Category Archives: grace

That’s Really Frustrating

“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21).

One of the favorite doctrines of the denominational world is salvation by grace alone. Hiscox’s Standard Baptist Manual states, “We believe the Scriptures teach that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace” (1903, p. 61). Many in the religious world argue that we are saved by grace to the exclusion of any works on our part, especially baptism, since, they say, it is something we do. One of the passages often advanced to prove this point is Ephesians 2:8,9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Does this passage, or any other, teach we are saved by grace alone?

First, it should be mentioned that the same volume mentioned above also states, just one page later, that the “gift of eternal life . . . is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through faith in Christ” (p. 62). These two concepts, “wholly of grace” and “solely through faith” are logically mutually exclusive. Both cannot be true, in the same way and same sense. Now, it may be partly through grace and partly through faith, but not both.

Second, the passage in Ephesians comes with a context. In the first verse of the second chapter, Paul contrasts two periods of time and two lifestyles. At one time the brethren in Ephesus were dead in sins, but now they are alive. To be dead in sin is to be living in sin and thus spiritually dead to God. Sin separates us from God (Is. 59:2). But sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4). So when they were living in sin they were acting in a way contrary to God’s law or His will. Now, he says, they are not dead in sin, but alive to God, meaning they are acting in a way that is in harmony with or obedience to God’s will. This language plainly speaks of works, of things done in one’s life.

In verses two and three he continues to describe the distinction between these two times and lifestyles. The former time and lifestyle were lived in the world. John tells us that this is the moral sphere of human conduct satisfying the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17). In verse three Paul says that these Ephesian brethren had previously fulfilled the lusts of the flesh and of mind, but now they are not. Fulfilling these desires requires activity or works. Paul, in fact, describes them as “works” of the flesh (Gal. 5:19,20).

Furthermore, Paul said that they were the children of disobedience (2:2) and deserving of wrath (2:3). Paul elsewhere said that wrath is deserved by those who “are contentious and do not obey the truth” (Rom. 2:28). If, in their former life, they were disobedient, but now they are no longer so, that means they now must be obedient. That is, they are doing acts that God had commanded. This is works! Paul is describing how at one point in time they were disobedient, but now are obeying God.

Paul describes exactly when this time was. Paul said they were quickened and raised up together (2:5,6). When does this quickening and raising up occur? Paul wrote to the Colossian brethren, an epistle written at about the same time as the Ephesian epistle, that they were “buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). They were buried and raised with him in the act of baptism.

Again, Paul wrote “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). Just as Christ was raised from the dead, they were (and we are) raised from the watery grave of baptism to walk in newness of life. That new life came at the point in time when they were raised from the waters of baptism. That is when and where the change occurred, for them and also for us.

Furthermore, Paul says we are raised to sit in heavenly places in Christ (6). It is in Christ “in heavenly places” where all spiritual blessings are, including salvation (Eph. 1:3; II Tim. 2:10). How do we get in Christ? We get into Christ by baptism Rom. 6:1-4; Gal. 3:26,27). Thus, the point at which the change occurred was in the act of baptism, when baptism is preceded by the appropriate moral conditions.

This is borne out in the historical account of the establishment of the church at Ephesus. Paul stated of the Ephesians that they trusted in Christ after they heard the word and were sealed with the Holy Spirit after they believed (Eph. 1:13). When did this occur? In Luke’s account in Acts the people of Ephesus heard the word which Paul preached to them and were baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 19:4,5). After this Paul laid his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit, and thus were sealed (Acts 19:6; Eph. 1:13). Thus, the point at which they were quickened and raised was when they were baptized for the remission of sins.

Paul further points out in the Ephesian letter’s context that God loved us even when we sinners (2:4). Paul said even while we were dead in sins God quickened us (2:5). What is being spoken of here? Paul tells us that even when we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-10). There is the manifestation of God’s grace! We, though undeserving, were the recipients of God’s favor through Jesus Christ’s death. Paul states that in our being saved it shows “the exceeding riches of his grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).

If grace alone could save, then all would be saved for God’s grace has appeared to all (Tit. 2:11). But there is a hell and it is prepared for and will be populated by those whose works did not qualify them to be recorded in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 20:11-15). We are not saved by grace alone, or faith alone or works alone, but by all three (Rom. 1:5).

