by Al Maxey

Issue #393 ------- April 5, 2009
Real works are the natural products
of faith taking its next step.

Paul Goodman {1911-1972}

Faith's Work, Love's Labor
A Reflective Study of 1 Thess. 1:3

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), in a homily delivered on October 8, 1995 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland, posed this powerful question to the audience gathered before him: "How can we profess faith in God's Word and then refuse to let it inspire and direct our thinking, our activity, our decisions and our responsibilities toward one another?" This is a question to which each of us should devote a significant amount of careful, prayerful reflection. In essence, the Pope was simply restating an eternal Truth already expressed by the brother of our Lord and Savior: "Faith without works is dead" [James 2:26, cf. 17]. How can someone profess faith in the Lord and His teachings while refusing to demonstrate that faith in the course of daily living? James characterizes such a one as being a "foolish fellow" for not recognizing "that faith without works is useless" [vs. 20].

James understood the great value in evidencing one's faith, and he clearly perceived the danger in one's refusal to do so. Our Lord's brother stated his own personal resolve in the matter by boldly declaring, "I will show you my faith by my works" [vs. 18]. The fact that James used the term "works" has bothered some disciples of Christ. Indeed, Martin Luther mistakenly believed James and Paul were at odds in their theology over the relationship of faith to works. However, a more careful study of what both were actually advocating shows that they were in complete agreement. James was not suggesting a works-based salvation, any more than Paul was proclaiming salvation by faith only. Rather, both men were strong advocates of the essential nature of a shown faith, or, to put it another way, "faith working through love" [Gal. 5:6] --- and if you think Paul was here advocating salvation by works, then you need to go back and examine the context of this passage more carefully, as well as the message of the entire epistle. The apostle Paul was simply stating the fact that those who possess genuine faith will be motivated by love (for both God and their fellow man) to demonstrate said saving faith. Such is the nature of true faith ... of saving faith --- it is simply Faith in Action.

The legalists, however, are convinced that one's works are the key element to one's ultimate salvation. If, in the final analysis, our "good works" outweigh our faults and failings on God's great scale of justice, then we shall be declared acceptable in His sight. Therefore, you had better be absolutely sure that you keep all of those "good works" coming (and make certain that you perform them "according to the pattern"), and who knows -- you just might do enough to "tip the scales" in your favor on that fearful day! What a wretched way to live one's life! Such people, to be perfectly blunt, don't have a clue what God's grace is all about. Indeed, by elevating their own effort above the free gift of God's grace, they are "severed from Christ" and "fallen from grace" [Gal. 5:4]. One cannot help but detect the deep sadness in Paul's heart and soul as he witnessed the futile efforts of his "law-bound" former co-religionists -- "My heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge" [Rom. 10:1-2]. They were very zealous, but they had completely missed the point ... just as many "law-bound" men and women do today. For them, "What must I do?" is the far greater concern, rather than "What has He done?" And yet, it is the reality of the latter that is ultimately redemptive! By declaring the former, tragically, they only succeed in denying the latter ... and in so doing, they deny the Redeemer, resulting in their severing from Him!

Nevertheless, such men today (as they always have throughout the long history of Christendom) persist in their promotion of a works-based salvation, insisting with all the vigor they can muster that we must perform (precisely according to the pattern) certain "works" in order to attain salvation, and then continuously perform certain works (precisely according to the pattern) thereafter to maintain salvation. I actually heard a preacher once say, "You must get baptized to BE saved, and sing without instruments to STAY saved." Yes, faith and grace have their place, they say, but it is our works, in reality, that determine whether or not we are saved. Although they'll dance all around the obvious conclusions of such a theology, and its inconsistency with Scripture, most discerning disciples can see through it, and they realize that this is nothing less than a salvation by means of human effort ... and such teaching is a denial of Truth. Seeking to justify their dogma, however, they will twist and misapply such statements by Paul as "obedience of faith" [Rom. 1:5; 16:26 -- see my study of this phrase in Reflections #157] and "work of faith" [1 Thess. 1:3]. With respect to the latter especially, it is asserted by the legalists that faith is, in reality, a work. Thus, when Paul says we are saved by faith, he simply means that we are saved by works. Clearly, this is serious false teaching that needs to be addressed, as it is leading precious souls away from a saving relationship with the Lord, rather than toward a salvific union with Him.

