by Al Maxey

Issue #416 ------- October 10, 2009
Grace is necessary to salvation, free will
equally so --- but grace in order to give
salvation, free will in order to receive it.

St. Bernard {1090-1153}

Identifying Salvation Issues
What Really Matters to Our God?

As you may recall, I began Reflections #414 with a very special request of all my readers: a request for input regarding what they believe constitutes a "salvation issue" in the eyes of their heavenly Father. You may want to reread those first two paragraphs and refresh your memory, as this current Reflections will be a compilation of your responses and my own insights on this vital question. So, what really matters to our heavenly Father? What does He consider to be essential to one's eternal salvation?! What that dear, aged Bro. Al Waysright down at the One True Church thinks is irrelevant. One mere mortal's opinion is as good (or bad) as another's. It is what God thinks, and what He has specifically revealed unto us, that truly matters.

One of the tragic realities with which we are frequently plagued within Christendom is a spirit of sectarian contentiousness that threatens to dismember the One Body. Each little party proffers a particular pattern as the one, true pathway to eternal life. Submit to each and every one of their personal (and often petty) preferences and "thou shalt be saved." One reader wrote to me lamenting how precious little time is ever spent genuinely delving into God's Word and developing our relationship with Him and one another, and all because we've "spent all our time fighting among ourselves over the proper ways by which we 'earn' our salvation." Earn?!! Yes. Too frequently we regard this gift of eternal life as wages due. It is, frankly, a deadly error in need of firm rebuke and rebuttal.

When eternal life is regarded as something for which each of us must daily and tirelessly work -- a reward that we must merit in some specific way -- then it is only to be expected that men will at some point begin compiling lists of exactly which works must be performed and which actions accomplished to earn/merit salvation. Frankly, the very fact that we seek such a list reflects a misguided theology!! A reader in California picked up on this immediately, writing that any effort to identify "issues of salvation" was, in effect, taking "the grace and love of an Almighty God toward His undeserving creation" and "boiling it down to an intellectual discussion rather than a reflection on His love for us." As he stated, "Salvation is God's gift to us. We don't deserve it, but God gives it freely." By analyzing this ad infinitum we only succeed in detracting from it and even diminishing it. The simple reality is: "we are justified freely by His grace" [Rom. 3:24], and "the gift of God is eternal life" [Rom. 6:23]. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast" [Eph. 2:8-9]. A person does not work to earn a gift; it is not something one merits; it is freely offered -- reflecting the Grace of the Giver. If eternal salvation was something we received by complying with some legal list of patternistic practices, then it would no longer be a gift freely given. A brother in Texas phrased it this way -- "Salvation is pretty basic in my understanding. It is the Gift of God. It is offered to all, although all do not accept it. We accept through faith; we are then united in love."

Based upon the above clear teachings from God's inspired Scriptures, we can safely conclude that both grace and faith should be considered "salvation issues" (if I may use this phrase). In other words, both are absolutely essential to salvation. If God had chosen not to manifest His grace to mankind, salvation would never be ours. Similarly, if man has no faith in that grace, then we, by our lack of faith, exclude ourselves from the eternal blessings of this gracious gift. Thus, God's grace and our faith are essential to the attainment of salvation. If either or both should vanish from the equation, one's salvation vanishes as well. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" [Heb. 11:6]. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a cogent argument against such a concise statement of fact. Faith matters! It's as simple as that. And yet, Scripture makes it plain that faith alone ... a faith that refuses to manifest itself ... is not a saving faith, which is precisely the point James, younger brother of our Lord Jesus, sought to make in chapter two of his epistle. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? ... faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" [James 2:14, 17]. This has bothered some disciples, for they perceive James to be declaring a salvation "by works." This was not what James was saying, however. James was merely stating the principle that if one's faith does not motivate and move them to action, then their claim of "faith" is a false one. Genuine faith (saving faith) is active in nature -- it shows itself.

For example -- if we truly have faith in the Lord, we will not hesitate to confess (acknowledge) that faith in countless ways in our daily lives. In other words, we will evidence it; show it. The apostle Paul wrote, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved" [Rom. 10:9-10]. Paul has very clearly linked genuine faith with a willingness to acknowledge that faith before others, and he further links this demonstrated faith with both justification and salvation. This brings to mind the tragic account in John 12:42-43. "Many even among the leaders believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they wouldn't confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God." Yes, there was faith present (even the demons believe and tremble), but not of sufficient force to motivate and move them to confess Him before men, regardless of the cost.

