Justification by Faith or Righteousness by Law
“This Is the Covenant that I will make with them . . . I will put My Laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” (Jer. 31:31-34). It was by means of this new Covenant that Messiah made the Law honourable (Isa. 42;21). Paul in his epistle to the Romans wrote: “Do we then make void the Law through faith? God forbid, yes, we establish (give true value to) the Law” (Rom. 3:31).
The same writer, in the Corinthian epistle, declared , “If there was any splendour in the administering (ministry or work of delivering God’s truth) of condemnation, there must be very much greater splendour in administering justification” (2 Cor. 3;9). The thing which he failed to include in this letter, was any mention of the fact that, instead of the Ten Commandment Law having been abolished, it was magnified! The “letter” only stated that one should not commit murder; but the magnified Law in the heart, required that one not even hate. The writing on the stones said: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” but the God-inscribed Law in the heart states that men shall not look and lust.
Surely all must agree that the Law in the hearts of men is greatly superior to the Law on the tables of stone. However, the author, in this Corinthian letter, has not made this matter clear, He has not stated an untruth – he has stated Truth in such a manner that it simply is not clear: a fog seems to enshroud it; it is veiled, and to many it is baffling and misleading. But when these statements are compared with other Scripture and with the explicit directives of God, the cloud is lifted and we see what Paul really meant. What he said is confusing; what he meant is Truth.
Paul said that there was a veil upon the hearts of the Jews when they read Moses (2 Cor. 3:15); but that veil created upon the hearts of those Pharisees of old by the writings of the great patriarch is as nothing compared to the covering which the works of Paul have effected to envelop many hearts in our generation. The words of Moses never offered even any remote excuse for carnality; no way out for those who would try to dodge the Divine Command – but many of the things set forth in the epistles of Paul are loaded with bait to snare the hypocrite and the rebels against the Law!
If the following words are to be taken literally, consider the latitude they offer for licentiousness: “All things are lawful unto me … all things are lawful for me” (I Cor.6:12); and again, “All things are lawful for me” (I Cor,10:23). Add to these the verse, “Happy is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows” (Rom,14:22). If this combination does not offer a license to sin, then words have no meaning!
What shall we conclude from such statements? We know that Paul did not condone sin. No man ever preached holiness to a greater degree than he did. But his writings many times have a limited application. Unlike other Scripture, the works of this particular scribe must be handled with extreme care. His own words, in this same epistle, are proof that he did not mean that he was lawless, or without law. Did he not recognize the matter of law in regard to the man who had unlawful relations with his father’s wife (l Cor. 5:1)? Did he not say that when he had been caught up to Paradise, he had heard words that were “not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor,12:4)? He also declared that we “do not make void the Law through faith”, but instead we “establish the Law” (Rom. 3:31). And in chapter 7, verse 12, of the same book, he says that “the Law is holy”.
Before we follow the reasoning of Paul indiscriminately, it would be well to ascertain, exactly, the correct meaning of what he has said!
If the author of these epistles had been a magician, he could have done a no more efficient job of garbling much of the Truth.
An example of truth which is presented in such a manner that it can quite readily be adapted for use as a basis for error, is set forth in the fourteenth chapter of Romans: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (verse 5); “There is nothing unclean of itself” (verse 14); “All things indeed are pure” (verse 20); “Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows” (verse 22). What have we here; some sort of new philosophy? Yes, indeed! Here is a foundation for almost any “ism”! Apparently Paul is advocating here that as long as you believe a thing to be truth, it is truth! This is one of the most modern of philosophies: Truth is whatever you believe to be truth! How convenient! What a treasure for the heart of the self-willed worldling! Surely here is a “New Gospel” for those who desire to turn the Grace of God into loose living!
It would have been a great blessing to all, if the writer of these documents had humbly exalted the words of Messiah, instead of confusing and ‘actually misstating them in the one and only quotation of the Saviour’s own Words which he ever even attempted to bring into any of his thirteen epistles! We find this misquotation in his letter to the congregation at Corinth; “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That, in the same night in which He was betrayed, He took bread and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, ‘Take, eat: This is My Body, which is broken for you …” (1 Cor, 11:23, 24). This is a total contradiction of Scripture in Exod. 12:46 and Ps. 34:20, John 19:36. The other Gospel writers have it correctly: “This is My body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19).
This would be one of the evidences of True Messiahship: that not a bone of His Body would be broken. We must accept this, unquestionably, for all of the Gospel writers confirm it.
Once again we have an example of the enigmatic style of the Pauline epistles: this author must very often be interpreted. Paul’s message is excellent, but his words are frequently shrouded and hidden in amazing paradoxes and seeming contradictions.
If we insist that the New Testament is Divinely inspired, then we have to conclude that God allowed the above seeming misinformation to be in the Scriptures. Yes! The Most High has designed many snares and set numerous traps for the feet of the deceitful: “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (2 Thess, 2:11).
