Most of my life I have heard this erroneous teaching being circulated that if a person could obey all of the commandments, then God would have to save them. However, there’s not any truth to that statement. A person could obey every single commandment in the Old Testament, and God still would not be obligated to take that person to heaven. Why? Because God never made a single promise anywhere in the Old Testament that if a person kept all the commandments, then He would take that person to heaven after they died. Humanity’s salvation from the very beginning has always been based on grace through faith, never on obedience. Our obedience results in blessing, not in salvation. For example, let’s consider a couple of well-known passages:
The book of the Law [Heb. Torah] shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. (Joshua 1:8)
In this verse, God is speaking to Joshua, who has now taken over for Moses after his death. Notice that God commands Joshua to “meditate” on the Law [Heb. Torah] both “day and night,” so that he would “observe to do according to all that is written therein.” But notice what happens as a result? God did not say that if he obeyed all the commandments, that when he died, then he would be able to go to heaven, did he? No, what God said would happen would be that if he observed or obeyed all that God commanded him, then his way would become “prosperous” and he would have “good success.” Let’s look at another one:
Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But he delight is in the law [Torah] of the LORD; and in His Law does he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)
In this psalm, we see that if we “delight” “in the law [Torah] of the LORD,” and again “meditate” on it both “day and night,” what will be the result? Heaven after we die? No, the Bible says that if we delight in the commandments and “meditate” on them both “day and night,” then “whatsoever” we do “shall prosper.” Again, obedience results in blessing, not salvation.
Consequently, then, a person could obey all 613 commandments (which isn’t humanly possible, since a person would have to be able to be both male and female, as well as a king, a High Priest, a priest, and a farmer, etc., all at once), God still would not be required to take that person to heaven, since He never promised He would for obeying the commandments. And He never made that promise, because the purpose of the commandments has never been about salvation; consequently, to try and use the commandments for something that they were never intended for is, in fact, to misuse and abuse the Word of God, not to use it [which is why we find Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul), in the New Testament, arguing against this erroneous use of the commandments of God. Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) is not arguing against Judaism, as I’ve heard and read people erroneously argue, but he is arguing against this misuse and abuse of the Torah]. And if someone actually studies the Old Testament in Hebrew, they’ll find it teaches that our relationship with God is based on His grace – it is not formed as a result of our obedience. Throughout the Old Testament, the relationship is established first, and then God asks for obedience – never the other way around.
God has always saved humanity “by grace through faith,” this is God’s modus operandi, or His “method of operation.” Interestingly, the word “grace” actually appears more often in the Old Testament than the New Testament. Does this mean there is less grace now than before? No, absolutely not. Since there are more books in the Old Testament than the New Testament, obviously, it’s going to be mentioned more often. Grace has just always been a part of the way God does things.
The reason many Christians do not see the English word “grace” in the Old Testament is because the English word “grace” is the translation of the Greek word charis, and obviously, you are not going to find a Greek word in a Hebrew text. However, that does not mean that there’s not a corresponding word in Hebrew for the grace of God. Because there is. It is the Hebrew word chesed, which carries a variety of different meanings, such as “covenantal love,” “mercy,” “lovingkindness,” as well as “grace.” When I was growing up in church, there was a chorus we use to sing, and the first line of the chorus was, “Thy lovingkindness is better than life,” The word translated “lovingkindness” is the Hebrew word chesed. You can actually substitute the phrase “love and grace” for the word “lovingkindness,” and maintain the intended meaning of the word chesed, and at the same time, understand that the grace of God has always been a part of who God is and how He interacts with us. And indeed, His love and grace is “better than life.”
Let me, for example, show you a couple of places in the Old Testament where we find the word chesed used among the numerous places it appears in the Old Testament Scriptures. The first instance I want to discuss is in Exodus 34. Moses is back on the Mount having God replace the two tablets that he [Moses] broke when he went down the Mount and saw the people worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32). While on the Mount, Moses asks if he could see God’s glory, God agrees, but says that Moses must be placed in the cleft of the rock and that God would put His hand over Moses’ eyes as His glory passes by, because no man can see God’s face and live (Exodus 33:18-22). However, God says, “I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen” (33:23).
When this moment comes and God reveals “all His goodness” and name before Moses (see Exodus 33:19), Moses records what he heard in Exodus 34:6-7,
Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness (Heb. chesed) and truth; who keeps lovingkindness (Heb. chesed) for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
In God’s presentation of Himself to Moses, we see the Hebrew word chesed mentioned twice. We first learn that God “abounds in” chesed, and secondly, He uses the word chesed in connection to Him forgiving “iniquity, transgression and sin.” Isn’t this the way we (in the church) understand the grace of God, in its connection to God’s forgiveness of sin?
Let me give you another example. In Psalm 103, the chapter begins with the verses that says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits” (103:1-2). David, the author of the psalm, then begins to list these various benefits that we are not to forget. Then, after listing several benefits, beginning in verse 8, David writes the following:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness (Heb. chesed). He will not always strive with us; nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities (isn’t this a description of grace?). For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness (Heb. chesed) toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgression from us. (103:8-12)
Notice in this passage, David quotes one of the lines of God’s own description for Himself recorded in Exodus 34:6, and He connects this quote, regarding God’s chesed, to how God deals with us and our sins. Consequently, traditional Christianity has been in error regarding the relationship between the Law of God [Torah] and the grace of God. Not only is the Law of God [Torah] and grace not in opposition to one another, but the concept of the grace of God is first seen and taught within the Law of God [Torah]. Interestingly, I was watching Joseph Prince on TBN on July 1, 2014, and near the end of the program, he mentioned that he knew a well-known Hebrew scholar in Jerusalem who, along with others, has been involved in translating the New Testament into Hebrew, and Joseph Prince asked this Hebrew scholar what word they used to translate the word “grace.” The Hebrew scholar responded, “chesed.” All of this only demonstrates the truth of the first part of Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change.”
God has not changed in who He is, how He operates, and what He expects. The problem has been how the gentile (or non-Jewish) church, after the death of the Apostles, has traditionally misunderstood the relationship between the Torah and the grace of God.
For a final example to demonstrate that we are not saved by the keeping of the commandments, let me give an analogy. The United States’ founding documents are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Now suppose a person from another country comes to live and obeys every single law, and never gets into trouble. Does that person’s obedience to our laws make that person a U.S. citizen?
Answer: No, it doesn’t. Why? Because the U.S. government already has a specific process in place through which people who are not citizens can become citizens of this country.
In much the same way, obeying the commandments (or laws) of the kingdom of God, which were given to Moses by God within the Scriptures and then elaborated and built upon in the New Testament, do not make an individual a citizen of God’s kingdom. God already has a specific process in place by which an individual can become a citizen of His kingdom (confessing our sins, accepting what Christ/Messiah has done for us on the cross, and asking Him to be the Lord of our lives). Of course, once we become a citizen of His kingdom, then we are expected to keep the laws of the kingdom, just as we would expect someone to follow and obey the laws of the United States once that person becomes a U.S. citizen.
So do we have to obey the commandments to be saved? No, the commandments are not for the purpose of salvation; therefore, keeping them will not save you. Salvation is only found when we come to Christ [Messiah], ask Him to forgive us of our sins, to cleanse us with His blood that He shed for us on the cross, and then surrender ourselves completely to Him and make Him the Lord of our lives. That is God’s process of salvation – not obedience to the Mosaic Law.