Issue #648 -------
February 20, 2015
Great men are the Fire-pillars in this dark pilgrimage
of mankind; they stand as heavenly Signs, ever-living
witnesses of what has been, prophetic tokens of what may
still be; the revealed, embodied Possibilities of human nature.
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Every now and then I like to step away from the keyboard and present a special guest article from one of the readers. I don't do this often, but there are times when it is nice to take a break for a week from my writing ministry. Also, it's good for you, the readers, to have an opportunity to ponder the thoughts of one of your fellow Reflections readers. In this week's issue I believe you will be especially blessed once again by the tremendous insights of a very dear friend and brother-in-Christ who has been a great supporter of my Reflections ministry for quite some time. I said "once again" because this man wrote a previous "Guest Reflections" for me a few years back (Reflections #495 -- July 27, 2011). Dr. Barry L. Perryman, Ph.D. is a professor of Rangeland Management at the University of Nevada-Reno, and he has served for over 30 years as a Bible class teacher, a song leader, a deacon, and a part-time evangelist. This dear brother is also the author of the powerful book "A Call to Unity: A Critical Review of Patternism and the Command-Example-Inference-Silence Hermeneutic," a fabulous work for which I was given the honor and privilege of writing the endorsement printed on the back cover. Barry further honored me by writing the Foreword for my third book: "Immersed By One Spirit." For those who might like to contact Barry, he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barry's above referenced book was the focus of several of the articles in the June, 2011 (vol. 55, no. 6) issue of Truth Magazine (an issue in which my own work was also attacked a number of times), which was a special issue titled "Hold Fast the Pattern of Sound Words." Barry wrote me at the time, "I guess my book is finally having some effect since they decided a special issue was needed to address it. However, the arguments they used are the same old twisted logic nonsense. It's as if they didn't even read the book because all of their arguments are addressed in it." This is very typical of the hardened legalists. They remind me of what the apostle Paul had to say about such persons: "They do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions" (1 Tim. 1:7). When the Contending for the Faith crowd viciously attacked my first book "Down, But Not Out" repeatedly and at length in their 2010 Spring Lectureship (which lectureships they characterized as "Profiles in Apostasy #1"), it became obvious very quickly that they really didn't have a clue what was in my book or what I really believed. The same was true of the other books they reviewed in that lectureship. That very same spirit was evident with respect to Barry's work as it was "reviewed" in Truth Magazine (a publication of the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ).
The following article is from Dr. Barry Perryman's pen, and I believe you are going to be both challenged and encouraged by his insights. He wrote, "Al, I have attached an article for which I have finally gotten 'round to putting pen to paper. Most of the thought process was done while I was in Central Asia this past fall." [NOTE: For a fabulous picture of Barry during this recent trip Click Here. He sent this to me, explaining: "I am in the Tien Shan Mountains of northwest China. That is Tien Shan Glacier in the background, with a Kazakh yerta behind me. The elevation is about 13,500 feet."] I am pleased to present his study below for your careful and prayerful consideration. If you have any comments or questions about what he's written, and would like to write to him about them, I know he will be more than willing to respond. As with my own writings, the following study is designed simply to get you to think; to do some serious reflection. You may agree with what you read; you may disagree. Either way, may each of us embrace and evidence a "Berean spirit" (Acts 17:11). In the words of the apostle Paul, "Examine everything carefully, and hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
Many are familiar with the formulaic gospel. It teaches there are six steps that a person must complete in order to be saved: 1) hearing the gospel, 2) believing it, 3) repenting of your former sinful ways, 4) confessing Jesus' name, 5) baptism, and 6) remaining faithful. I compared the Gospel of Scripture with the first five steps in my previous article (Reflections #495). The last step of the formulaic gospel, 6) remaining faithful, is what I will address in this opus.
