The Fork in the Road: A Different Gospel, Part 5 (Gal 5 part 2)


The usual objection heard at this point is that the scriptures obviously require obedience (insert citations to numerous well-known verses), and therefore we are saved by both faith and works, and because instrumental music (or weekly communion etc.) is a command, it’s a work, and therefore it’s necessary to save.

Now, by now, surely we see that this sort of logic runs totally contrary to Paul’s thought in Galatians. Pull out all the proof texts you wish, and Paul still said what he said in Galatians. Rather, the solution isn’t in ignoring Paul, overruling him with James, or limiting his teaching to circumcision. The solution is found in the meaning of “obedience.”

The question, you see, isn’t whether we must obey. Of course, we must obey! Get that down. God insists that Christians obey! It’s true. You know it. I know it. And that’s not the question.

The question is what kind of obedience is sufficient for a saved person to remain saved. Does God demand doctrinal perfection? Sinless worship? What’s the standard? And Paul is actually quite plain in Galatians — and the other books of the New Testament are in complete accord. The key is not to impose our concerns on Paul, but to let Paul tell us all about the obedience God requires.

(Gal 5:13-14 ESV) 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul makes clear that the freedom he urged in 5:1 should not give an opportunity “for the flesh.” Of course, Paul routinely uses “flesh” in contrast with “spirit.” The “flesh” is the part of us that wants things that God doesn’t want for us.

Rather, Paul says, our freedom should lead us to serve one another and to love our neighbors. Love, of course, is the thing that counts in addition to faith and that leads to hope. Love remains. Paul is, of course, simply teaching us to be like Jesus.

Now, it sounds a bit like Paul is saying that “You shall love your neighbor” is a law that survives from the old covenant into the new, but that’s not really how he’s thinking. You see, Paul isn’t thinking in legal terms. He is speaking to legally minded people, and so he sometimes speaks in their language, but he’s pointing them to something higher and better than law.

(Gal 5:16-18 ESV) 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

This passage neatly encapsulates Rom 7 and this first part of Rom 8, where Paul describes the war between the flesh and the Spirit in each of us. God sent us the Spirit so that the fleshly desires would be overcome and replaced by “the desires of the Spirit.” And when this happens — when the Spirit transforms our hearts — we are no longer under law. Why?

(Gal 5:19-21 ESV) 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Some of these works of the flesh sound just like church — church at its worst, of course, but church. But these works damn because they contradict faith expressing itself through love. It’s not because these behaviors violate the Great Rulebook in the Sky. It’s because we should already know that these are wrong because they cannot coexist with faith expressing itself through love.

(Gal 5:22-25 ESV) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

These are not works of Christians. They are fruit of the Spirit — written in an agrarian age to people who understand how fruit works. It grows on trees or vines, and doesn’t require a command to grow. It grows on trees because it’s the nature of the tree or vine to produce fruit — and only a certain kind of fruit.

We write books for ladies Bible classes teaching our women to work hard for this fruit of the Spirit, but Paul says these come, not from our own effort, but from the Spirit. Just as division comes from the flesh, kindness comes from the Spirit.

Now, notice the end of v. 23: “against such things there is no law.” To a legalist, this sounds like the Normative Principle, the idea that everything not prohibited is permitted. But that’s not Paul’s point. His point is that there’s no law against these things because the Law was inspired by the same Spirit who generates these fruit in the lives of Christians. And the Spirit, of course, produces love in us.

And his point is that there’s no need for law when our hearts have been circumcised — transformed — by the Spirit to be hearts that naturally produce this kind of fruit.

(Gal 5:18 ESV) 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Only faith expressing itself through love counts for anything, and the Spirit produces love in our hearts. God helps us overcome the flesh and live in a way that counts by the Spirit. We are led by the Spirit (5:16), and we live by the Spirit.

But, of course, we retain our free will and could resist the Spirt. And so, we must choose to live by the Spirit and so walk in faith and love. But we don’t do it by ourselves. Rather, God transforms us as we submit to his transforming work in us.


22 Responses

  1. Jay quotes some who might say, “instrumental music (or weekly communion etc.) is a command.”

    But no command is found regarding Christian use of musical instruments or the frequency of partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Those who seek to make laws about either matter must first create a command before they can say there is such a command. Jay is entirely right that Paul in Galatians is not creating laws for Christians. He’s speaking to the freedom we have as servants of Jesus Christ.

    We are warned against making laws and seeking to bind them on brethren. Yet how popular that pastime has been among US. How encouraging it is to hear Jay echoing truth taught by apostles of Christ!

  2. Wow! Just the kind of spiritual meat I need to chew on. I’ve never been taught or looked at the fruits of the Spirit actually being something that is of the Spirit. I always assumed it was something I had to work hard at. Instead, I need to focus more on letting the Spirit work in me and these things will come. Thanks Jay!

