Issue #152 -------
October 12, 2004
The sin ye do by two and two
ye must pay for one by one.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
How one answers the above question will reflect the very core of one's theology! This question and its answer take us to the very heart of faith and the essence of the gospel. It is not a trivial question. Indeed, it is the question each of us must at some point prayerfully ponder, with our response determining the nature of our subsequent spiritual journey. Yes, it is that important!
Very few people ... very few ... will openly declare the passion of our Lord to be in any way a "token" payment for sin. The notion that Jesus only partially paid the prescribed penalty for sin is almost unthinkable to discerning disciples. Such a view tends to trivialize the suffering and death of our Lord. Over the years some have indeed declared such a doctrine, but they are few, and rarely regarded with any favor by the majority of disciples. In my survey of the readers of these Reflections, and I received a great many responses (several hundred), only three people took the position that the sacrifice of Christ was only a partial or token payment for sin. I happen to agree with the majority position!
When my Lord went to the cruel cross, the debt was cancelled --- it was marked: Paid In Full. We sing a well-known hymn titled "Jesus Paid It All" (written by Elvina Hall in 1865). The chorus goes -- "Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe." The thought, obviously, is that at the cross Jesus "paid in full" the penalty for sin; not only for my sin, but also for those of anyone who is willing to come to Him to receive that free gift. The teaching of this chorus is that the full penalty for sin has been met; it was met once for all by our Lord's sacrifice. Another lesser known hymn, which has the same title, was written some years later (in 1917) by M.S. Shaffer. It goes, in part -- "Gone is all my debt of sin ... Yet the debt I did not pay, Someone died for me one day, Sweeping all the debt away, Jesus paid it all." Again, the message is the same as that of the earlier hymn: the full penalty for sin has been paid; paid by Christ on the cross; paid in full.
There is an old American folk hymn titled "He Paid A Debt" that has a marvelous message of God's matchless grace. The first stanza and chorus read as follows -- "He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand new song, 'Amazing Grace.' Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay." That tells it just like it is, doesn't it?! The cost of redemption was too high for any of us to pay, either for ourselves or for anyone else. "No man can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him, that he should live on eternally; that he should not undergo decay -- For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever" (Psalm 49:7-9). It was a debt we could not pay. But, thanks be to God, the debt has been paid. It was paid once for all by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
These hymns reflect what I believe to be a timeless truth: the sacrifice of Christ was substitutionary in nature; He "took my place" and He paid in full the penalty for sin. Strange as it may seem, this teaching is rejected by some of our fellow disciples. Indeed, they find these hymns to be offensive, and some even refuse to sing the words. Such is largely the view of those still steeped in legalistic thinking. This threatens their works-based efforts at self-redemption, and thus they reject this gift of grace. Paul informs such persons that they "have fallen from grace" and "have been severed from Christ" (Gal. 5:4). If Jesus, by God's grace, paid the penalty for sin in full, and you reject that gift and seek to merit your own redemption, you will stand before the judgment seat outside of grace and apart from Christ. What an unenviable prospect!! One reader wrote, "I would much rather sing 'Jesus Paid it All' than to sing 'Will It Do, Precious Lord?'" If we are relying on our own effort, the answer is: NO, it will not do!
A reader in Tennessee observed, "For one who is more interested in what God has revealed than the speculations of some theologian, such statements as that of Isaiah 53:6, 'The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all,' should settle the matter." As noted, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the Father sent the Son to atone for sin ... ALL sin. It is an unlimited atonement in that it is freely offered to all men, for He does not wish "for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Thus, He gave His beloved Son, "so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Yes, the atonement accomplished by Jesus is unlimited; it is offered to all. On the other hand, it is clearly a limited atonement, in that it will only prove efficacious for those who embrace it. The gift is offered to all; it is accepted by only a few. Jesus "bore it all" and paid the penalty for sin in full ONLY for those willing to accept this gift of grace through demonstrated faith. We can do nothing to merit it, but it will never be ours if we don't reach out and take hold of it.
