Introducing, The Apostle Paul, (as you never knew him)

28 02 2014

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What if I told you that the Apostle Paul you had been told about was quite different than the one of actual scripture. If you are like me you have been told many things about Paul. That he was the father of Faith Without Works, that he introduced a Christanity unlike that of Jesus and the other Apostles and was the REAL theologian of the New Testement. But I began to read the writings of the Early Church a few years ago and was suprised to find that many of the tennants of Christianity I had been taught did not even seem relevant to what they deemed, the heart of the Gospel. How could this be? They seemed to be very interested in good works. Yes, you can read sections of their writings that sound just like a fundamentalist pastor of today. You would be very much at home with many of their teachings about faith and works. But others you would scratch your head. They highly valued good works and frankly warned unbelievers to ignore people that spoke of faith but did not live truly holy and separate lives infused with good works. There seemed to be nothing even resembling a concern about a conflict with faith and works. I asked a great pastor friend of mine about it and he said that sadly the church immediately fell into error after the Apostles died trusting in works and not faith.

How could this be? Jesus hand picked the disciples and trained them. In Revelations we are told they are the foundation stones of the Church. Are we to believe that the very men that Jesus hand picked and told to go and make disciples, could not even disciple them well enough to get the truth, the faith, delivered once and for all to be conveyed even one generation. Luther still has followers. They follow his teachings. So does Calvin. But then again so does Ellen  G. White and Mary Baker Eddy.  John Smith, Jr. and Joseph Smith had no trouble getting his message to his followers in the Mormon faith. Why were the Apostles such failures at making disciples? But I have come to a new understanding the past few years.

I began to read my bible and ignore all I had been taught about scripture from the Reformers perspective and just read it from the perspective of a first time reader. Albeit, one with many years of experience.  Paul is a good example of how this approach can change your view of what you THOUGHT you knew. Let me give you an example. But first realize that there were NO controversies in the first few centuries of Christianity about faith and works. None. We fret and can barely preach or hear a sermon without  thinking it was the pivotal point in all Christianity. Well if it was, then the Apostles were certainly failures. The disciples of Paul, Peter and John, the very men we trust to pass on scriptures to us and the very ones that died professing the name of Christ, as they entered the lions dens were seemingly ignorant of this doctrine. In fact they urged and cried out for the Church to practice good works constantly. Where would they get such an idea. My answer could be legion, but let me give you a bit of a surprise. They could have just read Paul. With fresh eyes and without the Reformers emphasis on this doctrine, let me share some of Pauls surprising sayings that you don’t hear about in modern evangelical churches in the West.

Acts 26:20 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

What? Paul, is actually discribing his own message as being a gospel including repentance and a turn to God  demonstrating repentance by good deeds. That is EXACTLY what the early church writers say! Hmmm.

1 Timothy 2:9-11 9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, [a]modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

Well this is for women. Nothing about me, being a guy here. I must be exempt.

1 Timothy 5:9-10 9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

Ok, I remebered that one but that must be just because they were given speical treatment, in that, they got food and provision. Lets keep going.

1 Timothy 6: 17-19 17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Well, this one if just for the rich. They need to do good deeds as they are specially blessed. But their foundation should be treasures laid up in heaven for the coming age so that they may take hold of life. I thought they only needed faith without works for that. Keep reading.

2 Timothy 3:16-18 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Wow, scripture is God breathed, according to Paul and is to thoroughly equip us for good works. Never noticed that last part.

Then we get to Titus. Arguably the book of good works. Don’t believe me? Listen to what Paul tells his faithful disciple Titus.

Titus 1:15-17 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.

Hmmm. Professing to know God but denying Him by thier deeds. In fact these folks are worthless for good deeds. I thought good deeds were bad! At least that is what the Reformers seem to imply.

Titus 2:6-8 6 Likewise urge the young men to be [a]sensible; 7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with [b]purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.

Young men are to be an example of good deeds? I thought they were suppose to be an example of faith without works? Is this really Paul here?

Titus 3:1-2 3 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.

What? Be ready for EVERY good deed? We are halfway through the book and Paul seems obsessed with good works already. Good deeds, good works, where is the warnings about works and faith?

Titus 3:7-9 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs [a]according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. 9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

Finally, here is the Paul we hear preached about. Justified by grace. But then he goes right back to admonishing Titus to teach people to be CAREFUL, to engage in good deeds. He says they are profitable. Is this what you hear preached in your church?