  3. Jay, you make it sound like “works, and strife” are an evil thing ‘, that if you are a true Christian all obedience will just come naturally. So I suppose spreading the good news on your blog comes naturally, no need to study, no hard work on your part, no striving to please God. Just out of love for your fellow man.I am sure you like myself have neighbors that are not baptized Christians.Yet you say your site is dedicated to the members of your church, Is that the works/fruits of the spirit you were told to bear? or do you think you are obligated to do this. Yes you are obligated to do good works, just as we all are, not all are obligated to work through words, but some are.Is it a better work that you do, than that of a person who mows his sick neighbors yard ? NO, those who feed the hungry? NO those who help others in any way, NO. It could be just as important to the Lord, but he doesn’t mention it.

  4. laymond wrote,

    Jay, you make it sound like “works, and strife” are an evil thing ‘, that if you are a true Christian all obedience will just come naturally. So I suppose spreading the good news on your blog comes naturally, no need to study, no hard work on your part, no striving to please God. Just out of love for your fellow man.

    First, I’m all for works — just not as a requirement for salvation.

    (Eph 2:8-10 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

    We were saved “for good works” but not as “a result of works.”

    This blog is a lot of work. I catch a lot of very public criticism. And yet it’s not a burden in the least. I enjoy every moment. And one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. Does it come naturally? Absolutely it does – but only because my nature has been changed by the Spirit. Do I feel obligated to do this? No, I feel compelled to do this. (Does that make sense?)

    Do I strive to please God? Yes — but not in the sense of trying to earn his favor. I have his favor (thanks to the work of Jesus!), and so therefore I want desperately to respond in thankfulness with whatever I have to offer, not that I can ever do enough. But my service to God isn’t the misery of knowing that I can never earn his favor; it’s the joy of knowing I have his favor and that he delights in my service because my service is prompted by the Spirit. It’s not in any sense good enough, but God still receives it with joy.

    I’m a parent, and when my kids were little, their teachers had them do paintings and other crafts at school, which they brought home to me. And they were exactly what you’d expect from a 7-year old — nothing to hang in the Smithsonian — and every one was a delight because I love my children and because I saw the love in their work. And so our refrigerator was covered with all sorts of artwork, all far more precious to us than the work of the finest professional artist.

    And this is how God judges our work today. We don’t have to bring our fingerpaintings to him to live in his household. In no sense do we earn our place. Rather, he delights in our efforts such as they are, and we delight in him.

    The Spirit’s work is repeatedly associated with joy in the scriptures, and my experience is that when anyone uses his gifts in God’s mission, it’s enjoyable. Of course, there are times that are tough, and it can be very hard indeed, but it’s still joy — there’s no contradiction between challenge/hard work/striving and joy. In fact, I think they naturally go together.

    For me, teaching and writing come naturally (that is, according to the nature God has given me through his Spirit). For others, it’s cutting a neighbor’s lawn. For others, it’s childcare. For others, it’s mission work. And it’s all hard work, and they all present their frustrations, failures, and difficulties. But they can also all be done with joy in the Spirit.

    We have different gifts, and some receive more honor among humans than others. But all are honored by and bring delight to God.

  5. First, I’m all for works — just not as a requirement for salvation. … We were saved “for good works” but not as “a result of works.” … Do I strive to please God? Yes — but not in the sense of trying to earn his favor. I have his favor (thanks to the work of Jesus!),

    If we are going to be judged acording to our works, how can works not be a requirement for salvation?

    Further: If our Lord says: “Well done, you faithful servant”, is this because of what the servant has done (works) or independent of his works? So, do works earn us favour in the eyes of the Lord, or don’t they?

    And: If splitting churches is a work of the flesh that according to Galatians will hinder us from entering the Kingdom, then introducing IM at the cost of divisions could actually cost one’s salvation.

    This is not to say that all IMers are bound to hell, but that those who split churche over this are in great danger of missing the mark. Please, Jay don’t point to exaggerated arguments for a-cappella. You know full well, that there are some sound reasons around for holding fast the traditions that were handed down to us by the apostles.

    Since a-cappella was there in the first place which is historically correct (face it), introducing IM was and is a deviation from the original apostolic pattern. It is not about a “Church of Christ” peculiarity, but our efforts to restore the NT church according to NT patterns includes a-cappella worship (and would most likely include some other things, we – both you and I – have overlooked so far).

    I come from an instrumental evangelical backgriound before I joined the churches of Christ, and it took me some time to grasp these things. So now I react quite allergic to both statements: “Works are not necessary of salvation” and (everything in the sense of) “It is perfectly all right to have your own way in worship.” You can have a Whopper (R) your own way, but that’s about it …

    I see some very extreme exegesis here, some misrepresentations of the conservatives by quoting extreme exegis from their side. See, it is very easy to quote something like that and point to the weak points in order to make your own weak points shine like the morning sun. But the whole discussion – as learned it presents itself – revolves around extremes.

    Judge for yourself, Jay, whether this is pleasing and fitting.

    In Christ

  6. Jay, I hear over and over how many believe we’re saved by good works. Bro laymond says the bible says we’ll be judged by our works. (believing that works save us)My bible says we’ll be rewarded according to our works. Rewards and Salvation are not the same. Rewards can be earned based on our works, however, Salvation can never be earned. I believe if the Church do a better job at teaching the difference, we can better highlight how Faith in Jesus Christ alone leads to Salvation apart from works. It’s true that faith is made complete by works (Jas 3:22) However, God sees faith (Pistis) and counts it toward righteousness. (Just like Abraham;the father of the faith) and pours out his Spirit in us which leads us to faith (Pistos). I believe when we tell our conservative brothers that works don’t save, they believe we’re saying works are unimportant. Works are very important!! there are many works, However, there’s only one Faith. “My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteuosness”.

