There is a lot being spoken and written relative to the above, so I may as well join in the discussion. The confusion is abundant, contradictions are plentiful, uncertainty abounds, error often holds sway, and simple, basic truth seems lost. While I may not settle anything or even clarify the matter, I doubt that I can make matters any worse; so here goes.
In I John 5:2-3 we read:
"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome"
This is part of John's letter to Christians; hence, what is said here applies to Christians. The apostle equates loving God with keeping His commandments. That seems very clear. If we do not keep His commandments we do NOT love Him even though we may proclaim that we de. Keeping His commandments is a way of life for His disciples, an everyday affair, NOT just a Sunday 1-3 hour activity. Keeping His commandments is apparently the same thing as walking "in the light" (1:7) that ensures our continual fellowship "with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1:3). Is it difficult to understand and accept what has been stated above? Is that a statement of God's LAW for His children?
There must be, therefore, some "commandments" that WE, as His children, MUST KEEP in order to have that continual fellowship. It sounds very much like keeping His commandments is an absolute requirement of the Father; it is His "law" of obedience for us. QUESTION: Is that what a lot of brethren are calling "legalism" and are condemning as error? If I teach that a child of God must obey God's commandments (laws), am I a "legalist?" Did not John plainly teach that the ultimate salvation of the Christian is dependent upon his works? His obedience? Is eternal salvation, that is, an "entrance into the eternal kingdom" (2 Pet. 1:11), conditioned upon PRACTICING "these things" that Peter enumerated? Indeed so for he plainly says:
"for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (fall); FOR IN THIS WAY THE ENTRANCE INTO THE ETERNAL KINGDOM...will be abundantly supplied to you" (2 Pet. 1:10-11).
Is eternal salvation to the Christian conditional? Does it not depend upon "works" or the keeping of the commands of God? There is no question about it. The Christian must continually be engaged in "obeying the truth" (Gal. 5:7). The obedience (or "law keeping") is best described as "FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE" (Gal. 5:6). Faith working does NOT mean that salvation is earned or merited by the Christian; but saving faith does not exit in the absence of obedience/works. James said, "faith, if it has no works is dead..:" (James 2:17). Obedience, or works, is the very proof or essence of faith (2:18). Is it "legalism" to proclaim "that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" (2:24)?
Salvation in Jesus is PROVIDED by God's grace alone, but it is NOT received, nor retained, by God's grace alone! The redeemed retain or keep their salvation by their faithfulness in obedience to God's will or "law" for them (Rev. 2:10). Certainly the saints are under law or else they cannot sin, because sin is a transgression of law (1 John 3:4). How can he transgress a "law" to which he is not subject? IF the saint (or sinner) is not under law of any kind, how could he sin? God has not left His children without rules, regulations or laws to guide them.
Is this "legalism?" Is this earning, meriting or deserving salvation? Certainly not. Jesus made that clear when He told His disciples that after they had done all that it is your DUTY TO DO, you are still unprofitable servants; that is, you have not earned it, it is not owed to you as a matter of debt (Luke 17:10). It is our obligation to do all that it is our duty to do if we expect to have eternal salvation. Is this "salvation by works?" YES! But NOT "works" which earn or merit salvation for us. The "works of God" which includes faith itself, means the works or obedience God requires of us as His children.
Surely we can understand how all of this harmonizes with "salvation by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8). Salvation is not provided or earned by works; but it is appropriated and retained by works or obedience. If the required obedience of the Christian is not "legalism" or a salvation by works of merit (earned), why can't we understand that the salvation of the alien (sinner) is not "legalism" or a "works salvation" when it is clear that the sinner MUST believe and obey the gospel in order to be saved?
God has always required faith and obedience to His will (laws) for anyone to be saved. The obedience required today may differ from that in ages past; but it has always been faith plus obedience. It is NOT man earning or meriting his salvation; it is simply God conditioning His grace and mercy, that provides salvation to both saint and sinner, upon "faith working by love."
In Matt. 7:21 we read:
"Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven"
That seems simple and clear to me. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven is conditioned upon DOING THE WILL (law) of the Father. It follows that the teaching of the universal salvation of all men is absolutely false. It also means that ONLY those who do the will of the Father will be saved.
