Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Law And Salvation

Question: Do you believe that salvation comes from the law of Moses?

AP: Personally, as an agnostic, I cannot believe that salvation comes from the law of Moses. But as a New Testament scholar I can tell you that, according to Paul of Tarsus, the law of Moses is obligatory–all of it. That includes circumcision for any Jew who converted to the faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and that requirement extends even to the present day.

That explains the relationship of the law for the Jew, but what of the law to the Gentile? According to Paul, God had revealed to him that the pagans who converted to faith in Jesus did not have to become Jews. They would be saved by faith, as well as the works required by that faith, but they would not become strict members of the covenant that God made with the Jewish people. They are still the chosen people. The Gentile would be saved just as the Jew, but they did not have to keep those parts of the law of Moses used to distinguish the chosen people of the covenant from others being saved. The Gentiles who are saved are the adopted children of Abraham.

Therefore, the Gentile does not fulfill the entire law of Moses when it comes to portions that are only for the Jews. Those include circumcision, ritual purity, and regulations on food. Therefore, the law of Moses, as such, is not all whole way of life for you, if you are not of Jewish descent. Those who are not Jewish are bound by the law of Moses, which is universal and eternal, as summarized in the Decalogue. Take a look at Romans 2.

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TWH: Antonio and I had a wonderful series of conversations about the Mosaic law back in July. I was very appreciative of his newest book on the apostle Paul. The title is GuĆ­a para entender a Pablo de Tarso: Una interpretaciĆ³n del pensamiento paulino (tr. Guide for Understanding Paul of Tarsus: An Interpretation of Pauline Thought), available here. I've got a very special signed copy from Antonio. You won't find that one on Amazon! It's too special to me. I had to mention his book though. There's no doubt that Antonio has given this whole subject a lot of thought.

No one–Jew or Gentile–has ever been saved or ever will be saved based on something he or she did. The forgiveness of sins comes only by grace through faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Salvation is based exclusively on what Jesus did. All required of us is to place our trust in that work. One of my favorite verses in the New Testament is 2 Cor. 5:21. Here's my translation:
"God the Father treated his Son Jesus Christ as if he had committed every single sin in the history of the world, even though he had never committed a single sin. The Father did that so that he could treat those of us who believe in his Son as if we had never committed a single sin, even though we had committed them all." 
Paul makes the point in Galatians 3 that the law was not responsible for salvation. If it wasn't keeping that law that resulted in salvation, what then was it? Well, Paul says in Gal. 3:1-14 that it was faith. And that was demonstrated hundreds of years before the giving of the law and before the covenant with Israel was made. "Even so Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness" (Gal. 3:6).

Let me just make a couple of additional observations from Galatians 3. Someone might say, "Thomas, can't you see that Paul is just talking about the Gentiles in Galatians 3?" –He is talking about the Gentiles, but not exclusively about the Gentiles. He is talking about the gospel, and that gospel is applicable to both Jews and Gentiles in the very same way. Paul is not just talking about Gentiles and their relationship to the law in Galatians 3. One way I can prove this to you is by observing how Paul includes himself–a Jew–in the discussion. He says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law" (Gal. 3:13). Later he says, "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal. 3:25). Such references would make no sense if Paul was treating a group distinct from his own ethnic and national heritage. One more thought. In Gal. 3:19 Paul says, "Why do we even have the law then? It was added because of transgressions . . . until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made." Paul limits the law temporally. That's the whole purpose of the word "until." Paul's limiting the duration of the law, not just for Gentiles. The law itself runs its course and finds its determined culmination at the arrival of the Messiah, when his life finished the law and at the exact same time inaugurated the New Covenant.

Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ and faith in what he accomplished for the world on the cross. I believe that with my whole heart.

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