It is in this context that we are to read Eph. 2:8,9. We are saved by God’s grace, by His kindness shown toward us in the sacrifice of His Son. That part is God’s part for we could not save ourselves. We certainly are not saved by works of merit or works of the law of Moses, but we are saved by works of obedience (Rom. 16:26; I Thess. 1:3; Heb. 5:8,9). If we try to be saved by our own merit, or by the works of the law of Moses, then we frustrate (atheteo) the grace of God (Gal. 2:20). But we violate or frustrate (atheteo) God’s command if we suggest we can be saved by grace alone (Mark 7:9; Rom. 6:1). Either of these two views is really frustrating to salvation.

“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:15-18).

Eric L. Padgett

On Being Judgmental

The waters of worldliness are lapping over into the ark of safety and threaten to overthrow the faith of many. Christians are forgetting their Christ-given mission as Christians and are acting as if the Lord never spoke about certain moral, doctrinal, philosophical and theological issues. Many Christians are adopting the approaches and attitudes of the secular and sectarian worlds and, all the while, political correctness is destroying our society and is contaminating the Lord’s church.

I offer the following as an example of this sad trend. It was stated in a recent article in a well known brotherhood publication (“Homosexuality and the Church“) that “Teenage members of Churches of Christ perceive judgmental attitudes as hampering the fellowship’s spread of the Gospel.” The topic of the article was homosexuality. The judgmental attitude spoken of was calling homosexuality a sin. This was further described as a one dimensional approach to the problem of homosexuality.

The answer to the problem of homosexuality, according to the writer of the article, is not to try to change anyone’s sexual orientation but to “discuss struggles.” They spend a lot of time in prayer, but it is not to “pray the gay away.” Rather, the group “feels like” they can get into the work of the Holy Spirit in these individuals’ lives.”

Not having the space to address the gross misunderstanding concerning the Holy Spirit manifested in such a statement (see here), it should be clear to all Christians familiar with God’s word that New Testament and Old Testament writers–actually inspired by the Holy Spirit–spoke plainly about “homosexuality.” “Homosexuality,” or, as the Bible calls it, sodomy, is an “abomination,” something that is morally disgusting or abhorrent (Lev. 18:22). It is a sin that is worthy of death (Lev. 20:13). It is “unclean,” “dishonorable,” “vile,” “against nature,” “unseemly,” and the product of a “reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:18-32). Those who engage in this activity cannot inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9,10). This is the way New Testament writers spoke on the subject. But according to our “enlightened” society today, especially our teenagers, if this article is to be believed, this approach was dead wrong and we should “reframe the discussion” and start talking “about love, compassion, support and grace.”

Many have allowed liberal social theories to color their view of the gospel and of the church. But the Lord’s church is not a social experiment, it is the eternal Kingdom of God (II Pet. 1:11; Dan. 2:44; Matt. 16:18,19). It is not open for restructuring. The gospel is not social theory, it is the inerrant Word of God and it is not subject to alteration (Gal. 1:6-9). If it is indeed true that the majority of teenagers in the Lord’s church in our generation look upon the preaching of the Old Jerusalem Gospel as being judgmental, then sadly many in the Lord’s church have failed in their responsibility in bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4); a generation has arisen which knows not Jehovah nor the works He has done for spiritual Israel (Jud. 2:10).

Sodomy is but one example where the world has influenced the thinking of many in the Lord’s church. The increasing focus on entertainment in the church is another. Reliance upon feelings instead of a “thus saith the Lord” is yet another example. The list could be extended but the point is instead of making excuses for sin, we ought to be condemning it. This is not being judgmental, this is being like Christ and His apostles. Should the Son of God have had a “peacemakers conference” with the scribes and pharisees or was He right when he called them “hypocrites” (Matt. 23)? Should the apostles have spent “a great deal of time “listening and asking questions” rather than attacking and condemning people” or were they right when they told the crowd assembled on Pentecost that they had with “wicked hands” crucified the Son of God (Acts 2:22-36)? Should Paul have viewed the Athenians as “much more than their sinful identity” when he told them that they ignorantly worshiped an unknown God (Acts 17:23,31)?

