Redeemer Fellowship
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Apostle Paul and Immigration

By Matthew Castro

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal had an article by Barton Swaim on the Apostle Paul entitled “A New Take on the Apostle Paul.” Do not be alarmed by the title of the article. It was a sound take on Paul’s beautiful words in Ephesians about our salvation being by grace alone not by works. Swaim correctly stated that this was the central idea in the Protestant Reformation. He wrote, “The Protestants insisted that salvation is entirely a gift of God, received by faith. Even faith is part of the gift. Good works are the proper response to that gift but contribute nothing to its attainment. This served as the Protestant doctrine of ‘justification’ for half a millennium.” Justification by grace alone in Christ is the foundation by which the church’s faith stands. 

The main idea of the article, however, is to expose the false view of the New Perspective on Paul. This view of Paul’s doctrine on justification insists that Paul was not writing to address legalism in the Jewish religious system, but he was instead contending for cultural “boundary markers” separating Jews from gentiles. These cultural “boundary markers” included rituals and practices such as sabbath observance, circumcision, and food laws. Swam wrote, “The New Perspective interpretation, however, makes Paul’s message of oneness and inclusion the whole Christian gospel. The sinner is ‘justified’ simply by being included in the church.” Yet, the gospel not only breaks down the wall of hostility. The gospel erases our guilt before God. Christians are not saved by their attempts to redeem themselves, but the Christian is saved by faith in Christ Jesus, who did erase our sin and guilt through his body and blood. 

I say all of this, because I want to highlight another story that relates to salvation by grace alone. This week, President Trump announced his new immigration plan. The president said the plan “builds upon our nation’s rich history of immigration.” The plan, that he is proposing, will reorient the existing visa system toward skilled workers and away from family-based immigration. The plan is being labeled a merit based immigration plan. Those, who will be allowed entrance into America, are workers with extraordinary talent, workers in sought after specialized vocations, and exceptional students. The president believes that the bloc of immigrants to America should be given to people on merit. 

Democrats in Congress disagree with the proposal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D. California) believes the use of merit to determine worthy candidates for immigration is not right. She said, “It is really a condescending word. They’re saying family is without merit? Are they saying most of the people who have ever come to the United States in the history of our country are without merit because they don’t have an engineering degree.” The plan from the president seems a reversal from the Ellis Island symbol of a nation for the poor, hungry, and weary. Many of those, who have immigrated to America in the past century, have immigrated without possessing specialized vocations or education. People came searching for a better life.

While I am not a member of Congress or a staffer in the White House, I am not paid to give my opinion on immigration policy. This story brings up the issue that Paul addresses in Ephesians 2. Merit is not good enough for entry into Christ’s Kingdom. Democrats on Congress also recognize that merit is not a good measure for entrance into the United States. The families, who need hope and relief, cannot achieve it through their works. Humanities hope for salvation from their guilt and shame cannot be earned through degrees, skills, or enlightenment. Salvation only comes through faith in Christ. 

A major theme today in American culture is cultural legalism. Status is earned by possessing the right views on politics, race, sexuality, environment, and even commercial products. These views divide the righteous from the wicked. The righteous prosper, and the wick condemned. Swam wrote at the end of his article on Paul, “Even in this permissive, materialist age, people go to extraordinary lengths to atone for their guilt. Consider the vast numbers of Americans who spend their days maniacally trying to prove their upright status in the eyes of secular deities–conspicuously announcing their support for enlightened causes, loudly denouncing bigotry and xenophobia, proclaiming their sympathy with the marginalized and their loyalty to ethically manufactured products.” People desire atonement, yet they search for it in merit based systems not in the arms of God. Salvation is a gift of God. He welcomes the the poor, hungry, and weary. You have a home with him. 

Matt Castro