Issue #683 -------
December 11, 2015
All salvation is through Christ
Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
"Salvation is attained not by subscription to metaphysical dogmas, but solely by love of God that fulfills itself in action." So stated the Jewish philosopher Chasdai Crescas (1340-1412). By definition, dogma is "a theological opinion to which some strictly adhere." To be dogmatic is to arrogantly assert one's opinion as fact. Dogmatists often become hostile in the face of any challenge to their dogma, and will most often attack their opponents rather than affirm their opinions. Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) wrote, "Dogmatism is the anti-Christ of learning." The hardened dogmatist will rarely welcome in-depth examination and discussion of his views. John Dewey (1859-1952) stated it well, saying, "Any theory and set of practices is dogmatic which is not based upon critical examination of its own underlying principles." Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) defined dogma this way: "A hard substance which forms in a soft brain," and Sir William Osler (1849-1914) seems to concur, writing, "The greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism." Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975), in his celebrated work "Change and Habit: The Challenge of Our Time," made this insightful observation: "Thinking for oneself is always arduous and is sometimes painful. The temptation to stop thinking and to take dogma on faith is strong. Yet, since the intellect does possess the capacity to think for itself, it also has the impulse and feels the obligation. We may therefore feel sure that the intellect will always refuse, sooner or later, to take traditional doctrines on trust."
I was raised within a religious group that did not always look favorably upon those who thought for themselves, for such critical thinking quite often led the thinker to the conclusion and conviction that much of what was taught as divine truth was nothing other than human tradition (which, over time, had been elevated to the level and status of ultimate, infallible truth). To question our religious dogma was to invite sure and swift retribution from the self-appointed defenders of and contenders for the faith (or their version of it, more accurately). Like Toynbee suggested, there came a point in my own spiritual growth and development that I refused to take traditional doctrines on trust. I dared to dig deeper; I dared to doubt; I dared to question. And so did many of you, which is one of the reasons these Reflections have become so popular both here and abroad. They strike a chord in the hearts and minds of the readers, letting them know they are not alone in their doubts about dogma and in their quest for greater insight into God's revealed Truth. It has greatly encouraged me over the years to hear from disciples of Christ around the world who are at last shedding the shackles of sectarianism, with its legalisms and dogmas, and daring to stand boldly as defenders of the gospel of God's grace! In this issue of my weekly Reflections, for your personal encouragement, I would like to share the insights of a few of my readers. What they say will irritate some of you (yes, there are some who read my writings and listen to my lessons to "keep an eye on the apostate" and report back to the "powers that be" the growing list of my "digressions"), but a great many more of you will rejoice at the growing understanding and appreciation of God's children with respect to what the Father has actually done and is doing for us.
Before I share with you the thoughts of a couple of my readers, I would like to make just a few comments about the quote by the Jewish philosopher at the beginning of this article: "Salvation is attained not by subscription to metaphysical dogmas, but solely by love of God that fulfills itself in action." By the time of Christ, the Jews had a systematic religion that was infused into every aspect of daily living, and some among these Jews (such as the sect of the Pharisees) had become somewhat radicalized in their promotion of dogma and in their persecution of those who dared to differ with them. This was why the freedom presented by Jesus, who taught that we should simply live righteously rather than religiously, guided by love not law, was so refreshing to the multitudes (and why it so infuriated the legalistic dogmatists). Crescas, in his statement, suggested this great truth to his contemporaries: one's salvation is not attained and maintained by embracing the "correct" list of laws. Rather, it was attained and maintained by virtue of being in relationship with the Lord God (a gift of grace He bestows through His Son upon all who believe). Crescas then makes a statement that can be taken one of two ways: "Salvation is attained ... solely by love of God that fulfills itself in action." This can mean either: (1) salvation is for those who love God and show it daily in their actions, or (2) salvation is bestowed because of God's love which was ultimately fulfilled and demonstrated in the action of giving His Son to atone for sin and remove the certificate of debt that stood against us. The latter certainly expresses the truth of the Scriptures, and nowhere as beautifully as John 3:16-18a -- "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned." We are saved by grace through faith, and the deeds we do thereafter are reflections of that faith that embraced His gift. Our deeds do not save us, but our deeds do testify to the fact of our salvation. Salvation is due to the fact that God loves us and was/is willing to show it. Thus, HIS act on our behalf, apart from anything WE could ever offer, results in eternal blessings we can barely comprehend, but which we gratefully receive by faith. As the title of this article suggests: One + Nothing = Everything!! For further study of this concept I would refer the reader to Reflections #152 ("Paying the Debt for Our Sin: Was the Crucifixion of Christ on the Cross Total or Token Payment for Sin?").
