By H. E. Phillips
Law is necessary to obedience. Obedience is required to receive the blessings of God. The wrath of God is upon all who disobey him.
Man does not know the way of life. It must be revealed unto him. Jesus said he was “the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “0 Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jere. 10:23). “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 16:25).
Some hold to the idea that to be free we must resist the shackles of “legalism” and reject that rigid code of law found in the New Testament. They pervert what Paul and other apostles said about law, obedience and salvation and replace it with words like “freedom,” “love,” “tolerance of others” and “unity in diversity.” They stress the prayer of Jesus for unity among his disciples and tell us that the rigid adherence to the New Testament will not accomplish unity. The “legalist” mind is without love and mercy and will never be in harmony with the mind of Christ. They tell us that the unity for which Christ prayed in John 17 is blocked by the legalism preached and practiced by the divisive branch of churches of Christ.
If No Law, No Sin
If there is no law, there is no sin. Sin is the transgression of the law. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). “. . . for where no law is, there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). “. . . for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). “. . . but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom. 5:13). Law defines sin (Rom. 7:7).
It is not true that obedience to “Law” is a system that tries to merit salvation. The forgiveness of one single sin is far beyond any human effort. We are saved by “grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Faith must be a live, obedient faith in order to justify. That is well established in the second chapter of James. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14) It is answered by demonstrating the futility of one saying to a brother or sister, naked and destitute of daily needs, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (James 2:16) The conclusion is definite: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). Again in verse 20 he says: “But wilt thou know, 0 vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20) He who says that one is saved without works is ignorant of the Bible meaning of faith.
God gave a commandment to the first man whom he had created: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:15-17).
Did God intend for Adam to be a “legalist” to strictly interpret and obey that commandment? The question is answered by the consequences that fell upon Adam and Eve when they transgressed that law. They were driven from the garden and “died” according to the promise of God for their disobedience to his command. From the dawn of creation God intended for mankind to understand and obey his word. In every law and dispensation since Adam God has required the same obedience. Disobedience to the commands of God brought death to the first man and woman.
Under the law of Moses, God severely punished those of his own people who transgressed his laws to them. Twenty three thousand died in one day for the sin of fornication (1 Cor. 10:8). That was written to us as an example under the New Testament. Do not try to tell us that God does not rule by law; he does!
Some people do not like rules to regulate their lives. They want “freedom” to do as they please. These who want to be “free” from the rigid shackles of the law of the New Testament, want to be regarded as children of God with all the blessings that accompany that relationship, but they despise the law of the New Testament. Jesus said: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). To know God and be in him, we must keep his commandments. “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. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him” (1 John 2:3-5).
Justified By Faith That Works
Abraham is given as the example of being justified by faith that worked. Romans four contains the nature of Abraham’s faith that justified him (Rom. 4:21-25). He offered his son Isaac upon the altar just as God had commanded him to do. Abraham would never have been justified if he had not obeyed the command of God to offer that son.
Romans 4:1-5 and James 2:21-24 both discuss the same subject: justification by faith. Both passages use Abraham’s faith as the example of justification. Both show Abraham’s faith to be essential to his justification. Romans 4:1-5 shows that Abraham was justified by faith without the works of the law of Moses, by which no flesh could be saved (Rom. 3:20).
James 2:21-24 says that Abraham was not justified by faith only (dead faith without works of obedience), but by works (faith that moved one to obey God). His active faith that obeyed God did count for righteousness. James 2:21-24 is discussing the nature of acceptable faith in God, and Abraham is given as an example of that obedient faith in God. We are to walk in the steps of Abraham (Rom. 4:12). The gospel is the system of faith that justifies.
James 2:23 says, “Abraham believed God , and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.” Romans 4:3 says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Abraham is used in both passages to show justification by faith. In one “works” are prohibited; in the other “works” are demanded. The difference is that in Romans the “works” are merit works of the law of Moses. In James the “works” are works of obedience to the commands under the covenant that grants remission. That which makes both cases apply to Abraham was that “he believed God” and acted in obedience to the will of God. By faith Abraham obeyed God and it was accounted unto him for righteousness (Heb.11:8). If Abraham had not obeyed God, he would not have been justified. But without the gospel no flesh can be justified. It is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth, both the Jew and Gentile (Rom. 1:16).
Jesus taught that the one who will enter the kingdom of heaven is “he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:23). Those who have the right to the tree of life and will enter into the city of God are those who do his commandments (Rev. 22:14).
The truth is that the obedience to any part of the law of God does not merit salvation to any degree. What we do is not done to merit salvation to any degree. It is only “by grace are ye saved through faith,” but that faith must work the obedience of God, who imputes our obedient faith for righteousness. Disobedient faith avails nothing!
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 2, p. 3-4
January 20, 1994