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The Gospel of Deuteronomy

by Mark Horne

Copyright © 2002

Was Caleb saved by faith or works?

Caleb is just one of many thousands of Hebrews who entered the Promised Land after spending years in the wilderness being led by Moses. God had delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and gave them a law at Mount Sinai based on His Ten Commandments. Before Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, Moses preached a final sermon which included an exposition of the Ten Commandments. It is commonly called Deuteronomy—“second law.”

Typically, Evangelicals are not always sure what to do with this document and others in the Old Testament. Jesus came and made rather big changes in the way God’s people are to behave and live. Furthermore, when Paul deals with those who want to hang on to the distinctive marks of the Old Testament, such as circumcision, he is quite severe with them and tells them that the Law will only bring a curse on them.

Yet Paul actually appeals to the Law in order to defend and explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

“And the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”–that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10.6-9).

Paul is quoting from near the end of Moses’ sermon when he is summing up all that he has said:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it (Deuteronomy 30.11-14).

Plainly, from this instance and many other times, we can see that Paul believed the Old Testament saints had been saved by grace through faith. There was a curse attached to the Old Testament Law when some of the Jews in Jesus’ day preferred to remain with it unchanged rather than follow Christ. Related to this, the Law’s prescriptions regarding animal sacrifice were inadequate to deal with sin so that Jesus had to come and do by his death and resurrection what the law could not do. However, Caleb and others who followed God did not earn his favor by good works but rather trusted him and were thus declared righteous in his sight.

Obedience to God was not a matter of earning God’s approval but simply of trusting God to be a loving and devoted Father. For example, Israel rebelled and refuse to enter the Land when they first had an opportunity because they didn’t believe they could win a war with the people living there. As a result God made them wander in the desert forty years until that generation died off. Then their children entered the Land. But the author of Hebrews says that Israel was made to wonder because of an unbelief that was disobedient or a disobedience that was unbelieving (Hebrews 2.18). Obedience to the Law was never intended to earn God’s love but to be a demonstration of trust in him.

That’s why the Apostle Paul can say, on the one hand, “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5.6), but say, on the other, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (First Corinthians 7.19). Trusting God results in us following his ways. Faith entails obedience–for we only follow a guide we regard as trustworthy.

Copyright © 2002

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