Thursday, July 10, 2008

Grace, The Law, and Works

Salvation, in a nutshell.
A New Testament Perspective

Salvation occurs when a person realizes that they are a sinner, and no matter how hard they try they will never achieve the righteousness needed to please God. In fact they, as a sinner, are repulsive to God. But God, in His infinite love, gave His only begotten Son to pay the price to redeem us, and His righteousness is imparted to us for salvation. It means turning away from the worldly idea that we can be "good enough" to earn our way to heaven and instead having faith that the grace of God is sufficient, if we will trust in Him. After that, and only after that, we should, out of gratitude for what He has already done for us, seek to follow Him. Following Him means Loving God, Loving one another, and spreading the good news of Salvation through Jesus, to others.

"I do not set aside
the grace of God:
for if righteousness
comes through the law,
then Christ died in vain"
(Galatians 2:21)

Grace, The Law, and Works:
A short study on the New Covenant,
why The Law does not apply to Christians, and why that does not give them a free pass, or fire escape, to Heaven.

Disclaimer: I am an Evangelical (aka "Born Again") Christian who has been studying the Bible seriously for only a few years. I am not a Jew (except in the "grafted in" sense of the title). I also have more than a few disputes with other evangelicals about their interpretation of how Christians are supposed to conduct their affairs. I am in no way a conformist, but have listened to many pastors and scholars on this subject. After much analysis, I must set down my own viewpoint in writing.

First, a few definitions.

  • Church: As in the Bible, this does not refer to a building. It refers to a group of Believers,
    or it can refer to All Believers everywhere. I will occasionally use church without
    capitalizing it to refer to the building. When used properly, it will be capitalized.
  • Grace: Often stated as God's Riches At Christ's Expense, the word means to be given
    something as a gift, wholly undeserved, and without any debt owed in return.
    Grace differs from Mercy in that Grace is getting something you don't deserve
    and Mercy is escaping something you do deserve.
  • Love: Not a feeling, as the world knows it, but a call to action. Love is acting in a manner
    beneficial to the object of that love, and placing their benefit ahead of the one showing love.
    (Most good, Old English dictionaries will list this, but usually mixed in with lots
    of newer, touchy freely, definitions)
  • The Law: This usually refers to the Mosaic Law, or all of the legal requirements found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. It sometimes includes Noaic Law (there is a dispute as to whether this even exists) or Rabinical Law, that which was developed as a result of the Priests studying the Mosaic Law.
  • Scriptures : 1. For this document, or any other of my writings only, (when others use the word "scripture" it may mean something somewhat different) When not capitalized, I am referring to any writings from around the time of Christ or before that carry weight in the Protestant Christian Churches (whether mainstream Protestant, Lutheran, or Methodist or sectarian, like the Baptists, Puritans, or Assembly of God.)
  • Scriptures: 2. When capitalized, it refers to either the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) or the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), or both. And I will always try to point out which. Temple For this discussion, will mean any place where Jews meet to worship or learn. (Synagogue)
  • Works: These are all of the actions taken by a person, whether related to God, or to other persons.

Bible Translations used in this article:
ASB American Standard Bible (1901)
KJV King James Authorized Version (1611)
NASB New American Standard Bible (1971 or 1995)
(Found at
NIV New International Version (1984)
NKJV New King James Version (1982)

1. There is (and has been, for many years) a struggle going on between different viewpoints in various Christian (and Messianic Jewish) Churches. The main thrust of this struggle is to define what must a Christian do or not do. Are we bound by The Law or, through the freedom of Grace, do we live outside the control of The Law? Related to this, if salvation is not by works, why is there so much emphasis on works in so much of the scriptures.

