Introduction

While living in New Zealand, I often had coffee at the Coffee House in Christchurch with Scott Hillstrom, an American.  Perhaps because we were both Christian attorneys, our conversations were wide-ranging and stimulating.

One day Scott said he thought we didn’t need anything in the Bible except the portion in red, showing they were spoken by the Lord Jesus.  Considering him seriously mistaken, I thought we’d have to have some talks about this.

As I began to evaluate Scripture in light of Scott’s comments, perhaps to accumulate scriptures to counter what he had said, I began to realize there was value to Scott’s observations, particularly in recognizing certain scriptures as having priority.  As we examine Scott’s premise, perhaps your view will change, as mine did, if you now believe otherwise.

I once began discussions with a Seventh-Day Adventist when he asked if I believed that all Scripture was equally divinely inspired.  I agreed that all Scripture was divinely inspired.  He went on to ask about “equally.”  I agreed that it was equally divinely inspired, but pointed out that not all Scripture was equally applicable to the New Testament believer.  [As I’ll use that term again, let’s define “New Testament believer” as one who has knowledge of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to redeem mankind and reconcile us to God through his sacrificial death and one that has the hope of eternal life available to those who receive Jesus Christ as their Lord, confess him as Lord before men, and believe that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10).]

Having obtained my agreement that scripture was equally divinely inspired, my Seventh-Day Adventist friend then tried to persuade me that we must obey God’s law regarding the Sabbath. 

As a result of the study of the Sabbath Day issue, and in the ensuing years, I’ve learned that difficulty has arisen in much of Christendom because of a poor understanding of which Scripture governs the life and actions of the New Testament believer.  This article will explore that issue and hopefully present a satisfactory answer. 

We’ll look at two different issues.  Are the Old Testament laws and regulations, e.g., the Ten Commandments, to be obeyed by the New Testament believer?  Secondly, within the New Testament, are some portions more significant than others?

What Is the Will of God?

The most important command for all Christians is that we must do the will of God.  The question that arose from discussions with my Seventh Day Adventist friend is “What is the will of God for the New Testament believer?”  We know that every teaching and command necessary to bring us to a saving faith is the will of God.

Jesus made doing the will of God a salvation issue when he said:

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

This verse reserves heaven exclusively for those who do the will of God.  You likely agree with that.  But, you may ask, what has that to do with the words of Christ?

Jesus’ Words Are the Will Of God

After teaching about the need to obey his teachings and commands, Jesus concluded by saying, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:24).  If Jesus’ words belong to the Father, then they are surely the will of God, aren’t they?[1]  Jesus said the same thing earlier:  “The one whom God has sent [the Lord Jesus] speaks the words of God” (John 3:34).  If Jesus spoke the words of God, he surely was expressing the will of God.  Later, when Jesus was praying to the Father, he said, “I gave them the words you gave me” (John 17:8).  Even in his prayer to God the Father, Jesus acknowledged that he passed on to his disciples God’s words, as given to him by God.

There are many more corroborating scriptures.  When the disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father, he responded, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10).  Jesus is saying that the Father, living in him, is telling him what to say.  That makes the words Jesus speaks the words of God.  And that makes those same words the will of God that we are to obey.

When Jesus taught about his words (we’ll see more about that later), he said about them, “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:49-50).   Isn’t this amazing?  Jesus says he didn’t say anything of his own accord.  Not only did his Father (God) tell him what to say, he told him how to say it.  Jesus concluded by saying he was obedient to the Father, saying just what he was told to say.

On still another occasion, the Jews were demanding to know who Jesus was.  Let’s listen in on their conversation:

 “Who are you?” they asked.

“Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”

27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:25-29).  

How thrilling it is to read Jesus’ own account of his relationship with his Father, and how the Father indwelled him through the Holy Spirit, just as the Holy Spirit today indwells believers.  But unlike most of us, Jesus had no agenda but to please the Father.  He was able to say, “I always do what pleases him.”  Wouldn’t we be tempted to add our own thoughts and understanding?  Jesus didn’t.  He said he did nothing on his own but spoke just what the Father taught him. 

