IS IT NECESSARY?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Is it necessary to keep the commandments of God? If that question were to be asked of one thousand sound gospel preachers, probably at least 999 of them would answer with a resounding “Yes!” Probably at least 5% would respond with some scathing remarks about the soundness of anyone who would even raise the question, and most of the remainder would at least quote such passages as Romans 6:17-18, Hebrews 5:9 and various other such passages that teach that salvation is dependent upon obedience to the Lord. They would wonder how anyone who claims to be a student of the Word could even raise such a question.
Probably less than one percent would pause before they tried to answer the question, and ask, “Is it necessary in order to accomplish what?” The situation is very similar to that encountered in almost every circumstance known to us in which brethren fuss and fight over some issue, real or imagined. If a lecture program is planned, there may be a subject assigned, “The All Sufficiency of the Bible.” Those who speak on the subject sometimes proclaim at length and with vigor that the Bible is all-sufficient, but do not always make clear for what it is sufficient. Is it sufficient to provide a man with the knowledge of when he should plant peas or peanuts? Is it sufficient to provide wisdom in how to best apply what knowledge he has? Does his knowledge of the Bible automatically give him all the wisdom he needs, or does he need to pray for wisdom (James 1:5)? Is there any difference in wisdom and knowledge?
In another article I may discuss those questions, but now I want to deal with some problems that are created by those who seem to think they have all the answers before they even know what the questions are. Let us do it by examining in more detail the question, “Is it necessary for us to keep the commandments of God?” Some would assume that the context made it clear that the question means, “Is it necessary for us to keep the commandments of God in order to be saved?” To many, that should end the discussion, for surely everyone knows one cannot be saved in disobedience to God. Many seem unable to distinguish between the idea that one can be saved in disobedience to God and that one can be saved in spite of the fact that he has disobeyed God. It should be evident to the more thoughtful person that to arrive at the proper answer to the question, one needs to go into more detail. One might do that with another question, “Which commandments?” There are those who would then accuse one of trying to confuse the issue, or that the questioner thought that some of the commandments of God were important and some were unimportant.
If a person were to say that some commands of God are more important than others, some would immediately brand such a one as liberal and unsound. They seem unaware of Jesus’ statement in Matthew22:38, “And he said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment.” The fact that Jesus said that there are “weightier matters of the law” (Mt.23:23) does in no sense imply that some of the commands of God are not important. All truths are important, and all commands of God are important, but not all truths and commands are equally important.
The thrust of this article is to emphasize that not only are they not equally important, they are not equally necessary to achieve a particular purpose. If a person says that it is not necessary to keep all the commandments of God in order to be saved, some would recoil in holy horror, as if that meant a denial of God’s word, or that he was trying to teach that the grace of God will save a person regardless of what he does or does not do. Surely any thoughtful person can see that if one says it is necessary to keep all the commandments of God in order to be saved, then no one can be saved, for “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That is, no one has kept all the commandments.
The fact that we are saved by grace through faith has been perverted by many false teachers, both in the church and out. It has been perverted to teach that since we are saved by grace, our actions, regardless of what they are, have no part in our salvation, but it is by grace alone. This is false doctrine, for it has been true since the beginning that whatever man gets through grace, he must accept that grace on the terms offered. Noah was saved by grace, as well as by faith, and the walls ofJerichofell down by grace through faith. Neither they nor any other ever received the benefits of God’s grace without accepting them on the terms by which that grace was offered.
However, it is also false doctrine to teach that although our salvation from past sins is by grace through faith, our eternal salvation is not, but depends on our keeping the commandments of God. If you assert that it does, then answer the question, “Do you have to keep all the commandments of God to be saved eternally?” If you break one of the least of them, there is no way for you to be saved if your salvation depends on your having kept all of them. How can any student of the Bible miss the truth that although we sin when we break any commandment of God, no matter how little or insignificant it may seem, we will not necessarily be lost eternally as a result of that sin if we accept forgiveness by the grace of God as we repent and turn away from that sin.
If a person takes the position that a person’s eternal salvation depends upon his good works instead upon the grace of God, then he must be able to tell how many good works and what kind a person must do. If a person’s salvation is secured by church attendance and prayer, then how many services does he have to attend, and how many prayers does he have to offer?
I can almost hear a person respond, “Are you trying to say that church attendance and prayer are not important?” If I had been trying to say that, I believe I am sufficiently conversant with the English language that I could have managed it. What I am saying is that as important as church attendance, prayer and good works are to accomplish the things God wants accomplished, they are not the things that secure our eternal salvation. One can be at the assembly every time the doors are opened, participate in all the prayers with vigor and gusto, do all the good works of which his little mind can conceive and still be lost. On the other hand, as shocking as it might be to some, when a person has been saved from his past sins by accepting the grace of God on the terms offered, he can fail to do many things God wants his children to do, and still be saved. If you deny that, then answer the question, “Do you know anyone who has not failed to do many things God wants His children to do?” This is not to imply that one may continue in sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1). It affirms that our eternal salvation is on the basis of God’s grace just as certainly as our initial salvation from past sins. There is no more merit in church attendance, prayer, Bible study and good works that will gain salvation for us eternally than there was merit in those or any other actions to gain salvation from past sins. If your baptism was done in the assumption that it was a good work by which you could earn salvation, then you do not understand salvation by grace. If your church attendance, visitation, personal evangelism, ministering to the sick and needy are done in the assumption that by these good things you can secure or earn your salvation, you still do not understand salvation by grace.
A few years ago, we thought that any sound gospel preacher would know and teach that regardless of how much good we might do, our salvation, both present and future, depended on the grace of God. We thought the term “legalist” was primarily a term used in derision by those in denominations who teach that one is saved by grace only, and those of us who teach that one must obey certain stipulations or laws to accept that grace are “legalists.” I now discover, to my surprise, that there are actually legalists among us who teach that our eternal salvation is dependent upon how many good things we do. The idea that we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians2:10) and do these things because we have been saved by His grace, rather than do them in order to earn our eternal salvation is called “liberalism” and false doctrine. We have been accustomed to hearing those who are called “antis” by many of us, call us “liberals.” But we confess that it comes as a sort of a shock to hear some of those we have considered the most conservative of brethren now being labeled as “liberal” by those who have attained such a peak of righteousness that they affirm that they are saved eternally by the good works they have done.