2. Part of the confusion comes from the language the Bible uses to describe our situation. It talks about sin, and about liberty. About keeping His commands, and about being dead to The Law. About being circumcised of the heart, and being wary of those who call themselves circumcised. How are we then to know? We must read carefully, and we must understand the context. As such, I will excerpt verses and some small quotes, but I implore the reader to go and study the context of each of these excerpts and quotes. I will also, on occasion refer to more than one English translation of a verse, since English is a fluid language where many words don't mean what they did in centuries past, and also, in some cases there may be trouble getting the correct flavor of meaning as translated from the Greek. In many instances I will provide my view of the context, but that doesn't lessen my desire for the reader to go there themselves to study on their own. (In fact, much of my other writings have been trying to get others to study the Scriptures, because a Christian with even just 1000 hours of study behind them is almost impossible to be mislead by others.)

3. In studying the New Testament, a couple of the first things we come to are John the Baptist and the Sermon On the Mount. John the Baptist tells the Pharisees "produce fruit" and Jesus, in the the opening paragraphs to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:17-20) tells people "one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law" and "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." How then is anyone supposed to get to Heaven?

4. Grace, of course. And Grace is the stumbling block
laid before many religious leaders, both then, and now.

5. Now we come to this thing about the Sermon on the Mount in a different light. Since NO ONE can live up to the standard demanded of us, and Grace is the only way to Heaven, what is the overall point of the entire sermon. Jesus is simply showing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the standard cannot be met. In the process of that sermon, however, I will note one statement: "I came fulfil" (5:17ASB), we will come back to it later.

6. Next we must consider what Jesus to His disciples at various times and in various parables. For instance, in Matt 9:12 (and 12:7) He says "But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (NASB) and in Matt 16:5-12 He warns them about the teachings of the Pharisees. In addition, on the subject of the Temple Tax (Tithing), He asks Peter "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" Thereby showing Peter that they, as Sons of the King, will no longer be bound to paying "the Tithe" to the Temple (don't think this gets you out of giving to your Church, I will get to that later).

7. Here we must note in Matthew 18:3 that He says we must become like children, in John 14:18 says "I will not leave you as orphans" and in Luke 11 (NASB) He teaches them to pray: "Father, hallowed be Your name" and later in the same chapter warns: "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering." (NASB)

8. We should also know that, although God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, some things do change, in how we relate to God. Many try to explain this through the doctrines of Dispensationalism and others through Covenant Theology, but I will leave that for another day. For the time being, I will simply point out that some things do change, and give a small example: Luke 22:35-36 (NASB) And He said to them, "When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?" They said, "No, nothing." And He said to them, "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one."

9. Shortly after the above discussions Jesus shows that he is to finish what is written about Him. In Luke 11:37 "that which refers to Me has its fulfillment" and John 19:30, as He died on the Cross, He said "It is finished." (this is what I told you we would come back to at the end of paragraph 5) I believe this refers to what is referred to in Hebrews 8:13, that He made the Old Covenant of The Law obsolete.

10. So then, what was Jesus referring to when He said: "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father" ?

11. Well, if we read the New Testament we can see that He gave His disciples some new commandments. Some are easy to spot: "Love one another" (John 13:34). Be on guard against greed (Luke 12:15). Pray always, and don't be discouraged (Luke 18:1). Watch, that no one deceives you (Matt 24:4). There are many others.

12. Further, we might consider the Apostle Paul's teachings. Most of Paul's letters were written to Churches, therefore they are named for the Churches he wrote them to. Some are to encourage the Church (the Church in Philippi is a shining example of this) but most of them are to correct doctrinal errors which were either creeping in (or being smuggled in by Judaisers), or to chasten them to get back on track (Corinthians). Three of them were written to Pastors Timothy and Titus, for direction as to how a Church is to be run.

13. In Galatians 2:11 - 3:18 Paul discusses The Law and Grace. Note that Peter is said to "live like a Gentile" when "those who were of the circumcision" were not around. Paul said that Peter was "not straightforward about the truth of the gospel" and he was compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews. And further tells the Galatians to consider if they are saved by faith, how do they think they can be kept saved by works of The Law? (paraphrased). And yet further, Paul tells them if they are going to live by The Law, they must live by ALL of The Law - which, of course, we know is impossible.

