Your positions appear to be Biblically sound. However, further study has brought further questions.
The question about which I am most concerned has to do with what one must do to be “saved.” You mention in several places that one needs to: 1) hear and learn commandments of God and, 2) obey them, in order to be given eternal life and the reward of immortality at the return of Christ to earth.
My question is this: What exactly are the commandments of God? Which commands must we obey in order to be “saved”? Are you referring to the “Ten Commandments,” to the “Mosaic Law” given Israel, or to certain commands given in the New Testament? Or are you referring to both groups of commandments?
I am quite confused on this matter. Some Christians think we must obey only specific commands Jesus gave; others feel that we must believe and worship exactly as the New Testament Church did; still others think we are also required to obey the Old Testament law code, including the Sabbath and dietary laws. What is your opinion on this? What does the Bible say we must do to be obedient to God? Could you please clarify this for me? I certainly want to please God, but I can’t do it if I don’t know exactly how!
This is something I have been wrestling with for some time—after all, it is very important! I want to be sure I am doing right, not just deceiving myself or allowing myself to be deceived. Thank you for your time and attention to my questions.
We agree wholeheartedly: The subject of what commands we should obey is very important. What could matter more than our own personal salvation, and consequently, what we must do to be saved? It is supremely important that we align our thoughts on this subject with God’s, because God alone can bestow salvation. We have no power to extend our lives, beyond a very limited term.
Since God is the one giving the salvation, He has every right to dictate the terms upon which it shall be given.
What is Salvation?
First let us clarify what we mean by “salvation” or being “saved.” as the Bible uses them in two ways.
1) Meaning the new believer’s initial (present) deliverance from the life that leads to certain and eternal death, when one begins to serve God and is “on the way” to a new life.
2) Meaning the full and final (future) deliverance from mortality, when “his corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55).
How can we be sure that this second (full) salvation is a future and not a present experience? We are sure because God has promised to change our mortal, dying body to be like His own glorious, immortal body (Phil. 3:20-21). All who receive this change are “equal unto the angels, neither can they die anymore” (Luke 20:35-36). No believer, however sincere in this life, is free from mortality and corruptibility; no believer is free from the possibility of accident, sickness and death. All he has now is the promise of deliverance (salvation).
The steps our subscriber outlines as necessary in seeking salvation are those outlined in Scripture. The whole question, then, centers around finding out what commands we are obliged to obey; then obeying them to procure the favor of God so that we may be among those to receive the promised salvation.
Law and Order
I am sure we all agree upon the necessity for law and order. God is a God of law and order and thus law governs the universe.
In designing His plan for the glorifying of this planet, God arranged to select and recompense His people on the basis of their obedience to His laws.
In the time of Moses, obedience to the law was linked directly to the receiving of temporal blessing. “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God” (Deut. 11:26-28).
The principle of blessing in return for obedience was in operation even before the law of Moses. In the book of Job we read: “If they obey and serve Him, They shall spend their days in prosperity, And their years in pleasures. But if they do not obey, They shall perish by the sword, And they shall die without knowledge” (Job 36:11-12).
Isaiah the prophet taught the same supremacy of law, and the blessings that would attend obedience: “If you cease to tread the sabbath underfoot, and keep my holy day free from your own affairs, if you call the sabbath a day of joy and the Lord’s holy day a day to be honoured, if you honour it by not plying your trade, not seeking your own interest or attending to your own affairs, then you shall find your joy in the Lord, and I will set you riding on the heights of the earth, and your father Jacob’s patrimony shall be yours to enjoy; the Lord himself has spoken it” (Isa. 58:13-14, NEB). The plan was always, “If you will…then I will.”
Jesus was pointing out the benefits of obedience to Divine law when He said: “Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matt. 7:24-25).
Standing through the storm depended upon hearing and obeying “these sayings of mine,” i.e., the laws of God. Both knowledge and obedience are needed: “ He who has My commandments and keeps them….”
In Revelation 22:14 is another statement which shows that the blessings are the direct result of one’s obedience: “Blessed are they that do [the Father’s] commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”
Commands and Commandments
When we come to studying the commands in Scripture, we must make a few general observations:
1) All commands of God are not universal; i.e., some were directed only to certain individuals. Only Noah was told to build an ark, and did all according to the Lord’s commands (Gen. 7:5). God was pleased, saying “I have seen that you are righteous before Me.” Noah could not have received this commendation had he not obeyed God’s command to build the ark.
Only Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son. Only Moses was given the command to lead the people through the wilderness, and bring them safely to the boundary of Canaan. It was a stupendous assignment, but Moses obeyed.
Similarly, often the prophets received very specific commands, which they—and they only—had to obey. Isaiah was commanded to go and preach to the people, even though they would not hear, even though they would not understand (Isa. 6:9-10). The prophet Jeremiah received a similar commission: “For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak” (Jer. 1:7).
2) God’s laws are binding only upon those who voluntarily place themselves under His authority. Being subject to Him was always an action of free will. As Joshua commanded his people: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15).
