CHRIST ENDING THE LAW or FULFILLING THE LAW? IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

“For truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18; NAS).

What did Jesus mean when he spoke these words? Is it that Christians are expected to keep all the rigid Old Testament laws or is it that He (Jesus) will accomplish the law so that we are no longer required to do so? This may be one of the most difficult problems to reconcile in Christian doctrine. It has grave implications for our soteriology and the practice of Christianity. On the one hand, Christ is supposedly reinforcing the Law and its functions while on the other hand, Paul is purporting that Christ has brought an end to the law (Romans 10:4), cancelling its requirements by death on the cross (Colossians 2:14).

Firstly, in one’s attempts to bring reconciliation to these seemingly contradictory passages, it must be taken for granted that all of scripture is God breathed and therefore inerrant; without error or contradictions and that God’s revelation (His Word) is consistent with whom He is. Consequently, there is no contradiction that appears between what Jesus explained about the fulfillment of the law and what Paul explains in more lucid terms. Jesus Christ has ended the requirements of the law which was meant to bring justification.

Understanding the Law

Additionally, to further engage the argument, it must be understood by all, what is meant by ‘The law’. According to Fee and Stuart (2003, 164), the term Law has multiple connotations when it is used in scripture. One such connotation is that law in the plural form may refer to those more than six hundred specific commandments that the Israelites were expected to follow as a sign of their loyalty to God. In the singular, however, the law can refer to the Pentateuch, i.e. from Genesis to Deuteronomy. It may even refer to, what some writers in the New Testament refer theologically to, the entire Old Testament religious system. Conner (1980, 193) in his book, The Foundations of Christian Doctrine: A Practical Guide to Christian Belief, speaks of a concept of divine law, which he says God gave as a standard of righteousness for all to follow. He goes on to say that without the law there would be no order and everything would be chaos.

However, one must understand that the law is a paradigm. It is hardly a complete list of all the things that one could or should do to please God. The law presents, rather, examples of what it means to be loyal to God by, as Conner puts it, following His standards. The law was mean to lead men to faith in God; it was a guide to salvation. Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia puts it this way, “Therefore, the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24; NAS). This is why nowhere in the Old Testament is it suggested that anyone was saved by keeping the Law. Rather, the Law was a special gift to Israel, to differentiate them from their pagan neighbours in moral and spiritual conduct but it could not justify them.  Again, Paul alludes to this in Galatians 2:16 “…a man is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no one will be justified. In other words, we have been vindicated of any charge of sin as it relates to our failure to keep the Law (Ryrie, 1995) because of what Christ has done. This is what is meant by Christ has put an end to the Law.

Christ has ended the Law

Wilkinson and Boa (1983, 395) in their commentary on the book of Galatians, describe the theme and purpose of the book as a corrective teaching on justification by faith apart from works of the Law to counteract the  teachings of Jewish legalists who were influencing the believers to trade their freedom in Christ for bondage of the Law. They went further to show how Paul’s discourse in chapters five and six were written to show that liberty from the law does not mean lawlessness as his opponents might have opined. The believer does not need the law to make him righteous he is declared righteous by his faith because Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law, thus, ending it.

Moreover, for us to fully understand what is meant by Christ bringing an end to the law, therefore, justifying us through faith (and not the Law), we will have to understand the concept of justification. The teaching of Romans 3:24 that justification is given or imputed to us, or as we may put it simply, “given a mek up” so that we can be considered righteous before God is a teaching that resonates throughout the teachings of Paul. Paul continually makes the point that this is not a position in Christ that is earned through legalism but one that is accessed by faith. And this faith itself is not of the conscience of man but find its origin in God (Romans 12:3b). Further to, the anonymous writer to the Hebrews, or Pricilla (some scholars have suggested) refusing to reveal her identity, says in 9:12-14 presents Jesus acting as the propitiation or sacrificial lamb, satisfying the penalty for sin, which makes it possible for us to receive righteousness without having to pay or work for it. The righteousness that is revealed is from God not our efforts because again we all stand guilty before God Romans 3:10-18, 23. Speaking of God’s sovereignty in salvation, Paul supports this notion again in Romans 9:16.

