by Al Maxey
Issue #737 -------
December 11, 2017
Though justice be thy plea, consider this: that in the
course of justice, none of us should see salvation.
We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth
teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.
William Shakespeare [1564-1616]
The Merchant of Venice
The other day, while scrolling through the posts on Facebook, I came across a picture of Noah's ark with these words attached: "Grace did not save Noah, ... obedience did" (you can see this graphic at the left of this paragraph). Needless to say, this got my immediate attention. I do not know the person who designed this graphic, nor do I know the nature of his/her theological convictions, but the words attached to the graphic seem to suggest rather strongly that salvation is more about what man does than about what God does. It is a diminishing of God's grace, and an elevation of man's own effort. Grace is set aside, faith is not even mentioned, and obedience to some system of laws, rules, regulations and commands becomes the very means of one's salvation. It was because Noah obeyed that Noah was saved. He was not saved by grace, and faith is nowhere in view. Thus, for Noah, according to this view, salvation was based on his own effort; it was "wages due" for human obedience, rather than a gift of grace from a loving, merciful God. Such teaching is not only false, it borders on blasphemy!
Frankly, I find this picture (more specifically: the message embedded) offensive, for it suggests a theological perspective that is, in my view, utterly opposed to biblical truth regarding salvation. "By grace you have been saved," declares the apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:5) ... except in the case of Noah, I suppose! In Noah's case, God's grace has no bearing ... or so the message on this graphic seems to teach. If that was indeed the intent of the designer of this graphic, then he/she has failed to perceive the divine intent with regard to the matter of salvation. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not as a result of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9). There are those within Christendom who teach that salvation may only be acquired by obedience to commands. It is imperative, they say, that we search the Scriptures for these commands and obey them faithfully. If we do, God will save us. From the very beginning, man has sought to appease God by his own efforts, hoping that by doing so well enough he could merit God's favor. Such a theology shows a woeful lack of understanding not only of God's grace, but also of the salvation process itself: a process predetermined by our God. We see something similar from the pen of St. Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274), who wrote, "Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; to know what he ought to do" [Two precepts of Charity]. Notice that the focus is entirely on what man does (works-based) and knows (knowledge-based); nothing is even said about God: no mention of grace, love, mercy. When salvation is viewed as the result of something we do, rather than something He has already done, we have a false, twisted view of the true nature of salvation. Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), a contemporary of Aquinas, and perhaps with the above teaching of Aquinas partially in mind, offers a much better and far more biblical perspective: "One must not always think so much about what one should do, but rather what one should be. Our works do not ennoble us; we must ennoble our works" [Work and Being].
God's call to Noah (and to us as well) was to BE something, far more than it was to DO something. In actuality, the latter tends to fall into place when the former is embraced. When we are loving, we do loving things; when we are kind, we do acts of kindness; when we are merciful, we show mercy in our interactions with others. Our acts of obedience are simply the grateful overflow of hearts filled with faith and love for the One who has graciously accepted us as His beloved children. We don't obey to BE His children, we obey because we ARE His children. Paul affirms this in a beautiful way: we are saved by grace through faith, not as a result of anything we have done, or ever could do; then, as a result of that divine acceptance, we gladly embrace the good works God desires for us to engage in to His glory and to the benefit of others (Ephesians 2:10). By grace we are saved for good works, not by good works. Obedience is a response to His gracious acceptance and salvation, not a means whereby we acquire it. Long before Noah ever began his building project, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8, KJV). While the rest of the world was devoted to walking every wicked path they could find, "Noah walked with God" (vs. 9), and "by faith" and with "reverence" in his heart for his Lord, he built the ark (Hebrews 11:7). Noah was a righteous man (Genesis 6:9), an example unto all who would thereafter be "an heir of righteousness which is according to faith" (Hebrews 11:7). With regard to the building of the ark, Noah had answered God's call "to BE" long before he answered His call "to DO." Noah was not a man living under rigid regulation in the hope of being saved; Noah was a man living in relationship with His God, walking with His God, loving and being loved; already assured of his acceptance and salvation. Obedience was simply a natural by-product of this saving relationship, not the means for acquiring it. Noah was saved long before he was called by God to build the ark, a vehicle that would spare him and his family from the deadly impact of the flood. Thus, God's grace preceded Noah's obedience, with the latter being a manifestation of the love and faith of Noah for such a gracious God. Indeed, the command to build the ark was an act of grace, just as Noah's compliance was an act of faith. We are saved by grace through faith, with our works merely reflecting this great reality. To shift the focus from grace/faith to works/obedience, with respect to salvation, is to undermine the very nature of God's redemptive purpose and plan.