    My next isuue is with our weaker brothers who believe they are doing God a favor by creating that elusive line that one must cross to be condemned. The bible clearly tells us not to judge(condemn). I’m not talking about teaching and admonishing according to God’s commands(not necessary inferences) in that case, we’re using God’s word to judge.(what’s right/wrong) We still can’t condemn. We keep saying ” I know false doctrine condemns” However, the seven churches were dealing with false doctrine (not all of them). The church at Philadelphia was commended for several things, but not because they disfellowshipped with the other congregations. If they had, they would have been guilty of dividing the body. All seven churches were still a part of the body. However, if we must rebel against God’s word and judge anyway, He gives us this stern warning: WITH WHAT MEASURE YOU JUDGE OTHERS; WILL BE MEARSURED UNTO YOU.
    Christ is going to use the yoke we bind others, to hang ourselves. He is Just, He’s not going to make allowances for us like we do for ourselves. His judgement will be swift and complete. The line is drawn by us. I’m not a once saved always saved person. I’m a must be faithful person.

  7. I apologize for attributing Bro Bansar comments as Bro Laymond.

  8. Alexander,

    As Paul said in Eph 2, we are saved “for good works.” The Spirit in us produces good works. And as people with free will, we have a choise whether to be led by the Spirit or to rebel against the Spirit’s leading. If we rebel, eventually we’ll quench the Spirit and be damned.

    To some, this sounds like a works salvation, but it’s plainly what Paul teaches.

    To some, this sounds like salvation without works, but it’s plainly what Paul teaches.

    The problem both sets of critics have is a failure to think in Spirit-ual terms.

    This distinction from a works salvation is that our works are in response to salvation, not to earn salvation. We aren’t judged by the perfection or doctrinal purity of our works so much as whether we’ve submitted to the circumcision of our hearts by the Spirit — which produces works. Hence, if there are no works, we’ve resisted the Spirit.

    The distinction from a salvation without works is that a salvation that comes with the Spirit produces works.

    This does not follow the logic of the legalist, nor does it follow the logic of those who see in “faith” mere intellectual assent — which is simply not what the word means.

    Christianity, in fact, demands everything. But it’s also a transition back toward being truly in God’s image — and that means that as we get closer to the image of God, Christianity becomes more natural — more of who we were always meant to be. That doesn’t make it easy. I’m convinced I was also always meant for parenthood — but that didn’t make it easy! It just made it natural. But hard work. But the work didn’t make me a parent. Being a parent made me work. And there’s a difference.

    But there was no law that made me be a parent. It was a very voluntary choice, that became more voluntary over time and with experience.

    It’s not about law. It’s about the Spirit. And yet we obey — but not out of compulsion. We obey out of love for God and the sheer joy of obedience and because we are the kind of people who obey. It’s our new nature.

    And the question of who remains saved is therefore not about “did you interpret that inference right?” but “are you being true to your new nature?” And if you doubt that, read Gal 5 and Rom 8. That’s what they say.

    You accuse me of “quoting extreme” exegesis. I’d love for you to show me better! I subscribe to the Gospel Advocate and the Spiritual Sword. I’ve read a large portion of the Christian Courier and many back issues of the Firm Foundation under the editorship of Buster Dobbs. I grew up in the conservative Churches and attended Lipscomb from 72 to 75. If these aren’t representative publications, what are? These are actually the ones considered mainstream or even moderate by many — at least in these parts.

    If I’m unfairly quoting the extremes, whom should I be quoting? There are a cappella advocating preachers who don’t consider the issue a salvation issue –but in my book, they aren’t “conservatives.” You see, to me, the key issue is one of fellowship, not worship, and the distinction is thus whether you would consider an instrumental Church of Christ brothers in full fellowship — even if you disagree over some of their practices.

    My biggest problem with the a cappella-only teaching is the theology that is used ot support it. And among my complaints is that notion that the Early Church Fathers create binding doctrine, an idea that violates both the Reformation’s sola scriptura (the scriptures only) and the Restoration Movement’s “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.” Citing Justin Martyr as binding authority violates those principles utterly. We are sometimes so keen on teaching a cappella music that we’ll surrender anything to make our case — and I think we need to return to the Bible and the Bible only.

    Should we restore the New Testament church? No, I’ve read 1 Corinthians. The New Testament churches were often colossal messes. But we should return to apostolic instruction. Absolutely!

  9. As Paul said in Eph 2, we are saved “for good works.” The Spirit in us produces good works.

    Let me try to point you to a grave misunderstanding here. That we are saved “for good works”, does that mean, that good works “happen” by the spirit? Or are they to be done out of loving obedience in the power of the Spirit?