Just as the apostle Paul had to deal with such persons in his day, so must we deal with them in ours. A subscriber from Tennessee (a state in which legalism thrives within our movement) wrote to me last week, asking, "How does one defend against the legalists who say that faith is a work (as per 1 Thess. 1:3)? They will say that we are saved by faith, but then say that faith is a work!! Go figure! No wonder these guys are so miserable!" Yes, it is indeed a miserable, wretched existence when one is never really sure one has done enough to merit their salvation. Just how many works must a person perform in order to be saved (after all, it varies with each sect and faction)? With what degree of precision and/or perfection must they be performed (the patternistic particulars vary with each sect and faction)? Whose legalistic listing of prescribed party precepts and practices should prevail? Should any of them? Or, does God's GRACE conquer all? "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done ... but according to His mercy" [Titus 3:5]. "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, that no one should boast" [Eph. 2:8-9]. "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of our God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" [Rom. 6:23]. The apostle Paul goes on to confidently declare --- "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" [Rom. 2:28]. Paul then concludes: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God" [Rom. 5:1-2].

Faith, Hope and Love (sometimes characterized as "the three Christian graces" or "the three cardinal graces") are "the three great abiding principles of the Christian life," and Paul quite often calls the attention of his readers to "the forms in which they mainly exhibit themselves" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 130]. This Paul has clearly done in his opening remarks to the saints in Thessalonica, remarks in which he expresses his thanks unto God for their great faith which was known to brethren far and wide [1 Thess. 1:2, 8]. As he thanked the Father for these saints, he was "constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father" [vs. 3, NASB]. Within this passage there are a number of genitives employed to great effect by the apostle Paul. There are three genitive objects (work, labor, steadfastness/endurance), and to each of them is affixed a subjective genitive (of faith, of love, of hope). Understanding the nature of these genitives removes any basis for equating "work" with "faith" -- just as it removes any basis for equating "labor" with "love" and "endurance" with "hope." The former, as the grammatical construction declares, merely evidence, exhibit or demonstrate the latter. Paul is not saying that faith is a work, he is saying that genuine faith prompts various works that exhibit its living presence in one's life. Or, to quote James once again: "I will show you my faith BY my works" [James 2:18]. James is most certainly NOT declaring that his many works constitute his faith; he merely indicates that they demonstrate faith's presence.

The grace in which we stand is obtained by faith, declares Paul [Rom. 5:2], not by any personal effort or merit. However, those who are standing firmly in this grace will be daily showing forth the faith that ushered them into that saving relationship with the Lord Jesus. If such evidence is completely lacking, can that faith truly be present?! That is exactly the question posed by Pope John Paul II at the beginning of this study. How can one profess to possess faith, and yet be utterly devoid of its manifestation? If the evidence for faith is not present, then neither is the faith, regardless of one's protestations and professions to the contrary. Thus, works are forever conjoined with faith, but works do not constitute faith. The former are subservient to the latter. It is therefore the latter (faith) that receives the free gift of salvation, while the former (works) merely evidence the reality of our salvation. I believe the NIV has done a great job of rendering Paul's thoughts in 1 Thess. 1:3 in a way that clears up this confused exegesis by the misguided legalists: "We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." This translation captures perfectly the significance of the three subjective genitives used by Paul.

