5 Mar 2016

Deuteronomy, Gospel of Moses vs Salvation by Precision Obedience

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Deuteronomy, Discipleship, Exegesis, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Jesus, Ministry, Precision Obedience, Salvation, Sectarianism
Mint, Dill, Cumin ... parsed with precision obedience - Mt 23.23

Mint, Dill, Cumin … parsed with precision obedience – Mt 23.23


Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? – Jesus (John 3.10, KJV)

Beware the leaven of the Pharisees. – Jesus (Luke 12.1, ASV)

There is no one who is righteous, not even one … there is no one who seeks God. – Paul (Romans 3.11)

I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
seek out your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.
– Psalmist (Ps 119.176)

Yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God–the LORD, the God of their ancestors–even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.’ And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. – The Chronicler (2 Chronicles 30.18-20)

Precision Obedience

“Precision Obedience” is a phrase that entered into the lingo of certain quarters of Churches of Christ around the year 2000. Since then salvation by precision obedience has been a rallying cry among the far right in our brotherhood. The irony that a group of people that have blasted evangelical groups for inserting the world “alone” before the words grace or faith because it “adds to” the word of God adopting this terminology should not be overlooked.  The adoption of this terminology is driven by sectarianism and has no biblical basis. Salvation is literally dependent upon the literal precision of our obedience to God.  As the inventor of this doctrine writes in his book:

The doctrines of Jesus, when obeyed lovingly, give life (John 6:63). They are a measuring stick of righteousness and the approval of God (Matthew 7:21-17″ (sic).


God distinguishes the one who is welcome to Him on the BASIS  of whether or not that person fears Him and DOES what is right. The one who does not fear Him or fails to do right will not be acceptable to Him. He will exclude that person.” (my emphasis).

I have serious theological problems with these kinds of statements (and many more in the writer’s book). God welcomes us on the basis of what we do?  They are simply false doctrine. They are not even false doctrine they are false Gospel. These statements are pure legalism.  What is the “basis” of our salvation?

Before I go any further I want to state that I, like the inventor of this man made doctrine, believe the following things he says are true:

I believe the Gospel is universal. I believe the Gospel is final.  And I believe the Gospel is unchangeable.

For all the stress on precision by the Inventor of this doctrine of men, he is very imprecise with his words.

The Gospel is not any command.
The Gospel is not the Bible.
The Gospel is not a pattern of the church.

The Gospel is the Proclamation – the Good News – of what God and God alone has done in Messiah Jesus. The Gospel is the declaration that God has conquered Sin and destroyed Death in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth in accordance with the long narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures (Luke 24.44ff; Romans 1.1-4; 1 Corinthians 15.1-4; Galatians 3.1-3; etc).

That Gospel is indeed universal, final and unchangeable even for inventors of salvation by human precision obedience.  Paul had the audacity to claim that no one was righteous, much less having precision righteousness.

The Chronicler had the audacity to show that people could indeed be genuine seekers of the Lord and his righteousness and while never nearing with precision (in fact the text explicitly says they were precisely wrong).

The psalmist was under no illusion of precision though he loved God’s word, he needed God to seek him and save him. Thus Jesus warned us to beware of those who invent human doctrines of imagined righteousness and demanding others to kneel to them …

Beware the leaven of the Pharisees!

Now we can precisely measure obedience to the micron

Now we can precisely measure obedience to the micron

The Gospel of Moses Vs Salvation by Precision Obedience

Before I go any further, I want to state unequivocally, I believe and I teach that God’s people are commanded and expected to obey him. The issue is not, and never has been, does God expect our obedience. Grace is not license to carelessly disregard the word of God.

Rather, the issue is and will always be: what is the basis of my relationship with God?

Is my obedience the ground that God uses to save Israel or me? Obedience in the Law of Moses is a response to God’s prior act of Grace! Yahweh saved Israel in the Exodus not at Mt Sinai (the law).

Exodus comes before Sinai.
Calvary comes before Pentecost.
Grace comes before faith (and obedience).
It always has, and it always will.