14. Again, in Ephesians, Paul visits this issue. Beginning with my favorite verses, Eph 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast" (don't worry, we will get to verse 10 shortly). He really gets explicit in verse 15 with "having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances." Also check out Collossians 2:11-23, 1 Timothy 1:9 and Matthew 15:11.

15. What of works?

16. Does this mean works are worthless? Not so. Indeed, we "are created for" good works, as it says in Ephesians 2:10 (I told you we would get back to that one) we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." This mean not only are we to do good works, but that is what we were created for. In addition, we can see that God Himself prepared these good works that we should do them. He knew we would be there, and He arranged the opportunities for us to do the good works.

17. One of the most famous so called contradictions in the Bible is James telling us to show our faith through our works. But we can see how these fit together if we go back to John 13:34, where Jesus says: "Love one another" and if you look at the definition of Love supplied at the beginning of this essay, you will see that is something you do. It is a work.

18. Several times in the New Testament (Matt 7:15-16, 7:20, 8:8, Luke 12:35, 13:8, John 15:10) Jesus talks about fruit. And not only Jesus, but Paul and some of the others talk about "The Fruit of the Spirit." What can this "fruit" be, except works, and the results of works?

19. What are these fruit, and what should be the result? James (1:27) tells us that true religion is to look after widows and orphans. In James 2:15-16, the author asks what profit are pious words if you are not generous towards your brothers and sisters (in Christ) with food and clothing. In Corinthians 13, Paul says all other gifts are worthless without love ("charity" in the old english). In Acts and Timothy, we are instructed to care for each other and widows. (In Timothy it also is very direct about children taking care of their widowed mothers - and it should be mentioned that the term widow means to be deprived, not just through death of a spouse).

20. We can often and easily become confused, if we do not study (and not merely read) the scriptures. For instance, Malachi says to bring in the tithe (tenth) into the storehouse. But look at who it is written to. Not to Christians, but to the Israelites. And then, not even to individuals, but to the nation as a whole (See chapter 1 verse 1). And which storehouse? The nation of Israel had storehouses for the priests and temples, and the nation was to care for their priests and temples (or synagogues) with their tithes. In the New Testament, the "Church" is the body of believers. But we are told in 1 Corinthians 9 (especially verses 13 and 14) to support those who teach (or preach) the Gospel. While the old Law of the Tithe is gone, a new commandment to support those who teach has taken its place. No set amount is given, but we are to give generously out of a spirit of Joy.

21. How then are we to discern the truth? We must read the Scriptures, but read them with care for the context. We must study them to discern their meaning. Look again at 1 Corinthians 9, but this time at verses 7 - 12. Paul shows that we should be aware of the "meaning behind the meaning." There is no magic to this, but it is the result of the Spirit revealing Truth to us through a continued effort to study the Scriptures.


Anonymous said...

"I also have more than a few disputes with other evangelicals about their interpretation of how Christians are supposed to conduct their affairs."

I suspect that when the New Testament was first written it was easily understood by real Christians that study. Now, in a way it is up for modern/(secular?) interpretations the same as our Constitution.

TRex said...

When it was first written, it was in a series of letters and books by various "Apostolic" authors. Most Church units were of the "house church" kind, and would have had one or two of the Gospels and one or two of the epistles. If they were well off, they would have also had a copy of the entire Hebrew Scripture (the Old Testament). They may have only had a partial copy of the OT.

It was much easier for them to understand much of it, as the language and culture had not changed much. It was also much easier to tell them apart from non-Christians, since they lived quite differently from the non-Christians, and were persecuted by them.

Persecution tends to reduce the number of insincere followers.

Anonymous said...

Always feel a lil' guilty talking Christianity as 'I do not nor ever have belonged to the Christian party' (maybe a bad joke)

Anyway, am I wrong in seeing that law cannot be forgiving, compassionate nor merciful. But a judge can in sentencing?