Sadly, there are many disciples, and denominated groups of disciples (Churches of Christ included), who cannot abide the thought that you and I can do nothing to secure our salvation. They are convinced that we must engage in certain acts (baptism in water being chief among them) in order to qualify for God's grace and mercy. They teach that by embracing certain religious dogmas and performing certain rituals and obeying certain commandments we fill the "gap in grace" and complete the salvation process. Brethren, I'll be blunt: this is nothing short of heresy. I have been exposing and opposing this dogma for many years, and so have many of you, and it is certainly encouraging to witness more and more disciples turning away from bondage to dogma in order to embrace their blood-bought freedom in Christ Jesus. It is also thrilling to see a growing number of these men and women boldly speaking out against legalistic, sectarian dogmatism and speaking out for our liberty to love without religious restraint. In this current issue of my weekly Reflections I want to share with you the thoughts of two of my readers. One I will identify, the other I will not; both gave their permission for me to share what they had sent me, for which I thank them.
The first comes from an active duty Army Lt.Col. (which is why I have chosen not to reveal his identity and location, for his own protection). His thoughts will be shared below. Let me give a little background. On Monday, December 7, I received an email from another Army officer (also a Lt.Col.) in which he stated: "Al, this is the second time I've written you. The first time I was serving in Iraq and someone turned me on to your teachings (i.e.: your Reflections). I am so thankful for this connection. One of my co-workers is studying to prepare himself for the ministry (after he retires from the Army), and he is taking some online classes at -------- University. His encounter with one of his professors has left him baffled. With his permission, I've enclosed a letter he wrote following the back-and-forth he experienced when dealing with this instructor who 'had it ALL figured out.' I think his letter is absolutely beautiful, and I thought you would appreciate it. Also, I spoke with my buddy and he doesn't mind at all if you share his letter with your readers. In addition, I want to thank you for what you do and the rocks you overturn! Very respectfully yours, -------." Just for the record, I should point out that the university (which I also chose not to identify) to which this reader referred is a Christian university in the South that is affiliated with Churches of Christ. I want to thank both of these Army officers for their service to our great nation! I also applaud their love for the Lord and their willingness to stand boldly in the trenches as they lead the fight against legalism. May God bless them both. Below is the letter of this Lt.Col. which he titled "An Open Letter to the Pharisees."
I am a forty-one year old active duty Army officer whose time in uniform is coming to a close. I am also a non-denominational Christian who clings to the belief of Jesus plus nothing equals everything. I feel the Lord has called me into evangelism, so I recently began attending a conservative Christian university to obtain my Masters Degree in Divinity. Let me tell you, it was an eye-opening experience!
I took an Old Testament and New Testament course and was loving it. I was learning about things like the Pentateuch and Deuteronomist history and was planning on how I could drop those phrases at my next dinner party. The second week things changed a bit when we began discussing who wrote sections of the Old Testament and the professor stated, "If you don't believe that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, then you don't believe in the Bible." That was a new concept for me, but I figured I would hop on board because I definitely believe in the Bible. We then went on to discuss the dating of the Bible, where I was told that the creation story was seven literal twenty-four hour days, and if you don't believe that, then you don't believe the Bible. This was a harder pill for me to swallow because not only do I not believe that, I also believe it doesn't really matter. I mean, I have no idea where Cain's wife came from, but I believe she existed. So I did what I assumed most folks do, which is express their opinion. Although my opinion was treated with outward respect, I was reminded that I needed to read the Scriptures the way they read the Scriptures.