Obedience in the New Testament is always a response to what God has done in Christ. This is the biblical “pattern.”

The Book of Deuteronomy, it was claimed, promotes the doctrine of salvation by precision obedience. We are told by Precision Theologians that many hours have been spent examining Deuteronomy and discovered this was apparently the core of Moses message in that book – if Israel did not obey PRECISELY then they knew the consequences. Appeals are further made to the construction of the tabernacle showing that God demands precision and exactness.

Let it be known that from my point of view, salvation by precision obedience is not only a lie but the worst and most ironic false doctrine around.

But what about Deuteronomy? What does Deuteronomy say? What does it teach?

I love the book of Deuteronomy. My first serious encounter with the book was in 1988 when I read a work by Samuel Schults called Deuteronomy, The Gospel of Love. To use such terminology of any portion of the “Old Testament” (much less Deuteronomy) was utterly beyond anything in my experience at the time. I had to read it. Since then I have read and studied the book of Deuteronomy continuously and have done seminars, preached three different series on the book at 4 different churches, taught seminars and continue to be amazed by it.

Deuteronomy is one of the most important books in the Bible, hands down. It not only was a personal favorite of Jesus. It molded and shaped a huge block of material in the “Old Testament” that is designated by biblical scholars as the “Deuteronomistic History” which is essentially Joshua thru 2 Kings (minus Ruth). The “form” of Deuteronomy is essential for conveying its meaning. Deuteronomy, in its canonical shape, is given as a “Suzerain Treaty.” That is Moses presents Israel’s relationship with Yahweh using a widely recognized format in the Ancient Near East. Israel was in a unique relationship with Yahweh much like a “vassal” would with a superior King that has “saved” them. A Suzerain treaty basically acknowledges that a superior redeemer has saved an inferior. The inferior, therefore, owes the superior his very life and loyalty in response to the being saved.

The basic framework sheer GRACE! The Grace of the superior in saving the vassal. Though Moses uses the form of a Suzerain he uses the words covenant. Biblical covenants are not contracts they are grace.  (See my linked blog: God Enters Covenants Not Contracts: Deconstructing Bad Bible Reading for more).

The Great Story of Grace

Yahweh’s prior act of astonishing, unmerited, grace in the Exodus is in fact the bedrock, the frame, the cross beams, the roof, the windows and even the furniture of Deuteronomy, the Gospel of Moses. To use a metaphor, Deuteronomy has three unequal poles that hold the book together. They are:

1) The Great Story of Yahweh’s Grace in Saving Israel. That story is the Exodus. Israel did nothing accept gripe and grumble, even at the Sea.

2) The Great Commandment where Israel responds to Grace with Love.  The command of all commands is RESPONSE to the Great Story.

3) The Great Society in which Israel shows what it means to love God by loving neighbors. All commands are some how loving our neighbor in RESPONSE to the Great Story of the grace of salvation.

This is Deuteronomy. There is no salvation by precision obedience. Moses the Prophet of grace is gagging at the thought! The great song of redemption, John tells us that the saints will sing for eternity, is the Song of MOSES and the Lamb. It is not the Song of how we save ourselves by using lasers to exactly measure our righteousness.

The first four chapters of Deuteronomy are the Preamble, and Historical review, of the Great Story of Salvation by Yahweh’s grace (the suzerain saving the vassal). Have you noticed that in the first four chapters, Moses summarizes the entire history of the vassal (Israel) as told in the Exodus to Numbers. The history shows the undeserving nature of Israel. There can be no claim to righteous obedience. Do you notice it is a history of everything but precision obedience with God. God brought them out of Egypt with his own mighty hand and redeemed them. But Moses says but all they did was rebel, gripe, complain, fall into idolatry … Israel is the story of Precision DISobedience!

By the time we get to chapter 4, Moses soars into the rarefied atmosphere as he relates the astounding magnitude of Yahweh’s grace in light of Israel’s record (4.32ff). This is literally some of the most beautiful Hebrew in the Bible matching the claims made about God. Yet Moses predicted that Israel would continue in her precision disobedience (4.25-28). Israel will never precisely obey the law as Moses confesses … failure is written in black and white into the Law of Moses itself (read 4.25-28 beloved).  But God was never in a relationship with Israel on the basis of her performance and so Moses declares clearly that while in her state of punishment for her sin (predicted exile).

