by Al Maxey

Issue #469 ------- December 21, 2010
Merry Christmas
We and God have business with each other;
and in opening ourselves to His influence
our deepest destiny is fulfilled.

William James {1842-1910}

Faith in the Working of God
Reflective Analysis of Colossians 2:12

Thomas Merton (1915-1968), in his classic work "No Man Is An Island," observed, "We could not seek God unless He were seeking us." Our Creator, our Sovereign, our Father, is truly the Great Initiator. Apart from Him there would be nothing, and it is by His will all things have come to be. "In Him we live and move and exist [have our being]" (Acts 17:28). In the verses immediately preceding this statement, the apostle Paul, in his sermon at the Areopagus in the city of Athens, Greece, boldly declared that all men (indeed all things) had been formed by God, and that God then formed within mankind an innate desire to seek Him out and to worship Him. Had God not placed within the heart of man this awareness of "the eternal" (Eccl. 3:11), man would no more seek out his Creator than a canine would. It is God reaching down to us, fanning that divinely placed spark of awareness within us into a flame of spiritual yearning, that allows for the relationship He earnestly desires. And as this relationship grows, we increasingly reflect the nature of Him who has enlivened us by His Spirit. "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). And so it is with any number of other divine qualities that we increasingly exhibit as He increasingly fills us! "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose" (Philp. 2:13). This God does by the drawing and transforming power of His Holy Spirit. Thus, we truly become, in a number of ways, a "new creation."

Down through the centuries there has been a considerable amount of scholarly discussion, and even heated debate, among disciples of Christ over the divine and human responsibilities in this transition from sinner to saint. What role does man play in this? What role does deity play? Is it all one-sided, or is man's "journey to redemption" a joint effort? One extreme will insist that man has no participation in his own salvation, while the opposite extreme declares that our salvation must be earned by our good works. Truth, as is generally the case, rests somewhere between these two. The Scriptures make it clear that a great gulf exists between man and God, a deep and wide chasm caused by sin, and that man, by his own effort, is helpless to bridge this great divide! Thus, God took the initiative and spanned this perilous pit through the offering of His own Son, whose loving sacrifice has provided the way to the other side. At this point we can safely state that salvation is a gift offered by grace, and that mankind has offered nothing (nor does he have anything to offer) to merit such a remarkable gift! On the other hand, building a bridge that spans the gulf between God and man -- between life and death -- will be of no use to us unless we respond to this gift and cross the bridge. God does not grab us by the collar and drag us across the bridge. We may choose to cross it and live, or remain on our side and perish. We all have that choice!! If we choose life, we do so by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12).

Is our faith a work that in some way merits our salvation? No, it is not!! No man can be saved by works. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). On the other hand, a faith that obstinately refuses to show itself in action is not saving faith, as James, the brother of our Lord, asserts: "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?" (James 2:14). James tells us that our faith, and our actions motivated by that faith, work together, and faith is made complete by what one does (vs. 22). In other words, faith that refuses to manifest itself is utterly useless!! Are the evidentiary acts of faith salvific? No. These acts, in and of themselves, do not have the power to save. Yet, faith without these evidentiary acts is a dead faith, and thus incapable of embracing life!! A man may believe (have faith) that God has prepared a pathway that bridges the gulf between Himself and sinful man, but unless this man is willing to act upon that belief and cross the bridge, he will remain on the opposite side of the chasm ... and there he will perish. Does the act of crossing the bridge constitute a meritorious work? No. It is simply a response of faith: the acceptance of God's gracious gift. God built the bridge ... we just trust (same Greek word as "faith") Him enough to walk across it and into His warm embrace.

The work of salvation was done by Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Why? Because there was nothing mere man could ever have done to bridge the chasm. Our "end of the stick" is simply to cross the bridge by faith!! Having done so, we then live our lives in gratitude for this indescribable gift, expressing our gratitude daily in acts of loving devotion to Him ... deeds performed because we are saved, not in order to be saved. Such a glorious, liberating theology is not very popular with those of a legalistic mindset, as they are convinced that man must help God build the bridge. The idea of a free gift is beyond their comprehension. Thus, they line up at the edge of the ravine with their tools and hardhats, ready to receive their "work assignments," oblivious to the reality that the construction of the bridge was completed before they ever got there! The Great Builder did not call them to help construct this bridge, but simply to cross it. And what is our obligation unto our fellow man? It is nothing other than to show them where the bridge is! That's "evangelism" in a nutshell.

