Was he crazy? Was he smoking something? Yes, I mean the so-called “apostle” Paul. Did he know the evil he would create by proposing such a immoral notion, a notion that his followers continue to spout?
Ok, just here me out! I’ve put you on the defensive. I know. But just, just hear me out.
So God gives the Law to Israel and a standard for humanity to aspire to. When God gives you a law, it’s no joke. It’s purposeful. As far as limited words go, it tells you what God “wants,” what he expects of us.
It’s more that that. A standard, such as a law, tells you what is a right and acceptable act or deed and what is a wrong and unacceptable act. When you remain committed to such a standard, when you internalise such a standard that your actions generally comply with such a law, because you are living consistently, you are righteous. That’s the normal understanding of a good man, a righteous person: a person who consistently does actions that are good.
No, I’m not accepting an inhuman definition of righteous that means “absolutely perfect”. Nothing apart from God is perfect. And it is foolish to expect perfection from imperfect beings. So people make mistakes or do wrong things, but being righteous realistically speaks of general consistency, not something no man can achieve: absolute perfection.
So remember, being righteous, as shown by law, by God’s law, is based on what you do. If a person does bad things consistently and generally, no matter if they claim to believe in the purest doctrine ever, they are wicked. It’s what you do that makes the difference.
That’s why no human is irredeemable, totally hopeless, until they are dead. Why? Because a person can change their actions to stop doing what is wrong and become committed to doing what is right. That’s also why no one should ever think that they’ve made it and are forever righteous while they’re still living, since it is not difficult to lose your way and to create a wicked lifestyle.
For those who don’t mind reading the Bible, and for those that enjoy it, just check out Ezekiel 18.
But in the end, it’s what you do that counts.
Along comes the madman
Then along comes the so-called “apostle” Paul. He decides to write these fateful words that are swallowed by his followers hook, line, and sinker. After misrepresenting what the Jewish Bible teaches to make it seem as if every – and I mean every – every human is wicked (even though the same Jewish Bible calls people righteous), Paul writes the following:
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God's] sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets …” (Romans 3:20-21, King James Version)
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (ibid 3:28, King James Version)
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16, King James Version)
Now I know this is all old English and some of you may wonder what it’s actually saying. But I wanted to quote this because I’m going to paraphrase it and make it clearer, and I need you to see the source that I’m quoting from so that you can judge whether I’m misrepresenting the text. Ok, here goes!
Paraphrase of Romans 3:20: So doing what God tells you to doesn’t make you good in his eyes. His law just tells you what the bad actions are. But now we can see God’s way of being good without doing anything, being spoken of in the Jewish Bible …
Paraphrase of Romans 3:28: So we conclude that just by believing [in Jesus] a man is good without doing anything that God commands.
Paraphrase of Galatians 2:16: OK, we know doing what God says doesn’t make anyone good; it’s only believing in Jesus that does that …. we’ve believed in Jesus so that we might be good in that belief and not by doing what God says, because [like I said,] no one gets to be good by doing what God commands.
Anyone with a shred of decency, who hadn’t already bought into Paul’s hogwash, would be at the very least puzzled by what Paul has just pushed onto them. I mean, come on! Think in human terms. The Bible’s written in the language of man, so we can do that sometimes. What father would tell his son, even if you do everything I tell you, that doesn’t make you good in my eyes? Generally we know a father takes happiness in an obedient son, and obedient means that the son does what his father tells him. Take it to any industry or part of life that you can think of. For the vast majority of cases, a person is praised for doing what they are told to do.
But then Paul takes us to the Twilight Zone, that outside place where a person loses touch with reality, and tells us that doing what God commands you doesn’t make you good in God’s eyes. A normal person who uses words normally and has a normal expectation of people (that nobody’s perfect) would and should take one look at that and say that this is a stupid, a foolish statement.
Now this person may not have even read the Jewish Bible yet (no, not just proof texts). But they may be shocked to find that the Jewish Bible agrees with them in such an assessment of Paul’s words. They would see that there is a group of people that are called righteous all over the books of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. They would see God expressing to an angel that He sees that Job is an upright man. He would even say that the Jewish Bible directly contradicts Paul, since Paul says that no one is good, yet the Jewish Bible overtly calls Noah good/righteous and has God saying to Noah, “I’ve seen you as righteous before me in this generation”. We have God saying to Isaac that Abraham did what God told him to do which is why Abraham got such a blessing and it was passed to Isaac. Over and over and over and over again we see God seeing a person’s deeds or the deeds of a people and declaring them as acceptable to Him. Sure, people do bad things. No one denies that. But what Paul is preaching can only be hogwash unless …. unless you tweak the definition of words, unless you tweak the understanding of God’s words to be demanding of people what it is not possible for anyone to do. Remember, this is the same God of whom it is said “he knows our frame, that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).
Look, I can’t even pin this on Jesus. Yeah, I know this blog is called “Leaving Jesus” but that doesn’t mean we hate everything the guy said. As opposed to Paul, we have Jesus saying stuff answering people’s questions about how they get eternal life by “keep God’s commandments” (Matthew 19:17; Luke 10:25-28). Although reinterpreted by Paul’s followers, Jesus’ blunt words say that whoever breaks God’s commands and teaches men to do so is least in God’s kingdom (Matthew 5:17-19).
