We know that Salvation is by Grace through Faith in Jesus and not our works, but then why are the New Testament writings of Paul, James, Peter seeming to say that believers are judged by their works and may lose salvation?
For that we need to understand that the Law did not pass away fully on the cross. The Law still existed even after the cross and the apostles commanded believers to fulfill the law by their obedience. God told the Apostles that the law would gradually disappear over a period of time from the Cross till the last days of Israel were over.
We see the same pattern repeated in the Old Testament. The Law did not come fully on one day, because it came gradually over a period of time.
- When God created Adam, there was no law (Romans 5:13-14). There was only one command to not eat from the tree. Adam sinned and died spiritually. All of humanity descended from Adam, spiritually dead in sin. But there was still no law.
- Abraham was then called from the nations, and he became righteous by faith in God’s promise of the Seed (Genesis 15:1-6). God was briefly showing the Gospel of Grace of salvation by faith and not any works.
- God begins the revelation of the law by requiring Abraham to get circumcised to receive the promise of the covenant (Genesis 17:1-14). The work of circumcision was required to be part of the covenant. Paul later told the Galatians that if they got circumcised then they would be required to keep the entire law for salvation (Galatians 5:2-4). Therefore circumcision was the first commandment of the law. We see that God was slowly and gradually revealing the law to Abraham and his descendants.
- After 430 years, God commanded Israel to obey the commandment of the passover to be saved from the firstborn-death of Egypt.
- After 50 days, God gave Israel the 10 commandments. They had to obey the covenant of the law to be righteous and enter the land. But most of them perished in the wilderness over a period of 40 years. During that time God gave the 603 commandments of the law.
- So as you can see, the Law did not come on one single day. It came over a period of 500 years from circumcision, the 10 commandments, the 603 commands.
- But Israel failed to keep the law for 1500 years, and were judged by God, sent to exile to Babylon and then restored back to the land. But they were always under foreign rule of Greece and then Rome.
- God sent John the baptist telling Israel to repent for the breaking of the law. He commanded them to repent from sin because Messiah was coming (Matthew 3:5-10)
- Jesus then came in the last days of Israel (Hebrews 1:1-2) preaching the Good News of the coming kingdom of God, telling Israel to repent and believe in Him (Mark 1:15)
- Jesus said that He came to bring fulfillment of the law. He told Israel that they needed a Righteousness far greater than the Pharisees to enter the kingdom of God. They needed to avoid anger, lust, revenge, and be perfect as the Father in heaven to enter the kingdom (Matthew 5:17-48). Jesus came to show that the Law demanded perfection to be saved and therefore He commanded them to be perfect as Himself in selling everything to the poor and being sinless (Luke 12, Luke 14, etc.)
- In His earthly ministry, Jesus mainly preached the Gospel only to the Jews (Matthew 10:2-6). This was because Jesus was preaching the fulfillment of the law to Israel.
So we clearly see that the Law was revealed gradually to Israel over a long period of time. By the time Jesus came, He showed the full extent of the Law that required perfection.
But after Jesus died on the cross, we see the gradual revelation of Grace and the gradual fading away of the Law.
- From Acts 1-7, we see that Grace was offered to Israelites only. We see that 3000 Jews from all nations are saved on the day of Pentecost. We don’t see any Gentiles being saved. God did not allow Gentiles to be saved until a period of time after the cross.
- In Acts 10, God has to reveal to Peter that Gentiles can be saved. This was the first time that Grace was given to those not under the law. This was a major change in the program of God’s salvation. But even then it was only given to God-fearing Gentiles who worked righteousness (Acts 10:1-4 “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” 4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”…. 27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. …..34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. “
- God chose Paul to go the Gentiles. He preaches in the synagogue to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue (Acts 13: “16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! ……26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.”)
- So clearly we see that a part of the Law had faded away. There was no need for circumcision for salvation. This is why Gentiles were being allowed into the New Covenant of Grace. But we see that the Gentiles had to be worshipers of God and were doing good deeds of loving others. The entire law did not yet fade away, but only part of it had passed away on the cross.