"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (James 5:19). For many years I understood the meaning of this verse to be: if you needed something spiritual from the Lord, you must seek out an elder or preacher who was a real, honest-to-goodness practitioner of righteousness. He would be a man who hardly ever sinned, and then it was just a minor infraction. When you made contact you asked him, accompanied with the appropriate amount of guilt, to pray for your need. If he found it a worthy request of God, he would intercede on your behalf, praying fervently with pious language and glorious oratory. He would do this because both you and he knew that the Lord listened to prayers of the righteous, rather than your prayer, that of a sinner. Even now, these men and women are considered righteous by many because of their circumspect, diligent, self-disciplined behavior. Their ethical behavior has been the model for what it means to remain faithful.
What does "remaining faithful" mean in the context of the formulaic gospel? To countless disciples it means controlling your behavior by attempting to be good; in other words, trying to be righteous. Completion of the first five steps of the formulaic gospel isn't enough, for additionally you must obey His Word exactly. Remaining faithful for many is the equivalent of two things: 1) sinning less and less over time, while 2) following the one and only hermeneutical pattern purported to be given in the New Testament. It means you must be exactly right in knowledge and practice or the first five steps are negated and you lose your eternal reward. Remember the closing prayer line, "If we are found faithful in the end, gather us home with Thee"? I have heard many preachers cite 1 John 2:1 as evidence that we are able to refrain from sinning for significant periods of time. The verse reads, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
Remaining faithful defined by legalism requires that the periods between sinning should increase in length, and our lives should require less and less instances of needing to ask for forgiveness. This is how success is measured with regard to "growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:17-18). Remaining faithful is considered by so many as the way to continue being justified, righteous, and blameless after one becomes a disciple of Christ. It is taught that the first five steps of the formulaic gospel render you sinless and forgiven, but unless you remain faithful your unrighteousness returns on the occasion of every sin, and each of those sins can only be absolved by asking for forgiveness. One sin will keep you out of heaven. The switch that controls your redemption becomes obedience rather than the grace of God. Brothers and sisters, let there be no confusion or misconception, this doctrine is in direct opposition to what Scripture actually tells us about righteousness and how to obtain it. How do we obtain this righteousness that the Scriptures speak of which may be possessed by men and women? How do we reach that point of being righteous enough for our prayers to "accomplish much"? How good at not sinning do we have to become to be considered faithful? What time interval between sins is acceptable? There is a relationship between righteousness and faithfulness that we must understand. Let's take an honest look at what Scripture says about righteousness and who possesses it.
Luke 1:5-6 states, "In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord." Luke is speaking of the parents of John the Baptist, and he makes some very provocative statements about them. With no qualifications, Luke plainly declares that they were righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly. Some time ago, this statement struck me hard, and it forced me to ask some questions. How did these two get to be righteous, and just what does "walking blamelessly" mean? They couldn't possibly be living sinless lives for Scripture tells us all men have sinned and fallen short. To further complicate things, Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23:28). We see here that one can actually be righteous, or one can just appear to be. So the question follows, how can you appear to be righteous when you are not? I think these are legitimate interrogations for anyone to ask, no matter where they are on the spectrum of knowledge and belief in Jesus Christ. The application is that it is a good thing to be described as righteous and blameless, and a bad thing to be declared as only appearing to be righteous. How can we personally move from one description to the other?
As I thought about these questions I was taken by something else Jesus said that I had heard and read many times before, "So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, if you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31-32). I wondered for the first time, what specific truth was He referring to, and how would it make them and me free; free from what, in a specific sense? I knew the standard responses: free from sin, free from the power of Satan, free from the second death, and so on and so on. Certainly these statements are trustworthy, but if Jesus is anything He is practical. If I was really free from the consequences of sin, why did punishment in the fires of hell return to me every time I broke or thought about breaking the rules? This necessitated my asking for forgiveness to cleanse me over and over again. This gospel didn't free me from the bondage of sin, for it put me back into it every time I fell short! I walked around in fear. Jesus also said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). By this, He calls to those who are beat up and scarred by life. He even said He did not come to call the righteous, but the sinner (Matt. 9:13). What is going on here? He seems to be calling to those who realize they cannot keep from sinning on their own, calling to those who understand they cannot pull themselves out of the gutter of life without His assistance. Those folks need Him, but the righteous didn't. I was confused.
