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Romans Under New Light
Laws of Nature,
Moses, and Grace
Romans is read by both Catholics and Protestants. Both believe they are reading about their own doctrines of salvation. We need to read Romans under a new light to see if there is a truth that hides in the middle.
We need to go through Romans 1-4 to get a good background for the start of Romans. Then, we will go through Romans 5-7 in more detail. Romans 5 is important because it’s about Christ being the second Adam. It’s about reconciliation. The original sin, in Romans 5, is a big differentiator between the Catholics and the Protestants.
Paul begins by saying he is not ashamed of the gospel. From this point through Romans chapter 8 is about the gospel. Paul is not referring to a gospel that he himself has made up. He is referring to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, why would he say he is not ashamed? Thus, this presentation of the gospel must be interpreted in the context of what Jesus has already taught. When properly understood, Paul’s presentation of the gospel is not going to be in conflict with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:16-17 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (17) For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Dispensationalists sometimes present the gospel of Jesus Christ as salvation by faith plus works. The argument is that Jesus was preaching under a dispensation of the Law of Moses whereas Paul was preaching under a dispensation of grace. They say the gospel changed at the cross. Jesus placed an emphasis on the need to overcome sin.
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.
Matthew 5:48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
But Jesus also preached mercy and the forgiveness of sins.
Matthew 9:2 Behold, they brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a bed. Jesus, seeing their faith , said to the paralytic, "Son, cheer up! Your sins are forgiven you ."
Luke 7:48-50 He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." (49) Those who sat at the table with him began to say to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" (50) He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
Notice that this woman, who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, was saved by faith alone. And this happened before the crucifixion. We can agree that salvation is by faith alone.
Jesus placed emphasis on sanctification because he is the King of Israel. With the King of Israel physically in Israel, the literal kingdom of heaven was at hand. But after the ascension, the literal kingdom of heaven was no longer at hand. Therefore, Paul placed more emphasis on the doctrine of the gospel itself and worked as a missionary.
When we first have faith in Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are credited with righteousness. We can agree on the perseverance of the saints. This means we will eventually receive an eternal-life body unless we deliberately and knowingly, over a period of time, reverse our decision and reject Christ. Where I disagree with the traditional Protestant view of the gospel is that I believe we must continue our journey until we are completely sanctified before we can be glorified with eternal life. With this minor adjustment, the gospel of Jesus and the gospel of Paul are in complete harmony.
I also believe the only way we can mature in Christ is to live for Christ in faith. “The righteous shall live by faith.” This cannot be in Abraham’s bosom. We cannot live by faith in purgatory. The only way we can continue our journey of salvation after death is with the resurrection. The hope and focus of Scripture is with the resurrection. Those who do not complete their journey will be raised with mortal bodies and live with the nations. There they can continue to live for Christ in faith, and be taught righteousness by the saints who complete their journey.
Romans 1:18-20 ESV For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (19) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (20) For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
People have no excuse if they live in unrighteousness because they have evidence of God in nature. God has turned them over to unrighteousness. Does this mean these Pagans are all bound for hell because the gospel of Jesus Christ has never been preached to them?
Many people use this verse to say those who die, having never made a profession of faith in Christ, will go to hell. I agree that we must profess faith in Christ, and live by faith in Christ, in order to inherit the kingdom. There is no other name under heaven by which a person can be saved (Acts 4:12). But our opportunity for that faith, and our journey in that faith, can extend past the grave into the millennial reign of Christ. One piece of evidence for this claim is right here.
Paul describes the spiral of wickedness which comes after seeing but ignoring the evidence of God in nature. This includes a very clear description of homosexuality. Notice that it’s God who gives them over to their passions. Why would God do this if he didn’t have a plan of redemption for even these?
Romans 1:22-32 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, (23) and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things. (24) Therefore God also gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves, (25) who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (26) For this reason, God gave them up to vile passions. For their women changed the natural function into that which is against nature. (27) Likewise also the men, leaving the natural function of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another , men doing what is inappropriate with men, and receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error. (28) Even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting; (29) being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness , covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife , deceit, evil habits, secret slanderers, (30) backbiters, hateful to God , insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things , disobedient to parents, (31) without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, unforgiving, unmerciful; (32) who, knowing the ordinance of God , that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them.
Notice that these people know that the practice of these things makes one worthy of death. But they not only do these things, they also approve of others who practice them. Does that not describe the world today? Would the generation before the baby-boom generation have in any way approved of and even encouraged the practice of homosexuality? How about the murder of babies in the womb? But we are not to condemn these people to hell because God has a plan for them, even after they die. God has turned them over to disobedience, that he might have mercy on them (Romans 11:32).