Over and over Jesus told us that his relationship with the Father is so close that he is able to hear what the Father tells him and transmit it to us, not only word for word, but saying it in the way the Father wants it said.  As an example, we can now understand that the anger Jesus showed against the merchants in the temple was his Father’s anger.  God told Jesus to prepare a whip and to drive them from the temple.  On other occasions when Jesus displayed anger toward the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, even calling them vipers, he was revealing his Father’s anger toward these religious leaders.

If everything Jesus taught and commanded is the will of God, as we hope you have found adequately proved by the many Scriptures above, and that doing the will of God is necessary if we are to be saved, then it would seem extremely important for the church to teach all new disciples to obey the teachings and commands of Jesus so that they will do the will of God. 

Jesus commanded his followers to do exactly that. 

Not Old Testament Teachings and Commands

Note what Jesus did not say.  He did not say the disciples were also to obey the Old Testament Law.  Nor did he say to his disciples that they should teach new believers to obey the Old Testament Law.  He said to teach them to obey everything he commanded them.

When Paul found Judaizers trying to have the Galatians follow Old Testament Law in addition to following Jesus, Paul called that another gospel and condemned the Judaizers in the strongest possible terms.  We are NOT to follow the Old Testament Law.  We are to obey the teachings and commands of our Lord Jesus Christ and to teach all new converts to obey them.

This is not to say that all Old Testament Law is invalidated.  Jesus validated many of the Ten Commandments, though not all.  Jesus never commanded that the Sabbath be observed.  In fact, according to the Jews, Jesus broke their regulations by healing on the Sabbath.  Neither did Jesus teach or command that Gentiles were to be circumcised, something the Judaizers were trying to impose on the Galatian believers.

What about the New Testament scriptures?  Are some more important than others?

The Law of Christ

Understanding that everything Jesus said and did is the will of God, we now get a different view of every word spoken by Jesus.  When we look again at Matthew 7:21 and see that it is only those who do the will of the Father who will enter heaven, we know we can paraphrase that into “only those who obey the teachings and commands of Jesus will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Those statements are one and the same in meaning after the coming of Jesus.

The Law, when capitalized in our Scriptures, usually refers to the Old Testament Law given by Moses.  Speaking of Jesus, Moses prophesied about one coming after him:  “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you” (Acts 3:22).  That is also the message of Jesus.  We are to listen to and obey everything Jesus told us. 

Paul commanded, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).    On another occasion Paul explained, “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law” (1 Corinthians 9:21).

Paul was notorious among the Judaizers for disregarding the Law of Moses that the Jews of his day regarded as the will of God.  However, as we see above, Paul did not claim to be outside of God’s law.  He defined God’s law for the New Testament believers as “Christ’s law.”  He regarded them as one and the same.  And that is the proper message for the New Testament believer.  God’s law for us is the law of Christ.  The law of Christ is every teaching and every command Jesus taught and commanded during his ministry here on earth and even later as he communicated with Paul and the Apostle John.

The Priority In Scripture

In order to begin to understand that there are different priorities in the Scriptures, we will look to some of the teachings of Jesus where he spoke about this very issue.  As we look at these Scriptures, note the priority he ascribes to his commands, his teachings, and his words:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 and Luke 6:47-49). 

In this passage Jesus is speaking about what people base their lives on.  In the first of the two examples, the person anchors his life on the words of Jesus.   Jesus assures us this man is wise.  He built the foundation of his house on the rock.  It was sturdy and could withstand winds, rain, and storms.  Then Jesus contrasted the wise man’s way of life with the person who heard his words but did not make them the foundation for his life.  His life fell apart when the storms and rain and wind of life beat against it. 

Jesus told about the need to remain in him and made this promise: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7).  Then he said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. . . . You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:10,14).  Jesus said “obey my commands” and if you do what I command you are my friends.  Jesus said nothing about obeying any commands other than or in addition to his commands.  We may rightfully assume that if we obey his teachings and commands, we are doing right.

Jesus expects his disciples to be proud to serve him.  He spoke about the opposite:  “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26).  Do you think there is any chance a person will be saved if Jesus is ashamed of him?  I don’t.

Jesus taught that obedience to his teaching and commands were evidence of love for him.  He said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. . . . If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:21,23).  The reverse was also true.  Jesus said, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:24). 

