Did the Jews have to Keep the Law to be Saved?
Many of us Mid-Acts Dispensationalists have been taught that the Kingdom Saints, those who believed during the Lord’s earthly ministry and in the early part of Acts that Jesus Christ was the prophesized Messiah of the Israelites, had to do three things to be saved:
1. Keep the law (Matthew 19:17)
2. Believe that Jesus was The Christ (John 6:29, 20:30-31))
3. Be water baptized (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3)
It is certainly important to see the distinctions between the ages that existed in “Time Past” (Ephesians 2:11) and the current “Dispensation of Grace,” (Ephesians 3:2) but I have come to a different understanding about the Kingdom Saints (and by extension the Old Testament Saints). I believe that all men of every dispensation were justified by faith and faith alone, even though those who lived in “Time Past” who knew nothing about the cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7).
(1) The question of Keeping the Law
The problem with keeping the law to achieve justification was that no one could do it. Paul wrote:
“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).
The law never justified anyone in any dispensation:
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 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” (Rom 3:19-20).
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them” (Galatians 3:10-12).
The law demanded perfection, and of course, man’s flesh was not, nor ever could be perfect:
“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
So if keeping the law did not justify, what did it do? It brought “the knowledge of sin” so that “every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” So why were the Jews asked to keep the law? Because keeping the law was not an issue of justification but rather sanctification, which means to be set apart as sacred, to be consecrated, and purified.
Keeping the law was the basis of Israel receiving physical blessings on earth:
“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field” (Deuteronomy 28:1-3).
Of course, disobeying the law produced judgment and the withholding of physical blessings on earth:
“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field” (Deuteronomy 28:15-16).
Therefore, a sanctified set-apart nation of Israel who obeyed the law out of faith would receive physical blessings here on earth, not eternal life.
(2) Believing that Jesus was the Christ
This was the message and the basis of justification for Israel during the earthly ministry of The Lord.
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30-31).
(3) Water Baptism
Water Baptism was an issue of identification and salvation but not justification:
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; Did they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:15-18).
Clearly this is a reference to John’s Baptism just as we read in the following passages:
“Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6)
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:4-5)
Peter’s Baptism in Acts 2 was a continuation of John’s baptism:
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38)
There was a salvation associated with this message but not in justification, it was a salvation of deliverance:
“And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40).
Therefore, identifying with John’s baptism did not justify but identified them with the Little Flock and delivered them or saved them from “this untoward generation” or the Christ rejecting religious leaders of Israel.
The basis of justification of all men of all dispensations was the shed blood of The Lord. Of course, the truth of this was not revealed until Paul, nor could it be, for as he wrote, “we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7-8)
So in “Time Past” men could not have faith in the shed blood of the Lord, but God could. Paul wrote, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Romans 3:23-25). In “Time Past” God was the only one who could have had faith in the blood of His Son, and His faith was such that He could forbear “the sins that are past” because He knew the quality of the sacrifice that was coming.
Once the truth of Christ at Calvary was revealed by Paul, the basis for Justification could be taught by all. Apostle John declares that the basis of forgiveness was the blood of Christ:
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
The thing to remember about 1st John is that there is a need to keep the truth for an individual separate from the truth for the nation. Verse 7 is about the individual, whereas verses 8-9 are about the nation:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
1 John 2:1-2 then reverts back to the Individual:
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Along with 2:12, “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.”
But now with the revelation committed to us by the Apostle Paul we can by faith believe in Jesus:
“To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
And here is Paul’s conclusion:
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:27-28).
In the past the gentiles were on the outside looking in:
“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12).
If you are a gentile this may cause you to have a question. Does Justification by faith alone only apply to the Jews? Paul clears that up by asking some questions of his own:
“Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:29-31).
Rather than saying “yes” or “no,” Paul offers proof beginning with Abraham:
“What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:1-5).
The 2nd proof Paul gives is David:
“Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Romans 4:6-8)
Now Paul will ask another very important question:
“Cometh this blessedness (the blessedness of imputed righteousness) then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness” (Romans 4:9).
He answers with a couple of questions:
“How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression” (Romans 4:10-15).
And now for Paul’s conclusion to the matter, the conclusion which reshaped my thinking of justification from “Time Past” through the “Ages To Come”:
“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16)
Praise The Lord!
Pastor Fred Bekemeyer