Romans 2:1-3 Therefore you are without excuse, O man, whoever you are who judge. For in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself. For you who judge practice the same things. (2) We know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. (3) Do you think this, O man who judges those who practice such things, and do the same, that you will escape the judgment of God ?
God sees all sins as sins. It matters not if it’s homosexuality or sexual immorality, drunkenness, or outbursts of anger. All these are all listed by Paul as sins.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Or don't you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, (10) nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortioners, will inherit the Kingdom of God.
Paul mentions “inherit the kingdom” only three times. Twice is with lists of sins such as these. Those who continue to sin will not inherit the kingdom. It matters not what sin is continually occurring. If there is continued sin in one’s life, one cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Many believe these words of Paul do not fit Paul’s normal message. They would consider words like these to more likely be what Jesus would have said. But when you really understand Paul, the words of Paul and the words of Jesus are in complete harmony.
Mostly Paul talked about salvation because Paul was a missionary. Jesus, on the other hand, was always talking about the kingdom and less-often about salvation. That’s why Paul and Jesus seem to have a different message. Jesus focused on what it takes to inherit the kingdom, which is holiness. Paul focused more on the journey of salvation, which is all about the Law, grace, and faith.
The second place Paul speaks about inheriting the kingdom is in Galatians. Here we see that if you are in the Spirit you don’t sin. This is living under grace [God’s work]. If you are not in the Spirit you continue to sin and you are living under the law. Living under the law has its works. Living under grace has a different set of works.
Galatians 5:16-23 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won't fulfill the lust of the flesh. (17) For the flesh lusts against the Spirit , and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. (18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law . (19) Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, (20) idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife , jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions , heresies, (21) envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience , kindness, goodness, faith, (23) gentleness, and self-control . Against such things there is no law.
After listing the fruit (or works) of the Spirit, Paul says, “Against such things there is no law.” Of course there’s no law against doing good works! But that’s not what Paul is saying. It’s a play on words. In verse 18 he says, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” And in verse 16 he says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you won't fulfill the lust of the flesh .” But there is no law against the fruit of the Spirit (verse 23). In other words, when you are walking in the Spirit, you are not sinning and you are not under the Law.
There are books written about the differences between the gospel of Paul and the gospel of Jesus. One pastor and friend of mine told me he interprets the words of Jesus through the lenses of Paul. It then gets a bit confusing for them when Paul says things like this. If you continue to sin, according to Paul, you cannot inherit the kingdom.
Another dispensational pastor I know was challenged by Paul’s verses in Galatians. Those who have strife, jealousies, or even outbursts of anger will not inherit the kingdom. He got on the right track by suggesting that inheriting the kingdom is not the same as salvation itself.
Dispensationalists have traditionally stated that the kingdom of heaven is strictly the future millennial reign. However, George E. Ladd is known for challenging this teaching and saying the kingdom is “here and now but not yet.” The kingdom currently exists in the hearts of the believer. But when Christ returns, the kingdom will be literally set up in the world. This dispensational pastor I know, challenged by Paul’s verses in Galatians, suggested that “inheriting the kingdom” is related to the kingdom that is “here and now” in our hearts.
However, there are three places in Paul’s letters in which he refers to “inheriting the kingdom.” The third place is in 1 Corinthians 15. This is the same letter as the first one I quoted, which is in 1 Corinthians 6. This letter is concerning the problem-ridden church in Corinth. In other words, they were still sinning! Chapter 15 is the chapter on the resurrection. “Flesh and blood can’t inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Thus, there are two things that are required in order to inherit the kingdom. First, one must completely stop sinning. Secondly, one must be glorified with a spiritual body.
Based on Paul saying those who continue to sin won’t inherit the kingdom, even in this same letter (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), I’ve inserted the phrase, “who have overcome sin.”
1 Corinthians 15:50-54 Now I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood can't inherit the Kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. (51) Behold, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, (52) in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead [who have overcome sin] will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. (53) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (54) But when this corruptible will have put on incorruption, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
A key point in the understanding of this Scripture about the resurrection is that there are two types of resurrections. The first is for those who are in Christ. Those who live by the Spirit no longer have sinful habits. The first resurrection is for the just and the second is for the unjust. It’s not a resurrection of condemnation or damnation. It’s a resurrection to live again in the age to come during Christ’s millennial reign.
Acts 24:14-15 But this I confess to you, that after the Way, which they call a sect, so I serve the God of our fathers, believing all things which are according to the law, and which are written in the prophets; (15) having hope toward God, which these also themselves look for, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust .
How can a resurrection of damnation or a resurrection of condemnation be a resurrection of “having hope toward God?” Paul looks forward the resurrection of both the just and the unjust. This is Paul’s hope. But the unjust, who continue to sin, will not inherit the kingdom. They will not put on immortality. They will not receive a spiritual body. Only those who overcome sin will reign with Christ during the millennium (Revelation 2:26). Those who don’t will be resurrected with a natural body that can die a second death (Revelation 2:11).
Many people will respond to this by saying Paul hopes for the just to go to heaven and the unjust to go to hell. It’s a hope because this way bad people get what’s coming to them. Or they might say it’s a part of God’s justice. There are several problems with this view. First of all, a resurrection is to come back from the grave in order to live again. A resurrection of damnation is an oxymoron.
Nothing is being said about being resurrected for judgment after they are already in hell. If this is talking about a resurrection for being judged, then it might be considered a necessity. But it would never be considered our hope. And it would be very strange to talk about this dreadful aspect of God’s justice in the same breath as our hope of eternal life. There is much more to be said about this, based on Scripture, in chapter 7 of this book. Chapter 7 is titled the “Resurrection of the Just and the Unjust.”
This is why we are not to judge those who are still living in sin, including those practicing homosexuality and the murder of children in the womb. God has a redemptive plan for them. God has not given up on them. In chapter 11 of Romans, Paul talks about the Jews who were broken off from the olive tree.
Romans 11:30-33 For as you in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience, (31) even so these also have now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they may also obtain mercy. (32) For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all. (33) Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!
In Romans 1, Paul talks about how God turned the world over to disobedience. Here, Paul talks about how God turned the Jews over to disobedience. “God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.” I believe Paul is talking about more than just the Jews. God has a plan of mercy for everyone. But as we have seen, there are exceptions. This is not Christian Universalism.
In chapter 2 of Romans, Paul compares the Law of Moses with the law as seen in nature. He points out advantages and disadvantages to both. Both laws have a path of righteousness through faith and by being a servant of God. As we do the works, such as Abraham going to the Promised Land, we overcome sin and gain righteousness. This is the path to eternal life, even under grace. Both laws, however, have a fundamental problem. Both laws tend to make us focus on ourselves because we would have to provide our own atonements (sacrifices) for sin. They are laws of salvation by works, both in the Law of Moses and in the law of nature.
Romans 2:6-8 ESV He will render to each one according to his works: (7) to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (8) but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
At this point, many Protestants scratch their heads. Is Paul talking about salvation by works? It would seem so. This is in the context of verses 2:1-5, where Paul is saying to not judge these Gentiles who have the law of nature and are without excuse. Is Paul saying the Gentiles, with only the law of nature, can be given eternal life without Christ?
Under the hermeneutical system of the Protestants, it would seem so. But that’s not what Paul is saying. God has a plan for even the Pagans who die without Christ. But that plan includes a life under Christ’s reign after the resurrection. A journey of faith in Christ is required before one can overcome sin and receive eternal life.
Those who live Godly lives will be given eternal life. This is true even for the Gentiles living under the law of nature. Anyone still living under the law, be it the Law of Moses or the law of nature, will still have sinful habits. One must live under grace in order to overcome all sinful habits. We are not to judge these Gentiles because Christ has provided a way for even Pagans to journey back to the Father by faith in Jesus Christ. They can live under the reign of Jesus Christ in the age to come. But until they give their lives to Jesus Christ, they cannot be credited with righteousness and have the hope of inheriting eternal life.
But what about people who say, “I will give my life to Jesus some other time. I can always do that, even after death, if what you are saying is true.” So they don’t inherit eternal life if they are confident they will be able to do so in the future. This knowledge of the truth, without acting upon it, would be holding the blood of Jesus Christ up to contempt. It’s possible to lose out on one’s possibility of resurrection with this kind of attitude.
Hebrews 10:26-27 ESV For if we go on sinning deliberatelyafter receiving the knowledge of the truth , there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (27) but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
This does not mean that as soon as you hear the gospel and reject it that you lose your opportunity for eternal life. God is very slow in making this judgment. God alone knows when someone has become so hateful against God that he cannot be saved. God knows who has become his enemy.
The point Paul is making is that it matters not whether one grew up under the Law of Moses or the law of nature. There are still two paths. One path leads to righteousness and the other to destruction. God shows no partiality between living under the Law of Moses and the law of nature. God does not give up on us simply because we die. God will resurrect both the just and the unjust.
Romans 2:11-13 ESV For God shows no partiality. (12) For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. (13) For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
God states even under the law seen in nature, that living for God, doing his works, brings righteousness. This is the path to eternal life.
