Metaphors of salvation

Paul used a very rich variety of metaphors and symbols, including many metaphors of salvation. We must be very careful not to literalize his metaphors.

How a person is saved, is explained differently by different people:

In Christian circles we often hear that a price had to be legally paid, and Christ paid that price by His blood.  But words such as “redemption” and “justifications” are only metaphors.  We should not literalize them.  Paul uses many other metaphors for how God saves sinners.  For instance, in the letter to the Colossians, he also says that the believers have been:

  • Qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints (1:12)
  • Rescued from the domain of darkness (1:13)
  • Transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13)
  • Redeemed (1:14 – paid the required price. )
  • Reconciled – as to an old friend (1:22)
  • Received Christ Jesus the Lord (2:6);
  • Made complete (2:10)
  • Circumcised with a circumcision made without hands (2:11)
  • Buried with Him in baptism … raised up with Him (2:12)
  • Made alive together with Him (were dead in your transgressions 2:13)
  • Raised up with Christ (3:1 – died with Christ 2:20; 3:3) -)
  • Canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us (2:14)
  • Chosen of God (3:12)
  • Forgiven (their sins – 1:14; 2:13)

Some of these expressions are very symbolic.  Others, like the forgiveness of sins, are more literal.  Paul used a very rich variety of metaphors and symbols.  He sometimes even changes his metaphors in mid-sentence (e.g. 2:7).

Another famous metaphor of Paul is Justification.  Reformed theology, clinging to the word Justification, hold to the Forensic View of Atonement.  The Justification metaphor appears often in Romans and Galatians, but is not used even once in Colossians, probably because the Colossians Christians were Gentiles, and Justification was the way in which the Jews thought of how people are saved.  They recognized their sins and saw God as their judge, before which they stand guilty.  But they also thought that they were justified (put in a right legal standing with God) by the works of the Law (by the rituals, sacrifices and ceremonies prescribed by the law).  This included circumcision and ceremonial washings.  They thought that these things will compensate for their sins and legally justify them before God.  Therefore Paul used forensic metaphors when speaking to Jews, arguing that one is not justified by the works of the Law, but simply by grace through faith.

But the Forensic View of Atonement under-emphasizes God’s love and mercy for mankind.  It is often explained from pulpits that Christ stands between God and man, continually pleading His blood for the sins of His people.  This is a horrible distortion of the good news.  To mention a few:

It is the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light, rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:12-13).

God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).

Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

Jesus said, “I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you” (John 16:26-27)

Therefore, by over-emphasizing and literalizing one metaphor of salvation, the Forensic View of Atonement paints a very unbiblical view of God.

Reconciliation is another one of Paul’s powerful metaphors (Col. 1:20-21, Eph. 2:16; Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18, 20).  He presents God as our friend from whom we have been alienated (Col. 1:21), and to Whom we must be reconciled.  This God has done through the cross.  The difference between a believer and a non-believer isn’t merely forgiveness; it is reconciliation.

The point is that we must be very careful not to literalize Paul’s metaphors.  These are all descriptions in human language of what happens when we put our faith (trust) in God.  We learn something of reality from each of these metaphors, but we should not promote one at the expense of the others, or interpret any of them unduly literal.  As discussed in the article titled “Disarmed the rulers and authorities”, the problem that was solved by the Cross is much more complex.  See also the discussion of the word “Atonement”, where it is explained that the Greek word translated Atonement in the KJV of the New Testament is simply reconciliations.

TO: General Table of Contents

Atonement

Atonement has come to mean paying a penalty to meet legal demands. When the Bible was first translated to English Atonement referred to the state of being in unity – being AT-ONE.

Making amendsCommonly, in the last century or two or three, atonement has come to mean making amends or paying a penalty to meet legal demands, to propitiate wrath or to adjust one’s to legal standing.  To some atonement is the thing Christ did to reconcile the Father unto us and assuage His offended wrath.

But that is not the original meaning of the term, and it is definitely not the meaning of the word in the Bible.  The only place you’ll find the word, in the King James Version, is in Romans 5:10. But the word in the Greek is the very common word ‘katallasso’.  There’s no hint of making amends in this word.  It means ‘reconciliation’. Holman’s Bible dictionary defines this word as follows:

Reconciliation … specifically the reconciliation between God and humanity effected by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  … The New Testament rarely uses a word for atonement. The basic Greek word is usually translated “to reconcile”.  The basic meaning is to establish friendship.

