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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole
Lecture 15 of 23
Pauline Theology by Dr. C. D. Cole
With this lesson we begin the study of doctrine according to Paul. Paul is the best known man in human history and the greatest Christian of all times. We might consider him first in the state of nature. Politically, he was a Roman citizen, which fact served him well at times in being rescued from mobs by Roman soldiers. Racially, he was a Jewish patriot. He knew Greek culture, but was not influenced by it. He had no patience with Hellenism. He boasted that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews. Doctrinally, he was a Pharisee with all the pride that characterized this sect. Academically, Paul was a man of much learning, having sat at the feet of the great teachers of his day. Socially, he was a high class gentleman of clean morals and good reputation. He knew nothing of a low life of debauchery and moral impurity.
In the state of grace, Paul was a Christian. He delighted to say, ..."By the grace of God I am what I am," (1 Cor. 15:10). He attributed the change that came over him to the grace of God working in him. And his abundant labors were attributed to grace. He says, ..."I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me," (1 Cor. 15:10). In his sufferings he was supported by the grace of God. "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me," (2 Cor. 12:9).
In discussing what went into the making of Paul’s theology, I think Dr. Conner gives too much prominence to Jewish and Greek influences. No man ever had to unlearn as much as Paul did. Prior to his conversion he had accumulated a tremendous amount of religious error. He did not learn the truth as it is in Christ, either at his mother’s knee or at the feet of Gamaliel. Nor did Greek culture contribute anything to his knowledge of Christ, Jewish customs and Greek culture were far removed from what Paul found in Christ. "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ," (Gal. 1:11-12).
The life of Paul is of particular importance for three primary reasons. In the first place, his conversion is one of the strongest apologetics for the truth of the gospel. Men have actually become Christians while trying to disprove the story of Paul’s conversion. Lord Lyttelton (17091773) and his friend Gilbert West conspired to expose the Bible as a cheat. Lyttelton would disprove the conversion of Paul, while West would prove that the story of Christ’s resurrection was a fraud. Each went to his respective task with confidence, but the result of their efforts was that they were both convinced of the truth of Christianity. They came together, not to exult over their success, but to lament their folly and to congratulate each other on their joint conversion to faith in the Bible as the infallible word of God. "For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven," (Ps. 119:89).
Paul’s theology is the greatest system of truth in relation to God and man that has ever been devised. The greatest minds have wrestled with Pauline theology. Conflicting theories have sought help from Paul. Peter confessed that Paul, in all his epistles, had written some things hard to be understood. "As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction," (2 Pet. 3:16). In this connection, one is apt to think of:
"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak," (Heb. 6:19);
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous," (Rom. 5:1219);
"I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh," (Rom. 9:13);
"(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back always. I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob," (Rom. 11:826).
Paul’s missionary zeal is without parallel in missionary romance. His campaigns covered almost the entire civilized world. He was always reaching out as a pioneer missionary for Christ. He did not like to build on another man’s foundation. He wanted to go where others had not been. As the apostle to the Gentiles he touched the untouchables for the Lord Jesus Christ. He went from house to house, testifying ..."repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," (Acts 20:21). As a pioneer he planted and left it to others to water.
I. PAUL’S CONVERSION
Luke records the story of Paul’s conversion three times. In Acts 9 we have Luke’s historical account of Paul’s conversion received, no doubt, from the lips of Paul himself. In Acts 22 we have Luke’s record of Paul’s speech before the Jerusalem mob in which Paul relates his experience of conversion. And in Acts 26 we have Paul’s speech before Agrippa, in which he again tells the story of his conversion to faith in Jesus, as the Christ and Saviour. In these three accounts it is the visibly miraculous that is prominent: the blinding light, his falling to the ground, and the audible voice of Jesus. "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though 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: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea 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, And 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," (Phil. 3:19). We have in Paul’s conversion that which is common in the conversion experience of every person. Every conversion is miraculous from the simple fact. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them," (Eph. 2:10). But every conversion is not visibly miraculous, and this makes Paul’s conversion unique. In Philippians 3 Paul describes his conversion under the metaphor of a discovery. He discovered that all of his inherited privileges and all of his personal attainments had no value in the sight of God for salvation. He first tells of his inherited privileges: Born a Hebrew of Hebrew parents, circumcised the eighth day rather than proselyte circumcision, of the tribe of Benjamin, and named after Israel’s first king. Paul had once thought that all these inherited blessings would mean much in the sight of God. He also boasted of personal merit. By choice he was a Pharisee, a member of the orthodox party, and in his own eyes he was blameless. Moreover, as a religious zealot he persecuted what he sincerely thought was a false religion. He says to the Galatians: "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen"... (Gal. 1:1316). In his own eyes, while in the state of nature, Paul had much to depend upon for salvation. But when his eyes were opened, the eyes of his understanding, he saw that none of these things had any value for salvation. He came to see that his box of jewels was only common glass. He discovered that his cable of hope was nothing but a rope of sand. He saw that his boasted self righteousness was only a filthy rag. When Paul discovered Jesus Christ as an adequate Saviour, he counted all things as loss. They no longer had any value in his own eyes. He binds all the things he had been trusting in up in a bundle and labels them dung. He gathers them up and throws them into the religious garbage can, where everything of human merit belongs so far as the price of salvation is concerned. And this is exactly what every other saved person has done. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast," (Eph. 2:8-9).