Romans 2:14-16 ESV For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (15) They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (16) on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
The law being written on their hearts is very much like the New Covenant of grace, as given in Jeremiah 31:31 and quoted in Hebrews 8:8. They will be judged by their own thoughts. And that judgment is in agreement with Paul’s gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both the Law of Moses and the law in nature. Next, Paul talks about the advantage of being under the law as seen by nature instead of having the Law of Moses. This point is important for Paul because he is bringing the gospel to the Gentiles and is making the point that they do not have to first become Jewish or circumcised to receive God’s grace.
Romans 2:25-29 ESV For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. (26) So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? (27) Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. (28) For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. (29) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Next, in chapter 3, Paul gets into the advantages of being under the Law of Moses instead of under the law of nature.
Romans 3:1-3 ESV Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? (2) Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. (3) What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?
However, neither law will allow one to inherit the kingdom, because both laws bring knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:20-21 ESV For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (21) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--
The Law of Moses is not a bad thing. But nobody is going to inherit the kingdom by works. Abraham was saved by faith. And as Paul has shown, even the Gentiles under a law of nature can journey towards righteousness. “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law” (of Moses.) But not to the point that is needed to inherit the kingdom and eternal life.
Romans 4:1-3 ESV What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? (2) For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. (3) For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."
Abraham was saved by faith. Could Gentiles who only knew the law of nature inherit the kingdom by faith in God? We can expect to see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the wedding banquet (Matthew 8:11, 22:32, Luke 13:28, 20:34-38) because of faith. Can we expect to see Job at the wedding banquet? He knew very little about the Hebrews.
Jesus said, “I am the [road], the truth, and the life. No one [journeys] to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). (The Greek word for “way” means “road.”) “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Abraham was told his seed would be a blessing to all the nations. Abraham had faith in the coming Messiah. And he acted upon that faith. Abraham was credited with righteousness. Remember that in this book we are always substituting [God’s work] or [God’s presence] for the word ‘grace’.
Romans 4:4-8 Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as [God’ work], but as debt. (5) But to him who doesn't work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (6) Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works, (7) "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. (8) Blessed is the man whom the Lord will by no means charge with sin.
Abraham is credited with righteousness because of faith. Abraham was saved by grace. I believe Abraham was filled by the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are living under grace and not the Law . When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we do not sin, because God is in us and God does not sin. But we are still tempted and sometimes we fall back into sin. When this happens, the Holy Spirit backs off. But because we are “credited with righteousness,” we can ask the Father and be filled again.
In Old Testament times, people were sometimes filled with the Holy Spirit. When they were filled they couldn’t sin. For example, Saul was once filled with the Holy Spirit when he tried to go and kill David. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, he could not sin. But such fillings were rare.
Romans 4:13-18 For the promise to Abraham and to his seed that he should be heir of the world wasn't through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. (14) For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of no effect. (15) For the law works wrath, for where there is no law, neither is there disobedience. (16) For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to [God’s work], to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. (17) As it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations." This is in the presence of him whom he believed: God, who gives life to the dead, and calls the things that are not, as though they were. (18) Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, "So will your seed be."
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob understood this promise. They were credited with righteousness. By faith they could be filled with the Holy Spirit and overcome their sinful habits. In some cases, this understanding of a coming Messiah was given to others besides Abraham. Job was given this revelation of a coming Redeemer.
Job 19:21-27 NIV "Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me. (22) Why do you pursue me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh? (23) " Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, (24) that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! (25) I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. (26) And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; (27) I myself will see him with my own eyes —I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
Job had faith in the coming Redeemer. I believe the Holy Spirit filled Job because of this faith in a coming Redeemer. I believe Job overcame all his sinful habits. Only God can do that in a man. We cannot overcome sin by works. It must be done by the Holy Spirit.
How about “Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God” (Hebrews 7:1)? Jesus is said to be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, 6:20, 7:10-17). Can people inherit the kingdom through faith in God but without a knowledge of our Savior? The LORD appeared to Abraham. Perhaps the LORD appeared to Melchizedek as well. I believe Melchizedek, like Job, knew about his Redeemer.
Job and Abraham, and possibility Melchizedek, were given revelations from God about the coming Redeemer. They were credited with righteousness because of faith in that coming Redeemer. The Holy Spirit filled them and they overcome their sinful habits. We can expect to see them at the wedding banquet.
After the crucifixion came Pentecost. After Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes at any time for any believer. This changed at the cross. The Holy Spirit comes only after we have knowledge of and faith in our Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus and Paul did not change at the cross. But the cross vastly increased the availability and abundance of God’s grace allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us whenever we ask. Because of the Holy Spirit, in this age of grace, we can completely overcome all our sinful habits.