Therefore Romans 5:10, in the NASB, reads:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).

The dictionaries agree that this word ‘atonement’ is a made-up word, namely ‘at-one‐ment’. That’s the way the word started.  It was based on a verb, ‘to one’. Two people are fighting, and you are sent out to ‘one’ them. Not ‘win’ them; to ‘one’ them.  And then when you have succeeded in ‘one-ing’ people, then, hopefully, they would remain in a state of oneness.  It is the state of being ‘at one’ that is atonement, not the process ‘one-ing’ people. Atonement therefore means to be in harmony or unity.  That is what “atonement” meant when the Bible was first translated into English.  In the Bible it is God, because He loves us, that sent His Son (“the Lamb of God”-John 1:29) to bring His people back to Him (John 3:16).

There’s only one dictionary that really give the history of the word, and that’s a multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary. It shows how, for a long time, it was used in its original sense of being at one, reconciling people to harmony; friendship is often mentioned, unity, and so on. Now, later on somehow, it was changed to mean ‘making amends, paying penalty’, and that’s the way it’s commonly used now.

So how did the meaning of the word atonement change so much?  It was the forensic doctrine of salvation that changed the meaning of “atonement” over the centuries.  The forensic doctrine of salvation teaches that somebody must pay for sins committed.  TIt presents God as angry and the death of Christ as a sacrifice to pacify God.  It was because the reformers had this understanding of the purpose of Christ’s death that the meaning of “atonement” has slowly changed over the centuries to “reparation for an offence or injury” (Merriam-Webster).

But that is not how we should understand the purpose of Christ’s death.  It is not God that must change.  The blood of the Cross did not change how the Father feels about sinners.  The opposite is rather true, namely that the blood of Christ was the means by which the Father changed the hearts and minds of His creatures; to be reconciled to Himself (Colossians 1:20).  It is us that must change.  It is not God that is angry; it is His creatures that are “hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21).  In the Bible God is never reconciled to us.  Colossians 1:20-22 indicates that God, through Christ, reconciled all things “to Himself” (1:20).

Please also see the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God for further information.

TO: General Table of Contents

Reconciled to God

God is not our Enemy; we were His enemies. God was not angry; He initiated salvation through Christ. Christ’s death did not reconcile God to us, but we were reconciled to God; the Source of all Life. The death of His Son did not change God; it changed the on-looking universe.

SUMMARY

What it means, that God reconciled us to Himself, is discussed below.  In summary:

Before one comes to believe in God, he is God’s enemy, committing evil deeds as acts of aggression against God.   But God reconciled believers to Himself through Christ’s death (Col. 1:22).  How Christ’s death reconciled people to God is explained differently by different people:

Some say that Christ, by His death, paid the required price, but to whom was the price paid?  It was not payable to God, because we were held prisoner by Satan.  Neither was it payable to Satan, for what does God owe to Satan?

Others say that God was angry and that Christ died to pacify God, but it is people who are hostile to God; God is not hostile to man.  And it was God that took the initiative to reconcile man to Him (Col. 1:22); man did not reconcile himself to God.

God is not angryIt is often said that God was reconciled to His creatures, as if God was changed by Christ’s death on the cross, but the word translated reconcile is used a number of times in Paul’s writings, and always it says that people are reconciled to God.  In other words, man changed; not God.

In is also said that God’s righteousness demands that someone had to suffer, and that Jesus suffered what we deserve, but this seems inconsistent with God’s wise and loving character.

How Christ’s death reconciled people to God is explained here as follows:

  1. For creatures to live eternally, they must live in His presence.  If we become separated from God, who is the Source of Life, we will become corrupted and eventually die.
  2. Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source of life to His creatures, but worship must be an act of free will.  Forced worship is no worship at all.  Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.
  3. A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, in free will rebelled against God and withdrew their worship from Him.
  4. When Satan deceived our first parents, this rebellion was expanded to earth. Since that event we lived outside God’s presence.  This caused sin, degeneration and death.
  5. God did not reject mankind.  God continually sent prophets to earth to turn people to Him.
  6. While God accepted repentant people back in His kingdom, He rejected Satan. Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return to God.
  7. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of God’s people.
  8. Satan is extremely talented, and the angels could not understand who is telling the truth; God or Satan. A lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels.
  9. God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment, but Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply on the basis of their faith, while Satan was rejected.
  10. Even heavenly beings were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross”. By providing proof of His justness—through the Cross—also when He rejects the most loved angel of all time, namely Satan, allowed the heavenly beings to fully return to a trust (faith) relationship with God.

