by Al Maxey

Issue #688 ------- January 29, 2016
The grand leap of the whale up the Fall of
Niagara is esteemed, by all who have seen
it, as one of the finest spectacles in nature.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
To the editor of a London newspaper, poking
fun at the British for their ignorance of America.

Legalists Leaping the Pacific
Guest Article by Dr. Barry Perryman

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. In this week's issue I believe you will be especially blessed once again by the tremendous insights of a very dear friend and brother-in-Christ who has been a great supporter of my Reflections ministry for quite some time. I said "once again" because this man has written two previous "Guest Reflections" for me (Reflections #495 -- July 27, 2011 and Reflections #648 -- February 20, 2015). Dr. Barry L. Perryman, Ph.D. is a professor of Rangeland Management at the University of Nevada-Reno, and he has served for well over 30 years as a Bible class teacher, song leader, deacon, and part-time evangelist. He is the author of the 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 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." Barry can be reached at:

Barry's above referenced book was the focus of several of the articles in the June, 2011 (vol. 55, no. 6) issue of Truth Magazine (an issue in which my own work was also attacked a number of times), which was a special issue titled "Hold Fast the Pattern of Sound Words." Barry wrote me at the time, "I guess my book is finally having some effect since they decided a special issue was needed to address it. However, the arguments they used are the same old twisted logic nonsense. It's as if they didn't even read the book because all of their arguments are addressed in it." This is very typical of the hardened legalists. They remind me of what the apostle Paul had to say about such persons: "They do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions" (1 Tim. 1:7). When the Contending for the Faith crowd viciously attacked my first book "Down, But Not Out" repeatedly and at length in their 2010 Spring Lectureship (which they characterized as "Profiles in Apostasy #1"), it became obvious very quickly that they really didn't have a clue what was in my book or what I really believed. The same was true of the other books they reviewed in that lectureship. That very same spirit was evident with respect to Barry's work as it was "reviewed" in Truth Magazine (a publication of the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ).

The following article is from Dr. Barry Perryman's pen (the title at the top of this issue of Reflections -- "Legalists Leaping the Pacific" -- is of my choosing, not Barry's, and was drawn from an illustration he used in the article), and I believe you are going to be both challenged and encouraged by his insights. In an email he sent me this week he wrote, "Al, I hope things are well with you and yours. I greatly enjoyed your article 'Conversion Conversation Challenge' (Reflections #686). Great logic, good thoughts. Keep preaching the Gospel! Attached is a new piece I put together over the holidays. If you need a little break, I hope you might consider presenting it to your readers as a guest column. In Him, Barry." [NOTE: For a fabulous picture of Barry during one of his trips abroad last year Click Here. He sent this to me, explaining: "I am in the Tien Shan Mountains of northwest China. That is Tien Shan Glacier in the background, with a Kazakh yerta behind me. The elevation is about 13,500 feet."] I am pleased to present his study below for your careful and prayerful consideration. If you have any comments or questions about what he's written, and would like to write to him about them, I feel sure he will be more than willing to respond. As with my own writings, the following study is designed simply to get you to think; to do some serious reflection. You may agree with what you read; then again, you may disagree. Either way, may each of us embrace and evidence a "Berean spirit" (Acts 17:11), and in the words of the beloved apostle Paul, I trust that we will each "Examine everything carefully, and hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).


Good or Bad
How Shall We Regard Other Sheep?

"If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47). The well-known passage John 3:16-18 also indicates that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn or judge, but to save it. For a long time these words of Jesus seemed very curious and even perplexing to me. He did not come to judge the world? So often I heard preachers and teachers address this statement by saying that on His first trip to the world He did not judge, but on His second visit He will judge. This explanation never seemed sufficient, since in the next verse Jesus goes on to say, "He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day." Speaking to His immediate audience, Jesus states that those of them who reject His words and do not take to heart what He says, has a judge, and will be judged. Given this, He could hardly mean simply that He'll be the judge when He comes back a second time. No, He actually says His words will do the judging while He talks about His rejection. This bit of dialogue is obviously a much more complex subject than: I came to warn you this time and if you don't learn all the rules and keep them exactly, the next time I come, I'm lowering the boom. He must be speaking about something to do with rejection and acceptance, and the condition of the heart that is required for both.

I believe Jesus is expanding on the great theme of the Gospel, and it is expressed in two parts. One is that He came to redeem, so live in a manner worthy of your redemption. Second, He teaches a separation of people, but it is not a separation of good and bad people, or even between disciples who follow the rules exactly and those who for whatever reason cannot. This is the way religion and legalists separate people, based on whether they are good or bad, or how well they followed the rules of their particular sect. From Scripture we know that no one is good (Romans 3:12). If God were to separate people on the basis of good or bad, we would all be in big trouble (Romans 3:23 -- "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:10 -- "There is none righteous, not even one"). However, God uses different criteria to make delineations between people. God separates people who have heard the Gospel based upon whether they are self-righteous or if they are humbly aware of their need for a Savior. God does not see you on the basis of how you measure up to some standard of conduct, or a pattern, or moral ethics. He sees you as having either a self-righteous heart or a penitent, receptive heart. He sees you as accepting grace or rejecting it.

