The doers of the Law will be justified but NOT by the Works of the Law.

When discussing the letter to the Galatians, we often discuss the things that Paul opposed.  We discuss the Law of Moses, circumcision, the works of the Law and the freedom that Christians have from these things.  But do we sufficiently discuss the gospel in Galatians?  The purpose of this article series, therefore, is to discuss how people are saved according to the letter to the Galatians.

That letter mentions several concepts that are related to salvation, including:

      • End-time Judgment;
      • The Works of the Law;
      • Faith;
      • Justification;
      • Grace;
      • Christ’s death; and
      • Redemption.

The purpose of this article is to explain, from the letter to the Galatians alone, the relationship between these concepts.

To prepare this article series, I did not specifically consult the theological giants of this world, but simply read the letter many times over and organized the concepts. However, while doing this, I did listen, several times, to Graham Maxwell’s exposition of Galatians.

In certain respects, the conclusions in this article are radically different from the textbook explanations of salvation.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB and from Galatians.

SUMMARY

JUDGED BY OUR DEEDS

The Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age.” He rescues us from “corruption” to “eternal life” in the future “kingdom of God.”

Whether we will “reap corruption” or “eternal life” depends on the end-time judgment, where we will be judged by our deeds. This is what the Old Testament and Jesus consistently taught.  Perhaps to the surprise of many, Paul also taught in his letters: “God … will render to each person according to his deeds.”  The question in this article series then becomes, if we are justified by grace through faith, why will we be judged by our deeds?

WORKS OF THE LAW

A frequent refrain in Galatians is that nobody will be justified by “the works of the Law.” This leaves us with an apparent contradiction, for “the doers of the Law will be justified” but “man is not justified by the works of the Law.”  For both these statements to be true, the “deeds” of the Law must be different from the “works” of the Law.

Deeds – Since “the doers of the Law will be justified,” the “deeds” of the Law must refer to good deeds; acts of love.

Works – The controversy in Galatians was particularly over circumcision, which is not an act of love, but a legal requirement. For this reason, and because nobody will be justified by the “works,” these “works” do not refer to good deeds, but to legal requirements.

Since “works” and “deeds” are different things, it is valid to say that “the doers of the Law will be justified” but “man is not justified by the works of the Law.”

– END OF SUMMARY –

ETERNAL LIFE

This article starts with the end of salvation and ends with the beginning thereof. Galatians refers to the end of salvation as follows:

The Lord Jesus Christ …
rescue us from this present evil age
” (1:3-4).

We … are waiting for the hope of righteousness” (5:5).

But, to what does He rescue us?  And what is our hope? According to 6:8, our end will either be “corruption” or “eternal life.”  For more detail, see Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters.

JUDGED BY OUR DEEDS

Paul claims that, whether we will reap “corruption” or “eternal life,” depends on a future judgment. Many denominations today teach that some people will be saved irrespective of what kind of people they are and notwithstanding their sins, but that is not what Paul taught.  Galatians states that we will be JUDGED BY OUR DEEDS:

Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary“ (6:7-9).

Those who practice such things (“the deeds of the flesh” – 5:19) will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21).

Each one must examine his own work … for each one will bear his own load“ (6:4-5).

The one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment” (5:10).

This is also what the Old Testament and Jesus consistently taught.  Think, for example of Christ’s parable of the sheep and the goats:

I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me” (Mt. 25:31-)

Perhaps to the surprise of some, Paul also taught in his other letters that we will be judged by our deeds:

God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:5-6).

The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13; cf. 8:13; 2 Cor. 5:10; 11:15; 2 Tim. 4:14).

This principle—that we will be judged by our deeds—is the point of departure in this article.  The purpose of this article can then be defined as follows: If we are justified by grace through faith, why will we be judged by our deeds?

THE WORKS OF THE LAW

A frequent refrain in Galatians is that nobody will be justified by “the works of the Law” (2:16). Let us then first ask, if nobody will be justified by “the works of the Law,” why will we be judged by our deeds?

Notice that ”justified” appears in both the following phrases:

      • The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13).
      • Man is not justified by the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16).

For both statements to be true, the “deeds” of the Law must be something different from the “works” of the Law.

DEEDS OF THE LAW

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34). This principle is contained in the Old Testament, but Jesus elevated it as the main principle of His kingdom. He replaced the multitude of requirements in the Law with this fundamental rule.  Because this is what Christ taught, Paul said, “bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).  (See Law of Christ.) He also wrote, “through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:13-14). 

Since “the doers of the Law will be justified,” the “deeds” of the Law must refer to good deeds (“doing good” – 6:9), namely, acts of love.

WORKS OF THE LAW

If the “deeds” of the Law are good deeds, then the “works of the Law” cannot be good deeds. We can define these “works” from Galatians. The opposing parties argued particularly over circumcision. Circumcision was not an act of love, but a legal requirement. “Works,” therefore, refer to circumcision and other such ceremonies and rituals of the Law of Moses that are not intrinsically acts of love, but legal requirements.

The “party of the circumcision” (2:12) said that Gentiles must be circumcised because “man is … justified by the works of the Law” (2:16). They taught that people are justified by compliance with these legal requirements, irrespective of what kind of people they are and despite their sins.

To oppose this teaching, Paul said that nobody will be justified by the works of the Law. In saying this, Paul was not talking about good deeds (acts of love). He was not saying that we are not now free to sin. We will still be judged by our deeds:

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).

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

1. “The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13). CURRENT
2. Justified through faith NEXT
3. Justification
4. Christ’s death enabled the grace of God.
Table of Contents for the articles on Galatians

Graham Maxwell, a talented Adventist preacher, explains his view of God’s use of the law from the letter to the Galatians.