David Lipscomb summed it up this way: "Faith is the response of the soul to the life-giving Word of God, producing a change of life and a cheerful courage under trial" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 5, p. 16]. Faith is not a work, it is a response to God's freely offered gift. However, this faith produces evidentiary works; not for the purpose of saving us, but for the purpose of demonstrating to ourselves and those about us that we are saved. Such daily evidencing of faith then brings in its wake a "cheerful courage" of conviction, and an assurance of hope, that enables us to endure the inevitable trials that will come upon us as a result of our visible faith. After declaring that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by any human effort, Paul then immediately asserts: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" [Eph. 2:10]. Paul had just stated that we are not saved by works, but that our salvation is a gift of God. However, those who are now saved are expected to show forth the evidence of a transformed life. This may be done in any number of ways, but Paul mentions three: by a hope inspiring endurance in the face of affliction, by our labors prompted by a self-sacrificial love of God and others, and by deeds daily performed that are natural by-products of our faith. Do our deeds, labors and endurance under trial save us? No, of course not! But, each of these do indeed display for all the world to see the powerful evidence of a saved soul, and in this there is great value, both to ourselves and to others (both saved and lost).

Matthew Henry, in his commentary, wrote that "their faith was a true and living faith, because a working faith. Wherever there is a true faith, it will work." He then quoted James 2:18. Dr. A. T. Robertson, in his classic Word Pictures in the NT, stated, "We are justified by faith, but faith produces works." He too then quoted James 2:18. Albert Barnes, in his Notes on the Bible, wrote, "Works of faith are those to which faith prompts, and which show that there is faith within the heart;" they are deeds "which show that they had faith." "By the 'work of faith' is not meant faith itself, but that faith which is energetic, which is active and living, productive of good works" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21, p. 2]. "Faith manifests itself by its works -- its active exertion; love by its toils -- its works of self-denial; and hope by its patience -- its endurance amid trials and discouragements" [ibid]. "Faith is seen by its works; love, by its self-denying exertions; and hope, by its great patience and endurance" [ibid, p. 5]. "Their faith became manifest in a course of action with all vigor and strength, as should ever be the case. Genuine faith will always give evidence of its existence in good works. Faith that has laid hold of the grace of God in Christ breaks forth in action" [Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 341-342]. "The active operation of the Christian graces is a proof of their vital health. By the fruits they bear we know how far we have the graces within us" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21, p. 22].

"This emphasis sets Paul in alignment with James regarding Christian living and the absolute necessity of works accompanying faith to prove its vitality. Indeed, wherever genuine faith is present, it works" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 241]. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love" [Gal. 5:6]. We today could easily insert within this text a good many other items in the place of "circumcision" and "uncircumcision," and the statement would be equally true. "For in Christ Jesus neither instrumental accompaniment to singing in an assembly nor a cappella singing means anything, but faith working through love." "For in Christ Jesus neither one cup nor multiple cups means anything, but faith working through love." You get the idea. When one's theology is largely works-centered, rather than grace-centered, one's focus will be fixated upon what we do, rather than upon what He's done. Thus, the basis of our salvation will become our precision in practicing petty party patterns, rather than simply being in a loving relationship with a Person (Jesus). Let us pray that more and more precious souls will awaken from their spiritual slumber and at last perceive the deadly folly of legalistic patternism, and that they will instead come to perceive all their daily attitudes and activities as simply being manifestations of their faith and evidence of their salvation, the latter of which was God's gift of grace through Jesus Christ. As Paul Goodman stated at the top of this article (in the quote I used): "Real works are the natural products of faith taking its next step." Let us each step out boldly in faith, hope and love, showing the world, via the fruit of these three "Christian graces," what it means to be in a saving relationship with the Father through His Son.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707
Readers' Reflections

Special Notice --- Readers, may I highly recommend that you
take a moment to read The Franchise Agreement. This will make
you laugh. But, even more, it will make you blush with shame at the
extent of the legalistic, patternistic foolishness within our Movement.