    Please try to listen carefully: The Spirit does not obey on our behalf, but we are being changed and strengthened by the Spirit to obey. It is He who makes us willing, and He who enables us to accomplish God’s will. But it is us who must obey.

    So the Spirit does not produce god works – but he wants to motivate and enable us to do them.

    A second misunderstanding:

    This distinction from a works salvation is that our works are in response to salvation, not to earn salvation.

    Salvation is a process, not a one-time-event in the past. We are called to live faithful lives in order to reach salvation in the end, although we are also sacved in baptism in order to become regenerated and enebled to live these lives.

    The Spirit of God is not the full salvation, but a down-payment. So we are cleansed from sin, regenrated, enabled by God’s grace in order that we may obey His commands.

    This is the idea of the New Covenant:

    Eze 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh;
    Eze 11:20 that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

    So the idea is that we become able to live according to the Spirit – which is the same as according to His Will. The first phrase focusses on the power, the second on the direction of this power.

    You accuse me of “quoting extreme” exegesis. I’d love for you to show me better!

    Extreme exegesis is on both sides, of course, and they are a result of (endless) debates. You are on the “left” side of the spectrum, others are on the “right” side, there are even extreme left and reight positions. But all of this is very unhealthy.

    I have to stop now, and I’ll continue later that day.

    In Christ

  10. Alexander wrote,

    So the Spirit does not produce god works – but he wants to motivate and enable us to do them.

    Alexander, we have to give full range to such verses as —

    (Phi 2:12-13 ESV) 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    (Eze 36:26-28 ESV) 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

    But those verses don’t mean any loss of free will. Rather, the key is to get away from the Calvinist/anti-Calvinist Reformation mindset and let the scriptures speak for themselves. And, as is so often true in the Bible, the answer is both-and. The Spirit changes us and causes us to obey AND we have free will. We can resist and grieve the Spirit or we can submit and yield to its leading. It’s our choice, but we do not act alone.

    Alexander also wrote,

    Salvation is a process, not a one-time-event in the past.

    The scriptures say,

    (Eph 2:5 ESV) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved

    (Tit 3:4-5 ESV) But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit

    There are many verses that speak of salvation as a completed process, but …

    (1Co 1:18 ESV) 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

    (1Co 15:1-2 ESV) Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.

    … speak of salvation as an ongoing process. So both are true — and we shouldn’t treat the question as either-or. Again, it’s both-and.

    We are saved and we are being saved. Both are true.

  11. To Brother Steve:

    Bro laymond (I was meant) says the bible says we’ll be judged by our works. (believing that works save us [Yes, that’s what I say, and I mean it]) My bible says we’ll be rewarded according to our works. Rewards and Salvation are not the same. Rewards can be earned based on our works, however, Salvation can never be earned.

    What about such staments as:

    2Co 5:9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
    2Co 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
    2Co 5:11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; …

    I dont’t believe that the judgement seat is about rewards, but about being accepted. And we have to fear God because of His “terror”, and accordingly we ought to labour.

    Another one:

    Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
    Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
    Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
    Mat 7:24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

    Again: We are going to be judged according to our works, and it is about salvation not reward.

    Another one, so we have three witnesses:

    Rev 3:1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
    Rev 3:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

    What is our Lord Jseus looking at? Faith or works?

    There are, to be sure, texts that speak of reward; but this reward is an “extra” to salvation. But salvation is based on faith that is completed by works in love:

    Jas 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

    That’s why I am strongly opposed to the typical “evangelical” presentation of the Gospel, and the common statement “we are saved by faith alone” – this is unscriptural.

    In Christ

  12. Dear Jay

    I think it is very important to understand this. And one of the grave misunderstandings in the presentation of the Gospel is the idea of salvation as a one-time event. This is common among Evanglicals, and I used to teach that out of deep conviction. But now I view this theology as an overreaction to Catholicism, which is in itself very unbalanced.

    I view you as somewhere close to that thology but not as extreme as I came to know it. But let me try to explain it:

    Salvation as a process is best described as a way:

    Mat 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
    Mat 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

    There are two different things: a gate and a way. The gate is something we go through once and for all, but the way is something we have to walk to the end. Why does our Lord use two different pictures? Because Salvation has these two different aspects:

    First we come to the Lord and are being born again and sealed with the Spirit. That#s a one-time event. And we can call ourselves “saved” in the sense that we came out of the darkness into the light.

    Second we have to work oou our salvation, and let’s stay with Phil 2 to illustrate this:

    Php 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

    Paul is addressing us. We shall obey in order to work out our salvation. These are strong words, and tehy are even enhanced by the phrase “with fear and trembling” which is similar to “the terror of the Lord” in 2Cor 5 (see my answer to brother Steve).

    This is what I see as the process of salvation. It is not (what is also true) that we are continually being saved (as you quoted), but about works of obedience in order to obtain salvation in the end (see my remarks to verse 16).

    Php 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

    We cannot love this life without the power of God. The reason we are born again and gifted wiothe the Spirit is that we may be made able to live that Kingdom Life. He works in us, changes our heart and attitude, makes us willing, and helps us doing.

