The Daily Word of Righteousness

A Fatal Interpretation, continued

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. (Romans 3:20,21—NIV)

What, then, did Paul mean when he said God justifies the wicked who trust in Him?

In order to understand Paul we have to move from Gentile thinking to Orthodox Jewish thinking. Paul was attempting to turn the Orthodox away from trying to gain righteousness in God's sight by the Law of Moses, to gaining righteousness by putting their trust in the salvation that is in Jesus Christ.

We cannot understand Paul clearly as long as we are thinking as a Gentile.

The Orthodox were extremely concerned with keeping the Sabbath, with circumcision, and with the kosher dietary laws.

Are you concerned with these? If you are a Gentile you probably do not even think about them. But they were the most important issues of those Paul was addressing.

If you are not trying to earn righteousness by keeping Sabbath, by being circumcised, by observing the kosher laws, the feast days, bar mitzvah, and all the other points of the Torah and Talmud, then you cannot possibly understand what Paul was talking about in the early chapters of Romans.

Paul was telling the Jews you cannot earn righteousness with God by the works of the Law, now that God has given His Son.

For a Gentile to conclude from this that "who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked" means we are to make no effort to keep the commandments of Christ and His Apostles concerning righteousness, holiness, and stern obedience to God is to miss entirely the program and goal of the new covenant.

By "who does not work" Paul means who does not try to gain righteousness by keeping the Law of Moses.

There is a concept that has been held at least for the last two hundred years, maybe from even before that time. The concept is that the believer lives in a "state of grace" that shields him from the Divine examination of his behavior. The atonement is viewed as a covering that prevents God from seeing our conduct. Once we believe in Jesus we are placed in some kind of bubble such that our salvation is unrelated to our behavior.

The concept of the bubble that shields us from the laws of the Kingdom of God gives "belief" a role in our salvation that God does not mean for it to have. If we are justified in God's sight merely by our belief in the atonement, then what is most of the New Testament speaking of?

Obedience to Christ, keeping His commandments and those of His Apostles, is vastly more important than belief in theological facts. Belief has value only as it results in our obeying Christ.

The doctrine that we are saved by belief is more Gnostic than Christian. Gnosticism, an ancient heresy, is still running strong in our day. We can believe in Christ all we want to, but if that belief does not result in our doing the works commanded by the writers of the New Testament, then our belief is worthless.

To be continued.