A great example of this is found in Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:15-17, and Luke 5:29-32. These three accounts have Jesus addressing Pharisees and teachers after they questioned Him: "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" It is obvious from the context that these individuals have made a separation between themselves and the folks with whom Jesus is eating and socializing. They have determined that these tax collectors and sinners are bad people, and that they themselves are good people. With respect to their practicing the Law of Moses, they were correct in their assessment. The Apostle Paul even described his own personal, fierce adherence to the Law of Moses (Philippians 3:4-6), so their judgment was generally accurate. However, Jesus has an answer that is unexpected, "But when Jesus heard this, He said, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.'" We could speculate that these religionists were at least momentarily approving of His statement. These legalists, and legalists today, did not, and do not, think of themselves as sick, weak and in need of a physician, but rather as vibrant, healthy, vigorous followers of commandments. But Jesus then says something that shatters their religious, legalistic world view, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Jesus quotes a passage (Hosea 6:6) with which they, as teachers and students of Scripture, would have been very familiar. They knew the verse and its location in the scroll, but they had no concept of its true meaning. So Jesus, in effect, tells them, "Since you have judged yourselves acceptable in God's sight, and judged these tax collectors and sinners as unacceptable, I have nothing to say to you. Go away, until you come to the realization that you too are morally deficient and in need of God's grace just like everyone else. Then and only then will you be able to benefit from My message of justification by grace through faith. Until then, we have nothing to discuss."

You see, if you look at what God would actually require of us with respect to keeping commandments, you will be humbled into the dirt! Every child of God realizes in the deepest abyss of their soul, that they have failed miserably at the moral imperatives God would have us fulfill, specifically: love for God and neighbor in the fullest sense of that word. The self-righteous, however, are proud and arrogant. Religionists, legalists, the self-righteous, divide the world into good and bad because they desire to justify themselves first to themselves, and then before God. A self-righteous person, a religionist, a legalist, does not recognize a need for grace. It's not that he/she doesn't know or understand grace, they just don't need it, or they only need a little bit of it. The self-righteous ideal is based upon keeping some perceived pattern, or standards derived from Scripture, a hermeneutic, or all of these. And based upon the degree of compliance, these people judge themselves adequate (or, in other words, justified) in God's sight. And by the same standard they judge others as inadequate or lost.

If you justify yourself because of your circumspect behavior, knowledge, understanding, or the sign on the building where you worship, you have rejected grace and feel God owes you justification. A legalist fulfills some part of a fictitious agreement where man has legal standing to contract and comply with the Creator of the universe. Genesis 15 describes an analogous covenant God forged with Abram. But, notice it was only the Lord who passed between the pieces of sacrificed animals. Abram, who was in a deep sleep, had no part in the matter save only to accept or reject the promise. This is how justification works; there is no contract, no agreement between man and God, and we sinners have no standing to participate in entering into a legal agreement with our Creator. God has already made the justification; the price has already been paid for everyone. It is complete. There is nothing else to be done. On the cross Jesus even said it was paid in full. We can only choose to accept or reject His offer of eternal life. God did this so that His righteousness will be known throughout the universe. It is the righteousness of God that is on stage for all to see (Romans 3:21-26). If there is a man's part, then it is not God's righteousness that justifies, but rather a combination of God's and man's. This is ... heresy! (Galatians 1:1-9).

There are those whose hearts are so legalistic that they resemble the Pharisees and teachers that Jesus addressed. Jesus has nothing to say to them until they learn the lesson He proposed. There are also honest followers of Jesus who unknowingly practice elements of legalism. They have been influenced and mentored by those who have been matured and steeped in legalistic attitudes and teachings. I too was influenced and trained by them. How can you tell if you are one of the prideful, arrogant, self-righteous, religious people Jesus is speaking to when He says, "Go and learn what this means?" How can you tell if you have been influenced by this heresy? The answer is quite simple. What had the Pharisees and teachers done that focused Jesus' attention on their heart condition? Well, they had just compared themselves to the tax collectors and sinners, and then judged themselves superior. They had judged themselves adequate with respect to the Law of Moses, and so they placed a gavel in their own hand and pronounced a judgment on servants that didn't even belong to them, but who belonged instead to God. The moment you pick up a gavel and compare yourself to another disciple of Jesus and pronounce your superiority, you are guilty. The standard of comparison can be based on your self-control, your knowledge or understanding of Scripture, your use of an interpretive method (like the command-example-inference-silence hermeneutic), or even the sign on the building where you worship. Which group will Jesus place you in? The one for which He says, "I have nothing to say to you"?

