by Al Maxey
Issue #865 -- April 11, 2023
In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still,
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot,
That I do not dare to draw a line
Between the two where God has not.
Joaquin Miller [1841-1913]
Watchman Nee (1903-1972), who was a well-known 20th century Christian leader and author in his native China, made the following insightful observation about the act of being baptized in water, "Baptism is an outward expression of an inward faith." He also stated, "Baptism is faith in action." I agree completely with both statements. Immersion of one's body in water and circumcision of the flesh (for men under the old covenant) are NOT salvific in themselves; indeed, they were never intended to be. They are both reflective in nature, rather than redemptive. They are both loving responses of genuine faith. It is one's faith that receives the free gift of God's grace, the reality of which one then demonstrates visibly in this outward manifestation of a marvelous newfound spiritual reality. William Tyndale (1494-1536) expressed it perfectly: "As the circumcised in the flesh, and not in the heart, have no part in God's good promises; even so they that be baptized in the flesh, and not in heart, have no part in Christ's blood."
Yes, both circumcision and baptism have an important place and purpose in the life of a believer, but neither are sacraments. Neither are the "line in the sand" between divine acceptance and rejection. The apostle Paul made this principle quite clear in Romans 4, where he pointed out that Abraham was accepted by God and declared righteous before he was circumcised, with that divine acceptance being based upon faith. This is a truth just as applicable to those under the present covenant as it was to those under the previous one. I dealt with this in quite some depth in my article titled "The Romans 4 Gospel: An Awesome Apostolic Application of an Abrahamic Awareness" (Reflections #852). As you might imagine, this generated a flood of criticism from those who view baptism in water as THE precise split-second of salvation. I dealt with that criticism in the very next issue: "Challenges and Questions: Responding to Readers who were Concerned by Reflections #852" (Reflections #853). I would urge the reader of this current article to take a look at these two previous articles.
We humans have a tendency to want to draw lines in the sand with regard to our various personal preferences and practices. I dealt with this tendency in a couple of previous articles, which the reader might find enlightening: "Drawing Lines of Fellowship: The Folly of Moving God's Boundary" (Reflections #521) and "Drawing the Line at Drawing Lines: The Question of God's Lines or Man's Lines" (Reflections #672). Our convictions and perceptions are important to us, and this is as it should be. Problems occur, however, when we arrogantly assert our views are the only acceptable and/or approved views, and that all others must accept our "line in the sand" on the matter. The phrase "drawing a line in the sand" simply means "to set a boundary or limit, beyond which one must not go." One crosses such "lines in the sand" at one's own peril. In religious circles, these lines show the demarcation between saved and lost, between those fellowshipped or shunned. The "lines in the sand" vary greatly depending on our various sectarian, factional, and denominational dogmas, doctrines, and practices, most of which have far more to do with tradition than Truth.
For some, the line between saved and lost is tied to one's position on the use of musical instruments in a worship assembly. Others draw the line at Fellowship Halls, or eating in a building, or how many cups one uses in the Communion. There are "lines in the sand" drawn over how one understands the operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and over one's view of the End Times, and over "the name on the sign" of a Christian group and how they "conduct the worship service." But one of the more familiar "lines in the sand," at least within my own religious heritage (the Churches of Christ, which is the most conservative of the three branches coming out of the Stone-Campbell Movement) is baptism. For a good many in "my tribe," this is THE "line in the sand" between the saved and the lost. I was brought up in this denomination accepting this view. But it is absolutely false: it is a line drawn in the sand by men, NOT by God. By drawing such a line, we in reality "invalidate the Word of God for the sake of our tradition" (Matthew 15:6), a serious charge Jesus leveled against the Pharisees of His day.
That too many still embrace this "line in the sand" was evidenced just recently in the March 28, 2023 edition of "Hugh's News & Views" (a publication sent out by Hugh Fulford) by an article titled "The Salvation Line." While making it clear that he believed faith was important, nevertheless Hugh declared that "baptism is the salvation line that one must cross before he/she enters the state of salvation." He then made seven assertions (each of which were accompanied by a few comments). He asserted: (1) "Baptism stands between the sinner and salvation." (2) "Baptism stands between the sinner and the remission of sins." (3) "Baptism stands between the sinner and having sins washed away." (4) "Baptism stands between the sinner and the benefits of the death of Christ." (5) "Baptism stands between the sinner and the new life in Christ." (6) "Baptism stands between the sinner and being in Christ." (7) "Baptism stands between the sinner and being saved and having a good conscience toward God." Hugh concludes his article with this affirmation of his belief about the place and purpose of baptism in water: "It is the Lord's designated dividing line between the lost state and the saved state."