Now hold on! Just because Jesus said some good things, that don’t make him Messiah. Even idiots say good things at times. But at least Jesus said them. So no, I can’t pin this “only believe and then you’re good before God” on him. I can’t even pin it on his brother James, someone who is supposed to have lived around the guy, being his brother and all. James said faith alone ain’t good enough; it’s by doing, by deeds, that a person is good (James 2:14-26, especially verse 24).
No, this is all on Paul. It’s Paul that’s pulling the Jewish Bible inside out and on its head to tell a person that it’s only what’s in your head or heart that makes you good, not what you do, in total contrast to the law of God in the Jewish Bible.
But what’s so wrong with it?
OK, let me explain.
God tells you – normal human experience tells you – that it’s what you do that makes a difference. It’s what you actively do that makes you good or bad. That’s what a law is about. That’s what a standard is about.
Paul has just told you it’s not what you do that makes the difference but what’s in your head or what’s in your heart that makes a difference.
Again, understand the Jewish Bible a bit better. It acknowledges that it is important to have the right internal convictions. The very law itself says to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. It not only tells you this but it tells you the actions to perform to show this. But it is the action that makes the difference.
But for Paul, actions don’t make a difference. I know, I know! He said some stuff about doing good and the law on people’s hearts. But he paints all humanity as wicked because everyone makes mistakes. For him, it’s all what’s in your head that makes a difference.
Now see the natural follow-on from Paul’s logic. Remember, it doesn’t matter what you do: that won’t make you righteous. It doesn’t matter if christians promote a righteousness that is of the law (doing good deeds). Paul’s words undermines it all by telling you that these deeds don’t mean diddly-squat. Just believe! That’s what is meant by the words “righteousness without deeds of the law” which only means “being good without doing anything”. So you could be a mass-murderer, a Hitler, a rapist, someone who has done worse things than that with your actions, but you only have to have a mental conviction, a belief, and you’re good!
Get ready for it!
For the armies of Paul-followers who will complain and voice ardent disagreement with what I just said. They will all of a sudden tell you how deeds are important, but it just won’t “save” you. They will tell you that when you live “in the spirit” that you’ll have all these “spiritual fruit” from which good deeds come.
OK, so I hear them out. I read their books of refutation. I hear their earnest and heartfelt arguments that deeds are still important. Then it comes to the crux of the matter, the important part of it all and questions remain:
According to Paul, will doing any of these good deeds make me good?
So the question remains, why are you arguing with me? You undermine every deed with just that answer. Because Paul has made his point boldly, no matter what I do, I’m wicked. No matter what I do, I’m a sinner. Whether I feed a hungry nation with every ounce of my money and strength, I’m still a sinner. Whether I destroy a nation and violate all of its innocents/innocence, I am still a sinner. But if I am mentally persuaded (that’s belief) that Jesus’ sacrifice and death washes away all of my sins, then I’m righteous? What’s in my head or heart makes me righteous? Then what’s the point of deeds?
I know, Paul tries to dig himself out of this hole in his own letters, but as far as I can see, he’s already pull the rug from under his own feet. He has shot himself in the foot with his foundational statements.
Don’t you see why it’s so easy for certain people to think that they’ll live their young lives or the majority of their lives doing whatever they want because when they get older, they can believe then? I know some will give the “maybe” argument that maybe they won’t live that long, but so what? When you feel like you’ve got time and a get-out clause by simply convincing yourself that the death of a man makes everything alright, the “maybe” argument becomes a weak argument!
You see, at the end of the day, Paul’s notion of “nothing you do makes you good, just leave it to someone else [Jesus]” takes responsibility out of your hands. In the Torah, in the Jewish Bible, you are responsible for your own actions. What you do makes the difference. Taking responsibility for what you do is the determining factor between you and your God, between you and your fellow man, not some mental conviction, not some belief.
I don’t know what Paul was trying to do. Maybe he thought that by changing a person’s insides, their habits may change. Maybe, based on the latter points of Romans 7, he thought that it doesn’t matter what you do, it will always be wrong or end up wrong so it’s better to not focus on the actions so much when it comes to righteousness before God. Who knows? We can only go by what he said.
But the Jewish Bible doesn’t agree with Paul. The Law of God doesn’t agree with Paul. Almost no law agrees with Paul. No aspect of real life agrees with Paul. Doing good in a consistent fashion is what makes you righteous. You can even fall sometimes, but the Jewish Bible says that a good man may fall even seven times, but he gets right back up again. Being obedient gets you places, good places, and God’s word promises it. It’s not a belief on its own that can make you good. I think back on all the churches I’ve been to where people will profess Jesus to you one day and then stab each other in the back with gossip the next. Did I say “day”? Maybe I should say “minute”! I’ve seen churches that preach love, but don’t specify the right actions that go along with love, which only breeds confusion. Beliefs are important, but it’s what you do that counts.
So to end, Paul said something that shoots himself and his followers in the foot again:
“… for if righteousness [is] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
That’s just another way of saying:
“If you become good by doing what God commands, then Christ died for nothing.”
And you know what? Based on that logic …. I can’t argue with that.