So, having said all that, and with these truths fresh in our minds, let's notice a passage which speaks of God's "work" with respect to our salvation ... a passage that some individuals have tried to twist around in an attempt to prove the need for human effort. That passage is found in Colossians 2:11-12 -- "In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead" [English Standard Version]. Recently, a man informed me that what the apostle Paul was really saying here is that we must each believe (have faith) in the promise of our God to save us through our obedience to command-keeping (specifically here: baptism). Thus, the Lord God will powerfully "work" to bring about our salvation when we OBEY Him by being baptized. Our "faith," as seen here in this verse, is in His promise to save us and in His power to do so when we do our part -- i.e., be baptized. Is this what Paul is trying to convey here? Frankly, I do not believe it is. So, what is this "working of God"? If it is something in which we are to have faith, then it certainly behooves us to seek to identify it.

One of the problems among the believers in the city of Colossae was that they were being daily bombarded from a number of different religious and philosophical sources, each of which sought to take them captive to their own perceptions and practices (Colossians 2:8). Some were seeking to "defraud" them of their freedom in Christ "by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels," boasting shamelessly about their special knowledge that they claimed had come to them via visions from God (vs. 18). Others were seeking to drag them back into bondage to law, and were promoting shadows rather than substance (vs. 17). Some were promoting "self-made religion," which was little more than the traditions of mere men, and were demanding they submit to such decrees as: "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (vs. 20-23). In all of these devilish diversions from Truth, the disciples of Christ were being seduced away from their Sovereign (and His work on their behalf) and being lured into a belief that their own performance must occupy a prominent place in the securing of their salvation. If they could follow enough rules, whip their fleshly bodies into spiritual submission, observe the right rituals, and maintain their past traditions, then God would smile favorably upon them. Paul informs these brethren that such religious slavery to the "commandments and teachings of men" might very well have the appearance of wisdom, but in reality such nonsense was "of no value" in the eternal scheme of things (vs. 22-23).

In the midst of this cautionary teaching in Colossians 2, the apostle Paul brings to their attention the example of circumcision, something many of the Judaizers were still insisting must be an essential element of God's plan of salvation -- "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1; cf. vs. 5). Paul repeatedly, during the course of his preaching, teaching and writing, had to deal with this misconception, and at times he got rather blunt in his denouncing of those who were pushing such false doctrines. In Galatians 5 he declared that those who embraced such a view were "severed from Christ" and "fallen from grace" (vs. 4), and that he wished those teaching such a doctrine "would castrate themselves!" (vs. 12). Paul pronounced us FREE in Christ, and pleaded with believers never to allow the yoke of law to be placed again upon their shoulders (vs. 1). But, such efforts were being made in Colossae ... and they are being made today by "false brethren who have sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage" (Gal. 2:4). Paul's advice? -- "do not yield in subjection to them for even an hour," so that the truth of the Good News might remain untarnished by the tenets of mere men (vs. 5).

Paul informs the Colossian brethren that there IS a "circumcision" that they most certainly DO need to experience, but this circumcision is one that is "made without hands" (Col. 2:11). In other words, it is spiritual, not physical -- and is performed by the Lord, not by men. The "covenantal cutting" that marks us as the people of God is done by HIM, not by any mortal man; and it's done inwardly (on our hearts), not outwardly (removal of the foreskin). This is a circumcision visible to those around us by the "cutting off" of the deeds of the flesh, which are no longer evident in our attitudes and actions, and the displaying of our faith in our daily deeds of loving gratitude to the Father for His gift of redemption. This Paul makes clear in Galatians 5, for right after saying physical circumcision is irrelevant to our walk with God, he points out what IS relevant -- showing forth the fruit of Spirit-filled lives, which become visible to the world when the fleshly nature has been "cut away" by the Lord.

Paul tells us that baptism in water is a visible representation to both ourselves and others of the reality of this "circumcision of Christ," which is the circumcision (the cutting away) of our fleshly nature that is performed by Christ ... or, even more specifically, by His Holy Spirit. Thus, our FAITH lays hold of this promise, which Jesus secured, which the Father both promised and bestows, and which the Spirit effects in the plunging of the saved into union with Him ("added to the Lord") -- see: Reflections #353 -- and in the practical evolution of our nature into the image of Jesus. Dr. M. R. Vincent is quoted by Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest as writing, "In spiritual circumcision, through Christ, the whole corrupt, carnal nature is put away like a garment which is taken off and laid aside" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, Col., p. 205]. "By the circumcision of Christ, the operation of His grace and Spirit may be intended" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 523]. Therefore, this circumcision "of Christ" is, in actuality, "the circumcision wrought by Christ through His Spirit" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, part 4, p. 113].