- But now the Judaizers from the Jerusalem Church were falsely trying to require the Gentile believers to be circumcised and keep the entire law for salvation in Acts 15. After a great debate between the Church members and Paul, we see that Peter stood up and said that salvation is by grace through faith because the law was such a huge burden for the Jews. This was the first time ever in the Bible that we see the Jews admitting their failure to keep the law. (Acts 15:7-11 “7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.””)
- So then what did the HOLY SPIRIT say? We see that the Holy Spirit inspired James to not require the Gentiles to obey the entire law for salvation. But only 4 laws were required because the Law of Moses was still being preached in all nations. (Acts 15:19-21, 28-29 “19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”….. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.)
- We see that the Holy Spirit told the Gentile believers to keep 4 laws while He did not tell the Jews to stop keeping the entire law. Why is this? It is because the Law of Moses was still being preached in the world. The context of Acts 15 was what laws were the Gentiles required to be saved. The Judaizers required circumcision and the entire 613 commands. But the Holy Spirit reduce it to faith in Jesus and 4 laws. The Spirit reduced the burden from 613 commands to 4 commands. This was because the Law still existed.
The Law had not fully passed away. This was a period of transition from the Law to Grace. This is very crucial in understanding the Bible. This is why the Gentiles were required to keep the 4 laws for salvation.
This is why Paul warned the Gentile believers that if they rejected those 4 laws, then they would not be saved. They had to be sanctified by obedience to those commands.
1 Thessalonians 4 “3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.”
This is why Paul told believers in his generation that they would die if they sinned (he defined sin as the breaking of the law in Romans 7:7-24).
Romans 8:13 “11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. 12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
James also wrote a similar warning in his epistle to Jewish believers.
James 1 “13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.…21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.“
Paul told believers to fulfill the law by obedience to the commandment otherwise they would be destroyed. He told them to do good to reap eternal life and not to mock God and be destroyed by sin. The contrast is between salvation and condemnation.
Galatians 5-6 “13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other……..7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
James also told believers to fulfill the law otherwise they would be condemned.
James 2 “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism…..8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
Sometimes we think that James or Paul did not have a full understanding of grace but that cannot be true. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit. They were not adding their own man-made ideas.
The Holy Spirit was showing that they were living in the last generation of the law when the Law was fading away from the Cross till the Temple was destroyed in AD70.
The Jews were commanded by God to keep the law until the very end of their days in AD65-70.
In Acts 21, we see that the Jews who believed in Jesus were coming regularly to the temple and keeping all the commandments of the law, including the ceremonial and ritual commands.
Acts 21 “17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”
But in the letter of Hebrews, we see that the Law was going to soon disappear because Israel was living in their LAST DAYS.
Hebrews 8:13 “13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.“
Hebrews 1:1-2 “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. “
They were told to leave the city of Jerusalem, because the temple, sacrifices, commands of the law were going to end. They were told to forsake the Law of Moses and fully accept the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 13 “11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”
The Law of Moses was in its last days. All of the commandments of the law were going to be abolished in AD70 when the temple was destroyed.
The Apostles lived in the last generation of the Law (40 years from the Cross in AD30-AD70) when the law was fading away but it still existed.
This is why the believers were not required to obey the ceremonial laws of circumcision, sabbaths to be saved. But in that 40-year period, they were required to fulfill the law by loving one other (Romans 13, James 2, Galatians 5). If they broke the law by hating each other or sinning against each other then they would be judged. We see this happening in many instances
- Ananias and Sapphira died on the spot when they hated their fellow believers in the Church by trying to deceive the entire church in not giving the entire proceeds from selling their possessions (Acts 5). They died because they lied to the Holy Spirit and deceived their fellow believers. They had broken the royal law of loving one another.