What do we do when we desire to have faith, and really do believe in our Savior, but we still have sinful habits? We must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus Christ and Wesley taught, we must love our neighbors, which brings about our love for the Father. As we do good works because of our love, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the fruit of the Spirit as Paul taught in Galatians (quoted earlier.) In our journey of salvation we do the good works so that we are filled with the Spirit. The Spirit changes us and our sinful habits are overcome.
We are not saved by works. Christ died on the cross. This brought the reconciliation of God to all men. All our past, present, and future sins, were paid (atoned) for at the cross. Christ is the ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6). This happened for everyone, even if they are not a believer or even if they don’t know about Christ’s sacrifice.
When we first become a believer we are justified. Our sins are forgiven and we are credited with righteousness. This is not by works. As a believer, by faith, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and overcome sinful habits. Over time, our lives are changed. But even that is not by our own works. It’s by the works of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit changes us on the inside.
Those who are entirelysanctified when Christ returns will be in the wedding banquet. They will be glorified. They will be given spiritual bodies and eternal life.
But what about Christians who seem to be unable to stop sinning? They may say they have the faith to love the Father and love their neighbor with all their hearts. But do their actions fit their love? Faith without works is dead. As we do the works of the Father, the Holy Spirit fills us to help in doing the works. That’s when God does his work to transform us on the inside and sanctification occurs.
Salvation is by faith alone. That means justification, sanctification, and glorification are all by faith alone. But as we live out that faith, it requires lots of works to inherit the kingdom. Those who are not entirely sanctified in this age will not inherit the kingdom. They must continue their journey of salvation in the age to come, which is Christ’s millennial reign.
3.4) God’s Plan is both Inclusive and Exclusive.
Today we are seeing a varying degree of inclusiveness and exclusiveness in Christian doctrines. The inclusive doctrines are generally seen as a reaction to the problem of people who die having never heard about Christ. Exclusive doctrines would be the more traditional doctrines that require faith specifically in Jesus Christ for salvation.
Rob Bell’s book titled Love Wins caused lots of controversy. Bell takes an inclusive view of salvation. Bell believes people can receive Christ’s salvation through faith but that faith can be through other religions. Faith can also be in non-religions such as nature and belief in self. Bell, however, would exclude atheists. Bell has been accused of being a Christian Universalist. But he is not.
Christian Universalism is even more inclusive. Christian Universalists believe everyone will eventually be saved. Those who go to hell will eventually repent and then they can go to heaven. Some even believe that Satan and his demons will eventually be saved.
Protestant inclusive arguments rely heavily on the Protestant view of salvation being a decision and not a journey. The need for sanctification, as part of one’s journey of life, has been so completely wiped from the thinking of the average Protestant that it’s never used as an argument against inclusive views.
Don Richardson has written a book in response to Rob Bell’s book. Richardson’s book is titled Heaven Wins. Richardson characterizes Bell as being a Christian Universalist. Richardson is a very famous missionary. He considers himself to be an inclusionist who believes that many more people will be in heaven than is generally thought. An exclusivist believes a relative few number of people will be in heaven.
Richardson’s inclusionist views are derived from two fronts. First, Richardson believes all children who die before the Protestant age of accountability will go to heaven. Thus, heaven will have many more souls than would otherwise be considered. Secondly, Richardson believes some people will be saved based upon “general revelation.” Both of these fronts, it is argued, add up to many more people in heaven, and thus “Heaven Wins.”
Richardson includes all children from all generations world-wide in his argument for the age of accountability. Even if the child is born in a part of the world where Christianity is unheard of, if the child dies, he or she would go to heaven. The problem I have with that view is that it makes child sacrifice a good thing. It makes abortion a good thing. It says that growing up can be a very bad thing for children who are born in generations and places where hearing about Christ is next to impossible.
The most horrible episodes of Israel’s history are when the people of Israel turned to other gods and child sacrifice. (Leviticus 18:21, Leviticus 20:1-5, Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:10, 2 Kings 3:27, 17:17-18, 21:2-6, Psalm 106:37-38, Ezekiel 16:20-21, 16:36-38, 20:31, Jeremiah 7:30-34, 22:17) God says in Jeremiah 7:30-34 that child sacrifice was not his command, nor did it come into his mind. But the doctrine of the age of accountability unintentionally makes child sacrifice into a good thing. It assures the child will go to heaven. If the child grows past this age of accountability, it endangers the child to a possible eternity of hell.
The belief that all children, who die young, go to heaven is not held by all Protestants. Accountability is not directly addressed by Scripture. To make the doctrine even more perplexing, some Calvinists apply election to children who die young. Infants, who die having never done anything good or bad, are said to be subject to election. Thus, many or most infants who die are tortured in hell and yet they would have never sinned. They would have simply inherited Adam’s original sinful nature. Do people really believe this is God’s plan of salvation?
