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by Al Maxey

Issue #800 -- June 29, 2020
My hope lives not because I am not a sinner, but
because I am a sinner for whom Christ died; my
trust is not that I am holy, but that being unholy,
HE is my righteousness. My faith rests not upon
what I am, or what I shall be or feel or know, but
in what Christ is, and in what He has done, and
in what He is now doing for me. Hallelujah!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon {1834-1892}

It's About the Righteousness of God
Special Guest Reflections by Dr. Barry Perryman

There were two great and dangerous heresies among Christians of the first century: Legalism and Gnosticism. They were immediately and forcefully denounced by several New Testament authors. Paul excoriates legalism in his letter to the Galatians, stating, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). He then repeats it in the very next verse. After an extended description of his credibility, Paul goes on to say, "...knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16). In Gal. 5:12 he returns to his castigation of legalists by wishing that they would mutilate themselves (in the circumcision process). Paul certainly saw legalism as a serious threat to the good news of Jesus the Christ. Gnosticism was addressed most vigorously by John in his brilliant first epistle. John seethes, "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22). John here reveals the disgust he feels for Gnosticism, identifying it as a serious threat to the gospel.

Why the disdain? Why the anger? Why the motivation, on the part of both Paul and John, to express their position on these two dangerous heresies? Why are they even heresies at all? The answer is quite simple: both teachings changed the official, heavenly-sourced narrative of the story of justification. The Father set into motion a plan, one purposed before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20; Eph. 1:4). God authored the plan, and it worked its way through time, culminating in Jesus and His faith to suffer death, trusting the Father that He would be resurrected. Justification was made for all through the faith of Jesus. You might ask, "How does legalism change the gospel narrative?" It alters the divine story of how justification was made by placing our obedience on a level with that of Jesus' atoning act. What I believe is the greatest passage in the Scriptures (Romans 3:21-26) tells us the why of the entire saga of man and how his justification was accomplished: "But now apart from law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets ... for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has the faith of Jesus" (vs. 21, 26).

The purpose of everything, from before creation until Heaven, is to demonstrate the righteousness of God! So, being a child of God is not about us being good before Him through obedience and legalistic service, but about Him being good before us. Legalism places our obedience as a requirement for our own justification, and it leads to falsehoods like: (1) the better people we become (through our obedience), the more He will approve of us and love us, and (2) we must do our part through obedience and then His grace will cover us the rest of the way. These ideas fly in the face of verses like Romans 3:20, which reads, "...because by the works (obedience) of law no flesh will be justified in His sight."

Gnosticism also changes the gospel narrative. With Gnosticism, justification is no longer a result of the faith of Jesus, but instead rests on the possession of some special knowledge or secret information only possessed by individuals or groups that have received it directly from God, angels, or human messengers thought to be special. Gnosticism became a complicated volume of secret information that included dualism and other wild claims regarding hedonic perversions of every kind. On the contrary, there are no secrets regarding the gospel. There is no special looking glass that will provide the correct translation of Scripture. There is no hermeneutic that when applied gives us the one and only true blueprint of commands that will save us. 1 John 1:5-6 teaches that fellowship with God is through His righteousness, His light. Gnosticism claims fellowship through a covenant relationship with God, but it denies the very means through which it comes. It comes through the faith of Jesus, not through some special understanding, secret knowledge, or magic mirror that helps us see commands or establish authority the "right" way (e.g., a CENI {Command - Example - Necessary Inference} + Silence hermeneutic and its ilk). There is no special tool of understanding that will elevate us to a level of approval that forces God to recognize it.

God doesn't expect any righteousness from us. He doesn't need any righteousness from us. He loves us already. Yes, we were created for good deeds (Ephesians 2:10), but good deeds cannot justify us before God, only a propitiation, a life for a life, could do that ... and it has been done! It came by grace as a free gift (Romans 6:23). We cannot save ourselves through obedience or through possession of special knowledge. We don't have to live up to some standard for God to love us, or to love us more. He loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Again, God does not expect or need any righteousness from us in order to approve or justify us. He just wants our heart. Both of these heresies change that, however, by breeding arrogance and performance anxiety. I have witnessed it time and time again, and so have many of you.

