Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

55. CAN WE BE SAVED BY OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD?

In Lev 18:4-5 God says to Moses: You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God.  So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.  These statutes and judgments are completely embodied by the Great Commandment (Mat 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31). 

 

Great Commandment

What commandment is the foremost of all?  Jesus answered, “The foremost is: HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.  The second is this: YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

 

In response to a certain lawyer’s recitation of the Great Commandment, Jesus said, in Luke 10:28: You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.  Does this mean that, in both the Old Testament and the New, a person can hope to receive salvation by meticulously following the instructions of the Great Commandment?  Is obedience to the Great Commandment, even remotely, a feasible path to salvation given that we are all born with a sin nature and embrace sin as soon as we are able?  The answer to both questions is NO.  Fortunately for us, God offers an alternate soteriology or plan of salvation.  The relevant core beliefs of Christianity can be stated as:

 

Every person since Adam and Eve, except Jesus Christ, was born with a sin nature and no person, except Jesus Christ, has lived a sinless life. (T)

  • Every person since Adam and Eve (Gen 3:6-19; Rom 7:14-25), except Jesus Christ (Luke 1:35), was born with a sin nature
  • and no person (Rom 3:23, 5:12-18, 6:23; 1 John 1:8-10), except Jesus Christ (John 8:46; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 1:18-19, 2:21-22; 1 John 2:1, 3:3), has lived a sinless life.

The spotless lamb, “without blemish,” was required for the Passover (Ex 12:5) and the words, “without blemish,” constantly recur in the descriptions of the sacrifices which pointed forward to the atonement accomplished by Christ.

The Scriptures are completely unanimous in declaring the perfect sinlessness of Christ under all circumstances.  The sinlessness of Christ is not merely a personal attribute, characteristic of His human nature as well as His divine nature, but it is an attribute which is absolutely essential to the atonement.

 

Salvation from the consequences of sin is offered to all persons by the grace of God and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. (L)

  • Salvation from the consequences of sin is offered to all persons by the grace of God and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ (John 1:29, 14:6; Acts 4:10-12; Rom 3:21-25, 5:12-18; Eph 2:8-10; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 9:14-15)

 

The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all persons: (a) the requirements of the law are written by God on every heart,  (b) Jesus Christ knocks at the door of every heart, (c) the Holy Spirit calls and convicts each person and (d) God’s eternal power and divine nature are evident in the world around us.  Nevertheless, many resist the grace of God. (I)

  • The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all persons (Titus 2:11):
  • (a) the requirements of the law are written by God on every heart (Rom. 2:15), 
  • (b) Jesus Christ knocks at the door of every heart (Rev. 3:20),
  • (c) the Holy Spirit calls and convicts each person (John 16:8) and
  • (d) God’s eternal power and divine nature are evident in the world around us (Rom 1:20). 
  • Nevertheless, many resist the grace of God (Mat 25:46; 2 Thes 1:8-9).

The grace of God that comes before salvation is called prevenient grace.  Prior to salvation, God initiates, advances and perfects everything that can be called good in man.  God leads the sinner from one step to another in proportion as He finds response in the heart and disposition to obedience.  Some men allow God to quicken, assist and nudge their free will to facilitate confession of sin, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience so they may receive the great gift of salvation (1 Pet 1:9).  Other men choose to resist and reject the grace of God (2 Thes 1:8-9).

 

Each person who responds to God’s grace and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ by confession of sin, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience receives the great gift of salvation.  Each person who resists God’s grace is condemned to everlasting punishment. (U)

  • Each person who responds to God’s grace and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ by
  • confession of sin (Ps 32:3-5; 1 John 1:8-10),
  • remorse (Ps 66:18; Luke 18:13),
  • repentance (Mat 3:8; Rom 12:2, 13:14; Eph 4:23-24; Rev 2:5, 16, 3:3, 19),
  • faith (John 6:29, 3:16-17; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8-10) and
  • obedience (Mat 28:20; Luke 11:28; John 14:15; Rom 1:5, 6:16; Heb 5:9)
  • receives the great gift of salvation (Acts 4:12; Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 7:10; 1 Thes 5:9; Heb 5:9; 1 Pet 1:9, 18-19). 
  • Each person who resists God’s grace is condemned to everlasting punishment (Mat 25:46; 2 Thes 1:8-9).

Christian belief must be preceded by repentance and followed by obedience to qualify as faith.  Faith is not just an intellectual exercise (Jam 2:19) or an emotional experience (Jer 17:9).