In the end God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but to subject His enemies to His will, when the loyal beings are unsure of the rightness of His judgment, will eventually erupt in another rebellion.  God is resolving the conflict in such a way that rebellion will never again arise.  God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but only when all the issues in the universe-wide conflict have been made clear, and He is able to subject His enemies to His will with the full support of all of His loyal subjects.

For an explanation of how the Cross provided this proof, please see the related article titled God Disarmed the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Col. 2:15).

For more information on the “War in Heaven”, please see that separate page.

To understand why are we still at war if the cross made peace, please refer to the discussion of the discussion of the Seven Seals, where John saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth until the bond-servants of our God have been sealed on their foreheads (Rev. 7:1-3).

MORE DETAILED DISCUSSION

Colossians 1:22 reads;

yet He (God the Father) has now reconciled you in His (Christ’s) fleshly body through death”.

Before one comes to believe in God, he is God’s enemy: “you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (Col. 1:21).  We previously “were enemies” (Romans 5:10).  “Evil deeds” are acts of aggression against God.  It is not God that was hostile to man; God’s intelligent creatures were hostile towards God.  Belonging to the race of Adam, we are born alienated from God.

But God made “peace” (Col. 1:20) and reconciled believers to Himself through Christ’s death (Col. 1:22).

HOW CHRIST’S DEATH RECONCILED PEOPLE TO GOD IS EXPLAINED DIFFERENTLY BY DIFFERENT PEOPLE:

Some say that Christ, by His death, paid the required price, but to whom was the price paid?  It was not payable to God, because we were held prisoner by Satan.  Neither was it payable to Satan, for what does God owe to Satan?

Others say that God was angry and that Christ died to pacify God, but it is people who are hostile to God (Col. 1:21-22); God is not hostile to man.  The Father is not angry with His enemies; His enemies are angry with Him.  They try to exclude Him from their lives in all possible ways.  A common method is to insult God by using His name in vain, and even to use His name as a swearword.

Furthermore, it was God that took the initiative to reconcile man to Him (Col. 1:22); man did not reconcile himself to God.  His enemies are angry, and God seeks reconciliation.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).  Colossians 1:20-22 uses the word “through” four times, focusing on what God did through Christ.  Christ was the Means of reconciliation, but it was the Father that made reconciliation.  It is the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints (Col. 1:12) and that delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son (Col. 1:13).

One often hear people say that God was reconciled to His creatures, as if God was changed by Christ’s death on the cross, but the word translated reconcile is used a number of times in Paul’s writings, and always it says that people are reconciled to God; never the other way round.

To reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20)

Reconcile them both (Gentiles and Israel) in one body to God through the cross” (Eph. 2:16)

While we were enemies we were reconciled to God” (Rom. 5:10)

God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18)

We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20)

In other words; God was not changed by the cross; it is man that was changed.  Christ’s death did not change the Father’s attitude towards people,

In reformed circles it is usually said that God’s righteousness demanded that someone had to suffer, and that Jesus suffered what we deserve, therefore we receive what He deserves.  But the Bible reveals God as supremely wise and loving.  The concepts in the Bible are infinitely high above the thoughts of unregenerate man, and continually elevates the mind of man.  To say that the wrath of God would be satisfied by the suffering of an innocent person seems inconsistent with His character.

HOW CHRIST’S DEATH RECONCILED PEOPLE TO GOD IS EXPLAINED HERE AS FOLLOWS:

First, some general principles:

  1. For creatures to live eternally, they must remain sinless, because sin, by definition, is something that destroys.  To remain sinless, intelligent creatures must live in His presence, and the natural response to being in the presence of the infinite One is to love and worship Him.  Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source of life to His creatures.  If we break that link, we will become corrupted and will eventually die.
  2. Worship and love, to be worship and love, must be an act of free will. God forces no one to worship Him.  Forced worship is no worship.  Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.