Scripture tells us that "we are saved by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8), yet it is taught by some that the sixth step, obeying commandments, is the mechanism for achieving a righteous life and ultimately salvation. Some would even have us believe that there is one, and only one, pattern of worship that must be followed or we are forever lost in the fires of hell. (By the way, after requests by myself and countless others over many years, no patternist has ever been courageous enough to produce in writing that one and only pattern, or to identify it from among the dozen or more that exist within the Churches of Christ). These same folks teach that there is God's part and there is man's part in salvation. God saves you initially but it becomes your responsibility to remain saved. And that responsibility requires you to be righteous and blameless by obeying the correct set of commandments. So again, what is the source of righteousness? Romans 3:21-26 tells us exactly what that source is: God has demonstrated His righteousness. Righteousness belongs to Him! Referring to mankind, Romans 3:10 says, "There is none righteous, not even one." So if there are no righteous men, how did Zacharias and Elizabeth come to be righteous? Did Luke just declare them righteous or did the Holy Spirit direct him to make the declaration?
So far, we have asked a lot of questions. Let's now look at a few scriptures for some answers. Folks, here is the very heart of the Gospel: being justified before God is not an absence of sin, rather it is the presence of His righteousness. If you say you will try harder not to sin, that you'll do better from here on out, you are saying, "I can do it myself." But look, if you just sinned, it just happened again, and it will happen again, and again, and again, over and over and over. It is not our individual sins that we need to worry about, it is our sinfulness that would separate us from God. That's why the apostle Paul could say, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24). It is clear that he lived a circumspect life, but he knew he still needed assistance. He could not save himself because of his sinful nature as a human being. Now, the Lord could simply offer us pardon for our sinfulness, but He does more than that, He offers us the righteousness of His Son in the place of our own sinful nature. You can pardon a criminal for an offence, yet he may still retain a criminal nature. Our Creator offers us pardon and His righteousness to take the place of our sinful nature. Again, being justified before God is not the absence of sin, but the presence of His righteousness. It replaces our sinfulness. Our sinful nature cannot be replaced by the absence of sin, because righteousness cannot be generated through keeping commandments (Gal. 3:21).
Legalism teaches we must keep some vacillating, new, undefined law of Christ in order to remain faithful, but John writes, "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). God did not send two laws, one through Moses and another through Jesus Christ; instead, John builds a contrast between law and grace. The contrast he speaks of is vividly displayed in Hebrews 10:28-29: "Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?" Here, we have a picture of a man who receives the death penalty without mercy for transgressing the Law of Moses. This disobedient man is contrasted with another man who spurns the sacrifice (propitiation) which is the Spirit of grace. God wishes to redeem this man, offering His own Son as payment, and yet the man rejects the gracious offer, preferring to be judged by law. What an insult to grace! This man wants law so badly he is willing to give up grace to have it. Law is his god, and he trusts in himself to obey. This is legalism. The apostle John tells us, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:6). Legalists teach that we fall out of the light each time we sin. Let there be no misunderstanding here, the doctrine of falling in and out of the light each time we sin is nothing but a false gospel!
Then how do you know if you are in the light? This is a perfectly legitimate question. The Apostle John says that we can know (1 John 5:13). Ask yourself: what is the deepest longing of who you are? Is that longing an insatiable desire to place yourself in His keeping? Is it an indescribable yearning to be close to Him, to love His nature, His Word, His ways, His lovingkindness? If you have this, you are walking in the light "and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses [you] from all sin" (1 John 1:7). In other words, you are cleansed forever and always from your sinfulness. The verb here is a present active indicative (tense - voice - mood), meaning that you are continually cleansed. In other words, God has caused or declared you to be righteous by grace through faith forever and for all time. You have become the righteousness of God: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).
