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, 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;
      • 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 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 –

ETERNAL LIFE

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

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.

OTHER ARTICLES

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

By grace through faith are people saved but God judges our deeds.

SUMMARY

THE DISTORTED GOSPEL

Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to oppose Jewish Christians who told the Gentile Christians, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Their purpose was to force Gentile Christians to comply with the Law of Moses.  They argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law.” Their “Law” was the Law of Moses, as interpreted through their traditions. They used the Law both as the norm for human behavior and as the means of salvation.

WORKS ARE NOT DEEDS

Paul opposed the view of the Jewish Christians and wrote, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” However, Paul also wrote, “God … will render to each person according to his deeds.” There is a big difference between “works” and “deeds” in these quotes. “The works of the Law” was a technical term that the Jews employed to refer specifically to the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses. The “deeds,” by which Paul wrote we will be judged, refer to moral behavior, or the absence of it.

DIFFERENT LAW

Law of Moses

Furthermore, the “Law,” to which the Jewish Christians referred was the Law of Moses while the “law” in the phrase “the doers of the Law will be justified” is “the Law of Christ.”  This refers to Christ’s explanation of God’s eternal moral principles, for example in the Sermon on the Mount.  It is against this “Law of Christ” that our “deeds” are judged.

The Acts 15 Church Council decided that Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  God gave the Law to Israel to serve as their guardian, but only “until the seed would come.” It would, therefore, be wrong to strive to comply with the Law of Moses, except to the extent to which Christ incorporated the principles of that law into His teachings.

BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH

The Christian Pharisees and Paul, therefore, taught two different norms for human behavior. They also preached two different means of justification. While the Jews thought that man earns justification through the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses, Paul maintained that “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). Rather, Paul taught that man will be justified by grace through faith:

The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13) but man does not earn redemption through his deeds, for man is unable to comply with the Law of Christ. Therefore, no person earns eternal life.  Rather, people are “justified as a gift by His grace.” This means that God’s judgment is subject to His grace, which is His merciful kindness.

In Jewish thinking, you don’t need God: You save yourself by what you do.  In contrast, faith depends on God. Grace means that your salvation will always be subject to God’s judgment.

God’s grace is available to all people, but only some are saved. There is, therefore, another factor in judgment that makes a distinction between people, and that is what Paul refers to as faith. People are saved, not by grace only, but “by grace … through faith.”  In this context, faith is not merely to believe something to be true. Rather, to have faith is to trust God. If we trust God, our deeds will reflect that trust. But we remain sinners. We continue to sin. Therefore, in grace, God does not judge our external deeds alone. Rather, in grace, He judges us by looking at what we want to do (Romans 7:14; 18-22). He is able to see the heart. “I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev 2:23). Even though they often fail, God will save the people that want to comply with His law, which reflects their faith.

In salvation, grace and faith, therefore, are inseparable: Faith is the consequence of grace in the sense that God judges us by our faith, rather than by our real deeds, because of grace. 

CONCLUSIONS

      • The works of the Law” are the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses. Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses.
      • The Law of Christ” refers to Christ’s explanation of God’s eternal moral principles. Our “deeds” are judged against the “Law of Christ.
      • The doers of the Law of Christ will be justified—not because they earn justification through their deeds—but “as a gift by His grace,” which is His merciful kindness. We are justified “by grace … through faith.”  To explain: In grace, God does not judge us on our external deeds alone. Rather, in grace, He judges us by what we want to do, which is the product of our trust (faith) in God. This, only God is able to see.

In Jewish thinking, you don’t need God: You save yourself by what you do. Faith is an attitude of dependence on God for your salvation.

– END OF SUMMARY –

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to oppose “false brethren” (Gal 2:4)—including, “men from James” (Gal 2:12)—who taught a distorted “gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:7). These were Christian Jews who told the Gentile Christians, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). Their purpose was to force Gentile Christians to comply with the Law of Moses.

The purpose of the current article is to explain the difference between what Paul taught and the distorted gospel.

WHAT THE JEWS TAUGHT

These Jewish Christians justified their demand by arguing that man is “justified by the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16). Their “Law” was the Law of Moses, but there are indications in Galatians that the traditions played a large role:

Paul was previously extremely zealous for the Ancestral traditions (Gal 1:14).