I have nothing against Hugh personally (he and I have written back and forth for many years), and I believe he is sincere in his convictions and that he loves the Lord just as much as I do; nor do I believe that he is outside the parameter of God's gracious acceptance. However, I do believe he has drawn a "line in the sand" that the Lord Himself never drew, and which the inspired Scriptures do not support, and such a major misunderstanding should not be ignored by serious students of God's Word and Will. I very much agree with Hugh that baptism in water is very important to us, and that it most definitely has a divinely appointed place and purpose for believers, but I differ with this brother on the nature of that place and purpose. Hugh sees baptism as THE point of demarcation between those who are lost and those who are saved. I do not. I do believe God Himself has drawn such a line for mankind (dividing between saved and lost; sheep and goats), but I do not believe that "line in the sand" is baptism (any more than it was circumcision for those living under the old covenant).
I have dealt with this extensively over the years, and even wrote a 349 page book about it (now in its second edition): "Immersed by One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice" (also available at Amazon in the Kindle format). I also have written 64 Reflections articles on the topic of baptism, all of which may be accessed at no cost on my Topical Index site. Additionally, one may read (also at no cost) The Maxey-Hughes Debate, which was held in 2002 between Michael Hughes and me, on the topic: "Baptism and Grace: Regarding the Application of the Latter to a Special Circumstance Involving the Former." In all of these writings I address each of Hugh Fulford's seven assertions time and again, demonstrating, I believe, how they fall far short of the "line in the sand" he asserts them to be with regard to eternal salvation. I would hope both Hugh and the reader would take the time to consider this extensive biblical exegesis carefully and prayerfully.
"So, Al Maxey, just where do you believe God draws the 'line in the sand' between those who are saved and those who are lost?" Well, after years of study of God's revelation of Himself and His eternal purpose for us, I am convinced He draws that line of demarcation at faith/belief. From the very beginning, the Creator has desired for His creation to acknowledge that HE IS. In that great chapter on faith (Hebrews 11), the writer states, "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" (vs. 6). Indeed, the chapter begins: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval" (vs. 1) -- "And all these gained approval through their faith" (vs. 39). Paul insisted that we "are justified by faith apart from works of law" (Romans 3:28). "For this reason, it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace" (Romans 4:16). "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" (Romans 5:1-2). "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, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). And on and on we could go. God's "line of salvation" is FAITH - it is clearly drawn in the sands of time! He sent His Son to take care of the SIN problem once for all, so that "whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). When Peter reported on the conversion of Cornelius and his household to the Council at Jerusalem, he declared that God "made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9), ... "And we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are" (vs. 11). And how were they saved? By God's grace, first and foremost (that's HIS end of the stick), which we receive BY FAITH. We believe.
The only thing I would add to this is that God expects us to SHOW our faith in our daily living! We don't show it exclusively through any specific "one time" act, but through countless acts of kindness and compassion and mercy in keeping with the nature of our God. Anyone, said James, can SAY they have faith. That's why James says we are to evidence that faith visibly - i.e., to show it (James 2:18f). God takes this "line in the sand" (FAITH) very seriously, so seriously, in fact, that He wants us to actively and visibly demonstrate and manifest this faith over and over in our daily living. God is love (1 John 4), that is who He IS; it's His nature. Thus, we who believe in Him will manifest that same nature. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8). I would not describe LOVE as a separate "line in the sand," but rather the visible evidence in our lives of that FAITH which is the line of demarcation drawn by Deity. Paul nailed it when he wrote, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6, NIV). It is not about one's performance of various religious acts (no matter how good those acts and rituals may be). It is not about baptism, or the Lord's Supper, or how we sing, or how we pray, or who passes a Communion tray. It is not about our views on the End Times, or what we do in a church building, or which version of the Bible we read, or if a woman speaks in a "worship service." It is about FAITH Expressing Itself In LOVE every single day of our lives!! THIS is God's "line in the sand;" it always has been, and it is clearly center-stage in the judgment scene of Matthew 25:31f.
