Issue #610 -------
March 7, 2014
Spiritual grace cannot be received continuously or
in its fullness except by those who have willed
away their self-will to the point of being able
truthfully to say, "Not I, but God in me."
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
The Perennial Philosophy
I have to admit, I never cease to be flabbergasted by some of the statements I hear and read from those who are still bound to a works-based theology. This is especially the case when these people seek to expound upon such topics as the grace of God, about which they are woefully ignorant. For example, a young man (he just turned 29) who hails from Ohio and is currently serving our nation in the United States Army (for which I sincerely thank him), and who is a member of a Church of Christ group on Facebook, recently made the following declaration to the other members of that group (after first posing a question to which his statement served as a response): "What brings grace? Obedience brings grace, not the other way around." Such a lack of understanding about the very foundational truths of God's dealings with man is heartbreaking. It is also infuriating, for it tends to spotlight the failure of church leaders to adequately convey to those precious sheep and lambs entrusted to their care and nurturing the most basic truths of the glorious Gospel.
One of those foundational truths is that we are saved by the grace of God, by virtue of His infinite love and mercy, NOT because we in some way by our own effort merited or deserved such divine favor. Paul writes that in Christ Jesus "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us" (Eph. 1:7-8), which was "according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (vs. 5-6). God's grace is "freely bestowed" upon us; indeed, it is "lavished upon us." It is a gift of divine love, not wages due unto those who were obedient under a system of law. To promote the latter as the motivation of God's grace is to negate His gracious, loving GIFT of salvation, reducing it to that which He OWES us by virtue of our own performance. Paul informed the Roman brethren that our justification and salvation was a "free gift" imparted through the atoning blood of His Son, and "if by the transgression of the one [Adam] the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many" (Rom. 5:15). It is somewhat interesting that in Rom. 6:1 Paul asks, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" Paul's answer is, "By no means!" (vs. 2). The same is true with the other side of the coin: "Shall we go on obeying so that grace may increase?" Of course not. God's grace is not conditioned upon what man does, it is based upon who God is! His grace flows from His nature, as does His love and mercy. Indeed, God IS love (1 John 4:8, 16), from which grace, mercy, compassion, acceptance flow naturally. Thus, "we love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). God's love wasn't poured out upon mankind because sinful man first loved Him; rather, it was the other way around. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). This happened "while we were still helpless" (vs. 6).
Grace is poured out upon the helpless and the sinful; God doesn't wait to demonstrate His love until man, by his obedience, deserves His mercy, He bestows it freely while we are utterly undeserving! Indeed, such is the definition of the word "grace" -- it is the undeserved, unmerited favor of our God. To teach that grace is given to those who are obedient completely neutralizes the significance of the term, and it shows a woeful ignorance of the very message of the Gospel. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). We are "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). Yes, Paul speaks of "wages" (that which we have earned), but what we merit by our own effort is death. What we receive in love by His grace is life! It is a gift. Yet, some seemingly don't understand the concept of a "free gift," and insist on "paying for" this gift of grace. Little do they know that the price of this free gift was "paid in full" by Jesus at the cross. To suggest that we must pay something in addition to what He has already paid is to imply that the price He paid in His precious blood was somehow insufficient, and the difference must be "made up" by us.
Some will immediately run to their favorite proof-text on this: Hebrews 5:9, which states Jesus "became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." Ahhh, there you have it. We must obey in order to be saved, and, of course, the point in time at which we "obey the gospel" is the moment of our baptism in water. Then, and not a moment before, God pours out His grace upon us and saves us. Stop for a moment and look at the many assumptions and additions being made here to what is actually stated in the text. We have assumed and inferred a whole theology ex nihilo. What IS stated in this passage is that Jesus Christ is the source of our salvation, which is taught throughout the Scriptures. He "became" (aorist tense) that source of our salvation at the cross. This was an act accomplished at a specific point along our space-time continuum (at a time He determined to be right), and it happened almost 2000 years ago outside the city of Jerusalem. That shedding of His blood, which He offered "once for all," is the fountain in which we are all washed clean of our sins. This act was a gift of God's grace; this act did not occur because mankind was deserving, it occurred because God is LOVE. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His Son" (John 3:16).