Some have tried to argue that Jesus merely died "on our behalf," but that He did not truly die "in our place." In other words, they reject the doctrine of a "substitutionary sacrifice." T. Pierce Brown, a well-known and widely-respected servant of the Lord, and a noted Christian author (who graciously informed me, "You may feel free to use my name as long as you give my actual quotations"), emailed me the following thoughts on this particular aspect of the debate. I think his thoughts are excellent, and I share them with you here:
Of course, other passages come to mind --- "And He died for all" (2 Cor. 5:15), where the Greek scholar Alford points out that "the vicariousness of Christ's sacrifice is necessary" to a correct interpretation. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf" (2 Cor. 5:21). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). In 1 Thess. 5:9-10 we learn that the redeemed are "not destined for wrath" because our Lord Jesus "died for us." Hebrews 9:28 informs us that Jesus Christ was "offered once to bear the sins of many." "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18). "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24). There are, of course, a great many others (and we didn't even list those in the OT writings), but something needs to be said about a passage in Hebrews which the critics of the "paid in full" doctrine often mention as "proof" of their own theory of "partial" or "token" atonement: Hebrews 2:9 -- "...by God's grace He might taste death for everyone."
To merely "taste" death leads some to believe Jesus did not truly experience death to its fullest, thus His sacrifice should only be regarded as "token," at best. There are several places where this idiom is used -- Matt. 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27; John 8:52. These passages make it clear that the idiomatic phrase signifies the fullness of death. Indeed, the Jews argued with Jesus in the John 8 passage, signifying that Abraham was indeed dead, so why was Jesus declaring some would not "taste death"? They knew what He was saying, even if some don't seem to today. "The verb means to taste with the mouth, from which the metaphorical sense 'come to know' develops. It means here that Jesus died, with all that that entails" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 25).
There is really no scholarly justification, however, for the notion that the idiomatic expression "tasting death" merely denoted some type of "token" or "partial" sacrifice of life. Its common usage clearly denotes just the opposite. John Calvin, in his Commentary on Hebrews, said that this means "Christ died for us, and that by taking on Himself what was due to us, He redeemed us from the curse of death." R.C.H. Lenski wrote that the phrase "to taste death" means "to undergo all its dread bitterness; it is not a softening but rather a strengthening of the simple verb 'to die.' Jesus tasted death, not by merely sipping, but by fully draining the cup" (The Interpretation of Hebrews, p. 77). Dr. Kenneth Wuest, the noted Greek scholar, observed, "He was made for a little time lower than the angels, in order that He might taste death for the human race. The penalty of sin was paid by Him" (Hebrews in the Greek New Testament, p. 58). Bro. Robert Milligan, the late President of the College of the Bible at Kentucky University, wrote in his commentary on Hebrews (published by Gospel Advocate Company, 1973), "To 'taste death' is the same as to experience death, or to suffer death. And the phrase 'for every man' is just as plain as it can be made; clearly indicating that the atonement of Jesus Christ is for every human being" (p. 105).
I think it can be safely concluded that the overwhelming majority of disciples of Christ are fully convicted in their hearts, by virtue of their study of the inspired Word, that Jesus was made to be a curse on our behalf, bore our sins to the cross, and died there in our place as the substitutionary, atoning blood sacrifice provided by the grace of our God, and that He paid in full the prescribed penalty for sin. Those who reject this teaching, or who twist it in some way, have been the cause of several false doctrines which have plagued the Lord's church for many centuries. In the remainder of this issue of Reflections I would like to examine these false doctrines, and demonstrate how they depart from the above truth regarding the fullness of our Lord's atonement.
