of souls. Hell stands open, ready to swallow those that walk according to their own lusts and make a covenant with death. They love worldly pleasures more than God and miss the Way to heaven, but I have made a promise. I have vowed to stick to the trail that leads to the eternal Kingdom.

 

Protect me Lord from the devil at noon, coming with shining robes, like an angel, to deceive me. Help me through the heat of the day—the ideas and priorities of the world—so I may enter the Sabbath rest with joy.

 

Nothing works greater damage than for a man to spend all his time depressed, feeling sorry for himself. We must let go of ourselves to gain the Kingdom! Our houses, our marriage partners, children, and all created things, even our own lives, we must risk for the honor of God. We cannot seek what is high in the world and please God at the same time.

 

We serve a jealous God. He will have nothing else but our complete love and our whole heart, free of affection for created things.

 

Flee, dark night! Joyful sunlight, drive all evil away! World, I want no more of your honor, pride, and power. I want to love you Lord, alone! Let the sun of your favor shine on my heart since Christ the beloved has carried my sins away.

 

Grace and peace! This is what he brings, and no one needs to die in his sins anymore.

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In:Matthew, Salvation and the New Birth, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on The Matthew Road to the Kingdom of Heaven

or

 

What Is Wrong with the “Romans Road to Salvation”

 

By Joel Mahorter—British Columbia

 

You may have heard of the “Romans Road to Salvation,” a collection of verses from the letter of Paul to the Romans. It usually consists of at least some of the following verses, in roughly this order:

 

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9) “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Note the last half of the verse is not quoted! “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

 

People use these verses to present everything they think someone needs to know in order to “get saved” and have an assurance of getting to heaven. A person is usually told that all they must do is have faith (or believe) in who Jesus is, what He did by His death on the cross, and to accept His free gift of salvation. Often a person using “Romans Road” will mention the need to feel sorry for your sins and ask God for forgiveness, although the verses used do not mention this. Some will suggest that you must turn from your sins, although it is not common to hear a definition of what that really means. The person who is being shown the “Romans Road” is then commonly advised to pray a prayer asking Jesus to come into his heart and become his personal Savior. People who do that are usually assured that all of their sins, including the ones they have not yet committed, are already forgiven and that a place in heaven is assured for them. The people who use this and similar presentations would not say that a short presentation could have everything a person should know about being a Christian, but that it contains everything necessary to “get saved” and have assurance of going to heaven.

 

It does not seem to occur to many people who use the “Romans Road” that it is strange to try to present how to become a Christian … but without ever referring to what Christ had to say on that topic. Likewise, few people seem to question the idea of asking someone to pray a prayer that Jesus never asked anyone to pray, or of offering an assurance that Jesus never offered anyone. Nor does it seem odd to many people to present a message supposedly about how to become a disciple of Jesus, using nothing but quotes from a letter written to people who were already disciples of Jesus. Sadly, even though Jesus had much to say on the topic, what He said is often not mentioned.

 

It is worth noting that a letter like Romans can be used to construct several different “roads,” all leading in different directions. That is not to say that Romans contains false information; it is just the reality of what can be done when taking a few small snippets out of context from a larger work. Even in the early days after Jesus, what Paul said about salvation in his letters was being twisted, and this was leading people to destruction. 2 Peter 3:14-18 warns about this.

 

With those dangers in mind, here is a different “road,” one based on the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew:

 

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Jesus began His preaching ministry with this call to repentance. God had always called people to turn away from sin. For those who do so, the coming of Jesus brought a new opportunity. Now the kingdom of heaven was about to be established on earth. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Jesus never told anyone that it was impossible to be righteous. Rather, He called people to live a righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of the Jewish religious leaders. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, even the righteousness required by the Law of Moses was not sufficient in God’s kingdom (see especially Matthew 5:21-48). Therefore, while announcing a new kingdom, Jesus also taught a new law. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The way that Jesus called people to is a difficult one. The easy way that only requires acceptance of some truths or good intentions without any real work or suffering is the way to destruction. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) Good words without obedience will not get a person into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus did not leave room for any doubt about who does the will of His father when He said the following: “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-31) To agree to do the will of the Father, and to actually do the will of the Father are two very different things. “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Entry into the kingdom of heaven requires the simplicity and humility to accept what Jesus taught, like a young child would accept what his earthly father taught. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Being perfect or complete is not an option, but a demand. So many people think they cannot be perfect, but Jesus taught how it was possible: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21) Again Jesus makes it clear that obtaining eternal life requires us to obey God. Jesus left us the example of simple obedience to His father and He calls us to follow Him in that. Good intentions alone will not get us where Jesus went. Jesus taught plainly what would be required of those who wanted to be His disciples and find the way to life. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” (Matthew 16:24-27) Nothing less than true self-denial and self-inflicted death of our fleshly desires and following Jesus will lead to life. If we seek to keep our lives or the things we love in this world, then in the end we will lose our lives. We must really forsake everything, and not just the extremely wicked things. Jesus had to give up heaven and submit Himself to death before He could be resurrected. We must walk in His footsteps if we want to follow Him into His kingdom; there are no shortcuts.

 

If we live in the fear of God that comes from the knowledge that Jesus is going to come back to judge the living and the dead and repay us for what we have done, we will be ready to face the trouble that Jesus faced: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:9-13)

 

The one who endures all these troubles and yet remains righteous will be saved in the end, but the one who turns back will face certain destruction. With that in mind we will heed the strong warning that Jesus gave: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 24:42-44)

 

Unlike “Romans Road” and similar presentations, this one will not end by giving you any assurances that Jesus did not give. The information presented above is possibly not enough for you to truly count the costs of following Jesus. Just from reading the verses above it may not be clear to you some of the specific ways that Jesus calls you to deny yourself and take up your cross. Perhaps you have anger against your brother and need to hear that Jesus taught that even angry words would put you in peril of hell (Matthew 5:21-22). Perhaps you lust after women and need to hear that Jesus said that even private lust was adultery and could cause you to be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:27-30). Perhaps you are divorced and have been remarried while your first spouse is still living, and need to hear that Jesus said that you are committing adultery (Matthew 5:31-32). Perhaps you desire to defend your possessions, loved ones, or yourself from evil people, and you need to hear that Jesus said to love even your enemies and not to resist evildoers (Matthew 5:38-48). Perhaps you have chosen not to forgive someone and need to hear that Jesus taught that God will not forgive you if you do not forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). Perhaps you want more things than you need and need to hear that Jesus commanded you not to store up treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19-21). No prayer or belief or intention will do you any good if you do not follow the road of self-denial, suffering, and death that Jesus walked.

 

If the way presented here seems different than what you understood the way into the kingdom of heaven was like, then you would do well to read all of the Gospel of Matthew, and then the rest of the Gospels. Keeping in mind the danger mentioned previously, consider everything that Jesus had to say about entering into the kingdom of God and being ready for His return and judgment. If you are not able to present the gospel that you believe using the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, then you can be sure you have been deceived and that you believe a different gospel than Jesus taught. The same is true for the gospels of Mark, Luke, and John.

 

When you have understood Jesus’ message, then you will be ready to read Romans and all the other books of the New Testament. If you start with the Master first, you will find that Peter, John, Paul, James, and Jude all preached and walked the same “road” that Jesus did.

 

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

 

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