The Lord’s prohibition against judging others (Matt. 7:1-5) was against superficial, hypocritical judgment. Jesus further said, get the beam out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to judge others correctly (Matt. 7:5). We cannot help but judge. It is a part of life. The judgment must be scriptural for Jesus said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24; cf. II Chron. 19:6), but we cannot refrain from judging. Indeed, “to do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).

The bottom line is this: It is not judgmental to call sin sin. Instead of making sinners feel good about themselves in their sin, we ought to be making them–and ourselves–uncomfortable in sin (Acts 2:37). This is not wrong, it is the work of God. All attempts to soften the impact of God’s word are misguided.

I end with the words of Peter: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye” (Acts 4:19).

Eric L. Padgett

Noah, Saved by Grace!

The Bible teaches us that Noah was saved by grace. “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:7,8). Those who deny this surely must be counted as those who deny the scriptures.

Yet, equally undeniable is the fact that if Noah had not built the ark as God had commanded he would have drowned in the waters of the flood just as surely as the rest of sinful humanity did (Heb. 11:7). Could Noah have conceived by himself and built of his own volition an ark that could have saved himself and his family if God had not authorized it? No. But neither could he be saved if he had not obeyed God’s commands and followed His instructions implicitly. The Lord is telling us in this account that being saved by grace of necessity involves works of obedience.

What many do not want to acknowledge, or at least fail to understand, is that all works are not works of merit. Did Noah earn his salvation? Certainly not. But did Noah have to work in order to be saved? Absolutely! Noah’s works were not works of merit but works of obedience.

There are different kinds of works mentioned in the Bible. First, there are works of disobedience. Jesus will tell those who profess to do “many wonderful works” but who do not follow the Lord’s will that they “work iniquity” (Matt. 7:23). Others do works that “deny Him” (Tit. 1:16). These are all works, but they are works of disobedience. They will not save anyone but will cause one to be lost.

Second, there are the works of the law of Moses. These are the works that are generally referred to in the Bible when it is said that we are not saved by works. For instance, Paul wrote “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). The works of the law of Moses will not save because they are dead works (Heb. 6:1).

Third, there are also works of merit mentioned in the Bible. These are very closely related to the works of the law of Moses. Paul states we are not saved by works of boasting (Eph. 2:9). Such would, in effect, be to make our own gods and rejoice in the works of our own hands (Acts 7:41). We can never do enough to earn or merit our own salvation (Luke 17:10; Is. 64:6).

Finally, there are works of obedience. These are good works that glorify the Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). When Jesus was asked “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” (John 6:28), Jesus responded by saying “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). Jesus states here that belief, itself, is a work. A work of God that we may work. Who would have the audacity to say that working the works of God could cause one to be lost?

That is why the Bible is filled with references related to the importance of our works. For instance, Jesus commanded that we do good works that people may see them for the purpose of glorifying God (Matt. 5:16). Jesus said I have showed you many good works (John 10:32). Jesus said that he that believes on me will do greater works than I do (John 14:12). Paul preached that we should do works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20). We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph. 2:10). We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ to be judged according to our works (Matt. 16:26; Rev. 20:12).

Noah was indeed saved by grace. He found grace in the eyes of the Lord. But Noah was not saved by grace alone. Noah was a just man and was perfect in his generations (Gen. 6:9). His works of obedient faith and God’s grace worked together to bring about his salvation. It was the masses of people who did nothing, and were lost for it. Noah built the ark, obeying God’s commands, and was saved.

Eric L. Padgett

To Please God Must You Sin?

The denominational view of grace is, no doubt, sincere but, all too often, misguided. Often, even those in the Lord’s own church are mistaken about the nature of God’s grace. Grace is generally defined as “unmerited favor.” “Unmerited” means that it is not earned. There is nothing a person can do to merit or earn salvation. You can not be so good or so righteous that you could raise your fist to God and say “I deserve to be saved after what I have done.” Even when we have done all that we are commanded to do, we are still unprofitable servants (Luke17:10).