This same plan is still operational. God has not yet made His laws universal. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), but that sin stands against only those who are under that law. The apostle Paul explained this point in Rom. 2:12-13, where he distinguishes between those who sin “without [outside] the law” and those who “sin [under] the law.” He says, “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law; for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified.”
3) Various laws of God have served various purposes. All laws (commands) of God were not intended to prepare one for salvation. We read of the Law of Moses that it could not remove sin (Heb. 10:4, 11); that it could not make perfect (Heb. 7:19); that it could not make righteous (Gal. 3:21). Certain commands of God were given to serve a temporary purpose, for example, the command of Jesus that those in Jerusalem should “flee to the mountains” (Matt. 24:15-17). The command was intended for those who would be living in Jerusalem at the time of its destruction, and offered a means by which they could save their lives if they obeyed.
God in His infinite wisdom gave an immutable, eternal law, “the everlasting covenant” at the beginning of His work with the human race. After some two millenniums, another law was added for a specific purpose and for a limited time. The added law was a set of regulations designed to impose general law and order, teach respect for authority, maintain public health and a moral society so that these people could exist as an independent, civilized nation. Included were the Ten Commandments, etc.—all the directives needed to bring a people from a state of servitude to a state of national independence. The Mosaic law was limited in scope, and never promised eternal life or eternal inheritances. It was in force as long as the nation of Israel needed it, and was officially removed at Jesus’ death.
In Romans 3:27, the apostle Paul describes the vastly superior law of Christ as “the law of faith.” In Romans 8:2 he says it is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”; again in Gal. 6:2, he calls it “the law of Christ.” James in his short Epistle describes God’s saving precepts as “the perfect law of liberty,” also “the royal law” (James 1:25; 2:8).
The Bible contains two basic systems of law:
1) The law of faith and obedience, also called the “royal law,” to which the servants of God have been subject from the beginning to the end of the Biblical record. This law was designed to develop a character acceptable to God and obtain His proffered salvation. The specific laws varied from age to age, but always a total commitment of one’s entire being—heart, soul, mind and strength—was required. No part of one’s life could remain unaffected by the demands of this law. Christ came teaching this law during His ministry, and it was called the law of Christ. Its one purpose was to develop and perfect, to bring one to the moral character of Christ.
2) The law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, often called the law of Moses. A system of civil law given by God to Moses for the governing of the Israelite nation, this set of laws was added for a time to the already existing law of faith and obedience. Included in this law was the Ten Commandment law given to Moses, written upon tablets of stone.
Many religious people hold that the Ten Commandments are the basis of all law; that every law given by God is equal in authority, and equally binding upon all. Simply put, if one obeys the Ten Commandments he has done about all that God asks of anyone. Both Catholic and Protestant denominations generally hold that the Ten Commandments are the summary laws of God. But can this position be supported by the Bible? Are the Ten Commandments sufficient to prepare one for salvation?
Before we draw any conclusions, let us look at the various laws of God, and what the Bible tells us about each.
Law of the Heart (Spiritual Law) vs. Civil Law
What was the main difference between Jesus’ law and the law of Moses? The law of Moses was a civil law, controlling only outward conduct. Jesus’ law (the law of faith and obedience, the royal law) was a law governing the whole life—affections heart, feelings, thoughts, outward actions.
Under the spiritual law of the heart, if one planned to steal money or jewels when he had opportunity, or if one did not perform an evil act because he was afraid of the penalty of the law, he would be just as guilty in the sight of God as if he actually committed the deed. Under civil law, he would not be guilty until he took what did not belong to him, however much he planned or plotted.
The Jews as a nation were zealous to adhere to the law of Moses perfectly, but that law being only a civil law, did not cleanse the inner life, the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Two Laws, Two Results of Obedience
The potency of civil law being so vastly different from that of spiritual law (law of the heart), we can only expect that the results of obedience to each will be vastly different. Obedience to the law of Christ (spiritual law) brings one to a state which God calls righteous. And God has promised to reward righteousness with life—eternal life. Since obedience to the law of Moses could not make one righteous, the bestowing of eternal life was also beyond the power of that law. The most careful obedience to Moses’ law could do no more than make one a good citizen.
The apostle Paul made this contrast very clear in his letter to the Galatians. Explaining that righteousness was not possible through the law of Moses and that therefore that law could not give life, Paul writes: “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain…. But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for the just shall live by faith…. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law” (Gal. 2:21; 3:11, 21). Note the use of the if—obedience to the Mosaic law could not give life, because it could not make one righteous before God.
To summarize: Civil laws make good citizens, good society, and stable governments. The royal law (a law of the heart) perfects in holiness, removes sin and prepares one for eternal salvation.
The fact that the law of Moses could not make perfect is repeated in Hebrews (7:19): “for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.”
Another weakness of the law of Moses was that it had no provision for the removal of sin, nor any provision to restrain or redirect the inner life. The sacrifices required under the law could make one right with the law, but they did not change the heart of the transgressor. Nor was the Levitical priesthood equipped to forgive sin (Heb. 7:11).