And so it continued. I learned what verses and commandments were important to them, and how the parts of the Bible that match their agenda should only be taken literally or not at all. For example, we spent forty-five minutes learning that women should never be allowed to teach the Gospel if a man is present. That doesn't mean they don't like women or that they think they're not smart, it's just that they believe the Bible says they shouldn't. Kind of reminds me of the racist claiming he's not racist because he has a black friend. The more I learned, the more frustrated I became. The straw that broke the camel's back was a discussion board post I wrote on baptism. I love the idea of baptism. I was baptized as a baby, and then again as an adult (what we refer to in my house as a "double dipper"). But, I am also a huge fan of the verse John 3:16, and I also recognize that it is belief/faith in Christ that saves you, not somebody sprinkling water on you. Well, I was once again "put in my place" and was told by my professor, "Your conviction that baptism is not for salvation, unfortunately, is not in harmony with NT teaching on the subject. Please examine carefully Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 22:16 and Romans 6:3-4."
This comment stunned, frustrated, and even angered me, but most of all it made me overwhelmingly sad for this guy. You see, I don't have fancy letters following my name like MDiv or PhD. The letters behind my name spell out L-O-V-E-D. You see, I am loved by Christ, and it is my acceptance of that love that changed my life. I don't read the Bible verse-by-verse picking out the parts that help me prove my position. I read the Bible as a love story, a covenant between a holy God, a whole bunch of jacked up sinners, and a Son who came to die for us anyway. You see, I realized that Jesus had a name for those learned professors of mine: He called them Pharisees. These were the only people Jesus didn't like. These were the people so focused on teaching law, that they missed the story about love. They were so focused on being right, that they missed the point of the message. And now these are the same people who are running around today on conservative Christian campuses and teaching at conservative churches (well, only the MEN, of course).
The funny thing is: these people probably have written sermon series on the errors of the Pharisees, and yet they would never, ever believe that they are acting just like them! How could they be acting like a Pharisee, you ask? As long as you believe what they believe, and how they believe it, you will be saved. (Hint: if you want to know how that works out, then read the last part of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and focus on the older brother.) The sad part is that I don't know how to change them, because they don't believe in the same Jesus I believe in. I believe in the Jesus that came to this earth to free us from our sins through His death and resurrection period. That's it; there is no small print in the contract.
Jesus is an amazing dude who has the ability to change all of our lives, but only if you let Him. If you feel that you are currently being led by a Pharisee, I would implore you to try, just try, a different church. Maybe even one of those crazy ones where they play an electric guitar and let you bring snacks and coffee in with you to the service (that's how they got me: I love snacks and coffee). And what I hope you find there is a room full of sinners, a room full of broken down people who don't have it "all figured out," but who are just trying their best to live daily for the King. A room full of folks who smile and greet you not because they are on the "Newcomers Team," but because they genuinely care about you. A room full of folks who aren't afraid to worship together, pray together, and cry together. A room full of folks from different ages, sexes, races and backgrounds, who are all together acknowledging their baggage and loving the Lord ... together. You see, that is what I believe Heaven is going to look like. Oh, and one more thing: if once you get done reading this article and you're thinking things like, "How dare he?" or "Who does he think he is?", then you are the person I am writing about! If you think, "It's not that simple" or "He is totally wrong", you are probably the person I am writing about. If you think, "Well, he didn't discuss baptism, homosexuality, divorce, drunkenness, the King James Version, or church dress codes," then you are most definitely the person I am talking about. My prayer for you is that you stop focusing on what others are or are not doing, and start focusing on who they are. Love them, lead them to the cross, and guide them on a path to life with Christ. The Jesus I serve doesn't care about your rules, He cares about your heart!