Next, how the crisis in the universe developed:

  1. A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, rebelled against God and withdrew from His presence.  Why this happened cannot be explained.  To find a reason for it, is to excuse it.  There was no fault in God’s governance that could justify it.  God created mankind and angels free to make their own decisions, and in their freedom these angels withdrew from God.  Isaiah 14 describes fall of the king of Babylon (v3), but seems to use words from the fall of Satan:

12 “How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn! …

13 “… you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.

  1. This rebellion was expanded to earth when Satan deceived our first parents. Since then we lived outside God’s presence, which caused sin, degeneration and death.
  2. God did not reject mankind.  God did not leave mankind to suffer the natural consequences, but continually sent prophets to turn them to Him: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
  3. While God remained willing to accept man back in His kingdom, God rejected Satan. Satan has gone too far to return to God.  Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return.  Therefore God rejected him.  We must remember that Satan was not just any angel; he was the one that stood in God’s immediate presence.  He was Lucifer, which means Morningstar (Is. 14:12); the one who taught the other angels about God.  The only way that God can draw sinful creatures to Himself, is to reveal more of Himself, but already Satan knew everything about God that an angel can know.  He rebelled with full knowledge of God.  Therefore it is impossible for his to return.  Therefore God rejected him: “And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire”. (Ezekiel 28:16)

Ezekiel 28 describe the king of Tyre (v12), but seems to go beyond this king to a description Satan:

12 “… You had the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering: …
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets,
Was in you. …
14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, …
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 “You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.
16 … You were internally filled with violence,
And you sinned;
Therefore I have cast you as profane
From the mountain of God.
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the stones of fire.
17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;

This seems to be more than a description of an earthly king; it describes, a “covering cherub” that was “blameless” and had “the seal of perfection”; “perfect in beauty”.

  1. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment. God “passed over the sins previously committed” by His people on earth (Rom. 3:25).  Satan, pointing to the sins of God’s people, accused God of unfair judgment (Rev. 12:10).
  2. Satan is extremely talented and previously held a very high position. This made it impossible for the other angels to understand who is telling the truth; God or Satan.  And according to God’s principle of freedom, God allowed him full access to the heavenly beings to argue his point.  The angels were not able to conclude who is right; a lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels.  This mystery is symbolized by the sealed book of Revelation.  “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev. 5:3).
  3. But the Cross demonstrated the justness or fairness of God’s judgment (Rom. 3:25) “so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment.  God reign over a universe where everybody is completely free to form their own opinions and do whatever they want.  Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply on the basis of their faith, while Satan was rejected.
  4. The Cross is therefore important for mankind, but even the heavenly beings also needed the Cross. Colossians 1:20 indicates that they also were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross”.  By providing proof—through the Cross—of His justness, and that in everything He does He is motivated by love; also when He rejects the most loved angel of all time, namely Satan, God reconciled them to Himself.  The Cross has shown that God loves and protects His creatures.  We may not able to see this, but the heavenly beings are able to perceive this.  “Reconcile” in Col. 1:20 may therefore be understood as returning to a trust-relationship; to know for certain that God loves you and will protect you.

The influence of the Cross is felt throughout the entire universe.  The war that was started in heaven, is concluded on earth.  The spiritual war that we are involved in has cosmic consequences.

Some theologians (e.g. Bruce, Moo) argue that we must understand “reconcile” and making “peace” in Col. 1:20 as “pacify”; in other words, that God will eventually subject all hostile beings to His will.  But if it was God’s intention all along to “pacify” His enemies, why did He not do it right from the start?  The reason is that, to subject His enemies to His will, when the loyal beings are unsure of the rightness of His judgment, will eventually result in another rebellion.  God wishes to resolve the current conflict in such a way that rebellion will never again arise.  God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but only when all the issue in the universe-wide conflict has been made clear, and He is able to subject them to His will with the full support of all of His loyal subjects.