This free gift is received simply by faith, not by anything we have done, or ever could do. Our response of faith, having now been saved by grace, is to show gratitude for this gift by seeking to reflect His nature more and more in our own actions and attitudes. In this way we live lives obedient to His will and calling. It is this that is in view in Hebrews 5:9. The word "obey" in this passage is a "present participle," which actually means "to the ones who are continually obeying." In other words, Jesus "became" (aorist tense = at the point of His sacrifice) that cleansing fount for all those in every place and every period of time who are continually living in relationship with Him. HE is our salvation, not anything WE may offer to God, although as saved ones we seek to live and walk daily in the light of His life. This passage does not teach us that obedience generates God's gift of grace, it teaches that those of us who are IN HIM (who IS that gift of grace) continually show the reality of our acceptance by leading Spirit-filled, Spirit-transformed lives that are in obedience to His will. And what is that divine will to which we are obedient? We are to love, just as He loved -- fully and self-sacrificially! Such love is the fulfillment of all law, for such love is the nature of God Himself. The word "obey" in this passage is a Greek word meaning "to hear under; to hear submissively" -- we who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb live lives in submission to His will. And what is it that He commands (wills) of us? Love God and love one another!!
There is absolutely nothing in Hebrews 5:9 that even remotely suggests God's grace is given only to those who obey. Indeed, how can one who is "helpless" do anything righteous so as to merit God's grace? "There is none righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10). "There is none who does good, there is not even one" (Rom. 3:12). "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) ... in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:4-8). Those who add human obedience or human effort to this passage only succeed in tarnishing the glorious gospel of grace. God owes us nothing; He gave us everything! We show our thanks by surrendering to His indwelling Spirit and living daily as transformed men and women, reflecting His love and mercy and compassion to those around us. Those who walk in the light in this way demonstrate they are washed by the blood of the Lamb, their Savior. "Thanks be to God for His indescribable GIFT" (2 Cor. 9:15).
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear brother, that was a good essay on Titus 3:5 (Reflections #609 -- "Holy Spirit Home Remodeling"). Thank you for providing more light on countering the "regeneration in a split-second" theology. My purpose in writing, however, is to ask you to send me an autographed copy of your book Immersed By One Spirit. My check is enclosed. Thank you, my dear brother!
From an Author in Texas:
Al, your article "Holy Spirit Home Remodeling" is tremendous! Keep up the good work. We are not saved by our own works. Salvation is of God, and there are well over a hundred passages that testify to this fact.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
"Holy Spirit Home Remodeling" was an excellent article, Brother Al. In my humble opinion you have done a masterful job in the exegesis of Titus 3:5 and have arrived at the truth. It is a conclusion that is certainly supported by the context, as you so capably showed in your study. Understanding the relationship of baptism and grace is not easy, but you and I have reached the same conclusion as so many other students of the Word. The point that a spiritual end cannot be achieved by a human, physical work is quite valid. The redemption accomplished by Christ on the cross is applied to us by the Holy Spirit. It is indeed by grace that we are saved through faith, not of ourselves, not of works, lest any should boast.
From a New Reader in [Unknown]:
I would like to be added to your mailing list to receive your weekly Reflections articles. I have been reading them on your web site and am enjoying them. I have come from the legalistic teachings of the Churches of Christ to a more grace-centered life in Christ. Thank you so much for your work!
From a New Reader in [Unknown]:
A friend has sent me some of your Reflections, and I thought they were excellent. I am an associate member of the Evangelical Theological Society. I just wanted to write and extend to you a hand of fellowship (I have emailed Edward Fudge as well). I am also sharing Reflections #608 ("Contacting the Blood of Christ") with a number of my friends. I'm 83 years old, and am faster than a snail, but slower than a turtle, and so with that in mind, I'll be ordering autographed copies of your books, all in due speed.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
I have a simple question before I begin to look into buying your books -- Do you believe in instruments in worship or not?