According to Wilkinson and Boa, from Romans 1:18-3:20, Paul builds a case for the condemnation of all people, by God. He shows that Jews and Gentiles seek to be in right standing (be justified) by using relative standards not realizing that God’s requirement is absolute perfection. Paul knows, posit Wilkinson and Boa, that the bad news (condemnation) must be understood before the good news (justification) can be appreciated. The passage on justification picks up on man’s need for God’s provision, since man is unable of attaining this perfection on his own. The first 11 verses (Romans 3:21-31) of the discourse reveal that in Christ, God is both Judge and Saviour. The Lord is not unjust when he declares that sinners are in right standing with him because He bases this pronouncement upon the death of Christ on their behalf.

Furthermore, Warren W Wiersbe (1989), in explaining justification as seen in the passage begins by alluding to God’s nature. He says that God is absolute in what He is in Himself and relative in how He relates to men. One of His absolute attributes is love and when he relates that love to us, it becomes mercy and grace. In His mercy God does not give us as we deserve and in His grace, He gives us what we do not deserve. It is, therefore, not difficult to understand God can make us right before Him even if we do not deserve that pronouncement. The Greek word translated freely, can also be translated without cause as seen in John 15:25. We are justified without cause. In other words, there is no cause in us that merit the salvation of God. Justification is being put in right relationship with God by God himself. It finds its origin with God is independent of any human effort. Justification guarantees us peace with God because God’s demand for justice was satisfied in Christ’s death.

In this regard, as we grapple with the notion that Christ is the end of the law, it may augur well for us to think of the liberty that He wrought for us through His death and not necessarily about thoughts of lawlessness. Because even with the law, as Paul asserts, sin increased; there was lawlessness (Romans 5:20). As we encounter Christ in Galatians, we need to understand that He ended the Law in that He freed the believer from bondage to the Law (legalism) and to sin (license) and has placed him or her in a position of liberty (Wilkinson and Boa, 1983; 396).

Conclusion

What, then, did Jesus mean by His statement in Matthew 5:18? According to Ryrie Study Bible (1995) Jesus might have been making reference to the fulfillment of everything in the Old Testament. In the preceding verse Jesus said that he came to fulfil the Law not institute lawlessness and so one gets the Understanding that Jesus was making reference to His purpose in coming and the accomplishment of the cross; pointing to what Paul says in Romans 10:4, that by His death on the Cross, Christ ended our adherence to the Law to be declared righteous. Our righteousness is now dependent on faith in Christ just as Abraham’s was before the Law.

Reference List

Conner, Kevin J. The Foundations of Christian Doctrine: A Practical Guide to Christian Belief; BT Publishing, Portland, Oregon, USA. 1980.

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart: How to Read the Bible for all its Worth. Zondervan Publishing Company; Grand Rapid, Michigan, USA. 2003.

Wiersbe, Warren: The Bible Exposition Commentary. Chariot Victor Publishing, Colorado Springs, Colorado; USA. 1989.

Wilkinson, Bruce and Kenneth Boa: Talk Through the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. 1983.

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Once Saved, Always Saved? Seriously?

The issue of “Eternal Security” is often a vexing one. Depending on your church traditions you might not even have heard of the concept. Most Christians in Jamaica may have the belief that they can forfeit the GIFT of salvation and so they must live a morally upright life at all times to guarantee the reception and preservation of this gift.

Can a person who has been saved ever be lost? Is it possible for one to ever fall away from grace? Is the statement “Once saved, always saved,” true? Do I have to worry about whether I go to hell or heaven as a Believer? These are questions that often bombard the mind of many Christians. For many, there is the fear of losing their salvation at a moment of vulnerability, for others there is the arduous task of trying desperately to secure their places in heaven by ensuring that they have done everything to the letter. Why is it, however, that those who are supposed to have been set free by God’s grace; free to serve Him “out of gratitude for what he has done,” (Gromacki, 1973)rather than serve him out of apprehension or anxiety, live in so much uncertainty and bondage? If it is that we have been saved, then what is salvation and what have we been saved from? Is our anxiety caused because our salvation is not assured?

Arminian and Calvinists would argue against and for eternal security (http://www.epm.org/articles/arminian_calvinist.html). But which view does the Bible support? Does it support both? For certainty, the Bible cannot present two contradictory claims on the issue of salvation and thus one’s eternal security, having come into salvation that the Bible teaches. So where is the supposed evidence that supports the loss of salvation or security of same coming from? Furthermore is there any truth in either claim?

In a quest to answer these questions put forward, critical analyses will be made of the two existing views on eternal security, citing scriptural references (from Romans mainly) that support each view, while at the same time highlighting and establishing the stronger of the two arguments. Further, the researcher will seek to employ hermeneutical principles and establish grounds that God’s character is harmonious with His revelation. Thus the Bible teaches in Romans and other books one doctrine on eternal security, which is a person who is born into the family of God, cannot at any point lose his or her position. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son, that he might be the first born among many brothers. And those He predestined, he also called; those He called, He also justified; those he justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30, NIV)

The position on eternal security is, believed by John R. Church, D.D., to be, unsound and a dangerous teaching. Church uses as his premise 1 John 4:4, which assures the believer of the ability to endure to the end without falling into Satan’s hand (Church, Pg 7). However, this security in the scripture mentioned, according to Church, cannot be construed as unconditional security. He calls such teaching “the first deception that the devil ever put over the human race.” He draws his argument from the scenario in the Garden of Eden when the Lord told the couple in the day they shall eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they shall surely die. Then, comes the devil and he says to them that they will not surely die. He further claims that the Bible teaches in Ezekiel 18:20 that the soul that sins shall surely die. In light of this scripture, Church, like other Arminians, believes that anyone who dies in sin whether Christian or not will be eternally lost.

In addition, those who support the idea that one, after having been saved, can lose one’s salvation, argue that Jesus himself teaches in Luke 8: 11-14 (in the parable of the farmer and the seeds), particularly verse thirteen and in John 15:1-2 (husbandman and vine and branches), that a person who had once been saved could fall away and be lost. Church, adamantly puts forward that is only he that endures in righteousness shall be saved. If what Church says obtains, then we cannot, in this life, know that we are saved or it is impossible to be saved in this life. The best we can know is that we are working towards being saved.

He, further, argues that Matthew 24:12-13 teaches “But he that endures to the end shall be saved. According to him the conditions for eternal life are: constantly abiding in Christ, fruit bearing, and enduring unto the end. “There is no promise of eternal life to any others” (Pg. 11).

Furthermore, Church cites Exodus 32:33; Ezekiel 18:24, 33:12-13; Luke 9: 62; John 6:66; Galatians 5:4; and 1Timothy 4:1 as verses in scripture that support his argument against eternal security. He says that man can take himself out of God’s hands because he is a free moral agent. If these scriptural references are used appropriately by Church and are interpreted based on sound hermeneutical principles then, it stands to reason that what he has posited and what those of Arminian persuasion believe has credence based on scripture.

Church uses Luke 8:11-14 and John 15:1-2 to argue that a person can lose his or her salvation after having believed. Romans 5: 9 & 10 tells us that when we have been justified by his blood, we will be saved from wrath through him (Christ). It must be understood that the death of Christ and His shed blood effect salvation, but the life of Christ sustains it. This verse underscores the lasting effect of the blood he shed, and that it is Christ who keeps us. In other words, Christ never gets weary of keeping us. John 10:26-30 tells us that His sheep know His voice and follow Him and in verse 28 makes the promise that He gives them eternal life and they will never perish; no one will snatch them out of His hand. In other words he or she cannot lose his or her salvation. Such person is eternally saved and will go to heaven when he or she dies. It is not possible for him to be lost.

Moreover, in that passage of scripture are some fundamental truths. Firstly, those who believe are His sheep (children). The flip side of that is those who do not believe are not his. Therefore, according to Romans 8:29-30, those who believe are the ones who he had predestined to believe in Him. Secondly, those who believe in Him, listen to Him. This speaks to obedience. Therefore, we must answer the question, can one who has put on the righteousness of Christ (justified) resist God constantly and continually as one who never believed? Scripture teaches us of newness that is found in Christ in Romans 6:6-7. Thirdly, there is the promise of eternal life. Then, the second part to that promise is that his sheep (those who believe) will never perish. Fifthly, Jesus assures those who believe that no one can snatch them out of his hand because his Father, who is greater than all, had given them to Him.

Romans 8: 34 – 39 assures of this promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, because Christ himself is making intercession for us. No matter what happens, we cannot be separated because his grace is sufficient to those who are the elect. These scriptures mentioned in Romans and also John stand in direct contradiction to Church’s Claim that those who believe or who have experienced Salvation can lose it or can even reject Christ and consequently eternal life.

In addition, Church makes the assumption that a person who has come into salvation can go on sinning as one who has not or can revert to the position of never knowing God. Hence, he alludes to the scripture in Ezekiel 18:20, which says that the soul that sins shall surely die. Romans 6:1 tells us that if we sin more grace is abounding, this however doesn’t mean that we must continue sinning, because grace is not a license to sin. 1John 3:9 also says that one who is born of God will not continue sinning because God’s seed; (His word and His Spirit, who is the guarantee of salvation) remains in him.

In fact chapter one of 1John and the eighth verse says if one claims to be without sin then one deceives oneself and does not tell the truth. So with such sin being in us and the inevitable death of the soul, who sins, how is eternal life ever possible? The answer lies in Romans 8:30. “….those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” We are justified or made to be in right relationship with God because of Jesus’ work on Calvary alone. That is why if we confess our sins he is faithful and just (because the debt was already satisfied) to forgive us our sins and forgive us all unrighteousness.

Once a person comes to Christ, he cannot lose his salvation (Romans 8: 34 – 39,John 10:26-30). He is eternally saved, he cannot be separated once he has been elected and will go to heaven when he dies. It is not possible for him to be lost. This is a big problem for the Arminian view of freedom. If it is not possible for a person to lose his salvation, they contend, then there are two options: firstly, It is possible for the believer to later on reject Christ and reject eternal life, but God will still take him to heaven when he dies even though he has rejected it and secondly, it is not possible for a believer to ever reject Christ and eternal life once he is saved (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/8449/ armin.html).

Under option one; clearly the person’s will is violated, for the person would be rejecting Christ but God would be taking him to heaven anyway. He would be saving the person against his will. This would obviously be inconsistent with the Bible. The Biblical teaching of eternal security clearly teaches that a person cannot reject eternal life once they are saved because they do not want to reject eternal life. God causes us to continue wanting to believe in Him once we are saved. If it Christ who sustains us, it is He who will continue to give us the desire for Him – Romans 5: 9 & 10.

Moreover, the Bible teaches that the grace of God actually stimulates believers to serve God with a thankful heart Romans 2:4. God cannot act outside of his nature. His nature is good and though perfectly just, He is perfectly merciful and thus, He acts in those manners. His Justice was satisfied when He, as Christ took up our sins and paid the price while His mercy is expressed in his forgiveness extended. God is able to determine who will be saved without violating our wills or forcing us to believe. If a person is elect, God does not force him to believe neither does He leave open the possibility that he will use his will to reject Him and overthrow His plan. For if God prepares his heart and gives him a desire for Christ that is greater than his desire to remain in sin, the person will most certainly come–and will come freely. This presupposition is supported by the scripture in Romans 8:29-30. We must remember that the faith that comes to those who believe is given by God in the first instance. For, in Romans 12:3 we are told that God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

Furthermore, we must be cognizant that man has no basis of appeal before God; he is simply guilty according to Romans 3:10 -20 (Gromacki, 1973). What then is man’s hope before God since he is already guilty before even starting out? Belief in Christ! “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life…,” John 3:36.  Man’s only hope is belief in Christ, which assures him of salvation from the penalty of sin – death. God foreknew us because he chose to save us, in spite of our future sins and failures which he knew since eternity. All are eternally certain (Gromacki, 1973. Pgs 36-37). Not only that but even while in sin, as enemies of God, He reconciled us unto Himself (Romans 5:10) how much more of His mercy will we experience having been reconciled.

The fact that we are predestined means that there is a guaranteed future destiny of the child of God and not that a person is determined to go to hell or heaven. Our predestination and subsequent election are based on God’s Foreknowledge (Romans 8: 29). Our election to salvation is based on the same principle as God’s choice of Jacob through whom the blessing of Abraham would come to the world, according to Romans 9:10-13 (Gromacki, 1973). Romans 9 reveals that out of God’s own Sovereignty, He has determined that though all are condemned to death (separation from Himself) because of Sin that He was going to save or rescue some for eternal life.

Does God guarantee our salvation? According to the Calvinists and particularly Gromacki, He does. Gromacki argues that salvation must be seen as the work of God. “Salvation,” he says, “is Theo centric, not anthropocentric. That is, salvation originates with God and not man. He (God) has done the work, and He has done it for His eternal glory.” Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as the author (originator/beginner) and finisher (perfecter) of our faith. Our eternal salvation rests in Christ’s ability to perfect that which he has begun 1Thessalonians 5:23-24.

Furthermore, Jesus himself testifies to eternal security in belief in Him. Could Jesus have testified of two opposing views? The Bible is whole and presents one doctrine. In John 5:24 Jesus said, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” However one may attempt to argue that one can stop believing because of what, they perceive, is said in 1Timothy 4:1. In that passage, the issue addressed is not a believer turning away from truth but the refusal of many to accept the truth and thus turn to deceitful teachings. To agree with the former suggestion is to argue with God’s nature to Give faith to cause one to continue in His ways as is clearly demonstrated in Ezekiel 36:27 and Jeremiah 32:40.

In summary, we know that the blessings of salvation cannot be lost because of the nature of salvation. Scripture reveal to us that salvation is eternal. John. 3:16, 36 attest to this claim. The former tells us that those who believe (a) will never perish and (b) will have everlasting life. Secondly, salvation is a present possession as is lucidly stated in Romans. 5:1 and 1 Peter 2:24-25. Thirdly, salvation is by imputation and substitution (2 Co. 5:17; Ga. 2:20; He. 9:10; Ro. 3:24). Salvation is positional. We are told so in Ephesians. 1:3 that salvation is “in Christ”; Romans 6:7; Colossians. 2:10; 3:1-4, 12. Salvation is not of human merit; it is a free gift of grace which cannot be mixed with works Ephesians. 2:8-9; Titus. 3:3-7; Romans 3:19-28; 4:4-5; 9:16; 11:6. Not only are we assured of eternal security because of the nature of salvation but also of the results of salvation as scripture teaches. The results of Salvation are: eternal life John 3:16; Justification Romans 5:1; 3:19-28;  Peace with God Romans 5:1; Sure possession of future glory Romans 5:2, Col. 3:1-4; Salvation from future wrath Romans 5:9; Raised up with Christ Romans 6;  Blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Ephesians 1:3; Sealed with the Holy Spirit Ephesians. 4:30; Passed from darkness to light Colossians. 1:12-14 (http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/eternalsecurity.htm).

We cannot and should not construe that because salvation is eternal, it necessarily gives way to licentious behavior or supports that behviour. On the contrary, though eternal security recognizes the grace of God that leads to full and free salvation, it does not support the view that grace has abolished the responsibility of the believer to live rightly or morally. For certainly, Paul does not agree with the notion that grace is the antithesis of good works. In chapter 6 of Romans, He anticipates that said notion and emphatically said may it never be that one thinks that in light of God’s abundant grace, one should go on sinning. Furthermore, in Romans 12 verse 1, Paul implores his readers that after having considered God’s grace, they must present their bodies to Him as living sacrifices. The idea Paul picks up on is that the life of the believer must be given over entirely to God; much as the sacrifice was in Jewish culture as well as yielding their members to God rather than to the dictates of the evil desires of man (Romans 6:13).

The refusal of many, to accept the doctrine of eternal security stems from a belief that the doctrine of eternal security gives persons a license to sin or live carelessly. Paul, the apostle addressed this misconception in the church at Ephesus in Romans 6:1 “…shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” His answer to that rhetorical question comes in the early part of verse two “By no means…!” In fact, the opposite is true. The Bible teaches that the grace of God actually stimulates believers to serve God with a thankful heart Romans 2:4; Ephesians. 3:14-19; Titus. 2:11-14. The more a believer understands the unfathomable love God has for him in Christ, the more he wants to please God. A believer ought not to live in constant fear of one day falling away, or missing the mark or ultimately going to hell because his or her destiny is sealed in Christ’s redemptive work at Calvary. All efforts must be in fulfilling his purpose which is to serve and worship God. Our salvation (rescue from the penalty of sin) remain a gift; an act of grace _ something we neither work to receive nor can we work to keep. In the words of our Christ, “It is finished!”

REFERENCE LIST

Church, John R. Security In Christ: Or Kept By The Indwelling Christ. Pentecostalk Publishing Co., Louisville, Kentucky.

Gromacki, Robert G. 1973. Is Salvation Forever. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago: Moody Press, Chicago.

Randy Alcorn. 2006. Some Thoughts on Eternal Security and the Arminian and Calvinist Positions. Internet Source:http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/8449/armin.%20html Eternal Perspective Ministries. Last Updated: October 21, 2008.

Way of Life Literature’s Fundamental Baptist Information Service. 2001. Eternal Security And Problem Passages. Internet Source:http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns%20/eternalsecurity.htm. Last Updated: October 21, 2008.

Internet Source: http://www.epm.org/articles/arminian_calvinist.html. Last Updated:October 31, 2006.