Jesus answered this question several times. One of the most direct to the point is:
"16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" 17 "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." 18 "Which ones?" he inquired. Jesus replied, " 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' " (Matt 19:16-19)
However, in today's perverted version of "freedom in Christ", this reference by Jesus Himself to the ten commandments is not accepted by most Christians as an answer to the question "Is Obedience necessary for Salvation?" In fact many say that obedience is not necessary for salvation. If you think this is just blowing smoke to make a point, take a look at some of the following sites found in a search for the question above:
- "If when one asks, "Is obedience optional?" he means, "Is obedience optional in order to go to heaven
?" the answer is a resounding yes." (They claim it is not required for salvation, but it is required for sanctification. Huh???)
- "The short answer is: of course not!
The slightly longer, and perhaps more accurate, answer is: not exactly but go and read James 2 and reflect upon Jesus words in John 8:31; 14:15, 23; Heb 10:26; and 1 John 3:9 (amongst other choice passages)."
- Though they do not say it outright, they do try to support the position on their site - in words that say there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, they skip the point and infer, "No, obedience is not required for salvation."
It is amazing that so many of these "Christian" sites, generated by those who claim to read and believe in the Bible ignore what it actually says. The FACT box at the top of the page has several quotes on the issue. One of my favorites is James 2:17
17 "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
, but all of them say the same thing. Obey.
"No one thinks obedience is necessary, but..."
This is one of those questions that no one wants to answer simply and directly as it will show them their own failure to be obedient. It's easier to pretend that God doesn't care about disobedience and will save us anyway. Almost no one will answer like Jesus stated in Matt 5:37
All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Everyone says, "Well, you can't save yourself by obedience - you need faith." That's not being honest - and, it's not answering the question. In fact, one of the sites (GES) answers the question in a way that seems to deliberately confuse the issue. The question is "Is obedience necessary for salvation?", but they phrase it differently, and their answer is "Yes! Obedience is optional!" Does that mean I can obey and gain eternal life, but I can disobey and still gain it?
In this case, Jesus' suggested answer of "Yes!" (one of the two choices) is twisted by clever sites and made to be completely ambiguous. Likening it to Shakespeare, all the shouting about "Yes! You can obey if you want to, but you don't have to if you don't want to! It's optional!":
"it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
They seem to put a lot of energy into trying to open a discussion that God and Jesus have closed. The only thing that is optional is whether you want to gain eternal life - or not.
Pin it down
Let's narrow the discussion. First, the vast majority of sites found in the search above agree that obedience is necessary for salvation. This is not saying that you can save yourself by obeying the law. Don't let anyone side-track the discussion by pulling that nonsense. Nothing you can do on your own will gain for you the goal of every Christian.
Here is where most people just sit back and claim it is not necessary to keep any of God's laws in order to gain salvation because there is nothing you can do to earn it. Stripping this response down to the bare statement, it means "We don't have to follow God's law because it won't do us any good, anyway!".
Do you have faith, or are you pretending?
This is a blatant, outright, in God's face lie. The same people who say this will agree that murderers and thieves are bad people. They will agree that adultery is bad. Remember, 8 of the Ten Commandments say "Thou shalt not...", so obedience is easier for these than those two that say "Thou shalt...". If that's the case, why are they so dead set against following the laws of God?
The only apparent reason is that they cannot see that obedience demonstrates that you have faith in God's plan to bring mankind back to Him. What else could be the definition of faith? If you do not have faith in God's plan, which is also Jesus' plan, then you do not have faith in God or His Son. If you did, you would follow Their plan, not make up your own and try to sell it to everyone else.
Obedient to what?
Another important point in this discussion is the identification of just what we mean by being obedient. Obey what? Well, the very bottom line is that there are two ways of obedience. Do what we are told to do and do not do what we are told not to do. Both entail following the instructions given. Where are we given any list of what God expects someone to obey?
"But that's for the Israelites..."
Careful here, you might commit to something without thinking. The chapters of Exodus and Leviticus are full of very narrow specifications for how to live our lives in the will of God. Wow, can you hear that? Listen to all those shouts of indignant Gentiles who refuse to submit to be one of God's people by their obedience. You can just hear them, "The law is for the Jews, not for us!"
What is meant by that? Glad you asked. Most Christians today agree that God's law is important in today's world. Just ask them. Murderers and thieves should be punished. Adulterers are bad (at least, when they don't know them personally). Idols are bad (at least, when they are carved out of metal or wood and decorated with gold). Then ask them why they don't keep the law themselves.
"Sure, the law is good for us, but we don't have to follow it. Jesus does that for us."
They answer that they don't have to obey anything. That's what the police are for. Someone else does that for them. They don't have to keep the Sabbath, Jesus does that for them. Those laws about coveting apply to someone else - yeah, that's right - the Israelites. God only wants them to be holy, not us Gentiles. He doesn't care what we do, as long as we love Him and our neighbor. Someone else stays holy for us...so, uh, well, we don't have to.
