Are leaders of totalistic groups correct in saying that we must keep the Law in order to receive eternal life, and that everyone is walking in sin who doesn’t? Or are they teaching a false gospel of works? The following will hopefully answer certain questions you may have.
- Isn’t Leviticus 23:21 clear that these days are a statute forever?
- Doesn’t James 2:14-18 make it plain that works are required for salvation?
- Don’t verses in the book of Revelation which say “he who overcomes” imply effort?
- Don’t we have to overcome and endure to the end?
- Isn’t I John 2:3-4 referring to commandment keeping?
- How can we be saved by faith when the Bible says we are to repent?
- Doesn’t I John 3:4 tell us what sin is?
- Don’t we stay out of sin by keeping the Law?
- Aren’t we supposed to try to keep the Ten Commandments?
- Doesn’t the parable of the rich young ruler show keeping the Sabbath is necessary?
- Aren’t we required to keep the Law as a spiritual Jew?
- Isn’t the 7th-day Sabbath the test commandment?
- Didn’t God say these were “His” Sabbaths?
- Why Did Jesus say the Sabbath was made for man?
- Why does it say Jesus set an example for us to follow (I Peter 2:21) and Paul said “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ “? (I Corinthians 11:1)
- Didn’t David say in the Psalms that he kept God’s Law?
- Won’t Jesus say, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity” to those who failed to keep the Sabbath? (Luke 13:27)
- Isn’t Paul telling us in I Corinthians 5:8 that we should keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread?
- Doesn’t Zechariah 14:16 prove we are to keep the Feast of Tabernacles today?
- What did the Apostles preach?
- Wasn’t the Law also given to Christians in the N.T.?
- Don’t the verses that say “not under the law” really mean not under “the penalty” of the Law?
- Isn’t Hebrews 5:9 saying that we have to obey him in order to have salvation?
- Doesn’t Matthew 5:17-20 make it clear that the Law is still binding?
- Doesn’t Matthew 5:48 refer to keeping the Ten Commandments in order to become perfect?
- Isn’t Philippians 2:12 showing we need to work hard at salvation?
- How does salvation come, if not by the Law?
- What about Revelation 12:17 which talks about “keeping the commandments”?
- Doesn’t Revelation 22:14 tell us that only those who do His commandments will enter the Holy City?
- Can you explain more about the works of the Law and Salvation?
- Why did Herbert Armstrong insist that we had to keep the Law?
Doesn’t Genesis 26:5 tell us that Abraham obeyed the Law before Mount Sinai?
REPLY: Genesis 26:5, which says: “Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws,” is not referring to the Mosaic Law, which was given to ancient Israel.
“The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day” (Deuteronomy 5:3)
Moses stated that the fathers, who would include Abraham, did not have this covenant that was made with Israel. Abraham had another covenant, completely different from Israel’s. This was the Abrahamic covenant1 (also referred to as the “covenant of circumcision” in Acts. 7:8); however, Abraham’s circumcision was the token (or evidence) of the covenant. Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (Romans 4:9) and he believed God way before there was any kind of agreement (Romans 4:10).
Isn’t Leviticus 23:21 clear that these days are a statute forever?
REPLY: The last part of verse 21 says: “…it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.”
This is addressed to the children of Israel and no one else. This phrase was necessary so that the conditions of the covenant would apply to the offspring of Israel as yet unborn at the time the covenant was ratified. Otherwise, such a covenant would have ended upon the death of the last original Israelite who would have been present when the covenant was made.
Exodus 29:41-42 speaks of a burnt offering (offerings which are stated that Jesus did away with), yet this passage also references being “throughout your generations.” So we cannot use Leviticus 23:21 as evidence that the feast days are required of those who are not Israelites, while ignoring the same phrase regarding burnt sacrifices.
Exodus 14:13 was a type, a shadow, of the salvation yet to come, which we partake of through faith in Jesus Christ. It is those who “believe” that are saved, and not those who “believe and keep the Law,” which belief produces a false gospel.
Doesn’t James 2:14-18 make it plain that good works are required for salvation?
REPLY: James is referring to works of faith. The works that Herbert Armstrong said were required for salvation were works of the Law. For more on this read: Are We Still Under the Law in Spite of Grace? (Includes at bottom: “Aren’t works necessary for salvation?”)
“We never do good works until we do them because we are saved, not in order to be so.
