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” (Gal 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.
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.
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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” (Gal 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” (Rom 7:21-23). “I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Rom 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!” (Rom 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 having 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” (Gal 5:6).
- “But a new creation” (Gal 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).
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 serve the weak, then we will be saved. If we do not like God’s principles of loving our enemy and turning the other cheek, then God will not force us. However, that means “corruption” (Gal 6:8), for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).
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.