Jesus said the evidence that shows we love him is to have and obey his commands (v. 21) and his teaching (v. 23).  Note that everything else is conspicuous by its absence.  There is nothing else we are to obey that shows our love for Jesus except his teachings and his commands.  And note how consistent Scripture is.  John assures us that love for God is to obey his commands.  We know that the teachings and commands of Jesus (God, the Son) are also the teachings and commands of God the Father who told the Lord Jesus what to say.

Jesus’ Words Are Superior

Scripture records various statements about the words and teachings of Jesus that show Jesus’ words are different than all others.  Jesus himself said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, and Luke 21:33).  As you can see, God emphasized that statement by repeating it in three different Gospels.  Though heaven and earth will pass away, Jesus’ words will reverberate throughout eternity. 

Jesus assured his followers, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51).  Here Jesus clearly links salvation with his word.  Jesus said nothing about anything else that people needed to obey in order to have eternal life.  Jesus promises eternal life for those who keep (obey) his word.  Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).   This scripture is consistent with keeping Jesus’ word and never seeing death – Jesus’ words are life. 

Jesus had given a strong teaching to the crowd that was offensive to many Jews and most left him.  He asked his disciples if they wanted to leave also.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). 

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  Jesus’ true disciples will be known because they hold to his teaching.  Those disciples will know the truth and be set free by the truth.  All this results from holding to Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus’ words are powerful and unique in all the world.  There are none like them because they are the perfectly expressed will of God.

Incredible Emphasis on “My”

I wondered, as I wrote this, how anyone could miss the emphasis Jesus laid on my words, on my teachings and on my commands.   During all of this, Jesus does not once say that we are to obey the Old Testament Law nor anything else. 

Instead Jesus tells us his words are spirit and they are life.  Peter testified that Jesus has the words of eternal life.  Jesus says that heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Jesus and His Words Fulfilled Prophecy

As we saw earlier, many hundreds of years before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, God spoke to Moses and said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.  You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15).  This prophecy established that the person God spoke about would be a Jew, as was Moses.  From the phrase, “like me”, the coming prophet might also be a lawgiver, as was Moses, though that is not assured from the above text. 

The following explanation from God does establish that the future prophet will speak the words and commands of God to the people:  “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.  If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).  Whose words did Jesus speak?  Jesus answered that:  “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:24).  

Jesus spoke the words of God, just as the prophecy said.  Jesus told the people everything God commanded him to say.  God even told Jesus how to say what he said. 

Judgment For Those Who Are Disobedient

After telling his listeners that he was identified with his Father, Jesus said, “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:47-48).  Jesus gave further evidence of the power and authority of his words when he said those who do not accept and keep his words will be condemned by the very words he spoke.  Can you hear the trial?  The person is accused of disobedience to the will of God.  Then the words of Jesus are offered in evidence against him.  Such a person will be condemned.

We noted that Moses prophesied, using the words of God as if God was speaking, that God would judge those who do not listen to God’s  words that the coming prophet will speak:  “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).  As we have seen in the prior scriptures, Jesus spoke God’s words in God’s name.  Jesus is the prophet that God told Moses would come.

There is another powerful passage in Scripture that speaks of judgment on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus:

He (the Lord Jesus) will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

Is this just the discipline God will use on his children?  No.  Paul continues:

They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:9). 

The gospel of our Lord Jesus was revealed by Jesus in the words he spoke to the people and his disciples and apostles.  The Gospel of our Lord Jesus is the will of God (Matthew 7:21) that must be obeyed by all who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  It contains the words of life and eternal life.  How awful it will be for those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Everlasting destruction speaks of hell! 

Compare “The Law” With Jesus’ Words

What about the Old Testament Law (as given to Moses)?  Many regard some of that as still in force.  Many speak about the need to obey the Ten Commandments.  If we are to obey the Ten Commandments, then almost all present Christians are in serious violation as our worship day is not the Sabbath (Saturday), but is usually Sunday.  Further, present-day Christians do not observe the regulations that governed the Sabbath.  Those who believe some Old Testament Law is still in effect often quote the verse, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). 

