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Crumbling Authority

Scripture: Romans 3:20, Galatians 5:4, Hebrews 10:26-27
How should we relate to God's law? Has it been set aside? Do we have a responsibility to be obedient to the commandments? We are not saved by our works, but neither can we be saved without a faith that results in obedience. Faith leads us to obedience. We cannot earn forgiveness. But obedience testifies to our faith in Christ.
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Late in the 1960s, one of the leading figures in the Civil Rights movement issued this controversial statement: "One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." But how controversial did this turn out to be? The man who made it was praised by the church leaders of the land and hailed in the American press. Shortly afterward, the highest legal advocate in the United States judiciary gave public expression to a similar statement. Friends, what do we expect to produce by this kind of senseless anarchy? Since when can we elect only to obey the laws we like? Do we take the same attitude toward God's laws? Unfortunately, many do.

Fifty years or more ago it was the common belief that one must obey God to be saved. But it is not at all unusual today for religious people to deny that obedience is an actual condition of salvation. Which of these doctrines is true?

Only a legalist would say that by our own deeds we can gain the favor of God for the forgiveness of sin. That plan would make man his own saviour. On the other hand, if we say that we are free to disregard the commandments of God, we shall be no better for having become Christians than we were before. Sinners will not find anything to recommend that way of life as better than their own. Nor has Jesus given any such example of disobedience. Then what shall we do? Our good behavior cannot save us, and we don't want to live in willful transgression.

Salvation begins where we are, in sin. From that point, it would be folly to offer our own deeds as an atonement for our past lives. We are often tempted to improve our standing with God by "doing better next time." But we cannot offset the guilt of yesterday by doing an equal amount of good today. That would be self-justification. It is human rather than divine, and it rejects the blood of Christ as the only means of grace. Paul indicts that course as a denial of the gospel. "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." Galatians 5:4.

Obedience from such a motive is a wrong approach to God. He cannot accept it. And those who see this are quick to quote the words of the apostle, "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Romans 3:20. Paul believed that a good law does not acquit a bad man. It is not intended to.

Does Paul mean by this statement that since we cannot earn forgiveness by the good we do, we are free to do as we please? While no soul is saved by obedience, neither can he be saved without it. Obedience testifies to the quality of saving faith. While we are not saved by virtue of our keeping of the commandments, we can certainly be lost forever by willfully breaking them. "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation." Hebrews 10:26, 27.

In the beginning, Lucifer charged God with being unfair and arbitrary in requiring obedience to His commands. Lucifer said, in effect, that creatures cannot be happy when they are restricted by arbitrary laws. "We are all intelligent creatures," he reasoned, "and our ways are as good as yours. You are arbitrary, and no one can keep your laws." He has made the same charge ever since, and he seems to be doing it effectively from some pulpits today. Despite what men say, the Bible says, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." 1 John 5:3.

The keeping of the commandments of God will be the issue in the final struggle. The last battle will rage over a people "who keep the commandments of God." Revelation 12:17. Whatever others may say, and however Satan may blind the eyes of men and women about keeping God's commandments, and however much his agents (some claiming to teach in the name of Jesus Christ) may be embittered at those who teach and keep the commandments of God, the Bible says of this people who do keep His commandments, "Here is the patience of the saints: (mark the term) here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." Revelation 14:12.

The saints are God's people. God says of them, "They are mine, and they keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." Friends, if I read my Bible right, I find that it will indeed take the "faith of Jesus" to keep the commandments in the final stages of the conflict. It does not require much stretch of the imagination to see that. Especially after one listens to bitter haranguing against the ten commandments and those who in simple faith endeavor to keep them.

My friend, will you deny that the commandments of God must be kept when God says, "Here are my saints who keep them?" Can you deny that commandment-keeping has a vital place in God's plan? In the last chapter of the Bible God leaves, as it were, a parting message. He declares, "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." Revelation 22:14. If God says keeping the commandments gives you a right to the tree of life and a right to enter the gates into the city, dare you deny this and thus charge God with folly?