The Penalty Paid In Full:
The Wicked and their Wages
Admittedly, some readers were confused about this whole issue; a handful were even somewhat displeased with me for even bringing the matter up. They felt the whole issue has no relevance to men today. One reader asked, "Al, why would you raise such an issue? It will only create doubt among the weak and unsaved." I suppose such a question could be posed with regard to virtually any doctrine or practice. Why would we dare to discuss various misunderstandings concerning baptism? Wouldn't preaching God's Truth on the subject merely "create doubt among the weak and unsaved"? I am presently doing some work on a Reflections article dealing with baptism for the dead, something the Mormons practice very faithfully. Should I cease work on that article because it might trouble them to have their practice exposed to the light of God's Word? Some thought I was wrong for the stand I took against racism and homosexuality in a recent issue of Reflections; some "took me to task" for that article, feeling the bigots and perverts might be offended by my proclamation of God's Word. On more than one occasion the disciples of Jesus came to Him and informed Him that people were "offended" at His teaching. My response is the same as the Lord's --- He kept right on preaching and teaching Truth. So did the apostles when they were told to cease and desist.
Brethren, I don't apologize for taking a stand on God's Word, nor do I apologize for asking the tough questions which often challenge our comfort zones and force us to examine afresh our beliefs and practices. Saints have been slumbering in pews far too long, and the lost have been largely ignored while factionists fought their foolish feuds with one another. One critic of mine wrote, "Knowing you, Al, you have a hidden agenda with this question." No, brother, my "agenda" is not hidden at all; it is very visible --- Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and yet many, both saved and lost, apparently don't have a clue what that means. Some, indeed, proclaim this truth, but then don't practice it. My "agenda" is to hold aloft this glorious gift of God's grace and in so doing shed light on the horrendous doctrines and practices that tend to subvert it. Frankly, many disciples of Christ have never even bothered to think about all of this ... ever. They weren't even aware of the deadly inconsistencies of some of their teachings and practices which are completely contrary to a truth they were publicly professing, but which they were failing to fully perceive. One reader wrote, "Very interesting topic, and one I have never considered." Another reader said, "Just when you think you have heard all questions that could possibly come up, Al Maxey comes up with one you have never heard." Brethren, it's one we need to hear .... and to prayerfully consider.
Jesus paid the penalty for sin; He paid it in full. Most of us profess to believe this. However, we need to ask a very vital question -- What exactly IS the prescribed penalty for sin? When we speak of the "wages of sin," do we really understand that concept? We declare that Jesus paid in full that penalty for sin, but then many turn right around and declare a much different penalty for sin in their preaching and teaching. And, sadly, most are not even aware they are doing it. What IS the penalty for sin? It is death. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). Moses told the people of Israel, in his final words of counsel to them, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse" (Deut. 30:19). Those same choices face all men today --- life and death, the blessing and the curse. Jesus became the latter for us. He paid the penalty for sin -- He became a curse for us, and He died in our place. The wages of sin is DEATH, and Jesus paid it in full. He was cut off and forsaken by God, darkness came over the land, and He died and was buried. He forfeited LIFE on our behalf that He might fully pay the "wages of sin."
Few would argue with the above analysis ... until it comes time to discuss the final fate of the unredeemed. Those who refuse to avail themselves of the gift of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ must pay their own debt for their sins. If they are unwilling to allow Jesus to pay that debt for them, then THEY must pay that penalty. What is that penalty which they must pay? It is the same penalty that Jesus paid, but which they refuse to accept ... and thus must pay themselves: it is the penalty of death. This is NOT what is most often taught in our churches, however. Instead, we preach and teach that the penalty for sin which the unredeemed must pay is never-ending torture; burning and screaming in endless agony; zillions and zillions and zillions of years of being eaten by immortal maggots. It is the punishment of an "eternal LIFE" lived in everlasting torment. God will never, ever be satisfied with their misery; it must continue forever.
