No! You Can't Earn Your Salvation!
Good News Magazine
June 1976
Volume: Vol XXV, No. 6
QR Code
No! You Can't Earn Your Salvation!
Brian Knowles  

Does salvation come by works of law? If so, no one will ever be saved!

   One of the greatest continuing debates in the ecclesiastical world has been the question of "law versus grace." Are Christians saved by the keeping of various laws — or are they saved by grace apart from any law-keeping?
   Let's put it another way — must Christians deliberately break biblical laws in order to demonstrate that they are not "under law"? For example, should the Church of God trample on the Sabbath day in order to show that it is not under the Old Covenant?
Not Without Law. The apostle Paul made a very significant statement to the Corinthians: "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law — though not being myself under the law — that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ..." (I Cor. 9:20-21).
   The statement about not being "under the law" can be taken one of two ways: Paul was not under the Mosaic law code, or Paul was not under the penalty of the law of God. But whichever way you understand it, one thing remains clear: Paul was "not without law toward God"! Paul was not antinomian — against law. He had a strong sense of what was lawful and what was not. In Paul's mind there was legal activity before God and there was also illegal conduct.
   And what did Paul say his sense of legality was based upon? The "law of Christ." Exactly what is meant by the law of Christ? Did Jesus come to undermine the Mosaic law and replace it with some better legal system? Not at all. Christ said: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law..." (Matt. 5:17, KJV).
   Therefore, nothing Christ said or did destroyed the law as it was
Christians are told that they must not sin. They must not, therefore, break divine law. Paul said: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies..." (Rom. 6:12).
given to Israel under Moses. What, then, did Jesus come to do in relation to the Mosaic law? Matthew 5:17 continues: "... I came not to destroy but to fulfill." Jesus came to magnify (Isa. 42:21) and to fulfill the law — not to destroy it. But just how did Jesus fulfill the law?
A New Commandment. Jesus said to His disciples: "A new commandment' I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
   Was this "new" commandment merely an incidental platitude? Or was it an all-encompassing principle which defines how the law was to be fulfilled?
   Christ elaborated on the meaning of the great law of love in responding to a subtle question by a lawyer: "'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?' And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets'" (Matt. 22:36-40).
   How was the second commandment like the first? What was the common denominator? Love! Love in two directions: love toward God and love toward neighbor.
   Jesus taught that those who were able to perfectly love everyone — including God — would be able to fulfill the whole intent of the entire Old Testament!
   Paul agreed with this when he told the Romans that "love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). Those who are capable of loving perfectly and consistently will have no need of some formal written law code defining legal human relationships because, as the first part of this verse says, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor...."
   Paul taught that Christians should "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, 'You shall love your neighbor as, yourself'" (verses 8-9).
   Those with whom "the love of God is shed abroad" in their hearts (Rom. 5:5) are not going to commit adultery with someone else's wife.
   They will not steal or murder. They will do nothing to hurt another human being. They will go far beyond the mere letter of the law in avoiding offense. They will fulfill the thrust, meaning and intent of the great moral law of God — the Decalogue — by walking in love toward all men.
   Is this not how Jesus Himself fulfilled the law? Did He not love perfectly? Did He not lay down His life for His friends — for all of mankind? Is there any greater love than that? No. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
   Jesus never once sinned! He was absolutely perfect in His moral conduct for 33 1/2 years of human life.
Meaning of Sin. Sin is defined as "the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4, KJV). Or, as it can be rendered: "Sin is lawlessness." If there is no law for Christians, then how can there be sin? Sin does not exist without a law to define it as such (Rom. 5:13; 7:7-8). Paul said that "By the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). The law identifies sin for what it is. For example, the tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not covet," defines the meaning of "lust." Lust is an inordinate or illegal desire for something or someone to which or to whom you are not entitled (Ex. 20:17; Rom. 7:7).
   Christians are told that they must not sin. They must not, therefore, break divine law. Paul said: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies..." (Rom. 6:12).
   The apostle John said: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not..." (I John 2:1, KJV).
   But some professing Christians will claim that Jesus and Paul did away with the need to keep the law — i.e., the Ten Commandments.
The road to salvation is a straight and narrow one. It goes directly through Jesus Christ — no one else (Acts 4:10-12). He is the one and only way. He is the door to eternity.
   They claim that since we are under "grace," there is no need to consider oneself obligated to keep the moral law. They will quote Paul's statement that "Christ is the end of the law" (Rom. 10:4). But the English word "end" may be defined as "the result of an activity; the goal, ultimate intention or purpose for the attainment of which an agent does something; a final cause" — not just the cessation of an object or event (Webster's Unabridged Dictionary). The Greek word translated "end" is telos. It can mean the "end or goal toward which a movement is being directed, outcome" (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 819). In this sense, Christ could be considered the outcome of the law rather than the termination of it. Paul spoke of Christ being "formed in you" (Gal. 4:19). Those who keep the law form Christ like character. Those who are led by the Holy Spirit take on the divine nature (II Peter 1:4).