If you need brain surgery, the surgeon doesn't ask you for your help. He doesn't need it. You must have faith that the surgeon will do what he/she says they will do, and that the outcome will be as they intend. You can't put yourself where the surgeon should be and expect a successful outcome. Your job is to trust them to do their job. Sin is what happens when man puts himself where God should be; when we place our trust in ourselves, not in Him. Both legalism and Gnosticism do that. Righteousness is what happened when Jesus put Himself where man should be: i.e., on the cross and in the waters of baptism (the same water of baptism, by the way, that is figuratively contaminated with the vileness of human behavior).

The God-authorized alternative to both of these heresies is faith. Do you believe justification played out the way God says it did, or do you prefer not to believe Him? Do you seek approval based on obedience or special knowledge? I am a witness that both of these heresies infect Christendom today, including those of my own faith-heritage which was birthed by the American "Restoration Movement." "Belief versus unbelief" is the theme that runs through all of Scripture. One is justification, the other is sin. We know the letter to the Hebrews expounds on belief or faith in great detail. Noah believed what God said about a coming destruction and it motivated him to obedience. Abraham believed God, and his faith, not his obedience, was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3). In fact, Abraham was actually prevented from obeying God's command to kill Isaac, but because of Abraham's faith/belief, Isaac was seen by Abraham as being as good as dead. In his heart the act had already been accomplished.

Belief or faith is the switch that makes obedience possible. It's the bolt of lightning that changes everything. The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt and couldn't free themselves, but God said, "I will free you." They made the decision to believe Him, and that belief/faith is what energized them, engaged them, motivated them to leave Egypt on a great adventure. Their belief or faith transformed their behavior. Everything changed for them. This is the belief or faith that the Scriptures speak of; a transformational belief that asks, "What should I do now? How should I live now, how should I think, how should I behave, how should I perceive the world?" It is the kind of faith Paul had in view when he wrote that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 5:2).

Do you believe what God says is true regarding justification? What about how He demonstrated His righteousness through the faith of Jesus? What about the propitiation He accomplished for us? What about the fact that we would all die and be dead if not for the grace of a promised resurrection? Was it a transformational experience and decision for you? This is exactly what so many experienced on the day of Pentecost. Men and women from all over the known world, who were already in a covenant relationship with God, heard the news of the Messiah, and they were wounded in their conscience. They believed, they had faith that what Peter was telling them was the truth, and their faith motivated them to obedience. They asked Peter, "What should we do now?" But, like Abraham, their belief was credited to them as righteousness, not their obedience (Romans 4:5). For obedience to count, it must be perfect (Galatians 5:3), and yet no one is perfect (with the single exception of Jesus). For humans, belief (true belief) produces action: i.e., produces acts of obedience. We obey because of our faith, not the other way around. Faith produces obedience, obedience does not produce belief/faith (James 2:18). So, obedience is inferior to belief, because obedience cannot motivate, nor can it justify. Obedience is a sign of motivation prompted by faith, and faith with no action is dead faith (James 2:17). In reality, a dead faith is unbelief. There is no true faith without subsequent evidentiary, validating actions (works).

Both of these heresies make God bend to your righteousness, as though your righteousness resurrected Jesus from the grave. The word order in the old adage "trust and obey" is true: we obey because we trust; we believe God when He says, "I accomplished justification this way." Sadly, there are so many who insist on rearranging this old adage until it is backwards: because of their obedience they learn to trust Him. They trust God to justify them because of their own righteousness that is born of their own obedience or special knowledge. Scripture forcefully denounces both of these heresies. Why should we tolerate them among ourselves today? If the Scriptures vigorously denounce these fables, we should be at least as vigorous in our efforts to expose them today. Tune your dial to the correct frequency, and then listen. You may be surprised to hear just how embedded these heresies are in Bible class lessons, sermons, and even conversations with one another. May God bless you!