Walking in the light is not behavior modification. It is a change of heart and mind. In Galatians 3:11, Paul says, "Now, that no one is justified by law before God is evident; for the righteous man shall live by faith." Living by faith as a follower of Jesus is committing yourself to let Him lead the way because you can't find your own way to righteousness. It means you trust Him to work in you; it changes you. You cannot make yourself good by sinning less and less. If you try to live this way, you are showing that you are attempting to control your life and that He isn't. You are now keeping law, and we know that keeping law will not give you righteousness. Placing emphasis on obeying commands is like a child attempting to earn the love of a parent. Have you ever been witness to a child playing up to a parent in order to earn their affection? It's disgusting. What honest parent enjoys their child trying to earn their affection? Do you think God is any different?
Are you willing to sacrifice what you are now for what you will become? Are you willing to give up control to become a new creature? Keeping His commandments does not mean compliance to a set of laws, it means valuing them, thinking about them, meditating on them, believing in them. You keep them because you love and respect Him. Zacharias and Elizabeth walked in the righteousness of God, not in their ability to keep law. They kept the Law of Moses because they had faith in God and loved His words and ideals. If you are still wondering what it means to walk in His ways, go back and read the psalms of King David. David knew how to immerse himself in the heart and mind of his Creator.
When you become a disciple of Jesus your identity changes (Eph. 4:24). When your identity changes your behavior subsequently changes. Behavior will never change your identity, but your identity will change your behavior. Your salvation becomes a present reality. You walk in His righteousness, not your own. So, to take this back to the beginning, you don't have to look very hard to find a righteous man to pray with or for you. Any child of God is considered righteous by Him, and to consider them any less is an insult to our Creator. If you are a child of God, you have His righteousness, and that makes you a righteous man or woman, and your prayers will accomplish much.
Do you ever feel as though you are not good enough at keeping commandments? Are you constantly in fear of breaking the rules, and are you crushed by the burden of carrying that guilt around? Do you feel like God will ultimately reject you because you can never be good enough? Are you fearful that in the end God will evaluate your good and bad balance sheet and make a judgment that is not in your favor? Are you ever discouraged by your inability to stop sinning in some way, and do you feel that God has abandoned you because you are terrible at being a Christian and consequently are a terrible person? If you have been beaten down by your guilt, if you have been grieved by knowing you will never measure up to some standard of conduct, and if you have ever felt as though God is ashamed of you, then you have been tainted by legalism, and the apostle Paul had nothing good to say about those who did this to you: "I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves" (Gal. 5:12).
The problem is that God's standard has been distorted by those who would elevate themselves by your less than stellar behavior and their self-gratifying neediness. They have manipulated what God has said about grace and salvation into something that is grotesque and macabre. They have traded grace for legalism. Legalism is the view that obedience to some set of rules is the mechanism of redemption rather than by grace through faith. It is another gospel, one which Paul describes in the Galatian letter. Legalism says that if you are a Christian, and live your life in the correct way, God will provide you with His grace. However, in truth, every time you feel you need to augment Jesus' sacrifice by your behavior in order to stay in the light, you have put Him on trial and crucified Him for being inadequate in His attempt to sanctify you. Every time you rest your redemption upon worshipping "in the absolute correct way," you have determined His sacrifice is not enough, and that it takes your experience, knowledge, and ability to ascertain the one and only "correct pattern" to get you over the top.
Have you ever thought of someone who has different but honest understandings of Scripture as "lost," in spite of their sincerity and love for God? Have you ever, in all good conscience, been misinformed or incorrect in your understanding of some bit of doctrine? If so, were you covered by grace? The honest answer is yes. Then why condemn others for something for which you have been guilty? You must allow the same grace that covers you when you fall short to cover them when they fall short. Legalism is a tool of Satan that divides the Lord's people. There are only two responses you can have to legalism: It either causes you to become discouraged and want to give up, or you walk away in pompousness and arrogance. Either way, you are lost. You either have no hope, or you hope in yourself.