I informed this individual that, as far as I know, the topic never comes up in any of my three books, so my view on that matter (as well as whether there may be extraterrestrial beings in another galaxy or whether they may have visited our planet in the past) is truly irrelevant. It would be like saying to a person, "I really would like to have your recipe for chicken salad, but before I ask you for that recipe I need to know if you drive a Chevy or a Ford." My first book deals with marriage, divorce and remarriage; my second book deals with the Lord's Supper; my third book deals with baptism. If I ever do a book on worship, then the reader's question might be valid in assisting him to determine if the content is something he would find helpful in his spiritual journey. Nevertheless, in response to this question, I informed the writer: "I personally do not believe the use, or the non-use, of musical instruments in our worshipful expression (either individually or corporately) is a salvation or fellowship issue. God Himself never made it such; neither shall I. It is purely a matter of personal preference. Thus, I have no problem with it one way or the other. I can worship with or without them." I also informed this individual that if he desired to investigate my views on this topic more fully, he can easily go to my Topical Index and examine the 16 Reflections articles listed there, which will give him a better idea of my views on instruments in worship, thus helping him decide, I presume, if he wants to order my books on divorce, the Lord's Supper, and baptism. By the way, I drive a Chevy (I wonder which of my books that will make unfit for purchase?!), although my wife drives a Honda, which may serve to redeem me in the prospective buyer's eyes. -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Missouri:
Al, you have been a father to me in the faith, and I thank the Lord for you and your faithfulness in carrying the message of the cross to people while all the while you are being attacked by the enemy for doing so. Another minister and I get together to read and discuss your Reflections, and we thank you for your studies. I want to ask your thoughts on something: In 1 Cor. 11:16, Paul wrote, "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God" (KJV). We are exhausted trying to discover what the apostle meant by saying, "we have no such custom." What is this "custom"? I feel badly asking you this on your birthday, but again thank God for you and pray you have many more birthdays!
I have dealt with this passage in the following two Reflections articles: Issue #216 -- "Head Coverings for Women: Local Custom or Universal Command?" and Issue #276 -- "Trim Not Thy Tresses: The Snipped Hair Hairesy." As I note in the first of these studies, "Paul has no intention of being contentious over some custom or practice regarding a humanly devised covering. If one wants to wear one, fine; if not, fine! This, I believe is the significance of verse 16. In the church of God there is no such practice or custom of binding the use or non-use of artificial coverings, thus no need to be contentious over such, as some were doing." A more complete explanation of this principle may be found in these two articles, to which I would refer those readers who might be interested. -- Al Maxey
From a University Professor in Kentucky:
Al, I was president of an institution in Honduras for five years, and it was while there that I "found" you and your Reflections. I just wanted to let you know that they have been a source of much encouragement to me. Thank You for your writing ministry, brother. I know only too well the kind of negative things you have to deal with when you put your thoughts out there as you do. Blessings, brother.
From a Reader in California:
I thank God every day for my freedom in Christ Jesus, and for the part that you and others have played in helping me along this journey on my road to recovery from legalism. Most of all, I thank the Holy Spirit for drawing me out of and away from all that isn't Truth, isn't beneficial to anyone seeking salvation, doesn't make good sense, and doesn't coincide with the teaching of the NT writings. Thank you!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Another phrase often used (besides "contact the blood," which you discussed in Reflections #608) is "obey the Gospel." Have you devoted an issue of your Reflections specifically to that phrase?
That would be Reflections #501 -- "Can We OBEY The Gospel?" -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alabama:
It seems to me you are teaching baptism as less important than the role given it in Scripture. The thing is: Jesus commanded it, so it becomes a part of our faith response. It is good to teach against the sacramental view of baptism, but I do not understand your efforts to separate the timing of God's work of salvation from the act of baptism in water. Is there anything wrong with a person believing that they receive salvation at the time they are baptized?
I have no desire at all to teach "baptism as less important than the role given it in Scripture." Far from it. I seek only to teach baptism in light of the role given it in Scripture. Frankly, almost 2000 years of religious tradition has so confused this simple symbolic act of faith that it has taken on roles never intended by the Lord or revealed within the inspired writings. My teaching seeks to strip away the layers of religious dogma and return baptism to "the role given it in Scripture." This will greatly upset those who may not wish to have their cherished traditional perceptions and practices challenged, but Truth deserves no less than an honest, open-minded, in-depth, reflective, prayerful examination of this practice in light of God's Word. It is this I seek to do, and it is this that has generated such a negative response from a few. As humans, we tend to focus on "markers" along the Space-Time continuum, and to place value on those various "markers." That value may not reflect God's perception, however, who is not bound by either space or time. Thus, to speak of His impartation of divine grace in terms of precise split-seconds in time is a grave perceptional failure on man's part. For example, we may place great value on the Space-Time "marker" of a wedding ceremony, and there is no question but what this event is personally noteworthy in our lives. But at what precise split-second in time did this couple enter into a covenant with one another? Can such a point in time be determined? Was it when the preacher "pronounced" them man and wife? Was it when they signed the marriage license? Was it when the clerk recorded this piece of paper in the archives at the court house? At what point did these two hearts/lives merge as one in the sight of God? Yes, rites and rituals have a place; they are "markers" we can look to in remembrance of a greater reality. Baptism is a Space-Time "marker" to which we can look, but it is merely a public demonstration of a far greater spiritual reality that is not bound by the parameters of our temporal realm. It reflects, in a symbolic act of faith, what God, by His grace, has done for us through the gift of His Son; a gift we accept by faith and then gratefully acknowledge publicly in an evidentiary act generated by that faith known as baptism. What is wrong with a person believing that it is the act of baptism in water itself that constitutes the precise split-second in time at which and by which God saves? It is a wrongful understanding of "the role given it in Scripture," and thus a woeful misrepresentation of the spiritual significance of this human action as it relates to the divine action (indeed, in some ways, it actually undermines the divine action, making the efficacy of His act conditional upon the evidencing of our act -- as noted in the present issue of Reflections which asks the question, "Is grace the result of obedience?"). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alabama:
I appreciate your desire to speak against the false concept of baptismal regeneration, but please tell me what is accomplished by putting space between baptism and our rebirth by faith? It seems much learning is moving you away from the simplicity of faith.
