Issue #623 -------
July 3, 2014
Example is always more efficacious than precept.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Before getting too deeply into the body of this particular study, let me share a few quotes that may help facilitate our thinking on the topic at hand. There is an old English maxim that states, "The example of good men is visible philosophy." Pliny the Younger (62-113 A.D.) called one's example "the surest method of instruction." Aesop (6th century B.C.) declared, "Example is the best precept." I particularly like the statement by Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004): "Human models are more vivid and more persuasive than explicit moral commands." Perhaps Pope John XXIII (1880-1963) stated it best, and certainly most succinctly, when he observed, "Words move, but examples draw." One cannot help but think of our Lord's own observation shortly before His passion: "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (John 12:32). There is certainly much to commend about the drawing power of a good example. Indeed, the apostle Paul urged his fellow disciples to follow his own example of faithfully following the example of Jesus (Philp. 3:17; 4:9; 1 Cor. 4:17; 11:1). We are to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called" (Eph. 4:1), and what manner of walk is more worthy of imitation than that of the Messiah Himself? Jesus even suggested as much, saying, "Love one another just as I have loved you" (John 15:12). As the old hymn written by William Ogden in 1885 declares, "He the great example is, and pattern for me" [Where He Leads I'll Follow].
With these thoughts in mind, let me share with you portions of a couple of emails I recently received. A reader from California, as he was reflecting on our Lord's "Great Commission," wondered about the best approach to accomplishing this commission. He noted, and correctly, that the Bible doesn't provide us with a detailed script to follow as we seek to bring people out of darkness and into light. He wrote, "I would guess that the reason for this omission is that individual cases require different approaches. God wouldn't want us going through the motions, following a script, without our hearts being in it. So, it depends upon the Holy Spirit within us to communicate with a non-believer. Now, what would that look like? What would be the mindset of a successful witness for Christ? What would his heart be like? How would he connect with a non-believer? What do they have in common?" This individual is essentially asking: what is the best evangelistic model? Some like door knocking. I don't. Some like "cottage meetings," where you invite "the lost" into your home and show them a series of film strips/videos, the goal of which is to have them "in the water" before the series ends. Some like "gospel meetings," where a dynamic speaker seeks to motivate people he's never met to "walk down the aisle" and accept Jesus. Some even remove all physical contact and simply mail out "correspondence courses" to people on other continents. In the past, I have been involved in all of these. No more! They are flawed and ineffective, in my view, and, frankly, I find them a bit troubling on a number of levels. There is a better way.
But first, let me share with you the other email I received. It is from a woman in Mississippi who wondered about the phrase "plan of salvation." She pointed out that this phrase is another one of those "Church of Christisms" that have been drilled into us from childhood. We hear it so often we just naturally assume it must be found numerous times in Scripture. It isn't. "The plan of salvation" is a phrase coined by men, and in our faith-heritage is generally understood to encompass "the five steps" one must take to be saved: hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized. Do this and you have followed God's "plan of salvation" and "obeyed the gospel." This reader asks, "Is there really a 'plan' that we must follow to receive salvation? Or, rather, is it by grace through faith, as you have been so boldly pointing out? What do you think about the phrase 'plan of salvation'?"
In pondering these two emails, and my response to each, I realized that they are very closely related. Does God have a plan for bringing the lost to salvation, and, if so, what role would He have His people play in the implementation and/or impartation of that plan? I firmly believe the answer to both is: JESUS. God's plan, from the foundation of creation, was to SEND Jesus; our role, as His children who are indwelt by His Spirit and transformed into the image of His Son, is to let those around us SEE Jesus in our attitudes and actions. The "plan of salvation" is not a series of steps the lost must take so as to merit salvation, but the step the Father took in sending His Son to atone for the sins of mankind. It is a gift of grace, and it is for all who believe in what He has done for them. That belief/faith, if genuine, will motivate them to live for Him every day of their lives, submitting to His will and seeking to become more like their "great Example and Pattern" in their daily walk. In this way, you and I become ambassadors of grace as we reflect the Light sent forth into the darkness. Thus, the most effective method for evangelizing the lost is simply the testimony of our lives lived visibly and boldly in relationship with our Lord. When people see us, they see Him, and it is He who then draws people to Himself. Go back and reread the quotes in the first paragraph (and the one at the top of this article). There is great wisdom there.