Yes, that is the traditional view; we've all heard it, and most have probably never really bothered to think about it too deeply. We just accept it and move on to more pleasant thoughts. But, we need to ask a question -- If indeed Jesus PAID IN FULL the actual penalty for sin, then by what rationale do we proclaim an infinitely more horrible penalty for those who do not accept His full payment? Let's face it: if the actual penalty for sin is unending torture, then Jesus didn't even come close to being a substitutionary sacrifice! We cannot proclaim "Jesus paid IT ALL," and at the same time proclaim the unredeemed will PAY INFINITELY MORE. This is a theological conflict of cosmic proportions. If Jesus actually DID pay the penalty for sin in full, then that is the same penalty that the wicked will be forced to pay if they fail to avail themselves of His payment on their behalf. On the other hand, if the payment for sin is actually perpetual torture, then Jesus didn't pay it; full payment has NOT been made, and at best His sacrifice was only a "partial" or "token" payment .... the FULL payment to be paid by the unredeemed. Do you begin to see the inconsistency?!
It is my strong conviction that the problem primarily lies in a widespread misunderstanding of the biblical teaching on the nature of man, the wages of sin, and the ultimate nature of final punishment. False teaching regarding these matters has so permeated and influenced Christendom for so many centuries that TRUTH is now virtually viewed as heresy. Thankfully, this is changing dramatically in the church today as more and more begin to realize the horrendous nature of the traditional teaching on these matters. We have a long way to go, however. I have done extensive research on this matter for twenty years now, and have written a great deal on the subject over the years. For those readers who would like to examine the biblical evidence in much greater depth, I would refer them to The Maxey-Thrasher Debate and also to the following Reflections articles, each of which deal with this subject matter in some depth: #28 .... #28a .... #32 .... #41 .... #44 .... #45 .... #46 .... #51 .... #62 .... #68 .... #74 .... #79 .... #80. I believe these various Reflections articles, as well as the very lengthy and thorough debate held with brother Thomas Thrasher, will help clarify the matter in the minds of those readers interested in pursuing the biblical evidence for this position.
To be totally cut off from the Giver of Life; to be abandoned to the darkness of death; to have the Father turn away from you, leaving you to suffer and die .... this is the penalty for one's sin! On the day of judgment, all men will be raised to face the Lord. Some, who allowed Jesus to pay the penalty for their sins, will receive the gift of LIFE, a life which will endure forever. Others, who did NOT allow Jesus to pay the penalty for their sins, will have to pay that penalty themselves. "And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:11-12). Those who have rejected the Son will thus experience exactly what Jesus did --- forfeiture of LIFE. They will be forsaken by God, He will turn His back on them, they will undergo unimaginable suffering as they die, and they will ultimately experience the "wages of sin" -- death; a death from which there will be absolutely no future resurrection to life. Just as the redeemed will be alive forevermore, so will the unredeemed be dead forevermore. "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:46). It is indeed a punishment that is eternal in nature; once dead, they are dead forever! It is a total removal from the presence of the Giver and Sustainer of LIFE, a removal with no attendant promise of resurrection. For just as long as the redeemed are alive, so also will the unredeemed be dead ... both states are everlasting. Just as the redeemed will be given LIFE, nevermore to DIE, so shall the unredeemed be given DEATH, nevermore to LIVE.
Did Jesus pay that penalty for the sins of the world? YES, He did! He was cut off, He was forsaken, He was separated from the Father, and He suffered and DIED. The only difference, and it is significant, is that Jesus was also previously given a promise: Because He was sinless, and because, out of love, He took our place, He would not be abandoned to the grave. He would be raised to LIFE. No such promise is given to the wicked. Thus, in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord not only fully paid the penalty for sin (forfeiture of life; cut off from God), but He also fully guarantees us the victory (resurrection to life; restored to God's presence). He paid the penalty, but He also won the victory over that penalty for those who trust in Him. He thus evidences both the fullness of the penalty, as well as the fullness of the promise.