We are told simply, but powerfully, that "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8). Most translations use the word "favor" here, although in both the Greek and the Hebrew, the word employed in the text is the common word for "grace," which is often characterized as "unmerited favor." In other words, by the use of this word it is being made clear that Noah had in no way earned this favor by the perfect performance of certain works. Rather, when God looked into Noah's heart, He perceived a genuine desire to know God and a true devotion to serve Him to the best of his understanding, opportunity and ability. Noah was not perfect; no man is. But, God is not looking for religious perfection, He is looking for hearts looking for Him, and when He finds them He reaches out to them with a call to a deep personal relationship. Noah accepted that call of grace by faith, and he "walked with God." This is the first occurrence of the word "grace" in Scripture, by the way. "Now for the first time 'grace' finds a tongue to express its name" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, p. 104]. "It is salutary to note that the most godly and important man in the entire world at that time ... was merely a sinner saved by grace!" [Dr. Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings, p. 177]. Dr. Morris continues: "Note the consistent biblical order here: First, Noah 'found grace.' Then Noah was 'a just man' (that is: 'justified' or 'declared to be righteous'). Thus he was 'perfect in his generations' (or 'complete,' in so far as God's records are concerned), and therefore he was able to 'walk with God.' Salvation in any era is exactly in this way. By sovereign grace, received through faith, the believer is justified before God and declared to be complete in Him. Only as a result of, and on the basis of, this glorious gift of grace, can one then 'walk' in fellowship with God, showing the genuineness of his faith by his works. Four times it is said later, for example, that Noah 'did all that God commanded him' (Genesis 6:22; 7:5; 7:9; 7:16)" [ibid].
Yes, Noah was obedient to God's will; yes, Noah lived his life performing good deeds. BUT, he was obedient and he was active because he was saved, NOT in order to be saved. Noah lived his life by faith, a faith that did not remain hidden, but one which manifested itself in all areas of his life. Of all the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11, Noah is the only one whose testimony both begins and ends with an emphasis on his FAITH (Hebrews 11:7). For someone to declare, "Grace did not save Noah, ... obedience did" is appalling, and it shows the author of such a statement needs to be taken aside and shown the way of the Lord God more accurately!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Just read "Anti-Social Social Media: Fratricidal Factionalism on Facebook" (Reflections #736). Great article, brother. The legalists and Pharisees in the Churches of Christ are just as quick to tar and feather a fellow Christian as they are to dunk someone in the river! Keep the faith!
From an Elder in New Mexico:
Our mission statement is: "We pledge to demonstrate the love of Christ in our congregation and in our community." Christ died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Love doesn't demand perfection. Thank God for His love for sinners!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, I am sending to you, via your PayPal account, funds to cover the cost of ordering your new book "From Ruin To Resurrection" (which has a Foreword written by the late Edward Fudge). I am also adding additional funds, as you can see, for your ministry, because I truly believe in what you are doing!! Thank you so much, brother!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Having read your latest Reflections ("Anti-Social Social Media"), two words come to mind regarding the persons of whom you spoke: "control freaks." It is amazing how many people seem to find their security by endeavoring to control others, and this expresses itself, unfortunately, sometimes in religious matters. It is the conviction that "I am right!" and "You must submit to my mode of thinking." It is basically a failure to realize there may be other methods, other opinions, just as acceptable to God; it is a failure to realize "I could be wrong!" It is accompanied with pride: a proud conviction that "I am God's representative, and any deviation from my beliefs is therefore heretical." It is narrow-mindedness; a vain attempt to try and make all others see it my way, for if they do not, then God is not pleased with them. Furthermore, such reduces God to being only a law-giver. Your latest was a good, insightful article, brother! God bless you.
