by Al Maxey

Issue #348 ------- May 2, 2008
Perceiving the poverty of philosophical
opinions, thus not adhering to any of
them, simply seeking Truth - I saw.

The Buddha {6th century B.C.}

The Split-Second of Salvation
Is it Imperative for Us to Perceive the
Precise Moment of God's Acceptance?

The great theologian and reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546), within his Ninety-Five Theses (October 31, 1517), observed, "God works by contraries so that a man feels himself to be lost in the very moment when he is on the point of being saved." A number of remarkable insights are being advanced in this rather brief comment, but note especially, for the purposes of this present study, that Luther speaks of points and moments with respect to one's quest for salvation. Time and space are vital aspects of our humanity that affect us all. We have a tendency to want things neatly placed along some great continuum so that we might point to the precise moment when it occurred. Indeed, it's rather difficult for most of us to imagine an event not being thusly "tagged" with respect to time and place. Yet, most will acknowledge that God, although interacting with His vast creation along this continuum, nevertheless exists above, beyond and outside of it. Thus, from the perspective of our Father in heaven, "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" [2 Peter 3:8]. In other words, precise moments and points in time and space are irrelevant in His sight. To the great "I AM," something either is or it isn't. The Lord doesn't sit upon His throne observing mankind with some huge cosmic stopwatch making notes in some journal with respect to the exact nanosecond something took place. Past, present and future are all viewed together by God; they are a known quantity. Thus, events transpiring in time and space are perceived much differently by Him than by us. This is often quite difficult for us to grasp, or even to accept, yet it is critical to our understanding in some vital areas of theology. The reality of our salvation, our acceptance by our heavenly Father, is one such area.

Some Christians are convinced that the precise point in time when one is saved must be determined. Indeed, they are convinced that this event can be pinpointed right down to the split-second when we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Further, they will even question the very salvation of those who dare to differ with their identification of that precise point. If, for example, you should declare that salvation occurred even a mere two seconds before their specified point in time, you are a heretic bound straight for hell. I know exactly what some of you are thinking: "Okay, Al ... You're making this up! Nobody is really that legalistic!" Well, think again, brethren! These people do exist, and they are dead serious about their doctrine. As I have mentioned before in some of my Reflections, there was an elderly gentleman some years ago, who filled in for me while I was on vacation, who, at the end of one of his sermons, as he was offering the invitation and trying to impress a sense of urgency upon the audience, stated that delay could prove costly. Indeed, he declared, if one came forward requesting to be immersed into Christ, and was standing in the baptistery, having already confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus, and Jesus Christ returned to claim His bride just two seconds before that disciple was plunged under the water, he would go straight to hell. I was stunned by such an assertion. I shared this with some brethren online, and one asserted, "I would go even further. If that man had been plunged beneath the water, but the Lord returned (or he died suddenly) PRIOR to his nose breaking the surface of the water, he would go straight to hell." Thus, I suppose we can now say, based upon this "truth," that the precise point of salvation is when the nose breaks the surface of the water in the baptistery!! Brethren, if these misguided legalists were not so serious, this would be laughable. Instead, such lack of spiritual perception, which results in such deadly dogma, is just downright pathetic. Indeed, it is heart-breaking, for they've utterly failed to perceive the nature of their Father and the beauty of His grace. Split-hairs over split-seconds only result in a split-from-Christ. "You have been severed from Christ ... you have fallen from grace" [Gal. 5:4].

A dear brother who preaches for a congregation in the Midwest wrote me last week about a situation that has arisen there. Without going into all the details within his letter, let me just share with you the main question to which he sought an answer: "Is baptism the point of conversion? If not, then when?" This demonstrates well the dilemma many face as they seek to determine that precise moment of God's acceptance. Let me ask a very pointed question -- Does conversion occur at the moment of immersion? Do the two take place simultaneously? When a person walks down into the water to be immersed, is that person, at that moment in time, UNconverted to Christ Jesus? Seconds later, when his nose breaks the surface of the water, is he at that moment converted to the Lord? I may be wrong, but it's my understanding that conversion is something that takes place in a person's heart as they come to recognize their own inadequacy to effect their salvation and their dependence upon God's grace, through the sacrifice of His Son, to cover their sins. Thus, they choose by faith to commit themselves fully to a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Conversion is when they no longer trust in themselves, but in Him. Frankly, I am not sure that any man can truly point to the split-second in time when this occurred in his life. However, one can say that gradually the "light dawns" in the heart of a man, and he will then increasingly seek to respond to that light according to the best of his ability and understanding. This will involve demonstrations of his faith that will serve to validate and illustrate its genuineness.

