Issue #622 -------
June 22, 2014
Grace is given of God, but know-
ledge is bought in the market.
Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)
"Will is to grace as the horse is to the rider." This statement by St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), the Bishop of Hippo and one of the greatest of the early Christian philosophers, whose writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity and Philosophy, has long been considered by the majority of theologians as the single most important declaration from the Middle Ages as to the relation of God's grace to man's free will. Although man's free will is a powerful force in and of itself, it is nevertheless ultimately subservient to the eternal design of our Sovereign and Creator with respect to one's ultimate destination (i.e., justification and salvation). It all really comes down to a question of primacy. Is the grace of God conditioned upon man's will and choices and actions? Or, are the choices and actions of man's free will simply and solely responses to God's grace? Returning to St. Augustine's analogy: who is in charge of the journey and the destination? The rider or the horse? Clearly, both are involved, but ultimate success demands the subservience of the will of one to the other. St. Augustine's point is: just as the rider must rule, so grace must govern! Thus, we are saved by the grace of God, not by the willful work of man. The latter is merely our human response to the former divine initiative: i.e., the horse submissively responding to the guiding reins of the rider, thereby achieving the desired destination of the latter. When our will to work for salvation bows to His grace to give salvation, the divine design for man is achieved.
Nevertheless, there is something within the human psyche that tends toward the construct that one must earn or merit what one acquires. By accepting a free gift, one for which we performed no work and of which we were admittedly unworthy, it is often felt one is thereafter obligated in some sense to the gift giver. This is a surrendering and submission of one's will, and being, that runs contrary to our human nature. We don't like being in another's debt. Yet, in His infinite wisdom, God did not offer justification and salvation as "wages due," but as a "free gift." And, yes, in gratitude for this "indescribable gift" (to use the words of Paul), we, who are willing to receive this freely offered gift, submit ourselves to His will for our lives thereafter. Yet, we do so willingly (as an act of our own free will), and as an act of faith/trust that what He has proffered He will provide: our redemption from death into the joys of eternal life. Such a reality is beyond the ability of any man to provide either for himself or for another (Psalm 49:7-9), and yet some still try to merit this redemption by their own effort. Our salvation is not acquired by anything you or I are able to accomplish; it is acquired by what HE accomplished for us, and which He is willing to freely give to those willing to trust Him. Thus, salvation is wholly by grace through faith, and not of anything we ourselves have done. It is a gift. We who receive that gracious gift by faith/trust, will then respond by submitting ourselves to His will for our lives every day thereafter, displaying our love for Him by our loving attitudes and actions (acts performed not in order to be saved, but because we are saved).
The apostle Paul, in his theological masterpiece: The Epistle to the Romans, repeatedly attacks the misconception that justification and salvation are by means of our own effort; that one must somehow earn one's acceptance by God. Such thinking, however, nullifies grace. "Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God's way. For the Scriptures tell us, 'Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.' When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it" (Romans 4:1-6, New Living Translation). Paul knew some would then argue that Abraham was circumcised, and that this was something God expected him to do, so Abraham's justification (his being counted as righteous) must have been based on something he did. Thus, Paul addresses this: "Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous -- even before he was circumcised" (Romans 4:10-11a, NLT). Paul makes it very clear in this passage, as well as in many other places, that men "are counted as righteous because of their faith" (vs. 11b), and that our good works, which God certainly expects of us, are after He has bestowed His gift of grace upon us, NOT before.
Okay, let's go ahead and ask the question that is on everyone's mind right now: Would this also apply to baptism in water? YES!! Just as Paul declared about the practice of circumcision, it is a sign of an already present faith (a visible demonstration of that already present faith), a faith God clearly perceives in our hearts, and it is a visible reenactment of the redemptive act of His Son (death, burial and resurrection), whose shed blood cleanses us of all sin. He washed us in His blood, which gift we embrace by faith, and which reality of redemption we evidence by this symbolic act. Circumcision and baptism are both commanded by God; thus, those who have faith obey those commands. Paul makes it clear, however, that the act itself is not sacramental -- it isn't what justifies, redeems, or saves; we are accepted by God on the basis of FAITH, a faith which then, and daily thereafter, manifests itself in submission to His will for our lives (which includes the symbolic recreation of His act on our behalf). Yes, Abraham was circumcised, it was a covenant sign expected of him, but he was counted as righteous by faith before he "went under the knife." I have been baptized, it is a covenant sign expected of me, but I was saved by the grace of God before I "went under the water." If not, then everything Paul teaches in Romans is a LIE.