A minister in Tennessee wrote, "Those who do not accept this gift of salvation will pay the price for sin, which is death -- separation from God." When one is completely cut off from the One who sustains life, the result is death! Jesus paid that penalty for us. However, if one refuses that gift, they must pay it themselves! A reader in Canada summed it up this way: "The wages of sin is Death, not boiling like a chicken for eternity." A reader in Alabama observed, "What was the price that Jesus paid for our sins? Suffering and death. Not eternal, unending torture. Rather, it was one very long day of severe suffering that culminated in His death. Suffering and death was the fully sufficient price paid for the sin of all mankind by Jesus. Why should the price for sin be any greater for any one individual found guilty of sin on the day of judgment than that fully sufficient price paid by Jesus for all mankind?" Indeed, that is the question. Did Jesus pay in full the full penalty for sin? I believe He did. That being true, then that is the same penalty which will be faced by those who do not avail themselves of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He paid it for all of us, but we will pay it ourselves if we refuse it.
The Penalty Paid In Full:
The Redeemed and their Response
There is a far more serious problem than the above theological dispute, however! Although I believe the above study to be an important one, and the disciples of Christ should not flee from it simply because it is controversial, nevertheless, in the final analysis, what God chooses to do with the wicked is entirely in His hands. I have a personal conviction, based on a great deal of research and reflection, but I would never seek to make my views either a test of fellowship or a condition of salvation. I will share my views with those who may be interested, but I don't make a point of belaboring them or even publicly promoting them in my preaching. In short, I don't consider the matter to be a salvation issue, although I do consider it to be extremely important to a more enlightened appreciation of God and His Word.
This next concern, though, is in an entirely different category. It is a salvation issue, and it has long impacted our fellowship with one another. Sin separates a man from His God; that is a salvation issue. That sin must be dealt with; it must be taken out of the way; its penalty must be paid. If it is not, we are lost! No man can appear before his God on the day of judgment, still in his sins, and hope to receive the gift of LIFE. His "wages" due will be death. The vital question for mankind, therefore, and for every man, becomes: What must be done to remove this barrier of sin that separates me from my God? The answer, of course, as we all know, lies in God's gift of His Son Jesus Christ. When John saw Jesus coming toward him, he declared, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
If, in fact, Jesus took away my sin ... if He bore it in His body to the cross ... if He became a curse on my behalf ... if He suffered and died in my place ... if He paid the debt in full ... if He fully satisfied God's prescribed penalty for sin ... then what must Al Maxey pay to stand redeemed before God Almighty? The answer is -- Absolutely Nothing! If the debt is paid in full, I owe nothing. A minister in California wrote, "I have never heard this idea that Jesus did not pay the full price for my sin. What other thing of value could add to His payment? And who would pay it?" A minister in Arkansas wrote, "God paid the full price of redemption in Jesus' death. There is nothing we either could or can do to mend our human/personal relationship with God." A minister in Oklahoma wrote, "Of course Jesus paid our debt in full. To suggest otherwise would constitute a 'balance due' to God; that we, in some way, have a price still on our heads that we ourselves must somehow find a way to expunge. If Jesus only took care of a portion of the penalty, then we must WORK to find a way to build enough credit in our account to pay the balance so God won't send us to hell. When actually said out loud, this idea sounds ridiculous and goes against many of our core beliefs. What a sad way to live! That surely doesn't sound like freedom in Christ." A minister in Wyoming wrote, "If Jesus did not pay it all, then do we pay for part of it? Put simply, this would be a works salvation. Jesus is my Savior ... Period. I pay nothing!"
Sadly, there are a great many people in Christendom, and a great many even within our own faith-heritage, who, although they profess the truth that Jesus paid it all, nevertheless live as though they believe Christ Jesus only partially paid the debt for our sin, and that the remainder is up to us to pay. Thus, their actual practice is: Jesus' payment + my payment = paid in full. Brethren, this is heresy! "The wages of sin is death, but the FREE GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). Each of us are "justified AS A GIFT by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is THE GIFT of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). And yet there are countless legalistic men and women who seek daily to make payment to God for this "free gift." It is not only absurd, it is an affront to the grace of our God. Paul clearly conveys the truth that those who make such an attempt are "fallen from grace" .... indeed, they don't even grasp the meaning of the term! If seeking to make one's own payment for justification and redemption causes one to fall from grace and to be severed from Christ Jesus, then this truly constitutes a salvation issue, does it not?! In speaking of his fellow countrymen, Paul wrote, "My heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:1-3). They, like many today, sought God's favor through their own effort, and, in so doing, failed to find it.