A lively sense of many sins forgiven will make us love much and shew it practically.” ~William Reid, 1866
Don’t verses in the book of Revelation which say “he who overcomes” imply effort?
REPLY: Our faith has given us the victory and it is only through the blood of the Lamb (not through our own strength or ability) that we are able to overcome. Victory comes by resting in Christ, not by struggling.
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4-5).
All who have trusted Christ as their personal Savior are overcomers.
“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ” (II Corinthians 2:14).
“…ye have overcome the wicked one” (I John 2:13-14)
Don’t we have to overcome and endure to the end?
REPLY: We cannot lift one or two verses out of the Bible (such as HWA often did); e.g., Revelation 21:7 and Matthew 10:22 to try and prove a point, while at the same time overlook the context of the chapters and the many other verses that may conflict with what he tried to teach. It is important to separate the Kingdom promises to Israel from the Church.
Please explain Matthew 10:22 (good explanation) [offsite link]
These verses do not refer to a personal self-effort at endurance that results in one’s eternal salvation. These passages apply to the physical deliverance of Israel who trust in the Savior during the Tribulation. For instance, J. Vernon McGee in his Vol. 4 on Matthew 10:22 says this is referring to the fact that the Lord will be able to keep His own during this three year period. Similarly, he says that Matthew 24:13 means that “the Lord will be able to keep His own during the Great Tribulation period” and on Revelation 21:7: “all true believers are overcomers (I John 5:4-5), so this promise is not just for the ‘spiritually elite.’ ”
Isn’t I John 2:3-4 referring to commandment keeping?
REPLY: I John 2:3-4 says: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
We cannot make an assumption that the commandments given to Christians by Jesus Christ are the same commandments God gave, through Moses, to Israel under the first covenant. “Commandments” in the New Testament usually means something more than the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). When John speaks of the Mosaic Law or the Ten Commandments, he always uses the Greek word for law which is “nomos.” When he speaks about the teachings or instructions of Jesus in regard to loving one another he uses “entole.” I John 2:3-4 is referring to the commandments of Christ Jesus:
“If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (I Corinthians 14:37).
Verse 5 of I John 2 makes it plain that John is talking about Christ’s words, not the O.T. commandments:
“But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.”
Jesus commanded his followers that they were to have love for one another.
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).
His commandment is that we believe on the Son of God and love one another:
“And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (I John 3:23).
The above applies to I John 14:15. Also see I John 3:22 which has been answered.
How can we be saved by faith when the Bible says we are to repent?
REPLY: The Greek word metanoia, which is translated repentance in our English Bibles, means “a change of mind.” When sinners turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith (Acts 16:31), they then will turn from sin. Repentance does not precede faith. (I Thes. 1:9). There are actually 150 verses in the New Testament that make salvation dependent on belief only. Acts 16:31 is only one of them:
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31)
The word repentance in the N.T. is primarily used for believers. Our life will change after trusting and believing on Christ. There will be a total change of mind and a total change of identity.
If one rejects Jesus as the Son of God, they will be judged by His words, not the old Law (John 12:48). The Bible talks about the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This refers to loving one another as Christ loved us (see John 13:34; 15:12).
How Do I Receive Eternal Life?
Doesn’t I John 3:4 tell us what sin is?
REPLY: The word “iniquity” fits better for the Greek word anomia. Another word for “sin” in this passage is “lawlessness.” Sin is more than breaking the Ten Commandments. Unbelief is sin (Romans 14:23); all unrighteousness is sin (I John 5:17); a neglect to do good is sin (James 4:17); drunkenness is sin: Galatians 5:21; pride is sin (Mark 7:22). Many sins are not addressed by the Ten Commandments. Sin is basically that which is contrary to the will of God.
The Lord Jesus died for all our sins–past, present, and future–and they are no longer imputed against us; the sin issue being taken care of once and for all.
Don’t we stay out of sin by keeping the Law?
REPLY: Nothing is said in the N.T. about “keeping the Law” in order to stay out of sin. The Law condemns. The Law cannot produce righteousness; it can only reveal sin and show that we are sinners. The Law stirs up the sin nature and intensifies the awfulness of sin. One way it does this is by religious pride which is normally manifested in condemnation of others whom you feel are not living up to the Law as you are.
Only perfect obedience could satisfy the demands of the Law, but that has never been possible. As a believer in Jesus Christ, we are able to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and He enables us to obey God’s will (walk in the Spirit by faith) and to say no to sin. After we become a Christian, God guides us and He doesn’t guide us into sin but unto righteousness.