If God made such a declaration, then as sure as you have a right to those blessings because you keep His commandments, it follows that you will have no right to heaven and the tree of life if you do not keep them.

Mark this well. In God's plan of salvation man is saved only by grace, and salvation is free for the asking. Nothing I can do will purchase salvation. It is the gift of God which I receive by faith. The Bible clearly teaches that. The devil, however, has confused the issue, and his teachers discount the free salvation of Christ until the mention of it becomes a worthless and hollow sound. When a man is saved by the free gift of Christ's grace, he is saved from sin. He is saved from the guilt of sin, he is saved from the power of sin, he is saved from the penalty of sin. But what is sin? The Bible declares it to be "the transgression of the law." 1 John 3:4. What law? The ten commandments, of course. Romans 3:20, Romans 7:7, and James 2:10-12 make it abundantly clear that sin is the transgression of the law which contains the precepts, "Thou shalt not covet," "Thou shalt not kill," and "Thou shalt not commit adultery." The law which contains these precepts is the law of ten commandments; therefore, to transgress the precepts of this law of ten commandments is sin.

The free salvation which we have in Jesus Christ is to be saved, first, from the guilt of past sins. Second, to be saved from the power of sin, so we will live no longer in transgression or disobedience. That is, the free salvation not only releases us from the guilt of sin, but also puts a power and a will in us to enable us to obey, or keep, His commandments. Third, His free salvation by grace cancels the penalty of my sin, for He paid this penalty on the cross. Don't for a moment believe that a free salvation does not require and enable obedience to God's commandments. God's free salvation by grace is given in a transaction which changes the human heart and mind to the extent that whereas man was not subject to the law of God, neither indeed could be before his conversion, afterwards his delight is in the law of God, for Christ writes the law in the heart of man at the time of conversion.

It is a fact that an attempt to keep the law as a means of salvation or as payment on the eternal inheritance is a failure, for then the whole scheme becomes one of works and not of grace, and man could then boast. Works of obedience, however good, can never have a part in saving a man. Right here is where the adversary strikes. "Since we are saved by grace," he says, "all you need to do is to believe. Only believe, and that is the end." No, my friends, a living belief and faith are active. God says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14:15.

Don't try to keep His commandments in order to obtain salvation. If you love God you will want to keep them, and will delight in pleasing Him by doing so. Obedience is the fruit, the development, of conversion. Whether or not you and I have experienced God's free salvation by the grace of God will be seen in our attitude toward the commandments of God, whether we keep them or not. God's free salvation is not marked in a loud and boisterous profession. Christ foresaw the scheming of the adversary and the fact that his servants would clothe themselves in the garments of righteousness. Therefore He said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." Matthew 5:17. Plain enough language, isn't it? But the next two verses cut as a two-edged sword. Listen to them: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." And in Luke 16:17, "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail." Inasmuch as heaven and earth have not passed away, we had better abide by the statement of Jesus, that the law of ten commandments has not passed away.

Friends, in the light of these texts of Scripture, take your own measurements in the sight of God. Your attitude and mine toward the law and the keeping of it (not as a means of salvation but as a results) will be the determining factor in God's measure of us. He who denies the power of the gospel to enable men to keep the commandments of God after being saved, denies the power and efficacy of Jesus Christ and denies the fundamentals of the gospel of Christ.

Hasn't Satan messed up and confused the thinking of men, though? This is his aim. He enlists all he can into his crusade against the law, men of the cloth as well as others. His servants often appear as the ministers of righteousness. The Good Book declares, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Isaiah 8:20. The final conflict is shaping up around the keeping of the commandments of God and around those who keep and teach them. Those who keep and teach God's commandments are on God's side in the age-old conflict, while those who knowingly break them and teach men not to keep them are emissaries from the kingdom of darkness and are on Satan's side, no matter what their religious profession may be.

Friend, on whose side do you stand? If you have not yet decided, make your decision today. Stand on God's side and victory over sin and its consequences will be yours.

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