There are a number of things our faith (if it is genuine) will motivate us to do, each of which are simply visible manifestations of our saving faith. If our faith is real it will motivate us to turn our lives around, and to turn them over to the Lord. This turning is usually summed up in the word "repentance." And yes, a repentant heart, just like a heart filled with faith, will show itself. "Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" [Luke 3:8]. If your repentance is genuine, it will be evident in your life. If your faith is genuine, it will be evident in your life. Are the evidentiary acts of faith salvific in and of themselves? Of course not. But as a witness to our faith, they are of great importance. Although no evidentiary act in itself will save you, yet a faith devoid of these evidentiary acts is a dead faith, declares James; it is a faith that stands utterly alone. Can such faith save a man, asks James? -- James 2:14. The answer of Scripture is: No. Similarly, if a man says he has repented, but there is no evidence of such within his daily actions (if he has failed to bring forth fruit in keeping with his professed repentance), we may legitimately challenge the validity of his claim. The same is true of our faith. If it is visible, it is viable!! Other visible evidences of a viable faith are baptism, communion around the Lord's table, praising God in our daily lives, serving our fellow man in a spirit of love, employing our spiritual gifts to uplift the lives (physically, spiritually and emotionally) of those around us, and the list goes on. Are any of these acts salvific in themselves? No. And yet, can one truly claim to be in possession of genuine faith -- saving faith -- if they willfully, obstinately refuse to demonstrate their faith in any of the above actions and attitudes? I think not. Or, to quote Thomas Fuller (1654-1734): "Good works will never save you, but you can never be saved without them." It almost seems like a contradiction, but it really isn't -- it's merely one of the many great paradoxes of Christianity.

God, in His infinite Grace, has offered mankind the Gift of salvation!! Those who choose to accept this gift do so by Faith!! Just as God manifested His grace in action, so must we evidence our faith in action. God's grace was made visible. John points out in the first chapter of his gospel record that when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, both grace and truth were made manifest to mankind. God didn't give us vague concepts and leave us to flesh them out for ourselves, nor does He expect us to offer back up to Him a "concept of faith" without visible, "fleshed out" form and shape. God showed us grace; we must show Him faith! One reader in Washington made this powerful observation: Jesus came into this world to offer mankind "a new way of living; every day immersed in the life-giving Spirit promised to those who through faith heed the call of God through the Good News of Christ's work on the cross. Such a growing and trusting faith will, through the empowering work of the indwelling Spirit, exhibit and demonstrate the beauty of God's handiwork in all of its complexity and simplicity." In other words, believers who are truly Spirit-filled, will evidence this reality in their daily lives. Genuine faith SHINES!! It refuses to be hidden!

As was somewhat expected, I received a good number of responses from the legalistic patternists, several of whom immediately consigned me to the fires of hell for even daring to bring up this question. Each of them then sought to impress upon me anew the absolute necessity of conforming in every way to "the pattern" (which, of course, not a single one of them bothered to provide). "It's all right there in the NT ... go figure it out for yourself." Well, we won't even go down that road. Most rational disciples of Jesus Christ have long since seen through the fallacy of such sectarian silliness. Paul spoke of some of the "issues" of his own day that some had elevated to "salvation issues" (circumcision being one --- cf. Acts 15:1), declaring, "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is FAITH expressing itself through LOVE" [Gal. 5:6]. Here we perceive maybe the greatest of all manifestations of saving faith: our love for God and others!! It was this that the vast majority of my readers wrote declaring to be the very essence of salvation itself. It was, after all, God's love for mankind that motivated Him to send forth His Son to be our propitiation, if we would accept that gift by faith [cf. John 3:16]. Thus, our faith responds in love to love! Because I believe, and because I love the One in whom I believe, I actively, visibly respond -- or, in the words of Paul, my faith "expresses itself."

