I often tell people two things to get them started on this experiment of reading Paul with new eyes. One, read Romans 5-8 daily for a while. Two, read chapter 5, verse 1, the way it was meant to be translated:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faithfulness [Messiah’s, not ours], we have peace with God through our Lord Messiah Yeshua.
It is tragic that one Paul’s main points has been misconstrued so badly. He says over and over again that Yeshua’s faithfulness has saved us. This got turned into, “Your ability to have faith saves you.” The messages could not be more unalike.
Ask a hundred Christian Protestants what the “gospel” is and they will say something like “you have to believe to be saved.” Yes, I know. There are so many verses that say something similar, “believe and be saved.” Those verses also are misunderstood.
Getting Paul and Justification and Salvation Right
People confuse two things. One is the pre-condition of our happiness and enlightenment. We cannot enter the journey and be transformed without faith. That is true. The other is a false notion, the idea that God will not rescue us until after we have believed. This is the idea that our ability to believe is a prerequisite for receiving God’s mercy.
It is not that our accomplishment, coming to faith, moves God to save us. He already destined us for rescue and transformation, even while we were enemies. He loved us before we loved him. Messiah already came with the intention of giving us rest and healing our broken hearts. God planned to rescue us from this present evil age before we were ready to ask him for any kind of help. He intended beforehand to redeem us from all evil and purify us.
No, faith is not our accomplishment. Messiah is the author of our faith (Heb 12:2). The Son reveals the Father to us (Matt 11:27). God draws us toward him (John 6:44). We are appointed to eternal life (Acts 13:48). Faith is a gift, something God causes to happen in us (Eph 2:8). God assigns to each person a measure of faith (Rom 12:3). We received faith and so there is no boasting as if we accomplished it (1 Cor 4:7). He will complete our faith (Phil 1:6). Our ability to believe has been granted to us (Phil 1:29). God works in us to will and to do (Phil 2:13). God qualified us to share in the inheritance of the holy ones (Col 1:12). God circumcises our hearts, gives us a new one, writes Torah on it, and brings us back to him (Deut 30:6; Ezek 36:26-27; Jer 31:31-34).
I know the verses above raise questions about free will versus determinism. I believe in free will. I am not saying God simply turns on the switch. But that topic is for another time.
So I say it again, there is a difference between two ideas. One says that our ability to believe is a prerequisite for receiving God’s mercy. That idea is not true. But wait, you say, faith seems all important in hundreds of verses from Torah to the Gospels to the letters. Yes, the other idea is the true one: faith is the pre-condition of our happiness and enlightenment. We need faith and the sooner faith comes to us, the sooner our enjoyment and the more complete.
Let me show the difference another way. You can love someone without them loving you back. If they want to benefit from the full experience of your love for them, it is a pre-condition that they love you in return. But their loving you is not a prerequisite for you loving them. You may love those indifferent to or even unkind toward you. When they are ready to enjoy you as a person, it is a pre-condition that they love you as well.
Paul’s actual message in verses like Romans 5:1 is that Yeshua made us right with God by his faithfulness. He was faithful to take on our human condition. He was faithful to experience the same death all of us know as part of what it means to be mortal and human. He was faithful to remain loyal through all his trials. He was faithful to say, “Father, forgive them,” about his tormentors as he was dying. And because of his faithfulness he was raised and then brought up to the right hand of God.
Now that you have that idea straight, please do make Romans 5-8 your daily portion for a little while. Let it change you. Let it give you a positive view of God’s healing love. Be liberated from the view of God who demands honor and welcome you into the view of God who loves you more than you love him. In fact, he loves you better than you love anyone, even your children or spouse or dearest friend.
Paul saw all that and it fits perfectly with Torah. The pre-condition of our blessing is believing in God, loving him with all our heart, cleaving to him, obeying him, and doing so with all of our being. Deuteronomy is true. But ultimately this is what Deuteronomy has to say about it: “Adonai your God will circumcise your heart” (30:6).
Paul’s theology sees promise in the Torah. And that promise has begun to be fulfilled in Yeshua. Romans 5-8 will bring Torah, promise, and Messiah together. If you read it repeatedly you will, I hope, begin to see a new way of thinking, one that leaves behind justification theory and the conditional gospel.
What is the theology of Romans 5-8? What does it say about “salvation”?
In Part 3, I will begin restating the relevant section of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (chapter 3, section 2.1, “The Soteriology Apparent in Romans 5-8”). It is a liberating theology, far from the angry God many people imagine Paul believed in. It is a Jewish theology, grounded in Torah and creation and the world to come.