In Matthew 5:18 Jesus said, For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished. At first glance, it might appear that Jesus is saying the Law of Moses would be in effect till heaven and earth pass away, or until the end of time. But a closer look shows us that it would remain in force till all things be accomplished. Jesus has just said, I came not to destroy, but to fulfil the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). The fact is, the Law of Moses was a transitory time for God to prepare man for the coming of Christ, so that the law has become our tutor to bring us unto Christ (Gal. 3:24). All that the law and the prophets taught finds fulfillment in Christ and His death, burial, resurrection and the establishment of His kingdom, the church. And so, Paul says the law was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14), and that the law was abolished ... even the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Eph. 2:15). The Law of Moses was but a a shadow of the good things to come (Heb. 10:1). Certainly, it is the word of God, but it is God s word given in another time, to another people, for another reason. Hence, we simply cannot look to the Old Testament today for instruction to govern our lives.
Last week it was pointed out that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17); that the Law of Moses has been abolished (Eph. 2:15) and is no longer in force today (Col. 2:14). Since all authority has been given to Christ (Matt. 28:18), we are, therefore to subject ourselves to His rule (Col 3:17). Yet in spite of this, one of the great problems in the religious world is the insistence upon going back to the old Law of Moses for authority in teaching and practice. For instance, in the New Testament you ll not find a special order of priests authorized to perform sacred rites as mediatory agents between man and God as the Levitical priesthood functioned under the Law of Moses. Instead, Peter says that all Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:9) and need no mediator but our High Priest, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 4:14-16)). Like the priesthood of Catholicism, the distinction made between the clergy and laity by most in the religious world today finds its origin in the Law of Moses, not in the New Testament. So it is with many practices in churches today. Such things as holy water, the burning of incense, keeping the Sabbath, and instrumental music can all be found in the Old Testament, but you ll not find any instruction in the New Testament authorizing the practice of such things today.
Many today teach that salvation by grace negates amenability to God s law. In other words, obedience is not essential to salvation. Obedience becomes the result of salvation rather than the cause. But Jesus says, Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:19). While it is true that man is no longer amenable to the Law of Moses since it was fulfilled in Christ (Matt. 5:17) and abolished with His death (Eph. 2:15), the basic principle taught by Jesus applies to His law as well, the law of faith (Rom. 3:27). Salvation by grace does not relieve man from obedience to God. Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! (Rom. 6:1, 2). Jesus contrasts the least with the greatest in the kingdom. Furthermore, He shows the greatest in the kingdom to be those who serve in humble obedience (Matt. 18:1-4; 20:26-28). The fact is, only the great (the obedient) will enter the kingdom, for Christ became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9). Are we saved by grace? Absolutely! But salvation by grace does not negate God s law or our amenability to it.
Jesus said, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). The distortions of the Pharisees were the greatest barrier to the kingdom of God (Matt. 23:13). There was no way the kingdom could be understood in Israel until these terrible mutilations of God s law were exposed and eradicated. This Jesus proceeds to do in the Sermon on the Mount. The word righteousness is used here to refer to a righteousness of attitude and conduct, the transformed life of the kingdom citizen. The righteousness of the Pharisees will not do in any quantity. They could have reached up to God s righteousness and been humbled, but instead dragged His law down to their level and became smug. To begin with, the Pharisees were hypocrites (Matt. 23:13, 15, 23, etc.). What appeared to be on the outside was but a fa ade. They wanted to give the appearance of being righteous, but were in reality inwardly self-serving. Their righteousness was a vain show to be seen of men (Matt. 6:1-18). If we are to enter the kingdom of heaven our worship and service to God must come from a heart that seeks to glorify Him (Matt. 15:7, 8), not merely exalt ourselves in the eyes of men. No one likes a hypocrite, least of all God.
As was pointed out last week, Jesus made it clear that we cannot be like the Pharisees and go to heaven (Matt. 5:20). They had a distorted view of the righteousness of God. Concerning them Jesus said, Ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition (Matt. 15:6). He further quotes Isaiah who said of them, In vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men (v. 9). This same problem exists today as many in the religious world have turned from the word of God to teach and practice doctrines of human origin. There are hundreds of denominations in the world today each with their own written creed outlining their particular beliefs and practices. But Paul says that God has given His word in scripture that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:17). Furthermore he states we must learn not to go beyond the things which are written (1 Cor. 4:6). The fact is, the Bible is sufficient to determine both doctrine and practice. Human creeds can only contain the traditions and precepts of men. Anything more or less than what God has revealed in His Holy Writ is without divine authority and should be rejected. We are to be governed in faith and conduct by the Bible, and the Bible alone.