I am greatly encouraged by the spirit and insight of this brother-in-Christ, and appreciate his willingness to courageously, firmly, and yet lovingly, expose the fallacy of those who embrace and proclaim law over love, religion over relationship. I truly pray that when this Lt.Col. retires he will indeed devote himself to active service as a spiritual leader within the Lord's army. We need good men and women like this. The second letter comes from a longtime reader of my Reflections by the name of Neal Griffin, an author who lives in Texas. Neal is an excellent writer and I have long enjoyed his studies. He and I communicate quite often, and I am encouraged by his devotion to sharing the grace of God to those still in bondage to legalism. He is a powerful voice for freedom in Christ Jesus. The day before Thanksgiving, Neal sent me an article he had just written, saying, "Al, dear brother, I value your opinions highly and I would appreciate your take, pro or con, on this one." Well, I loved it, and asked if he would mind if I shared it with my readers. He agreed, and so I include it below. His article is titled "Salvation -- In Order To vs. Because Of."
Dearly beloved, when you are obedient and when you do your good deeds are you doing them in order to be saved or are you doing them because you are saved?! This is not a trick question. It is a serious one with serious, soul-threatening implications, because if you answered the first part of the question with "yes," then you need to reread Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5, and the fourth chapter of Romans. "We are not saved by any works we have done." Salvation is of God. Is it conceivable that our God, the God of heaven and earth, the God of all creation, would need the help of feeble man in order to accomplish His purpose? I think not. There is an erroneous idea afloat that His grace only extends so far and thus man must fill in the gap with his part of the equation. This idea borders on blasphemy. It undermines God's power to accomplish salvation in any way He desires, and His way is to present it to us as a free gift, and free gifts don't come with strings attached. The good news of salvation is clearly defined in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, and there are no strings attached there. It is ours to accept as an accomplished fact. The gospel is simple and the burden of Jesus is light. He lays no heavy burden on us, as do the works-oriented folks. The only stipulation God requires is that we believe in His Son. We are saved by reason of our faith, as was the thief on the cross, who had no time left to obey the many stipulations of men. All the other stipulations, besides faith, are from men. While it is true that Paul gave instructions on how we should live as born again believers, none of his directions were followed by "in order to be saved." Rather, we should do these things because we are saved.
When man thinks and teaches that God needs his help to do anything at all, it is arrogance to the extreme ... and God hates it. He hates it so much that He inspired Paul to write, "You are fallen from grace" as the Galatians were adding stipulations (law-keeping) to His plan of free salvation. I don't need to explain what it means to be out of the reach of grace and separated from Christ (see Galatians 3:10 and 5:4). To be outside the reach of grace is to be without help from Jesus. It is to deny Him. It is to be void of grace. It is to have annulled your confession of faith. In a word, it is to be LOST. This is the result of adding any stipulations to God's plan of free salvation.
God hates the arrogant attitude of men when they add stipulations to His plan of free salvation. He views it as an effort to usurp His authority. The Galatian incident should cause the works-oriented folks to consider what they are doing when they add stipulations to God's plan of salvation as a free gift of grace. Is there any reason at all to think such persons today are exempt from this judgment when they are doing the very same thing the Galatians were doing? I think not. The works-oriented folks insist that being faithful includes supporting the party platform and abiding by all their creedal stipulations, which usually includes contributing to their coffers.
Dearly beloved, I beg you in the name of Jesus: if you are adding stipulations to God's plan of free salvation, stop it immediately and give God all the glory for your salvation! Your servant by reason of Calvary, Neal Griffin
From a Reader in Canada:
Al, if you have a moment could you tell me why the Lord tried to kill Moses (Exodus 4:24)? It seems harsh. I struggle with verses like this in the Bible. I no longer have access to my old study books, so I am taking the "easy way," at least for me, by asking you. If you are busy, though, just pass this request by. I will understand. My love to you and Shelly.
This incident in the life of Moses is indeed one that has raised many questions and many eyebrows over the centuries, and there are a good many theories as to its significance. I did a study of that passage and shared it in one of my early Reflections articles (Issue #34: "The Case of the Flung Foreskin"). I hope this reader finds this study helpful. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Zambia, Africa:
Brother Al, please help! We had an argument at our Bible study about whether or not Bible believing Christians should celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, since no one really knows the exact date He was born. What is your take, please?
