In the last post we saw how Galatians 2.19 was not written to confront Christians who were trying to earn their way to heaven by doing enough good works. Rather Galatians 2.19 was written in the context of certain Jewish Christians who were refusing to have full fellowship with Gentile Christians unless they adopted certain “works of the law.” In this context, the “works of the law” refer to particular aspects of the law which Jewish Christians were using to exclude Gentiles from being fully welcomed into the family of Abraham. Paul argues against this sectarian exclusiveness by saying that justification is by faith, not because Gentiles are forced into accepting certain Jewish “works of the law” such as circumcision. This basic, but critical mistake distorts the discussion of legalism throughout the entire book and has several implications.
If you haven’t read the earlier posts in this series, I am writing these posts in conversation with Kevin’ Pendergrass’ book “A Different Kind of Poision: How Legalism Destroys Grace”. You can read those previous posts by clicking below:
- The Fascinating Story of Kevin Pendergrass (Legalism, Part 1 of 14)
- Admitting My Bias (Legalism, Part 2 of 14)
- What I Appreciated the Most About Kevin Pendergrass’s Book on Legalism (Legalism, Part 3 of 14)
- An Overview of Kevin’s Argument (Legalism, Part 4 of 14)
- The Major Flaw in Kevin’s Book (Legalism, Part 5 of 14)
Another example of this same basic mistake can be seen on page 154 where Kevin quotes from Romans 3:27-28:
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
Kevin adds this commentary:
Any law in which we are judged by our works will always end in our condemnation. It is only through faith that we are justified.
Unfortunately, I had taken the law of faith and had turned it into another works-based system. Yet, that was the very point Paul was refuting. We are not justified based upon the works of the law because there is no way anyone can be justified by their own works.
Not only can we not be justified by the works of any law system, we can’t be justified by any works at all, even works of obedience.
Now, ask yourself, is that really the point Paul was refuting? Or was Paul arguing against excluding Gentiles from fellowship within the covenant of God? If, as Kevin has stated, Paul was refuting a works-based system of salvation, then you would probably expect Paul to follow up with some sort of statement about trying to earn your way into heaven. But if Paul was discussing the way Jewish Christians were excluding Gentile Christians, we would probably expect Paul to follow up with some sort of statement about Jewish and Gentile relations. So which is it?
Here’s what Paul says next,
Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the uncircumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. – Romans 3.29-30
If you’re following my point then you will recognize the major flaw in Kevin’s book on legalism. If you’re not seeing my point, go back and read Romans 3:27-30 again. First, Paul states that we are justified by faith. Then Paul immediately follows this up with a rhetorical question about how God is the God of both the Jews and the Gentiles because of their faith. Jews and Gentiles are both fully among the justified people of God, not because of their allegiance to certain Mosaic laws, but rather because faithfulness to God.
If it’s still not clear, continue reading into the next chapter.
Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. – Romans 4.9-12
That’s a big chunk to digest, but if you read it slowly it will be seen that Paul’s main point is that Abraham was credited righteousness before he became circumcised so that he could be a father to all who believe, both Jews and Gentiles. The idea that Paul was writing to combat the tendency of Christians to view salvation as a points-based system or trying to earn their way to heaven is non-existent in this text.
I don’t intend to discredit the entirety of the book. As I’ve said before, there is much to be appreciated in Kevin’s book, and there are lots of good points raised throughout the book. I plan on addressing more of these positive aspects in later posts. But it must be noted that the “legalism” addressed by Kevin is a different kind of legalism from that which is addressed by Paul.
Note: After recieving several comments in response to this article, I thought it would be helpful to add a quick clarification. Here’s what I’m saying and what I’m not saying:
A Clarification (Legalism, An Addendum to Parts 5 and 6)
You can continue to part 7 here:
A Different Kind of Emphasis on the Gospel (Legalism, Part 7 of 14)
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