Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Keep Commandments?

God’s people are saved from their sins by His grace through faith. Paul makes this very clear in his epistle to the Ephesians. He says: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:2-9). I have heard that quote countless times, and I thoroughly agree with my brothers who stress that salvation is all of God and grace is His unmerited favour to us. But many times these same brothers forget what Paul says in verse ten. He writes "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10)

We are saved UNTO good works. Our good works are a vital aspect of our Christian life. They are so vital that James, in his epistle to the universal (catholic) church, said in chapter two "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works." (James 2:17,18)

James makes clear that someone who claims faith in Christ, but has no works (fruit) that are in line with true faith has a dead faith. Such faith is not true faith, and therefore it is not saving faith, because true/saving faith in Jesus will produce good works. James asked a rhetorical question to make this very point. He wrote in verse fourteen of chapter two "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" The obvious answer is an emphatic No, because as James stresses true faith will produce good works in the believer.

Many folks will respond "but we are under grace not law." Such people are referring to Paul’s statement in his letter to the Church at Rome (Romans 6:14), but the context in which I have so often heard this statement made shows a gross misunderstanding of Paul, and the Law/Grace distinctions.

The law of God condemns all who are fallen in Adam, and especially those that know God’s Word, but have rejected Christ. God’s law is a holy reflection of the very character and nature of God himself. (I am not talking of the ceremonial law, which was a shadow that pointed out to the Old Covenant believer his sinfulness and his need for the saviour to come. That aspect of the Old Covenant economy is clearly done away with in the New Covenant). It is not just a coincidence that the longest chapter in the whole Bible (Ps. 119) is a song of praise to God and the holiness and goodness of His law that He has graciously given to His people.

Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, knew that men can and would distort the scriptural teaching on the matter of God’s law and faith. He makes make these statements about the law and faith in Roman’s chapter three. "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (28). So far so good; we are not and can not be saved by the law because of sin (Adam’s and our own) the law already condemns us all. But Paul is not yet finished; he goes on to say in verse thirty-one "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law."

Paul does not give us an either-or / law-grace distinction. The law can not save us. It can only condemn us, because we are sinners and sin by its very definition is a transgression of the law of God. We are saved by grace through faith, but the faith of a true believer will cause him to desire to keep God’s law. Let’s look at Christ’s Word’s on this matter.

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me. (John 14:23,24)

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:10)

Many years after the Apostle heard Jesus speak these Word’s on night before His crucifixion, he (John) wrote similar things in his own short epistles. John wrote "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." (1John 2:3,4) These are strong Words! For anyone who professes to know Christ and shows no evidence in his/her life, these words should scare him to death. Because according to St. John that individual is likely on the road to hell and that is why Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, tells them (and us also) to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.

Now back to John's epistles, because he is not finished. He says:

And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (1John 3:24)

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. (1John 5:2)

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. (1John 5:3)

John continued this theme in his second epistle. He wrote "And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it" (2John 1:6). We find this again in the very last book of the Bible, which is also written by this same John. Lets look at Revelation.

And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev. 12:17)

Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. (Rev. 14:12)

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
. (Rev. 22:14)

Notice that John ties keeping the commandments very close to salvation itself. They are almost indistinguishable here in John’s writing (just as in James). That is because the Scriptures make clear good works (keeping the Commandments of God) will accompany true, saving faith.

Jesus makes clear that those that know Him (the regenerate/saved) will love Him and that love for Him will cause them to keep His commandments. Remember what Christ said : "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 " (Matt. 5:17,18).Don’t forget that a jot and tittle is the equivalent of our dot of an "I" or the cross of a "T." God’s Law stands till the end of time. It is a reflection of His nature and so God’s law can not cease to be His, and therefore our, standard of righteousness.

The question is "Can we accept Jesus as Saviour and not as Lord?" The answer from Scripture is a resounding "No." These Scriptures include the Whole Council of God, which includes everything from Genesis to Revelation.

Soli Deo Gloria,

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