A minister/author in California wrote, "Only two matters are non-negotiable: loving God above all others and loving our neighbors as ourselves." He went on to add, "Most of the traditions within the Stone-Campbell Movement (and this is equally true of any other denominational heritage) are personal comfort matters rather than genuine salvation matters." Sadly, we have a tendency to elevate these personal and party preferences to the level of divine LAW, and in so doing we alter the very nature of what constitutes "the way unto life eternal." In essence, it now becomes our way, rather than His way!! We need to move away from human law and return to divine love. Jesus didn't leave heaven and come to earth to bring us more LAW; He emptied Himself and became one of us to show us LOVE. If ever we could summarize what constituted a "salvation issue," it would truly be this: Faith expressing itself through Love! Do this and you are saved. And, quite frankly, this can be accomplished by any person at any time within any culture (primitive or modern) regardless of the level of available light to which they are exposed. Unto all men God has displayed His divine love; His call unto us all is to believe HE IS and to reflect His love unto others. Those who do this have truly perceived the Light that has come into the world, and are walking within that Light, even though they may never have had the opportunity to see a Bible or hear the blessed name Jesus [see my study: Grace and the Caveman: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light -- Reflections #158]. Thus, one's faith response will be in direct proportion to the available light one has received from above and one's God-given opportunity and ability. Each one will be evaluated by our God, in the final analysis, "according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have" [2 Cor. 8:12]. Thank God for His Grace!

If salvation were knowledge-based or works-based, as several within certain fundamentalist groups insist, then very few, if any, would achieve this goal of eternal life. However, with salvation being generated by Grace and received by Faith, we can have the assurance, even now, of our eternal victory!! Does our Father have expectations of His children? Absolutely. But, these are all expectations regarding attitudes and actions on the part of those who are already saved, NOT attitudes and actions that must be performed in order to be saved ... and this distinction is huge!! Typically, we draw lines of fellowship where our God does not. WE tend to draw lines between brethren, based on the degree of agreement others may or may not have with our own cherished traditions; GOD draws the line based on who has and has not chosen to respond in faith to the light He has made available to them. His line is based on relationship, while ours is much too frequently based on religious preference. This pitiful mindset also carries over into the question of just who is saved. The more narrow-minded and legalistic one becomes, the smaller one draws the circle of fellowship/salvation. Eventually we end up excluding everyone except those few within our own little faction ... and it isn't very long until we begin to cast suspicious glances their way!!

I decided many years ago that I would consider ALL who profess faith in the Lord, and who seek to live, to the best of their ability, opportunity and understanding, in compliance with His will for their lives, as my beloved brethren. Will we differ on many areas of personal conviction and practice? Of course we will. But I have reached that point in my Christian walk where I no longer consider such differences to be "salvation issues." Instruments, fellowship halls, number of cups, classes, versions, potlucks ... Frankly, I couldn't care less! I can take or leave any of them. They simply don't matter! If God Himself hasn't declared such to be essential to either fellowship or salvation (and He hasn't), then neither shall I. Indeed, it would be rather presumptuous of me to do so! I believe Jesus only gave two essentials to salvation -- only two salvation issues. When asked, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" [Luke 10:25], Jesus answered, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" [vs. 26]. The lawyer responded, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself" [vs. 27]. Jesus then declared, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live" [vs. 28]. Jesus Christ declared love of God and love of one's fellow man to be the foremost commandments of God; indeed, He stated, "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" [Matt. 22:40]. The apostle Paul declared that ALL other law was summed up and fulfilled in these two commandments [Rom. 13:8-10]. He also declared that no matter how many good works one might do, if they weren't motivated by love, they would profit you nothing [1 Cor. 13:1-3]. Which brings us right back to his statement to the Galatian brethren: "The only thing that counts is FAITH expressing itself through LOVE" [Gal. 5:6]. There, my beloved brethren, is your "salvation issue." That says it all.

When we love God, we will live our daily lives in such a way that HE is glorified in our every action and attitude. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we will do all in our power to enrich and ennoble their lives in every way, and will do nothing to harm them. When we love God and our fellow man, there is genuinely no need whatsoever for any other rule or regulation. Love covers it all. It is the ultimate expression and demonstration of saving faith. "If you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well" [James 2:8]. I think James may very well have nailed it here, don't you?!! When you come right down to it, salvation doesn't depend on what transpires within a church building for an hour or two on a Sunday morning. It isn't about rituals performed rightly, but about relationships lived lovingly!! May God help us to perceive this great Truth!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Australia:

