Why Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:19)

This is the third article in the series that explains, if Jesus said, “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law,” why the church council in Acts 15, a decade or two later, decided that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law of Moses. The current article discusses Matthew 5:19-20. It is, actually, also part of the series of articles on Galatians, for it uses Galatians to explain the decision of the church council.  The articles in this series are:

1. Jesus came to fulfill the Law.
2. Sermon on the Mount 
3. Not the smallest letter shall pass from the Law. – Current article

MATTHEW 5:19-20

Matthew 5:19 “whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

SUMMARY

Since it was Jesus’ intention to use the Old Testament as the basis for His sermon, He started His sermon by confirming the continued validity of the Old Testament. He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (5:17).

In verse 19, Jesus switches the topic from “the Law” (the Old Testament) to God’s “commandments.” as contained in the Old Testament. For most of the sermon, He then continues to preach on those “commandments.

Since Jesus taught the people what kind of people they must be to receive eternal life, He only spoke about those “commandments” by which people will be judged in the last judgment. He never mentioned the ceremonial rituals of the Old Testament even once.  It is, therefore, not valid to use Matthew 5 to argue that the ceremonial rituals of the Old Testament are applicable to Christians. 

The question in this article series is, if Jesus said, “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” why did the church council in Acts 15, a decade or two later, decide that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law?

This question is answered above as that there is no requirement in Matthew 5:18 that Christians must abide by the Law of Moses. This verse does not talk about the Old Testament commandments. Rather, Jesus’ point was that He came to put into effect what the Old Testament promised.

PAUL TAUGHT THE AGE OLD GOSPEL.

However, if everything promised in the Old Testament will come to pass, why do Gentile Christians not have to comply with the Law of Moses? 

The answer is that that is what the Old Testament requires.  We can substantiate this conclusion from the Letter to the Galatians, which reflects Paul’s arguments at the Acts 15 Church Council.  In the letter Paul indicates, in a number of ways, that the Old Testament foresaw that Gentiles are to subject to the Law:

The Scripture ‘foresaw’ that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and preached the gospel to Abraham (3:8). Paul claims that he preaches the same age-old gospel. 

Paul argues that people in the Old Testament were also saved by faith. He uses Abraham as an example (Gal 3:6) and quotes from Habakkuk 2:4; “the righteous man shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11).

The “seed” of Abraham, to whom God gave the promises, is Christ (Gal. 3:16). Paul argues that Gentiles become heirs of the promises in Christ (e.g. Gal 2:17). In other words, their salvation is the blessing which God promised to Abraham.

CONCLUSION

Mankind existed for thousands of years without the Law of Moses. The promises which God made to Abraham existed for hundreds of years without the Law. When God gave the law, it did not invalidate the promises (Gal. 3:17-18).  The Law was only a temporary measure to keep Israel on the right path “until the seed would come” (Gal. 3:19).

The “gospel” which Paul preached was the same gospel which God gave to Abraham. Paul’s gospel, therefore, is not a break with the Old Testament, but a continuation of it.

Since the Law of Moses is no longer relevant, Christ gave us a “new commandment” (e.g. John 13:34), which Paul called the Law of Christ. This is the eternal law as it always existed, as explained by Christ.

 – END OF SUMMARY – 

CONFIRMS THE OLD TESTAMENT

The previous article showed that Christ’s purpose was to teach people what kind of people they must be to receive eternal life. Since it was Jesus’ intention to use the Old Testament as the basis for His teaching, He started His sermon by confirming the continued validity of the Old Testament. He said:

Do not think that I came to abolish
the Law or the Prophets
” (5:17).

On the contrary, He said that He came to fulfill “the Law and the Prophets” (what we today call the Old Testament). This was explained in the first article as meaning that, in Christ, everything that is promised in the Old Testament will come true (5:17-18).

At the end of His sermon, Jesus again confirmed the continued validity of the Old Testament by summarizing His sermon as follows:

In everything, therefore,
treat people the same way you want them to treat you,
for this is the Law and the Prophets
” (Matt. 7:12).