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16)
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).
Love, the fruit of the Spirit, is that which fulfills the Law:
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).
Law and faith are mutually exclusive.
“And the law is not of faith” (Galatians 3:12).
“Wherefore my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:4-6).
Aren’t we supposed to try to keep the Ten Commandments?
REPLY: The Ten Commandments are part of the Mosaic system or the Law of Moses. If we choose to keep the Law, we bring ourselves under obligation to keep the whole system of law given to the nation Israel, including moral, civil, and ceremonial precepts, sacrifices, priesthood, circumcision, feasts, year of Jubilee, Sabbatical year, New Moons, etc., all of which consisted of 613 points of law. (Also see: Doesn’t keeping the Ten Commandments play a part in salvation? (Q&A) )
But when we don’t keep the whole Law, we bring ourselves under the curse of the Law by violating one part while attempting to keep another.
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26).
If we insist that we have to do something or add something after we trust Christ in order to affect our salvation, that is taking His death on the cross in vain. He was made a curse for us, but if we don’t accept that truth we are saying that we are not guilty but that He is guilty. The natural man hates grace, because he wants to “do” something. But believing in the Gospel of grace glorifies Jesus Christ and causes us to turn our eyes upon Him, not some ritual, ceremony or law.
“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3).
Doesn’t the parable of the rich young ruler show keeping the Sabbath is necessary?
REPLY: The rich young ruler (Luke 18:18) may have been of the Sanhedrin. He was not asking how he could earn salvation, but was wondering how he could be assured of entering into Messiah’s kingdom. At the time he asked this, he and Jesus were still under the Mosaic Law and he wanted to know what good thing (or good work) would demonstrate that he was righteous and therefore be qualified for the kingdom. The official standard of righteousness before the cross was the Law of Moses (see John 1:17). Has anyone reached the standard of perfection the Law demanded? All of our good works fall far short of his absolute righteousness. Jesus came to call sinners (not the righteous) to repentance. (Matthew 9:13) Today when we turn to God and believe that Jesus died for our sins and trust Him as our Savior we are declared righteous before God (II Corinthians 5:21). Because of the Holy Spirit indwelling us, we will love the Lord Jesus Christ, our brethren, and others, but we are not under any set of rules or code such as in Mosaic Law in order to gain or maintain our salvation.
Aren’t we required to keep the Law as a spiritual Jew?
REPLY: The words “spiritual Jew” are not found in Scripture. This teaching comes from believing that we are “modern day Israel” or “spiritual Israel” and that Gentile believers become such. However, we are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) The verse that says, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” means that Abraham was saved by faith and we are saved by faith. Abraham and the patriarchs, who walked in faith, did not have the old covenant Law. (Galatians 3:17-18; Deuteronomy 5:3)
Isn’t the 7th-day Sabbath the test commandment?
REPLY: There is nowhere in the Bible where it says the Sabbath is the “test” commandment. In the Old Testament the Sabbath was a peculiar sign between God and the children of Israel. It was part of the old covenant and that old covenant was completely fulfilled in Christ. (Luke 24:44)
Is it essential that we keep the Sabbath? (Q&A)
The Sabbath in the New Testament [offsite article]
Didn’t God say these were “His” Sabbaths?
REPLY: Whenever God said these words (they’re in the O.T.), He was talking to ancient Israel and no one else. This is covered in Should the Sabbath Be Observed Today? and once in Chapter 4 and several times in Chapter 6 of A Critique of Which Day is the Christian Sabbath? (Just search for the words) Also in Leviticus 26:2 the entire verse says, “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.” HWA was known to leave out the last part about “my sanctuary.”
Why Did Jesus say the Sabbath was made for man?
REPLY: This has been answered in Should the Sabbath Be Observed Today? and once in Chapter 2 and Chapter 5 and several times in Chapter 8 of “A Critique of Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?” (Just search for the words).
Why does it say Jesus set an example for us to follow (I Peter 2:21) and Paul said “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ “? (I Corinthians 11:1)
REPLY: I Peter 2:21 is placed in the context of suffering for righteousness sake, not keeping the Mosaic Law. The example Christ set was that of meekness, and Peter goes on in this chapter to discuss His meekness.