For the LORD your God is a merciful God;
he will not abandon or destroy you
or forget the covenant with your forefathers,
which he confirmed by oath
” (4.31)

Grace is the fundamental bedrock of God’s relationship with Israel – he saved Israel in the Exodus before there was a “law.” Law, neither as an idea nor as response, was the basis of of salvation – ever! God saved Israel in the Exodus.

The Great Story is the Story of God’s grace, it is not the story of Israel’s obedience, and there is nothing presented as Torah by Moses that is not touched by this “grace pole.” The “Ten Commandments” (Moses calls them “words” not commandments, 4.13) for example are grounded in God’s grace. The first word is

I am the LORD your God
who brought you out of Egypt,
out of the land of slavery
” (5.6).

The first word is not a command but the Proclamation of Grace! It is the word of what God has done. God set you free. God saved you. The command/words that follow are given to those ALREADY redeemed! To emphasize the message, in the middle of the Ten Words we read

Remember that you were slaves
and the LORD your God
brought you out with a mighty hand … THEREFORE …
” (5.15).

The Sabbath command is rooted in the prior act of God’s grace. The command is given to those already saved. They did not obey the command to become God’s people, or get saved, rather they obeyed BECAUSE they were redeemed.

Over and over and over Moses sounds like a broken record because he insists that Israel must never forget the Great Story,

remember you were slaves and Yahweh set you free;
remember you were slaves and Yahweh redeemed you with his own power
etc (cf. 13.5; 13.10; 15.15; 16.1; 16.3; 16.6; 16.12; 17.16; 20.1; 23.4; 24.9; 24.18; 24.22; 25.17; 26.5-9).

Every act of obedience is a response to salvation that God had already granted Israel in the Great Story of Grace. This is why Moses insists that Israel’s relationship with Yahweh is not a covenant of LAW! Moses insists that Israel’s relationship is a “covenant of love/HESED” (Deut 7. 9 & 12).

In fact the entire Hebrew Bible conceives of Israel relationship with Yahweh as a “covenant of love” (1 Kgs 8.23; 2 Chron 6.14; Neh 1.5; 9.32; Dan 9.4; cf. Ps 103; 107; 136; etc). This proclamation occurs in a context where Moses insists that God chose Israel for the same reason he always chooses – God loves the nobodies of this world. You were not powerful, rich, or pure rather God simply “loved you” and chose you and with his own power defeated Pharaoh and made you his own (7.7-9).

It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you–for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD love you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out wit a mighty hand and redeemed you … Know therefore that the LORD  your God is God, the faithful God who maintains his covenant of love/hesed to those who keep his commandments

Read those words out loud once again.

Redemption was prior to, and the basis for, obedience according to the Gospel according to Moses.  Obedience to the Savior shows loyalty and love for him.  Just as exclusive loyalty to one’s spouse shows love to him or her.

Camel Swallowing

Knowledge of Ourselves Prevents false Gospels

In Deuteronomy 9 it is as if Moses anticipated Precision Obedience Theology. So he takes Israel on a memory train (memory in Deuteronomy is essential for recognizing our historical lack of precision obedience and our utter dependence upon diving grace). Sometimes religious people get a little to sure of their righteousness, so Moses states bluntly,

it is NOT because of your righteousness
do not say it is because of my righteousness
it is not because of your righteousness
for you are a stiff necked people” (9.4-6).

Read that again. Out loud.

When the LORD your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to occupy this land’; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is dispossessing them before you, in order to fulfill the promise that the LORD made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know therefore that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; FOR YOU ARE A STIFF NECKED PEOPLE. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God … you have been rebellious against the LORD from the day you came out of land of Egypt until you have come to this place.” (Deuteronomy 9.4-7)

The claim that Israel was saved from Egypt because they obeyed with precision is false. Its not only false but a lie.  Israel was granted the land because they kept the law with precision. Its not only false, but a lie.  Israel was redeemed by Grace.  Israel was kept by God while rebelling from the moment God brought them out by grace. Israel was to inherit the land by grace.  Moses could not be more emphatic. When was Israel ever precisely obedient? Where was the place?  Moses knew not the time nor the place!

