Chapter 18

Return to Chapter list



When will rewards be given to the faithful?


The Bible gives a variety of descriptions of this event, which shows that the faithful will be rewarded at the Second Coming of Christ, immediately after the Great Tribulation.

At the appearing of Jesus Christ—“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:4). See also Matt. 16:27; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 1:7.

At the resurrection of the just—“And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).

At the seventh and last trump—“And the seventh angel sounded . . . and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever . . . and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great” (Rev.11:15,18).

At the judgment seat of Christ—“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). See also Matt. 25:31–46; Rev. 20:11–15; 21:7,8.

On the Day of the Lord, which is the Day of Judgment—“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward” (1 Cor. 3:13,14). “Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Phil. 2:16). See also Matt. 7:22; 2 Cor. 1:14.

At the end of the world— “But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations” (Rev. 2:25,26). See also 1 Pet. 1:13–17.

At the time of the new heaven and new earth— “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. . . . He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Rev. 21:1,7). See also Matt. 25:34; Mark 10:29,30.


What reward will be given to the faithful?


There are many aspects of the reward Jesus will give on that day, some of which are included below. Since God’s promises are conditional, note the requirements for receiving them.

To appear with Christ in glory—“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:2–4). “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). See also 2 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 3:20,21; 2 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 10:32–35; 11:35; 1 John 3:2.

To be spared in the day of wrath and to have victory over our enemies— “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. . . . For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:17; 4:1–3).

“The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. So that a man shall say, verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth” (Psa. 58:10,11). See also Isa. 25:8; 51:7,8; Rev. 19:14–21.

To be glad with exceeding joy— “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:13). See also Psa. 16:11; Isa. 35:10; 51:11; 65:17–19; Matt. 25:21; Rev. 7:17.

To have the Lord confess us before His Father— “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32,33). See also Mark 8:34–38; Luke 9:23–26.

To have the praise of God— “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor. 4:5).

To receive crowns— An incorruptible crown for those who practice self–denial (1 Cor. 9:25–27); a crown of rejoicing for soul winners (1 Thess. 2:19,20); a crown of righteousness for those who fight the good fight of faith and who love “His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7,8); a crown of life for those who endure temptation and are “faithful unto death” (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10); and a crown of glory for faithful elders who are not “lords over God’s heritage,” but are examples to the people (1 Pet. 5:4).

To reap what we have sown in the Lord —“He that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:8,9). See also Matt. 13:43; 2 Cor. 1:14; 9:6.

To inherit an eternal kingdom and to enter the city whose builder and maker is God— “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). See also Matt. 8:11; Luke 14:12–15; 22:29,30; Heb. 6:10–12; 9:15; 11:10; 12:28; James 2:5; 1 Pet. 1:4; Rev. 21:7.

To see God—“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). “Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17). See also Psa. 17:15; 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4.

To reign with Christ for ever and ever—“If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12). “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).


On what basis will God reward some and punish others?


A careful look at Scripture reveals God’s basis for rewards and punishment:

God’s righteousness— “The Lord . . . shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth” (Psa. 96:13).

The Word of God— Jesus said, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

Our motives— “The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed” (1 Sam. 2:3). We must ask ourselves if we are doing all from a motive of love for Christ and for the glory of God or from a motive of selfishness and for the glory and praise of men. The Pharisees believed that God would reward their acts of piety and self–denial regardless of their motives. But Jesus said that they who give, pray, or fast to be seen of men will have no eternal reward (Matt. 6:1,5,16). He also asked, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44).

A person may appear generous and merciful, but really acts from a selfish motive. He may appear happy to give or to show mercy, but he does so only to those of his own family, nationality, church, or denomination. Personal benefit or pride may motivate his actions. A person motivated by the love of God, however, gives freely and compassionately to those in need even though they are not one of his “own.” The good Samaritan demonstrated God’s love toward his neighbor (Luke 10:27–37).

Paul showed the necessity of doing all from a motive of love for Christ and for the glory of God. “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3); “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). See also 1 Cor. 4:5.