For example, those who possess such faith must evidence it through repentance. At what point does repentance occur? Well, it probably occurs at a good many points over a significant period of time. As faith in the Lord increases, and as knowledge of His will grows within our minds, we increasingly turn from pursuing our own course through life and turn toward a life lived for Him. This change of course, this turn from one path to another, is also rather difficult to pinpoint right down to a specific split-second in time. It likely was somewhat gradual in nature. Further, we must increasingly "bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" [Matt. 3:8]. At what point does this occur? Well, most likely it occurs every single day ... at many points. Does any one of these many points constitute the precise moment of salvation? I doubt any would suggest they do. And yet, they are all a part of the process that ultimately results in our being in a state of acceptance by our God.

Our problem typically has been that we tend to take a particular aspect of God's expectation of His people and we elevate it to THE requirement for salvation, thus making our compliance with this one particular the precise point of "conversion," or even salvation. Typically, this is not done with repentance. Nor is it done with confession. Nor is it done with calling upon the Lord. Nor is it done with faithfulness. Nor is it done with loving God or our neighbor. It typically isn't even done with faith. But, in some religious groups, and our own faith-heritage has long been known for this stand, it IS done with respect to baptism. What is the precise moment of salvation? Simple!! When the nose breaks the surface of the waters of the baptistery!! When this belief is adopted, then it naturally follows that a person who has heard the gospel, believed, repented, confessed, called upon the Lord, declared and shown love for God and his neighbor, but who dies of a massive heart attack two seconds before being plunged beneath the water goes straight to hell. Why? Because he wasn't saved. Period. Just another two seconds, and he would have spent eternity singing God's praises. But those two seconds will now result in his "everlasting torture in a fiery hell." When salvation has been narrowed to this split-second in time, such is the dogma that will be preached. It's shameful, because, quite frankly, it presents a view of our loving, gracious, merciful Father that borders on blasphemy!

Am I suggesting that immersion is not essential to one's salvation? Not At All. Please do not misunderstand me here. I have always taught the essential nature of the place of immersion in any response to the preaching of the gospel of Christ Jesus. When Philip "preached Jesus" [Acts 8:35] to the Ethiopian eunuch, at some point the eunuch asked, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" [vs. 36]. Clearly, in the preaching of Jesus, Philip also declared the expectation of Jesus with respect to one's response of faith. I in no way whatsoever seek to diminish the place of immersion in this whole process that results in our acceptance by the Lord. I have said it before, and I'll say it again here: If one has been taught that the Lord expects immersion as a response of faith, and that person willfully, knowingly REFUSES to be immersed, then I believe that person is NOT saved. I stand firmly behind that statement, and believe it to be Truth. My only hesitation is in seeking to single out any one particular aspect of or action within that process, or in seeking to pinpoint some precise split-second in time, as being THE point when that acceptance occurs. I believe I know what my God is looking for in way of a response from us to His freely offered gift, and I preach and teach every aspect of that faith response. At what precise point GOD HIMSELF regards a person as His child is something I'm personally reluctant to specify, as I believe it tends to limit His grace. To declare, for example, that if one has believed, repented, confessed, and is standing in the baptistery committed to being immersed, but dies two seconds before being plunged under the water ... to declare this would result in his being cast into hell, is to declare, in my view, that our God is far more concerned with wet bodies than penitent hearts. If two seconds is all that separates such a one from heaven or hell, then maybe Jonathan Edwards' graphic sermon describing sinners in the hands of an angry God dangling by a thread over the fires of hell IS a correct depiction of our Father. Sorry, I don't buy it!! Will I continue to urge disciples to believe, repent, confess and be baptized? Yes, I will. Just as I will continue to urge them to love one another, be faithful unto death, share their faith, etc. But most of all, I will preach a loving God whose grace is more than sufficient to extend mercy to any man ... even one who dies suddenly two seconds prior to immersion. Therefore, to be perfectly honest, I preach a Person above a Plan. That is not to suggest the latter does not have its place, but that place is not above the former. I know the Father -- thus I have consistently chosen to preach grace over law. And this tends to keep me in hot water with the legalists.