    Php 2:14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:

    Buit then again to us: Unless we are ready to obey without murmurung and disputing the new birth won’t do anything in us. We are called to let Him work in us. From the outside, or even from our own experience this feels like: working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

    So it makes actually no sense to call on Christians (as some do): “Just klean back and let God do it!” That’s actually very misleading. But we cannot do it independent of God either. It is a cooperation, where we have to give 100% and God gives 100%, too.

    Php 2:15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

    There is a reason beside salvation: We shall be lights in the world. Our blameless lives are living examples of God’s Will in this world, helping people to come to Christ. So they are actually won by our obedient lives to lead obendient lives.

    Php 2:16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

    Now this last statemnet is important: If we don’t live this kind of life, Paul has laboured in vain, which means: His efforts to teach us the Gospel prove top be fruitless inthe end, when we are lost and not saved.

    And here I see quite clearly, that whether we are saved or not will be determined at the judgement day. Being saved in baptism and conversion is just like entering the straight gate, but being saved in the end requires an obedient life and perseverence.

    That’s why I don’t use Protestant or Evangelical phrases any more when it comes to the Gospel; and I see a lot of those in your writings (understanding that your move is from conservative CoC background to a more Evangellcal understanding of the Gospel, while my development is the exact opposite)

    in Christ

  13. Alexander,

    I kind of agree and disagree.

    I agree that it’s a mistake to treat our baptism as the accomplishment of the goal. Sometimes we so focus on getting people into the baptistry that we forget that we’re baptized for a purpose.

    On the other hand, I also think we need to avoid the legalistic perspective that baptism is just the first step toward meriting our salvation — which we never say but certainly meant where I grew up. If the religion we’re baptized into is all about getting the ritual right and fleeing sin, then we’ve entirely missed the mission.

    We saved so that we can be empowered by God through the Spirit to be a fully functioning part of Christ’s body on earth — doing what Christ did — sacrificing in service to others, lifting up Christ through a life of good works done to glorify our Savior (not to earn our salvation).

    Might we lose our salvation? Yes, I’ve said it many times. Should we live in fear of damnation? Absolutely not — unless we forget Christ’s purpose in saving us. We form an alternative community, living in an alternative way, serving those inside and outside in a way that brings a chorus of praise to God.

    We have to get past the works/faith issue and get to what we were saved to be and to do. Considering works and faith apart from purpose and mission makes the issue reek of Scholasticism.

    OF COURSE we have to accept BOTH Phil 2:12 AND 2:13 — holding them not in tension but in harmony. And part of how we get there is to focus more on how we “shine as lights in the world” and “hold … forth the word of life.” The Spirit helps us do that. It’s too much for us to do our own. It’s not too much for God.

    Are we saved by faith or by works or some combination? Wrong question. We are saved through faith for works — and we lose our salvation by rebelling against God’s purposes for our lives. Therefore, we very much need to consider those purposes.

    That’s not to entirely dismiss the question but to instead insist that the question be asked in light why we are saved in the first place. You see, only by focusing on the concrete question of mission cam the other issues line up in their proper places. Indeed, it’s not until we focus more intently on our mission as the church and as Christians that the Spirit starts to become an essential piece of our understanding.

  14. I see what you mean, Jay, and I actually hate to debate your statements, because I’d rather communicate them in a very similar way. But there is still something I came to learn and to face, which you tend to soften – and I do see the reasons why you soften them.

    On the other hand, I also think we need to avoid the legalistic perspective that baptism is just the first step toward meriting our salvation — which we never say but certainly meant where I grew up. If the religion we’re baptized into is all about getting the ritual right and fleeing sin, then we’ve entirely missed the mission.

    You use some keywords that (in my opinion) are coined by the historic faith-works debates:
    To merit one’s salvation and legalistic.

    But these words miss the point. We cannot “earn” our salvation, because there is no salvation without God’s grace and Christ’s blood. We can struggle as hard as we want to, if God were not gracious we’d struggle in vain. That’s why earning or salvation or to merit it, is a phrase that misses the point.

    The point is that the gift of salvation is conditional. And although (in my opnion) it is a bit misleading to just focus on a list of conditions, it is good to know some of the key-conditions:

    Christ must be preached: It is not a message of dos and don’ts, but Christ the Messiah is preached. The message of Christ includes His Love on the cross and His resurrection (here we see God’s grace) and His Kingdom (and here we see Him as a Ruler issuing the laws of the Kingdom – interestingly the sermon on the mount is among the first pages in our NT).

    We must respond to the message: It might be called a mystery when we consider the Spirit’s work in our conversion (God opens our hearts and makes us draw nigh to Christ), but from our perspective it is an act of free choice. We listen to the message and weigh its consequences. Depending on the way the gospel is being presented the conversin is more or less mature (but we have to complete our understanding of it throughout our whole life): If salvation and forgiveness are the focus of the message, then (as was the case with me) we will have a hard time fitting obedience into the gospel. We sin, God forgives freely without any works on our behalf – it took me some years to grasp the other side of the coin because of an insufficiently preached gospel. If the Kingdom is presented in the gospel-message as well, then obedience becomes a natural aspect of the gospel. Our past sins are washed away in baptism and we are taken out of this world and being put into His kingdom. We now live under a new government, a new set of (Kingdom-)laws: The Law of Christ. The way we respond to Christ is dependent on the way Christ is presented to us.
    If we don’t respond, Christ has been preached in vain. If only the first half of the gospel is preached, we might miss the point of salavtion as well. That’s very serious.