Moses then spends the rest of the chapter telling them/us about God’s patient mercy with them/us because they/we have been “rebellious against the LORD as long as he has known you” (9.24, NRSV).

The problem is that we Pharisees often never recognize our own rebellion against the Lord.  Only Pharisees would dare to get out the micrometer to proclaim the precision of their obedience to the Lord.  Moses will have none of it.

The Great Commandment Responds to the Great Story

In fact when the Great Story called for the response, it called for the Great Commandment, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength (6.4). The actual response God demands of us is to sell ourselves out utterly for him. Love him with every particle of our being!

Our children brilliantly ask “what is the MEANING {oh that we would do that!} of the stipulations, decrees, and laws” (6.20). The doctrinally sound Israelite said “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD fought for us, the LORD saved us, the LORD redeemed us” (6.21ff).

The meaning of the command was not get out your bean counter or your micrometer.  The meaning of the individual laws was to point to the Great Story of God’s salvation of Israel by grace. The meaning of the Torah is GRACE!! God’s Grace for slaves, aliens, and rebels. And that is why we are “careful to obey” (6.25) … not because I am trying to GET saved but because I love the Lord with all my heart, soul and strength has saved us from slavery! I owe him my life.  Being “careful to obey” is not counting how many kisses to give a wife or husband or to precisely measure the technique. Being careful is making sure that I am loyal to and passionate about the one who has first love me, rescued me and married me (that is what a covenant is).

The same sort of confession of faith and summary of the “Gospel” is found in 26.5-11.  Note that the narrative that is retold is a miniature of the story of the Exodus – the Gospel of Grace –  in that text is Israel coming before the Lord in worship.

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down to Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, SO NOW I BRING the first fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.

For more on this amazing passage see My Father was what Kind of Aramean!?

This passage, used every Pentecost, is the confession of the story of salvation by grace and we bring our first fruits to Yahweh as grateful response. Perhaps this is why words in Deuteronomy like “love” occurs 21x (surpassed only by the Gospel of John in the whole Bible) and “heart” which occurs 25x and perhaps most surprising is the word “joy” and its cognates over 12x … always in contexts of worship and obedience (cf 12.7, 12, 18; 14:26; 16.11, 14; 26.11; 27.7).

One fact we need to recall is that historically no Israelite ever had his/her own personal copy of the “Bible” or even Deuteronomy. They did not argue over words. Even the King did not have a copy he could carry around (17.14-20). The “Bible” of the ancient Israelite was acted not read. The “festivals” grounded the Israelite in the Great Story (the festivals reenact the major points of the Exodus story of grace). That is why Moses actually “summarizes” what it is that God expects on more than one occasion. For example Moses pauses in chapter 10 and basically says – I know I have thrown a lot at you but this is brass tacks what you need to do.

And now,
O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you
but to fear the LORD your God,
to walk in all his ways,
to love him,
to serve the LORD your God
with all your soul and to observe the commands and decrees
” (10.13)

What does this look like? So in vv. 14ff Moses (like in ch.4.32ff) soars. Before he tells us to obey, he first reminds us how incredible the Lord is. He describes how awesome Yahweh is. God set his “affection” on them. That he “chose them” out of the whole world … in light of this what does it mean to love, serve, fear? Israel’s response of obedience is predicated on God’s prior action and astonishing, unmerited, grace therefore,

1) “circumcise your heart


2) “love those who are aliens” (10.16,19) … the “aliens” are Canaanites btw

In between these two is the call for a heart operation and love of alien, is a rapturous description of the generous, gracious, love of God for the alien, and yet another REMINDER that Israel was also an alien with all the danger that entails and THEN says now you love them too. So Moses is telling people: if you remain humble before the Lord and you love your alien neighbors as yourself you will never go astray from all the particulars I am saying to you. This is, btw, exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 22.34-40.