   John wrote decades after the death of Paul that "He who says 'I know him' but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (I John 2:4-6).
   Christians are to be imitators of Christ (I Cor. 11:1). They are to mimic His attitudes and His lifestyle. And Jesus never sinned. He kept the law perfectly — including the commandment regarding the Sabbath day.
   Of course, we know that we are not truly capable of imitating Christ perfectly. We know that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Anyone who claims never to have sinned is a liar by God's definition (I John 1:8, 10).
Justification. And since we have all sinned — and do sin — we know that salvation cannot possibly come as a result of law-keeping! It must come by some other method. Paul explains: "Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift.... he justifies him who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-26).
   Grace may be defined simply as free, unmerited, undeserved pardon for past sins. Christians are made righteous — justified — by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and by faith in that sacrifice.
   If justification came through works of law — any law — then we all stand condemned. The law condemns us to death because the wages of sin is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Since no one but Christ Himself ever kept the law perfectly, none can be saved by law-keeping. All it takes is one slip to qualify a person for the label "sinner."
   Therefore, Christians are the recipients of the gift of God — justification through faith and grace. We are all under grace. We are all pardoned as a result of the goodness and mercy of God and the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.
License to Sin? But does this condition of being "under grace" give us license to throwaway the law? Are we now entitled to break the law with impunity simply because we are the recipients of God's grace? Does this condition allow us to practice our own arbitrary brand of "situation ethics" in which we become the creators of our own fluctuating moral standards? Paul's answer is clear: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means I How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Rom. 6:1-2.)
   Christians are not now licensed to trample on any of the Ten Commandments simply because they are the recipients of God's grace. Paul made that point abundantly clear. He said again for emphasis: "What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" (Verse 15.) Rather, we are to be "obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching" (verse 17).
The Purpose of Law. Christians must have standards! They are very much under law to God. There is legal and illegal activity. There is a need for obedience. The Decalogue is a starting place for defining sin. It is a standard which Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, magnified and expanded. He expounded a number of laws contained in the Decalogue in their full, spiritual intent. He taught ramifications that went far beyond the mere letter!
   But no Christian can ever be saved by his "works of the law"! Why so? Because no Christian can ever keep that law perfectly — even with the Holy Spirit — because "the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41). Even the mighty apostle Paul was guilty of sin at the very height of his ministry. He spoke of the "sin which dwells in my members" (Rom. 7:23). He considered himself a "wretched man." He knew that his physical, fleshly body was merely a vehicle of death because of its sinfulness. He agonized about his own moral failures by saying: "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Verse 24.)
   How could he be saved from the penalty of his own sins? What could be done? Who would save him? "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Verse 25.)
   The road to salvation is a straight and narrow one. It goes directly through Jesus Christ — no one else (Acts 4:10-12). He is the one and only way. He is the door to eternity for every Christian. He said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).
   The way to salvation is not through law. The law condemns us all to eternal death. The way into the Kingdom is through Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He alone is the Savior.
   But Christians today, like Paul before them, are still under law to God! We are not excused from obedience because we are under grace. We must, with divine help, still keep the laws of God to the best of our ability — always striving for perfection (Matt. 5:48). The law governs human interrelationships. Obedience to law' ensures an orderly, peaceful community. The -law protects. The keeping of law produces character! It develops the necessary habit of obedience. But it cannot save you — only Christ can do that.
   God's way is not "law versus grace" — it is grace with law!
   Did you know that many, if not most, of the popularly accepted beliefs about Jesus Christ are mistaken? Consider these little-known facts: Jesus was a hardy, masculine individual who worked for years as a carpenter before beginning His ministry. He did not break the civil laws of His day and didn't urge others to do so. He had brothers and sisters, owned a home and paid taxes. Jesus clearly taught that He came to uphold and magnify the law of God, not to do away with it. And, as surprising as it seems, Jesus did not teach that heaven is the reward of a Christian. If you want proof, or would like to know more about the real Jesus of Nazareth, read our free booklet, The Real Jesus.

Back To Top

Good News MagazineJune 1976Vol XXV, No. 6