Let me close this present article by quoting from a man named Joe Battaglia. If you have never heard of him, let me introduce you! Joe Battaglia is a renowned author of numerous books of how faith impacts culture (which may be ordered from his web site: https://joebattaglia.com). He is the founder and president of Renaissance Communications, whose mission is to help facilitate the promotion of biblical truth worldwide, including the promotion of such well-known Christian films as "God's Not Dead," "War Room," "Fireproof," "Left Behind," and "I Can Only Imagine." The quote I want to share from him is one that particularly struck me as being of vital importance to this current discussion. It goes right to the heart of it, in fact. He stated, "If we draw a line in the sand, our love ought to be more evident to the world than our doctrine." AMEN!! Or, to phrase it in the words of Jesus Himself: "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35, NKJV). God has indeed drawn a "line in the sand" - It is FAITH. He then hands us a "line of action" - show that faith daily in countless acts of LOVE. Now this is a "line in the sand" that "will preach," as the old country parson would say.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, I just read your article titled "Wandering Stars in Outer Darkness: A Reflective Study of Jude's Powerful Metaphor" (Reflections #864). Only you could find a spiritual message that speaks to the adult mind in a nursery rhyme ("Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"). It made me think about how the shiny shooting stars get all the attention for a brief moment, and then disappear. Seems like there are movements, and also evangelists, that pop up with flashy theological arguments that momentarily draw the attention of people away from eternal truths, only for those movements, persons, and positions to then crash and burn. This was a great article, my friend. I'm going to borrow that passage from Daniel 12:3 (The Message version), which you shared at the end of your second paragraph, as motivation for my team members! Love ya, brother!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, I'm really looking forward to reading your new article on wandering stars. Also, I am preaching on the book of Amos this Sunday. Please pray for my delivery, as the problem of social injustice can be just as prevalent today as then. God bless you, Al.
From a Reader in Florida:
Good Afternoon, Al. I saw an interesting Instagram post about the definition of "the meek" in Matthew 5:5, so, as usual, the first thing I did was look to see what Brother Al Maxey had written on the subject. I didn't find anything, so checked with one of the commentaries we both like and use. It indicated that "meek" was difficult to define with any certainty as to its meaning, but it did provide some insight that it doesn't mean "weakness," but maybe something closer to "self-control." Maybe this is what Jesus showed both when He was arrested and on the cross: He had the power to change the situation, but He refrained; exercised self-control; He was "meek." I would be interested in your thoughts on what "meekness" might mean. As always, thank you.
Some words and phrases in both Greek and Hebrew (especially the latter) are so removed from our own time and culture that scholars find them a bit perplexing. Some words also have various shades of meaning, which can befuddle the one seeking clarity of authorial intent. The Pulpit Commentary states, "The meaning attributed by our Lord to the word 'meek' is not clear." Dr. A. T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the NT, writes, "The English word 'meek' has largely lost the fine blend of spiritual poise and strength meant by the Master." Over time, men have downgraded "meekness" to "weakness," and that was not really what Jesus sought to convey, nor was it His meaning when He described Himself as being "meek." The idea to which He refers us in Matthew 5:5 is perhaps best stated as a gentleness of strength "founded in self-control" [Dr. Marvin Vincent's Word Studies in the NT]. Dr. Robertson concurs: "It is the gentleness of strength, not mere effeminacy." Dr. Vincent points out that this word was commonly "used of a horse: gentle." It did not mean the horse was weak; quite the opposite. The horse was very strong indeed, but it had submitted that strength to another's leading and control: and that is the "meekness" of which Jesus speaks. "In the vocabulary of the ancient Greek language, the 'meek' person was not passive or easily pushed around. The main idea behind the word 'meek' was strength under control, like a strong stallion that was trained to do the job instead of running wild. To be meek means to show willingness to submit and work under proper authority, even to the disregard of one's own 'rights' and privileges" [Dr. David Guzik, Enduring Word Commentary]. Although The Pulpit Commentary believed the word could be taken a number of ways, it tended to favor the above view, saying, "It is the attitude of the disciple to the teacher when the latter is teaching; of the son to the father when the latter is exercising his paternal authority; of the servant to the master when the latter is giving him orders." It is strength under control; focused and channeled energy; power submitted to a higher purpose than one's own self-will. -- Al Maxey
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