There are only three responses to the message of grace: 1) We can determine to ignore it while living our lives in purposeful rebellion, 2) We can be legalistic, insisting that man has a role in justification, thus, in effect, pronouncing ourselves above the need for total grace, or 3) We can bow our heads, admit our complete depravity, and ask for the boundless mercy of our Creator. Legalists trust in their own ability to discern and comply with a code of commandments. Many in my own faith-heritage trust their salvation to being right in their understanding and practice of Scripture, which is derived from an interpretive method developed during the middle of the 19th century (a method that has spawned over a dozen different sects within its own community of adherents). If perhaps you are uncertain as to whether your trust lies in a human hermeneutic rather than in God's righteousness, just ask yourself if it is possible for you to be saved without the hermeneutic and its effect on your understanding of Scripture. If the answer is "No," then your faith is in yourself. If the answer is "Yes," then why use it, and why condemn as lost those who do not know of its existence or those who have rejected it?

The evangelist Harvey Turner explains legalism like this: Pretend you are a world class long jumper. You have the ability to challenge the world record each and every time you compete. You are consistently flirting with the coveted 30 foot barrier. Because of your natural ability, training, and work ethic, you are the best in the world at what you do. Now, stand on the California coastline and try to jump across the Pacific Ocean to Japan. It is inconceivable that you could jump the 5,000 miles it would take to make it there. This only begins to show how we stack up against what would be required if we relied on our own ability to know, understand, and practice every commandment from the Lord well enough for His grace to do its part. Yet this is exactly what legalism teaches. The Pharisees, who could jump 30 feet, were imparting judgment upon the tax collectors and sinners who could only jump 5 feet. In reality, 30 feet is hardly that much closer to Japan than 5 feet, and so both leaps leave the jumper totally hopeless in his own effort to reach the goal.

You see, Jesus wants us to realize that we have no hope of jumping across the Pacific, and His true children, the ones who rely totally on His grace, understand this. Those who wish to rely upon their circumspect lives, or their special knowledge imparted by a little known hermeneutic, stand there and boast that they can jump farther than "mere sinners" around them. It is to these arrogant, unbelieving pretenders of righteousness that Jesus says, "Go away; we have nothing to discuss." Until you come to an understanding of your total dependence on grace, and humble yourself before the Father, Jesus cannot heal you.

Brothers and sisters, this is how God separates people. He doesn't divide us based on whether we are good or bad, but on whether we are humble and receptive or arrogant and self-righteous. Jesus, the light of the world, shines on a dark and diverse landscape. Some folks have more light than others, so in that illumination there will be areas that are in bright light, indirect light, and by necessity there will also be dark shadows. Jesus came to illuminate His people, to illuminate those who are willing to let go of their self-righteousness, their self-will, to illuminate those who will admit that they have no part in their justification, only that they trust in the righteousness of God and live in a way worthy of the gift they have already been given (Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 4:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:12). There is no God's part and man's part in justification; it is all God's part. God is the one who justifies. "However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). I have heard so many times that you must "do your part" and then grace will take you the rest of the way. You must climb as many rungs on the ladder as you can by your own effort and then grace will come down and pull you up the rest of the way to the top. Folks, there is NO "man's part," it's ALL grace, and all that you can "do" is either accept or reject it. The justification price has already been paid, you can't play a role in something that has already taken place. If you are under the impression that there is a role for man in his justification before God, then Jesus has nothing to say that can help you.

The Apostle Paul explains this very thing in great detail (Philippians 3:1-11), "Finally my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Brothers and sisters, the most freeing thing you can do is to let go of the burden of trying to be "right," of hopelessly trying to sin less; let go of trying to hold up your end of a fictitious contract and simply trust the Lord. Christians have been freed from the law of sin and death. "Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Romans 8:1-2).

You are going to die, and there is nothing in your power that can stop it. The only thing you can do is trust that the Lord is who He says He is, and that He will do what He says He will do, and then live in a manner worthy of the gift of justification you have already received. You have already been transferred into the kingdom (Colossians 1:13). He has promised to take you from death to life based on the condition of your heart, not your knowledge, understanding, behavior, or being "right." We get absolutely no credit of righteousness from obedience, instead we obey because we love Him and because we have already been justified by Him. Notice what the apostle Paul says, "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through Law, then Christ died needlessly" (Galatians 2:21).

When you stand before the Creator of the Universe, what will your words be? "Lord, I followed all Your commandments, I went to the right church, I followed the right pattern, I worshipped You just the right way, and I really didn't sin that much. I am thereby ready for my seat of honor and my crown." Or, will it be something like, "Lord, be merciful to me, I am nothing before You. Only You confer eternal life, You alone are the righteous judge. I am at Your mercy." "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

It could be that legalists get confused between justification and sanctification. Justification puts us into the kingdom (if we accept it), while sanctification is growing in knowledge and grace: "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen" (2 Peter 3:17-18).

So, what should we do? First, we can pray and challenge in our own hearts this concept of how God separates people. We can make sure that we sincerely attempt to avoid an attitude that seeks to compare our personal righteousness with others. Consider how your speech betrays your learning. Are there any statements you often make that might indicate your guilt? Be watchful of our leaders, elders, deacons, preachers, and teachers who condemn and decry all of those who have thrown off the bondage of legalism. Be courageous and hold them accountable when they condemn all those everywhere who do not worship in buildings with the "right" sign over the door. The faculties at schools of preaching and church-sponsored universities must also be challenged with the Gospel. Many folks have been duped into believing legalistic teachings are God's Word, yet I do not believe that their hearts are calloused, so be patient with them and be patient with yourself. And the next time you sit down to eat with and celebrate the Gospel with disciples that these arrogant ones do not approve of, ask yourself, "Who is my brother?" -- then remember what Jesus said: "Go and learn what this means." May our Creator and Redeemer bless you all!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in North Carolina:

Good Morning Bro. Maxey. I preach in North Carolina and am trying to work through, in my own thinking, the question of the essentiality of baptism in water and the Christian unimmersed. I see the Spirit's fruit being evidenced in their lives, but I just need help working through some of "our" standard passages. Could you please send me some numbers of your Reflections that will be good for me to read on this topic? Thanks, and blessings to you and your family.

From a Reader in California:

Al, if you are open to requests, I am working on a Parashah sermon for Saturday, February 13 that I think you might find interesting, for it brings up a question that fits well with your teaching against legalism. The passage is Exodus 25:2. God says to Moses, "Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution." So, God loves a cheerful giver. That truth is easy enough to substantiate from a number of places in the Bible. But what about a begrudging giver? Would we be correct in characterizing that as second best? What about coerced giving, as in a legalistic church or State Church? Could that be viewed as "second best," compared with not giving at all? Or, is such forced, coerced giving biblically forbidden?

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Maxey, I have changed internet email and would really appreciate it if you would add my new email address to the Reflections distribution list. I greatly enjoy reading your musings and studies, and I appreciate the time you put into helping us all view ideas in a different light! Thank you.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I always enjoy reading these Reflections on the obscure persons of our past who have made such great contributions to our heritage (such as your latest: Reflections #687: "The Baby-Holding Hymnist: The Life and Work of Carrie E. Breck and Her Collaboration with Grant C. Tullar"). I'm not sure anyone else ever does studies like this! So, keep up the good work, and keep breaking fresh ground!

From a Reader in Canada:

Brother Al, you wrote in your recent study, "We are all broken and fallen beings, yet God's grace and mercy and love can lift us up to heights we never imagined." AMEN, brother! I would love to hear what you could do by expanding on this subject in a sermon! We all need to not only remember what we are, but to use that understanding to encourage others to realize that in spite of what they are, they can achieve amazing rebirth and growth in the Lord Jesus: God's Anointed One. I am sure there are many who feel they are beyond redemption, because they don't realize how loving God is (who saved a wretch like me!).

From a Minister in Alabama:

Thanks so much for the story of the hymn "Face to Face," which you provided in your most recent article: "The Baby-Holding Hymnist." It shows us all that God's grace is truly AMAZING!! Blessings to you!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Just a very quick question. In your book "Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace," are you teaching that the word "adultery" means the destruction or termination of the covenant marriage relationship, and that it is therefore the equivalent of "divorce"?

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I know you hear all sorts of unkind things from some people about what you do and what you teach, and this afternoon I found myself going down that same dark alley about those people who seem to ignore all that is available to them for their growth in learning and understanding. "We" commonly claimed (and I used to do the same) that those in the "denominational" world were simply ignoring what the Bible said, and were instead just preaching whatever they wanted. Yet, in our own "circle" we have many who seem to be doing just the reverse, saying, "I don't care who studied what, or what you can find in all of your reading, because the Bible is all we need." My thought on this: I can't believe we live in a world where so much information is available to anyone who wants to study, and yet these people are determined to ignore it all. It reminds me of the statement you recently wrote about: "Forgive them not, for they know what they are doing." It is so frustrating to know that while I also believe the full will of God comes through to us in every Bible translation, we nevertheless have it in English renditions that scholars fought over and voted upon in order to word it the way they wanted. After having read much by Dr. N. T. Wright lately on the study of Paul, I have to basically agree with his thoughts that we can't even get close to really having an understanding of the Scriptures if we ignore all of the history, culture, and customs of the people at that time in the past.

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