No matter how good we become, we will never become like the Lord Jesus in this life. We don’t become a Christian by following an example; it is Christ Himself that we follow (Ephesians 5:1) after placing our faith in Him and His finished work on Calvary. God then places us “in Christ” and we are sanctified by His Spirit. (I Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:10, 14; Jude 1:1, etc.) This means we are now “complete in Him.” (Colossians 2:10) The Word of God says His mind is to be in us (Philippians 2:5), but this comes only by impartation of the Holy Spirit, not by imitation.
Didn’t David say in the Psalms that he kept God’s Law?
REPLY: In the Psalms the word “Law” (Torah) is talking about instruction. This word most often refers to a body of teaching; i.e., Deuteronomy and Leviticus, if not the entire Pentateuch or Decalogue which included 613 points of law. (See question above: “Aren’t we supposed to try to keep the Ten Commandments?”)
In addition, the O.T. makes it clear that David broke the Law yet he came to God and confessed his sins, and God saved him by faith. Faith excludes the works of the Law. Can anyone honestly say that they keep the whole Law?
Won’t Jesus say, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity” to those who failed to keep the Sabbath? (Luke 13:27)
REPLY: If we read this verse in context, especially the verses preceding it, it is clear that Jesus is talking about false prophets (which would include false prophets and teachers of today) who use the name of Christ and the Bible, but come in sheep’s clothing to lead people astray through the broad way. Similar words are found in Matthew 7:23 and Matthew 25:41-45. Nothing is said about not keeping the old covenant Law given to the nation Israel, which the Sabbath was a part of.
Those who have trusted Christ as their personal Savior have a close, inward fellowship with Him and they want to obey His commands of love. They are not in the category of “workers of iniquity”; therefore, they will not hear Jesus say these words to them.
“Iniquity” was discussed previously: Doesn’t I John 3:4 tells us what sin is?
Isn’t Paul telling us in I Corinthians 5:8 that we should keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread?
REPLY: We need to understand that the Jewish Christians did continue to keep the Law, but the Gentiles were never required to keep any of the Law, as stated in Acts 15. Reading these verses in context (i.e., I Corinthians 5:6-8) this “feast” mentioned is in relation to allegorical language. Christ is our Passover “lamb,” who was sacrificed for us, and not the lamb as required in the Law. The “bread” is not a physical unleavened bread, but is about dealing with one another in sincerity and truth, and no longer in the “leavened” form of treating one another with malice and wickedness.
From the context of this chapter, it appears that Paul is addressing a predominantly Jewish congregation: “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (I Corinthians 5:1). The “us” then of verse 8 can easily be in relation to the Jews in the church, Paul also being a Jew.
It is also worthy to note that Paul, when writing to the Galatians (Galatians was written around the same time as I Corinthians), said:
“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:10-11).
If we believe we must observe any day in order to please God, or to gain eternal life, we are failing to understand our liberty in Christ.
Doesn’t Zechariah 14:16 prove we are to keep the Feast of Tabernacles today?
REPLY: In interpreting prophecy, one must look at the context before and after a passage. These verses do not apply to N. T. times. This verse is referring to the remnant (those that are “left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem”) who will enter the millennial Kingdom, a time of testing for them. Christians are presently under the ministration of grace and the spirit of the law; not the letter. (II Corinthians 3). More is explained about this verse in: Chapter 7 of MOA, Pt. 2: “ALL WILL KEEP THE FEAST (ZECHARIAH 14). [See: Mystery of the Ages (a critical review)] by Kelly Marshall [search for the words when the MOA opens])
REPLY: In Acts where the Jews and Gentiles were preached to we read:
“And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19-20).
“And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth on him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:42-43).
“And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord” (Acts 11:20-21).
“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:39-41).
They are preaching about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and it was those that believed that turned to God. This is the true gospel that they preached.
“But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:11).
“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).
Wasn’t the Law also given to Christians in the N.T.?
REPLY: “The Law” included the five books of Moses. The whole Mosaic system (which included the Ten Commandments) ended at the cross.
The old covenant (Exodus 19:1 to Exodus 24:8) referred only to earthly blessings. The New Covenant is established on better promises than the old–these are spiritual promises.
‘But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).
The Law was given to Israel, not Gentiles. It was a was a national, temporal law, given for a national, temporal purpose.
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
To say one must follow the Mosaic Law or they won’t be saved is one of the oldest heresies known. Study the book of Galatians. Heresies are mentioned in Galatians 5:20 as one of the “works of the flesh.” Every cultic (or legalistic) group will always say we must add something to grace in order to be saved. This is another gospel. (II Corinthians 11:4)
“O FOOLISH Galatians, who has bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn from you: Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3).
