Is Salvation by obedience to the Gospel more difficult than Salvation by the Law of Moses?
I would not say that obedience to the Gospel is more difficult than salvation by the law. First of all, there was no salvation by the law of Moses which is why Christ came, suffered, bled and died on the cross for us (Acts 4:12). Second, under the New Law, Christ made it possible for us to be redeemed (Galatians 3:13) whereas, under the Old Law, the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). This is why the Old Law has been abolished and why Jesus made a New Covenant with mankind (Ephesians 2:15; Hebrews 8:13).
Now, I know there are some who believe that Jesus’s law is more strict than the law of Moses and that it is not fair since we are under grace. Well personally, it is not for me to say if I think that the requirements under Christ are more stringent than those that were proclaimed by Moses. I mean, you think about an unruly child, under the law of Moses, they were executed, no questions asked. Imagine if that was carried out today. Most of America would be without children. So, I do not reason from my own reasoning. Jesus said keep my commandments, to do his will and I try to do that.
But as to obedience, are we to assume that we do not need to be obedient to God? When we further look into the Scriptures, we find that nature obeys God (Matthew 8:27), unclean spirits obey Him (Mark 1:27) and we are told to obey God (Acts 5:29). So, since we are to obey God, then, how are we to know what exactly to obey? Because we cannot just say that we believe and obey, or just think that we are saved by grace alone and nothing we do matters. That would defeat the purpose of the command to obey God. And so, we find from the Scriptures that it tells us to obey “the faith” (Acts 6:7), obey “that form of doctrine” (Romans 6:17) and therefore we can conclude that if we do not obey “the faith” or “that form of doctrine,” then, we obey unrighteousness (Romans 2:8) and we understand that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9).
Now, as I have already pointed out, both Paul and James, Jesus and many others tell us to serve God. Thus, we can conclude that if we do not serve him, we will perish. You see, it comes down to having a servant attitude and a penitent heart. As James pointed out, just calling yourself a Christian does not mean one is saved. But, calling yourself a Christian and choosing to live a humbled life in service to God, is the way God demands we live. And so, to properly understand works mentioned in the Gospel and our own works, we must define grace.
Dictionaries define grace as “the state of one who is under such divine influence, kindness and compassion toward others and the free and unmerited favour of God.” Truly, grace is God’s mercy to mankind and it is unmerited favour with God, meaning, that we cannot earn grace. This shows the greatness of God’s love. In Ephesians 2:5, 8-9, it speaks of how we are saved by grace. And so, being unable to save ourselves, God sent forth his Son to die in our behalf so as to make our salvation possible and to motivate man to make a willing change from disobedience to obedience of God's will. By the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, together with the work of his personal ministry and the message of the gospel, God can look with favor toward mankind; we can be reconciled to God, and thus be at peace with him; Christ paid the debt; he ransomed us; and made it possible for us to be loosed from the guilt and bondage of sin. The reconciliation which Christ effected is obtained (on our part) by faith in his blood (Col.1:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus willingly gave his life and shed his blood for fallen humanity and, only those who will believe in the significance of his death, loving him for his supreme sacrifice, and earnestly believing the message the Savior gave, can secure the benefits he offers. But salvation by faith is not salvation by faith only (Jas. 2:24). And so, only those whose hearts are tender and teachable, through the word of God, can be changed; the death of God's precious, loving Son is sufficient to touch and change these people, but his death will be scorned by the others.
Now, if we are to say that we are just saved no matter what, then why all the warnings by the Bible writers, why does the apostle John mention to stay faithful until death (Revelation 2:10), why not just have a world where we are all clean and pure? It is because of a misunderstanding about what grace is. True, grace is God's unmerited favor and there is no accountable person who is so good that he merits God's good favor because sin separates us from God, and every accountable soul has violated God's will and thus incurred the guilt of sin. But, while grace is God's part in the salvation process, personal faith, developed from the “the system of faith” (Rom. 10:17) is the responsibility of man because without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6; John 5:24), but again, not by faith only (James 2:17). We are saved by faith when our faith leads us to obey the conditions God has set in the gospel (Acts 2:36-41; 10:34-35). And, that faith comes by learning God's word (John 20:30-31; Acts 15:7; Mark 16:15-16).
And so, without faith, our prayers would not be heard (James 1:2-4). Without personal faith, any outward act of obedience would be meaningless. Therefore, salvation is not obtained by our own power or merit because salvation by grace is "not of yourselves." Now, if we are to say that the only way we could obtain grace was by a direct act on God's part by which he instills faith in our heart, since we cannot be saved without faith, then God is responsible for anyone who dies lost. But, that is fallacy and does not hold to the Scriptures.
Now consider also, that the pattern of God's grace can be seen joined together with man's obedient faith throughout the Bible. I mean, do you think Noah would have been saved had he not built the ark (Genesis 6-9)? Would Naaman been cleansed had he not believed and followed the message (2 Kings 5), or what about Titus 2:11-12, which states, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” If one is blindly saved by grace unconditionally, then why do we need to deny ungodliness and how does the grace of God teach us?
This again is referring to the message. The salvation they received was not of their own design or doing, but it was God's gift. But you know, a gift can still be a gift even if conditions are attached. I mean, you consider a child at Christmas or his birthday who receives a gift. Does he not have to receive the gift with his hands, unwrap it, cut the tape, open the box and look inside to grab hold of that gift? Sure he does. It I was to offer a 100 dollar bill to anyone, wouldn’t they have to come to me, stretch out their arms and receive the 100 dollar bill? Sure the do. Thus, either there is a condition which involves obedient faith or there is no condition and we do not have to do anything to receive salvation. We would not have to go to church, read our Bibles, be faithful till death and could just live as worldly as we want to live and still be saved. Thus, while the gift is conditional, we must have faith in God to keep His promises which is the ground upon which man's relationship with Him stands. And, based on God's initiative, a man is reckoned righteous because he is righteous through obedience to the gospel. And, God set these conditions for one to receive grace.
Now one final point here is that, when we look in the Bible, we find three kinds of works. There is the works of the Mosaical Law and grace was not a provision of that law (John 1:17). There is the works of man, based upon the authorities of men (Matt. 15:8-9) which is why, when it comes to religion, they cannot save. And then there is the works of God which God commands (James 2). Why even faith is a work (John 6:29). So is baptism (Acts 2:38). And, it is impossible for anyone to be saved without obeying the works of God (Matthew 7:21-23).