You see, no one, neither demon nor man, can charge a child of God with any crime: "Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies" (Rom. 8:33). Yet Satan, through legalism, with the purveyors of legalism, persist in their accusations against God's children. Satan through legalism says, "They don't sing the right way, they celebrate the Lord's Supper wrongly, they don't worship You correctly, they don't love You enough, they have a steeple on their building, they speak and sing of Jesus' birth on Christmas Day, they speak of His resurrection on Easter Sunday, and they believe too much in grace." Satan through legalism says to God, "These so-called children of Yours are sinful, they lie, they are selfish, greedy, self-absorbed cowards, and they pretend to be who they are not. Some of them are drug addicts, homosexuals, adulterers, thieves, and pompous arrogant jerks. Some twist Your words to hold others to their incomprehensible standards on marriage and divorce while they arrogantly boast in their own relationships. Some of them are even murderers, some have abused children, some have aborted children, and some have had sex in all kinds of relationships where You have placed limits. Some try to earn Your affection by their behavior, some are weak-minded and untrustworthy, and some are just horrible hypocrites. These You claim as Your children! These are Your disciples?!"
And God smiles like a proud parent and says, "I know, I know, isn't it great?! They are Mine! I love them so much. They are My children, and they are safe with Me. I have reconciled them to Me because they love Me and have faith in Me. They want to do the right things so fiercely, and yet I know they trip and fall and skin their knees, and some of them have injured and scarred themselves and others horribly with their sin. Some have some very strange ideas about Me and My words, but you see, I did not send My Son to rescue the righteous, but rather I sent Him to rescue this collection of misfits, outlaws, tramps, and hawkers. I love them so much, and they love Me."
You see, God does not walk His throne room with thoughts of disappointment about you because you "messed up" or are "gonna mess up" later tonight. He loves you and holds on to you. He pursues you. He wants you more than you can imagine. Why? Is it because you are upright, pious, and worship Him in some correct, patternistic way determined by some contrived hermeneutic? No. It is because of His incalculable love for you. As His child, He loves you when you are at your best, and He loves you when you are at your worst. He loves you when you are full of joy and when you are so hopeless and depressed you want to commit suicide. No matter your state of mind, you are His. He wants you, He adores you, He is proud of you, He cries over you, and He smiles over you. And He has provided grace to cover all of your sins. If you are a child of God, He is not ashamed of you. He does not take back your redemption every time you sin, and then keep it aloof until you ask for forgiveness. He loves you beyond comprehension. He will not let you go. Paul says that nothing, nothing can separate you from the love of God. "...and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, 'for Your sake we are being put to death all day; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:30-39).
Legalism robs you of the joy that has been made complete in Jesus Christ. You see from verse 30 above: He has already justified you! Your membership in His Family is not based on knowledge, performance, or an ability to tease out every command of some perceived pattern. A true disciple will do the things the Father wishes as he or she becomes aware of them. We do not stand condemned before we encounter and assimilate new knowledge and new understanding, we are justified because of what God has done and because of our faith in Him to carry through with His promise. Our actions are a reflection of our faith, not the other way around. My brothers and sisters, here is the mystery of what Satan does through legalism: he (it) tempts you with something you already possess: God's righteousness and the eternal life He provides. Satan through legalism dangles the hope of heaven in front of you and jerks it back every time you fall short, convincing you that you are not good enough, in an attempt to make you give up. All this while, in reality, salvation is already yours. Though you currently do not possess eternal life in its ultimate fullness, God has already conferred it upon you. The only way it can be taken away from you is if you walk away from it with a heart that says, "I don't care anymore; I will control my own life." This plays out in demonstrative, rebellious sin that comes from a bitter heart. And a legalistic heart is a rebellious, bitter heart.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 states, "Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." When the apostle Paul said, "such were some of you," do you really think, as legalism teaches, he meant that these brothers and sisters in Christ suddenly stopped all of their former lifestyle behaviors when they became disciples? Legalism teaches that after you are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and you lie even one time, you are a liar; if you swindle even one time, you are a swindler; if you covet even one time, you are a coveter. This would mean that you would have to constantly be asking for forgiveness in order to get back into the light, and that is a horrible, terrifying thought! It is slavery, and you become a slave to fear. It means if you have an accident and die before you ask forgiveness, you go straight to the fires of hell. Eternal reward becomes a roulette wheel instead of a promise, and WE HAVE A PROMISE! We have been set free from having to jump back into the light every time we fall short. Brothers and sisters, there is no more wrath directed at you from God's cup of wrath reserved for sinners. Jesus drank it all, every drop (John 18:11). He has no more wrath to pour out on you.