II. PAUL’S DOCTRINE OF GOD
Dr. Conner well says that in approaching Paul’s theology we can do no better than to begin with his belief about God. What kind of a God did Paul believe in?
Paul believed in a sovereign God—a God Who is supreme. As a Sovereign, God does as He pleases, always as He pleases, and only as He pleases. "For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?" (Rom. 11:34-35). The thought here is that nobody has discovered God or taught Him anything. Paul is saying, that if anybody has given God anything, if God is indebted to anybody, let him present his bill and God will reimburse him.
God is a universal Sovereign. His control extends, to all things, animate and inanimate. There is no realm in creation which is not subject to God’s control. Dr. Conner thinks that some of Paul’s statements are so strong that if there were no counteracting statements, we might think that man had no will and that God deals with men as if they were puppets. I concur in this word of caution.
God has a will and man has a will, but when man’s rebellious will clashes with God’s will of purpose, it is God’s will that is supreme. God’s will does not do away with man’s will nor with man’s responsibility. God’s will of command, not His will of purpose, determines human responsibility. It was God’s will of purpose that Jesus Christ should die on the cross, but He did not command men to crucify Him. God’s will of command fixes missionary obligation. He has commanded us to go into all the world with the gospel, but He has not purposed to save every human being. His purpose is to save all those given by Him to the Son. Christ said, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out," (John 6:37). And again He said in prayer to the Father: "As thou hast given him power"... (John 17:2). Those given to Christ by the Father are denominated sheep, elect, and the foreknown. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren," (Rom. 8:29). The salvation of the sheep is assured for Christ says, "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me," (John 10:26,27). Notice that it is the sheep who hear His voice in the gospel and follow Him and are saved. Christ told some Jews, "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you," (John 10:26). The sheep are made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Christ was referring to Gentile sheep when He said, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd," (John 10:16). "Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness," (Titus 1:1).
Let us remember that the gospel is to be preached to men as sinners, and not as sheep, or elect. The gospel is to be preached to all men everywhere. If we limit our preaching to the elect, we could not possibly preach to lost people, because we cannot know who the elect are until it is manifested in faith and good works. Paul tells the Thessalonians that he knew they were the elect of God because they had believed the gospel. "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake," (1 Thess. 1:4-5). Robert Hall was once charged with inconsistency for believing in preaching the gospel to all men and at the same time holding to election. He answered his critic by saying, that if he would put a chalk mark on the back of all the elect, he would limit his preaching to them. If one means to preach only to the elect, he will have to preach only to the saved, for the elect can only be found among those who give evidence of faith in Christ.
III. PAUL’S DOCTRINE OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
The expression, "The righteousness of God" is somewhat peculiar to Paul. He employs it both as an attribute and as a gift. As an attribute it means the justice of God, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus," (Rom. 3:25-26). Righteousness is also a gift bestowed upon the unrighteous who believe on Christ. "For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ," (Rom. 5:17). The very theme of Romans is this righteousness of God, right standing with God provided by God through the death of Christ, bestowed upon the believer. "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," (Rom. 3:2124). The natural Jew. "For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God," (Rom. 10:3). The gospel is the power of God unto salvation because it reveals the way a sinner can become righteous before God; namely, by faith. "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith," (Rom. 1:17); "And 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," (Phil. 3:9); "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption"... (1 Cor. 1:30). The believer has Christ’s righteousness imputed to him.
IV. PAUL’S DOCTRINE OF "THE LOVE OF GOD"
Love belongs to God’s essential nature; He is love. God is also light, which means that He is holy. John says that ..."God is light, and in him is no darkness at all," (1 John 1:5).
- God’s love is a gracious love, that is, it is unmerited. Grace is love for sinners. God’s love is also a righteous love; it cannot be exercised at the expense of His justice. God cannot save sinners without punishing their sins. If He saves sinners he must punish their sins in a substitute. The sins of Old Testament believers were passed over through the forbearance of God, they were remitted because Christ would come and suffer for them. If God had remitted the sins of Old Testament saints, and Christ had never come and died for them, the righteousness of God, the justice of God could not be declared. Christ died on the cross to prove that God was righteous in remitting the sins of the past dispensation. Christ’s atoning death enables God to be just and yet justify the ungodly.
- God’s love is a sovereign love. He consults His own pleasure as to the objects of His love. He is not obligated to love any sinner. He does not love the devil. He loved Jacob and hated Esau. We love Him because He first loved us. If one wants to be sure that God loves him he must make sure that he loves God. God takes the initiative in this loving business and His love, shed abroad in our hearts, procures our love for Him.
God’s love is an efficacious love. His love guarantees eternal blessings for His people. "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," (Rom. 8:38-39). Darius loved Daniel and tried his best to save him from the lions’ den. But the law of the Medes and Persians could not be altered, and so the love of Darius was helpless to save Daniel. Law triumphed over love in that case. But God’s love is not helpless before His law. His love gave up His Son in death to satisfy His law, thus providing deliverance from its curse. God’s love does not triumph over His law; yea, the law is established in the laying of our sins on Christ. In view of all this one must exclaim, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"... (Rom. 11:33).
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