A much better approach is to realize that nobody comes to the Father except through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no other name under heaven by with a person can be saved. This includes children of all ages. Unlike traditional theologians, God does not consider death to be a problem. Children who die young can simply be resurrected with mortal bodies and live in the millennium. They can then grow up and have the same opportunity as everyone else to mature in Jesus Christ.
Richardson’s second front for why “Heaven Wins” is his belief in salvation through general revelation. In other words, Richardson believes people can see God in nature and have a saving faith in God without explicitly knowing about Jesus Christ. Richardson raises some very good points of Scripture. It would be useful to look at some of his points because they support my view as well.
However, I do not believe people can inherit the kingdom through general revelation. Nobody comes to the Father except through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). To say one can go to heaven without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ comes very close to Rob Bell’s view. A Buddhist or a Hindu could go to heaven by seeing God in nature.
But as Richardson points out, Paul seems to be saying that you can be saved solely by seeing God in nature.
Romans 2:6-8,13-16 ESV He will render to each one according to his works: (7) to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (8) but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. … (13) For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified . (14) For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (15) They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (16) on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus .
Nobody can completely overcome all their sinful habits without the grace of the Holy Spirit working sanctification in their lives. But Pagans, who see God in nature, can seek glory and honor and immortality through what they know about God. Jesus will honor this by raising them to life to live in the millennial kingdom. They can then have a relationship with Jesus Christ whereby they can journey back to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ.
Thus, God’s plan of salvation is both inclusive and exclusive. Heaven wins because most people of all generations will be resurrected. But it’s exclusive because eternal life is only through faith in Jesus Christ.
The following is a progressive list of views from inclusive to exclusive.
Christian Universalism - Everyone will be saved because they can repent even after going to hell.
Rob Bell’s view - People must receive God by faith to be saved. This can be through any religion or non-religion. This includes belief in nature or self. Atheists, however, are not saved because they do not have faith in God.
Don Richardson’s view - All children who die before the age of accountability are saved. People can be saved through general revelation about God. But people are not saved through other religions.
Traditional Evangelism - Faith must be in Jesus Christ. Anyone can chose to be saved by faith.
Hard-core Calvinism - God chooses who will be saved and consequently, who will be condemned to hell.
The view of this author is both inclusive and exclusive. We are saved from the grave to live again. With respect to who will be resurrected, I would be inclusive between (1) Christian Universalism and (2) Rob Bell’s view. I do not believe everyone will be resurrected.
With respect to who will inherit the kingdom, I would be exclusive between (4) Traditional Evangelism and (5) Hard-core Calvinism. God chooses those who will be drawn to himself to be the firstfruits of those who will complete their journey of salvation. The only way anyone is condemned to the lake of fire is for them to become an enemy of God, which is an antichrist.
The reason this view is both inclusive and exclusive is that salvation is a journey of faith and [God’s work]. Most people will be resurrected to live again in the age to come. But it’s the wide gate that leads to the destruction of all the wealth they’ve earned in this age. They have not stored their treasure in heaven. Only a few will find the narrow gate that leads to eternal life and to inheriting the kingdom.
The biggest objection people have to this view is the need to overcome sin. People argue that as long as we are in these bodies of flesh, we cannot overcome sin. Could this be why pastors gravitate towards “interpreting the words of Jesus through the lenses of Paul”? Did Paul really say you can’t overcome sin with bodies of flesh?
Romans 7:4-6 ESV Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (5) For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions , aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. (6) But now we are released from the law , having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
We used to live in the flesh and under the law. But now we live by the Spirit, which is under grace. Paul is not saying we are still captive to the flesh. We died to flesh. Many skip these verses in Romans 7 and point to later verses in Romans 7 as saying we cannot overcome sin because of the flesh.
Romans 7:14-19 ESV For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. (15) For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (16) Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. (17) So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (18) For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (19) For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
These verses in Romans 7 are often taken out of context. Paul is talking about what it is like to live under the law, “sold under sin.” Under grace it’s a whole different story.
Romans 8:13-15 ESV For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (14) For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (15) For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"
Paul says it clearly. “By the Spirit [we] put to death the deeds of the body.” How is this in any way compatible with continuing in our sin because of our bodies of flesh?
Some have said that our bodies remain corrupted, along with the creation, and that this prevents us from overcoming sin. The creation does not sin. Yes, it groans because of Man’s sin. And yes, we wait eagerly to be adopted as sons. But this does not mean we must continue to sin. Our bodies are corrupt because we are still mortal, not because we sin. We are simply waiting for new bodies at the time of the resurrection.