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. The above article was written by a very dear friend and brother-in-Christ who has been a great supporter of my Reflections ministry for many years, and who has several previous "Guest Reflections" to his credit: Reflections #495 (July 27, 2011), Reflections #648 (February 20, 2015), and Reflections #752 (July 19, 2018). Dr. Barry L. Perryman, Ph.D. is a professor of Rangeland Management at the University of Nevada-Reno, and he has served for almost 40 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:


In an earlier issue of my Reflections (Issue #798) I challenged the readers with these words: "Share with me what YOU have learned or experienced in the last few months. How have you dealt with the challenges that have come your way? Share your struggles; share your victories. How has the congregation where you attend addressed the many restrictions dictated by our local, state, and federal governing authorities? How has all of this impacted 'the way forward' for the Body of Christ in your area?" I received a number of responses, a great many of which were quite similar as to how disciples of Christ have sought to comply with the seemingly countless regulations and restrictions imposed upon the churches during these strange and difficult times by the various governing authorities of our cities, counties, states and nation. One response, however, really impressed me for a number of reasons, so I wrote to the person who sent it to me and asked if I could share that email. After a couple of days he wrote back and said that I could. He also shared with me that the reason he took some time to respond is because he decided to consult with his wife, and also with the elders of the church where he attends, about my request and whether they had any concerns or objections. They did not, so he wrote that I was authorized to use his email, his name, and his location. I have known this brother for a number of years. He is a wonderful, thoughtful and devoted Christian gentleman, and I am honored to call him "friend and brother-in-Christ." His name is Lynn Wooley and he lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Following is what he wrote to me on Sunday, June 21 in response to my above mentioned challenge. Thank you, Lynn, for this well-reasoned response, and I thank also the elders of his congregation (South Baton Rouge Church of Christ) for their loving and insightful approach to the medical and social crisis with which they were confronted.


Dear Al,

I have reflected on your request to share what I have learned or experienced in the last few months. How I have dealt with the challenges that have come my way; my struggles and my victories; also, how the congregation where I attend has addressed the many restrictions dictated by our local, state, and federal governing authorities, and how all of this has impacted "the way forward" for the Body of Christ in our area. So, here are a few views on the subject.

First, the congregation I attend has honored the request of our governor with regard to public meetings in order to protect against the spread of the COVID 19 virus. On a per capita basis we are one of the harder hit states, so it was important for us to bring some containment to our situation. To accommodate not meeting together we went to online pre-recorded weekly worship presentations. Being a congregation with both acapella and instrumental worships, there were presentations prepared for both. The acapella worship used recorded acapella songs from one of the Christian universities, whereas the instrumental worship used simple instrumental accompaniment to singing by the worship team. The words for all songs are projected on the screen. In both cases we were encouraged to sing along in our homes. Both worship periods included the music, prayers, Scripture reading, Communion comments, sermon, and closing by one of our shepherds. The instrumental worship was a bit more flexible and allowed couples to lead the Communion devotional. I personally watched the instrumental worship in its entirety and then later supplemented my morning worship by watching/listening to the acapella portions that were different from the instrumental (i.e., I skipped the parts that I had already viewed).

We did this for three months, and then began to assemble again on June 14 (instrumental worship) and June 21 (acapella worship), plus we also continued the online worship presentations. This was done in compliance with our governor's plan and guidance for re-opening our state. Those who attended wore a mask and practiced social distancing. The auditorium was re-configured to limit seating capacity by putting rows six feet apart and instructing family units to have three chairs between them. Both of these worship periods followed customary practices used prior to COVID 19. We do not have any Bible classes for any children because of the social distancing requirements, and only one adult class which is taught live using ZOOM technology each Sunday morning. As for contributions to the work here, we have procedures set up for online giving or for mailing in our gifts. For Communion we use bread/cup packets that are given out as one enters the auditorium (these were also made available for use in our homes). Dismissal is done by rows to keep the social distancing, and everyone is asked to leave the building and have their conversations and fellowship outside to prevent close proximity to one another as people try to leave the building. We are still working out new procedures for assembled worship, as we have only had two such gatherings so far.