Paul writes, Brethren, my heart s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:1-3). These people had rejected Jesus as the basis of salvation opting instead to find justification through a system of works under the Law of Moses. It was through this concept of meritorious law keeping that they sought to establish their own righteousness. For man to be righteous in God s sight on the basis of law he must be free from guilt according to the law, hence a perfect law keeper. But no one is perfect, for all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, man s righteousness is dependent upon forgiveness and pardon. All men need a Savior! Paul says these people refused to subject themselves to the righteousness of God, that is, they rejected God s plan for man s righteousness: forgiveness in Christ s blood. We too must understand that 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 (Eph. 2:8, 9). Salvation is the gift of God that came through the giving of His only begotten Son for our sins (John 3:16). It is not earned but is only received through the unmerited favor of God s grace.
As pointed out last time, salvation is the gift of God that comes through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son for our sins (John 3:16). It is not earned but is only received through the unmerited favor of God s grace. Paul says, 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 (Eph. 2:8, 9). But does this mean God s gift of salvation is unconditional? Many say that it does. If so, why are not all people saved? The fact is, sin is universal in scope, for all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). But so is God s grace, for Christ came that He might taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:9). Since God s grace is universal in scope and Christ died for all, why then are not all saved? The answer is simple. God s gift of salvation is conditional. But wouldn t any condition negate God s grace? Not necessarily. James speaks of being justified, or saved, by works (James 2:14, 24). Do Paul and James contradict one another? Absolutely not! They speak of different kinds of works. Paul speaks of meritorious works whereby one would seek to earn salvation, James speaks of works of obedience necessary to fulfill God s conditions of salvation. The careful student of God s word will recognize there are different kinds of works addressed in Scripture.
Last week it was pointed out that salvation is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), and yet it is clearly conditional. The fact is, we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:2). Faith is a condition of our salvation, for by grace you have been saved through faith (Eph. 2:8). Listen to what Jesus says. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Because of His great love for us, God gave his only begotten Son to die for our sins. This is grace, God s part in man s salvation. But does man have a part in his salvation? Some say no, and believe God has predestined certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost and man has no part in his own salvation. But Jesus says yes! Listen to Him. Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Notice two things Jesus says: 1) whoever (not just those predestined) believes in Him can be saved; 2) belief is a condition of salvation. Although Christ died for all men (Heb. 2:9), only those who believe in Him will be saved. God created man a free moral agent with the ability to choose. Therefore, the choice is yours whether to believe Jesus is the Son of God that died for your sins or not.
Paul writes, For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). It is argued by some that in order for salvation to be a free gift there is absolutely nothing for man to do to obtain eternal life. And yet, as pointed out last week, John records, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). This clearly makes belief a condition of salvation, for only believers are saved. Do these passages contradict? The expression free gift in Romans 6:23 translates the word charisma in the Greek. This term is related to the original word that is frequently rendered grace (charis). Grace is often defined as unmerited favor, and in fact the phrase free gift (charisma) in Romans 6:23 denotes a gift that is given strictly out of favor; i.e. it is not deserved. In this passage the term is set in contrast to the term wages (opsonion), which represents deserved payment for services rendered. Man s salvation is a free gift from God. Completely and totally underserved, it was freely given by God in the giving of His Son to die for our sins. There is nothing we could ever have done to earn or deserve the gift of God s Son. But to receive this gift freely given, we must believe in the One that was given.
After Jesus fed the multitudes with the loaves and fishes, the multitudes followed Him around to the city of Capernaum (John 6:1-24). Because their motives involved another free meal, Jesus said, Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:27). Through contrast Jesus teaches the spiritual to be far more important than the physical. In so doing He makes several important points. First of all, Christ says everlasting life is something He will give you; it s a gift. And yet, we must labor (work) for the food which produces it. In response, They said to Him What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? (v. 28). Notice Jesus did not say, You don’t have to do anything. Instead He said, This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent (v. 29). According to Thayer, the phrase work(s) of God in these two verses refers to ... the works required and approved by God. This work of God required a human response that of believing. Did this human response destroy the gift? Absolutely not! Eternal life remains a gift of God even though it is conditioned upon the human response of belief in Christ. Jesus said belief is a work of God a work we must do in order to be saved.
Jesus said, If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins (John 8:24). Clearly, only those who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God can be saved. Eternal life is conditioned upon the human response of belief in Christ, and in this sense belief is a work of God (John 6:29). But Jesus also said, Unless you repent you will all likewise perish! (Luke 13:3). And so it must be noted as well that repentance is a component in God s scheme of redemption. Repentance involves the admission of guilt and a turning from that which is wrong to that which is right in God s sight. This turning takes place first in the mind of man and manifests itself in one s conduct and behavior. In this sense, repentance is also a work of God for it is something man must do in order to be saved. Jesus said that when Jonah preached to the people of ancient Nineveh, they repented (Mt. 12:41). The book of Jonah explains the meaning of this. God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way (3:10). These people were convicted of their sin and turned from it, purposing in their heart to sin no more. The Scriptures are clear. We must do certain things to go to heaven. We must believe in Jesus as the Son of God and we must repent of our sins. Is there anything else? Find out next week.
Jesus clearly states that before we can be saved we must do certain things: we must believe in Him (John 8:24) and we must repent of our sins (Luke 13:3). These works of God (John 6:28, 29) are essential to salvation. But Jesus also said, He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mar, 16:16). Many folks recognize the necessity of belief and repentance to salvation, but when it comes to baptism they see it as a meritorious work that nullifies God s grace. But the baptism commanded of Jesus is no more a work of merit whereby we earn our salvation than is belief or repentance. They are all works of God acts of faith commanded by the Lord. Notice what Paul said, Having been buried with him in baptism, wherein you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead (Col. 2:12). The act of submitting to baptism is not meritorious. Instead, the operation is a working of God designed to provide pardon upon the basis of Jesus death. One is spiritually blessed by the working of God when he submits to this sacred ordinance. Nowhere does scripture come anywhere near suggesting that submission to God s command, be baptized (Acts 2:38; 22:16), is a meritorious work. When we obey, our faith is in what God does, not in what we do.
Paul writes, And you, being dead in your sins ... He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses (Col. 2:13). In this passage, Paul speaks of spiritual death, identifying sin as the means of this condition, for the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Death involves separation. As separation of the spirit of man from the body produces physical death (James 2:26), so our sin separates us from God causing spiritual death (Ezek. 18:20). Notice Paul says we are made alive together with Him. This is done only through the forgiveness of our sins. As our sins are forgiven, we are raised from the dead spiritually. Notice the phrase with Him. The import of this phrase is significant. The good news (gospel) is that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). And so, we are buried with Him in baptism, and raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who has raised Him from the dead (Col. 2:12). Our baptism is a burial and a resurrection with Him. Just as Christ was buried and raised from the dead physically, so we are buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him from this watery grave spiritually alive, our sins having been forgiven. And so, Peter says, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Have you?
John writes, Look to yourselves, that we not lose those things we have worked for, but that we receive a full reward (2 John 8). This passage teaches several truths. First of all, we are not completely passive in our salvation. The phrase, look to yourselves emphasizes individual responsibility. Why give this admonition if God has predestined certain individual to be saved and others to be lost? Second, there are certain works (acts of faith) that man must do in order to be saved. In this sense, even belief is a work (John 6:29), for without faith man cannot be saved (John 3:16). But faith only will not save us (James 2:24), for Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9). Those who ridicule the works that God requires of us to be saved, fly directly in the face of the teaching of the New Testament. And finally, John warns us that this reward can be lost. Yes, heaven is spoken of as a reward. Not in the sense that we earn it, but in the sense that salvation is given to those that have fought the good fight, have finished the race and have kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7-8). John warns us that even after having been saved from our sins, we can fall from God s grace (Gal. 5:4) and this reward can be lost. Nothing is more clearly taught in Scripture than the fact that apostasy is a very real possibility.
In recent weeks it has been emphasized that we cannot earn our salvation for it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). This does not, however, negate the fact that there are conditions that must be met before we can receive that gift (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Heb. 5:8, 9). We are saved by faith, for faith gives us access to God s grace (Rom. 5:2). Yet, faith alone will not save us (James 2:24). Saving faith is made complete by works of faith (James 2:18-22). To illustrate this truth consider the taking of Jericho by the Israelites. Jericho was the first city that lay in their path in their conquest of Canaan. And Jehovah said unto Joshua, See, I have given into your hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valor (Josh. 6:2). Later the text says, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for Jehovah has given you the city (v. 16). In spite of the fact that God gave them the city there were certain conditions to were to be met before the gift could be received. They had to march around the city the prescribed number of times, offer a great shout, and then take the fortress (v. 3-21). And yet, Hebrews 11:30 says, By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. The Hebrew people did not earn or merit Jericho, yet their obedience in following the Lord s instructions was necessary in receiving His gift. Their works made faith complete.