Post Title: A Highly Distorted Gospel
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law (Torah), although the Torah and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah for all who believe. - Romans 3:21-22a
My translation of Romans 3 is an attempt to capture Paul's thought expressed in the original Greek language. God accomplished his new covenant salvation through the faithfulness of Jesus. We believe that—and because of that belief—we come into a relationship of faithfulness.
Here is another familiar text from Galatians 2:16, "... so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ ..."
Demons believe and they tremble, but they are not justified (James 2:19). Remember, in order to think biblically it takes two hands; on the one hand, on the other hand. Yeshua believed in the grace—in the lovingkindness, in the covenant faithfulness—of the one, true God. As a result, he was obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phi 2:8). Jesus embodies faith/faithfulness (emunah).
We enter God's kingdom of reconciliation and salvation through the faithfulness of the King, Jesus. His atoning sacrifice paid the way for us to come into full fellowship with our heavenly Father—we are saved by his faithfulness, which was an expression of God’s grace (hesed). Hallelujah!
As in Romans 3, it is redundant here for Paul to speak of faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe. What he is saying is that God has fulfilled his promise—the Holy Spirit has come through the faithfulness of Jesus. We who follow him believe that, and through that belief, come into a relationship that should be characterized by faithfulness. We are justified. Again, hallelujah!
Do you see how much more sense that makes? (We don't have time to discuss the particular contextual issues like Jew and Gentile, and works of the Law. I go in-depth on the subject in my series Paul, the Law, and the Church. To my mind, the cultural context confirms what we are discussing here.)
For generations, many preachers have based their reading on what they learned in Protestant seminaries. While not denigrating the value of study and learning, in my experience it is often disconnected from the Hebraic worldview of Jesus and the early church. They have been taught, and therefore they preach, that there is no grace in the OT. But as we've seen, it is there in abundance. Grace is hesed; Yahweh abounds in hesed! Indeed that is the mighty witness of both Testaments.
Paul says it is by God’s hesed that we have been saved, through the faithfulness of Jesus; not of ourselves, it is a gift from God in the person of Jesus. Not by works, you shouldn’t boast. You are God’s workmanship, you have been created and recreated in Messiah Jesus to do good works which he has ordained for you to do. We are saved by grace, which elicits our faithfulness. My point is these two things are not in opposition, biblically they are intrinsically connected.
I remember being approached by a young pastor. He had been in the faith movement for years and after hearing me teach said, "this is the greatest teaching on faith that I have ever heard; it has revolutionized my life." I don't tell you that to build myself up, rather as an illustration of how this foundational biblical concept has totally escaped the view of most Christians. It is a tragic example of how we are not being taught to understand what was fundamental to Jesus and his kingdom movement.
We have a highly distorted gospel today that very much suits our convenience and consumerism, our iniquity and rebellion.
If biblical faith is only belief, then all that matters is that you believe correctly, that you have the right doctrine.
If you believe then you get the faith token.
You put this token in your wallet and go about your business and enjoy the amusement park called life.
You ride the fast cars, you wear the fancy clothes, you buy the big house, you devote yourself to your job rather than to your family, you go to church periodically, you throw some money into the offering and feel righteous about it all.
At the end of your life, you come up to the pearly gates, pull out the faith token, drop it in the slot, and voila! The gates open and all is forgiven.
It doesn’t matter how you lived, you believe so just come on in.
My friends that is a perversion of the biblical text. Yes, perversion is a strong word, but I use it based on years of study, deep personal conviction, and experience with the damage it has caused to God's people. This mischaracterization is not what Jesus taught. When the Messiah spoke of faith, he was not speaking of getting a token based on having the right belief that would somehow make up for how you lived your life.
He was, and is, looking for people who after counting the cost say, "I choose to be FAITHFUL UNTO THE MESSIAH JESUS. I choose to follow him, I choose to make him Lord, I choose to give him sovereignty over my life, over my ambitions, over my marriage, over my checking account. I make him King and I become part of his movement, the kingdom of God."
This is essential to the Good News that Jesus preached. He says to us, "Look, this is costly stuff. Count the cost before you make the decision to be my disciple." James detected this heresy early on and says to us in his letter that faith without faithfulness is like a corpse with no breath.
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like." (James 1:22-24)
The Gospel is more than dancing in the aisles, singing and shouting, leaping for joy, and getting goose-bumps. The full Gospel is one in which I daily submit to the lordship of Jesus, with a Spirit-born desire to be faithful to the One who is Faithful. The full Gospel is one in which I daily try to walk, by the Spirit, in the paths that he provides. The full Gospel is one in which when I stray (as we all do), I repent—immediately turn around and get back on the path of life.
And the full Gospel is one in which after making my way down the journey of life that God has ordained for me, I come before the King of kings and he says to me, "Well done, you were a faithful servant, now enter into your reward." To which my response will be, "You alone are Faithful and True."
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.