I think all of us struggle with not meeting together as a group and not being able to touch one another. Some of us feel that coming together is really more than just going through customary worship practices, and that the wearing of masks and sitting six feet apart makes it almost impossible to experience that fellowship, communication, and encouragement of being together. When everyone is masked, it is like, "Who is that masked man/woman?" I have found, however, that sitting at home and watching our online worship has benefitted me especially as we sing. I find myself meditating more on the words of the songs as I sing silently from the heart. I find myself allowing someone to "sing to me" as I focus on the words, and thus I get to listen and be encouraged. I must admit that I have struggled with "sing to one another" when no one is listening. Years ago I planned a worship period and split the congregation into two sections facing one another (chairs, rather than pews, work great for this), and each section was able to sing to the other, read Scripture to the other, and pray for the other group. It was new and different, and probably some did not like it, but I did. Being silent and listening was encouraging to me. The online worship has allowed me to experience this again.

One of the things that I began doing the week of Easter, April 5th, since we were no longer meeting together, was to send out a daily devotional to a select number of individuals, including our shepherds and staff, from various resources that I have, as an encouragement to them. I always give credit to the author and publisher for quotes I have taken from books I have purchased (quotes I have used in my daily devotionals). This became a ministry that I could do while sitting at home, at least for a while. I'm sure others have also reached out to members in various ways during this time. I wonder if we will quit reaching out to one another once our state fully reopens and things become more normal (whatever that looks like).

One other act of service that I did was to help my grandson every day with his first grade school assignments, since classes were no longer meeting. It was a challenge for me to keep from getting impatient with him and to keep him motivated to do his work. I won and lost during these times, but together, along with his mom, we earned an "A" for the last quarter of school. I don't think you asked about this kind of thing, but I thought I would share it with you anyway.

Most churches in our area conformed to the restrictions put in place by the state, and they are now welcoming the ability to begin meeting again. For those who did not conform, they received a lot of criticism, and some praise as well, from other church leaders in the area. As I mentioned in the beginning, on a per capita basis, we are one of the harder hit states, so it was important for us to bring some containment to our situation.

As a point of reference, I am 80 years old and in fairly good health. My wife is 79 with some health issues, thus we had to take protective measures for her especially against exposure to COVID 19. We are both in the range of those most susceptible to the virus. So, I run all the errands and my wife only gets out for doctor appointments. Masks and sometimes gloves are the order of the day for us. Al, I hope this is what you are looking for, and sorry I took so long to respond to your request. Blessings and peace to you and your family.

PS -- Another thought came to me as I was in prayer last night, and the same thought was present when I was awakened by a thunderstorm at 4:45 this morning. It is certainly personal to me because I often feel rushed when we share the Communion. We always seem to be in a hurry as we share the bread and fruit of the vine each week, often because we need to leave time for everything else we do, and so that we can be dismissed within an hour or so. I can't remember how many times I have heard people say it is taking too long for the Communion. "Let's shorten the comments and/or add more trays to speed things up." Are we afraid of silence? We spend more time in singing, preaching and teaching, announcements, welcoming and dismissing comments, than we do in the Lord's Supper. But with the online worship I can literally push the pause button and reflect on the bread I take and the cup I drink, and thank God for His special gift, reflecting and telling God how much it means to me to be forgiven and accepted as I partake of each element. It often causes me to long for a time when we can sit together, share a meal, encourage one another around a table and reflect on what Jesus means to us, breaking bread and sharing the cup of remembrance without being concerned about time.