Titus 3:13-14 13 Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them. 14 Our people must also learn to engage in good [a]deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.

Wow, does this mean that not engaging in good deeds means we are unfruitful? Paul seems to think so. He is really laying it on our brother Titus on how to disciple this congregation in the faith. And that is constantly reminding and commanding him to teach good deeds. Is your pastor constantly reminding you to do good deeds?  Or is he parroting the Reformers and only telling you that they don’t really matter and they are in fact filthy rags to God.  Interestingly enough, that passage from  Isaiah seems to missing from Paul’s repertoire.

Eph 2:8-10 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and [a]that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Now wait a minute. I have heard this verse a hundred times from the pulpit. I am saved by grace through faith. So that is it. But Paul was not finished. We, according to Paul, were created in Christ Jesus, FOR GOOD WORKS. In fact he says God prepared them (works) beforehand so we could walk in them.

Hebrews 10-23-25 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

OK, I see, once again, the admonition towards good works. Even admonishing each other to good works. But hey, this is Hebrews. Now I know that my old King James thought this was written by Paul but now scholars don’t believe that anymore. Well except the scholars from the Eastern branch of Christianity.  They have always said it was Paul.  Well, all I can say is that whoever wrote it spent the entire book pointing out something I want to piont out next. And besides, whoever wrote it, they mention Timothy at the end and only Paul does that in his letters.

So what about all the scriptures that talk about faith without works. Now I know that you have heard those verses a hundred times. And I know them as well. But then again, the early church had Paul’s letters and referenced them all the time. Clement of Rome was one of Paul’s own disciples according to many, and the other writers knew John and Peter and could actually ask Paul and John what they meant in their letters. How could they have been so mistaken. Well they read these verses above and they certainly had the letters to the Galations and Romans. So how did they deal with Paul’s teachings of faith without works. Easy.

There was a huge contriversy in Paul’s day. You may remember it. The Judaizers were preaching that the Gentiles needed to keep the law and especially be circumsised to be saved. I want to challenge you to do something. Go back and look at the writings in Galations again. You will see the whole book dealing with the WORKS of the Law. Paul says this over and over again. Almost the whole book of Hebrews is written to show the end of the law for the Church and the New Covenant being far superior. Read Acts again and notice how this is the very reason Paul was thrown into prison in the first place. This was a raging conflict in the church and Paul all throughout scriptures is dealing with it. I suggest that when Paul is talking for line after line about WORKS of the Law and then mentions no man is justified by WORKS, he is still talking about works of the Law. There is nothing, when one reads the entire letter to the Galations, to suggest otherwise. If I was talking to you about the Law in an entire letter and used the term works of the Law over and over and then inserted a sentence with the word works without the word Law following it, would think I had changed the subject? And then when I went right back into the a diatribe about the Law I had suddenly switched back? Of course not.  You would follow my reasoning and assume consistency.  That is because that is  the only reasonable way to interpret my conversation.  But since we mostly are preached scripture as proof text for  topics we are constantly being told what Paul and Jesus,  “really” meant.

If that was Pauls intent, destroying any thoughts of good deeds to the faith, then why did he spend the entire book of Titus reiterating  that Titus teach good works.

I say that faith and works are not opposites. They are in fact never to be separated. If you want to read more about what the disciples of Paul, Peter and John had to say about this I will be happy to send you some references.

I contend that the early church writers did not fall from the faith. I contend that the Apostles were master disciple makers, trained by the Son of God Himself, hand chosen to personally go into all the world and make disciples. I contend they delivered the faith delivered once and for all and that they did an excellent job. I also contend, that the Reformers were battling issues  irrelevant in the early church and imposed views on scripture that simply did not exist. We are saved by faith, through grace. But faith without fruit, works and an evident lifestyle is not saving faith.  In fact James calls it dead faith.  Does anyone believe dead faith will save you?  I don’t.

James tells us the Devil believes in God. But you know what? Even though the Devil, knows God made the heavens and the earth. Even though he knows that Jesus died to take away our sins. Even though he knows that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and now sits at the Fathers right hand and will come to judge the quick and the dead, the Devil will not obey Jesus command to repent, believe and obey. If you love Me you will obey, according to Jesus. The Devil will not repent. He will not obey and though he knows and believes all the facts, he will burn in hell. He does not have saving faith the kind that transforms men from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God. James tell us that faith that does not produce Kingdom works, or as Paul says, good deeds.  I say and I think Paul demonstrates faith without works is dead.