Is Moses’ Law Binding Today?
How do we know that the law of Moses is not binding upon us today? Can we safely assume that we do not have to observe all its sabbaths and feast days, its sacrifices and rituals? There are four basic reasons which assure us that the law of Moses is not binding upon us today. They are:
1) That it was added to a superior and pre-existing law;
Let us look at each of these points individually.
1) The Law of Moses was added to a superior and pre-existing law
The apostle Paul makes very clear that the law of Moses was not the only law of God, nor was it the original law of God. It was a law added for a specific time and purpose. We read in Galatians 3: “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator” (v. 19). The law from Sinai was “added,” indicating that another law existed prior to it. We know that this is true, because Noah, Enoch, and Abraham were all subject to God’s law long before the law of Moses was given.
From Galatians 3 we learn that the Gospel or law of faith was preached to Abraham hundreds of years before the Mosaic or Ten Commandment law was given on Sinai. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham” (verse 8).
The apostle Paul said that the law was added “till the seed should come unto whom the promise was made.” He defines this law as a law ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (Moses). For how long was it added? Was it to last as long as the day of salvation lasts? No! Again we have the words of the apostle Paul: “The law was our tutor,” he writes, “to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:25). The law was designed to bring us to Christ, after which time it would not be needed. We today are after Christ. Here is one point to suggest that this law is no longer binding upon us as Christians.
2) The Law of Moses was a law for Israel only
“And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us … The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive’” (Deut. 5:1-3). Moses is very specific in saying that the Mosaic covenant was made with Israel and not with any other people.
Exodus 31 speaks specifically of the Sabbath as being a feature of this law which was incumbent upon Israel only, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations …. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death,… It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel’ (vs. 13-14, 17). The entire covenant was between God and Israel.
3) The Law of Moses was a temporary law and was removed at Christ’s death
The end of the Law of Moses is clearly documented in Scripture. We read in the book of Hebrews: “For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (Heb. 7:18-19). Do we wonder why the old law was terminated? Because it was weak and unprofitable, it ceased to exist.
The apostle Paul describes the Ten Commandment law as “done away” terminated in Christ. He says, “the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones…is abolished.” What law was “written and engraved in stone,” if not the Ten Commandment law?
Can we be sure that he is talking about the Ten Commandment law? Could they be accurately referred to as a “ministry of death”? Exodus 31:14 states definitely that disobedience to the Sabbath law was to result in death. “Everyone that defiles it [the sabbath] shall surely be put to death.” There were twenty-seven instances under the old law where death was the penalty. The transgressor might plead, but there was no mercy according to the law. In the case of the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, when they took their sensors, put incense in them, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not, what happened? “So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (Lev. 10:2). The law was severe; it was a ministration of death.
The apostle Paul stated clearly that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 10:4). Christ is not the perpetuating of the law but the end of the law.
Paul said also that God used the death of Christ as the cut-off point: “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). It has been suggested that Paul alluded to a custom of the time that bills, when paid, were nailed to the door post.
In view of the above, it seems safe to conclude that we today are not subject to the law of Moses, and that God will not judge us by its mandates.
What Law Remains?
We come now to the most critical point of this discussion: If the law of Moses is no longer in force, what law remains? To what law must we be subject? By what law shall we be judged? What must we do to be saved?
In Second Corinthians 3, Paul, after speaking of the law which is done away, said that “God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant” (verse 6). Most reading this statement might suppose that the New Testament is that part of the Bible which begins with Matthew and ends with Revelation. But Paul spoke of the complete law of faith and obedience, which begins with Genesis and is continued by the prophets, apostles, and all able ministers of the gospel of God. This New Testament is the covenant which God made with Abraham (Gal. 3:8), confirmed to Isaac and Jacob, and which was completed by Jesus.
Not only is the law of faith or “royal law” called a “New Testament” but it is also styled “a new and living way” (Heb. 10:20). This new and living way is a way whereby we may learn to control our passions, our tempers, our tongues, our thoughts. It is a way whereby we make ourselves subject to God’s authority, and serve God with a concentration so complete that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength (Mark 12:30-31). It is a way of life in which we learn to do all to the glory of God, to completely renounce everything He abhors, and seek first and only the Kingdom of God and the righteousness that will fit us for it. It is indeed a “new and living way.” It is new today, it is new tomorrow, it is new each day we live—because each day is a new opportunity to make ourselves right in the sight of God.
The Bible is filled with commands which we must obey. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7); Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 5, Colossians 3, Philippians 3, Galatians 5 and 6, 1 Corinthians 13, and you get a picture of the type of life God wants, the high moral standard to which we must come. But it is no outward show; it is a faith and life of commitment, requiring all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Yet it is a glorious challenge, because this obedience is building in us the righteousness God requires, preparing us for greater service and eternal rewards, even “life forevermore” (Ps. 133:3).