Peter used to eat with the Gentiles, but after certain men came from Jerusalem, he withdrew and held himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision (Gal 2:12). This rule, that Jews may not eat with Gentiles, comes from the Traditions of the Elders; not from the Law of Moses.

The “bondage” (Gal 2:4) was, therefore, both to the Law of Moses and the Traditions.  The Jews interpreted the “Law” through their traditions.

But the point is that these Jewish Christians used the Law and the traditions as:

(1) Norm for human behavior and also
(2) Means of salvation, claiming that people are saved by “the works of the law.” In other words, they taught that a person must earn salvation.

PAUL’S TEACHING

Paul opposed this view and said, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16). However, Paul also wrote:

The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13; cf. Rom 14:10; Gal 6:2-8).

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

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; cf. 2 Cor 11:15).

It almost seems as if Paul contradicted himself and that he agreed with the Jews:

Jews: man is “justified by the works of the Law
Paul:
“the doers of the Law will be justified.”

So, what are the difference between their teachings?

WORKS ARE NOT DEEDS

Firstly, the Jews referred to “works” (the works of the law) while Paul referred to “deeds.” There is a big difference between these two terms:

The works of the Law” was a technical term that the Jews employed to refer specifically to the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses.

The “deeds” by which we will be judged (e.g. Rom 2:5-6), as Paul used the term, refer to moral behavior.

Some further examples to show that we will be judged by our “deeds:”

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 8:13).

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).

DIFFERENT LAW

Secondly, the “Law,” to which the Jewish Christians referred, was the Law of Moses while the “law” in the phrase “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13) is “the Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Paul uses the word “law” often in his writings, but with different meanings:

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

At times, the “law” was “the book of the law” (Gal 3:10) which Moses wrote up and put beside the ark.

And sometimes “law” refers to the Ten Commandments specifically (e.g. Rom 13:10). Another “law” that Paul referred to is “the Law of Christ” (e.g. Gal 6:2).

LAW OF CHRIST

Another example of “the Law of Christ” in Paul’s writings is where Paul wrote that he, himself, is:

not … under the Law … though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:20-21).

The Law of Christ is, therefore, God’s law, but it is not the Law of Moses. It refers to Christ’s teachings; namely, the “commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thess 4:2).

See the article Law of Christ for a discussion of this law. It refers to God’s eternal moral principles, which also form the foundation of the Law of Moses.

Jesus enacted “the Law of Christ” when He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations … teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discussed the Ten Commandments and some other Old Testament laws, but then gave His own version of those laws, starting with the words, “But I say to you” (e.g. Matt 5:44). This is, in other words, how Jesus formulated His law.

It is against this “Law of Christ” that our “deeds” are judged.  Those that sin will die, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) but those that “are putting to death the deeds of the body, … will live” (Rom 8:13). (See Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters.)

LAW OF MOSES ABROGATED

In summary, we can interpret Galatians 2:16 as saying that man is not justified by the works of the Law of Moses but the doers of the “Law of Christ” will be justified.

As was also taught by Paul, the Acts 15 Church Council decided that Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  See Theological Implications of the Early Church. God gave the Law to Israel to serve as their guardian to keep them on the right path, but only “until the seed would come” (Gal 3:19). Paul taught the “liberty which we have in Christ Jesus” (Gal 2:4) and “freedom” (Gal 5:1, 13). That liberty is freedom from the Law of Moses.

It would, therefore, be wrong to strive to comply with the Law of Moses, except to the extent to which Christ incorporated the principles of that law into His teachings. For example, people that want to keep the Sabbath must be able to justify that on Christ’s teachings. See Jesus taught more about the Sabbath than all the other nine commandments put together.

DIFFERENT MEANS OF JUSTIFICATION

So far, this article has made distinctions between:

The “works” by which the Jews said we are justified versus the “deeds” by which Paul said we will be judged.

The “Law of Moses” versus the “Law of Christ” against which our “deeds” will be measured.

The third difference is that the Jewish Christians and Paul preached two different means of justification:

The Jews thought that man is justified by the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses.  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.  He maintained that “through the Law (of Christ) comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). Metaphorically, “sinful passions … were aroused by the Law” (Rom 7:5). The law gives power to sin (1 Cor 15:56) and is completely unable to justify man. 

