The Gospel as Mercy’s Triumph Over Judgment
As I have been arguing, once one realizes that the gospel paradigm he holds is one that would never give rise to the teachings of the New Testament concerning issues such as justification, works, and final salvation on the day of judgment, the question that he must ask is, “If someone holding my existing paradigm wouldn’t have said these things in this way, what kind of paradigm would result in teachings like these?” In my last post in this series, therefore, I switched gears from discussing unlikelihood of a proto-Protestant paradigm giving birth to the NT data to seeking to determine what kind of paradigm would have.
My thesis is that the Spirit-wrought love of God and neighbor that the New Covenant bestows is what fulfills the law and graciously results in our gaining eternal life, and this basic supposition is what gave rise to the inspired words that the NT authors wrote.
We saw Jesus answer the scribe’s question about the greatest commandment by highlighting the dual command of love, and when the scribe recognized the superiority of love to all the sacrifices of the Mosaic law, Jesus told him that he “is not far from the kingdom of God.” We saw next that Paul carried this idea further by insisting that when it comes to justification, it is not circumcision that matters, but “faith working through love.” He then cited the command to love one’s neighbor and echoed Jesus’ assessment that this is what fulfills “the whole law.” This love can only be exhibited as a “fruit of the Spirit,” and that if we “sow to the Spirit” we will “reap eternal life.” As expected, Paul both follows and develops the progression that Jesus taught.
What about the other NT writers? We would expect that if this pattern is indeed given by Christ, it would be found throughout the writings of the apostles. Consider the words of James:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. . . . But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (1:22, 25).
James here is clearly echoing Paul’s words in Romans. There Paul says that it is not the “hearers” but the “doers” of the law who will be justified (2:13), and that it was the “law of the Spirit” that had set him free from the “law of sin” (8:2). James continues:
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. . . . So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (2:8, 12-13).
Not surprisingly, we see the exact same pattern here that we discovered previously in Jesus and Paul. All three cite the command to love our neighbor, all three situate the command in a New Covenant context, and all three allude to an eternal reward for doing so (“You are not far from the kingdom”; “You will reap eternal life”; “Mercy triumphs over judgment”).
Therefore if Jesus, Paul, and James were operating with an understanding of the gospel according to which the law’s demand for love of God and neighbor is actually fulfilled through the New Covenant gift of the Spirit resulting in eternal life for those who exhibit this divine love, then the things they taught are exactly what we would have expected of them given that basic gospel paradigm.