Faithfulness— “And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath” (Luke 12:42–44). See also Matt. 10:41,42; 25:14–30.

Degree of understanding and privilege— “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47,48). With great blessing comes great responsibility.

Our actions, our words, our works— “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10). “Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed” (1 Sam. 2:3). See also Eccl. 12:14; 1 Cor. 3:11–15; 2 Cor. 5:10.

God gives special warning to the youth: “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment” (Eccl. 11:9). God “will render to every man according to his deeds” ( Rom. 2:6).


Are believer’s works really important?


Yes, believer’s works are important, but only if they result from faith. Good works can never be the means of salvation. Some early believers trusted in works to be saved by keeping some of the Mosaic laws of cleansing in addition to their faith in Christ. But Paul clearly stated that we are “justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16). He also warned, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).

Others think they will be saved by doing good deeds to outweigh their bad deeds. The apostle Paul emphatically declared that salvation is not according to our works, but according to the grace and power of God: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9); “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:5,6). On the Day of the Lord, many will boast of their “many wonderful works,” but those works will not save them (Matt. 7:22).

On the other hand, works that are the result of faith are important for the following eight reasons:

1. The apostle Paul preached everywhere that men “should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). These “works” were not the means to salvation, but the results of salvation—works that show by the believer’s conduct that he had truly repented and turned to God. These works include such things as turning from idolatry to serving the living God (1 Thess. 1:9); from lying to speaking the truth; from stealing to laboring and giving to those in need; from speaking corrupt things to speaking things that are good; and from bitterness and anger to kindness and tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:25–32).

2. Believers are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. 2:10). The Bible says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10). Here we understand that our salvation is “not of works,” but rather “unto good works.” (Compare 2 Timothy 1:9 with 3:17 and Titus 3:5 with 3:8.)

What are these “good works which God hath before ordained” (Eph. 2:10)? They are an outgrowth of true holiness of heart, holiness that is blameless in the sight of God and that extends to others because of His love: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love (Eph. 1:4). This truth, then, is what Paul meant when he said, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [the love of God], it profiteth me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).

In the New Testament, believers are instructed to “be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8,14); to be “fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1:10); to be established “in every good word and work” (2 Thess. 2:17); to follow “diligently . . . every good work” (1 Tim. 5:10); to “be rich in good works” (1 Tim. 6:18); to be “thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17); to show “a pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7); to be “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14); “to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb.10:24); and to be “perfect in every good work” (Heb. 13:21).

3. Faith without works is dead (James 2:14–26). Living faith is born of the Spirit of God and with loving, willing obedience keeps His commandments (1 John 5:3,4), thus bringing forth good works. On the other hand, dead faith is born of the flesh, is “not subject to the law of God,” and does not seek to please God (Rom. 8:7,8). It intellectually believes in one God (as the devils do), but does not produce corresponding actions—it merely rests in a profession of Christian faith. It gives assent to God’s Word, but it does not obey. “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).

4. Jesus stressed the importance of works by saying to each of the seven churches in Revelation chapters two and three, “I know thy works.”

5. God gives believers grace to abound to every good work. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).

6. It’s by our good works that we let our light shine before men and our heavenly Father is glorified (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12).

7. Our good works will be rewarded. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10). “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13).

8. Believer’s works are important because when Jesus comes “he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27). Jesus illustrated this truth in Matthew 25:31–46. Therefore, let us “fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Eccl. 12:13,14).


What does the Bible say about the rewards of living for Christ?


The rewards of Christ are great (Matt. 5:12), full (Ruth 2:12), sure (Pro. 11:18), satisfying (Psa. 17:15), unspeakable (1 Cor. 2:9), and eternal (Matt. 25:46). They give believers encouragement:

To walk in obedience and the fear of the Lord— “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:10–12). See Rev. 11:18.

To be temperate in all things— “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:24–27).

To be careful— “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8).

