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Reconciling the Evangelical Paul with the Biblical Paul

It is common to think that we have to reconcile Paul with James. I suggest rather that we must reconcile the evangelical Paul, who believes that going to heaven has nothing to do with works, and the New Testament Paul, who wrote:


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  • Eternal life is a reward for a pattern of good works (Rom. 2:6-7)
  • We have been reconciled to God, but we shall be saved from wrath through Christ and by his life (Rom. 5:9-10)
  • Eternal life is the result of holiness, which is the fruit of serving God (Rom. 6:22)
  • And, as one more thing to reconcile, in the very next verse, he said eternal life was a gift! (Rom. 6:23)
  • We "must" die if we live after the flesh, but we will live if we put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:12-13)
  • Don’t be deceived! The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Examples of the unrighteous are the sexually immoral, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunks, and slanderers (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
  • That he himself disciplines his body so that he is not disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27). "Disqualified" (Gr. adokimos) is a word Paul contrasts with having Jesus Christ in you in 2 Corinthians 13:5
  • Immediately after saying he had to discipline himself so that he does not fail the test (an alternate translation of adokimos), he argues for 11 verses that the various failures of the Israelites in the wilderness were examples for Christians, then writes, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12)
  • We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad. Fear of this judgment causes Paul to persuade men (2 Cor. 5:10-11)
  • It’s possible to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1)
  • We must come out from among them, be separate, and not touch the unclean thing if we want the Lord to receive us (2 Cor. 6:17-18)
  • The Christians of Corinth must examine themselves to see whether they are really in the faith, Jesus is really in them, or if they are "disqualified" (2 Cor. 13:5)
  • Those who "practice" (Gr. prasso) the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21) Don’t be deceived! Sowing to the flesh will result in corruption, sowing to the Spirit will result in everlasting life, so we should not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:7-8)
  • The sexually immoral, unclean, and greedy don’t have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Don’t let anyone deceive you about this! It’s because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience, so don’t partake in their deeds (Eph. 5:3-7)
  • Paul himself was leaving everything behind, counting everything loss, and pressing forward so that he know Jesus, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering, so that by any means he might attain to the resurrection of the dead. Paul did not regard himself as having already taken hold (Php. 3:7-14)
  • God will present us holy, without defect, and blameless before him if we continue in the faith grounded and settled (Col. 1:22-23)
  • Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians so he could know their faith because he feared the tempter had tempted the Thessalonians and Paul, Timothy, and Silas’ work would have been in vain (1 Thes. 3:5)
  • Timothy should hold faith and a good conscience. Some, having rejected those, have had a shipwreck in regard to their faith (1 Tim. 1:18-20)
  • Timothy should pay attention to himself and his teaching. By continuing in these things [the things in 1 Timothy] he will save both himself and his hearers (1 Tim. 4:16)
  • Wealthy people should do good, be rich in good works, and willing to share. This will allow them to lay up a good foundation for the time to come so they can lay hold of eternal life (1 Tim. 6:16-18)
  • Grace instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died to redeem us from all lawlessness and purify a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:11-14)
  • Titus is to affirm confidently than God’s people are to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8)
  • Finally, if Paul wrote Hebrews, as many believe, then there are many more verses associating works with "going to heaven," such as Hebrews 3:14, which says that we are partakers of Christ only if we hold the beginning of our confidence firm to the end; Hebrews 6:6, which mentions falling away; and Hebrews 10:37-39, which tells us that those who shrink back will be destroyed. That is not even mentioning Hebrews 12:14, a cognate to Romans 6:22, which says that no one will see the Lord without holiness.

I should also point out that "go to heaven" is not biblical terminology. You will not find those words in the New Testament. Instead, Jesus and his apostles talk about inheriting or entering the kingdom and, as Jesus said, this will not happen unless we do the will of our Father in heaven (Matt. 7:21).