They emphasize “until heaven and earth disappear” as evidence that the Law is surely still in effect as heaven and earth are still here.  But there were two qualifications Jesus made in that verse.  He said that nothing will disappear from the Law “until everything is accomplished.”  Jesus said that he accomplished everything.  He emphasized that when he declared from the cross, “It is finished!”[2]

While in his teaching ministry, Jesus changed parts of the Law.  He gave a new definition for adultery.  He gave new rules for divorce, severely limiting divorce from what the Jews considered acceptable based on the Law of Old Testament scriptures.  He said no one should hereafter make an oath in God’s name.  These issues are discussed in much greater detail in “Which Law Should the Christian Obey?” found at www.bereanpublishers.com | Important Issues.

Salvation According to Jesus

The church has developed its own definition of how to be saved.  There are now many false doctrines taught by much of the western church that differ markedly from the teachings of Jesus.  How did the church go so wrong?  As we seek to answer that question, bear in mind that it is usually necessary to start from the right place to get to a desired goal.  As an example of that, suppose you are given driving directions.  The directions say to drive 10.5 miles west, then 3.4 miles north, then 24.2 miles on a diagonal to the northwest, then 3 miles to the east, then .5 miles south, then to turn left 200 feet.  To reach the desired place, it is utterly essential that you start from the right place.  If you start from any place but the right place, even though you follow the directions perfectly, you will end up in the wrong place and will have failed.

The Church’s Emphasis

Much of the emphasis of today’s western church seems to be on the teachings of Paul.  Some claim that Paul’s teaching is for the church and that Jesus’ teachings and commands are for the Jews.  The church has developed an extensive doctrine of grace, taken from Paul’s writings, in part from Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. 

Calvinism has taken the doctrine of grace to extremes, claiming that God will impose his grace (Calvin’s false Doctrine of Irresistible Grace) upon those who are predestined to be saved (Calvin’s false Doctrine of Predestination) so that they will turn to God and be saved. 

Other parts of Christendom have emphasized that we cannot earn our salvation, a true statement, which they base on “not of works” (Ephesians 2:9).  They discourage works, seemingly ignoring Paul’s next sentence:  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). 

Still others are even more extreme.  They combine not being saved by works (Ephesians 2:9) with Paul’s warning to the Galatians (who had been influenced by the Judaizers) and claim that if we do anything at all, we are trying to earn our salvation and will be condemned.

Much of western Christendom has adopted the ear-tickling false doctrine of unconditional eternal security, claiming that if once saved, the person will be always saved.  The less extreme followers of this false doctrine say that people who appeared to have once been saved but thereafter depart the faith were never saved.  Others, most notably Dr. Charles Stanley, claim that a person who has once been saved can even apostatize from the faith and still be saved.  He goes on to say that there is nothing the person can do, no sin, nor continuance in sin, that will deprive the once-saved person of salvation. 

A natural extension and fruit of the Dr. Stanley variety of the false doctrine of unconditional eternal security doctrine is antinomianism (lawlessness).  Dr. Stanley (and many others) teach the false doctrine that once a person’s sins have been forgiven, they have been forgiven prospectively as well as in the past.  They falsely claim that in one act of contrition and repentance, all past, present, and future sins have been forgiven. 

Finally there is a widespread “invitation” that assures people that if they will accept Jesus as their [personal] Savior, they will have eternal life.  There is no authority in the word of God for that statement.  No verse says that.  The huge emphasis in Scripture is that we must receive Jesus as our Lord and then we will be saved (see Romans 10:9-10, 13, 14:9; Acts 16:31, Acts 20:21; 1 Corinthians 6:ll; 2 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 2:6-7; Acts 10:36, 5:14, 9:42, 11:21, 16:15, 18:8).  The natural result of receiving Jesus as Lord is to obey him (see Matthew 7:21, 28:20, Romans 1:5, 16:26, 1 John 5:3, Luke 6:46, John 14:15, 21, 23, and Hebrews 5:9.

Each of these and many more false doctrines come from starting at the wrong place.  The Bible is an instruction book – a map – for our lives that, when followed properly, will guide us to eternal life.  If our starting place in the Bible is wrong, however, we can become hopelessly and eternally lost – spiritually lost.

Saving Faith As Taught By Jesus

The opposite is true of those who start with the teachings and commands of Jesus.  They are starting exactly where Jesus commanded them to start.

In the great commission, given just before he was taken up to heaven, Jesus first explained the extent of his power and authority to his disciples: 

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). 

There can be no more awesome description of authority than that.  When someone with that power and authority commands his servants (slaves) to do something, we would expect them to obey immediately.  What did Jesus command his followers to do?