SWITCHES TO THE COMMANDMENTS

Having confirmed the continued validity of the Old Testament in verses 17 and 18, in verse 19 He switches the topic from “the Law” to the “commandments.” In other words, He now shifts His attention from the complete Old Testament to God’s commandments as contained in the Old Testament. He then continued to preach on those “commandments,” referring to them with phrases such as, “the ancients were told …” (5:21) and “you have heard that it was said …” (5:27).

ONLY MORAL COMMANDMENTS

The previous article showed that Jesus taught the people what kind of people they must be to receive eternal life. For that reason, the “commandments” do not include the ceremonial rituals of the Old Testament. He never mentioned them even once.  He only spoke about those “commandments” by which people will be judged in the last judgment, when “the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Rev. 20:12).

This is confirmed by how the word “commandment” is used in the gospels. It is used for instructions given by:

Human beings (Luke 15:25-29; John 11:57);

The Father to Christ specifically (John 15:10), including to lay down His life and “to take it up again” (John 10:17-18) as well as, “the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49-50);

Christ to His followers (John 14:15, 21; 15:10), including “that you love one another” (John 13:31-34); The article Law of Christ concludes that Christ did more than to merely interpret the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses with much higher moral standards, which reflects the Father’s perfect heart; the eternal law as it existed from the beginning.  

But when used for God’s commandments in the Old Testament, it always refers to the “commandments” by which people will be judged; never to ceremonial rituals, for example:

The Ten Commandments, such as honor your father and mother, murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness and the Sabbath (Matt. 15:3-5; 19:16-19; Mark 7:8-13; 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-20; 23:55)

Other moral laws, such as “love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:16-19; 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31);

This confirms that the “commandments” in Matthew 5:19 are limited to moral commandments.  It is, therefore, not valid to use Matthew 5 to argue that the ceremonial rituals of the Old Testament are applicable to Christians.

CONCLUSIONS

The question in this article series is, if Jesus said, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18), why did the church council in Acts 15, a decade or two later, decide that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law? This question is answered above as that there is no requirement in Matthew 5:18 that Christians must abide by the Law of Moses:

This verse does not talk about the Old Testament commandments. “The Law” refers to to the entire Old Testament. Verse 19, which introduces the main topic of the sermon, does refer to God’s commandments, but this does not mean that verse 18 also discusses the commandments. It is important to note that verse 18 discusses the Old Testament in general but verse 19 switches the topic to God’s commandments in particular.

Furthermore, Jesus’ point was not that something remains. His point was that something will change, namely, He said that the Old Testament will be “accomplished.” Christ came to “fulfill” “the Law and the Prophets.”  This means that He will put into effect what the Old Testament promised.

However, if Jesus said that He came to put in place what the Old Testament promised, then that does imply continuity. Also the fact that Jesus used the Old Testament commandments as basis for His sermon implies that the new covenant is a continuation of the old covenant. Therefore the question remains, why do Gentile Christians not have to comply with the Law of Moses? 

The reason is that the Old Testament says so.  The fact that the Law of Moses is no longer relevant was foreseen by the Old Testament.  We can substantiate this conclusion from the Letter to the Galatians, as explained in the next section:

PAUL PREACHED ABRAHAM’S GOSPEL.

Paul was the leader of the party at the Acts 15 church council that advocated against the circumcision of Gentiles. The Letter to the Galatians reflects Paul’s arguments at that meeting. See, When was Galatians written? We can, therefore, accept that letter as an explanation of the logic behind the church council’s decision. The following discussion highlights certain verses from that letter that shows that Paul argued that the Old Testament predicted that Gentile Christians will not be subject to the Law of Moses:

THROUGH THE LAW I DIED TO THE LAW (Gal. 1:17)

People sometimes struggle to understand how one can die “to the Law” “through the Law.”  Simple: “Through the Law” means that the Old Testament predicted or foresaw that Christians would die “to the Law.” 