Eternal Security

Several people have written me asking about "that long list of verses you wrote against eternal security." These verse do show eternal security to be false, but they are not listed for that purpose. These verses are not "against" something, but are "for" Paul's real teaching, that even Christians will face a judgment according to works on the last day. Those who, by grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit, have put to death the deeds of the flesh and walked in the good works that God prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph. 2:10), will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34), and those who have walked in immorality, uncleanness, and greed will go away into the everlasting fire (Matt. 25:46), receiving the wrath of God along with the sons of disobedience (Eph. 5:6).

The paragraph I just wrote cannot be swallowed whole by evangelicals no matter how many verses I back it up with. I had years to deal with the fact that I could see this teaching in both the Bible and Christian writers from the second century. I strongly recommend that evangelicals read my article on God's merciful judgment to help them deal with the biblical realities on this page.

I have lost my article on walking in the light and blamelessness to a backup problem, but 1 John 1:7-9, and the explanations of light in Ephesians 5:8-13 and John 3:19-21 will go far to helping you expect to arrive at the judgment blameless.

Even better is to read my much fuller explanation of this in Rebuilding the Foundations (available wherever books are sold).

Despite the staggering list of verses above, which suggest or directly state, that eternal life is a reward for good works, the evangelical Paul was not made up out of whole cloth. Paul did say:

  • that we are saved by grace, though faith, not of ourselves but the gift of God, not of works so that we can not boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
  • that we are justified by faith and not by the works of the law (Rom. 3:28)
  • that we are not saved by works of righteousness which we have done, but by God’s mercy (Tit. 3:5)

How, then, do we reconcile the Paul who wrote Ephesians 2:8-9, whom evangelicals love, with the Paul who wrote Ephesians 5:3-7, whom evangelicals try to explain away?

That question can be answered in one sentence: "Saved" does not necessarily mean "go to heaven." Only "inherit the kingdom" always means "go to heaven."

"Saved," the Greek word sozo, is a big word with a lot of meanings, just as it is in English. Thayer’s lexicon lists danger, destruction, and disease as things we can be saved from as well as from "the penalties of Messianic judgment" (cf. Ps. 2:12). More to our point, Romans 5:9-10 gives a couple things we can be saved from:

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we will be saved by his life.

When we are “now justified by his blood,” we are saved in a way that is best described by Ephesians 2:1-10. In verses 1-3, we are ...

... dead in transgressions and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience. We also all once lived among them in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Paul pulls out all the stops in these 3 verses. He is telling us just how bad our condition was before God "made us alive together with Christ" (v. 5). In verse 10, however, everything is changed:

We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.

That is a huge change, from being dead in our sins to being God’s workmanship, created in King Jesus for good works. In verse 8, Paul rightly calls this being saved.

Hebrews warns us, though, that there is one more thing coming:

It is appointed for me to die once, then the judgment.

That judgment still awaits us, and it is still according to works. That is why Paul says, "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10). It is also why Paul does not stop at “now justified by his blood” in Romans 5:9. He adds:

... we will be saved from God’s wrath through him.

Romans 5:10 is similar:

We were reconciled by Jesus’ death, but we will be saved by his life.

Galatians 2:20 explains what life Romans 5:10 is talking about:

I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. That life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.

If I let Jesus live through me, then I will be saved from God’s wrath through him and through his life. We are warned that God’s wrath is still in the future, and we are even told not to be deceived about it in Ephesians 5:6-7:

Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience. Therefore don’t be partakers with them.

You might be able to play with those words, but I cannot. I have been saved, made alive from my death in my sins and re-created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and I received that salvation by faith apart from works. Being enabled now by my new creation to do good works (Eph. 2:10), and knowing that the purpose of Jesus’ death was to ransom me from all lawlessness and to produce a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:13-14), I am not at all surprised that God asks me to walk in that salvation, continuing in the faith, not moved away from it, but grounded and settled in it (Col. 1:22-23). I will sow to the Spirit and so reap eternal life (Gal. 6:8).

There is a sense in which the biblical Paul, the New Testament Paul, has two messages. We can be saved from the horrid state of slavery to sin by faith (Ephesians 2:1-10), and if we walk by the Spirit, we will do good and be rewarded with eternal life as a person who has patiently continued to do good in this present age (Romans 2:6-7; 8:1-13; Galatians 5:16-6:9).

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