If people are justified through faith, why will they be judged by their deeds?

This is the second article in the Gospel in Galatians-series.  The first article dealt with the apparent contradiction that nobody will be justified by “the works of the Law,” but “the doers of the Law will be justified.” Another main theme in Galatians is that people are justified through faith:

Man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (2:16; cf. 2:20; 3:2, 5-9, 11, 14, 22, 24, 27; 5:5).

The question in this article is, if people are justified through faith, why will they be judged by their deeds, as argued in that article?  This article will argue that deeds and faith, correctly understood, are the same thing.

SUMMARY

Deeds – If God judged humans strictly by our deeds, nobody will be saved. But God does not judge us what we do; He judges what we WANT to do. The true Christian “wants to do good” for he “joyfully concur(s) with the law of God in the inner man.” Nevertheless, the Christian remains a prisoner “of the law of sin which is in my members” for his or her entire life.

Faith – To have faith is not simply to believe something to be true, based on the best available evidence.  To have faith in God is to TRUST Him; that He, in His infinite power, will only do what is best for every one of His creatures.  Furthermore, “faith” is not just something in the mind without external, physical consequences.  The person that is “a new creation” has “faith working through love.

Both good “deeds” and true faith describe a “new creation” in the “inner man” that is invisible to the human eyes.  Only God is able to see and rightly judge this “inner man.” Defined in this way, to be judged by our deeds, is the same as to be justified by faith.

– END OF SUMMARY- 

ALL HAVE SINNED

Firstly, no person can be saved based on his or her deeds. Paul, for example, wrote that “the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin” (3:22). In other words, according to “the Scripture” (the Old Testament) all people are sinners.  This principle is stated many times in Romans, for example, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Judged strictly by our deeds, nobody will be saved.

DEEDS – WHAT WE WANT TO DO

But God does not judge what we do; He judges what we WANT to do. For example, Romans 8:13 reads:

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.”

Putting to death” the deeds of the body does not mean that the person has ALREADY put to death the deeds of the body. The person will “live” if he or she is IN THE PROCESS OF putting such deeds to death.

Paul described himself as such a person in the previous chapter of Romans. He says that he (himself):

Wants to do good” for he “joyfully concur(s) with the law of God in the inner man,” but he is a prisoner “of the law of sin which is in my members” (7:21-23). “I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (7:15).

Paul remained a prisoner “of the law of sin which is in my members” all his life, but that does not mean that he is eternally lost.  As a person who “wants to do good,” he was “putting to death the deeds of the body.” He will live. Paul could, therefore, joyfully conclude:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24-25).

Note, in the quotes above, how many times Paul referred to his “inner man;” what he “wants to do” and what he hates. This is what God judges; not the horrible and evil things we actually do.

FAITH – TO TRUST GOD

Faith does not mean simply to have hope or knowledge that God exists. Faith, in Paul, is not merely something that I believe to be true, such as that it is going to rain tomorrow, based on the best available evidence.  “The demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). 

True faith is to TRUST God. To have faith in God is to know that He is kind and loving as well as Almighty. He will only do what is best for every one of His creatures. Since “God is love” (e.g. 1 John 4:8), and since “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), we can put all our trust in Him. That is faith; to trust God.

This may be contrasted with the theology of Paul’s opponents. They hoped to be saved by the “works of the Law.” This means to trust in what you can do for yourself. To be justified by faith means to realize that I cannot do ANYTHING for myself, but I trust and rely on God’s kindness and grace.

FAITH WORKS THROUGH LOVE.

But “faith” is not just something in the mind without external, physical consequences.  In Galatians, Paul says twice that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything.” In both instances, he goes on to explain what really matters:

      • But faith working through love” (5:6).
      • But a new creation” (6:15).

In other words, the person that is “a new creation” has “faith working through love.” This phrase contains three concepts; work, faith and love:

Work refers to our deeds; the things we do. In this context, it refers to deeds of love.

Faith is not something that is limited to the mind but results in deeds of love.

Love is the motive behind the work. Love is the power that converts faith into deeds. 

Work, faith and love, but the greatest of these is love. (I am playing on 1 Corinthians 13:13).  We cannot separate these three concepts. When we refer to faith, that includes love and deeds of love.

GOD ALONE CAN JUDGE.

Defined in this way, both “deeds” and “faith” are invisible to human eyes.  Only God is able to see and rightly judge this “inner man.” God will judge in His infinite wisdom. In the millennia of His eternal kingdom, we will study His judgments (Rev. 20:4), and will always continue to be astounded by His unending wisdom. The One who created the marvel of the human body has prepared for those who love him “things … which have not entered the heart of man” (1 Cor. 2:9).

CONCLUSION

In this article we ask, if people are justified by their faith, why will they be judged by their deeds?  We have said that to be judged by our deeds, is the same as to be justified by faith:

Deeds – Man’s deeds are always inadequate but God knows what we really WANT to do in our inner being and He judges us by it. 

Faith – True faith trusts God in the “inner man.” True faith works through love. It wants to do what is right.

Both good “deeds” and true faith describe a “new creation” in the “inner man” and in our thinking. 

Both what a person wants to do and whether a person trusts God are invisible to humans. Some people want to do good. Others want to do bad.  Only God knows the difference, for only God is able to judge the “inner man.”

If we want to be part of God’s kingdom, where the strong serves the weak, then we will be saved. If we do not like God’s principles of loving your enemy and turning the other cheek, then God will not force us. However, that means “corruption” (6:8), for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

1. “The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13).
2. Justified through faith
3. Justification
4. Christ’s death enabled the grace of God.
Table of Contents for the articles on Galatians

Graham Maxwell, a talented Adventist preacher, explains his view of God’s use of the law from the letter to the Galatians.