ALL THE NATIONS BLESSED IN YOU (Gal. 3:8)

The following is a key part of Paul’s logic:

Galatians 3:6 … Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

In this section, Paul included two quotes from the Old Testament (shown in capital letters) from which he makes certain conclusions:

3:6 … Abraham “BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
This means that Abraham was justified (saved) by faith.

3:7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
Abraham’s true sons are not his physical descendants, but those who believe, including believing Gentiles (cf. verse 29).

3:8 The Scripture
The Scripture is what we today call the Old Testament.

foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham
This is the main point for the purpose of the current article, namely that all of this was predicted by the Old Testament. Note the word “gospel.” Paul was very careful to explain that his gospel is not a break with the Old Testament, but the same old “gospel” (v8; cf. 1:6-7) which God gave to Abraham. 

saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”
This phrase is explained by the previous phrase. Therefore, to be
Blessed in Abraham is to be Justified by Faith. Verse 9 confirms this point. The blessings which the Gentiles receive, namely justification, is not something new, but it is the blessing that was promised to Abraham.

THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH (Gal. 3:11)

Paul claimed that the Jews know “that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:15), because the Old Testament says so. As mentioned above, he uses Abraham as an example of where the Old Testament reveals this principle, saying, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Gal 3:6). And Paul also frequently quotes from Habakkuk 2:4; “the righteous man shall live by faith” (E.g. Gal. 3:11; Rom. 1:17).

Note how often Paul quotes from the Old Testament in these arguments, as indicated by the capital letters in the NASB. This confirms that Paul was adamant that his gospel is not a break with the “Scriptures.”

ABRAHAM’S SEED (Gal 3:16)

God gave the promises to Abraham and his seed (Gen. 22:17). Paul interprets that “seed” as, essentially, Christ (Gal. 3:16; cf. v19). The Gentiles become heirs of the promises in Christ, which we can understand as through Christ. As stated before, the purpose of the Old Testament is accomplished in Christ. He is the Vehicle through which God saves this world.

THE LAW CAME LATER (Gal. 3:17-18).

In these verses, Paul indicates the following:

The Law of Moses came hundreds of years after God gave these promises to Abraham and did not invalidate the promises (Gal. 3:17-18).  What is really important are the promises which God made to Abraham. The Law was only a temporary measure to keep Israel on the right path “until the seed would come” (Gal. 3:19). The Law does not “impart life” (save to eternal life – 3:21) because everybody has sinned (3:22). “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ … But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (3:24-25).

Paul’s argument, that Gentiles do not have to be circumcised was, therefore, based on God’s covenant with Abraham. Paul claimed that he preached the same gospel which God gave to Abraham. The Law of Moses was a later and temporary addition. “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (3:24-25). In other words, the Law is not even relevant to Jews that are “in Christ” and, therefore, most certainly not applicable to Gentile Christians.

LAW OF CHRIST

So, if we are not under the Law of Moses, under what law are we?

Firstly, in the Sermon on the Mount, as discussed in the previous article, Jesus only spoke about the rules for moral behavior by which people will be judged; identified as “commandments” in Matthew 5:19

Secondly, as explained more fully in the article Law of Christ, Christ did more than to merely interpret the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses with much higher moral standards, which reflects the Father’s perfect heart; the eternal law as it existed from the beginning. People will be judged against these rules; not the moral laws as reflected in the Law of Moses.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

Jesus came to fulfill the Law. – A study of Matthew 5:17-18 – Jesus did not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law and the prophets. What are “the Law and the Prophets” and how did Jesus fulfill them?

Sermon on the Mount – Jesus taught His followers what kind of people they must be to be rewarded with eternal life. Jesus did not believe that people have essential immortality and taught that they will be judged by their deeds.

Not the smallest letter shall pass from the Law.  Jesus said that not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Why then did the Acts 15 Church Council, a decade or two later, decide that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law? Paul’s letter to the Galatians explains the decision.– Current article

Articles on Galatians – Since Galatians explains the decision of the Church Council, these articles are, in a sense, part of the series on 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” (2:4)—including, “men from James” (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 (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 (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” which 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 forms 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 IS 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” (Mat. 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.