Rather, Paul taught that man will be justified by grace through faith:

BY GRACE

The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13) but man does not earn redemption through his deeds, for man is unable to comply with the Law of Christ, which is God’s norm. Paul wrote:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace” (Rom 3:23-24).

We will be judged by our compliance with God’s Law, which is the Law of Christ, but the judgment is subject to grace. Because no person is able to comply with God’s eternal moral principles, no person deserves to live. God’s people are, therefore, justified by grace, which is God’s merciful kindness:

Eternal life is “the free gift of God … in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

By grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5).

In summary, justification by the “works of the Law” means that one earns justification by complying with the ceremonies and rituals of the Law of Moses. In other words, you don’t need God: You are saved by what you do. In contrast, faith is an attitude of dependence on God. Grace means that your salvation will always be subject to God’s judgment:

If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works” (Rom 11:6)

So, if people are saved merely by grace, why was it necessary for Christ to die?  Could God not have forgiven people, simply in mercy?  Please see Why Jesus had to die.

THROUGH FAITH

God’s grace is available to all people, but, while we are all sinners (Rom 3:9), only some are saved. There is, therefore, another factor in judgment that makes a distinction between people, and that is faith. People are saved, not by grace only, but “by grace … through faith” (Eph 2:8; Rom 5:1).  So, what role does faith play in justification?

FAITH IS THE ALTERNATIVE FOR WORKS

Firstly, faith replaces works in the Jewish thinking of salvation. It is the alternative for works. One is either saved by works or by faith. For example:

Referring to the Jews, Paul wrote, “they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works” (Rom 9:32).

A man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28).

Gentiles … attained righteousness … by faith; but Israel … did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works” (Rom 9:30-32).

FAITH IS INTERNAL

Secondly, faith is internal, while works are external: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). God judges the heart; the inner being. 

FAITH IS WHAT WE WANT TO DO.

Thirdly, because we are unable to meet God’s standards, He judges us by grace. And because it is by grace, God judges our faith. And our faith is reflected in what we want to do rather than what we actually do.  God will save the people that want to comply with His law, even though they often fail:

The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Rom 7:18-19; cf. 21-25)

Such people are regarded as “doers of the law” (Rom 2:13). The person that does not want to comply with God’s law, will die (Rom 8:13). In this way, God judges man’s inner being. To say that man is justified by his want to do good is the same as saying man is justified by faith.

GRACE AND FAITH ARE ONE SINGLE CONCEPT.

Fourthly, grace and faith, therefore, cannot be separated. To repeat, because God justifies humans by grace, He evaluates their faith, rather than their literal deeds.  Therefore, grace and faith are a single concept:

It is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace” (Rom 4:16)

We can, therefore, explain Romans 2:13 as that the doers of the Law ‘do’ the Law by their faith, which is something which God is able to see, and which is reflected in what they want to do.

CONCLUSIONS

Paul taught:

A different law (Law of Christ versus the Jewish Law of Moses) and
A different means of justification (by grace through faith versus the Jewish “works of the Law.”)

SELF-JUSTIFICATION IS FOUND IN ALL AGES.

The error of the Jews is relevant at all times.  In all ages, man is inclined to assume that one is saved by what you do.  This is the way by which everything else works in this life, and we make the mistake of assuming that God’s kingdom is like this world. 

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

GOD’S ELECT

If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does that 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” (Matt 24:22, cf. 24:24, 31), and Paul asked, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (Rom 8:33)

It is proposed here that God does elect certain people, but not independent of what they are or do, as is taught in the Reformed tradition. He elects people for what they really are, which is something that only God is able to see. God judges man’s heart; his faith, motives, and desires. These things people are unable to judge. The Atonement series of articles shows that the War in Heaven is exactly about God, judgments and that Christ’s death demonstrated the rightness of God’s judgments.

Job serves as a good example.  He was God’s elect, but Satan refused to accept God’s judgment and requested permission from God to test Job thoroughly.  For a discussion of this, see Why Satan thought he could succeed.

For mp3 discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the excellent Pineknoll website.