I understand the concept of being 'above the law', or better put 'not subject 'to' the law from a positive and a negative sense. But then again Christians risk it all here and now whereas the rest of us have plausible denyability? (bad joke to make a point and ask a question)

The will would kill us all. I think without a lil' forgiveness and grace this God would have nothing to to rule. But then again he needs nothing so why did he create this suffering mess? For us? Job asked why was I born, but he will be in heaven so the test and suffering was, ... worth it. I would defend myself from suffering and call it my unalienable right. I have some serious questions I cannot even articulate and in the same context believe I am wrong to ask them. Even so; Why have you made me/us thus?


TRex said...

You are right, as usual, with your observations. The Law cannot forgive, but God can. He is merciful to allow us to even be here long enough to call on Him to forgive us.

Why did God create us, earth and all else? I am not sure, but I suspect that the whole is a battle ground between Him and Satan. Satan could not leave it to God to be God. Satan wanted himself to be God.

So one purpose for making us is to show Satan that even fatally flawed humans can become more, by letting God be God. Don't know if that makes any sense, but that is why I belive He made us.

God didn't give Job any choice in the suffering, bringing it on through supernatural means. His house and family were destroyed in a flash of lighting and his health mysteriously departed for no reason. He cried out with the ususal "why?" and "why me," but refused to curse God. This showed that he understood that God was in charge and he knew there would be God's reasoning in it in the end (although he also understood he might have to wait till the next life to see God's purpose).

Anonymous said...

"He cried out with the usual "why?" and "why me," but refused to curse God."

I have cursed God and told him the words I use cannot express the contempt I hold, so 'read my spirit'.

I have asked you about the 'unpardonable sin' and that is why.

I would not even bother talking to you if I did not see that you are honest aside from what ever you do or do not understand. I think vice versa. It is only because of the good people I meet here and in the real world that makes me question my views and understanding. I have a soft spot for good people but I would be merciless upon the bad. What is the point of mercy and compassion for those that do not appreciate it. Hence I have condemned myself?

"He is merciful to allow us to even be here long enough to call on Him to forgive us."

Can I murder a man and deprive him of that opportunity and therefore I have the power to send him to God condemned? More to it than that I know, but to my thinking the question is valid.

Rex, even your admitting you do not understand something is enlightening.

I sit here hating God, but I respect his people. How is that?

I may need therapy but I am harmless. ;-)


TRex said...

The "thief on the right" had probably never done much right in his life, and yet as he was dying on the cross, Jesus extended forgiveness to him. This shows it is never too late.

As for the man murdered, we go when it is our time to go. God is niether surprised nor thwarted. How many times have we heard "If that had been a minute earlier (or later) it would have been me that was killed" ?

God stirs the universe to keep us where we need to be, much like Minnisota Fats insured the balls on the pool table were where he wanted them. If a person is killed before they come to Christ, they wouldn't have come to Christ in another 5 years, or 15 years.

We can see something of this in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16). The rich man, in the place of torment asked that Lazarus go tell his brothers, so that they would believe and not follow in his footsteps. Abraham said "if they do not believe the prophets, they will not believe even if one is raised from the dead"

Indeed One was raised from the dead. His name was and is Jesus. And still many do not believe. But God is merciful, and patient, to allow us much time to make up our minds (if all we need is time).


Anonymous said...

I keep coming back and rereading this exchange. Been reading your comments and insights on politics and religion for quite a while now and I always have the same opinion of you weather or not I agree or understand. An honest man. I don't even rate a conversation with you. I said I was harmless. That is true. But I am evil.


Anonymous said...

I keep coming back and rereading this exchange. Been reading your comments and insights on politics and religion for quite a while now and I always have the same opinion of you weather or not I agree or understand. An honest man. I don't even rate a conversation with you. I said I was harmless. That is true. But I am evil.