The Life and Theology of Paul
A review by Stuart Brogden
I was intrigued when I saw this book come available for review. I’ve reviewed this author’s commentary on Acts and was eager to see how he addressed Paul. This book will not disappoint the reader who truly wants to know the theology of Paul, which is to say, the theology of the Bible.
Guy Water’s has organized this book into 12 chapters, covering Paul’s conversion and calling by God, his view of sin, justification, sanctification, the church, and the end of the age. In the introduction, Waters points out that Paul’s life stands as “a testimony to the gospel that he preached” – even while acknowledging what we can know about Paul’s life is found only in the Bible. But considering how much of the Bible Paul wrote, and what Luke wrote about him, we have more than enough material (inspired by God!) to know Paul very well. In summing up a nice, concise review of Paul’s life, our author tells us of two ways his life is still fundamental in the life of the church today. First, God prepared Paul “from the womb to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles.”” (page 10). We should consider our own lives as having been worked out by God for use to His people, trusting Him when we are not sure of our path. Secondly, although he was dramatically converted, the man was not transformed into someone else. Since God had prepared Saul for his role, it would overthrow all that preparation if the result was a different man. God’s preparation leads to His plans being fulfilled. When we look at ourselves, we should look unto the Lord, knowing He is faithful and trustworthy to equip us and keep us.
In his review of Saul’s conversion, Waters observes (page 15), “Saul, then, would serve as a pattern or model of what Jesus Christ would do in the lives of men and women who hear Saul’s witness to Christ.” He notes that not all who hear the gospel are saved, but that those who are saved are saved in the way Saul was. I’ve made note of this myself in much the same way and think people who claim man plays a role in his own conversion would benefit from chapter 2 and the biblical evidence our author marshals.
It has been said that the basis of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification. Waters quotes Martin Luther: “If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time.” (page 49) Without a clear understanding of Who saves whom – and from Whom – the Christian will tend to drift into thinking too highly of self too lowly of Christ. Waters’ two chapters on justification follow his two chapters on sin. And following justification, we have three chapters on sanctification. I have been severely grieved of late by the number of Christians I’ve encountered who consider sanctification a one-time thing that is finished upon redemption. While I disagree with Waters on his interpretation of the man in Romans 7, his teaching in these chapters is very good and concludes on the high note that the “Christian life is one of unceasing dependence upon Christ” (page 89) and “Our ultimate good is our glorification in and with Christ.” (page 99). If we keep these biblical truths in front of us, we will do well.
Since justification is the hinge point of our faith, I think it best if we make sure we understand it. Waters quotes Romans 3:21, reminding us that “Paul has labored to argue that sinners lack the righteousness that God requires of human beings. Now, for the first time in this letter, Paul begins to describe the righteousness that God has accomplished in Christ and that He freely gives in the gospel to sinners (see Rom. 1:16-17)” (page 50). He then tell us of three important words used by Paul to define and describe this gift of righteousness: redemption, propitiation, and justification.
Redemption, we are told, has a rich history in the biblical story. In Exodus 6:6 and 2 Sam 7:23 God describes “His deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt” with this word. “In Isaiah’s prophecy, God often speaks of Himself as the Redeemer of His people,” (page 50) laying the foundation that God is the initiator and author of man’s redemption. To redeem mean to buy back something, such as a slave, by paying a ransom. In redeeming sinners, Christ Jesus has purchased us from the slave market of sin; the purchase price was His life. Waters points out that Paul connects our redemption to the shedding of Jesus’ blood in Eph 1:7.
Secondly, propitiation “is the turning aside or averting of wrath.” (page 51) Our author declares, “those for whom Jesus died have not only had their sins atoned for, but they have also had the Father’s wrath averted from them. Jesus has turned aside the wrath of God from His people because He exhaustively bore the wrath of God on their behalf at the cross.” (page 51) It has been well said that we are saved from God by God. Those who are perishing will not be separated from God in the complete sense – only as regards His benevolence. They will be personally experiencing His unending wrath for eternity as their sinful human frame is unable to atone for their sin against an infinitely holy God. This is why Paul wrote that “there is, therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1) – God’s wrath was satisfied in the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no wrath left, no sin debt unpaid, for those who are in Christ!