We are not under the Mosaic Law, which belonged to the Aaronic priesthood. This priesthood was incomplete; it never brought redemption and acceptance before God.
“For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Hebrews 7:12).
We can have confidence in His complete forgiveness for all our sins. (Hebrews 10:12; I John 2:2) They were all forgiven by Christ on Calvary; therefore, the Law no longer holds a place in a Christian’s life.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).
Don’t the verses that say “not under the law” really mean not under “the penalty” of the Law?
REPLY: If being under the Law means under “the penalty” of the Law, then Jesus was born condemned by the Law, since He was born under the Law. (Galatians 4:4) But we know this was not true. To be “not under the Law” is to be led by the Spirit, walking in the newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is the lost who are under the law of sin and death. The Law has no place in the life of those who truly believe God does not hold their sins against them.
A Critique of “You Are Saved by Grace!” (ESN critique of Stephen Flurry’s book; also covers what it means “Christians are not under the Law.”)
Isn’t Hebrews 5:9 saying that we have to obey him in order to have salvation?
REPLY: Hebrews 5:9 says,
“And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him”;
To “obey” Him is the same as to hearken to Him; to trust Him and put our faith in Him.
Acts 6:7: “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
Romans 10:16: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias [Isaiah] saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?”
I Peter 1:22: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:”
The words “obey him” in this verse are not referring to keeping the commandments as mediated by Moses, aka the old covenant Law with the Ten Commandments. Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, not Moses; and it is the priesthood of Melchizedek and not the Levitical priesthood (which administered the letter of the Law) that Christians partake of. We must not confuse works of the Law with works of the Spirit. After placing our faith in Christ and trusting in the finished work He did on the cross, we are dead to the Law and have newness of life in Christ Jesus. (Romans 7:4-6).
One great part of the Spirit’s work is not to enable the man to do something which will help to save him,
but so to detach him from his own performance, that he shall be content with the salvation
which Christ finished when He died and rose again. ~Horatius Bonar
Doesn’t Matthew 5:17-20 make it clear that the Law is still binding?
REPLY: Matthew 5:17-20 says,
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The book of Matthew covers three dispensations: the dispensation of law, the dispensation of grace and the dispensation of the Kingdom. Today we are in the dispensation of grace.
“Law and the prophets,” “Law of Moses and the prophets,” and “Moses and the prophets,” is a common phrase used in the N.T., and refers to the entire Mosaic system. The “law” mentioned in this verse is the 5 books of Moses and the writings of the prophets. This word “law” comes from the Greek nomos and refers to the whole book of the Law, or Old Testament, and not just the Ten Commandments. It includes sacrifices, circumcision and other rituals.
Jesus was telling the scribes and Pharisees what God’s true intent of the Law was and how their righteousness based on the Law was not enough. What He mentions is not found in the O.T.; e.g., divorce and swearing. If all of the Law was still in effect for Christians, we would need to keep all the sacrifices, rituals, new moons, etc. Jesus spoke of an internal righteousness (true righteousness) based on faith. This was in sharp contrast to the Pharisee’s traditions and external righteousness based on the Law (which was the only standard of righteousness that the Jews knew at this time).
Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for everyone that believes. (Romans 10:4) He fulfilled the Law, including all the prophets’ predictions concerning His coming as the Messiah.
“These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 22:44).
Also read: Tithing and Wolves in Sheep’s’ Clothing (Who really is changing times and laws?) as it shows that HWA (and those like him) changed the Law in order to adjust to our modern times.
Doesn’t Matthew 5:48 refer to keeping the Ten Commandments in order to become perfect?
REPLY: Matthew 5:48 says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Jesus was saying that if we want to be accepted by God on our own merits, the Law demands perfection, both inwardly and outwardly. The Law can only show us our sin and condemn us because we can never keep it perfectly. The Law reveals our need of a Savior and leads us to Christ. (Galatians 3:24) Jesus said, “…except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Can anyone say that they are righteous, or that they keep the Law perfectly?
Matthew 5:48 is part of the Sermon on the Mount, given under the old covenant. (Also see Deuteronomy 18:13.) The Sermon on the Mount does not contain the Gospel. The Gospel is declared in I Corinthians 15:1-4:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”
Listen to: The Sermon on the Mount [offsite link]
Isn’t Philippians 2:12 showing we need to work hard at salvation?