Our God has always had, within the greater mass of humanity, a people of faith. Throughout a number of covenants He has made with mankind, the aspects of those covenants that stand out are: His grace and man's faith/trust. Yes, He has expectations of His people, and they, as a result of their faith in and love for Him, respond accordingly. But this remnant among the masses enjoy their standing with God NOT on the basis of anything they have done, but on the basis of what He has done. When we look at our own effort, and when we compare it with the efforts of those around us, it is tempting to think more of ourselves (and less of others) than we should. In Romans 11, Paul refers his readers to the case of Elijah, and how he felt he alone was faithful to God. God had to remind him that there were thousands of additional men and women justified in His sight about which the prophet had no knowledge (a reality check for those today who regard themselves, in light of their own works, as the "only faithful ones on earth"). Paul then makes this observation, which is relevant to our present study: "So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Romans 11:5-6, NIV).
Paul could not have been more clear here! The choosing ("election") of God is NOT based on the works of man, but rather on His grace! We are not chosen by God because we deserved it by our own actions. If this were the case, then His choosing would not be a matter of grace, but a matter of obligation. He was obligated to pay us the wages due us by our work. "This election is not founded upon man's prior obedience, as the reason and cause of it. The natural heart is legal, and it desires to merit salvation. ... If this election were upon the ground of obedience, then mercy would be converted into justice" [Dr. William G. T. Shedd, A Critical & Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, p. 332]. In the translation notes of the 1599 Geneva Bible, the scholars wrote the following about Paul's statement in Rom. 11:5-6, "This saying demolishes the doctrine of all kinds and manner of works, by which our justifiers of themselves teach that works are either wholly or partly the cause of our justification." Paul is teaching, and doing so powerfully, that divine grace and human effort are completely contrary to one another with respect to our election to justification, redemption and salvation. "They are mutually exclusive as a means of establishing relationship to God" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 117].
"The existence of the remnant is due to an election of grace, a choice on the part of God the motive of which is to be sought in His unmerited love alone. ... Grace and works are mutually exclusive. Nothing a man can do gives him a claim, as a personal right, against God to be included in the remnant" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 676-677]. In Romans 9:16, Paul declares that divine election/choosing "does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." The idea of grace is that it is a wholly undeserved bestowal of favor! "What is paid as a debt is not conferred as a favor" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "The idea of being saved by merit contradicts the very idea of grace. If a man owes me a debt, and pays it, it cannot be said to be done by favor, or by grace. I have a claim on him for it, and there is no favor in his paying his just dues. There is no grace in giving what is due. From this it follows that salvation cannot be partly by grace and partly by works. The doctrines of election, and of salvation by mere grace, cannot be more explicitly stated than they are in this passage" [ibid]. "It is not grace, properly so called, if it be not perfectly free" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. The NT Greek scholar Dr. Kenneth Wuest, quoting Alford, writes, "And let us remember, when we say an election of grace, how much those words imply: namely, nothing short of the entire exclusion of all human work from the question. Let these two terms be regarded as and kept distinct from one another, and do not let us attempt to mix them and so destroy the meaning of each" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 1: Romans, p. 189].
"The preservation of the remnant cannot be due to grace and works at the same time; it must be due to one or the other" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 247]. Sadly, "the mass of the people trusted to their own works instead of relying upon grace; therefore, grace deserted them!" [ibid]. One cannot help but think of Paul's statement to the Galatians, "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:4). If our justification, redemption, sanctification and salvation are, to any degree at all, accomplished by our own effort, grace is excluded. "Grace is free favor; it can be related to no right, and contained in no law. It is extra-judicial: whenever bestowed, it depends upon the mere will of him who exercises it" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 338]. "Grace ceases to be grace just as soon as the work and conduct of man is mingled with it in any way whatsoever. The terms 'grace' and 'works' are mutually exclusive. If the thoughts, acts, and conduct of men influenced God in His election of grace, then this election ceases to be one of grace, and the doctrine no longer belongs to the Gospel, but to the Law" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 58]. "The general position here laid down is of vital importance: That there are but two possible sources of salvation -- men's works and God's grace; and that these are so essentially distinct and opposite, that salvation cannot be of any combination or mixture of both, but must be wholly either of the one or of the other" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1170].