    Baptism indeed is just the first step: Because the Gospel is about His Kingdom, and grace is conditional, we are to prove our loyalty to Christ the King by faith and obedience while He is still absent until He returns (like a thief in the night). He gave us some talents to deal with, He gave us the great commission, He urges us to be charitable and to do good, He expects from us to bring the fruit of the Kingdom (Mt 21:43). If we don’t live that way, Christ has been preached in vain.

    Living under the Law of Christ is by no means legalistic. This word, so often used to brush away the demand for obedience, is only used once in my Bible to rebuke Judaizers (Tit 3:9). But it is never used to describe an overemphasis on obedience to Christ.

    So, although we cannot earn our salvation, salvation still is conditional. We have to live as citicens of His kindom today, and then, when the kingdom will apear in all of His glory, we will be judged according to our loyalty (obedience, fruits, charity) – that’s the punch line of all kingdom-parables of our Lord.

    There are many who will be rejected, who have been baptized members of churches, even churches of Christ. Probably a majority of the protestants, too, because the gospel of “easy believism” and unconditional eternal security makes Christians lax and makes them rest on grace and seems to allow so many compromises with the world. I fear for their souls, and – that’s my last point – I think there is a valid place for fear in the NT:

    You noticed the phrase “fear and trembling” in Phil 2:12 – these are strong words. I pointed to the phrase “terror of God” in 2Cor 5:11. The Greek “phobos” has to do with being frightened of (as in claustrophobia or arachnophobia), and that’s a thought hardly preached today. But if our Lord says we shall not fear those who can put us to death bodily, which kind of fear does He mean? Awe, respect, giving due honor? Or terror, “run for your life!”? Of course the latter. When He then continues that we shall fear God, who can destroy our souls in gehenna, what kind of fear does He have in mind (Mt 10:28 – again based on phobos)? Honor, awe and due respect? “See how great God is! He can even destroy souls! Go, get the worship team, let’s praise Him!” Or does He mean we shall feel terror and be frightened of God? That we shall truly fear we might become disloyal to Him! That we fear we might be excluded from the Kingdom at the end!

    Hold fast to your chair, Jay (and all other readers): God is a jealous God, and we are not stronger than He (1Cor 10:22). Our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) and it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). If we make people sin because we preach a gospel that does not require obedience, a gospel of unconditional grace, then God will hold us accountable for their souls (Heb 13:17). When John, the disciple whom Christ loved, saw the risen and glorified Lord, He fell down like being dead (Rev 1:17).

    Really and honestly, do our lives reflect the fear of God? Does our worship reflect the fear of God? Here it is not abou IM or a-cappella any more …

    I know what you maybe think: But love drives out fear. Yes it does (1John 4:18). But whose love? When God’s love is completed in us (1John 4:17), which means, when we live out His love (1John 4:16+19) and thus fulfill the Law (1John 5:2+3), we have nothing to fear. So it is a faith that is obedient in love, out of His love and in the power of His Spirit, that saves us (not “faith alone”). And if we live this way, God becomes our friend, our beloved one, and we don’t live in constant fear any more. Fear and terror is for those who sin and live lukewarm lives. And because we all tend to live according to our flesh, we need to be reminded (at least once in a while) that God is a consuming fire.

    God bless

  15. Alexander,

    You wrote:

    “Living under the Law of Christ is by no means legalistic. This word, so often used to brush away the demand for obedience, is only used once in my Bible to rebuke Judaizers (Tit 3:9). But it is never used to describe an overemphasis on obedience to Christ.”

    i, too, have never seen a clear justification in any of these posts for that jump. It seems the words of Galatians are read, and then, a restrictive definition of “gospel” is assumed, and then a universal category of “gospel-adding” is assumed, and then it is concluded that the actions of judaizing teachers and judaizing followers are condemnable *because they fit into that category.* i still don’t see where Paul creates such a category in the text.

    i don’t see why it’s not equally warrantable to understand the problem as more specific to the particulars of the situation with the Judaizers rather than assuming that Paul’s words imply that any marks of any kind even if they’re Christian in origin violate his teaching. (In fact, seems to me that someone could use Jay’s very case to argue that baptism-as-a-requirement violates such–and in fact many denominations make that very case in response to CoC doctrine.) Don’t misunderstand–it may very well be wrong to “add” anything at all to the “gospel” (i.e., requiring of people something God doesn’t require of them), but i don’t see that necessarily following from this text in particular. It could be read that way, but i don’t see why it must.


  16. Alexander,

    I’m not sure whether I agree with you or not. Most of what you say is obviously scriptural — but I’m not sure whether you use the scriptural words with their scriptural meanings.

    For example, if a church worships with instrumental music believing that such is approved by God, are they complying with the “law of Christ”? You see, some use “law of Christ” to mean 5 acts of worship and a plurality of elders etc. So I have to ask, because that’s how many understand the term.