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

Jesus’ primary command to his church is that we are to make disciples.  Disciples are those who have been trained to be like their teacher.  Paul knew this and taught, “For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).  

He then commanded us to do only two things with these people who are to be made into disciples:  (1) “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [a public confession of faith], and (2) teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  The proper fulfillment of “teaching them to obey” would include not only teaching them of the need to obey everything Jesus commanded, but also to teach them what Jesus taught and commanded.

Note that Jesus did not say to go and evangelize the world.  Jesus wants people to become his disciples – those who are conformed to his likeness.  Those who obey Jesus’ teachings and commands become like him; Jesus perfectly obeyed those same teachings and commands.

The Church Chose A Different Starting Point

Evidence abounds that the church has failed to start at the right place – to make disciples of the Lord Jesus by teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. 

Instead of starting with the words of Jesus and interpreting all the remainder of the New Testament in a manner consistent with Jesus’ words, they have used other starting points and wandered off into one false doctrine after another.  The errors are so serious that they threaten to deny salvation to untold millions.

The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be conformed to his likeness.  By choosing a wrong starting point, much of the church now looks like the world.  Many professing Christians are just like the non-Christians around them.  In some areas of sin, professing Christians exceed the excesses of non-Christians.  A Barna poll showed that Christians in the Bible belt of America have substantially more divorces than atheists.

Facets Of a Saving Faith

It was Jesus who taught about the Kingdom of God and what was required for a person to become a citizen of that Kingdom.  Today, as we’ve discussed, the church has wandered off in many directions.  Instead of concerning themselves with creating citizens for the Kingdom of God, the church seems to think that salvation can be had simply through a confession of faith.

But Jesus said there was much more to whether we will be saved or not.  He gave us what I call facets of a saving faith.  Let’s use the example of the facets of a diamond, each of which can be seen separately, but each facet is still part of a saving faith.  Likewise, though we know that salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), that faith seems little understood.  Each time Jesus tells us that unless we do a certain thing we will not enter the Kingdom of God, we know we are looking at a facet of a saving faith.  Likewise, if he says that if we do a certain thing we will not enter the Kingdom of God, we are also seeing still another facet of a saving faith.  It could be said that each of the facets are necessary characteristics of a person who is a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Let’s look at some of these facets of a saving faith given us through the words of Jesus:

  • Jesus said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

  • Jesus said, “If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24).   Who did Jesus claim to be?  He said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am” (John 13:13).  Jesus also described his Lordship:  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). 

  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).

  • When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night to inquire of him, Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). 

  • “But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).

  • But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

  • For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

  • Jesus warned, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15.  See also Matthew 18:21-35, particularly vs. 34-35). 

  • “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

  • And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27).

  • In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).

  • “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1-2). 

For a further, more comprehensive study of the facets of a saving faith, please go to the website: www.bereanpublishers.com | Salvation Issues | “The Many Facets Of a Saving Faith”.

It is Jesus who gave each and every one of the preceding requirements for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.  Paul expanded on the sins that would prevent us from inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven.  Other writers gave related facets, but all could be included under one or more of the facets of a saving faith revealed by Jesus.

Proper Starting Points

The starting point Jesus gave the church in creating new disciples is to teach them to obey all that he commanded.  The starting point in the Christian life for all believers is when they are born again through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Are those two starting points related?  Indeed they are.

Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-16).  Jesus just described the steps we are to take in order to receive the Holy Spirit.  The church is to teach people to obey the teachings and commands of Jesus.  When the new believer makes the commitment to obey Jesus as his Lord, Jesus asks the Father and the Father gives that person the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit and God becomes that person’s father.  A new creature has been born (of the spirit).

What we have just seen is corroborated by Jesus a few verses later, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21).  In this verse, Jesus emphasizes love – first the evidence of the love of the person for Jesus shown by having his commands and obeying them, and secondly that the person will be loved by the Father and by Jesus.  Furthermore, Jesus says he will show himself to that person. 

Then Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).  Jesus seems to be saying that the Father and Jesus himself will come to him and make their home with him in the person of the Holy Spirit.  Again Jesus mentions the reciprocal love of those and for those who obey his teachings and commands.

Finally, Peter said the same when the disciples were defending themselves before the Sanhedrin.  Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Peter said, “the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32). 