The attitude of every sincere Believer should be one of prayerful caution with regard to searching out and extracting the true meaning from the writings of the apostle Paul. No one’s explanation of the subject matter contained in his messages should ever be accepted as valid, unless such conclusions can be confirmed by the Words of Messiah and/or the rest of Scripture. Be wary of any doctrine based solely upon man’s evaluation of the words of Paul: any humanly-devised deductions that cannot be clearly supported by the writings of other New Testament authors or the Old Testament, should be rejected as lacking documentary proof – for the letters of the man from Tarsus are so constructed that they may very easily lend themselves to speculation and to misinterpretation, which is most satisfactory and appealing to the natural carnal man!
How is it that this apostle so often appears to be misquoting, misinterpreting, and even misrepresenting the Truth in such a seemingly careless manner?
Consider, for example, the danger of insisting on the literal words from Paul’s pen: “For to this end Messiah both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living” (Rom.14:9). But let us compare this declaration with the Words of Messiah Himself, when He spoke of the God of Abraham. “He is not a God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:37).
Was Paul then misquoting the Messiah? No – not if we interpret his remark correctly, in relation to the rest of Scripture. But if it is taken literally, then the answer is, yes! Paul, here, was speaking of the “dead in Messiah”. He knew that Messiah was “Lord of the righteous dead”; “He that believetb in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
By studying these verses we know that Paul’s version of Truth must be interpreted by the plain Words of Messiah.
Again we wish to stress the fact that Paul cannot be taken literally in isolation, as an authority. Undoubtedly, he meant well by what he said; but many times the student who does not consult the rest of Scripture for corroboration, will become wound up in a most confusing web of Paulinism.
Many of the statements in Paul’s letters are extremely misleading, if they are not fully explained by other Scriptures and added revelation. Examine this apparent contradiction concerning those who died in the plague of Midian. In Numbers 25:9 we read: “And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.” Now compare the above statement, made by Moses, with that of Paul’s in (1 Cor. 10:8), “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day twenty three thousand”. Did Paul miss the number by one thousand? Paul said that 23,000 fell in one day. The other thousand may have had a slow death. It is quite possible that it took a week or more for some of them to die. Moses was right; and Paul was right. Moses’ account needs no explanation; but Paul’s depiction of the event is misleading outside of the context of other Scripture.
This gives us a vivid example of the peculiar fashion in which these epistles were written. The mysteries of divine inspiration are many – but some of the most enigmatic and perplexing of such puzzles are to be found in these bewilderingly ambiguous works of this former student of Gamaliel.
In Romans chapters 4 – 7, Paul presents another of his ‘hard to understand’ reasonings on ‘Justification without works’ as opposed to ‘Law keeping’. “We are justified by Faith and not by doing something the Law tells us to do” Rom. 3:28. He refers to Abraham, who, initially as a gentile, was justified by God because of his Faith. The Law, by then, had not been ‘given’ yet. “Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him” (Rom. 4:3). It was before Abraham had been circumcised.
He then continues with several direct statements intimating that the Law no longer exists:
- “We are now dead to the Law” (Rom. 7:4)
- “We are now rid of the Law … free to serve in the new spiritual way and not the old way of a written Law” (Rom. 7:6)
In his contradictory way he then continues in the next few paragraphs (Rom. 7:7-25) to uphold the Law with statements like:
- “The Law is sacred” (Rom. 7:12)
- “The Law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14)
- “he dearly loves God’s Law” (Rom. 7:22)
- “he serves the Law” (Rom. 7:25)
The alert searcher after Truth, will notice though, from Paul’s reference to Abraham, that he was justified because of his faith, “before he (Abraham) had been circumcised, not after” (Rom. 4:10). Why then was Abraham circumcised (according to Jewish Law requirement) after he had been “justified by Faith”? Paul answers this himself, stating “it was as a sign (seal) and guarantee that the faith he had before his circumcision, justified him” (Rom 4:11).
Here we have a firm confirmation and wonderful revelation, that “Law keeping” follows justification by Faith; that it comes as a ‘spiritual result or fruit’ of justification. Paul unfortunately fails to expound on this revelation and necessary requirement for righteousness and holiness. In stead, he sets off in pages of reasoning, to stress the “abandonment of the Law”!
This revelation is further confirmed by the fact that the All-Wise Ruler of the universe thought it well and good to give the Law to Moses in thunder and lightning, long after Abraham’s justification and, surely, after Moses had also been ‘justified by Faith’?
In reaching his conclusion that “we are dead to the Law through the Body of Messiah” (Rom. 7:1-6), Paul offers a contorted reasoning of how a married woman’s legal obligations to her husband comes to an end at his death, and she “can marry another husband without becoming an adulteress”. He concludes: “That is why … we can now give ourselves to another husband, to Him Who rose from the dead”. The conclusion that many believers draw from Paul’s inference here, is that “our new Husband” has got no Laws and, being “dead to the Law” … we are now “free to serve in the new spiritual way and not the old way of a written Law”. Common sense should rule that, as “Bride of our new Husband”, we are back at our legal obligations to Him!
There is one thing however, of which we can be certain in regard to Paul’s reasonings on “justification without works”: the Pauline epistles stand alone in offering such “freedom of the Law by Grace”.
Salvation, coupled with the privilege of living in sin, seems to be the substance of this “new gospel of grace”. The propagators of this so-called “new truth” maintain that this doctrine was set forth for modern man by none other than the author of the thirteen epistles to the Messianic Congregations.