They say they don't have idols, someone else...no, wait. That car they paid an arm and a leg for and wash every other day can't be an idol. That home they keep up for the neighbors can't be an idol. The football team they support with purchases, decals, and attention all season, especially on their "holy day" can't possibly be idols. That day they go to church can't be from paganism because they...no, wait. That can't be, because they say they have Jesus in their heart. What has all this to do with obedience, anyway?
Where did it start, anyway?
Where in the Bible does God tell people about His laws and what He expects of them? No, even before that. Right! Genesis, chapter 2. The first recorded statement of God that could be considered a command that requires obedience was in verses 16 and 17:
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;
17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die."
Only for the "Garden-of-Eden"-ites?
Now, without being a Bible scholar (unless you are one), can you tell our audience whether or not Adam, the only human being on earth at the time of this command, was an Israelite? Yes, it's a trick question - there is no such place as Israel yet. Right! He's an Edenite.
Now, there is a contingent of people (believers in Replacement Theology) out there who, according to the standard line, say that since they are not "Edenites", they could eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil without sin if they stumbled across it today. Seriously, that's the line today - "Since God gave the command to someone else (the Israelites), I don't have to obey."
Then why was Eve punished?
Well, the trouble with this line of reasoning is revealed in what happened to Adam next. At the time of this command, the command was for every person on the earth - Adam. But, what did Adam have to do when Eve came along? He had to tell her what God said. Now, did Eve say, "Well, He didn't tell me that, He just gave it to you, Adam, so I don't have to pay attention."
Let's say she took this stand and, for the sake of argument, just pretend that she thought that she was right, just like those Christians today think about themselves and obedience to God's laws. When she broke the rule, did God ignore her punishment because she claimed that it was just for Adam? Well, she was cursed and kicked out of the Garden. Eve wasn't even yet created when God gave the command to Adam, but the consequences of the command applied to her, anyway. Sounds like we have a flaw in logic here, somewhere.
"Yeah, but that was different."
Let's take that thought one step further. Is there any indication that any law existed (other than the one about the tree), before the ten commandments at Sinai, or even better, before the flood? What happened when Cain killed his brother? If there were no rules, why was he punished? How about after the flood, before Sinai? What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah? Why? So many say that there was no formal law to guide people before Sinai that there must be some evidence of that. Let me know when you find...er...the lack of law. (How do you find a lack of something?)
There is a very simple, but very accurate, summary of the "pre-law law" at a site called True Discoveries. They give a great picture of how the laws of God existed before the Israelites were a nation. These laws were given to people that would pay attention to what God said for them to do. Those that followed the laws were considered to be in His will. They became His people. Those that did not were treated exactly as people who did not follow His laws.
We are imitating Sodom and Gomorrah by not obeying
While we are on the subject of pre-Sinai law, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were not Israelites (Jacob wasn't even around yet), but they were treated as those who were disobedient to the will of God (the law). They didn't even give the excuse that "God hadn't told them anything." There are those today who will step up and say something like, "Yeah, but I have the blood of Jesus and I am saved from eternal destruction. I do not have to follow the law because I am not under the law." or, "Sure, I'm gay, but I have been saved by the blood of the lamb, so I have eternal life."
"Where's my 10-foot pole?"
Most Christians for some reason will not argue with statements like these because they either agree with them, or don't want to be called "legalists". Neither of these statements should be taken as true in the sense of salvation. Basically, the wages of sin is death. Disobedience to God is sin. No matter which one of these statements you take first, the result of both is death. In the same way that Adam and Eve did not die on the day they sinned, today's disobedience will result in death in the form of the loss of eternal life and gaining eternal punishment.
A "legalist" is one who keeps the law in order to gain eternal life. That is not only ridiculous, but it is not even true for either Jews or Christians who believe that obedience is necessary, along with faith, for salvation. Some say that the Jews (called legalists by Christians) feel that if they keep all the laws, God will owe them eternal life, so they don't have to believe in our Jesus.
These Jews do believe in the Messiah, and that they can wait for their promised Messiah. The thing that people forget about non-Messianic Jews is that they do believe in a Messiah - they just do not believe that He came in the form of Jesus. They feel He is yet to come. They still have faith in Him and the Father. God will have to figure that one out.
Back where we started
Now we are back to the argument - "Is obedience necessary for Salvation?" That is like asking, "Is water necessary for life?" or, "Is food necessary for life?" Obviously, both are necessary. Having only one or the other, or even neither, will keep you going only for a short time. But, if either is missing for very long, you will not make it to wherever you are trying to go.
Obedience and faith are exactly the same. If either of them is missing for very long, you will not make it to your desired destination. The reason for this is very clear. Your obedience is evidence of your faith. Without it your faith is dead. Remember James 2:17
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (NIV)
or, better yet
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (NAS)
You cannot save yourself, but if you do not reach up for help, you cannot be saved because of yourself.
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