There is a group (I'll call them "PD's") who will tell you that Paul's writings are valid for today -- for the Church -- as opposed to the Gospels, James, John, the Old Testament, Hebrews ... well, any other author in Scripture. Those are not valid for today. They don't give the gospel for today. The primary difference? "They taught," they will tell you, "salvation by faith plus works. Paul teaches salvation apart from works." The rest of us hear this and scratch our heads. Peter said that salvation was by Christ alone (Acts 4:12) and we've maintained all along that it has always been thus. Beyond that, we've also maintained that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ apart from works. At least that is something on which we seem to agree. So where is the difference? The real difference is that James said that faith without works is dead faith (James 2:17) and Jesus said that those who love Him will obey Him (John 14:15). So we maintain that works don't save, but are the necessary result of the changed life, the "born again." Works don't save, but they will result (1 John 3:9). Jesus said it. James said it. All the New Testament authors attested to it. We maintain it. PDs don't. "No, no," they will argue (vehemently, even angrily), "works have absolutely nothing to do with the Christian. You may or you may not have any results from being saved beyond avoiding Hell."
Now, they will only go so far as Paul, so I have to ask, what does Paul say? Does Paul say what they say or not? I believe that Paul disagrees with them.
We are all in agreement that by grace we have been saved through faith. And this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Let us be absolutely clear that works are not a cause in any sense for that salvation we receive as a gift. However, this is not the end of Paul's thoughts on the subject. He goes on to say, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Paul is not unclear. Saved apart from works. Paul is equally clear on works -- they are one of the primary purposes for which we are saved, one of the primary works of God in the saved. He doesn't produce good works in the unsaved, but He necessarily produces good works in the saved.
We see something similar in Paul's letter to the Philippian church. He warns them, "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" (Philippians 2:12). Works have no bearing on obtaining salvation, but Paul seems to believe that they are beneficial for "working it out." Before you jump to conclusions that this means salvation is maintained by our good works, be sure to read the rest of Paul's thought. (Verse 12 is not the end of the sentence.) "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but we are not doing this on our own. We aren't doing it by our own efforts and our own power. Two things are required to do God's work: the will and the way. We need to will to do it and have the power to do it. God gives both. So we aren't producing the works; God is. We merely participate. But there are works.
Does Paul think works may not happen? Not at all. He argues that regeneration and salvation produces an entirely new being (2 Corinthians 5:17) (much like Jesus did -- John 3:3,5-6). We don't merely become "good people." We are new creations. Paul warns that we need to examine ourselves "to see whether you are in the faith," and that it is possible to fail that examination (2 Corinthians 13:5). The examination is a warning because those who call themselves saved are profligate sinners (2 Corinthians 13:2), a sign that they're not in the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) but in the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20). Those who are in the flesh "will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:20). He distinguishes between those whose lives are defined by sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) and those who were but no longer (1 Corinthians 9:11). Believers, he says, are washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Corinthians 6:11) ... not "the same as you always were."
Did Paul teach that people used to be saved by works? No. Paul said, "No human being will be justified in His sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). Did Paul teach a different gospel than Jesus? No. Paul calls his gospel "the gospel of Christ" 8 times (Romans 15:19; 1 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Corinthians 2:12,9:13,10:14; Galatians 1:7; Philippians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 3:2). (Note: In that Galatians 1 reference Paul is in the midst of warning them about "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6-10) which he says is the distortion of the gospel of Christ.) Did Paul say that there were no good works in the Christian life? No. Paul taught that they were expected, powered by God, produced as a natural result of a new life, and a valid demonstration of being in the faith. Did Paul teach salvation by faith plus works? No. He taught Christian behavior was the result, not the cause of being saved. Paul taught what was later stated clearly. He taught salvation by faith alone, but not a faith that was alone. He echoed Christ and all the other Apostles. If you believe something ("faith"), you will act on it. If you don't act on it, you never truly believed it ("dead faith"). Simple as that.
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