Consider Apollos. In Acts 18:24-25 we read that he "was an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures. ... instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John." Here was a man on fire for the Lord; one who was speaking boldly in the synagogue [vs. 26], "showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ" [vs. 28]. He had a considerable amount of knowledge, he was "mighty in the Scriptures," he was devoted to the Savior, and so in love with his fellow man that he witnessed to them boldly about the One who could redeem them. His life was completely focused on Jesus!! But, his knowledge was not perfect (is mine? ... yours?). Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and "explained to him the way of God more accurately" [vs. 26]. We are not even told what they shared with him, although the assumption is that he was told about a different baptism. We are not even told if he complied, but the assumption is that he did. At what precise point was this man a recipient of God's favor? At what split-second in time was he saved? When can we say God accepted Apollos? The instant his nose broke the surface of the water? Was this man bound straight for hell prior to that instant? If Apollos had died before meeting Priscilla and Aquila, would God torture him for the next umpteen zillion years? Your view of our Father will determine your answer to this question!!! Brethren, is salvation knowledge-based, performance-based, or faith-based?! If the first, then how much must you know to be saved? If the second, then how much must you do in order to be saved? Can any one of us ever know enough and/or do enough to merit God's acceptance?! If so, can someone please provide the specific particulars of what we must know and do in order to be saved? And don't leave anything out, because if our salvation is truly knowledge- and performance-based, then we must be perfect in our compliance. If not, then what degree of NON-compliance is still salvific? ... and please be specific as to those areas we may neglect!!

Consider Cornelius. In Acts 10:2 we are told he was "a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually." Verse 22 characterizes him as a "righteous" man, and in verse 31 an angel informs him that his prayers were heard by God and his deeds of charity duly noted. God sent the apostle Peter to tell this godly man about the good news that the long-awaited Messiah had come, and that His name was Jesus. Peter informs Cornelius, "I now understand that ... in every nation the man who reverences God and does what is right is welcome to Him" [vs. 35]. Indeed, the apostle Paul says virtually the same thing in Romans 2:14f, indicating that men will be judged by their hearts, and their response to available light, rather than a strict judging based on law [I would encourage the reader to carefully consider Reflections #158 -- Grace and the Caveman: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light]. While Peter was still speaking to Cornelius about God's lack of partiality with regard to whom He embraced, "the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message" [vs. 44]. The Jews that came along with Peter were amazed, for "the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon" these individuals, and they were "speaking in tongues and exalting God" [vs. 45].

Let me ask a question -- was Cornelius LOST at this point? If he had died right then, would God have cast him headlong into hell and tortured him there for zillions and zillions and zillions of years?!! Had the Lord accepted this man at this time? Was the pouring out of the Spirit upon him evidence of the fact that God regarded this man as one of His own? I believe it is. Did God only embrace him at the precise moment of the outpouring of the Spirit, or was this outpouring far more for the benefit of the Jews assembled that day in the home of Cornelius? Did they need to come to the realization that God had already accepted this man? Later, back in Jerusalem, Peter stated, "If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" [Acts 11:17]. Good question!!

Let's return to Cornelius' house. Peter declared, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" [Acts 10:47]. Well, of course not. And so they were baptized. What was the split-second of Cornelius' salvation? Was it when his nose broke the surface of the water? If Cornelius had died suddenly prior to that precise moment in time, would this man exalting God by the power of God's Holy Spirit be forever lost? I actually know people today who say with great conviction that God would have cast him straight into hell if he had died before being baptized. Frankly, I think this reflects a spiritually impoverished perception of our Father and His matchless grace! You and I may look at stopwatches, but our Father looks at hearts. "God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" [1 Sam. 16:7].

Consider Abraham. God told him to take his only son, Isaac, and go to a place He would show him, and there offer up that son as a burnt offering. Abraham didn't question the Lord God. He rose early the next morning, packed the necessary supplies, and set out to comply [Genesis 22]. Did Abraham carry out this command? Well, technically ... NO. Isaac was never actually offered up on that altar; his beloved son did not die that day. But, in another sense, Abraham DID carry out that command, for in his heart the offering had already been made. Abraham had already made the commitment of heart and soul to obey, and thus, based on God's knowledge of what was in his heart, God accepted that intent as complete compliance. I believe this tells us something vital about the nature of our Father!! And I further believe it speaks to the fact of His gracious acceptance of those who may not yet have fully complied with the specifics of His will, but who in their hearts are fully committed to doing so. So, dear brethren, when does our God accept someone? When did God accept Abraham's offering? When does God accept that penitent believer standing in the baptistery? Just how great is His grace? Does mercy really triumph in judgment? Some would suggest the answer is NO. I would suggest that such persons don't know God.

