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.

GALATIANS 1&2 The distorted gospel converted Gentile Christians into Judaism.

This is an overview of chapters 1 and 2 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul himself founded the churches in Galatia (Gal 1:8), but after he left, some people, probably Jewish Christians from Jerusalem (2:17), took a dangerously distorted gospel to those churches (Gal 1:6-9). Their intention was to compel Gentile Christians to be circumcised (Gal 2:3, 12) and to live like Jews (Gal 2:14). They argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16) and said:

“Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

PAUL’S CREDENTIALS

To oppose this distorted gospel, Paul wrote this letter.  In the first two chapters he provides his credentials:

He is “an apostle” (Gal 1:1), which means to be sent by God.

God has set him apart even from his mother’s womb and called him to preach among the Gentiles (Gal 1:15-16; 2:7-8).

Paul received his message directly from God, not through other men (Gal 1:1, 11-12, 16-19; 2:6).

The church leaders in Jerusalem accepted his message as from God (Gal 2:9).

He took Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, along with him on his visit to the church headquarters in Jerusalem, and Titus was not compelled to be circumcised (Gal 2:3, 9). This also confirms that the church leaders accepted Paul’s gospel.

CHRISTIANS ARE NOT SUBJECT TO THE LAW.

In Gal 2:16, Paul attacks the foundation of the demand that Gentile Christians be circumcised. He wrote:

Man is not justified by the works of the Law
but through faith in Christ Jesus
.”

Many people understand this as the main message of the letter to the Galatians but his real message is that Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses:

(1) Paul’s entire purpose is to prevent the circumcision of Gentiles. (Circumcision was the door into Judaism.)

(2) The question “is Christ then a minister of sin?” (Gal 2:17) seems to be an argument used by Paul’s opponents.  Paul taught that Gentiles should not be circumcised and should not “live like Jews” (Gal 2:14).  Paul’s enemies argued that this teaching makes of Christ is “a minister of sin”.

(3) Through his teaching, Paul has destroyed” (Gal 2:18) “the barrier of the dividing wall” between Jew and Gentile which is “the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph 2:14-15).

(4) Paul wrote, “I died to the Law.”  This means that Jewish Christians are “released from the Law” and now no longer have to serve “in oldness of the letter” (Rom 7:6).

Statements like these mean that Christians are released from serving by the letter the Law.  This is Paul’s real main message against the distorted gospel which attempted to convert Gentile Christians into Judaism. 

JUSTIFIED THROUGH FAITH

Paul not only explains that “man is not justified by the works of the Law” (2:16) but also provides the correct method of justification, namely “through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 2:16).  He, therefore, contrasts “faith” with “the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16; 3:10):

Works” are the rituals and ceremonies required by the Law. The Jews, including some early Jewish Christians, thought that they become acceptable to God through these works.

Faith” is the internal mindset that trusts God and relies on His grace (merciful-kindness).  Romans 7 explains what faith is.

ACTS 15 CHURCH COUNCIL

The issue on the table at the Acts 15 Chruch Council exactly was whether Gentiles must be circumcised (Acts 15:1, 3, 5). The church council agreed with Paul (Acts 15:19-20).  It is rather strange that Paul does not use the church council’s decision to support his position. Perhaps the church council took place only after Galatians was written.  And perhaps the “great dissension and debate” (Acts 15:2), which preceded that meeting, included the letter to the Galatians.

SUMMARY

Paul himself founded the churches in Galatia, but, after he left, Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived and told the Gentile Christians to be circumcised and to live like Jews. In the first years after Jesus died, the church existed as a sect of Judaism and their real intention was to convert these Gentile Christians into Judaism. They justified their demands by claiming that “man is justified by the words of the law.” These “works” are not works of love but referred to the rituals and ceremonies required by the Law of Moses.

God called Paul and gave to Paul, via revelation, the message he had to preach among the Gentiles. Paul, by implication, was given the task to remove the church out from Judaism. He, therefore, wrote this letter to oppose the Jewish distortion.  He wrote that “man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Faith is an internal mindset that trusts God. But Paul’s main message was that Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses.

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