From a Reader in Georgia:
There are many "friends of Job" who still like to point out everyone else's flaws and, in their opinion, the resulting consequences. But, then we find out that God is still in charge, not them, and that He knows how to work in the lives of people who are truly seeking the truth. Thank goodness! It's just so difficult for those who think that they save themselves from eternal damnation by their good behavior to accept that they might be wrong on some issue, since that would, in their opinion, condemn them to hell. But, thank goodness that Facebook exists! For many have now had the opportunity to consider other viewpoints without being condemned or ostracized for doing so. My guess is that the most vocal opponents of the truth fear this loss of control over those they believe they lead. Blessings, brother! One day we're gonna share some coffee!!
From an Author in Kentucky:
Al, as you know, I am one who uses Facebook as a tool for teaching and encouraging God's people around the world. I am well aware of the spirit about which you wrote in your last Reflections ("Anti-Social Social Media"). I am writing on 1 Timothy 2 at the present, and I have been accused by one reader of promoting the feminist agenda, and of making the church "a whore," and of being "a loser." Another reader felt the need to insert his reckoning that we all need to double down and complete the restoration of the church by "following the pattern." I challenged him to post a list of requirements that constitute "the pattern," and he gave me Acts 2:42. Have a blessed evening, brother!
So, according to the patternist challenged, Acts 2:42 is "the pattern" = breaking of bread, fellowship, prayer, the apostles' teachings. Hmmm. Interestingly, the legalistic patternists won't even fellowship one another (they are broken into countless feuding factions), much less others in the One Body, for the simple reason they can't agree on what constitutes "authoritative apostolic teaching." Get them to provide the complete listing of what they consider "the apostles' teaching" and you will have a place to begin a dialogue with them. However, I can tell you two things for a fact: they will never provide that list, and they will never dialogue with you. This is what is so maddening about trying to reason with these people. I have been attempting to get that list of specific "doctrines and practices," which they claim are so essential to salvation, for decades. I have yet to receive it. I have documented this ongoing effort on my Topical Index page under the heading "Requesting Legalism's List." It is heart-wrenching to see the depth of deception of these deluded religionists, as well as the deadly impact they have on the lives of those who fall into their sectarian snares. Jesus was right: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. ... You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?!" (Matthew 23:15, 33). -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Wyoming:
Al, I read your article ("Anti-Social Social Media"). Thanks again for your work. As a result of that exchange on Facebook that you focused upon in your article, I have had some individuals "private message" me on there. People are hurting greatly because of some bad teachings on MDR. I am amazed that this is still going on to the degree it still is among Churches of Christ. Please keep up the good work, brother!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
That was a most excellent treatment of the use and misuse of social media in evangelism! As I have pointed out in a Facebook group of Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, the Byzantine church forgot to love the Roman church who forgot to love the Alexandrian church, and as a result it is no wonder the world is both confused and disinterested. After all, Jesus only asked us Three Times before going to the cross to be ONE. "So the world will believe" was the reason He stated for us all being ONE. Thanks for the reminder in your article!!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Dear Brother Al, I really enjoyed your most recent article on "Anti-Social Social Media." There is much good meat in that article for study and reflection. I am attaching the Sept/Oct, 2017 issue (digital version) of "Contending for the Faith." I bring it to your attention because in this issue I am personally given the honor of being inducted into their "Heretics Hall of Fame" along with several of my Bible teaching heroes, such as yourself, Rubel Shelly, Patrick Mead, and many other brothers and sisters in Christ. I welcome my addition to this great hall of spiritual heroes of the faith, although I will have to refuse to attend the actual induction ceremony or pose for the bust. I have better and more important things to do, such as: cleaning under my fingernails, pulling out long nose hairs with tweezers, watching another episode of The Andy Griffith Show, or, even better, reading more great articles by Al Maxey, Rubel Shelly, Carl Ketcherside, Patrick Mead, and Bobby Valentine. I love you, brother!! Please be encouraged to keep up your good work of promoting freedom in Christ. Your articles encourage seekers like me to follow the LIGHT known as Jesus Christ.
In light of my recent Reflections article on "Anti-Social Social Media," I want to applaud one of my longtime readers and supporters for his letter to the editor and staff writers of the ultra-conservative and highly legalistic publication known as "Contending for the Faith." In his letter he challenged their decades old policy and practice of viciously and shamelessly attacking any and all brethren who dared to differ with their own narrow sectarian views. I have often been the target of their assaults (not only in their publication, but even in their yearly lectureships and on their internet discussion group). Others, who also seek to share God's grace, promote freedom in Christ, and elevate Truth over tradition, have been attacked as well. This brother's letter to David Brown (the current editor) was published on pages 3-4 of the Sept/Oct, 2017 issue (one paragraph of that letter is provided below). The editor then devotes 11 pages to ripping into this brother and his letter. Again, I want to applaud this disciple from North Carolina for being bold enough, and loving Truth enough, to challenge these legalistic factionists to consider their actions and the impact they have on the cause of Christ. I pray more and more disciples will find the courage to do the same: exposing and opposing this evil that afflicts the Body of Christ. -- Al Maxey
"Most of the content in the Contending for the Faith newsletters seems to be written as a character assassination on some other preacher, theologian, author, preaching school, fellow believer, different church denomination, and/or other Church of Christ congregations that do something or understand an interpretation a little different than you do. And for this you have made the insinuation that they, and those that follow them or attend their churches, are 'doomed to Hell unless they repent and see and do things exactly the same way you do.' I take exception to a combative style and CENI interpretive philosophy, but I take much more exception to attacks on the character of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This issue of CFTF goes after a Church of Christ in Franklin, Tennessee. In prior issues you have gone on attack against White's Ferry Road Church of Christ, the Phil Robertson 'Duck Dynasty' family, David Lipscomb University, Harding University, Patrick Mead, Al Maxey, John Mark Hicks, Rubel Shelly, Bobby Valentine, Max Lucado, and far too many others. Do you have any idea how a new believer or potential believer is impacted by this negativity?!"
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Our "preacher" here had a sermon on the Lord's Supper today. He made the point that the cup contained grape juice and not wine. So, did Paul tell Timothy to take a little 'grape juice' for his stomach?! This man insists that he preaches ONLY the truth, "without any change." It seems to me that his aversion to alcohol has blinded him to the facts! Also, this man believes that of the 7 billion people in the world today, only "we" (in the Church of Christ) have been saved! Why? Because only "we" have placed our faith in baptism as the point where we "contact" the precious blood of Christ. Just a few weeks ago this "preacher" emphatically declared that baptism is "the GATE to Heaven!" It is fast reaching the point where I must leave the auditorium when the invitation is offered, as it maddens me to listen to this garbage any longer. Thank you, Al, for your great work! You are truly a voice crying in the wilderness and an anchor for me!
Hopefully, this brother in Oklahoma can share a couple of my past studies with this minister, for within them I have dealt specifically, and in some depth, with each of the topics mentioned. Those studies are: "Behold, A Winebibber: May a Christian Drink Wine?" (Reflections #134) and "Contacting the Blood of Christ: Examination of an Expedient Expression" (Reflections #608). -- Al Maxey
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