At this point it might be a good idea to go back and read the introduction to this book again. Billy Graham had a very consistent message about salvation. And it always included the need to repent from our sins. Today, most pastors avoid preaching against sin. Many pastors are saying, “Nobody is perfect. Come as you are.” There is some truth to this statement. But if it’s not followed up with a message about how Christ can free us from our bondage to sin, so that we no longer sin, our churches become just a social club.
We should not spiritualize this truth. You can’t be free from the bondage of sin if you continue to sin. As Paul said, “Sin will not have dominion over you. For you are not under law, but under [God’s works]” (Romans 6:14).
Salvation is by faith alone. That means justification, sanctification, and glorification are all by faith alone. But James said that faith without works is dead. You can also say that love without works is dead. Can you really love your spouse without ever showing your love in what you do? When someone's words and actions are not lining up, go with their actions, every time. Actions say what words won't. Faith and love are the same. Faith and love without actions are dead.
Sometimes selfish desires are mistaken for love. Wives, or even girlfriends, can be thought of as possessions. Jesus can become one’s “possession.” For example, do we pray only for our self-oriented desires? Or do we really pray for and love our neighbors? And do we really pray to overcome all our sinful habits?
James 2:14-26 What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? (15) And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, (16) and one of you tells them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled;" and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it ? (17) Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. (18) Yes, a man will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. (19) You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder. (20) But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? (21) Wasn't Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? (22) You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected ; (23) and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness;" and he was called the friend of God. (24) You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith. (25) In like manner wasn't Rahab the prostitute also justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? (26) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.
This truth becomes more and more apparent as we realize that salvation is a journey. The journey aspect of salvation is sanctification. The Holy Spirit does the work to change us on the inside. But it’s a process that takes time. We are saved by a journey of faith.
Justification can be a moment of faith. But sanctification is not a moment of faith. We can be justified and then later grieve the Holy Spirit by not living the Christian life that we know we should live.
This does not cause us to go to hell. But if we grieve the Holy Spirit, our journey of sanctification will not be completed. Believers who grieve the Holy Spirit will wind up being resurrected with natural mortal bodies and will have to continue their journey during the millennium.
Therefore, a believer’s faith can save him. He can be justified and temporarily receive the Holy Spirit. But if he thinks that’s all there is to it, the carnal Christian will not inherit the kingdom. He will not be part of the elect. Only those who complete their sanctification will inherit the kingdom. Salvation is a free gift. But to inherit the kingdom requires lots of work.
What is the Law? What is grace? The Law is God’s specific directions as to what we should and should not do. The Old Covenant also has instructions for making atonement for our sins. The Law is from God. Therefore it’s good. But from a practical viewpoint, it can become legalistic. In other words, it’s a set of rules that Satan can turn into legalism and self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is at the very core of the fruit Adam was told not to eat. Self-righteousness is the self-determination of what is good and what is evil. Those living under the Law tend to become very judgmental of others and blind to their own sinfulness.
What is grace? The Greek word that is translated ‘grace’ is also the Greek word that is translated ‘favor.’ It’s the same Greek word. Translators decide when to use ‘grace’ and when to use ‘favor.’ They should have very similar meanings. But in most people’s minds, ‘grace’ and ‘favor’ have very different meanings.
In Old Covenant times, people were sometimes filled with the Holy Spirit. But it was rare. And it tended to be temporary. People who were filled with the Holy Spirit were thought of as favored by God. This would have included Abraham. In the New Covenant, any believer can be filled with the Holy Spirit at any time. So all believers are considered as ‘favored’ by God. All believers receive God’s grace. Grace means we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 2:8-10 For by [God’s work] you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of [our] works, that no one would boast. (10) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesusfor good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.
This verse (above) is another verse that is often taken out of context. Verses 8 and 9 are quoted without verse 10. Everyone has been given the gift of reconciliation. No amount of works or sacrifice can forgive sins. But we are sanctified only by faith that results in works.
When grace is related to works, we can see that grace is an ongoing process. Salvation is not a one-time decision. It’s a journey. And that journey involves doing the works of our Father in heaven. No, we are not earning our salvation. The Holy Spirit transforms us on the inside. That change is our salvation. But this happens as we live the life that the Father would have us live. Salvation is a journey of change.
Back in chapter one, we learned that Luther went a bit too far when he eliminated purgatory without providing a free-grace alternative to purgatory. Catholics naturally view salvation as being a journey because they understand that there are consequences to not completing that journey. Under the Catholic system, only the saints will have completed their journey and go straight to heaven without having to spend some time in purgatory. When Luther eliminated purgatory, it had the perhaps unintended consequence of turning salvation into a one-time decision.
