Often there is a great contrast placed between salvation by faith and salvation by works. It is a contrast that is misplaced, for no such contrast exist in the word of God. The word of God teaches that salvation is by faith and by obedience to His word (Rom. 5:1; James 2:21-24).
It would seem that one cause of this misplaced contrast is a bit of a misunderstanding of the promises of God. Let us be perfectly clear, there can be no doubt whatsoever that God will keep His promises, for “God cannot lie” (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). God has promised forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven (Heb. 8:12; Matt. 25:34, 46). However, too often people fail to realize that most of the time there are conditions that must be met in order to receive one of the promises of God.
There are unconditional promises, for instance the second coming of Christ (John 14:3; Acts 1:11), but most are conditional promises. The second coming of Christ is unconditional, Christ will come again no matter what you or I, or anyone else on this earth does and does not do. On the other hand, inheriting “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34) is conditional. Proof of this is seen in the other of the two verses from Matthew twenty-five that we noted. Verse 46 says, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46). A condition is set by God. One must be righteous in order to inherit the eternal life in heaven!.
One brief point here. In order to be righteous, one must do something. Righteousness is something that one does. The apostle of love wrote, “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him” (I John 2:29) and “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (I John 3:7). Thus, it is impossible for salvation to be by faith “only” without obedience to the will of God.
A prime teaching tool for that which we are considering in this article is the tool used by God to teach man that it took complete faith in God, which would reveal itself by obedience to His will, in order to receive the ultimate promised blessings of God. The events of the physical nation of Israel under the law of Moses was for the purpose of teaching us this truth in the realm of the spiritual nation of Israel, the Lord’s church under the gospel of Christ.
Paul wrote, “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterward be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heir according to the promise” (Gal. 3:23-29). Let us consider briefly this lesson presented by way of the old nation of Israel.
Without going into the details with accompanying scriptures, we will just note a brief summary of a few points of relevance. When God brought the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and gave them the old law, He promised them the land of Canaan, thus it is called the promised land. However, a condition placed on that promise was the continued obedience to the will of God. Before they even left Mount Sinai, they rebelled against obedience to His will in the matter of ten of the twelve spies.
A teaching tool would not be the perfect one unless it illustrated both sides of the situation and this tool presented the failure of reception of the promise because of disobedience. However, under the leadership of Joshua, the next generation of the nation of Israel did indeed take possession of the land and dwelt therein, following the commandments of God (Josh. 21:43-45).
However, another part or condition of that promise was continued obedience. Once receiving the promised land, they could and would still lose it if they failed to continue to be obedient to God. They did fail and as a result first the northern part of Israel was taken by the Assyrians and then some one hundred and thirty-five years later, the southern part fell to Babylon. It took all this for the physical nations of Israel to ever learn the lesson and prepare the way for spiritual Israel to arrive, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4).
According to the gospel of Christ, God has promised us that we can inherit an eternal home in heaven, but not without meeting the conditions. Obedience to the gospel is required (II Thess. 1:7-9; Heb. 5:8-9). We might continue learning from physical Israel in realizing that the conditions include continued adherence to the word of God as we continue as His children (Col. 1:22-23; I John 2:28). Just ever remember “the conditions will have to be met?” (Send any questions or comments to: email@example.com)
Robert Oliver is a long time columnist for The Sampson Independent.