To press forward— “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

To bear the reproach of Christ— Moses chose “to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Heb. 11:25,26). See also Matt. 16:24–27; Luke 6:22,23.

To persuade others of the gospel— “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. . . . Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:10,11). See also Pro. 24:10–12; Isa. 40:9,10; 1 Thess. 2:19; Jude 1:22–24.

To be steadfast in the work of the Lord— “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward” (Heb. 10:35). “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

To love our enemies— “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35). See also Rom. 14:10–12; Jude 1:21.

To keep the commandments of God— “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me. . . . Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:12,14). “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. . . . Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (Psa. 19:9,11).

To be built up in the faith and pray in the Holy Spirit— “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost. . . . Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 1:20,24,25).


Objections Answered


Doesn’t the Bible require believers to keep the Mosaic laws of cleansing?


The works of the law should not be confused with good works. We are saved to do good works (Eph. 2:8–10), but not to do the works of the law (Acts 15:1–11). Paul never calls the works of the law “good works.” He himself was “dead to the law” that he “might live unto God” (Gal. 2:19). Consider two important reasons why New Testament believers are not required to keep the Mosaic laws of cleansing:

First, the laws of cleansing were intended to serve a temporary purpose—to bring us to Christ. They show us that we are all unclean, that we cannot cleanse ourselves, and that we need a Savior. The “law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster [the law]” (Gal. 3:24,25). See also Rom. 7:1–6; Gal. 4:1–7,21–31.

According to the complicated and burdensome laws of cleansing, persons were considered unclean for many reasons, including: being uncircumcised (Ex. 12:43–48; Isa. 52:1; Ezek. 44:7); eating pork or other “unclean” foods (Lev. 11:7,8); having leprosy (Lev. 13:8); having a “running issue out of his flesh”—a scabby sore (Lev. 15:2); issuing a seed of copulation (Lev. 15:16); touching a corpse or entering the tent of a dead person (Num. 19:11–14); touching a grave (Num. 19:16); touching a carcass (Lev. 11:24,39). Also, a woman, after giving birth to a child or having an issue of blood was considered unclean (Lev. 12:2–5; 15:19). Furthermore, anyone accidentally touching an “unclean” person or anything he or she came in contact with, such as a bed, a chair, a saddle, clothing, saliva, or food, was also considered unclean (Lev. 15).

An unclean person was disqualified from appearing in worship before God; hence, he was not allowed to mingle in society (Ezek. 44:7,8; Lev. 12:1–4). Some were even put out of the camp—“every leper, and every one that hath a issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead: both male and female” (Num. 5:2,3).

To be cleansed meant keeping various codes of purification such as bathing the body with water (Lev. 15:5–7,13); washing one’s clothes (Lev. 15:5,6); keeping certain days of purification (Lev. chapters 11–15); going to the tabernacle with particular animal sacrifices (Lev. 15:14,15); and being pronounced clean by the Levitical priesthood (Lev. 14:11; Num. 19:7–21).

Thus, because a person was considered “unclean” by being involved in the ordinary things of life such as eating, disease, childbirth, and death, and because the laws of cleansing were complicated, it was almost impossible for a person to ever be sure he was “clean.” These laws show us, then, that in the sight of God “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags [Hebrew, menstrual rags]” (Isa. 64:6); therefore, we need a Savior.

Second, if a New Testament believer keeps one law of cleansing, he must keep them all (which is literally impossible), or else be cursed. “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Gal. 5:3); “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10).


Why is it impossible for New Testament believers to keep all the laws of cleansing?


These Mosaic laws were designed to be in force only until Christ’s coming (Heb. 9:9,10). They were “a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:17). He has fulfilled all types and shadows of the ceremonial law (Heb. 8:5; 9:8–14,23; 10:1–14). We are, therefore, no longer under the Old Covenant with its tabernacle, Levitical priesthood, and offering up of animal sacrifices. That has been abolished once and for all by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are now under “a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb. 8:6).