Do you really think that those brethren who had been involved in a homosexual lifestyle suddenly ceased that behavior and never fell off the wagon again? If that were true, by saying, "such were some of you," Paul would have been dishonest, knowing what human nature is like. When he made that little statement, he meant that the blood of Christ had cleansed them of all sin, sins before and sins not yet committed; and even though they may have still stumbled during their journey, the blood of Christ covered them, and God still looked upon them as being righteous, because He Himself had declared them righteous! "...but you were washed, ...sanctified, ...and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!" Unity with other disciples is not something to be obtained by agreement on some common doctrine, it is something that has already been given by God. We are unified by His grace. Unity with believers from other folds (using Jesus' words from John 10:16) is a current reality, not something to be hammered out with debates over differences of opinion and understanding. Unity and fellowship among disciples of Christ is not contingent upon compliance with someone's idea of a pattern hidden among passages of scripture. God has unified us through Jesus the Christ, His grace, and our faith.
So am I describing a "once saved, always saved" doctrine? In the apostle Paul's words, "May it never be!" "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!" (Rom. 6:1). "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Eph. 4:1). "By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked" (1 John 1:6). You can fall from redemption; you can walk away. There are those who have tasted freedom, yet lost interest or allowed themselves to become bitter, calloused souls. They walk away from God, He does not walk away from them. Let's get it straight: there is a difference between straying from God's ideal and in leaving for good (and He is the one who will make that call). It's a question of nature. If our nature is with God, He covers our sin. If our nature is with Satan, that is our choice. We would be the ones turning our face away from God.
Knowing these things, we can now better understand that we should walk in a manner worthy of the righteousness and redemption we already possess. We already have it. It does not originate with us, nor do we generate it by sinning less frequently. Walking in a worthy manner does not mean walking around on eggshells worrying if you are stepping out of line with someone's idea of a command-example-inference-silence hermeneutic. Paul did not say to walk in a manner worthy of keeping the gift, but rather to walk in a manner worthy of the gift we have already received. So stop trying to be good, and let the Spirit of Christ begin to work in your heart and mind. Let it change your identity. Stop carrying around the guilt of never measuring up. Stop being so hard on yourself, and by all means stop listening to those who have perverted the Gospel with legalistic expectations. You are free from worry and doubt about your redemption and salvation. Yes, continue to confess your sins to God, but know in your heart of hearts that you already have God's promise to raise you on that great day. John taught, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Are you still unsure of your current salvation? As always, I continue to pray for all those in the bondage of legalism. I hope this article will cause you to study the Scriptures and to reason it out on your own. Take courage, for you are not alone! I close with the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:4-7. Just listen to him, does he sound as though your salvation is ever in question? "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), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." May God bless you!
From a Reader in Ohio:
Bro. Maxey, would you please send me a signed copy of your new book From Ruin To Resurrection, for which my check is enclosed. My husband and I first heard of your book from Edward Fudge (who wrote the Foreword for you). Your book is one of the very best I have ever read on this subject, and we would like an autographed copy. Thank you so much for writing it!
From a Reader in Oregon:
I've subscribed to your Reflections for several years. Good info! I would like to order your two CD set: Revelation: A Reflective Study. My check is enclosed. Also, I wanted to notify you that in your Bible Studies section on your web page, in the study titled The Lord's Day, there are two links given that are no longer working (when I click on them I just get a "404 error" message). Could you tell me how to find those two articles you wrote? Thanks. I really appreciate your work. Stay strong in His might.
That particular study of the Lord's Day, which also includes a brief study on the Sabbath, has been reworked and released as a Reflections article: Reflections #103 -- "The Lord's Day: History and Significance" (from which the links to those two articles have been removed). The two brief articles in question ("Breaking the Fourth Commandment" and "Right vs Rite") were actually bulletin articles I wrote for the weekly bulletin of the Honolulu Church of Christ (I was the minister there from 1992 to 1998). Years ago I had a great many of those articles on my web site, but I later removed them when I began my Reflections ministry. Thus, those bulletin articles are no longer available. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Louisiana:
I read the "Contending for the Faith" article (to which you referred in your last Reflections) that attacked the Duck Dynasty family here (I attend where they do). I thought about subscribing to that publication, but then decided "What's the use? I don't have a bird cage to line!" (LOL). I appreciate you very much, Al. Isn't it interesting that the loudest critics of those Christians who are actually doing something are always people who are doing nothing except being critical of others?!