No Israelite had the capability to perform the kind of legalistic hair splitting obedience that Precision Theologians vainly imagine to be in the text. Grace is the ground of Israel’s existence. Israel never had a track record of obedience much less precision obedience. Obedience is response. The Great Prophet of grace says to the Israelites that it is God they should brag about and lean on …

He {Yahweh} is your praise;
He is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders
you saw with your own eyes.
Your forefathers went down into Egypt were seventy in all,
and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky
” (10.21)

For all their demands of Precision Obedience the Pharisees were FAR from the Heart of God

For all their demands of Precision Obedience the Pharisees were FAR from the Heart of God

What Does God Require?

Paul warned about those who want to teach the Bible (i.e. the law) and even come up with new lingo.  The real aim of the law is love that comes from a pure heart he states (1 Timothy 1.5).  Some do not seem to understand this. Rather,

some … desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either of what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions” (1 Tim 1.7)

Moses how do we put all this stuff into practice? Circumcise your heart! Love the aliens among you. Remember how awesome God is in saving you.

Sounds like Jesus! Sounds like Romans!

No one that has let God circumcise our heart (as Moses says in 30.6) can fail to obey to our uttermost as we cling to his promise of eternal grace. He is our Praise!!

Circumcising our heart is not even a human work that we perform to obey God, Moses proclaims.  It is a gift of grace,

the LORD your God
will circumcise your heart
and the heart of your descendants,
with all your heart and with all your soul,
in order that you may live.

Micah echoes Moses when he says,

He has told you, O mortal,
what is good; and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
and to love hesed {grace, mercy, steadfast love}
and to walk humbly with your God
” (Micah 6.8)

That is how we “carefully” obey. What else can we do!?

Biblically I obey because Exodus has come BEFORE Sinai. Only the People of God, biblically, even attempt to obey him, however flawed it may be. God’s enemies – and we see this over and over in the Psalms – are his enemies “precisely” because the have no desire to follow him in any degree.

God makes us his people then we respond in gratitude. My flawed obedience that is ever falling short of the glory of God – read the history of Israel with eyes to see beloved – can be taken by the grace of God and made beautiful (2 Chronicles 29-30). The Pharisees of Matthew 23 are Precision Obedience Theologians. Let me count 9 grains of mustard seed and 1 as a tithe.

Jesus, the Magnificent Student of Deuteronomy, was completely unimpressed. Why? Because Moses never taught the false gospel of salvation by precision obedience.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God … Paul (Ephesians 2.8)

Good Sources on Gospel of Moses for Preaching and Personal Study

Patrick Miller (one of the finest “Old Testament” scholars around) Deuteronomy in the Interpretation series is worth its weight in gold

Dennis T. Olson (another outstanding “OT” scholar) Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading

Daniel Block, The Triumph of Grace: Literary and Theological Studies in Deuteronomy

2 Responses to “Deuteronomy, Gospel of Moses vs Salvation by Precision Obedience”

  1. Dwight Says:

    Precision obedience must require precision faith, what ever the term precision entails. We used to be able to be obedient, but now we must be precise…in what way. If we are talking perfect, then we will all fail. If we are talking doing exactly what the Bible says exactly, then we must start reciting the Lord’s Prayer as our prayer. The problem is that we are creating a term to place on others, when we cannot claim precision ourselves.

  2. Dwight Says:

    I came across this, “”For my part, I had much rather my lot should be found among them who do really believe with the heart unto righteousness, though they are not able to give a tolerable definition of faith unto others, than among them who can endlessly dispute about it with seeming accuracy and skill, but are negligent in the exercise of it as their own duty” (John Owen).”
    What I find, is just like the Pharisees, those that make the “laws” on obedience and works, seem to be lacking in these areas. They push obedience in things like IM, but don’t take the time to help those that are struggling in the real world. They have with precision theologically separated themselves from those around them in terms of self-righteousness based on terminologies.

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