Jesus Christ cleansed “unclean” people without their keeping the laws concerning days of purification, bathing, washing their clothes, and going to the tabernacle with animal sacrifices. A leper came to Jesus, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matt. 8:2,3). Jesus also healed the women who had an issue of blood for twelve years (Matt. 9:20,21). He also raised the dead—taking the dead girl by the hand (Matt. 9:23–26) and, on another occasion, touching the bier of the widow’s son (Luke 7:13,14). Jesus’ touching those who were ceremonially unclean showed that His coming put an end to the ceremonial law. His atonement on the cross completed the requirements to keep ceremonial law.

Consider the case of a mother who was considered “unclean” after giving birth to a boy (Lev. 12). The seven laws she had to fulfill for purification do not apply to New Testament believers for two reasons. First, they have already been fulfilled in Christ. Second, the temple in Jerusalem with its priesthood and the offering of animal sacrifices no longer exists.



A Mother Under the Law (Lev. 12)

A Believer Under Grace



1. “If a woman have . . . a manchild: then she shall be unclean seven days” (Lev. 12:2)

Never considered ceremonially unclean—“What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common [or unclean]” (Acts 10:15,28). Jesus taught that the sins of the heart make a person unclean (Mark 7:21–23). He also rebuked the Pharisees because they prided themselves in outward ceremonial cleanliness while inwardly they were morally unclean(Matt. 23:27).



2. “The eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Lev. 12:3).

As a work of righteousness, physical circumcision is no longer necessary. True circumcision is a spiritual work of Christ in the heart and the spirit (Rom. 2:29; Col. 2:11). See also Gal. 5:2,3.



3. “She shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days” (Lev. 12:4).

God purifies the heart by faith (Acts 15:9). “If we walk in the light, . . . the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).



4. “She shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled” (Lev. 12:4). See also Num. 3:13.


One should not assume the hallowed thing represents the Bible and the sanctuary a church building. The Bible purifies (John 15:3; 17:17; Eph. 5:26); it should be read everyday (Pro. 8:33,34; Matt.4:4; 6:11; Acts 17:11,12). The sanctuary was a type of a “greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands. . . . the presenceof God” (Heb. 11,24). Spiritually, believers “enter into the holiest [the sanctuary] by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19–22).



5. “When the days of her purifying are fulfilled, . . . she shall bring a lamb of the first year, . . . and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, . . . unto the door of the tabernacle, . . . unto the priest (Lev. 12:6).

Animal sacrifices, the tabernacle, and the Levitical priesthood have all been abolished forever (Heb. 9:12). Jesus, our High Priest, is the Lamb of God who entered the “greater and more perfect tabernacle, . . . now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:11,24).



6. The priest “shall offer it before the Lord, and make an atonement for her” (12:7).

Through our High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, “we have now received the atonement” (Rom. 5:11).



7. “She shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood” (Lev. 12:7).

There is “a fountain opened . . . for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1)— “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:19). It cleanses “us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).



Thus, we now serve God, not in the literal sense of the laws of cleansing, but in the true sense of their spiritual meaning and fulfillment in Christ.


Is there anything wrong with obligating believers to keep just a few ceremonial laws of cleansing?


Obligating believers to keep some of the ceremonial laws of cleansing was introduced into the early church. Consider the Galatian Church. Through faith in Jesus Christ, they experienced salvation, received the Holy Spirit, suffered for their faith, and witnessed the working of miracles (Gal. 3:2–5; 4:5,6). They had begun well, but false brethren who desired “to make a fair shew in the flesh” constrained them “to be circumcised” (Gal. 6:12) and to “observe days, and months, and times, and years” (Gal. 4:10). Hence, they were influenced to believe that they could be made perfect by adding “the works of the law” to the “the hearing of faith” (Gal. 3:3,5).

Luke described a similar situation in Acts 15. Certain men taught believers, saying, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). Paul and Barnabas, knowing the danger of keeping even one law of cleansing, such as circumcision, “had no small dissension and disputation with them” (Acts 15:2).