The apostle John informed us, near the end of the first century, "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16). But, what does that divine love LOOK LIKE? It looks like JESUS. In the person of Jesus -- love walked among us. Divine love took on flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld the love of the Father in human form. What is the best way to reach those who are lost and dwelling in darkness? Show them the Light by showing them Jesus in your life. Look like Him! Be merciful, be compassionate, be kind, be loving. Both salvation and evangelism are not about following some scripted PLAN, but about following a MAN. As the old saying goes: "The Plan is the Man!" The pattern is the Person. The model is the Messiah. "HE the great example is, and pattern for me!" It all comes down to LOVE. God the Father so loved the world that He willingly displayed that love by sending His Son as the sacrifice for sin, so that all who believe on Him might not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). That was/is His plan for our salvation.
As the personification of that divine love (Jesus) walked among us, He simply showed forth that love in His personal interactions with the lost ... and He did not hesitate to become intimately involved in the lives of the lost (which the "religious" found repugnant, and for which He was reviled repeatedly). He became the friend of prostitutes and publicans; He dined with sinners; He approached lepers. He lived LOVE. When asked what God sought from mankind, His answer was simple: Love God and love each other! In effect, He was informing us that the best method of leading the lost to the Light was loving them. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35). How do we reach the world for Jesus? We walk in this world as He walked, and in so doing we walk worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1). Two thousand years ago Love Walked Among Us -- that was God's plan of salvation. Today, in response to that love, let us Walk Among Them In Love -- that is the model for evangelism. Let's face it: what does the world really need? LOVE. Where will it ultimately find it? GOD. How will it receive it? JESUS. How will it see it? US. In the "Great Commission" our Lord simply says, "As you are going, make disciples." In other words, as we live our lives, walking in love, we influence those about us and draw them to Him (for more on this commission, and on the phrase "as you are going," see my in-depth analysis in Reflections #500 -- "Contemplating Our Commission: A Reflective Exegesis of Matthew 28:19-20a").
From a Reader in Texas:
My wife and I have been following you on Facebook for a good while, and we love your writings and books. We would love to have a signed copy of your new book From Ruin To Resurrection. Thank you!
From a Reader in Texas:
I hope you are having a good summer. I am thankful it hasn't gotten too hot yet in our part of Texas. I am writing to let you know that I purchased your new book (From Ruin To Resurrection) on Amazon.com, and it is now downloaded onto my device (a Kindle Fire). I'm really looking forward to reading it. Thank you for all you do.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, I am very familiar with Edward Fudge and his work, and own a copy of his book. I have lived in ----, Alabama for over 30 years, and thus have become somewhat familiar with Bro. Fudge's family history and their treatment by some of the brethren in northern Alabama. Quite frankly, I think many within our faith-heritage should hang their heads in shame for the way they have treated him. I admire him greatly! Ironically, just tonight I finished reading F. LaGard Smith's book "After-Life: A Glimpse of Eternity Beyond Death's Door." How strange that I then immediately received the email advertising your new book on this same topic -- From Ruin To Resurrection. I have all of your books, so of course I eagerly look forward to getting this one and reading your views on this subject. Thank you always for the work you do for the love of Jesus Christ.
From a Reader in California:
Please send me a signed copy of your latest book: From Ruin To Resurrection. My check is enclosed. I have your three previous books in my collection and am looking forward to reading this newest one. Thank you for your continued good work in the Lord's Kingdom. May God continue to bless you and your family.
From a Minister in West Virginia:
There were some very thought-provoking insights in your Reflections article "Chosen By God's Grace." I have struggled to balance the idea that we are saved by grace with the clear teaching on baptism. But, I find your article a great help for me on this. It is so clear now that it is God's job to save, and my job to submit, and that His grace is offered while I'm still a sinner.
From a Reader in California:
I understand perfectly what you are explaining in this episode of your Reflections. Nothing we do should ever be made a part of our salvation. Grace is the basis of our salvation, and it occurs first. Never has this been taught as succinctly as it has in your studies, Bro. Al, even though I'm finding these biblical truths often in disagreement with the doctrines of my faith-heritage! The more I come to understand God's grace, the more I am having to rethink and restudy "our" view of baptism in water and its purpose.