A sister-in-Christ from Florida wrote, "I think it would feel almost blasphemous to take away from the supreme sacrifice that Christ made for us and say that I must do something more for my salvation." AMEN! The legalists, whether they realize it or not, are proclaiming, by virtue of their works-based theology, our Lord's sacrifice on the cross to be merely "partial payment" for sin .... token atonement. Hebrews 10:29 speaks of those who "count as common" the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The writer says this is an "insult to the Spirit of grace," and that the full wrath of God awaits such blasphemers! It is not a small thing to suggest the blood of Christ "didn't do the job," and that it is up to us to "take up the slack!" May God have mercy upon, and open the eyes of, those ignorant disciples who believe such a doctrine of demons!
A well-known brotherhood author wrote, "I have met those in the past who believed that their salvation is by partial payment. They felt that we just do all that we can do, and then God's grace will make up the rest." A reader in Florida said, "This is the old 'boot-strap works' idea, which is impossible for anyone to actually do." "If we have only a partial payment by Jesus, then we are only partially saved by Jesus," writes a reader from Texas. "So much for the GIFT of salvation," observed another reader. An elder in West Virginia wrote, "If Jesus only made a partial payment, then that leaves me with the rest of the debt, of which I am truly incapable of doing anything about! His payment is my hope!" A reader in Texas stated, "If He paid less than ALL, then we must earn our salvation by our own efforts. What a bleak picture this presents! Small wonder that there is so little joy in so many of the churches of our day!" A fellow minister here in New Mexico wrote, with respect to "our legalistic friends (brothers?) .... They must continue 'day by day' to do the works that 'earn' their salvation. The very fact that they must do these works 'day by day' is proof that their works are ineffective in securing salvation. Only in the COMPLETED work of Jesus is salvation made 'perfect'."
"The crux of the matter," writes a reader from Texas, "is that man feels this compulsion to try to pay his own debt for sin." An elder from Florida agrees -- "I believe that through the years we have shifted our focus from God's grace to our own works, and we teach salvation by meritorious works rather than salvation by grace. Perhaps this is why there is so much concern among some brethren about doctrinal perfection (as you know, many teach that there must be 100% agreement on all doctrinal issues in order to have fellowship)." This elder then made what I consider an extremely astute and insightful statement: "We are saved by atonement, not by attainment." It is what He did once for all, rather than an accumulation of my own deeds, that will ultimately prove redemptive! A minister in Tennessee wrote, "It is difficult for most people to accept a gift, given freely, with no expectation of repayment, and most of our teaching in Churches of Christ has hedged on this point. We have wanted to believe in Jesus' power to save, but we have feared the effect of not working. Hence, we have had teachings that say we must do all we can, and then perhaps God's grace will cover the rest (I have heard this expressed in percentage ranges, like 70% our work and 30% God's grace)." One of the readers freely admitted this was a biblical Truth "that was slow and hard for me to realize because it required me to accept a gift that I do not deserve, did not earn, and cannot pay back. I believed that forgiveness of sins was kind of an initial boost up by God, but that I had to climb the remainder of the way by good works."
"I don't think God, or Christ, or the Holy Spirit, do 'token' acts of substitutionary atonement ... or token salvation, or token love, or token anything!" May I say a heart-felt "Amen" to this dear sister from England. What are we saying about Deity when we declare His gift of grace was merely "token" atonement?! That comes about as close to blasphemy as anything I've heard!
We must be very, very careful here, however, lest we take this too far and fall into the theological traps of Universalism or Calvinism, both of which I have been accused of by those who have not grasped the intent of my teaching from God's Word on this matter. Yes, Jesus paid it all for all. BUT, this does NOT mean all are thereby saved, nor does it imply there is no need for some action on our part in the salvation process. The gift of our Lord's atoning sacrifice is for everyone, but not everyone will choose to receive it. God does not force a sinner to be saved. We have free will; the ability to choose! Thus, we must reject the notion of the Universalists that none will be lost since Jesus died for all. Such is a denial of free will and choice. It also denies reality, for most men, sadly, have chosen NOT to receive this gift.