From Dr. Dallas Burdette in Alabama:
New Book Just Released

Dear Brother Al, I have just sent you a copy of my new book -- Old Texts Through New Eyes: Reexamination of Misunderstood Scriptures. If you have a chance, would you please let your readers know about this new publication. If a reader goes to my web site -- -- they will see the icon for this book (clicking on it will take them to the page on where they may order the book). Brother Al, once again let me thank you for all you do to promote unity within the Christian community. I truly believe that our God has raised you up for just such a time as this, and that He is using you to reach out to all those who are seeking answers. Many believers know that something is wrong, but they simply do not know how to deal correctly with the biblical text. Thus, God is using you to help Christians unravel the Scriptures. Thanks again! Yours in the Messiah, Dallas Burdette

From K. C. Moser's Daughter:

Dear Brother Maxey, I have just read the article on K. C. Moser, and, as usual when I read things like that about him, I am overwhelmed with joy and satisfaction. K. C. Moser was my Dad. I live in Abilene, Texas, and have been amazed at the reception that my Dad's teachings are receiving both here and world-wide. I only wish he could have lived to know that finally a good many people have come to understand and appreciate his teachings about Christ and what the Lord has done for us through His Grace. I just thought that you might like to know that I have read your article, and that I do appreciate you so much for writing it. I am the last of our immediate family, and I'm fortunate to have lived long enough to see him validated by so many people like you!

From a Minister in Kansas:

Brother Al, Thanks for the mention of K. C. Moser. I highly recommend that all who have not yet had the privilege of reading his pamphlet Christ Versus A Plan, go to this web site and do so. Bro. Moser was an early anti-patternism, pro-grace voice worthy of being heard today!

From an Elder in Texas:

Bro. Al, Thank you for your tribute to K. C. Moser. I had the privilege to know him, and also to be his disciple of grace and faith, and my spiritual life has never been the same! He faced persecution with grace and dignity. He expressed great compassion even for those who maligned and persecuted him. I never heard him, not even one time, castigate his many dissenters. As he once told me, "I'm like an old worn-out tire. I just get retreaded and keep on rolling."

From a Minister in Australia:

Brother Maxey, I cannot thank you enough for this timely issue of your weekly Reflections. The legalism of the 1950s (in your country) is very much alive and well in the Churches of Christ in Australia. Although I have a degree in Vocational Ministry, I was still not prepared by this training to defend Grace. I possess only a superficial understanding of God's grace, and I am currently really working toward deepening my education on this Truth. Meanwhile, I have been bombarded with accusations of embracing "false doctrine" every time that my opinions are voiced to others. I had even begun to feel like maybe these people were right! However, your Reflections have helped to keep me afloat ... and I thank the Lord for you, Al. This article on K. C. Moser was especially priceless to me. Thank you for the links you included. Thank you for your willingness to speak Truth, and thank you for your scholarly research and the love with which you write!

From a Minister in Texas:

Bro. Maxey, It was my privilege, while attending Sunset School of Preaching in Lubbock, Texas during the years 1968-1970, to get to know Bro. K. C. Moser and to read his books, which had a profound impact upon my preaching in the Houston area (where I was marked by the legalists as a "Baptist" preacher). Today, many years later, I am still viewed by many of these people as a "false teacher." Thank you for a wonderful article on a great man of God.

From a Minister in Colorado:

Dear Bro. Al, Thank you for that wonderful article on Bro. K. C. Moser. I was blessed to sit in one of his classes at Lubbock Christian College just as he was ending his teaching tenure there. Back then, as a young man, I did not fully understand or appreciate his message of grace as I do now, but I still remember how his teaching inspired me, and I am sure that it greatly influenced my ultimate teaching of grace and faith. Thank you for honoring and remembering this brave servant of the cross who prepared the way for many of us who have followed in his steps.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Bro. Al, I hope that God has blessed you with a good year to date. The Reflections that you mail out each week teach me, help me to learn, and uplift my spirit. Thank you for all the hard work and study you do, and for sharing it with all of us. May God bless you.