We are saved by grace and through faith. If salvation is a one-time decision, then grace becomes a one-time event. Grace becomes simply God forgiving us of all our sins. Salvation becomes past tense. That one-time past-tense event becomes all that matters. The need to ask God to forgive our sins becomes debatable. Many Protestant preachers today say Luther didn’t go far enough. It’s a hyper-grace movement that says we don’t need to worry about sin; and God doesn’t see our sins. Hyper-grace advocates say we shouldn’t even ask the Father to “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
As an untended result of Luther’s elimination of purgatory, many people interpret grace as simply being forgiven of one’s sins. They don’t relate it to the works of the Holy Spirit. The more Wesleyan view is that we must completely overcome sin. It’s often considered legalistic and is equated to living under the Old Covenant and the Law. To say we must interpret the New Testament in the context of the Old Testament is often mistakenly equated with going back to Old Testament practices such as dietary laws. When you say “Old Testament” it’s viewed with suspicion.
If you say we must overcome sin people might respond by saying if you do that you must keep the whole Law. This comes from a clear misunderstanding about grace. When we interpret the New Testament in the context of the Old Testament, we understand that grace is God’s favor. Jesus told the disciples that he must leave so that the Helper would come (John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7). The Helper is the Holy Spirit. Grace is being filled with the Holy Spirit to help us do the things the Father wants us to do, including the overcoming of all our sinful habits.
We are saved by grace and through faith. This must be viewed as a journey. Grace is the continuous act of the Holy Spirit changing us on the inside as we continually do the works of the Father. Faith is continually trusting God and believing that God will in fact change us on the inside to become perfect as the heavily Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). If we are not believing in God to make us pure and holy, we are not believing and having faith in God for salvation from sin and death. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
We are given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit in order to do the works the Father would have us to do. This is how the Holy Spirit is our Helper. People who have a ministry and carry out that ministry in the Spirit realize that God is doing the greater work in their ministry. Likewise, God does the greater work in helping us to overcome sin. But the Helper is just that, a Helper. The Helper does not help if we are not involved in doing the Father’s works, including that of overcoming our own sinful habits. Those who believe that grace is simply the forgiveness of sin, and don’t believe grace is being filled with the Holy Spirit to overcome sin, may not really be living in God’s grace.
Isaiah 45:23-25 By myself have I sworn, the word has gone forth from my mouth in righteousness, and will not return, that to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. (24) They will say of me, 'There is righteousness and strength only in Yahweh.' "Even to him shall men come; and all those who were incensed against him shall be disappointed. (25) In Yahweh shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.
Romans 14:11 For it is written, "'As I live,' says the Lord, 'to me every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess to God.' "
Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, (11) and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Notice that Paul is quoting Isaiah 45:23-25. We need to read these verses like an ancient Jew. In Philippians 2:10, those in heaven are the angels. Those on the earth are those who are alive when the Messiah comes. Those under the earth are those who have died. They will be resurrected and will thus confess to Jesus as a result of their resurrection. But this confession only brings justification. There is still the road of sanctification for all those who are not resurrected with glorified bodies and eternal life.
In the next verse, Paul talks about the need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Think about this verse from the perspective of every knee bowing and also from the perspective of the Holy Spirit being our Helper.
Philippians 2:12-16 So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now 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. (14) Do all things without murmurings and disputes, (15)that you may become blameless and harmless , children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world, (16)holding up the word of life; that I may have something to boast in the day of Christ, that I didn't run in vain nor labor in vain.
Those who believe grace is nothing more than being forgiven of our sins have a difficult time with this verse. How can we work out our own salvation if all has been forgiven? But for those who realize that grace is being filled with the Holy Spirit in order to do the Father’s works and to overcome all our sinful habits, this verse makes lots of sense.
We are filled with the Holy Spirit (grace) in order to “become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish” (verse 15). We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But don’t miss verse 13. God does the greater work. That’s the Holy Spirit doing the greater work. This is living under grace and not the Law because with grace (God’s favor), the Holy Spirit changes us on the inside.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-24 Don't quench the Spirit. (20) Don't despise prophesies. (21) Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good. (22)Abstain from every form of evil. (23)May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (24)He who calls you is faithful, who will also do it.
When we understand that the meaning of grace is living by faith in order to bring about complete sanctification, the whole perceived meaning of Romans will change. When grace, faith, and salvation are all understood to be a journey to Christian perfection, then the gospel of Paul comes into complete harmony with the gospel of Jesus.
Protestants debate Lordship salvation on the one side and free grace on the other side. Free-grace doctrines have led to hyper-grace doctrines that say none of the words of Jesus before the cross apply to the believer. Even the great commission, given after the cross, could come into question because it includes a command to teach the nations everything that Jesus commanded. But once grace is understood as on-going transformation by the Holy Spirit, and not simply the forgiveness of sins, this debate is put to rest.