By Doros Zachariades
The Gospel of grace penned by the apostle Paul in the NT was certainly based on the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. But how did the message that Paul referred to as “my gospel” compare with that which Jesus Himself taught during His earthly ministry? A look at Luke 7:36-50 will demonstrate that Paul’s Gospel had its roots firmly planted in the teaching of our Lord.
Luke 7:36 finds Jesus dining in the home of Simon the Pharisee. During the meal a mysterious woman, described in the text as a sinner, comes to the home and begins to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing them, and anointing them with fragrant oil she has brought (v 38). Her actions betray her deep gratitude for something she has previously received.
At this point Simon begins to wonder in his heart why Jesus would allow this considering the woman’s sinful state. The omniscient Lord at once serves up some “spiritual food” of His own in order to teach an eternal truth. He teaches the famous Parable of the Two Debtors. It is in this brief discourse that Christ uses a word that would become one of the apostle Paul’s favorite doctrinal terms: the verb charizomai, meaning to be gracious, or to graciously grant. In the parable both debtors, each owing different amounts that neither could repay, were granted forgiveness by their creditor (v 42). When asked by Jesus which of the two would love more, Simon rightly responded the one who had been forgiven more (v 43).
Jesus concludes with the following three principles which highlight and underscore His teaching.
In Christ There Is Forgiveness for Sin
In v 48 it is Jesus who declares those wonderful words of life: “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus said this not only for the woman’s sake, but to prove to the Pharisees that He was not just a Prophet, but also the Son of God. Jesus is God manifest in the flesh and therefore has the authority and power to forgive sins.
In Eph 1:7 and Col 1:14 Paul reinforces this theme when he writes that we have redemption through the blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. In Romans 5 Paul reminds us that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us, and that reconciliation with God only comes through that death. This brings us to the next point that Jesus makes in the passage under consideration.
Only Faith in Christ Saves
With rare exceptions the Pharisees trusted in the accumulated good works of their lives to get them into the Kingdom of God. Jesus points out the futility of this approach to salvation. Just as in the parable, we will never be able to repay our debt. Salvation is not a trade with God; it is His gift to us. This pardon is graciously bestowed and received only through faith. In regard to eternal salvation, faith is confidence in a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. This believing is the only and sufficient requirement, as the words of our Lord indicate: “Your faith has saved you” (v 50). People must trust in Jesus because only faith in Him saves.
These life-giving words of our Lord are echoed all through the letters of the apostle Paul. One such passage that perhaps serves as the benchmark of Paul’s teaching is Eph 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” What then should the proper response be for this gracious gift of salvation that comes from faith in Christ?
Salvation Promotes Love
The Pharisees built “fences around the Law” in order to ensure that it was being upheld out of love for God. The problem with such religion, as with all external approaches, is that it fosters pride and promotes zeal for one’s efforts. Also it encourages a mere superficial contact with the things of God. With a constant focus on self, true love for God is impossible. Only as we are constantly reminded of our free and complete forgiveness by God, can we respond genuinely from the heart. As we look to Jesus, His acceptance of us is what will spur our devotion to Him. This is what Jesus means when He says, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (v 47). The word for here denotes not the reason for the salvation granted, but the fact that it already had been given, with love as its proper response. People should love God if they have been saved.
It is apparent in his writings that Paul also felt love was the proper response to the gift of salvation. He exhorted the believers at Ephesus to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph 5:2).
If the Ephesian believers were to “walk in love,” then Paul’s message to the Galatians was to “walk in the Spirit,” which we discover in Gal 5:22 produces among other things, love.
As we consider the writings of Paul, we should be reminded not only of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, which made it all possible, but also that these wonderful truths actually find their origin in the teaching of our Lord.
Doros Zachariades is a member of GES and lives with his wife, Chrisa, and son, Luke, in Brighton, MA.