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:
(Sent a check to help with our ministry)

Al, what little money I send you can in no way repay you for all you have done through the years to change my life!! Just knowing there was someone else who thought so much like this crazy old lady was beyond my wildest dreams! I hope you will be around for a long time yet, teaching and preaching the Truth "that sets us free." The greatest freedom I have ever felt was when I learned that it wasn't up to me to judge which group was the "only true church"!! Thank you so much!

From a Reader in California:

Many years ago I took the conflict resolution and mediation training through Pepperdine Law School. Dr. Lowery (President of Lipscomb University) was the director of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the time. He is a fabulous teacher. His comment on Matthew 18:20 (the passage with which you dealt in Reflections #799 - "Where Two or Three are Gathered") was to the effect: in conflict resolution it is so rare to ever get 2 or 3 individuals to agree on anything, that when this does happen even Jesus Himself shows up to check it out!! I think he may have been on to something, especially considering his background and expertise in mediation and conflict resolution. Have a wonderful Father's Day, my friend.

From a Reader in Georgia:

One of the most divisive terms used within the "brotherhood" is the word "corporate." Corporate worship is supposedly, somehow, more "valuable" and "necessary" because it reflects the "whole" of the church. Seems to me that it represents the whole of the control that some wish to exert. So many changes have come, and are still coming, to the concept of "church" -- I just hope we can continue to maintain our focus on the encouragement and admonition provided to each other. If we are truly indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which I believe we are, then there is no doubt that "God is with us" in any number. However, I totally agree that the passage in question wasn't about "corporate" gatherings for worship, but rather for matters of dispute. It is still an odd statement, however, in light of the fact that the Holy Spirit is with us at all times, no matter where we are. Interesting also that indwelt believers still have "issues" that have to be settled by reasoned counsel. A thought-provoking and informative article, as always, my brother. Keep at it.

From a Minister in Missouri:

Your article "Where Two or Three are Gathered: The Messiah's Message in Matthew 18:20" is an excellent and timely word indeed, and very much appreciated. Thank you!

From a Reader in Texas:

Your study of Matthew 18:20 was Great Stuff, brother, as expected! I came to understand many, many years ago that this passage was frequently being used out of context. My first clue was that I knew God was present with me, and in me, and with and in every other believer as well, so to assume that a small gathering of two or three believers needed some other "authorization" for God's presence was a bit silly. Our congregation here in ------ is like many across the land that abhor legalism and embrace grace, but it still gives some old traditions far too much value. I solicit your prayers for our elders as they lead the sheep here at ------ Church of Christ. Love and peace, brother!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, your article reminded me of an incident when I was talking to my District Superintendent when I worked with the Methodist Church (they added the word "United" a few years later). I worked "back and forth" in Oklahoma with the ----- Methodist Church one Sunday, then the ----- Methodist Church the next Sunday, from 1955 until 1957. He was telling me how "friendly" Methodists were at one of the congregations he was responsible for. He stated that "they were so friendly that if you saw four of them together, there was almost always a fifth." (LOL)

From a Former Elder in South Carolina:

I just read a Kindle book titled "Misquoting Jesus" by Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, and the historical scriptural discrepancies and variations, both intentional and unintentional, were eye-opening. But ... they were not faith-shattering. I have always thought of our agreed upon biblical Canon as having sufficient redundancy (like our manned space vehicles) that anyone can understand God's grace.

From a Minister in West Virginia:

A few weeks ago you requested reader responses to your article on the pandemic ("Pastoral Pandemic Perspective: Reflecting on Reactions to a Rogue Virus" - Reflections #798). I was impressed with your study, and am in full agreement with you on the topic. It was well thought out and written (as always). In fact, it was so well done that I have used it as the basis for a lesson I plan to present in the near future. I have attached my lesson plan for you to review. As you can see I have revised it somewhat to fit the presentation here. I hope this does not in any way diminish the intent of your message or offend you. Keep up the good work; I need all the resources I can get. Again, you are such a blessing to us!!

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