From a Reader in Indiana:
Your last Reflections is just more of your lies! No one regards salvation as something we must merit. And you know it. You intentionally lie so you can make your opponents appear despicable to your readers -- readers you apparently think are stupid enough to believe something simply because you say it.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Once again, Bro. Al, one of your articles ("Chosen By God's Grace") has blessed my heart and my learning on God's wonderful free gift of grace. I remember what a huge burden it was for me when I was trying to do all the work needed to be "worthy" of God's grace. I grew up in the conservative Church of Christ where we were constantly taught by the preachers that "you have to do enough good works to be accepted by God; then God will make up the deficit with His grace." I also remember the feeling of how humiliating and spiritually crushing it was when even at my best, my efforts were not enough to earn His salvation -- that my failures were self-damning. I was scared, and I never felt secure in my salvation because we were taught in the conservative Church of Christ that "even one little sin for which we had not asked for forgiveness could condemn us to hell if we died suddenly before repenting of it." I was so scared that I might forget to repent of some sin before I died, or, worse yet, that I might say a curse word just as the Mack truck hit me head-on. There is no joy in such legalism! It is being wrapped in chains in a prison; chains that only get longer and heavier as we strive, struggle and inevitably fail to DO enough to be saved. BUT, oh how refreshing, liberating and joyful it is to simply accept God's grace for what He has told us it is: His full payment for ALL our sins for those who simply have faith. NOW, I live in a free and loving relationship with my Abba; joyful in His grace; imperfect, but growing in His grace. The supreme price has been fully paid by Christ. Believe it ... live it ... breathe it ... share it ... reflect it in your life ... and rejoice in it! THANK YOU, Bro. Al, for once again sharing and explaining God's loving GRACE, and for confronting those who would bind us to chains of legalism again. Keep up the good fight for freedom in Christ. Though we have never met, I love you, brother, and I feel a very strong spiritual kinship with you. The Holy Spirit works that way!
From a Reader in Mississippi:
I just finished reading "Chosen By God's Grace," and I so much appreciate this article! It is terribly hard to overcome a lifetime of being taught a works-based salvation. Al, you'll never know the multitude of people who are so grateful for your articles (which are literally eye-opening and heart-opening).
From a Reader in Texas:
I loved your message in "Chosen By God's Grace." I was born into a Church of Christ (fourth generation) background. At age 49, my own personal study of God's Word led me to the same truth in your message. Your love of and submission to the Scriptures is a breath of hope for my wife and me!!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, you have been quite helpful to me over the last couple of years in moving away from a works-based "gospel" full of legalistic requirements and patterns to a faith-based Gospel. I always felt something was "not quite right" as I was growing up in the ultra-conservative Church of Christ. However, it was not until I moved to Texas about ten years ago that the teaching of the legalistic patternists became obvious to me for what it really is! I sincerely appreciate the help you have been to me, and to so many others, through your writings!
From an Author in Arizona:
Al, "Chosen By God's Grace" was an excellent essay on grace vs. works! You've made it quite clear. Brother, your insight is showing!!
From an Author in Nevada:
Al, what you have written in your latest Reflections about the faith OF Christ Jesus and our faith IN Christ Jesus is very well stated. It is indeed the Good News!! Only a fool would misunderstand this!
From a Reader in Arizona:
Thank you so much for writing so clearly and forcefully about God choosing us. Psalm 65:4 is a clear statement of that truth, and Philp. 1:6 also expresses the confidence of Paul quite clearly. Seeing this should help anyone crucify pride in their hearts.
From a Reader in Texas:
I witnessed an incident once that to me was a lesson in leaving our opinions behind and simply letting God take over! A young man, who was somewhat mentally challenged, had been convinced that he should be baptized. He was deathly afraid of water, and as he was being led into the water of the baptistery he bolted and got out of there as fast as he could. Questions: Does God require the mentally challenged to be baptized? If so, could he have just been sprinkled (in light of his great fear of water)? Did the initial desire of his heart count as the real thing? Just wondering!
In part, this comes down to the question of personal/individual accountability before God. At what age, or with what degree of mental capacity, does one become accountable? Answers will vary from person to person, and from culture to culture. Most tend to agree, however, that the very young and those severely incapacitated mentally (who are thus "child-like") are "safe" in the eyes of God. It is also important to note that the focus of our God is on a person's heart, and that our actions (whether good or bad) are largely reflections of the nature of our hearts. We humans tend to judge one another based upon outward appearances and actions, whereas the Father examines the heart of a man or woman. Thus, we should be careful about judging someone unfit for the Kingdom from our perspective, when just the opposite may be true from God's perspective. If someone has a deep fear of water (or some other physical or mental condition that makes immersion in water either impossible or impractical), yet has a desire within his heart to express his faith through this symbolic rite, then I would have no qualms about seeking to allow him to express his faith in a manner that would be less traumatic and/or more practical. After all, it is the heart with which our God is ultimately concerned, not the exactness of external rites and rituals. Brethren, if we are going to preach Grace over Law as Gospel, then maybe we ought also to begin practicing it. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, do I correctly understand you to be teaching that baptism in water is not a sacerdotal act, but rather a testimonial act? If so, then right on.
It is my studied conviction that baptism in water is neither sacerdotal nor sacramental, but is rather symbolic in nature, reflecting the greater reality of the Lord's death, burial and resurrection. It is an evidentiary act, in that it visibly demonstrates our faith in what HE has done to bring about our redemption. Thus, it is a response of faith to the Father's free and gracious gift of His Son. It merits nothing; it manifests much! -- Al Maxey
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