I encouraged this brother to read my following Reflections dealing with this matter: (1) Issue #226: "Celebrating Christmas -- Do Christians Commit Sin By Observing This Holiday?" and (2) Issue #329: "The Great Christmas Lie -- Santa: Just an Anagram of Satan?" -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Kansas:
I know that you produce adult Bible class materials utilizing PowerPoint and various lesson notes and audio recordings. But, do you have anything that would be good for youth? I teach a high school class. I don't use handouts or visuals, yet I really think I need to. Please let me know, as I'm ready to buy something.
One of the best little lesson books that I have found for high schoolers (and for adults too, for that matter) is the paperback work by Fritz Ridenour titled "How to be a Christian without being Religious." It is a study of Romans written especially with a younger audience in mind, and it focuses on moving away from law and embracing grace. It is awesome, and I have used it a number of times over the years. It can be found on Amazon, as well as various other outlets. I highly recommend it. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Greetings Brother Al. I am preparing to teach a class on Biblical Anthropology. I have your CD set on The Nature of Man, and I also have read with great interest some of your Reflections on this topic, such as Issue #32: "What Is Man? Body - Spirit - Soul," as I was forming my thought processes. What other materials do you have that will help me as I prepare?
I encouraged this brother to get a copy of Edward Fudge's newly revised work "The Fire That Consumes." I also suggested he might benefit from my own new book, which is also on this subject, and for which Edward Fudge wrote the Foreword. It is titled "From Ruin To Resurrection." -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Thank You, brother, for your wonderful article "He Canceled It and Nailed It" (Reflections #682). I only wish all of our brethren would accept what Paul wrote to the Colossians in that great passage upon which your article focused (Col. 2:14). Thank God it is true. He did pay the debt I owed; the debt I could not pay! Also, Ellis J. Crum's song, which you referenced at the beginning of your article, is one of my favorites also. God bless you, brother.
From an Author in Arizona:
I remember brother Crum, having read many of his articles in various publications. I had not heard that he had passed, so thanks for letting us know. You did an excellent job on this article today ("He Canceled It and Nailed It"). Keep the fires burning!
From a Minister in California:
I knew Ellis Crum personally, and I even got to sing with him a few times! Grand old man! His hymn book was the "anti's" hymnal, as I recall (having grown up in the midst of the now so-called Non-Institutional branch of the Churches of Christ). Shiver me timbers!
From an Author in Nevada:
Your essay on Colossians 2:14 was spot on in emphasizing that it was the debt which the law created that was nailed to Christ's cross. Legalism would say, ironically, that it was the Law of Moses that was nailed to the cross. But, it was rather the bond: the curse it had placed upon the righteous among the Jews. As you state: it is the "damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads" [Phillips Translation]. Christ has paid this debt brought about by sin, and He paid it for everyone; it was nailed there with Him. A parallel passage, Gal. 3:13, declares that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law," not from the Law itself.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Jesus taught what it meant to really give of oneself, and He did just that when He did indeed pay the price. What I wish He had taught us more about, though, is how to receive. He gave us the free gift of redemption, and all we have to do is believe in Him to receive it, and yet we just can't seem to do it. We want to be a participant in the giving of the gift, yet we have not earned that right to participate in the giving of redemption (either for ourselves or for others). We have such a hard time with this, as you say, and we make up rules and traditions and theology so as to include ourselves in the giving of God's Grace, as if we were somehow operating on His side of the equation! In reality this is actually a refusal to receive. Al, I'm not sure what I'm gonna do with all this coffee (which I drink while reading your articles) while you take a well-deserved vacation from your writing ministry. Hope I survive it!! Be blessed my friend.
From a Reader in Texas:
"He Canceled It and Nailed It" is a great and wonderful lesson, brother! It is sometimes hard to remember. In my former life, like so many, I lived a hypocritical, sinful, despicable existence. Satan keeps reminding me of this. It requires quiet reflection, visiting with the Father, to bring my mind back into the present: back into the realization that Jesus paid the whole price, not just part of it. Thanks, Al. I will be passing this issue of Reflections on to many other people!