This truth, however, disturbs many men, especially those who tend to think legalistically. The Jews most certainly struggled with this, as Paul indicates in Romans 10, where he stated the Jews sought to establish righteousness by their own acts, based on keeping law, and thus failed to realize that righteousness is of faith, and that Christ brings an end to all efforts to attain such by works of law (vs. 1-4). But, like the Jews of old, many disciples of Christ today still find it difficult, and almost repugnant, to regard our salvation as a free gift of grace, and our choosing/election as an act of mercy rather than merit. "For the Gospel is a way of salvation by free, unmerited favor, ... though it may be humiliating to be able to contribute nothing to our own salvation, but to have to accept it full and free from a risen Lord" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 338]. Thus, many of my fellow Christians, like many of Paul's fellow Jews, stubbornly seek to supplement the grace of God with their own acts. The nature of these "justifying acts" will vary depending on the theology of the religious group, but for those of this mindset within my own faith-heritage, the central act upon which our salvation is said to depend is baptism in water. This act MUST be performed BEFORE God's grace can be imparted, according to this doctrine, and thus God simply cannot "choose by grace" any person who has not been baptized. Clearly, these legalistic, patternistic sacramentalists have trouble with the teaching of Paul on grace, but they nevertheless insist man's effort MUST be merged with God's grace before His choosing/election can occur.
One of the leaders in the Stone-Campbell Movement, Moses E. Lard, boldly declared that God's grace could NOT be dispensed until man had first performed certain actions which would qualify him for that grace!! Yes, God "chose" certain people, but "the reason existed in those chosen, not in Him who chose; and it lay in their obedience to Christ. ... Obedience, then, was the reason for the choosing and retaining" of these saved ones. "Election or choosing, in the case of the redeemed, does not precede obedience, and therefore is neither the cause of it nor reason for it. On the contrary, obedience precedes election, and is both the condition of it and reason for it" [Commentary on Paul's Letter to Romans, p. 349]. This is a shocking statement, but it reflects well the thinking of those who cannot abide the concept of a free gift. Lard, in an attempt to soften this somewhat, admits that one cannot be perfectly obedient, since only perfect obedience to law would merit salvation. Thus, he states that he only advocates "partial obedience" on man's part. "Two or three acts do not constitute the 'works of law,' or amount to perfect obedience. Such acts amount only to very partial obedience; and partial obedience admits favor (grace). ... nay, conditions combined with favor (grace) perfect the divine plan of remission" [ibid, p. 350]. Thus, Moses Lard has opened the door for man to insert certain acts to assist God in His choosing of us. Lard states, "By partial obedience, I mean obedience to a few specified conditions" [ibid]. That's right, folks, our acts require God to respond with His grace! And yet, if we don't meet these "few specified conditions," God cannot choose us. So says Moses E. Lard, and others like him. Frankly, this is as far removed from the truth of the Gospel message as one can get. It borders on blasphemy, as it relegates the will and work of God to the will and work of man -- it, in effect, puts the horse in charge of the rider. Another leader in our Movement, David Lipscomb, taught the same heresy: "Choosing is God's free act, prompted by grace, and conditioned on obedience" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles: vol. 1, Romans, p. 200]. He then states, almost word for word, what Lard stated: "Although grace prompted the election, grace was not the reason for it. The reason existed in those chosen, not in Him who chose; and it lay in their obedience to Christ. ... Election in the case of the redeemed does not precede obedience, and, therefore, is neither the cause of it nor the reason for it. On the contrary, obedience precedes election, and is both the condition of it and the reason for it" [ibid, p. 199].
Paul had much to say about those who sought to nullify the grace of God in order to promote a works-based justification and salvation. Paul declared that such people had fallen from grace, and that they were separate from Christ Jesus. Indeed, he pronounces an anathema upon them (Gal. 1:8-9), since they are "distorting the gospel of Christ" (vs. 7). Paul actually said he wished such people would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12). He felt that strongly about these legalists who were mixing in the works of men with the grace of God with respect to our choosing and salvation (which, in fact, do NOT mix, for the former negates the latter). Friends, there are those among us who continue to promote this "other gospel" (which is "no gospel at all") that insists we must meet "a few specified conditions" (partial prior obedience) in order to compel God to bestow His grace upon us. Such people are absolutely clueless when it comes to the choosing and grace of God; they are blind guides, and they will, unfortunately, lead many into the ditch right along with them. Don't be misled and deluded by their teaching that we must become prior "partial" command-keepers so that God's grace can be "triggered." This is a doctrine of demons, and deserves to be exposed as such!!