REPLY: Philippians 2:12 says:
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Paul was telling those believers in Christ to put into practice in their daily life, what God had already worked in them by the Holy Spirit. Nothing here says they are to work for their salvation, but to work out the salvation God had already given them. The verb “work out” has the meaning of “work to full completion,” which in Paul’s day was similar to working a field, getting out all that one could. We are to allow the fruits of the Holy Spirit show in our lives, but this has nothing to do with “working hard for our salvation.” At the time this epistle was written there were many problems in the church, such as pride and disunity, and not working selflessly. God helps us to work out those problems in our life. Any “working” we do is always dependent on His working in us as vs. 13 shows. It is the grace of God through the Holy Spirit which enables us to perform what is good.
How does salvation come, if not by the Law?
REPLY: Salvation comes by faith in and through Jesus Christ and no one else and nothing else. To believe one must keep the works of the Law in order to be saved, or to maintain salvation, is to refuse to see that the Law was our schoolmaster (i.e., paidagōgos) to lead us to Christ.
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:24-26).
Jesus made it clear that He is the door to salvation.
“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).
To believe that one must keep the Law in order to have salvation is saying that Christ forgave our past sins upon faith in Him, but from here on out our salvation is dependent on Law keeping. Despite what HWA said, this is teaching salvation by works, and adding any kind of works to faith makes Christ’s atoning sacrifice of no effect.
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
The two (works and salvation) are incompatible.
What about Revelation 12:17 which talks about “keeping the commandments”?
REPLY: This has already been covered in: Sabbath and Sunday (Common Arguments & Misunderstandings).
Doesn’t Revelation 22:14 tell us that only those who do His commandments will enter the Holy City?
REPLY: This verse says, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” It does not say, “Blessed are they which do the Ten Commandments…” All through the N.T. other things are called “the commandments.” It is “washing our robes in the blood of the Lamb” which gives us access to the Holy City. Therefore, it is careless to assume that the commandments Jesus gave his followers and for Christians are the same commandments given to Israel through covenant by Moses. Those who insist the Law must be kept, such as the Sabbath, are making a declaration that one must couple faith in Jesus with keeping the Law for the sake of salvation, which is a false gospel. The Law cannot save anyone, neither can it enhance your salvation. The Law could only condemn the one who broke the Law; not reward him for keeping it. Those who say one has to keep the Law–any of it–are putting the Law on par with Jesus as a Savior. They are making the Law a false god “besides” the true God and our Savior, Jesus.
We can never on our own achieve the level of perfection that God requires. All we can do, therefore, is finally admit that we are totally incapable of measuring up to God’s standards of righteousness. It is not by any righteousness achieved on our part that results in our salvation and sanctification; it is only through Christ; having His righteousness imputed to us, for our righteousness. Anything we accomplish by keeping the righteousness of the Law, is but filthy rags before Him.
Can you explain more about the works of the Law and salvation?
REPLY: The Law was given to Israel by covenant. Those that believe we must keep the Law say that it is ” God’s Law.”2 But God gave it to the nation Israel.
“In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).
The Israelites broke the first covenant; they couldn’t perform what the Law demanded. Those that try to keep the Law will always come up short. In fact, there is a sense of religious pride in those who are trying to keep the Law and it normally manifests itself in condemnation of others whom they feel are not living up to the Law as they are. The New Covenant has the provision of a Savior and He is our Intercessor. Our emphasis is on Him, not on trying to keep the Sabbath, refraining from eating certain meats, tithing, observing days, etc., for salvation.
The Law is not sin (Romans 7:12); it shows sin as “exceedingly sinful” and produces death in those who are under it (Romans 7:13). The Law reveals sins (vs.7); the Law arouses sin (vv. 8-9); the Law kills (vv. 10-11); the Law shows the sinfulness of sin (vv. 12-13); the Law cannot change us (v. 14); the Law cannot enable us to do good (vv. 15-21); the Law cannot set us free (vv. 21-25).
We have explained that the Mosaic Law (which includes the Ten Commandments) was given to lead men to Christ Jesus.
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (Romans 10:4)
The word translated “end” is telos in the Greek. It stands in the emphatic first position in the Greek sentence and means that Christ is the Purpose and Goal of the Law, the Object to which the Law pointed. Christ, who was sinless, fulfilled all of the Law (Matthew 5:17-18). His life paid the penalty for our sins on the cross and now the Law points to Him as the source of righteousness that the Law could not (and does not) provide. To try to establish our own righteousness by keeping the Law will cause us to stumble over the Law and not recognize Christ as the end of the Law.
“Jesus, my substitute, has paid all–all my indebtedness to God’s law–
and has done everything for me.” ~Andrew Murray
We are today living in the dispensation of grace:
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
To understand the dispensations gives new light on this subject of law and grace. The book of Matthew actually covers three dispensations: that of Law, grace and the Kingdom, but the Epistles of Paul clearly show that believers are no longer under the dispensation of Law, but are now in the dispensation of grace. This subject has been thoroughly explained in the introductions covering the dispensations in J. Vernon’s McGee’s studies on Hebrews. (Contact Thru the Bible)
The spiritual blessings given to the Church are separate from the temporal blessings promised to the nation Israel. Neither can the church be called “spiritual Israel.”3
As believers, when Christ died, we died in Him and we were raised in Him. His righteousness is imputed to us (Romans 5:19) and His righteousness is fulfilled in us (Romans 8:4); something the Law could never do. It is the Holy Spirit which now leads us. The old nature is crucified, the new man walks in newness of life, reaping the fruit of the Spirit. In summation, when we trust Christ as our Savior, this marvelous grace supplies the filling of the Spirit to live on a higher plane than Law demanded. We receive everything we need in Him.
“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” ~Philippians 3:9
Why did Herbert Armstrong insist that we had to keep the Law?
REPLY: Did Herbert Armstrong really believe that God wanted us to keep the Law? Or wasn’t it a good way for him to control others and keep them in his exclusive group where he could exploit them financially? All spiritual authority that tries to control its members is a false authority! For Armstrong (and all who preach his views) to use this legalistic (and mind-manipulating) teaching in order to place fear and guilt into one hinders that person from knowing the true gospel of grace. All exploitive, high demand groups have rules and laws that they say must be obeyed, or else one will lose their eternal life. HWA taught that salvation is a “process.” This is a lie. It is Mind Control that is a process and self-deprogramming from mind control is a process. Salvation is a decision of the will. Herbert Armstrong taught an evil counterfeit.
See our section: Herbert W. Armstrong (many articles)
This subject of grace versus Law has only been touched on. Since it cannot be covered thoroughly in one article, and since Herbert Armstrong, Gerald Flurry, David Pack, and many other similar offshoots and cultic churches hold to keeping the Law for salvation, our readers should continue to study more on their own in order to really come to know the grace, mercy and love of God for them.
Grace and Law (many articles)
When I rest in the Lord Jesus in heaven, I begin to find all my joy and peace in Him,
and I occupy myself with Him. ~J. B. Stoney
Info compiled by AJW
Exit & Support Network™
For further study:
The Law of Moses and the Grace of God
H. A. Ironside’s Notes on Galatians [offsite link]
Bob George Ministries with Bob George (1933-2018)
Timeless teachings on the complete forgiveness and unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Excellent Bible studies on the New Covenant. [offsite link]
1 There are several covenants mentioned in the Bible: The Adamic (Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity (open hostility)
Between you and the woman, And between your seed (offspring) and her Seed; He shall [fatally] bruise your head, And you shall [only] bruise His heel.” (AMP); the Noahic (Genesis 9:16), the Abrahamic (Genesis 12:2), the Mosaic (Exodus 19:5), the Palestinian (Deuteronomy 30:3), the Davidic (II Samuel 7:16) and the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:8). The covenants are normally unconditional in the sense that God obligates Himself in grace, by declaring, “I will” to accomplish certain purposes, despite any failure on the part of the person or people with whom he covenants. In the case of the Mosaic covenant, the fulfillment of the promises was made conditional upon Israel’s obedience: “If you will indeed obey…” It was a temporary covenant (Galatians 23:4-5)
2 The words “God’s law” are only found in one place in the Bible, Nehemiah 10:29 which says: “They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God…” Whenever Jesus referred to the Law, he never referred to it as “God’s law” but rather the law of the Jews, and declared that it was Moses who gave the people the Law. The apostle Paul brings out that the true law of God is the spirit of the law, and this is quite plainly stated in Romans 7:6.
3 How is the Term Israel Used in the New Testament? (Shows how the church is not “spiritual Israel”) (also covers Galatians 6:16) [offsite article]
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