Paul vs. James (Pt. 13)
By William Handschumacher
A Special Rock of Offence Bible Study
This is Part 13 of a fourteen-part Bible study.
The other parts of this study are available
All Christians are familiar
with these sobering statements
from Christ about the
importance of forgiveness.
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15)
"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." (Mark 11:25-26)
In these verses, Jesus is warning that God considers unforgiveness to be a serious sin. It's so serious that we read that our failure to forgive will result in our Heavenly Father refusing to forgive us. We never want to minimize the importance of forgiveness. Yet, these statements by Christ are often used to put Christians into a state of doubt and fear concerning their salvation ... because if God does not forgive our trespasses because we fail to forgive, then we cannot be saved - or will lose salvation until we forgive.
That seems to be what Jesus is saying here.
Yet, many Christians (and various Bible teachers) take Christ's words a step further by saying; "What if there is someone I haven't forgiven, but can't remember. Doesn't that mean that God might withhold salvation until I correct this situation?" If that's true then we can never really know that we are saved.
These kinds of reasoning's are responsible for putting a vast majority of Christians under a fearful torment that appears to have no solution. To make matters worse, we often hear various preachers stoke the fear by reminding their audience of Christ's words. Obviously, these ministers want Christians to forgive--so they motivate them by saying that God won't forgive them (or save them) until they forgive everyone. After all, they are just repeating what Jesus clearly said in the Bible.
In this situation Biblical context, or what Saint Paul called "rightly dividing God's Word" becomes crucially important. We have to ask the all-important questions; "When did Jesus make these statements and who was He talking to? Don't let anyone tell you that it doesn't matter - because correctly understanding the truth of the Gospel depends on aksing these kinds of questions.
In this study, we reveal from Scripture that the overall ministry of Jesus Christ is divided into two parts, His ministry on earth before the cross - and His ministry from heaven after the cross (following His resurrection and ascension). Why is this important? Because the cross changed everything, including the way our Heavenly Father handles forgiveness. Contrary to popular church teachings; God treats sin and the sinner in a radically different way after the cross ... when compared to the way He treated them before the cross. That means Christ's earthly ministry had a totally different message than His heavenly ministry; as described in the following Scripture:
"See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him (Jesus Christ) who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him (the resurrected Jesus Christ) Who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, 'Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.'" (Hebrews 12:22-26)
When Jesus said; "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses," He was speaking under the jurisdiction of the Old Testament program that governed before the cross, where God handled forgiveness according the rules of the Mosaic Law. How do we know this? Under the Law, God often promises to give you a benefit, only when you obey something that He commands. On the subject of forgiveness this means that He will forgive you only when you forgive others.
However, Jesus is no longer speaking from the earth. He's now speaking a new and different message from Heaven. Also ... we are no longer living before the cross, we're living after the cross - where Jesus is now speaking about "The new and living way" salvation and forgiveness is given according to Grace (See Hebrews 10:19-23). Why is Christ's earthly message and heavenly message different? Because the cross, representing the New Covenant of Christ, changed everything. The following quote from Saint Paul's "Epistles to the Church" tells us about how God now handles forgiveness.
"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:31-32)
"And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, HE HAS MADE ALIVE TOGETHER WITH HIM, HAVING FORGIVEN YOU ALL TRESPASSES, having wiped out the handwriting of the requirements that was against us (Old Testament Law), which was contrary to us. And He (Jesus) has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Colossians 2:13-14 - Emphasis Added)
Notice that God's forgiveness is no longer conditional upon forgiving others - as it was under the Old Testament Program ... where Christ conducted His earthly ministry. Our Heavenly Father now forgives us unconditionally "for Christ's sake" - because His blood shed at the cross purchased His forgiveness for the Christian believer. Yet, He still continues to emphasize the importance of forgiving others. Under the New Covenant of Christ, benefits like God's forgiveness are given freely because Christ purchased them at the cross with His own blood.
Replacement theology embraces the conditional type of forgiveness, rather than the unconditional forgiveness purchased by Christ at the cross.
Taking Another Look at
"the Transition" from
Law to Grace
Anyone who reads the New Testament notices that both "righteous works and Grace" are emphasized, depending on who is speaking--and the group they are speaking to. This causes inexperienced Christians (and various theologians) to wrongly assume that both are required to obtain and keep salvation. Yet, Saint Paul warns that works and Grace cancel each other out, when mixed together (See Romans 11:6).