The outward, visible sign of this inner reality brought about by His grace and our faith is an immersion (baptism) in water. Such a testimony of our commitment to Him is not optional, but is a demonstration of faith that our Lord commands us to make, not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those who witness it. It is "the authoritative public sign of the grace of a new life, and it seals that life on the consciousness and memory of the believing and understanding recipient" [ibid, p. 103]. Baptism, then, "is the appointed and proper Christian symbol" of the reality of our having passed from death to life [ibid]. Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll declares that "the outward sign of this is baptism" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 3, p. 524], which this noted Greek scholar characterizes as "faith proving itself" in a visible, physical act [ibid, p. 526]. The act of baptism does not, in and of itself, secure a person's salvation. If it did, we ought to be out there forcibly plunging people under the water (a practice some of the Crusaders tried during the Middle Ages). However, when this action genuinely evidences one's FAITH in the Lord, then that faith (not the kind that refuses to show itself, which James says is dead and cannot save) brings one into union with the Lord, appropriating the promises of His grace. "Baptism, then, is not a magic rite, but an act of obedience in which we confess our faith and symbolize the essence of our spiritual experience. Faith is the instrumental cause of that experience and, apart from real faith, baptism is an empty, meaningless ceremony" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 200]. Dr. A. T. Robertson, the famed Greek scholar, agrees -- "Paul doesn't mean to say that the new life in Christ is caused or created by the act of baptism. That is grossly to misunderstand him. The Gnostics and the Judaizers were sacramentalists, but not so Paul. ... Baptism gives a picture of the change already wrought in the heart through faith" [Word Pictures in the NT, via e-Sword].

So what exactly IS it that Paul says we are to have faith IN (within the context of this passage)? Is it that God saves us at the point of our immersion in water? Are we to have faith that at the moment our nose breaks the surface of the water in the baptistery that we are at that precise split-second redeemed?! No!! In fact, to make such an assertion is to totally miss the message of this text (as well as to miss the meaning and purpose of immersion). God displayed His infinite power in the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb!! Paul told the Romans, Jesus "was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4). Those who believe this (that Jesus is God's Son, and that God exercised divine power in raising Him up from the dead, thus affirming His identity as His Son) thereby have access to that same power to raise us up to new life (both spiritually, in our present journey by virtue of our union with Him, and physically at the resurrection of the body on the last day). THIS is that "working of God" -- the raising up of Jesus from the tomb -- in which we have absolute faith, and from which trust we assure our own resurrection! The act of immersion in water (as Paul points out in Romans 6:1-11) is a fitting representation of the reality our faith appropriates. God, by His grace, has offered to freely give us the gift of LIFE. He displayed His power to accomplish this by raising Jesus from the tomb. We display our faith in that powerful act through our immersion in the "watery grave," rising from the grave "in newness of life" to begin that journey home! We evidence/display/manifest our FAITH in His awesome power to raise the dead (which He did when He brought forth Jesus) when we are immersed, but it is NOT this symbol that saves, it is the substance it represents!! "Faith in God's mighty operation in raising again Jesus is saving faith" [Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, via e-Sword]. Paul wrote that he was committed to preaching "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Rom. 10:9)!! It is THIS belief or faith in the powerful working of God of which Paul writes in our passage from the epistle to the Colossians. God help us if we miss this truth to propagate a tradition that focuses on our working, rather than His working!!

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

A 193 page book by Al Maxey

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

A 230 page book by Al Maxey

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, Your weekly Reflections are a highlight in my week, and food for my soul. Please keep speaking the Truth in love, as you have been, ignoring (as much as possible) the vipers' strikes. I'm enclosing a check for one signed copy of your new book: One Bread, One Body. My husband and I both read your first book, Down, But Not Out, and have since given it to a dear friend. We also bought an additional copy and gave it to another friend. Al, this book brings a much-needed message to those hurting from and ostracized by divorce. God bless you and Shelly.

From a New Reader in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you so much for adding me to your Reflections mailing list. I am preaching this week from Luke, and I was looking for background on the author. Your insights in Reflections #431 proved valuable for allowing me to better introduce Luke to the audience this Sunday. Thanks again!

From a Reader in Utah:

Dear Brother Al, I just wanted to write to you and let you know that I've recently read Reflections #126 -- Suggesting Another Hermeneutic: Inquiry into an Interpretive Methodology. For quite some time I have seen some major problems with the CENI approach, but have struggled with finding an alternative. While no man is perfect in his understanding, I believe that your proposed hermeneutic will help us draw closer to the will of God, while also allowing and maintaining the liberty that we enjoy in Christ.

From an Elder in Arizona:

Dear Brother Al, I keep thinking that I should express my appreciation for you and my admiration for the gift you have been given to search out the deeper things of Scripture, which you then freely share with this multitude of readers and admirers that you have. So ... here's my gratitude!! I'm just one among a great many others who truly appreciates your tenacity to study and enlighten untold numbers of your "fellow travelers" who are trying to make their way through this world.