Bro. Al, I haven't been in touch for a few months, but could not let your latest Reflections on "Disciples of a Different Stripe" pass by without making a comment. It was a great article; one which I totally endorse! For some 30 years now, when a census is held in Australia I have shown my faith as merely "Christian," rather than "Church of Christ." I believe that for Christians to declare themselves denominationally sends out a negative message to the unconverted (i.e., that we are divided within the One Body). It is time for us to focus on the 98% agreement we share with one another, and cease focusing on the 2% ("speck") areas of disagreement. Brother, please keep up the good work, and thank you for your sermons that have been placed online at your congregation's web site. I've listened to them all, so I now feel even more a part of your congregational teaching. You, Shelly and your family, as well as your ministry, are in my daily prayers.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, I am a big fan of your Reflections, and I'm so grateful for your willingness to stand out from so many others as a genuine "Berean" (Acts 17:11 -- "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true"). I hope that you are able to help mentor many young Timothys in the years to come!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, I continue to receive all of your Reflections, and I enjoy them very, very much! I sent your article on The Nature of Man to my sister in southern California. She enjoyed it and agreed with you on everything you said. May God bless you in your wonderful work for the Master.

From a Reader in Canada:

My Dear Brother Al, A few weeks ago in one of your Reflections articles you used the expression that someone does not need to be your twin in order to be your brother. I feel very strongly that this should be a banner on the top of all your material, as it truly describes the reality we are all striving for. I love you, brother ... I truly do!! I only wish I lived closer so that I could get to know you even better. If you ever want a holiday in the Niagara Falls area (Canadian side), the door to my home is always open to you! God bless you and your family.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, My wife forwarded your last article on to me ("Disciples of a Different Stripe"). A hearty AMEN from the state of Texas! I sat in the pew aghast when the preacher of the Non-Institutional sect, to which I once belonged, stated, "Some say the folks at the ------- Church of Christ are our liberal brethren, but they are NOT brethren!" Imagine the arrogance!! I really enjoy reading your articles. Please keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I must tell you once again how much I relate to all that you write. You amaze me with insights that so many just can't seem to grasp because they are too entrenched in tradition. I remember back in the 60's at Abilene Christian College when a young man wanted to be baptized, but he did not want to be recognized as a member of the Churches of Christ. One professor refused to baptize him, but another felt that being baptized into Christ was more important than joining our group. That incident set my mind on a path of study, and a love for God's Truth. After all, it's JESUS who is the way, the truth and the life! Brother Al, you continue to open my mind and heart, and you keep me optimistic about the future of "the Church." May God daily strengthen you in all that you do.

From a Reader in Alaska:

Brother Maxey, A friend, who does not support instrumental music in worship, and I were discussing evangelism a few years ago. Eventually we got around to the topic of where it would be acceptable to witness to others about Jesus. I mentioned the bars downtown. My friend suggested a Christian should not go into a bar. At that time I'd been reading Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 9:20-23. I responded to my friend that I believed Paul (based on that passage) would go even into a bar in order to win someone for Jesus. I suggested that Paul might even get up on the stage and sing, if it would win some for Jesus. I do not remember my friend's response to that (if he even made one).

From a Reader in Colorado:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for all you do!! It is amazing that you have now written 415+ Reflections, and that you still find new, fresh topics to write about. The struggle here continues, and you are a continuing stream of encouragement and ideas.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Your article "Disciples of a Different Stripe" was short, but right on the mark. Funny how our movement's original plea was for unity! I agree with your focus on changing hearts. My own view of "brotherhood" has broadened and refined over the years, and my understanding of most biblical concepts continues to evolve constantly. Keep up the good work, brother.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, The last article you wrote was excellent!! You are right on target! I am a lifelong member of the One Cup Churches of Christ. I used to attend a One Cup congregation in Oklahoma, and I would sit in the Oklahoma Christian College library for hours reading old articles by Carl Ketcherside!! I am thankful for the time I was at OCC; I learned a lot --- including that the Lord had children who sometimes did not agree with one another on various matters, yet they were still His children. Brother Al, I think you're bringing all God's people together into closer unity and fellowship, and I applaud your work. Keep writing your Reflections; a lot of people ARE paying attention. Some may not always agree with everything you write, but you are at least making people think about why they believe what they believe. I am also sure that as you continue to write and to work for the Lord, the Old Paths Advocate folks will notice and sometimes reply to your work in their publications (as they have been doing). So keep doing what you're doing -- you are helping the Family of God very, very much!!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you so much for having the courage to say publicly what so many of us think privately!!