- The Corinthian believers had fallen sick and died because they abused the Lord’s Supper by getting drunk and starving the poorer believers (1 Corinthians 11). They were chastised because they broke the royal law of loving one another.
- The Jewish believers fell sick because they showed partiality and insulted the poor believers (James 2, James 5:13-20).
- We also see that Paul warned Gentile believers that they could lose salvation if they got circumcised in Galatians 5:1-5. He warned Gentiles that they would also lose salvation by disobeying the 4 laws of Acts 15.
- James warned believers that they would be judged if they lived in sin (James 1-5).
- Paul told Gentile children in Ephesus to obey their parents to keep the 10 commandments (Ephesians 6:1-3″Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.””)
- The commandment to fulfill the law was required for salvation in that transition period between AD30-AD70 when the Law still existed.
But the Law does not exist today.
There is no commandment for us to fulfill the law by loving others/avoiding sins.
When we look back at the Bible, we see that there was a 40-year transition period from the Cross till AD70 when Grace began to be revealed and the Law was fading away.
Why did God have this transition between the Law and grace ? It was because the Law could not suddenly disappear in one day. Just like the Law did not come in one day, the Grace could not come in one day. God had to transition people from Law to Grace over 40 years. Over that 40 years, the Law was slowly fading away by removing the commands and Grace was being revealed gradually.
God had certain requirements in that period from AD30-70 when salvation was by grace but the law was still existing util AD70. Paul told the Gentile believers that this was similar to the wilderness journey of the Jews (1 Corinthians 10) and he warned them to not rebel like those Jews who fell in the wilderness.
It was similar to the Jews who transitioned from Egypt to the Law of Moses. It took them 40 years from the Passover to enter the promised land of the old covenant. But after they entered the promised land, the Jews were not required to go through a 40-year period to enter the old covenant.
In the same way, today we look back at the Bible, we don’t need to insert ourselves into that 40-year transition period between Law and Grace. We only look at the Cross.
- We cannot insert ourselves into the pre-cross period where the Righteousness was only by the Law and there was no grace.
- We cannot insert ourselves into the Acts 1-9 period where only Jews were saved because no Gentiles were saved in that time !!
- We cannot insert ourselves into the period of Acts 10-15 where Gentile believers were required to obey the 4 laws to be saved because the Law of Moses still existed in that time.
- We cannot be required to fulfill the law by loving one another otherwise we will be judged for breaking the law like Ananias, the Corinthians, the 7 churches of Revelation. In that period they could lose salvation. Sin was the breaking of the law and they could lose salvation by not fulfilling the law. Peter warned Gentiles in 2nd Peter 3 that if they abused the grace of God then they would fall from salvation. He told them to make sure of their salvation by making efforts to add the fruit of the Spirit into their lives (2 Peter 1) to avoid falling away if they sinned and lost salvation. But that does not apply today.
- The Law does not exist today. Today we live in the Age of Grace and there is no law. Only Grace exists today. Today we are saved by Grace by faith and no works. There is no chastisement for works. There is no reward for works. Nobody can lose salvation because the law does not exist. There is no sin today because there is no law. The only sin today is unbelief. Therefore the believer cannot sin because there is no more law (Romans 4:15 “because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.”)
- We look at the Bible and see the Cross as the full revelation of Grace where the entire law was canceled and there are no commands of the law at all. No circumcision, no 10 commandments, no 603 commands, nothing. There is no chastisement or judgment for believers. The law does not exist today. The world is not under law. The world is under grace. We don’t need to look at all those warnings of James, Paul, Peter in the New Testament because the law does not exist today.
- Today, everyone is born into this world as spiritually dead because they are descendants of Adam. We have nothing to do with Israel or the Law that passed away in the 1st Century. Today all we need to do is believe in Jesus and we receive eternal life and will not be judged. There is no command to fulfill the law or do anything. The only command is to believe in Jesus to be saved.
- Today, we just believe to receive Eternal life: Revelation 22 “17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”
- The believer cannot lose salvation today because the Law does not even exist.