From a Minister in Tennessee:
I don't receive "Contending for the Faith." I'm glad I don't. I've got more important things to do. However, I am left wondering: whose/what faith are they contending for? It certainly isn't the one found in the Bible!
From a University Professor in Nevada:
Al, I have really enjoyed the last several Reflections articles! You can always tell when a writer is "in the zone." Keep up the good work, brother!
From a Reader in Texas:
"The Trespass of the Tray Pass" (Reflections #646) was a really thought-provoking article! I have probably been to a dozen or so congregations over the years, as I have moved around for my job, yet I have never seen a single time where a lady was one of the "tray passers," although, as you aptly pointed out, I've certainly seen them cleaning up afterward!
From a Reader in Georgia:
I just read "Liberty vs. Libertarianism" (Reflections #647). Wow!! Awesome job, Al. I had never noticed the "for me" inclusion/exclusion before. I also never noticed the quotation marks before in certain translations. I can't believe that I'm approaching 60 years of age and missed such an important teaching from such a familiar epistle. I am so thankful that you've been given the vision, and that you don't mind sharing it with others. I guess I have to fall into the camp that would think Paul was quoting their statements and then offering a correcting or modifying view in response. I find it interesting that Paul never says that the things are not lawful. He continues to recognize our freedom, but then offers up inspired wisdom to get people to see (perhaps from their own experiences) that not every lawful thing produces good results all the time. In my opinion, this is consistent with how he delves into spiritual gifts moderated by love in 1 Cor. 13. I'm refreshed! Good stuff, my brother! Thank you again for bringing the context and the minute particulars into clear view!
As I noted in my last Reflections, and to which this reader referred, perceiving certain statements as being quotes from others, rather than direct teachings from Paul, can help clear up long held misunderstandings in some critical areas involving our theology and practice. One such area is the role of women. I would strongly urge people to read, in connection with this, Reflections #592 -- "Challenging A Corinthian Quotation: Paul's Powerful Refutation of Church Sexism." Far too much of what we do today religiously is actually based on misunderstanding and misapplication of a select few verses in the Scriptures (taken out of context), which have then become over time cherished traditions, which have then devolved into church LAW (which we then use to regulate the redeemed and limit the liberated). -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in New Mexico:
I wanted to reread your book One Bread, One Body, but I have misplaced my copy. So, I purchased the Kindle edition and am now reading it. I just finished the third chapter, and, as usual, I have a thought. Jesus said, "As often as you do it, do it remembering Me." Many people take time to say a prayer before eating their three meals a day, concluding those prayers with "in Jesus' name, Amen." Sounds to me like all these folks are doing what Jesus asked us all to do. So, I would suggest that every time we recognize Jesus as we eat a meal, we are in fact partaking of "the Lord's Supper," even if the meal happens to be breakfast or lunch. Whether we are alone with Jesus, gathered with members of our immediate family, or assembled with myriad brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in fellowship/communion with our Lord and Savior as we pray in His name. And that, in my view, makes every meal a celebration of Him in unity with those with whom we pray.
