The New Perspective on Paul: Works

Well this is our second look at this issue of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Last time we looked at how someone who ran with the NPP would understand the Gospel – the announcement that Jesus is Lord. We start with the Gospel message because it is the main root in which all other small yet still important roots branch from. Each root ultimately goes back to Paul’s understanding of the Gospel message.

The next branch or pillar of the NPP we are going to look at is this issue of “works.” This might seem a little fuzzy/confusing of an issue so I am going to attempt to bring it down a few notches for us all to understand. We all know that it is not good enough to just sit around with the announcement – this Gospel message. We cannot therefore be lazy. We are truly called to do “something” for the Kingdom of God. Paul gives us this message loud and clear. So does Jesus. Let’s start with Scripture.

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 14:10-12).

“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Paul reminds us of a reality of being judged for what “he (she/we) has (have) done in the body.” It also doesn’t matter really if it was “good” or “evil” either. We will each, individually have to give a report for our life work towards one another – Christian or non-Christians respectively. So how are we to maintain a good standing for our works? Paul tells us to outdo one another in honoring one another, serve the Lord, and be patient in hope. Doing these things does not automatically mean that we are “free and clear” from the judgment seat. Remember – “whether good or evil” means no matter what, we are going to have an appointment with Christ regarding what was done while we were in the flesh. This isn’t a scare tactic at all. This is just a reality that we will have to go through one day.

So where is the controversy? Romans 2:1-16 is the baby that throws a wrench in the cogs of both theologians and Bible students alike. Verse 13 states, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. “Are we really going to suggest that those who keep The Law are declared righteous in God’s eyes and those who do not keep The Law are not justified? Paul. I think you have a few screws lose or something. We are freed from The Law since Christ came.” Perhaps that is what you thought after you read this verse as well. I know I did. How on earth do we reconcile this passage to mean what it is supposed to mean? How would someone who follows a more NPP understand this passage? I won’t try and rewrite N.T. Wright’s words. I will comment on them though. Here is what he says.

Paul means what he says. Granted, he redefines what ‘doing the law’ really means; he does this in chapter 8, and again in chapter 10, with a codicil in chapter 13. But he makes the point most compactly in Philippians 1.6: he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (Sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things, which show, rather, that one is in Christ the thing, which is produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation. In this way, Romans 8.1–17 provides the real answer to Romans 2.1–16. Why is there now ‘no condemnation’? Because, on the one hand, God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ (let no-one say, as some have done, that this theme is absent in my work; it was and remains central in my thinking and my spirituality); and, on the other hand, because the Spirit is at work to do, within believers, what the Law could not do – ultimately, to give life, but a life that begins in the present with the putting to death of the deeds of the body and the obedient submission to the leading of the Spirit.

I personally believe that it cannot be stated any better – so I won’t attempt to do so. I hope this sparks some more conversation along the way. We have much to learn about the NPP and I feel this might be one of those topics that simply will not go away. What I will say in closing is that the NPP ultimately seeks to do away with preconceived notions about who Paul was and what his purpose of writing was. Even though Paul was a very smart man (He was a Pharisee after all – which is like having three degrees – on in law, one in religion and one like a PhD of sorts), Paul considered all of that rubbish (a horrible translation – literal it means “poop” – the stuff you flush down your toilets) compared to knowing Jesus. For Paul to make a statement like that – especially to a church – means that something significant must have happened in his life. He, through the power and working of the Holy Spirit, is given the Gospel message to announce that Jesus is Lord and thus is called to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. We will look at the significance of one’s calling later on in this series of posts but I will simply say that the NPP crew sees that as something very different as well. Once Paul had the message, he went out and called other people to do likewise. He called believers to go and do “good works” that will be judged by the Father who sits on the throne. Let us therefore go out and do the works we do in this body for good so that our Father in heaven will say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant. Enter into My glory.” God bless.

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