I take it that to enter the kingdom (come under or into the reign or rule of Christ Jesus) of heaven is equivalent to being saved or redeemed from sin. Not only is the teaching of universal salvation a big lie, but Jesus narrows entrance into the kingdom to ONLY those who DO THE WILL OF THE FATHER. Therefore, the Father must have a "will" (laws) which must be done. One cannot do what one does not know. Hence, without the knowledge of the will of God relative to being saved or entering the kingdom, no one can be saved or enter the kingdom. That is why the preaching of the "entrance requirements" (works or obedience) is so vital; and we MUST get them right.
The gospel (Good News) is the "power of God" for the salvation of the lost. Fix this well into your mind: people are NOT lost because they have not heard the good news about Christ Jesus; they are lost because they are sinners! "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). However, it is equally certain that no one can be saved who has not heard the good news of salvation through Christ, believed that message and properly responded in repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the "author (provider) of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him" whether sinner or saint!
God cannot save an unbelieving Gentile nor an unbelieving Jew. Sin condemns the sinner, NOT God. Because sin is a transgression of the law, it is the law that condemns the sinner; and God must respect the law and render justice. The condemned sinner must pay the penalty of eternal death. God had to be just with respect to the demands of law, yet He wanted to save the sinner from such punishment. Hence, He provided a way to satisfy the demand for punishment required by law and yet save the sinner. God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son to come in human form and die in our place. He took our sins and guilt upon Himself and went to the cross for you and me; Yea! for the whole world. He took the punishment that should fall upon each of us. Praise God for His great love, mercy, and grace. Jesus died and paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, HE washed me white as snow. PRAISE GOD!
The way some preachers, and others, talk and write today, one would think that they "have discovered grace." I have listened as younger people talked about the older, former generations of preachers as having no understanding of God's grace; and they are glad that there aren't any more around like them! They are happy that what they refer to as the "oldtime debating preachers" are gone. Their discovery of "grace" is largely the rebirth in new clothes of what those great men of former generation fought to a standstill. Those old men knew more about God's BOOK and God's grace than this younger generation will ever know with the teaching and preaching now being done on these vital matters. Those were the men who "delivered" truth to us in relatively clear and simple terms. They were the ones who fought the battles with the evils of denominational error on all these subjects; and made truth shine as the light. They made the disciples of Jesus strong in the faith and in knowledge of His word. Debates with all kinds of error gave Christians faith and courage. The cause of the Lord was strong and was respected. They were known as Bible-believing, Bible-preaching men. Even most of the saints were known for their Bible knowledge. It was upon this kind of preaching/teaching and debating that the ekklesia (God's people) became the fastest growing religious group in America.
I am sorry, but that is not the case with the majority in this day. More and more the younger generation is buying into the errors of denominational dogmas. More and more the modern Church of Christ local church institution becomes like the other sects around them and the people do not know the difference. As I heard a preacher eloquently say years ago at Freed-Hardeman College, when that school was under far safer direction, "Oh, David Lipscomb, Nashville needs you now" as he warned of the coming of these very days in which we live. Digression and departure from God and His will are closing in upon many Church of Christ churches all over the land.
Our people do NOT want to be known as part of that narrow-minded "sect everywhere spoken against" (Acts 28:22). We have ceased to fight for the faith. We want to be accepted and liked by our religious neighbors, as one of them. Hence, the Church of Christ church is becoming more and more like the denominations around them. In reality, it is one of them!
"Works" is not a dirty word; nor is the idea of "salvation by works" a false doctrine. After all, Paul says that we are to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). "Law" is not a dirty word, nor is the correct teaching that we are saved by obedience to God's law for His children. The wonderful "grace" of Jesus is indeed amazing, but we are NOT saved by grace alone. Let us never lose sight of the basic truth that Jesus Christ is "the author (provider) of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him" (Heb. 5:9). That is the truth now and it will be the truth when we stand in final judgment. Do NOT make the grace of God of none effect by the teaching of these old denominational errors and perversions that have been around since the Garden of Eden in one form or another.
Be not deceived, God's "law" and God's grace are NOT in opposition to one another. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!" "Yes, says the spirit, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds (works) follow with them" (Rev. 14:13). Oh! dear brother and sister "keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3) because "the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in Him" (2:24). More later. - CAH