NEXT: Disarmed the rulers and authorities

TO: General Table of Contents

Romans 14:7-13 – Judgment Seat of God

Paul wrote “that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (e.g. 3:27), but he also wrote that all people will all be judged by their deeds before the Judgment Seat of God.  If a man is justified by faith, why must he still be judged by his deeds?  By what norm will we be judged if not by the works of the Law?  Is there a difference between our deeds and the works of the Law?

Romans 14:7-9

Romans 14:7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 14:8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

14:6 describes eating meat and certain days as “for the Lord”.  Verses 7 and 8 then expands this concept and describe the Christian’s entire life and even his death as “for the Lord”.  Verses 7 and 8 therefore take the minds of the opposing groups in the church away from their petty disputes about meat and days to things that really matter.

Romans 14:10-13

14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of God. 14:11 For it is written, “as I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 14:12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore …

These verses repeat the words “judge” and “contempt” from verses 1 to 4.  This confirms that, with respect to eating meat, there was in-fighting among the Christians in Rome.  They were judging one another (v 10, 13) with contempt (v10) .  The GNB says they despised one another.   Verses 10 to 13 therefore continue to draw the minds of the opposing groups away from their disagreements to things which really matter.  And what really matters, according to verses 10 to 13, is that everyone of us will judged before the Judgment Seat of God.  Since that is true, Paul is saying, let us not focus on other people.  Rather, let each person be concerned about him or herself (v12).

Judgment Seat of God

Judgment Seat of God
Judgment Seat of God

Some people believe that Christians will not appear before the Judgment Seat of God, but Paul is not only clear that we will be judged; he is also specifically clear that we will be judged by our deeds.  On the basis of our deeds, we will receive either eternal death or eternal life.  For example:

God … will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation”. (Rom 2:5-8)

The doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13).

 “if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:12-13)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).

Please see the article Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters for more information on that topic.

The Conundrum

As quoted above, all people will all be judged by their deeds, but Paul also wrote “that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (e.g. 3:27).  If a man will be justified by faith, why must he still be judged by his deeds?

WHAT ARE THE WORKS OF THE LAW?

Paul wrote that no one will be justified (put right with God) by the works of the law (Romans 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; etc.).  To be justified by the works of the law is often understood as to be justified by living a sinless life.  This conceptual error is caused by a lack of understanding the context in Paul’s day, and has resulted is a huge theological error.

Law of Moses

It was Jews, who accepted Jesus as Messiah, who maintained that people are justified by the works of the law.  They taught that, unless one is circumcised and observe the Law of Moses, one cannot be saved (Acts 15:1, 5).  These Christian Jews brought this idea over from Judaism into the Church.

By this argument, that man is justified by the works of the Law, the Jews did not mean that one must be without sin to be saved.  Far from it.  They were very aware of their sins.  What they meant is that the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision and the sacrifices, will cancel out their sins.

It was this error which Paul opposed when he taught that no one will be justified by the works of the Law.  Paul was not saying that no one will be saved by living a sinless life; he was simply saying is that the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses will not save anybody.

The works of the Law therefore refer to circumcision and the other rituals and ceremonies prescribed by the Law of Moses.

WHY MUST PEOPLE APPEAR BEFORE JUDGMENT SEAT OF GOD?

As quoted above, all people must appear before the Judgment Seat of God to be judged by their deeds.  To put the issue in the context in which Paul lived and wrote, since the sins of people are not cancelled by the works of the Law of Moses, they will be judged by their deeds before the Judgment Seat of God.  In that day “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16).

The Cross
The Cross of Christ

But, to update the question to modern thinking, if the sins of Christians are washed away by the Cross of Christ, why must they appear before the Judgment Seat of God?   It is proposed that this question is based on a superficial understanding of why Christ had to die.   Please see the article, Why Jesus had to die.

THE TWO LAWS

The Jews argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law”.
Paul wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13)

The word “Law” in used in both statements, and it almost seems as if Paul and the Jews agreed, but these two statements refer to two different laws, used in two different ways:

Animal sacrifices

The Jews were referring to the Law of Moses and by justified by the works of the law they meant that man in justified by the rituals and ceremonies of that Law.  For the Jews the law was their means of justification.  They taught that man is reconciled to God through the blood of sheep and goats.  To argue against this error, Paul responded that man is not justified by the works of the Law.

