c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: Reconciling Paul

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reconciling Paul

Paul says two seemingly contradictory things about salvation:

[God] will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. –Romans 2:6-7

If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. –Romans 4:2-5

Peter says that Paul is difficult to understand (II Peter 3:15-17). John says that whoever does right is righteous (I John 3:7). And James, quoting exactly the same passage about Abraham that Paul quotes (in italics above and below), says:

Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. –James 2:20-24

How might Paul be reconciled? The answer lies in the literary and historical context of his writings.

Paul came to us Gentiles with the word of God’s love for us in Christ. But he was opposed by Judaizing teachers, who claimed that the new converts must be circumcised according to the Law of Moses. So Paul argued by analogy that Gentile believers are like Abraham. Before he was circumcised, and 400 years before the Law was given, thus “apart from the Law,” Abraham believed God and was thus called “righteous.” So now a “righteousness from God” has come to the Gentiles through the Gospel. Salvation is now a gift to the Gentiles because God took the initiative to offer it to us out of his great love for all mankind.

Paul argued this contrast between boastful Judaism and believing Gentiles in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. In each letter, however, he used the word “therefore” (Romans 6:12 & 12:1, Galatians 5:1 and Ephesians 5:1 & 17) to indicate that once we hear the word we are required to follow its teachings, to walk worthy of the Gospel. Just as Abraham exercised faith along with works so must our saving faith be completed by works. What works? The Law of Moses (Old Testament) is done away in Christ (Romans 10:4 & Ephesians 2:14-16). But the Lord instituted a new covenant in his blood, a circumcision of the heart, and gave us the Law of Christ, that we should love one another (I Corinthians 9:21 & Galatians 6:2). This is the (New Testament) Faith of Jesus Christ, which merits salvation, making us righteous, if by patiently doing well in it we seek glory, honor and immortality. The original premise then holds -- God judges by works.


Charlie van Becelaere said...

Michael -
I've noticed that posts are disappearing from your blog. Are you deleting them yourself?
I hope all is well with you, and that you had a wonderful Easter celebration of the Lord's resurrection.

Michael DeShane Hinton, M.Div. said...

Yes, Charlie, I deleted some to focus differently on this site. There is no difference in my views and they shall appear elsewhere at a time and place to be determined. Thanks for asking and let's stay in touch!