Consequently, the matter was brought before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. At the council, “there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). After “much disputing,” Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and James each spoke in favor of not obligating believers to keep the laws of cleansing. As a result, it pleased “the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company” with letters to the Gentiles saying, “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well” (Acts 15:22,28,29).

Paul’s response to the Galatian Church, and the decision of the apostles and brothers in Jerusalem (Acts 15), illustrate why believers are not obligated to keep any Mosaic law of cleansing:

1. God is primarily concerned with heart purity, not ceremonial uncleanness such as uncircumcision (Acts 15:8).

2. Heart purity comes by faith, not by keeping the ceremonial laws of purification (Acts 15:9).

3. The Gentiles, like the apostles, received salvation by grace through faith, not by the works of the law (Acts 15:7–12; Gal. 1:6,15; 2:16; 3:2–5,9,14,26). Paul declared the express testimony of the Bible—“the just shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11). See also Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Heb. 10:38. He also stated that four hundred and thirty years before the law was given, God promised Abraham that He “would justify the heathen [the Gentiles] through faith” (Gal. 3:8,17).

4. Keeping the laws of cleansing are of no spiritual benefit to New Testament believers. They cannot justify (Gal. 2:16); impart the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:2); bring perfection (Gal. 3:3); impart righteousness (Gal. 2:21); give grace (Gal. 1:3; John 1:17); work miracles (Gal. 3:5); give life (Gal. 3:21); give an inheritance (Rom. 4:14, Gal. 3:18); or give peace of conscience (Heb.

9:9; 10:1,2). These blessings only come by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus.

5. Not once did the apostles command believers to keep the ceremonial law (Acts 15:24). In fact, by the authority of the Holy Spirit, they declared that it was unnecessary (Acts 15:28).

6. The apostles, who were “Jews by nature,” (Gal. 2:15) did not observe the laws of cleansing (Gal. 2:19); neither, then, is doing so a requirement for Gentiles (Acts 15:28,29).

7. When we try to keep even one part of the ceremonial law, Christ’s death, our suffering for Him, and the labor of others on our behalf is in vain (Gal. 2:21; 3:4; 4:9–11).


8. He who troubles converts to keep the ceremonial law “shall bear his judgment” (Gal. 5:10,12; 1:6–9; Titus 1:10,11).

9. Obligating believers to keep even one law of cleansing:

• burdens them (Acts 15:28)

• entangles them in a yoke of bondage (Acts 15:10; Gal. 4:9; 5:1)

• troubles them (Acts 15:19,24; Gal. 1:7; 5:12)

• subverts their souls (Acts 15:24)

• hinders them from obeying the truth (Gal. 5:7)

• makes them zealous for the wrong thing (Gal. 4:17,18)

• causes them to be removed from God to another gospel (Gal. 1:6)

• causes them to fall from grace and to need “Christ to be formed in them again” (Gal. 4:19; 5:4)

• corrupts them, as leaven, in their life and conduct (Gal. 5:9)

• causes the cross to cease to be a stumbling block and is made meaningless (Gal. 5:11)

• perverts the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:7)

• frustrates the grace of God (Gal. 2:21)

• makes Christ to become of no effect (Gal. 5:4)

• tempts God (Acts 15:10)

• has its roots in phariseeism (Acts 15:5; Gal. 6:12,13) and produces hypocrisy (Matt. 23:25–29)

Therefore, those who insist on adhering to one law of cleansing as necessary for salvation imply that Christ’s work to justify us by grace is not enough. Moreover, they exclude themselves from the blessings of the gospel of grace: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).


By keeping certain ceremonial laws, won’t I be more holy?


According to Scripture, keeping certain Mosaic laws of cleansing is not a help to holiness, but a hindrance. First, it produces self–righteousness (Phil. 3:9), which, in turn, leads to rejecting the righteousness of God (compare Rom. 9:32 with 10:3); to being more concerned with the external appearance rather than with purity of heart (Matt. 23:25–28; Luke 11:39–44); to justifying ourselves before men (Luke 16:15); and to pride and despising others (Isa. 65:5; Luke 18:9–14; Gal. 6:12,13; Col. 2:16–18).

