There are those in the religious world today who ridicule the idea of keeping commandments. They claim that keeping God's commandments have nothing to do with our salvation today. If someone objects and says that we must keep God's commandments to be saved, the charge of legalism is leveled against him. Is it true that keeping God's commandments has nothing to do with salvation? Are we legalists because we demand that those who follow Christ keep his commandments? Let's examine these questions in light of the New Testament scriptures.
Often, Jesus Himself is cited as one who criticized the Pharisees for being commandment keepers. However, such was not the case. We should note well that Jesus never condemned anyone for keeping God's commandments. Jesus, however, did condemn the Pharisees for placing their own commandments above God's! This is an entirely different situation. Matthew 15:1-9 is one such instance. Jesus confronted the Pharisees in regard to transgressing God's command to keep their own tradition (15:3). He said that they had made God's commandment of none effect by their tradition (15:6). Then He says that they in fact have taught for doctrine their own commandments, the commandments of men (15:9). Keeping such commandments should not be placed into the same category as keeping God's commandments. To equate the desire to keep God's commandments with the desire to keep man's commandments in place of God's commandments is to pervert the words of Jesus and entirely miss the point. Jesus expected others to keep God's commandments. It is because these Pharisees had set aside God's commandments, that Jesus' anger was kindled against them.
In contrast to ridiculing commandment keeping, Jesus Himself preached it! In Matthew 19:17, Jesus told one asking about obtaining eternal life to keep God's commandments if he would enter into life. The man asked what he lacked and Jesus added another commandment, namely, to go sell all that he had to the poor and follow Jesus (19:21). In John 14:15 Jesus said to the apostles, "If you love me, keep my commandments." Loving Jesus is dependent upon keeping His commandments. To say that we love Jesus, yet fail to keep his commandments is hypocrisy at best and outright lying at worst. Jesus reiterates in John 15:10 "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." Note two things about this scripture. First, Jesus equates keeping commandments with abiding in His love. When you note John 14:15 (that you can't love without keeping the commandments) along with John 15:10 (that you can't keep the commandments without abiding in love), one gains a very firm conclusion: we can love Jesus if and only if we keep his commandments. But second, what is even more remarkable about John 15:10 is that Jesus himself is a commandment keeper. He abides in the love of the Father through keeping the Father's commandments. Here is a one-two knockout for those who claim that commandment keeping has nothing to do with salvation.
The apostle John explains further in his first epistle just exactly what the relationship between commandment keeping and salvation is. In 1 John 2:3, 4 we read, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." The simple conclusion is that one cannot come to know God without keeping the commandments. If you don't know God, you can't be saved (2 Thess.1:8). The apostle John comments further in 1 John 5:2, 3 "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." We cannot even love God without keeping God's commandments. In fact, John defines love for God in exactly these terms. He says, "This is the love of God." Let we forget, love for God is the first and greatest commandment. Loving our neighbor is like this commandment, but ultimately comes second (Matthew 22:37-39). My relationship with God always takes precedence over my relationship with other people. This means that I must be concerned about keeping God's commandments.
The bottom line is ultimately this. Those who ridicule commandment keeping, ridicule Jesus himself, for He was a commandment keeper (John 15:10). Those who ridicule commandment keepers, ridicule the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit was only promised to those who kept Jesus commandments (John 14:15-17). And those who ridicule commandment keepers, ridicule God the Father because we can neither know Him or love Him without doing such (1 John 2:3; 5:2). Such has nothing to do with being a legalist; and has everything to do with our being saved. So let's keep those commandments and show God that we truly do love Him!