Few things aggravate like being in service and the householder tells you how you can’t earn salvation through good works. Say: “Well, the good works can’t hurt, can they?” Let him try to assert that they do. If they get truly condescending, sloughing you on the basis that they’re Christian (as though you are not), I have even been known to say: “Only a Christian would do what I am doing. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that you are not doing it yourself.” Watch that smug smile fade. I mean, it is fine to decline conversation—more people do than don’t—just not on that basis.
It’s a little dicey. Use it very sparingly, only when richly deserved, and probably not even then, for it is not exactly an example of turning the other cheek. Duh. Every Witness knows that they are not earning anything in their house-to-house ministry. But it is like the mirror that you put under the nose of someone lying prostrate. If that mirror doesn’t fog up, I don’t care how many people tell me that the person is alive—he’s dead. It is the same way with faith.
Besides, it is been there/done that as regards trying to earn life. That is what the Mosaic Law was all about. “You must keep my statutes and my judicial decisions; anyone who does so will live by means of them,” said God of that Law. (Leviticus 18:5.) You could even say that God had set them up for failure, since it was not possible for imperfect persons to keep that perfect law, and he knew it. Of course, you don’t say it, because the purpose of that Law was to direct them to something better—that they would not have seen the need for before. It was setting them up for the real life. That’s what Paul means about the Law being a tutor:
“However, before the faith arrived, we were being guarded under law...looking to the faith that was destined to be revealed. Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ,that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.” - (Galatians 3:23-25)
As they trod a path back and forth to offer up sacrifices for their sins, it would occur to a remnant of them that something more permanent would be nice. They couldn’t earn life by following Law. They were flawed. It was beyond them. What they needed was forgiveness for sin, not a just a continual reminder of them via their price tag. As to being “guarded under law,” the Law gave them plenty to do and kept them off the streets where they might get into mischief with the rowdy neighbors.
And so there is the New Covenant, to replace the old Law Covenant [Old and New Testaments, in most Bibles] The old covenant is between God and Israel, mediated by Moses, and inaugurated through the sacrificial blood of animals. The new is between God and spiritual Israel, mediated by the Son, and inaugurated through his own shed blood. The name “Israel’ is even retained—only the identity of those who occupy the slot has changed—those who “contend with God,” as the name means.. It is now “the Israel of God,” (Galatians 6:16) since “not all who descend from Israel are really ‘Israel.’” (Romans 9:6)
Paul waits until he writes to Christians in Jerusalem [Letter to the Hebrews] before he draws all the parallels. They were at “ground zero.” They were in the host city. Three pilgrimages took place there each year—there occasions when the magnificent temple and even the entire city would be abuzz. Meanwhile, the Christians there were meeting in private homes, not the big glorious temple. Did they suffer an inferiority complex?
If you had been a believer anywhere else, you would not have had that contrast for someone to rub into your face, but in Jerusalem you did have it. It took its toll. After a furious spurt of early activity, the ministry of those Christians had cooled off. “For although by now you should be teachers, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God, and you have gone back to needing milk, not solid food,” the apostle writes at Hebrews 5:12.
They are in some spiritual danger. If you don’t keep forward motion on the bicycle, you fall off. “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God...so that none of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin. For we actually become partakers of the Christ only if we hold firmly down to the end the confidence we had at the beginning.” (3:12-14)
Paul draws upon their knowledge of mutual history. Sure, God, led the forefathers out of Egypt, he says, but he afterwards cast off those “testing” him, those “provoking” him, those “always going astray” despite their having seen his works for 40 years—those who gave in to “lack of faith” and became “disobedient.” (3:7-19)
He ups the ante significantly when he speaks of those who accept, but then reject, the free gift: “For as regards those who were once enlightened and who have tasted the heavenly free gift and who have become partakers of holy spirit and who have tasted the fine word of God and powers of the coming system of things, but have fallen away, it is impossible to revive them again to repentance, because they nail the Son of God to the stake again for themselves and expose him to public shame.” (6:4-6)
Not to worry, though. He is talking tough, but it isn’t to them: “But in your case, beloved ones, we are convinced of better things, things related to salvation, even though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name by ministering and continuing to minister to the holy ones.” (6:9-10)
He just hopes that they will pick up the slack: “But we desire each one of you to show the same industriousness so as to have the full assurance of the hope down to the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (6:11-12)
He helps them as he points out that the fantastic temple and the high holidays are not the real thing—they are things that go hand in hand with the Law that has become “obsolete,” is “growing old,” and is, in fact, close to “vanishing away”—which it did, just a few years later when Romans destroyed that temple in 70 C.E. It never had been the real thing. It had been the pattern of the real thing.
These “men [the Jewish priests] who offer the gifts according to the Law—[they] are offering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.” Those Christians in Jerusalem had the real thing—big temple notwithstanding. Even “Moses, when about to construct the tent, was given the divine command....‘See that you make all things after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.’” (8:4-5)
They had the New Covenant, not the Old. Paul refers to how it was foretold through Jeremiah (31: 31-34): “Look! The days are coming,’ says Jehovah, ‘when I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant.... I will put my laws in their mind, and in their hearts I will write them....And they will no longer teach each one his fellow citizen and each one his brother, saying: “Know Jehovah!”...I will be merciful toward their unrighteous deeds, and I will no longer call their sins to mind.’” (8:8-12)