Paul gives the best and clearest definition of the true Gospel in one verse, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Roman 1:17, NIV) The Jews missed the profundity of the teaching of Christianity because they learned that their righteousness must come through strict obedience to God’s Law revealed to Moses in the Old Testament. He says,
30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 9:30-33, NIV)
Paul makes this point even more clear when he says to the Colossians,
3For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
4Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:
5Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
12Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:3-12, KJV)
The problem is that Christians have stumbled over the same stumbling stone as the Jews! Notice the verses in bold above which says, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” This is quite a boast! Paul proclaimed that he perfectly obeyed God’s Law. If righteousness could have been obtained through the Law, then, Paul would have qualified through the works of his own flesh! But, he then proclaimed such a great accomplishment, at least in the eyes of many, as dung! This shows us that “the teaching about righteousness” which Hebrews teaches deals not with some ascetic discipline of perfectly obeying God by the power of our flesh and will. And, yet, clearly our will matters in this process which God calls “salvation.” Paul said, “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.” He spoke not of that which men call their eternal salvation, their ticket, so to speak, of going to heaven. He spoke of the salvation which keeps us from mandatory participation in the Lake of Fire according to Revelation 20:6:
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Only those Christians who effect the salvation of their souls participate in the first resurrection, and as we learned in my recent post entitled “The Three Comings of Christ,” the first resurrection occurs in two stages. First, Christ comes as a thief and secretly carries away and glorifies his firstfruits. Second, these firstfruits return to earth and train the faithful of the remaining church who will three and one half years later become part of the first resurrection. The question I am trying to answer, and it is difficult to answer, is, “How does one effect this salvation of his soul so that he may participate in the first resurrection?”
Clearly, the vast majority of Christendom will not learn this lesson prior to the secret “rapture” because only the firstfruits, a small portion of the full wheat harvest of believers, will participate in that. Until that day, however, my job remains to inform as many as who will hear how to overcome, for “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,[a] for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”[b] (Romans 1:16-17, NKJV)
John declared concerning coming to faith in Jesus, “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12) Notice that this verse means that simply coming to a “saving faith” in Jesus, or believing in Jesus for the salvation of one’s sins does not automatically qualify a person for becoming a son of God. Initial faith gives one “the right to become” a son of God, it does not magically turn one into a son. One becomes a son when he has been glorified, when he has been fully made into God’s image.
During most of Paul’s ministry he did not believe that he had qualified for this high calling which he calls the “crown of life.” For example, to the Philippians he said,
12 “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12-14)
Yet, to Timothy Paul said,
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
How could Paul say one thing to the Philippians and another to Timothy? Because God showed Paul that he was about to die when he wrote Timothy and he knew he had “finished the race.” How did he know this? Because he had “kept the faith.” Yes, he had kept “the faith” until the time of his departure, his physical death. But, what does keeping “the faith” mean? (to be continued…)