Observing some of the ceremonial laws of cleansing also leads to self–deception. It makes a person feel religious and holy because he is doing religious things while he is not necessarily humble and godly in his heart. “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Gal. 6:3).

True holiness is attained, not by the works of the law, but by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: “The Gentiles . . . attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith” (Rom. 9:30). On the other hand, “ Israel . . . hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law” (Rom. 9:31,32).

Let’s contrast the blessings of living by faith alone with the dangers of living by faith plus the works of the law:



One Living by Faith Alone

One Living by Faith, Plus the Law



Is delivered “from this present evil world”—Gal. 1:4.

Is turning again to the weak and beggarly elements of the world—Gal. 4:3,9.



Has God’s grace—Gal. 1:6.

Frustrates and falls from God’s grace—Gal. 2:21; 5:4.



Continues in the truth—Gal. 2:5.

Is bewitched and hindered from obeying the truth—Gal. 3:1; 5:7.



Believes the gospel—Acts 15:7.

Is removed from God unto another gospel—Gal. 1:6.



Takes Christ’s burden, which is light—Matt. 11:30.

Takes the burden of the law, which is heavy—Acts 15:10; Matt. 23:4.



Is in the Spirit—Gal. 3:3.

Seeks perfection in the flesh—Gal. 3:3.



Is free in Christ—Gal. 5:1.

Christ profits him nothing—Gal. 5:2.



Stands fast in the liberty of Christ—Gal. 5:1.

Is entangled with the yoke of bondage—Gal. 5:1; Acts 15:10.



Is under the blessings of the gospel—Gal. 3:8,9,14.

Is under the curse of the law—Gal. 3:10.



Has the Word of God effectually working in him—1 Thess. 2:13.

Christ is become of “no effect” unto him—Gal. 5:4.



Considers one who tells him the truth his friend—Gal. 4:13–15.

Considers one who tells him the truth his enemy—Gal. 4:16.



Is being built up—Jude 1:20.

Is being subverted—Acts 15:24.



Rejoices in God—Acts 15:28–31.

Tempts God—Acts 15:10.



Is “justified by the faith of Christ”—Gal. 2:16.

Is “not justified by the works of the law”—Gal. 2:16.



Glories in the suffering of the cross—Gal. 6:14.

Glories in men—Gal. 6:12,13.



Has the peace of God—Gal. 6:16.

Is troubled—Gal. 1:7; 5:12.



Is from Jerusalem, which is above— freedom—Gal. 4:26.

Is from Jerusalem, which now is— bondage—Gal. 4:26.



As Isaac, is born after the Spirit— Gal. 4:29.

As Ishmael, is born after the flesh— Gal. 4:23,29.



Reaps life everlasting—Gal. 6:8.

Reaps corruption and judgment—Gal. 6:8.




We have seen that adding the “works of the law” to the “hearing of faith” (Gal. 3:5) is a definite hindrance to holiness. It is very dangerous to mix faith in Christ with the works of the law, true Christianity with Judaism. It is like being religious without fearing and knowing God. Only when believers are “dead to the law” and “married” to Christ can they “bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4).


Doesn’t freedom from the Mosaic laws of cleansing give believers a license to sin?


Absolutely not! Living by faith in Christ produces true holy living and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 2:20; 5:22,23). While believers are free from the works of the law, they are under “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2; Gal. 6:2) and keep His commandments because they love Him (John 14:15).

Paul wrote to the Galatians, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. . . . This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:13,14,16). Peter also proclaimed, “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16).

Moreover, “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24). “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation” teaches us “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11,12).

In summary, salvation is not a result of our works nor of keeping the Mosaic laws of cleansing in addition to faith in Jesus. Good works as a result of salvation are important, however, because God richly rewards believers for the good works they do in this life out of love for Him.
Return to Chapter list