Vol.XIX No.X Pg.7
December 1982

?You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Bro. Turner:

We are confused about merit and obedience controversies. We know we must obey, and that promises are conditioned upon obedience. Doesnt that mean we merit the promised reward?


Mercy may be extended upon conditions that in no wise earn the result. Merit, not obedience, cancels grace!! Merit" is not found in common versions of the Bible, but the dictionary tells us as a verb it means, "to earn by service or performance; to deserve." Thus, "meritorious" works are works that "earn" holiness, by which one could be declared "free of guilt" because he truly is, on his own merit, without sin. Such a one needs no mercy, needs no forgiveness. Never having sinned, he "deserves" praise. It is not a gift, not a reward; it is his by inherent "right" or "due". We must not confuse this with the hope and expectation of faithful saints, for their confidence is not self-generated. They recognize themselves as sinners (unworthy, failing to merit) and look to the mercies of God via the crucified Christ, for forgiveness (Heb. 6:19-20; 7:25; Gal. 2:20).

Many first century Jews sought to "establish their own righteousness" (Rom. 10:3), "having (their) own righteousness which is of the law" (Phil. 3:7-9); and the scriptures have much to say about the futility of such an effort. Because they were under the Old or First Covenant, and New Covenant writers are telling us to look to Christ (not to Moses) for salvation, many have equated "meritorious works" with O. T. command - ments — as if the Holy Spirit was saying, "You can not merit salvation by keeping the Old Covenant" (period). That is true! But was the Spirit saying, "You can merit salvation by keeping the New Covenant?" Think that one over!!

What makes the New Covenant superior to the Old?? Is it better because "be baptized" is a better command that "be circumcised"? The Hebrew writer hinges its superiority to its "better promises" — which depend upon Christ's sacrifice whereby mercy and forgiveness are extended (8:6-13). Paul called the law "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7:12-14), and blamed himself, not the law, for his wretchedness. The solution was Christ as an offering for our sin (8:3), not some new "set of comet ands" whereby we may merit salvation. If the reader has given serious thought to the meaning of "merit" he will agree when we say one does not merit salvation by Old or New Covenant. Salvation is a gift of God: to Old Covenant Jews who were faithful (Heb. 3:16; 11:40) and to people of all ages who through faith are forgiven of their sins by virtue of Christ's sacrifice on man's behalf.

Paul wrote, "I buffet my body... lest I myself should be rejected" and "I press on toward the goal" (1 Cor. 9:27; Phil. 3:14). His confidence, assurance, hope, was not in himself nor in his "merit," but in the mercy of God through Christ. We must obey the Lord (Heb. 5:9; Gal. 5:6) but none of us obey so perfectly we merit heaven. We should be brought to our knees in the realization of our sinfulness and consequent grave need for God's grace and mercy — "and be ye thankful:"