When discussing the letter to the Galatians, we often discuss the things that Paul opposed, such as the Law of Moses, circumcision, and the works of the Law. We also discuss 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 relate to salvation, including:
- End-time Judgment;
- The Works of the Law;
- Christ’s death; and
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.
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 of the Law – 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 –
This article begins with the end of the salvation process 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” (Gal 1:3-4).
“We … are waiting for the hope of righteousness” (Gal 5:5).
But, to what does He rescue us? And what is our hope? According to Gal 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“ (Gal 6:7-9).
“Those who practice such things (“the deeds of the flesh” – Gal 5:19) will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).
“Each one must examine his own work … for each one will bear his own load“ (Gal 6:4-5).
“The one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment” (Gal 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” (Matt 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” (Gal 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” (Gal 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’” (Gal 5:13-14).
Since “the doers of the Law will be justified,” the “deeds” of the Law must refer to good deeds (“doing good” – Gal 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” (Gal 2:12) said that Gentiles must be circumcised because “man is … justified by the works of the Law” (Gal 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
Graham Maxwell, a talented Adventist preacher, explains his view of God’s use of the law from the letter to the Galatians.