Regarding justification, Waters warns us about some who claim “justification carries the idea of inward transformation” (page 52), as the Roman Catholic Church does. To Paul we go to find out his view, as we see it as something brought to us once as a gift, and the alternative to condemnation (Rom 5:16; 8:33-34). “The opposite of justification is condemnation. This … confirms justification as a strictly forensic (that is, courtroom) reality.” (page 52) Justification, he says, “has in view two inseparable realities.” (page 52) Firstly, Rom 4:7-8 teaches that forgiveness is complete, none of the sins of the saints are unforgiven, as if the blood of Christ was not sufficient. Secondly, we are declared righteous. “In Justification, God does not clear our account of debt to Him and tell us to start over and do better this time. We are, rather, counted as righteous for Christ’s sake.” (page 53) This is a status that cannot be over turned – not by man, devil or God.
One point of strong disagreement I have with Waters comes to us on page 55 where read that the righteousness of Christ is “offered in the gospel and may be refused (see Rom. 9:30-10:4)” Nowhere in the Bible is the gospel an offer, something that can be refused. When a sovereign says, Come!, that is a command of a superior to an inferior, not a request. The grace that saves is a gift from God, but not a gift that CAN be refused. A proper understanding of redemption reveals that man is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and THEN given the faith needed to receive the grace to believe. John 6:44 sums up the actions and sequence: John 6:44 (HCSB) No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. Note the first act – God draws, or drags, the person who is dead in sins (Eph 2:1-2) to Himself. Everything else, though it cannot be disconnected from this, follows it. Being regenerated, the sinner now wants God where he was unable to before. No one being so changed would be able to refuse God, just as one not changed is not able to want God nor discern spiritual things (John 8:43; 1 Cor 2:15). Further, nothing in the Scripture noted by Waters (Rom 9:30 – 10:4) supports his assertion that sinners are offered salvation and can refuse that offer.
Wanting to finish this review on a positive note, overall Waters does very good, indeed. His third chapter on justification rests on our “union with Christ.” The bond we saints have with Christ Jesus is essential to our salvation and our standing with God. He rightly asserts, “if we are in Christ, this relationship and all that it carries are due entirely to the gracious initiative of God. … Our unity rests on nothing in ourselves, but entirely on our Savior and what He has done to rescue us from sin and death and bring us to eternal life.” (page 68) Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us just as our sin has been imputed to Christ. We have no righteousness or merit of our own; if not joined to Christ we have no hope. But we who are in Christ have security, we “have a certain glorious future and, therefore, hope for the present.” (page 68)
There are issues or practices that exist in many evangelical churches. Many are valid, while others are merely the status quo. This means the existing state of affairs. When I pastored in England, there was a saying that summed this up quite nicely. “We have been doing this since the year dot.” Making this statement referenced the reality that nobody knew how or when an issue or practice started, but it has always been that way. Therefore, we have no plans on changing what we are doing.
In the last article, we addressed three items in particular 1) the KJV-only position, 2) the rapture, and 3) The role of supporting missions.
My post is not written with a desire is to belittle a specific person who holds to a KJV-only or rapture position, nor even undermine the role of missions in a local church. My concern is to point out the inconsistencies of holding to a particular position or belief if it is not based solely on Scripture. In fact, I have friends and family who hold to both of these positions and seem to have no issue with the way that churches support missions.
My concern is the lack of fellowship and the vitriol that exists between those who claim the name of Christ. Again, before anybody questions my doctrinal position, I want to add that I have NEVER wavered on the foundational truths of Scripture. What I have changed is where I stand on positions that are not 100% clear. Some of my beliefs have been subjective at best, while others have been refined and clarified through the years.
Through the years, I have learned that some of my convictions are actually nothing more than preferences. I often heard a conviction is something a person would be willing to die for, but a preference does not hold the same value. Sadly though, I have seen many preferences become a “hill to die on” instead of remaining a preference.
But are preferences really as important as some make them out to be? Let me give a follow up example. The use of the KJV is a preference, and not a conviction. If a person were to threaten a person who holds to a KJV-only with harm if they did not read or teach one service from another version, there would be no hesitation at all. They would use the other version. That is another level of inconsistency.