Further, as I just implied in my last statement, a gift may be freely offered, but it must still be received. Jesus paid the full penalty for my sins, but I will never actually benefit from the payment UNTIL I choose to accept that gift. That means I must respond to His offer. This response takes the form of an active, visible, demonstrated FAITH. This is what James means (in James 2) when he speaks of faith without works being dead -- a faith that will not SHOW itself, that will not visibly demonstrate its existence, is incapable of accomplishing its purpose. Thus, mere faith ALONE receives nothing. But, faith evidenced lays hold of the GIFT of God's grace. How do I show this faith in Jesus Christ's work of atonement? I confess Him with my lips and with my life daily, acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior. I renounce my life lived for self, and seek daily to live for Him. I evidence my willingness to accept His gift in a symbolic act of faith known as immersion, which proclaims, in figurative form, His/my death, burial and resurrection. In this visible expression of faith, I show my awareness that He has paid the penalty for my sin IN FULL at the cross, and that He has assured my victory over death in His own resurrection from the grave. I both acknowledge and accept His gift by this manifestation of faith. Does this visible expression (baptism) in and of itself save me? NO! We are saved by grace through faith, not by any work we might do. But, baptism is NOT a "work." It is merely a demonstration of that faith which accepted the gift. A faith that will not demonstrate itself, is a faith that will not save. Thus, baptism itself does not save us, but neither are we saved if we REFUSE to be immersed as evidence of our faith. Undemonstrated faith is DEAD faith! It receives nothing.
It is critical to understand that the above is a RESPONSE of faith ... it is NOT a "works-based" redemption. There is nothing you or I can, or ever could, do to merit having the penalty for our sins paid in full. That is truly a Gift of Grace. It can only be received by FAITH .... but it must be a faith that is willing to ACT according to the will of the Giver. If I freely offer you a new car, and tell you it will be at the showroom next Wednesday, and that all you need to do is go there, sign the title, pick up the key, and drive away, would that car be yours if you never showed up at the showroom? Would it be yours simply because you believed I was telling the truth? No, belief/faith alone would not put that car in your garage. You must ACT on that belief in the manner prescribed. Did going to the showroom or signing the title constitute, in any way, EARNING that car? Did you have to WORK for it? Of course not. But, at the same time, the car would not be yours if you failed to ACT on your faith.
Our Lord has paid the penalty for our sins IN FULL. It is a GIFT. You can't earn it. It is yours for the taking. Do you believe that? Then RESPOND!!! From that day forward live your life in grateful acknowledgement of His matchless grace, walk with Him in the light, allow His Spirit to transform you into His image and produce within you the blessed fruit of His nature. Serve Him actively, love Him unconditionally, live for Him daily. Is this all "working" our way to heaven? No! In Christ our salvation is assured. We never have to question it. We are secure. Our lives of commitment to His will are merely daily demonstrations of gratitude for His gift of salvation. It earns nothing, it evidences much! Yes, "Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe!" He gave His life for us, let's live our lives for Him!
From a Minister in Missouri:
Thanks for your excellent treatment of the "unequally yoked" passage. You have once again demonstrated both your heart to call Christians to "God's best" and a biblical determination to stop short of unnecessarily overloading believers with a legalistic code that chafes and enslaves. In 36 years of preaching, I've seen great fruit from Christians who marry Christians and an ill harvest from the union of Christians and non-believers. I've also seen many spouses (usually men) who were lovingly led to the Lord AFTER the wedding. While I rejoice in this victory, I believe your counsel (and Lipscomb's) is on target. Keep up the great work you do for our Saviour!