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Thanks, Al, for an excellent article, especially this concluding statement: "Therefore, in his epistle to the Colossian brethren, the apostle Paul informs us all of the Good News that Jesus took our 'certificate of debt,' the indictment of our guilt, the document of our digressions, the transcript of our transgressions, and He bore it to the cross." As I understand it, Al, the Romans nailed a "certificate of debt," a statement of the accusations, on the crosses of those whom they crucified. That's what they did in accusing Jesus of being "King of the Jews," which was written in multiple languages on the placard nailed to His cross. It is only in our own union with Him that we are thereby crucified with Him and our sins/debt is retrospectively "nailed to the cross" with Him. This truth is often lost in the common understanding that the Law was nailed to the cross. It was the penalty for transgression of law, the guilt, rather than the old covenant, that was taken away.
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Great article on Colossians 2:14. Our brethren just don't want to give up this "proof text" for NT authority. Keep up the fine work!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I'm just getting around to reading this article ("He Canceled It and Nailed It") and it is fantastic! "He Paid A Debt" is one of my favorite hymns too, and the line "And now I sing a brand new song 'Amazing Grace'" always brings a lump to my throat. I wonder what song we would be singing if Jesus had NOT paid our debt of sin? Certainly it would have been a dirge of sorrow and misery. God bless you, brother!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
In your latest issue, in which you discussed Colossians 2:14, you indicate, with regard to the Law of Moses, that men were incapable of keeping it completely and perfectly. Why do you say this?! What precept of it were men incapable of keeping? Did God give a law men could not obey, then hold them guilty for not obeying it? This cannot be, for in Deuteronomy 32:11 God Himself said it wasn't too difficult nor beyond man's reach. My view is that man could keep the Law fully and perfectly, he just didn't. The fault was not the Law (i.e., that it was too hard), but that man just didn't want to obey it. I do, however, agree with the overall thrust of the article: that it wasn't the Law itself that was nailed to the cross, but the record of man's violations of the Law, despite the fact that I personally misused this very verse for many years in debating Sabbatarians.
I will have to respectfully differ with the above brother. If man were indeed capable of attaining salvation by law keeping, then that would have been the redemptive plan placed into effect by God. Justification, salvation, redemption, sanctification were never going to be ours by law or command keeping. Such was never the purpose of law/commands, as Paul points out repeatedly in his epistle to the Romans. Law exposes our sin, and it shows us the need for redemption. I did an extensive examination of the purpose of LAW in my adult Bible class, and the audio recordings (MP3) of that class are available on CD to any who would like to obtain a copy, and I urged this reader to get a copy and consider the biblical argument I presented therein: Law to Liberty (click on this link for ordering information). Paul lamented that he desired to live according to the demands of the Law, but found that his flesh waged war with that desire, and so he failed time and again. He failed to keep the Law NOT because he chose to, but because he was simply not capable in the flesh of doing so (a fact which the Law exposed). NO man is humanly capable of living perfectly under a system of law, for in the course of his/her lifetime he/she will inevitably break at least ONE law (whether knowingly or unknowingly), and we know that even ONE violation results in a sentence of death. ALL have sinned and fall short; there are NONE righteous, not even one! So says Paul. John says if we declare we are without sin, we are liars. Man is incapable of living a perfect, flawless, sinless life. If he were, then salvation would potentially be OF MAN. Salvation, however, is completely OF GOD. A holy law exposes this problem, but it doesn't provide the remedy. That was provided by God as a gift of love and grace, and it is received by sinful men by faith. In Christ, the certificate of debt owed by every man due to the guilt of sin, is forever removed. We now no longer live under the curse of a Law that no man could keep, for that burden was lifted at Calvary, as the hymn rightly states. We are now free to live by faith in a realm governed by God's love and grace. Peter, at the Jerusalem Conference, made a rather insightful observation about those seeking to promote the necessity of law/command/tradition keeping: "Why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? ... We are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 15:10-11). They were NOT ABLE to do so. 'Nuff said. -- Al Maxey
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