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, great article this week ("Liberty vs. Libertarianism" -- Reflections #647). I am continually trying to sort out the way to successfully transit the weak vs strong argument concerning our freedom in Christ. As a minister, I am continually looking over my shoulder so I do not offend the weaker brother or sister. I am thinking that none of our legalist friends can or should be classified as the "weaker" brother or sister. They forfeit this title as soon as they have access to the Scriptures cited regarding these matters. People in Paul's day were learning about Christian freedoms on the fly. They had to learn by word of mouth or an occasional letter about how and why they were now free from human religious regulations. People today, even new Christians, do not have that option of "not knowing." I agree that there are still weak and strong Christians, but the weak do not have the right to bully other Christians based on their immature understanding of the Scriptures. The strong have an obligation to help the weak reach a mature understanding of Scripture, to include the idea of Christian freedoms along with grace and love. I heard a retired minister talking about his work 50 years earlier. According to him, he was a successful evangelist in the 1960's who brought many souls into the church, but he didn't understand the concepts of love and grace. I would posit that sincere God-seeking people yearn for the freedom, love and grace that is associated with Christianity. Weak brothers and sisters are those who are still earnestly seeking these wonderful aspects of our faith, but who haven't yet found them. Our faith has been hijacked by these weak brethren and their thinking far too long.
So, I concur that we should act in love toward all of our fellow Christians, but that does not mean that dogmatic people can label themselves "weak" and, in so doing, control our faith. I still believe that Paul in Romans 14 outlines the relativistic faith that some will demonize without trying to understand what is being said. My belief is that Paul here is simply saying that we should not violate our consciences. This means that we should follow our beliefs without foisting them on others. We are to love each other and try to help everyone in the kingdom. Personally, I see my mission as helping everyone find the path to love and grace out of the morass of legalism, traditionalism, and judgmentalism. I'll take mercy over justice every time (and will try to help everyone see that is exactly what we all require, and what we all should desire).
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
I have had the following quote in mind lately; it came from something I read years ago: "Some are convinced that the act of baptism itself is what saves us, and that a godly, devoted, loving, faith-filled, Spirit-led, penitent believer is damned to hell until the moment his nose breaks the surface of the waters of the baptistery." I tried Googling this quote this morning, but the only direct reference I could find was on your web site. My question is: did anyone ever actually say that? Is that a statement that can be documented in any way? I'm fairly certain I used that quote in a sermon once to refute such an unfortunate claim about baptism, but I would like to find a proper source before referencing it again. Thanks.
That particular statement, to which this reader alludes, was written by me. It appears near the beginning (2nd paragraph, 5th sentence) of Reflections #497 ("Critical Question on 1 Peter 3:21 -- Pondering the True Meaning of the 'Pledge' of a Good Conscience as it Relates to Baptism"). I have had a number of people over the years inform me that no matter how much a person is godly, devoted, loving, faith-filled, Spirit-led, or penitent, that person will still go straight to hell if they die prior to baptism. A man here in my own congregation (who is now deceased), who filled in for me one Sunday shortly after I moved here from Hawaii, stated that if a penitent believer died suddenly while standing in the baptistery, and just seconds prior to being immersed, he would be damned. I was also informed that this doctrine is true by a preacher named Darrell Broking, and I dealt with that harsh dogmatism in Reflections #472 ("Cornelius and Balaam's Ass: Was this Godly Centurion as Damned as a Donkey prior to his Baptism?"). I would also encourage the reader to review my debate on this subject: The Maxey-Hughes Debate. Sadly, when people elevate baptism from symbol to sacrament, such harsh judgmentalisms are never far behind. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Illinois:
I am writing requesting your prayers for me for tomorrow. We have our small group study at our house tomorrow night, and I will be facilitating the study on baptism. I have changed my thoughts on baptism through much prayer and study (including much of your fine work) and thus may be saying some things different from what some may think. As a former elder here I am concerned about presenting my thoughts on this issue to some of the people in this group. I am poring through many of your Reflections studies on this subject as I try to put together my "defense" for tomorrow night. I would appreciate any words of wisdom you may have for me, and, of course, your prayers on my behalf. God bless you for the great work you do in God's name. You are a blessing to me. Love you, brother!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
I just read your article about women passing the Communion trays, after having just read another article (Click Here) about a Catholic church in California eliminating "altar girls" and going back to all male altar boys. To be honest, I don't know really what an "altar boy" does or is, but I suspect it might be something similar to the guys passing the Communion trays. Then again, maybe it involves more than I know. I just think the contrast is so striking. Personally, I think all this hubbub is no hubbub at all. It is all about tradition, and that is ALL it is.
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