 

See Section 13 of Theology Corner under the title “What are the Core Beliefs of Christianity?” for the remaining Core Beliefs.  The T, U, L and I symbols denote which points of the TULIP correspond to each of the indicated core beliefs.  These four core beliefs express the essence of the first four points of the Remonstrance.  One more core belief is generally added to a Wesleyan/Arminian list but not to a Traditional Southern Baptist list:

Those once united to Christ by faith may, by turning away from God, lose the great gift of salvation. (P)

This is the fifth point of the Remonstrance corresponding to the P of the TULIP.

 

The word obedience appears only in the last of these four core beliefs:  Each person who responds to God’s grace and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ by confession of sin, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience receives the great gift of salvation.  Each person who resists God’s grace is condemned to everlasting punishment.

 

All who have received the great gift of salvation are redeemed or bought back from the bondage of sin but they are not, in this life, set free from the influence of sin itself.  The idea that we can live our lives in complete accordance with the Great Commandment is a non sequitur for the overwhelming majority of men and women.  Given all the snares and pitfalls of life, the power of Satan and the weakness of the human soul, the best path for a Christian is one of daily confession and renewal.  Even the full reception of sanctifying grace does not imply that one need no longer ask forgiveness or seek the intercession of Christ.  The Christian life is precisely the daily dying to sin and living to pursue righteousness that constitutes a life of repentance, faith and obedience continually reaffirmed and renewed.  Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin.” especially in connection with human infirmities, sins of surprise, errors of judgment and moral misperceptions?  There are no liturgies of classical Christianity that fail to offer confession of sin.  This does not place the way of holiness out of reach for believers, but puts believers constantly on the path of daily confession and renewal.

Holiness is not something imputed to you at the instant of salvation.  Imputation implies the assignment of certain attributes of Christ.  For example, justification is God’s act of removing your guilt and the penalty of sin while imputing to you the righteousness of Christ.  Justification is what God does for you through His Son; holiness is what He works in you through His Spirit.  Justification is a relative change in your standing with God and not the work by which you are made actually just and righteous.  Holiness is imparted to you gradually beginning at salvation and continuing thereafter as God senses a response in your heart and a disposition for OBEDIENCE.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.” (1 John 1:8-10)

What about those who have never heard of Jesus Christ and know nothing about the core beliefs of Christianity?  Can such persons respond to the grace of God that brings salvation?  Consider the tax collector in Luke 18:10-14.  This man knew nothing about Jesus or the substitutionary atonement yet to come.  Nevertheless, he demonstrated confession of sin, remorse in his heart, a desire to repent, faith in God and the intention of obedience.  He responded to what God had written on his heart.  The thief on the cross had a similar experience (Luke 23:39-43).  Salvation from the consequences of sin does not require head knowledge.  It requires a contrite, penitent, humble, forgiving and merciful heart willing to confess sin, feel remorse, repent, believe in God and seek OBEDIENCE.

 

Not all preachers and teachers agree with the concept that the Christian life is precisely the daily dying to sin and living to pursue righteousness that constitutes a life of repentance, faith and obedience continually reaffirmed and renewed.  Many of the following untruths have been around for centuries.  Some can be gleaned from preaching and teaching on 24/7 Christian television.  All are Christian baloney!

 

  • Rom 7:13-25 describe Paul’s non-Christian life but not his Christian experience.

 

  • The substitutionary atonement is sufficient to cover a billion times more sin than I could ever commit so, after accepting the great gift of salvation, I no longer need to engage in prayers centered on personal confession, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience; all my future debts have been paid in full.

 

  • I can never lose my salvation so I don’t really need to be concerned about confession of sin and the requirements of a moral law (antinomianism).

 

  • Jesus loves me just the way I am so there is no reason to change.

 

  • Once I achieve a “state” of entire sanctification, I no longer commit deliberate sins and therefore I have nothing to confess.

 

  • Unless I can speak in tongues, I have not been empowered by the Holy Spirit and I am little more than an unskilled worker with blunt tools in the midst of God’s master craftsmen who have been lifted to a peerage above the ranks of the merely saved.

 

  • Christian holiness is imputed to me at the instant of my salvation; I am saved therefore I am holy.

 

  • I must be entirely sanctified or I am destined for hell.

 

  • If I inadvertently commit an unholy act but my motives are pure, I have not sinned.