What a vast majority of Christians fail to realize is that the Bible is not to be interpreted as "One book with one message", where everything is mixed together into one generalized program. It is to be interpreted as "a collection of writings (assembled as a book) which are generally divided between two different covenants" (Note: a covenant represents a unique set of laws that govern a particular group of people). As a result, the Bible generally consists of two radically different covenant programs - where one (the Mosaic Covenant of the Old Testament) belongs to Israel (the Jews) ... and the other (the New Covenant of Christ) belongs to the Church. (Note: The Church consists of both Jews and Gentiles) This is why Paul taught that God's Word must be "rightly divided" in order to correctly interpret its truths and to be "approved by God" (2 Timothy 2:15).
Christ's New Covenant could only start to govern after the cross and the day of Pentecost. As a result, the New Covenant (also called "the New Testament") does not begin in the Gospel of Matthew--but starts about half-way into the book of Acts ... following the arrival of the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2. This is why the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John represent a transition from Old Testament Law--to the New Covenant of Christ which was primarily directed at Jews who continue to practice the Old Testament program connected to the Mosaic Covenant (or Law of Moses). This is why we continue to see the Law's "works-based salvation" in their writings. This is especially true in the Gospel of Matthew. As a result, the vast majority of Christians who believe that these writings represent "New Covenant salvation" are making a serious mistake.
At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus specifically told His disciples that they were permitted to minister only to "the lost sheep of the House of Israel" (the Jews).
"These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel." (Matthew 10:5-6)
This "restricted calling" - made by Christ Himself - continued after the cross. It remains true despite the many Bible teachers that say and teach otherwise. As a result, whatever we see the original disciples of Christ teach is specifically directed toward the Jews - as Jesus Christ commanded.
Saint Paul re-emphasizes Christ's
original decree in Galatians 2:7-9:
"....the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me (Paul), as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas (or Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen (uncircumcised), and they (meaning James, Peter and John) should go to the circumcision (or the Jews)." (Galatians 2:7-9 - Emphasis and Clarifications Added)
The first thing we should notice is the two versions of the gospel mentioned by Paul in this passage. The gospel of the uncircumcision is given to the mostly uncircumcised Gentile Church ... and the gospel of the circumcision is given to the Jews or Israelites--also known as the circumcision. We should then notice that God called Paul and Barnabas to preach the gospel of the uncircumcision to the Church - but called James, Peter and John to preach the gospel of the circumcision to the Jews as "the House of Israel" that lived during that time.
Paul's statement in Galatians 2:7-9 proves that Christ's original command for His disciples (in this case; Peter, James and John) to minister "only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel" (the Jews) remained in force after the cross. This also explains why the Epistle of James and its "works-based salvation" is not directed at the Church, but only to the Jews as "the twelve tribes of Israel" as clearly stated in his salutation ... that a vast majority of Christians choose to ignore.
Paul goes to great lengths to
separate these two gospel messages,
assigning them to two different
apostolic teams ... because the
messages are different.
If the messages were the same, separating them would not be necessary. The gospel to the circumcision continues to teach a works-based conditional salvation, like the one taught by James. But, the gospel to the uncircumcision (also known as the Church) teaches "salvation by Grace through faith in Christ--without the need for works" ... as taught in "The Epistles of Saint Paul to the Church".
The works-based "gospel to the circumcision" was part of the temporary transition from Old Testament Law to New Testament Grace. Both gospel messages existed during the time the New Testament was written, which is why Paul includes it in his writings. However, the transition eventually came to an end (sometime after 100 A.D. - nobody knows an exact date), leaving only one valid Gospel ... the Gospel of Grace as taught in "The Epistles of Saint Paul to the Church".
This review of the transition is necessary to properly understand the events in the New Testament. On the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, the eleven apostles of Christ (mainly Peter, James and John) were the leaders of the newly established Church.
The ministry of the Apostle Paul
and his "Pauline revelation of the
New Covenant" was still 7 or so
years off in the future.
As a result--and contrary to popular
denominational teaching, the
Apostolic leadership of the Church
(during this time before Paul), did
not yet have a full understanding of
the New Covenant--that Scripture says
was given ONLY TO PAUL at a later
As a result, all those gathered in Jerusalem, when the Holy Spirit fell in Acts chapter 2, were exclusively Jews ... and the three thousand souls that were saved through Peter's preaching were also Jews. Once again - and contrary to popular church teachings, there were no Gentiles (non-Jewish races of people) in this group--because the Apostles doctrine was directed, by Divine decree, at "Jewish people only" (also known as "the House of Israel") - as Jesus had originally commanded in Matthew 10:5-6 (and previously covered in this study). This early doctrine was not based on the New Covenant and continued to teach principles of Old Testament Law - which also declared that Gentiles were unclean and therefore prohibited from receiving God's salvation. In other words, the new Church, established on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 was exclusively Jewish - until God made a major change.