In Romans 2:13, quoted above, Paul was referring to the Law of Christ.  The Law of Christ is God’s eternal moral principle.  Man’s “deeds”—“what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10), will be measured against that Law:

Those that sin will die, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Those that “are putting to death the deeds of the body, … will live” (Rom. 8:12).

WHAT LAW IS PAUL REFERRING TO?

Paul uses the word “law” often in his writings, and it is difficult to always be sure what law he is referring to:

Often “law” refers to the five books of Moses, for instance in the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” (e.g. Rom. 3:21).

At times “law” refers to the book which Moses wrote up, and put beside the ark, for instance “the book of the law” (Gal. 3:10).  This is also known as the Law of Moses.

Sometimes the word law refers to Christ’s teachings; the “commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:2), elsewhere called the “law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21).

Ten Commandments

Sometimes the word law may even refer to the Ten Commandments (e.g. Rom. 13:10).

It is therefore difficult to always know what Paul means by the word law.  All the conflicting theories about the law floating around in Christianity do not make it easier.  The only solution is to read and to read again, to be aware of the various meanings of the word law, and to allow the immediate context to determine what Paul means.

DOES THIS MEAN THAT GOD’S PEOPLE EARN THEIR JUSTIFICATION?

If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does that mean that man earns redemption through his deeds?

Paul argued that man is wholly unable to comply with the Law of Christ.  The only function of the Law is to accuse man of sin (3:20; 7:11).  As stated by 1 Corinthians 15:56, the law gives power to sin.  The law is therefore completely unable to justify man.

Paul therefore also often wrote that man is saved by grace.  We will be judged by our deeds, but because man is unable to comply with God’s eternal moral principles, man does not deserve to live.  Man is justified by grace, which means to be saved by God’s kindness:  Eternal life is “the free gift of God … in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

GOD’S ELECT

If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does it contradict the indications in the Bible that God elects certain people? 

Jesus, for instance, said, “for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Mat. 24:22, cf. 24:24, 31).  Paul similarly asked “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (Romans 8:33)

It is proposed here that God does elect certain people, but He does not do that independent of what they are or do, as is often taught.  He elects people for what they are.  However, only God is able to see what people really are.  Only God is able to judge the internal being of man; his faith, motives and desires; what we may refer to as man’s heart.  These things people are completely unable to judge.

Job may serve as an example.  He was God’s elect, but Satan refused to accept God’s judgment, and requested permission from God to test Job thoroughly.  See Why Satan thought he could succeed, for further information.

ON WHAT DOES GOD DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN PEOPLE?

Since we are all sinners (Romans 3:9), how does God decide who will receive eternal live and who will die (8:13)?

Here Romans 7 help us.  In brief, God will save the people that want to do good, even though they fail often (Romans 7:21-25).  The person that does not want to do good, will die.  God will therefore judge man by his inner being.  To say that man is justified by his want to do good is the same as saying man is justified by faith.

SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS IS FOUND IN ALL AGES.

The error of the Jews in Paul’s time is relevant in all times.  In all ages man is inclined to make a list of things that one must do or not do, to be saved.

We also see this error at the time of Luther, when the church also taught that man is redeemed by complying with a strict set of rules, and that contributions to the church and self-deprivation and even self-mutilation compensate for sins.

And we also, today, are fond of making lists of do’s and don’ts.  Such lists of externals only serve to make us unloving and critical of others.  What matters is the heart; whether we want to do the will of God.

WHY ARE THE THEOLOGIANS WRONG?

In this article an approach is proposed that hopefully reconciles all of Paul’s statements with respect to the law.  However, if this understanding is correct, then an enormous amount of church theology is wrong. Why is this so, and why do we find so many churches out there with so many conflicting doctrines?

Universities and colleges

The problem is that pastors and even theologians, in general, with notable and admirable exceptions, never really study the Bible for themselves without preconceived ideas.  They usually study what other people wrote about the Bible.  When they encounter a difficult passage, they flee to the writings of their favorite teacher and author.

For that reason Christianity is divided into various schools of thought.  The existence of these schools of thought prove what I am saying is true.  Pastors typically do not spend time to compare Scripture with Scripture until they understand for themselves what the Scriptures teach.  Unless they intensely study the Bible for themselves, they will never be able to escape from the trap of the schools of thought into which the church has fallen.

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