If anything, my studies in God's Word are moving me back to the simple truths of the Scriptures with respect to faith and away from the religious complexities that have for centuries marred the beauty of that simplicity. Further, I have never advocated "putting space between" our faith and any of the evidentiary acts of our faith. Indeed, if our faith is genuine, it will never hesitate to find expression for itself within the parameters of our God-given abilities and opportunities. This not only applies to baptism, but to various other demonstrations of faith expected by the Father of His children: love, mercy, compassion, and the like. True faith shows itself, and it never hesitates to seize any opportunity to do so. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
The other day, another person and I were watching a sermon by one of the legalistic preachers from Alabama. It was on morality, and I thought it was quite good. However, he mentioned it was in baptism that we "contacted the blood." That gave me a good opportunity. In all innocence, I turned and asked this other person with me, "I'm not familiar with that term. Can you tell me where it's found in the Bible?" This person replied, "I sure can. It may take a little while to find it, but I know it's there!" I said nothing else!!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
I finally got around to reading "Contacting the Blood of Christ." Awesome article!! Years ago, I was arguing with someone on one of the Internet discussion groups, and I was insisting that we DO contact the blood of Jesus. I'd never heard such "heresy" as this other guy was teaching! I got so frustrated that I went and asked a person I highly respected, "Where's that verse that says we contact the blood of Jesus?" He smiled at me and said, "There isn't one!" Then he showed me, basically, the very same things your article stated, and now this phrase has been one of my "pet peeves" ever since. No matter what the "doctrinally sound" sect members keep posting, there is simply NOTHING in God's Word that says, or even hints, that we "contact the blood of Jesus." It's just another one of those teachings of ours that show our old mantra "We speak where the Bible speaks, and we are silent where the Bible is silent" to be false. God bless you, Al.
From an Elder in Illinois:
I hope and pray that your 65th birthday was a wonderful one. I had my 65th in October, so we are very close to the same age. As we age, we tend to look at things differently -- and, in my case, much differently, especially in how I view God's Word. Al, you have helped me to see things differently, and for that I am eternally grateful. As shepherds, we often get questions from the members, and many are asking about cremation. I have always told them that God will be able to resurrect any body He wishes to; after all, He is GOD. For example, there are those who are consumed in house fires or consumed by animals, and we believe God will be able to resurrect them. But some Christians still speak out against, and write against, cremation, so I thought I would ask for your view on this. Forgive me if you have written a Reflections on this in the past. If you have, please just direct me to that article so I may study it. Brother, you are a wonderful man of God, and I am privileged to know and love you. I will not be able to go to Tulsa this year, so will miss seeing you and all the wonderful folk there. I pray that God will bless you with His richest blessings.
In 2003, in one of my early issues, I did a study of cremation. Like the dear brother above noted, this is a topic that weighs heavily upon the hearts and minds of many Christians, and for a number of reasons. Therefore, I decided it would be well, for their sake as well as my own, to seek to understand the biblical perspective on this matter. The result of the research may be read at: Reflections #72 -- "May Christians Be Cremated? In Search of the Biblical Perspective." I also thank this brother for his well-wishes on my 65th birthday, which was this past Sunday, March 2nd (Texas Independence Day, by the way, which thrilled the Maxey family, who are Texans, to no end when I came on the scene). I'm sorry this fellow pastor won't be able to attend The 2014 Tulsa Workshop, as I would have loved to see him again. However, I hope many of the rest of you can make it. I look forward to seeing you, and I hope you will stick around to hear my talk in the pavilion on Saturday, March 22nd at 2 p.m. I will be speaking on "Spirit-Led Love," a call for a radical reformation within the church. -- Al Maxey
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