Now we can see how fundamental it is that the church start from the correct starting point.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to the salvation of each individual.  Paul said, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).  We only gain the Holy Spirit when we commit to obey the Lord Jesus as evidence of our love for him (John 14:15).  When the church starts from the correct starting point in making disciples, it will teach both the need to obey Jesus and the teachings and commands of Jesus.

It seems likely that the reason most professing Christians who don’t appear different than their non-Christian neighbors is because they are not indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  It would certainly be true that such people would not appear different from non-Christians if they do not obey the teachings and commands of Jesus.  Yet much of the church assures these people that they are Christians and have the Holy Spirit indwelling them, that they are saved, and oftentimes that they cannot be unsaved, even though they have not satisfied the conditions Jesus established for those who would be saved. 

My Testimony

I became a believer later in life – in my early forties.  Through a series of circumstances and the fervent prayer of many, I began to read the Scripture.  To my surprise, it was easily understood.  After several months of reading and study, I distinctly remember walking down the stairs one morning believing the Bible to be true, believing that Jesus died on the cross for my sins.  I believed I was a new believer and I was considered a new convert at church.

My life changed a little.  I stopped using profanity.  I changed my Newport Beach (California) party friends for church friends.  I rarely read my Bible and just carried it to church each week.  Our marriage became worse.  I was able to browbeat my wife, telling her that she was to be submissive to me.

I wondered if this was all there was to Christianity.  Though the people were nice, it began to bore me.

Fortunately for me, the Lord drew me back into his word.  I began to see “Lord” everywhere.  I began to read that it was necessary to obey the Lord Jesus.  I began to study more diligently.  I would ask my friends at brunch after church what they thought of living a righteous and holy life.  I can still remember one friend’s answer:  “Oh, Bernie, we can’t be righteous or holy.  We sin hundreds of times every day.  All we have to do is ask God to forgive us.”

That answer didn’t satisfy me at all.  I already knew that 1 John 3:6 that says if you continue in sin you do not know God and have never known him.  So I studied more.

Finally one day I came before the Lord and said, “Lord, you’ve educated me well.  Though I’ve never heard anyone say this, I believe your word says I am to receive you as my Lord and I am to obey you.  If that is what you want, that is what you’ve got.  Lord Jesus, please be my Lord and I will obey you the best I can the rest of my life.”

Within the next day or two, I began to notice real changes in my life.  I was experiencing a peace and joy and love for others that I had never known, or even known was possible.  I didn’t even know what had happened to me until I read Galatians 5:22-23:  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” the very things I was experiencing.

Still later I found the Scriptures at John 14:15, 21, 23 (we’ve looked at them already) that explained to me what had happened.  When I showed Jesus my love for him by being willing to obey him and pledging to do so the rest of my life, he asked the Father and the Father gave me the Holy Spirit.  And God the Father became my father.  And Jesus became my Lord.

Conclusion

All around us we see evidence of wrong starting points.  People want to be happy but think the starting point is other people making them happy instead of seeking to help others and finding that is what brings happiness.  The church has decided in its own wisdom that it can disregard Jesus’ claims about his words, his teachings and commands, and his instructions on how to make disciples.  Instead it chooses many other approaches and fails to make disciples and is itself conformed to the world.

Individuals miss the starting point by relying on their churches instead of the teachings of Jesus.  As a result many are taught false doctrines.  Few are taught they must be conformed to the likeness of Jesus by obeying his teachings and commands.

We have learned that Jesus’ teachings and commands – his words – are unique.  Jesus’ words are spirit, they are life, they will never pass away; and those who keep Jesus’ words will never see death.  Jesus’ words are the express will of God that all believers are to obey if they will have eternal life. 

Jesus’ words are the starting point for all who will receive the Holy Spirit and be saved.  Jesus’ words are the starting point for all proper interpretation of subsequent New Testament writers.  Jesus’ words are the starting point for the faithful church that will make disciples by teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded.


Footnotes:


[1] For those who are unfamiliar with the language, Jesus often spoke about God as his Father.  In this case, he refers to God as “the Father who sent me.”

[2] This issue is discussed in much greater detail with use of many more Scriptures in www.bereanpublishers.com | Important Issues | “Which Law Must the Christian Obey?”