Anytime the status quo changes, one of two things tends to happen. 1) People tend to ask questions and search for the truth, or 2) people get angry and upset. When they get upset, they then tend to abandon all reason. As humans, we do not like to be wrong. To find out we have been wrong in an area requires having humility before God. Yet, some are not willing to be taught.
However, there is another level to the inconsistencies found in many churches. As a pastor, the role of the shepherd is to help guide the sheep. He is tasked with the solemn responsibility of using the time afforded him to minister the Word of God. This teaching is to be such that it helps the hearers strive to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ today than they were last week.
In addition, pastors are to encourage the listener to be followers of Christ, NOT followers of the latest fads or trends in Christian circles. Pastors are NOT called to be little dictators, but to point only to Christ. As the apostle Paul stated so well in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
During my 50 years of life, I have heard “sermons” preached about long hair on men, women wearing trousers, the dangers of Christian Contemporary Music, and a myriad of other preferences. These were a waste of time and only serve to show the lack of preparation time that was spent before the Lord in order to preach the truth. Pastors who do this are failing in their calling.
Pastors and elders, if our goal every week is to stand in the pulpit and harp on preferences, we are demeaning our calling. Time is short and we must be good stewards of our time.
Consider this – Every week consists of 168 hours, and if the average listener comes to a service but once a week, that means that as ministers or teachers of God’s Holy Word that we only have but 30-60 minutes to point them to Christ. To do otherwise is to be inconsistent with the duties of a shepherd.
Do we fully understand this? If people ask those in fellowship what your church believes, the answer they are prepared to give is telling on the sad demise of Biblical truth being preached and taught throughout much of western Christianity.
Many times, the situation would sound like this.
Speaker 1 – “What do you believe?”
Speaker 2 – “Well, I believe what my church believes.”
Speaker 1 – “Tell me what your church believes then.”
Speaker 2 – “My church believes what my pastor believes.”
Speaker 1 – “Please tell me, what does your pastor believe?”
Speaker 2 – “Oh that’s easy, my pastor believes what I believe!”
1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” This is the Biblical standard.
Is there any wonder why people are so willing to hop from one church to another? Maybe it is because too many pastors are interested in building personal kingdoms and keeping them staffed then they are in preparing hearts for eternity!
Pastors, elders, teachers, and churches, please consider these things –
- This world is NOT our home. We are only strangers passing through from that which is temporal and will fade away to that land where eternity reigns.
- EVERY believer is to be accountable to one another. This means that pastors and teachers are to be held to God’s standard, not self-made standards. If a pastor or teacher is teaching from the book of Second Preferences or the book of Third Do-it-my-way-or-the-highway, then they have failed.
- Pastors and teachers – You are NOT called to build your own kingdom. It is the kingdom of Christ. He is the One Who died for sins. He is the One Who keeps His people secure. He is the One Who justifies the sinner, redeems them, and sets their feet on the Solid Rock. He is the Bridegroom Who is coming again for those who are true believers. “Well done!” is not something we will ever hear if Christ is NOT only prominent but preeminent in every aspect of our ministry.
- As a family, if you are choosing to listen to teaching that does not rest solely on the pages of Scripture, then you are NOT leading your family in the way of truth. You are doing nothing more than taking them to a buffet full of nothing but junk food and expecting your family to grow healthy in the ways of Christ. It will not happen. One day you will wake up and may find that your children do not care for church or the things of God. Why should they think any differently when all they may have seen was hypocrisy and inconsistencies that do not line up with the same Scripture that we, as parents, claimed to be the ONLY rule of faith and practice?
More thoughts to come –
In this sermon, Pastor Mike Butler teaches from 2 Peter 2:1-3 covering the characteristics and conduct of false teachers, and ultimately, their condemnation.
Pastor Butler also pulls no punches when he calls out Redding, California’s Bethel Church and longtime celebrity leader/teacher/pastor John Piper. This kind of boldness in warning the sheep about specific hirelings is desperately needed in the church today.
You can download Pastor Butler’s sermon, entitled False Teachers, here.
(Part two of this message can be downloaded here.)
Be amazed at the love of God for His children. Let us weep at our sin and praise Him for taking it upon Himself.