From a Reader in Ohio:

Brother Al, I am so glad that you are on Facebook. You brought me the Truth, and you have been responsible for setting me free to truly know me. You are a true General in God's Army. I am thankful for you, brother!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Pastor Al, Thank you for your article "Disciples of a Different Stripe." The attitude of which you spoke really saddens me, as it is rampant throughout the world, and is not limited to one denomination or religious group! We are each guilty in some ways of doing exactly what you wrote about. I pray for your work at your present congregation, and for your outreach ministry through your Reflections articles. I always enjoy them, and each one provides me information that challenges me to do more research. I always grow spiritually from your articles.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I really felt the fire in this one ("Disciples of a Different Stripe"), and warmed myself at it!! YES!! What in the name of all that's good are we thinking?! "By this shall the world know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another!!" Sharp sectarian knives must have whacked that one out of a million Bibles! I ache and despond helplessly over this. It is an evil root from which no Christ-like life has ever grown. Ironically, it's in the proclaiming of this truth that one makes the most enemies! May God have mercy on His befuddled creation!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Back in the late 60's I was preaching in a small town in southern Tennessee. We financially supported the black congregation in town, and actually had joint worship services with them occasionally. We had a black brother from Alabama hold a gospel meeting at our building in which we cooperated together in this. The black congregation died down to so few in number that we asked them why they did not just come and worship with us. One of their leaders there said to me, "Brother, I know that we would be welcomed, but we believe that we have a better chance of reaching our own people (his words, not mine) if we have our own congregation." I guess he was right, because today that congregation is larger than the one I used to work with (which is now dying). However, times are different today, and it is good to see these racial barriers breaking down among our brethren. Hopefully, this trend will continue until the day comes when we will no longer witness the most divided day of the week being Sunday!!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Maxey, I do hope all is well with you and your family. We are going to have a beautiful autumn season here in the mountains of East Tennessee. The colors are brilliant already along the timber line. I just wanted to write and let you know that your Reflections are such an educational experience for me. I thank God for having found you. You have opened this legalistic mind of mine up to a whole new world I would never have known: a wonderful world of His Grace and Mercy. May God bless you!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, The following comment from one of your readers jumped out at me: "Years and years of this 'issue-ism' had removed me from my first Love. Now I wonder how some of these things ever became 'issues' at all. Again, thank you, brother, for your help in bringing me out of this mindset." Recently, my oldest daughter, when having a discussion in her small group one Sunday night over the "issues" that have divided us, referenced what is said about the church at Ephesus in the book of Revelation. She said it looked to her like the church there "fought all the fights," just like our own faith-heritage is doing, to rid themselves of all the "heresy," and in the process forgot their first love. She said the price paid for having to be "right" on everything was the loss of our first love!! Brother Al, you are awesome, and a continual boost to my courage as I seek to move forward each day!

From a Minister in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Maxey, I am an evangelist in the Church of Christ/Christian Church. I read your Reflections articles and have learned so much from your extensive knowledge. I am 65 years old, and have preached the Gospel for more than 30 years. Again, I enjoy your studies so much, for they make me think outside the box, which is where the Lord wants me to be! After all, I am an evangelist, not a pulpit baby-sitter.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Growing up in a small legalistic church who claimed exclusive truth, I began to wonder at an early age how we could be so right and all others so wrong. It just did not make any sense to me that we alone were able to see what others could not. They seemed to be just as intelligent, and sometimes even more so, than we were. It was explained to me that they were simply not as studious, and that they didn't take Bible study as seriously as we did. These guys were little more than a "social club," I was told. I let it go at that, but it still didn't seem reasonable that they would be so careless about their eternal destiny. It never even dawned on me that they had a view of Scripture just as viable as our own, albeit different. It would be a good many years later before I finally came to realize that our take on the Scriptures was exclusive to us, and that, in some cases, the interpretations of others were actually more valid than our own. This was an "awakening" experience for me personally, one which caused me to re-evaluate everything I had been taught. Why were these other interpretations kept from me?! Why was the use of "their" commentaries branded as heresy? And just what does genuine Truth have to fear from investigation? As ambassadors of Christ and teachers of the Scriptures, what obligation do we have in regard to the teaching the Word? Should we be teaching sectarianism? Should we even allow our congregants to think of themselves as the holders of exclusive Truth? Should we encourage our congregations to be in fellowship with others who may hold differing views? Just some things to think about!

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: