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Let us now consider works. Everyone in the Bible demanded works—except Paul. Concerning salvation, he said: “If it’s works, then it’s no longer grace. And if it’s grace, then it’s no longer works” (Romans 11:6). Those were plain words that even I—ex-Catholic confused person—could understand. But were they too radical to believe? They clashed with everything else in the Bible. Reading Paul was like wandering through a fun house where every mirror somehow made you look better than you were:

Warning: Objects in mirror are more righteous than they appear.

The rest of the Bible—with what appeared to be an endless list of do’s and don’ts—set me up for failure. Only Paul, it seemed, cut me slack. How did this radical messenger of grace make it into Scripture? God inspired Paul, did He not? Or did Paul finagle his way into Holy Writ? How was I supposed to make Paul fit with the other Bible writers? Or was it possible that Paul was God’s radical, and he wasn’t meant to fit?
The other writers exhorted me to change myself; I considered them reformers. Paul, on the other hand, had given up on me. To Paul, I was beyond reforming. Usually when someone says, “You’re hopeless, kid,” it’s bad news. But when Paul said it—it spelled relief. I could never be acceptable to God—at least not by following all the rules. So Christ accomplished things I could never have accomplished for myself. I could never make myself righteous, so Christ did it for me. All Christ now wanted from me was thanks and a sigh of relief.

That, I could do.

My quirks never alarmed Paul. I pictured myself approaching him like I used to approach the priests once a month in those shadowy confessionals. I would tell Paul my sins. But unlike the priest, Paul would yawn and say:

Well, duh, Zender. That’s the old humanity; what would you expect it to do? I’m surprised you’re as good as you are. You’re probably worse than you’re telling me. In any case, it doesn’t matter. Now you are to think of yourself as having died with Christ (Romans 6:8). News flash: The old humanity has been crucified, Zender (Romans 6:6). God isn’t looking at the old humanity anymore; He’s looking at Christ. Now, God looks at you the same way. You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Time to re-adjust your head.

Died with Christ? The old humanity crucified? A new creation? This was not reformation—this was something else entirely ...

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Paul’s thirteen letters are a radical departure from the rest of Scripture, and I am including Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in that group. The only place in the Bible where you will find details concerning God’s remedy for restoring the heavens is in the thirteen letters of Paul. The only place in Scripture where you will find law tossed out the window is in the thirteen letters of Paul. The only books in the entire Bible dealing with the special salvation of Gentiles (non-Israelites), who sin as a vocation and have never even heard of Moses—are the thirteen letters of Paul.

Here, and here alone—in the thirteen letters of Paul—are found the deepest depths of grace ever to be shed abroad from God’s heart. I know how shocking this must sound. It means that in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (including the red letters spoken by the earthly Christ), you will not find the deepest depths of grace ever to be shed abroad from God’s heart. Those books are deliberately incapable of unfolding these depths. They are only meant to confirm, for Israel, a promise God gave their chief patriarch and forefather, Abraham.

At the end of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, grace was still God’s greatest secret. There is some grace in these four accounts for the sons and daughters of Israel, but not the kind of grace Paul brought to the nations. The name Paul gives this grace tells us a lot about it ...

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Since Genesis 1:1, God had ignored the heavens. Not a single heavenly magistrate dared question Him concerning this. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth,” they often repeated amongst themselves, “as for the Earth, it came to be a chaos and vacant.” The tacit implication was that God had unattended business. The Son had sacrificed Himself and died for the sins of Israel, becoming the perfect sacrifice for that disobedient nation in accord with the Abrahamic promises, which, they knew, concerned the restitution of Earth. Yet, were not the heavens in worse straits?

For it is not ours to wrestle with blood and flesh, but with the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials.
—Ephesians 6:12, CLNT

There was another consideration—or so one would think. It’s tempting for us moderns—sitting here with the gift of hindsight—to imagine in that distant day a celestial questioning of the scope of Christ’s death. At first glance, it would seem that Christ’s blood (spilled on the cross) did not reach beyond Palestine. Would not such an astounding death as Calvary’s overspill the boundaries of Judea? This question never arose. Why would it? The eventual fulfilling of the Abrahamic covenant seemed sufficient blessing for dogs (Gentiles). What more could the other nations want?

After all, the reign of fabled blessing—the coming Millennium—would forever end the Gentiles’ days of begging scraps from Israel’s table. Wouldn’t it? Well, not exactly. Upon reconsideration, it was begrudgingly conceded, among the angels (celestials), that even in the promised earthly kingdom the nations would still be considered second-class citizens. Their blessing would exceed their present distress, yes, but not without some song and dance for the sake of their superiors. Zechariah had prophesied concerning that time:

This is what the Lord of Armies says: In those days ten people from every language found among the nations will take hold of the clothes of a Jew. They will say, “Let us go with you because we have heard that God is with you.”
—Zechariah 8:23, NASB

But at least the scraps will be bigger. Right?
God smiled at this celestial bantering, biding His time.

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The cross of Christ reached far deeper into humanity’s need than merely giving one sad nation a new heart. Each year, the Passover lamb was not tortured; its throat was slit—that was it. Not so Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ’s six hours of torture touched an aspect of humanity’s condition that the mercifully killed Passover lamb could not reach. The Passover lamb leaves Israel intact—the cross wipes out everything and everyone in its path. The cross of Christ says:

The whole race is finished. Watch the depth of suffering; see the six hours on the Roman stake. We’re pulling humanity out by the roots here; that’s how deep this goes. Forget Abraham and David; we’re going back to Adam now. It’s that bad. When this Man rises from the grave, a new creation will have come into the lives of those believing it. Eventually, all shall come to believe it. (As Paul makes clear in 1 Timothy 4:10—“We rely on the living God, Who is the Savior of all humans, especially of those who believe.”)

Peter never taught this; he was not a new creation. The new creation eliminates fleshly distinctions, and Peter has to be an Israelite in the kingdom—he has to be. Jesus told him he would sit on one of twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).
Yet what does Paul say? “For whoever are baptized into Christ, put on Christ, in Whom there is not Jew nor yet Greek” (Galatians 3:27).

Peter never taught this; he couldn’t. He has to be a Jew in the kingdom. Peter was not, and is not, in the body of Christ.

Paul alone discusses how one man, Adam, affects all humanity. Not coincidentally, Paul alone boasts in the cross. Only Christ on the cross—not the Lamb sacrificed for Israel—undoes the condemnation of Adam.

No other writer discusses Adam. They speak of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel. Paul alone traces our entire spiritual history to the inaugural human. Only through Paul’s message does the entire race become new. The Hebrew Scriptures demanded a new birth for Israel. Paul’s teachings are to the new birth what a well is to a tea saucer.

Now I know why Paul always seemed like Mr. Absolute to me. Why I always sensed he went deeper. Because he did go deeper. I failed to see specifically then that Paul was the only writer returning us to Adam, relating Adam’s failure to the manner of Christ’s death, and removing the old humanity by the roots.

When I was a kid, one of my chores was to pull dandelions. My dad always said: “Get ‘em by the root.”

The gospel of the Circumcision does not get humanity by the root. Rather, it remakes humanity. It takes the raw material of the present creation and fashions it anew. This is what being “born again” means. “Born again” puts God’s spirit into Israelite flesh, so that Israel can at last enact God’s commandments. Being born again merely spruces up the old humanity; it reforms it. No wonder the other writers always struck me as reformers; they were reformers. Modern so-called men of God always wanted me born again. I never embraced that. I needed more. My root was wrong. Fix me today, and I am back in a month to re-confess my sins, as the Catholic church did to me. They never extracted my sin by the root. Their fix was a Band-Aid; ten “Our Fathers” and ten “Hail Marys,” and I was back next month—back on the wheel like a gerbil. The root never left me. (Protestant churches aren’t much different. Protestants say you must confess your sins each day or you’ll be “out of fellowship” with God, and then poor, helpless God can’t bless you.)

Thus also, Israel. With Israel, flesh is still recognized. In Israel, Jew and Greek remain. As I said, these must remain, because there are twelve thrones in the kingdom, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. What about Paul’s throne? There are not thirteen thrones. I wondered about this. Poor Paul. He was the most awesome, energetic apostle of them all. Where was his throne? Now I know: Paul does not have a throne on Earth; his future is not tied to Earth. Only Paul announced the truth: “There is neither Jew nor Greek.” This was beyond radical. Peter never did quite understand. Not be a Jew? How could it be? Yet Paul, in the book of Philippians, despises his nationality and throws it away. Either this is dangerous and stupid—or else it sits at the core of the most liberating message ever to visit humanity ...

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Paul pronounced a curse on the message that mixed law and grace, the very message that reigns today in the modern Christian church. This mixed message confuses and disturbs, breeding fear, false guilt, and shame. Many people hearing this mixed message wonder if they are really saved. Those hoping for truth in the realm of Christianity see some light in the writings of Paul, but then they read James and despair comes. Something in Romans thrills them, such as: “There is no more condemnation in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), but then here comes Peter. Or here comes James. Or Jude. Or Hebrews. Or here come even the red letters of Christ.

What these folks fail to realize (no one has ever told them) is that the red letters of Christ, while inspired, are not the final words of Christ.

“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).

What follows when people mix the two gospels, then, is the guilt and condemnation of religion; it’s a pseudo-grace in Israelite garb that attempts to couple “total grace” with a do-this-or-else mentality. How few people read the address on Scriptural envelopes; how few distinguish between what is theirs and what belongs to Israel.

They open other peoples’ mail and try to pay other peoples’ bills.

On the one hand, the Christian religion will say you are a new creation in Christ, and all your sins are justified. On the other hand (the hand they slap you with), they will say you’d better confess your sins and at least attempt to reform yourself before Christ returns and finds you slacking. Otherwise, how do you know if you’re even saved?

Identifying the source of this confusion will grant you a peace and security in Christ that you’ve probably never known ...

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Many times, I have been in the presence of those who hear Paul’s message but don’t understand him. They even say, “I don’t get Paul.” I speak to these folks of: “our identification with Christ,” being “complete in Christ,” being “crucified with Christ,” “transcendent grace,” of God “reconciling the heavens and the Earth to Himself,” of “the conciliation of the world,” of the God Who is “operating all in accord with the counsel of His own will,” of, “one died for the sake of all, consequently all died,” of the “new creation,” and of, “as in Adam all are dying, thus also in Christ shall all be vivified.” What do I get in return? Blank stares. Furrowed brows. Sighs of exasperation.

Yet another person will approach and speak to these same folks of: “Israel,” “law,” “Ten Commandments,” “Hebrews,” “Jesus,” “sin,” “worthy,” “temple,” “lamb of God,” “priesthood,” “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke,” “John,” “James,” “Peter,” “Passover,” “baptism,” “Jesus the Nazarene,” “Overcomer,” “Revelation,” and “144,000.”

And they just about lose their minds with happiness.

The people hearing these things become transformed. A light goes on inside them. They love all things Israel. They love the idea of being worthy of salvation. They love the idea of working. They love the idea of law. They love the idea of priesthood and ceremony and a people set above all other people. They love the brown-haired, bearded, sandaled Jesus. They love Jerusalem; many of them want to visit the Holy Land, or be baptized in the Jordan River. The rite of baptism fascinates them; they can’t wait to get wet. They love ceremony. They love candles and angels and burning incense.

Again, try bringing Paul to them, and it’s like speaking Japanese to a Frenchman. Truly, they don’t get Paul. Paul is “too hard.” Paul is “too intellectual.”

Thing is, they can’t make grace jive with law. If truly given the choice between law and grace, they will choose law every time. Why in the world would anyone do that? Religious humans love the idea of outperforming other humans. Law allows this. The Israelite message makes room for fleshly distinction and accomplishment.

I finally understand who these people are, and why they don't get it ...

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Copyright 2012 by Martin Zender