    At the end, you say, “And if we live this way, God becomes our friend, our beloved one, and we don’t live in constant fear any more.” Would you agree that a Christian’s walk begins in friendship with God — a relationship that can be lost through rebellion?

  17. Guy,

    It’s as simple as reading Gal 5. What reasons does Paul give for saying adding circumcision to the gospel damns? What are the stated reasons?

    Well, he says that insisting on any law to be saved requires obeying the entire law to be saved — which is impossible. (And I’ve explained in detail why “law” means much more than the Law of Moses.)

    And he says circumcision doesn’t count because only faith expressing itself through love counts.

    Now, if only faith expressing itself through love counts, then I have to figure the circumcision doesn’t count (which is surely Paul’s point) — even though God commanded it of both Abraham and Israel. But there are lots of other laws that don’t count for the same reason. Or did Paul give this reason just for circumcision?

    Paul then tells that we are “not under law” if we’re led by the Spirit — and he tells us what the fruit of the Spirit are: Christian virtues that godly love would produce. And so I figure if I submit to the Spirit’s leading, produce these fruit, I must not be under law.

    Paul wraps up chapter 6 by saying circumcision doesn’t count (meaning justify in context), but only a “new creation” — a reference to the work of the Spirit in our lives.

    It’s not complicated.

  18. Jay,

    no, i don’t read that *Paul* says that insisting on “any law” requires obeying the entire law. i do read Paul say that if the Galatians get circumcised they will be obligated to keep the whole law, and i definitely think he’s talking about the law of Moses there. The last argument you gave that the law had to mean more than Judaism, myself and someone else both pointed out that the reading was ambiguous. If ambiguous, then not a proof text for either position (although i still think the reading i proposed matches Paul more closely in other texts).

    i still haven’t seen in any case why i’m *forced* to understand Paul as intending to reference any law system of any kind. i see how the text *could* be read that way, but not why it must. i do see a lot of motivation for that reading coming from Reformation-era concerns, but not from first century ones. i think the dominant problem for Paul in the first century was the Jew/Gentile problem, and i don’t think that problem amounts to something equivalent to the Reformation-era faith+works/faith-only problem.

    i think faith expressing itself through love contrasts with circumcision and uncircumcision being valueless because of the basic Jew/Gentile problem in the first century. The Jews initially thought they alone were entitled to Christianity and it’s privileges–that because of their Jewishness, they should be privy to the favor of God to the exclusion of non-Jews. Once they lightened up enough to entertain the notion that Gentiles could have a slice of the pie too, they still thought of themselves as necessarily occupying some position closer to God than the Gentiels. i think the Judaizing teachers’ ideas were rooted in that sort of ethnic pride, and Paul has to dismiss the idea that the Jews are first class citizens and Gentiles are second class citizens (hence, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free…”).

    i don’t believe that by “circumcision,” Paul means to lump together Mosaic circumcision and Abrahamic circumcision. In Galatians, the law of Moses is associated with circumcision. And being circumcized is the ritual which marks you as committed to and bound that the Mosaic covenant. Abraham too had circumcision historically. But he didn’t have the Mosaic covenant. Thus Abraham’s circumcision was not such that it bound him to keep the entire law of Moses. In Galatians, Paul associates Abraham not with Moses and Mosaic circumcision, but with Christianity and God’s redemptive-historical purpose through Christ, and even God’s purpose to include the Gentiles. In Galatians there is a contrast between Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant. Thus i don’t think you can (at least in Galatians) lump the two circumcisions together. And if not, then it’s not circumcision *as a place holder for any possible requirement we could bind on people* that Paul is railing about, but rather a certain circumcision for a certain end.


  19. Dear Jay

    For example, if a church worships with instrumental music believing that such is approved by God, are they complying with the “law of Christ”? You see, some use “law of Christ” to mean 5 acts of worship and a plurality of elders etc. So I have to ask, because that’s how many understand the term.

    If they understand the term “Law of Christ” in the sense of 5 acts of worship and the like, they misapply it. Paul uses the term in Gal 6:2 as bearing one another in love. But in general, we shall learn to obey everything Christ has commanded (Mt 28:20). Did he command 5 acts of worship? Not really, not in the sense of giving us a list of five things. He most likely commanded more than five acts – lists like these actually hinder us to see the full scope of His will. But the traditional five acts are – sure enogh – Biblical patterns and commands we are to follow. Still I believe there is a lot more to the subject.
    It is even worse with a-cappella worship. I do believee it is the historic way of doing things, and coming from the ideal of restoration I see this as one (tiny) aspect of restoring the NT church. But since restoration is a process, an “archaelogical” endeavour that involves a number of uncertainties (as in all historic sciences) I would never ever rebuke or withdraw fellowship from a church that does not see this as an aspect of NT-christianity they ought to follow. This is not the law of Christ, which – on the contrary – urges us to bear one another in love.

    I also do believe the Biblical church leadership is based on a plurality of Elders. But again, that#s a question of how far we have come in the process of restoration.

    I have more problems, however, with tendencies of giving up good and biblical discoveries and practices for whatever reasons.