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Brother Al, Another insightful Reflections! My recent involvement with the Roman and Ukrainian churches has helped me deal with this issue. It really is a matter of the heart, and I cannot judge another's heart. Yes, there are many, I believe, who practice such things as praying the Rosary who do not understand the history or purposes assigned to the practice! They simply follow instructions because a priest or teacher said it should be done -- just like many Protestants follow rituals and ceremonies without truly understanding the history, original purpose or reasons for them!! And we, within the Churches of Christ, have our own set of problems in this regard! Have a blessed week, brother.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I read your Reflections and give each one of them a great deal of thought. I may not always agree with everything you say in them, but I truly believe in what you are doing, and believe that you are working for our Lord. Your latest study ("Reflecting on the Rosary") was very good.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Dear Bro. Al, In Protestantism's collective haste to revolt against Rome, I am afraid we abandoned much more than people may realize. I used to mock and ridicule Christians of other faith groups who kissed a photo of Christ or an apostle! I automatically assumed they were worshipping the image. However, for most of them it was simply a sign of love or respect -- much like one would have a photo of a loved one in their wallet or on their dresser. I presumed that I knew the motives of their hearts. But, as you said, if such objects helped them focus their hearts and minds upon spiritual realities, then just who am I to judge and condemn them? Your observation that "just because something might have been abused and/or misused does not make it, if used as it was originally intended, sinful" is certainly crucial to understanding man's nature to cling to things familiar, and to use them to comfort, affirm and profess his love and devotion. I am now very cautious about seeking to judge others without knowing their motives.

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, There is plenty wrong with the content of portions of the Rosary, and even the intent as described by one of the Catholic web sites you quoted grants a status to Mary that is very clearly not biblical. As you have also indicated, however, and with which I agree, the devotion of many practitioners of this kind of prayer is admirable and presumably genuine. I just wonder if there are any Catholics who question this doctrine of the glorification of Mary and thus omit those portions of the Rosary.

From an Author in Texas:

Brother Al, I just finished reading your latest Reflections ("Reflecting on the Rosary"), and I hope this line "jumps out" at other people as it did at me: "It just shows that man needs to be careful. So, as we create various images of Bible characters and symbols, we should always keep them in their proper place and perspective." I think that really gets to the heart of the matter, be it beads or some other aid.

From a Minister in Missouri:

Bro. Al Maxey and Bro. Edward Fudge, In one swoop I am emailing both of the Titans of the Church of Christ Internet establishment!! I appreciate both of your writing ministries, and have been subscribed to them both for about a year. My request of you is simple -- I would like to ask you to post a link to a Christmas song that a girl I went to college with has put on YouTube. It has become quite a hit (as of today, it has over 950,000 viewings). Becky has always really wanted to be a singer, and this is her first real break. I can vouch that she is even more beautiful on the inside than what you see on the outside. She and her husband are members at the McKnight Road Church of Christ in St. Louis, Missouri, and both are also graduates of Lipscomb. I know they would be immensely grateful if each of you would introduce her delightful Christ-centered Christmas song to your readers. It can be viewed by Clicking Here. Thank you, and I hope to see both of you this spring at the 2011 Tulsa Workshop.

From a Minister/Elder in Florida:

Brother Al, I realize that I am getting in a little late on the discussion concerning Christians carrying concealed weapons. Where I preach and serve as an elder there are several men, including another elder and at least two deacons, along with myself, who have concealed carry permits, and who bring weapons into the assembly. Only a few of the members of the congregation know this, but those who do have expressed a feeling of relief that there are those who can protect them if the need should arise. Recently, during a Sunday morning assembly, a stranger walked into the building and locked both entrance doors behind him. Fortunately, there was a deacon near the entrance, and he immediately went and got one of our men who carries a weapon. They were able to escort this person from the building without any incident. This stranger said he believed the Mafia was after him, and he was seeking refuge in our building. Not fully knowing this man's state of mind, we don't know what he might have done that morning had it not been for the alert deacon and the weapon-carrying member.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, I thought you handled the Rosary thing very well. I just don't get it about Mary!! Romans 8 speaks of the Holy Spirit and Jesus interceding on our behalf, but I find nothing about Mary doing so.

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Dear Brother Al, As an owner and user of various bead sets and ropes, I've found them helpful in maintaining focus and instilling discipline. Mostly, I use a red coral chotki, but have also used a prayer rope as well. While I don't say the Rosary (I don't "do" Mariolatry), I have found these devices useful in a variety of ways.

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