From a Missionary in Peru:
Just a short message to say that I was pleased to read that you have written a new book -- "From Ruin To Resurrection." Will a Spanish copy be made available? Will it be on Kindle? I really look forward to reading it! It will be great to have such a book on the nature of man and his eternal destiny (heaven and hell) to use in study with others. This is a most important subject, one in which many are now questioning the validity of the old traditional teaching. I think it was the Puritan John Robinson who said, "God has yet more light to shed upon His Word." May the Lord use your new book to open the eyes of many to the Truth on this particular topic.
My new book (From Ruin To Resurrection), which is my fourth book, is now available for purchase through the publisher's online bookstore, and will be available at other outlets in the next couple of weeks. Yes, it will also soon be on Kindle (as are my other three books). At this point, there is no plan for translating the work into any other language, although in my contract there is an option for this at some future date if sales and/or demand warrant such a venture. I have sixty copies of the book on order, and when they come in I will let the readers know (hopefully this will be by the end of the month). When they arrive they will be available for purchase from me directly by those who want a signed copy. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alabama:
Congratulations on your new book: "From Ruin To Resurrection." That is so exciting! You have been such a help to me on this subject, and I hope others will be reached with this new book. I pray that your faith stays strong and that you will continue to walk hand-in-hand daily with our Father. Have you written anything on the imputed righteousness of Jesus? John Piper is a big advocate of it, and I'm in the midst of reading one of his books on this subject. I find this topic fascinating. From what I can gather on "the imputation of Christ" is: His perfection of life has been imputed or applied to us! This is fantastic! We are regarded as perfect because His perfection is credited to us! I find such joy in this! Please tell me this is biblically accurate.
I believe it is indeed true to the teaching of God's Word, and, indeed, is at the very heart of the message of the Gospel. I have taught this truth for many years, and you can find it throughout my writings. It is not our righteousness or goodness or even faith that saves, but rather HIS, and this righteousness of His (indeed, His faith) we acquire/receive by faith. My own faith can't save me, but it can receive that faith which can (HIS faith). My righteous deeds can't save me, but HIS righteousness can become my own by means of my trust/faith in what HE did (rather than trusting in anything I have done or ever could do). In this way, when God looks at ME, the Father sees HIM. Thus, by our faith IN Christ Jesus we may acquire (or have imputed to us) the faith OF Christ Jesus. This is a very important biblical doctrine that many overlook. I have dealt with it somewhat under item #8 in my article "From Faith To Faith" (Reflections #185). This distinction between our faith IN Him and the faith OF Him is made very clear in the Greek text, but often blurred in our translations. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
I had no idea there was such information about Onesiphorus ("A Faithful Friend to the End" -- Reflections #621). Well done, brother. What a great testimony to friendship! It reminds me of David and Jonathan. I am also reminded of a passage from Hebrews. Speaking of Able, it says, "...and through his faith, though he died, he still speaks" (Heb. 11:4). Some legacies remain long after the person has died. May we all be encouraged to live a life that will speak long after we're gone! Love ya, brother.
From an Elder in Colorado:
I really enjoyed your Reflections article about Onesiphorus! You reminded us all of our need for each other as brothers and sisters. If Paul felt the need of a companion of faith, we can see ours as well. I also think it is instructive to note the difference in Paul's desire for the forgiveness of those in Asia (2 Tim. 4:16, cf. 1:15), and in his words about Alexander the coppersmith in 2 Tim. 4:14-15. As I read Paul's words about Alexander, I don't get the impression he expected God to forgive this man.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Like Paul, who desired visits while in prison awaiting execution, we have many people in prisons in this country (and other countries) today also in need of visits by Christians. What an overlooked field for evangelism, one with the potential for great results from our teaching and acts of ministry. I have seen men in prison wanting to be baptized, but they were not allowed to be. Then again, I saw eleven baptized at one time on an occasion when the prison officials allowed it. It seems to me that prison ministry has not been much of a priority among many Churches of Christ, yet it is very much needed. I hope your article causes some to think about doing this. After all, it is much less expensive than going to far off places to preach the Gospel.
I did prison ministry at the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe, NM for seven years, during the time I was the minister at the Church of Christ in that city (where I served for eight years: 1984 to 1992). It was a very rewarding work. I wrote about one experience during those years, when I converted an inmate on death row and then later served as his advisor and the chaplain at his execution, in Reflections #554. I would encourage everyone to read this. It will give you much to think about! -- Al Maxey
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