Brethren, the principles I have just shared here are not unknown to us. Indeed, under different circumstances most people, even the hardened legalists, would see the logic of them. For example: In the eyes of God, what is the split-second a couple becomes man and wife? In God's estimation, when do they truly become one flesh? Some say: at the moment they consummate their marriage. Others will want to get even more specific, but I will spare the reader the graphic details as to the precise moment of consummation. Some say it is when the preacher says, "I pronounce you man and wife." Others say, "No ... they have to kiss first." Then again, perhaps it is when they actually sign the marriage document after the ceremony. I had a county clerk tell me that they are not actually married until she has recorded the document in the official record book at the court house. Brethren, I don't diminish the value in our society of such marriage laws, customs and rituals. They have their place. However, I can't help but wonder if ... from GOD'S perspective ... He perceives their intense love and commitment for one another, and their pledge to one another, prior to the "I do" and "you may" of the ceremony, and, based on the nature of their two hearts, which are already intertwined as one, regards them as married. At what precise moment does our God know the full intent of their heart? That is beyond our ability to know or judge, but it clearly is not beyond HIS. I doubt God is sitting on His throne in heaven waiting for some preacher to "pronounce" them or some court clerk to "record" them. God sees the heart!! Does this mean we shouldn't go through with such demonstrations of our love and commitment? Of course not. But, it DOES mean we shouldn't limit or restrict HIM to our space/time focus. When we regard a couple as being united with one another may NOT be the same split-second in time and space when He perceives them as being united as one.

With regard to our salvation, I believe we may know that we are saved [1 John 5:13]. Salvation, however, is not based upon who and what WE are, or what we have done or when we have done it (although this does not diminish the fact that there are divine expectations, and we should be fully committed to complying with them). Such thinking tends to reduce salvation to what we do and to what we know, and thus salvation becomes far more "of ourselves" than by grace through faith [Eph. 2:8-9]. Salvation, rather, is based upon who HE is and what He has done for us. Our role is to respond to that freely offered gift. This we do by having and showing FAITH. The demonstrations of our faith are quite visible to those around us. They see the fruit of our repentance, they hear our words of confession, they witness our immersion, which is symbolic of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and our trust in that gift. These give us humans points of reference, and yet I don't believe any of them constitute THE point of eternal salvation. That occurs when God looks into our hearts, just as He did with Abraham, and perceives that fullness of receptive faith which He alone knows is sufficient to move us forward into full compliance with His divine expectations. OUR obligation is to continue preaching and teaching those expectations and urging people to demonstrate their obedience of faith. The precise moment of His acceptance I leave in His capable hands, trusting that grace and love will determine that acceptance far more so than law. In that blessed assurance, of who He is and what He's done, I rest easy!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, Another inspiring lesson! I've long been interested in the lives and history of some of the great hymn writers. I recall, as a small child, sitting in church leafing through the hymnal and counting the number of hymns written by Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby, et al. Your research has revealed some fascinating stories about Watts. How rich and inspirational is the broad spiritual heritage that has led us to where we are today. Thanks, brother!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, We have read your book Down, But Not Out. Thank you for having the courage and conviction to write it. We have referred others to this work so that it would help them in their journey. We hope you and your family are doing well, and we wish you the very best.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Bro. Al, Well done once again! I have long felt Isaac Watts is foremost among the great hymn writers. Several times I have admired and reflected upon his memorial in Westminster Abbey. His words, "Just waiting God's leave to die," speak volumes about his faith and trust in the Almighty.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for these historical accounts of great Christian men and women. This was a fascinating story of the life of Dr. Isaac Watts. I will remember this each time I sing one of his hymns.

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, The story of Dr. Isaac Watts is certainly a wonderful and inspiring one. Thanks for bringing it to us. In your first paragraph you said: "It is certainly true that some people are simply against everything. No matter what someone may propose, they don't like it." This sentence reminded me of a saying that I heard my Dad, who was an elder in our home congregation, say a goodly number of times: "Some people appear to have simply been born in the Objective Case and the Kickative Mood."

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for reviewing one of the books by my very favorite author: Chuck Swindoll. I listened to his "Insight for Living" programs for many years and have a couple dozen of his books on my shelf. They are a treasure house of wisdom for freedom loving Christians. My favorite passage from the Bible is: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" [Galatians 5:1].

From a New Reader in New Zealand:

Brother Al, I just found your web site when I was searching for information on "one another" relationships. Thank you for your work and research. I am a minister in Auckland at one of the local Churches of Christ here, and would like to have your permission to upload your article "One Another" Relationships of the New Covenant Church [Reflections #170] to our new web site, which is under construction. Thank you so much, and may God bless you!

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