From a Reader in Hawaii:

Aloha, Brother Al. I just wanted to write and tell you that your research on Luke 23:43 was brilliant (Reflections #28a)!! Very convincing! Well done!

From a Minister in Texas:

Bro. Al, Please add me to your mailing list for your weekly Reflections. Ironically, I found your web site via a newsletter sent to me that was criticizing your work. As I was preparing to email the author and request that I be removed from his mailing list, I happened to spot the link to your mailouts! MY THANKS to that author for providing that link!!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Bro. Al, How refreshed I was to read of K. C. Moser, and to be reminded of his life (which also brought to mind such greats as W. Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett --- by the way, I would also add you as one of the great proclaimers of Grace in the Stone-Campbell Movement). I heard the "Plan" preached a lot when I was a youth in Christ. Were you ever a preacher of the "Plan" instead of the "Man"?! If so, what changed your mind?

From a Reader in Oregon:

Brother Al, What a timely article regarding K. C. Moser. I was told years ago by an elderly grace-centered brother that Moser's book The Gist of Romans was a priceless book to have, if I could find a copy. I was able to locate one last year, and would agree to its great value. By the way, I realized that I did not order the 2007 or 2008 editions of your Reflections on CD. I also haven't ordered the two volumes of your PowerPoint Sermons on CD. So, would you please send me the whole package? The check is in the mail.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I must say that after reading your Reflections each week, and witnessing the impact you are having on your vast number of readers, you have without a doubt shown a great many souls the way to actually be free in Christ. If only those who have a legalistic frame of mind would truly study your weekly Reflections, they would come to their senses and change their teaching. May God continue to richly bless you, Al ... you deserve it.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Maxey, As a minister, you might not have any desire to sit and watch someone else preach, but I wanted to share a DVD with you from our minister here at Richland Hills Church of Christ -- Rick Atchley. The amazing thing about this sermon is that it harmonizes with so many of the things that I have learned in your Reflections that I felt like it could have been you preaching this particular sermon instead of Rick. I believe that you and Rick Atchley have both genuinely learned the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ. I am so thankful for ministers such as you and Rick Atchley who have the courage to stand up to the legalistic patternists in the Churches of Christ who have kept us bound and enslaved to Tradition for so many years! This sermon by Rick has done wonders for me, just as your Reflections have. I've given a number of copies of this DVD to my friends, just as I have also done many times with articles from your Reflections. I hope you will have an opportunity to view this DVD (which you will find enclosed) in the very near future.

From a Minister/Elder in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for a fine article on Bro. K. C. Moser. I heard him speak in chapel at Sunset School of Preaching. In the class just after that chapel, Bill Hatcher, who was the instructor, commented on several of the accusations that had been made against Bro. Moser, and then said that he had never seen any problem with Bro. Moser's teaching. Later, I met Bro. Moser in the home of Jim Massey, another of my teachers from my youth (a good many years prior to my Sunset days). At that time, Bro. Moser gave me an autographed copy of his book The Way of Salvation, which I continue to treasure after more than 40 years! My favorite K. C. Moser story came after he was dead. I was attending a seminar at a local church on "Change Agents" in the church. Rubel Shelly was the main subject of the presenter, but several comments were made about Bro. Moser as well. He was castigated as one who had led many young preachers away from the Truth of the Gospel. As several of us were having lunch together after that morning session, we began discussing that presentation. I told them that I did not know a whole lot about Rubel Shelly, but that I knew that what he had said about Moser was wrong. One of the other men stated, "Moser didn't believe baptism was for the remission of sins." I asked this man where he got that information, and he said it was in one of Moser's books. When I got home that evening, I pulled out all of my K. C. Moser books and began a search for that statement. Sure enough, I found it. "Baptism is not for the remission of sins..." -- BUT, the rest of the sentence read: " the same way the blood of Jesus is for the remission of sins." Oh, how some persons are willing to distort the things other brethren have said or written when they are determined to hang them!

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