    At the end, you say, “And if we live this way, God becomes our friend, our beloved one, and we don’t live in constant fear any more.” Would you agree that a Christian’s walk begins in friendship with God — a relationship that can be lost through rebellion?

    I would say, we start out with a blank slate, as newborn babes in Christ, and we receive a lot of love from the very beginning; but then we develop a relationship that deepens. Interestingly CHrist makles the love of the father somehow dependent on our obedience:

    Joh 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him.

    I think it is misunderstanding of God’s perfect love if we see perfect love as something “static”, as some say: “We can do nothing that God loves us more and nothing that God loves us less.” I don’t think that accurately describes a jealous and passionate God, as I find Him in the Scriptures.

    So, as in a human relationship, love changes, grows or becomes cold and dies. Even the Spirit (who lives eternally) can be quenched. Obedience therefore plays a major role in how God will approach us, love us and reveal Himself to us.

    In Christ

  20. Guy,

    While Paul does not use the “Abraham was circumcised only after he was justified by faith” argument in Gal (unlike Rom), he does treat the Christian covenant as a continuation or fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant — including both justification by faith and blessing of all nations through Abraham — but obviously not circumcision. No Jewish reader would miss Paul’s refusal to include circumcision in the Abrahamic covenant.

    So Paul’s rationale — his thinking — must somehow justify excluding circumcision from the Abrahamic covenant. Had Paul merely argued for the repeal of the Law of Moses but not the Abrahamic covenant, well, circumcision would still be in effect and Paul’s entire argument would fail. So either Paul forgot that God required Abraham (and his descendants) to be circumicised, or else he felt he’d addressed the question.

    I argued this from one direction at

  21. Alexander,

    Thanks for such a thoughtful answer. I agree with much of what you say with, I think, two key exceptions.

    First, I was with you on restorationism until you got to “I have more problems, however, with tendencies of giving up good and biblical discoveries and practices for whatever reasons.” I think it’s good and wise to study how the early church lived, worshiped, organized, etc. But I think we must be very disciplined not to let our “‘archaeological’ endeavor” become a second Law of Moses — and I’m not quite sure whether you see these discoveries as law.

    Second, I’m much more concerned about your interpretation of John 14:21 —

    (Joh 14:21-24 ESV) 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

    22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”

    23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”

    While God loves the world (John 3:16), it’s clear from many passages that God has a different love for those in Christ. That much I agree with. But I’m not sure Jesus is saying that we must earn more and more love after we’ve been saved. Rather, I think the assumption is that the saved are those who “has my commandments and keeps them.” Jesus made it clear that his commandments were simple (this is every use of “command” in the discourse before his crucifixion) —

    (Joh 13:34-35 ESV) 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    (Joh 14:10-15 ESV) 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

    (Joh 15:4-10 ESV) 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

    (Joh 15:12-17 ESV) 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

    Jesus’ commands are love, to believe in him, to abide in him, to bear fruit — all to the end (15:17) that his disciples love each other. And so I don’t see the idea being that we as we learn and do more of his will through research we are loved more and more. I think we enter into a special relationship when we are saved and that this relationship continues.

    (Eph 1:3-6 ESV) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

    (Rom 5:5 ESV) 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

    (Rom 8:35-39 ESV) 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    So I think we begin with an outpouring of God’s love into our hearts that we can forfeit through rebellion but which is not earned through obedience. But, of course, we are obedient because of God’s love in us, manifested in his Spirit and the commitment we made when we were first saved.

    Not interested in getting into predestination at this time. Just think it’s important that God loved the elect before they obeyed.

    I have some friends who just adopted two elementary age children, and while they’ve known them only a few weeks, they love them with a white-hot intensity. The children don’t have to earn their love — but should respond to that love by becoming more and more like their new parents. But when the kids mess up, they aren’t loved less.

    I also have friends who adopted and ultimately had to disown the child they took in — but only after many years of rebellion and heartache. And it hurt them in a way that hasn’t healed decades later — because they loved their adopted child so intensely.

    And that’s how I read the scriptures.

  22. Jay,

    His entire argument would fail depending on what you take his entire argument to be.

    Abraham also had a specific plot of land promised to his progeny. My point being, i don’t think sorting out specifically which bits of the Abrahamic covenant are still in force and which aren’t is Paul’s project in this case.

    You got me reading and re-reading lots of passages for about two hours straight yesterday afternoon. Any discussion that does that has to be a good discussion, yes? i realized that i think the differences in our understandings is far more systemic than even i thought it was. i’m interested in getting to the bottom of even my own understanding of the issues at hand let alone the difference between the positions, but i’ve got a logic take home final and a term paper on plato as well as grading for a freshman class staring me in the face this week. And i think i just realized the scope and depth of the topic we’re discussing. A lot of topics on here, i’m able to spout off a comment in about 10 or 15 minutes. But this one would clearly be a several-weeks-long project. There’s a few books i’d prefer to read through before i really tried to state my interpretations in full. i admire the enormity of what you’re taking on now. Anyway, i’m afraid i’ll have to leave this one on the back burner for now.


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