This "exclusively Jewish" condition radically changed in Acts chapter 10, when God commanded Peter - through the "great sheet vision" (that he initially refused to obey) - to preach Christ to a group of Gentiles gathered at the household of Cornelius.
(Note: Peter initially refused to obey the vision because it violated Old Testament Law that he and the rest of the Apostles continued to observe and teach) But, Peter relented being strongly persuaded by God. As a result, he preached Christ to the Gentiles at Cornelius' house - and all were saved, when God Himself poured on them "the gift of the Holy Spirit".
By reading the entire account, we learn that Peter and all his Jewish associates were shocked when God poured out the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles ... and received them into the Church. Why were they shocked? Because God was now initiating the beginning principles of the New Covenant (later to be fully revealed through Saint Paul), which would combine both Jews and Gentiles into one body - "the Body of Christ". In other words, God was now saying that the "House of Israel" no longer had exclusive rights to His salvation - as they had previously enjoyed for thousands of years.
As a result, the Gentiles, once considered; "without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world ... are now "brought near by the blood of Christ - no longer strangers and foreigners - but fellow citizens with the Saints and members of the Household of God." (See Ephesians 2:11-22)
This was the beginning of many New Covenant changes to take place after the cross, where salvation is now called; "The new and living way of Christ" (Hebrews 10:19-23) ... that makes salvation available to all races of the world "by Grace through faith in Christ" (Ephesians 2:8-9). These changes, based on God's unmerited and undeserved favor (Grace), along with many others, are not covered in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but are only found in "The Epistles of Saint Paul to the Church".
Paying Attention to Apostolic
Authority is an Important Key to
Understanding the Context of the
Treating the New Testament with the popular view that 'everyone is generally teaching the same thing' is one of the most greivious errors committed by modern-day church leadership. It creates a false gospel that makes salvation subject to both grace and works, which actually cancels the Grace by which we are saved (Romans 11:6). While it is unclear how God will sort all of this out - the warning is that many professing Christians who think that "Heaven is their home because of their good works and commitment to sinless living" will be sorely disappointed.
Following the cross, our place in Heaven is only obtained "By Grace through faith in Christ" apart from works.
The Bible consists of two major participants; Israel and the Church. Under God's Divine command, we previously learned that both Jesus and His disciples were authorized to minister only to the House of Israel. But the Apostle Paul, also under Divine command, was authorized to minister only to the new "Gentile Church" now consisting of both Jews and Gentiles (also known as "The Body of Christ"). This causes some ministers to wrongly conclude that we should "throw out" the Old Testament and only teach the New Testament. Yet, the rules for properly handling God's Word warn against this dangerous practice.
The writings of the Bible are divided into two general categories. First, all Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) is given for the education and instruction of the modern-day Christian Church. Such things such as Creation, Noah's Flood and the writings of the Prophets concerning various future events--are part of this category. We also must consider 'all Scripture' to understand how God related with Old Testament Israel vs. how He now operates after His Son paid the price for our sins. This difference is crucially important ... because the cross changed everything. As a result, God treats sin and the sinner in a vastly different way after the cross ... compared with the way he treated sin and the sinner before the cross.
This brings us to the second category of information, which has a more narrow focus. Following the cross and the day of Pentecost - all Scripture is not 'legally binding' in the area of modern-day Christian salvation. The New Testament reveals that the "animal sacrifices" used to atone for sin - and the majority of the Old Testament program connected to this practice is now obsolete (as described in Hebrews 8:6-13), compared with how God grants His salvation today. That means this rather large body of Scripture should still be used for educational purposes, but not to obtain Christian salvation. Jesus became the final sacrifice for sin under the Old Testament program. As a result, Jesus--as "The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" fulfilled and then ended the old system, replacing it with "The New and Living Way of Christ" (also called the New Covenant).
Despite these exceptions, we should continue to use all Scripture (including God's "Moral Code" found in the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament) as a guide to show us "how to live Godly in Christ Jesus". Concerning our discussion about the Epistle of James ... this means we should listen to the instructions he gives about Godly character and conduct, while understanding that his "works-based salvation" is not directed at--and therefore should not be embraced by the Church.
More information is available on
the subject of "Israel and the
Church at the following link.
Israel and the Church
This is Part 13 of a fourteen-part Bible study.
The other parts of this study are available
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