My assignment this month for Our Daily Journey was to write a devotional from Ephesians, and it occurred to me that this might be a good time to mention the controversy around justification. I don’t know if anyone has ever written a devotional on the New Perspective on Paul (one of the Sprouls might have), but here’s my attempt. I wish I could have more explicitly stated that the NPP is wrong in what it denies about the traditional view, but I didn’t want to make it even more confusing for the uninitiated readers. I think it’s implicitly there, just not as strong as I would like.
read > Ephesians 2:1-22
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God (v. 8).
In case you haven’t heard, theologians are debating what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that “we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law” (Romans 3:28). Traditional Protestants follow Martin Luther’s insight that sinners like us can’t do enough good works to satisfy a holy God. We will never become right with God by the works of the law but only by putting our faith in Jesus. When we trust Jesus, God our Father performs what Luther called the “joyous exchange,” placing the guilt of our sin upon Jesus and counting his righteousness for us.
Scholars who identify with the New Perspective on Paul are challenging this longstanding and much loved view. They say that Luther projected his monastic struggles upon Paul and that if we take Paul straight we’ll discover he was making a very different point. Paul used the term “justification” (the technical term for being “right with God”) not to describe how an individual gets saved but for how Jews and Gentiles could live rightly with each other. “Justification” isn’t about personal salvation but about ethnic reconciliation.
As with many things in life, the right answer to this debate is not either/or but both/and. Just look at Ephesians chapter 2. In the first half Paul celebrates the precious gospel of personal salvation. We “were dead because of our sins,” but God “raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms” (v. 5-6). The second half explains that the God who saved us individually has not left us to ourselves, but He has “made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups” (v. 15).
Paul did not separate personal salvation from corporate unity but brought them together. The same righteousness that forgives our sin unites us with others who are so covered. What a Savior!
more > Read Ephesians 2 carefully to learn what the cross means to us individually and corporately.
next > Do you tend to focus more on the gospel’s teaching of personal salvation or ethnic reconciliation? Is one more important than the other? How do you think they are connected?