From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:
Another great article. My only concern is that you may not have gone far enough. Most will agree that Christians should not be yoked with Non-Christians. Many may even agree that the passage(s), while not specific to marriage, would include marriage as an appropriate point of application. What has concerned me is the way some have defined the "unbeliever." I have heard the application made that a member of the Church of Christ (this is the "Christian") may not marry a Baptist, Methodist, or any other "denomination" (or even another non-denominational "denomination"). I would strongly advise and counsel and protest against any form of "yoking" between a follower of Christ and one who is a Buddhist or Muslim or Pagan. I even counsel for careful consideration of differences of traditions, but I think we have often been too selective in our definition of "unbeliever." Differences in Christian traditions have been blamed for problems in marriages when the real problem was that one or both professed Christians lacked the true spirit of Christ-likeness. There was no submission, respect, forgiveness, tolerance, understanding, sharing, caring or other attributes of LOVE present.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Another outstanding article! Personally, I was surprised to see you accused of being Calvinistic. I have been accused of being both Calvinistic and Armenian, in the same day! Anyway, your article was dead on (no surprise there). In my opinion, Paul was not prohibiting mixed marriages, but rather warning against them. Dating unbelievers was tough enough, I cannot imagine being married to one. While a lot of good can come from such a marriage (a spouse being saved, and maybe even his/her friends), a lot of difficulty and heartache can result as well. Kudos, as usual. Keep on keepin' on, brother!
From an Elder in Tennessee:
I am an elder at the ------ Church of Christ here in Tennessee. My son, who preaches for the ------- Church of Christ in Tennessee, thought I would find your Reflections challenging. It would appear that he is right. There is no substitute for open dialogue! I want more of this!
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Brother Maxey, Excellent work on the "unequally yoked" article. I've been trying to get some brethren to understand that not taking good advice is not sinful -- not smart, but certainly not sinful. For a person to make it sin is to bind where God has not bound. That person needs to read the Lord's condemnation in Matthew 23 of people who do such a thing; and to do what the Lord condemns -- now that's SIN!
From a Reader in Missouri:
What is an "unbelieving" spouse, anyway? We have a friend here who is a member of the Church of Christ, but her husband is a Missionary Baptist (whatever that means). She certainly struggles over this at times, and feels guilty for "not marrying a Christian" (which to her means a Church of Christ member). Just wondering about your thoughts.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Al, once again, a job well done on the article "Unequally Yoked Together." I have taught against the standard doctrine that this passage condemns marriage between a believer and non-believer. I agree with you, and have counseled as you have, that such marriages are fraught with danger. However, they do exist in Scripture, as in your citations. Like you, I believe that the passage more pointedly speaks to any relationship in which a believer is connected to an unbeliever in such a way that compromises the Truth and/or the sacredness of our relationship with the Lord. That includes marriage, job, social club, associations, and any other type of relationship that forces compromise and places one under the power and control of one who is not following the Lord.
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, we are a "One Cup - No Classes" congregation. I hear your readers make reference to "ultra-conservative" congregations, and I assume that we would fall into this catagory. The reason that I am a part of this fellowship is because I've known these people my whole life and I feel that I have some credibility with them. It really hurts me to see the legalism that is so prevalent in so many of our congregations. I hope to be able to help these people see what Christ REALLY wants from His people. If I ever get censored by them, I will not let that take me out of the ministry. Anyway, I was wondering if I needed permission to share your material with others. Thanks again for your work, and continue to pray for God's people. God bless you!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, "Unequally Yoked Together" was a thoughtful Reflections on a timely subject. Comment: the identity of Paul's "unbeliever" in 2 Cor. 6:14 is to be understood using the context furnished by the additional words of Paul in 6:15 thru 7:1. He equates the "unbeliever" to the polar opposite of the "believer" by using the contrast between righteousness and iniquity, light and darkness, Christ not in accord with Belial (Satan), nothing being common between the believer and unbeliever, and the temple of God not being in agreement with idols. Paul's "unbeliever" personifies all that is opposed and in contrast with that which is righteous in Christ. Doctrinal differences we have with our God-fearing religious friends is not the point of Paul's teaching. Keep on with your useful labors.
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