Because of this, those in the denominational world have concluded that, in obtaining salvation, works are excluded. Since we can’t do enough to earn salvation, they have concluded that works are not involved at all, that salvation comes solely through grace. Calvinists, in particular, because they want to emphasize God’s sovereignty in the universe, argue that we are so totally depraved that there is nothing anyone can do to “contribute one whit to his own salvation.” Some of our own brethren have made this claim. Consider the following heretical quotes:

  • “It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach that salvation arises from human activity. We do not contribute one whit to our salvation.” – Rubel Shelly, Lovelines, “Arbeit Macht Frei” Oct. 31, 1990.
  • “I believe deeply that the New Testament teaches that salvation is a free gift of God period. You are saved by grace alone.” – Randy Mayeux, 1989 Youth Minister’s Seminar.
    “Nobody has any right to preach anything other than the Gospel of pure grace. We are saved by grace plus nothing. You are saved by faith period. There is nothing you can do to be saved. There are no rules; there are no regulations in serving Jesus Christ.” – Glen Owen, 1982, Midtown church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX.
  • “Man’s salvation is based on God’s grace. Period. Man’s salvation is not a work of man in any way, shape, or form. We may extend our hand to receive salvation by believing in Christ and turning from our lives of sin to live lives for God and then being immersed, but this, in no way, puts God in our debt. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.” – Paul Woodhouse, What is Grace-Centeredness?, Rubel
  • “I, too, had believed that it was only when one’s faith led her to the point of being baptized for the remission of sins that she was saved. I no longer do…I would have been wrong. Heretically wrong. Without realizing it, in those days I had taken the salvation God by grace offers through faith and twisted it into the gift He offers through faithful obedience. Why is that so wrong? Because it violates the very principle of salvation by grace through faith.” – unnamed author, 2002, Grace Centered Magazine.

What these men are saying is nothing less than what those in the denominational world have been saying for generations. They are teaching “grace only” and “faith only” (although the logical mind is hard pressed to conceive how both of those views can be true in the same way). And what they have done is to confuse “human activity” with works of merit. But, again, the logical mind recognizes that all “works of merit” are “human activities” but not all “human activities” are “works of merit.” The conflation of these two concepts is irrational. There are many human activities that are not “works of merit.” It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach otherwise.

As noted above, Glen Owen says first that “We are saved by grace plus nothing.” Then, with his irrationality fully and ingloriously displayed, he says, “You are saved by faith period.” “Grace plus nothing” excludes faith. “Faith period” excludes grace. It cannot be both of these hell-conceived, humanly contrived schemes. In truth, it is neither. Neither are Biblical concepts but have been conceived in the bosom of our adversary. They have been devised so as to cloud the truth that God demands obedience to become His children (I Pet. 1:22,23). God’s grace does not remove the obligation for obedience. Rather it increases the obligation (Tit. 2:11-15).

To illustrate, consider this example. Some parents require their children to do chores around the house (unfortunately, this was much more common in days of old than it is in our present culture). Now suppose these parents who required their children to do some chores decided, at some point in time, to give their children a weekly allowance. Would this not be an act of unmerited favor? An act of grace? The giving of the allowance was not based on the children meriting or earning the allowance, for they had been doing the chores all along without it, but it was entirely based upon the good graces of the parents. Now suppose that, if, when the parents notice the children are spending this allowance foolishly, they decide to withhold from the children the allowance, so as to teach them the value of money and personal responsibility, does this mean the allowance is no longer an act of grace? Can the child then justifiably lift up his fist into the face of the parents and say “You owe me!” The children, in fact, owed their parents obedience to begin with, whether or not they received the allowance. The parents can justifiably set doing the chores as a condition of receiving the allowance without the chores becoming works of merit.

Furthermore, if it is the case that obedience “violates the very principle of salvation by grace through faith,” then, according to this “logic,” in order to be pleasing to God one would have to be disobedient. The more disobedience, the more grace. The righteous recoil at the very thought! But Paul had already anticipated this line of “reasoning” when he wrote “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” (Rom. 6:1). According to this way of thinking, in order for the children to continue to receive the allowance, they would have to refuse to take out the trash or clean their rooms or do any chores required of them by their parents for that would constitute works because, according to Mayeux, there are no rules or regulations. Such thoughts do not find their origin in God’s word!

Consider the following contrasts. Shelley says, “We do not contribute one whit to our salvation.” But Paul says “work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12). Owen said “You are saved by faith period.” James says “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Mayeux says there are no rules or regulations but Mark said one must believe and repent in order to have salvation (Mark 16:15,16). Whoever wrote the article in Grace Centered Magazine says baptism for the remission of sins violates the principle of salvation by grace through faith, but Peter said “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Paul Woodhouse may believe that “Man’s salvation is not a work of man in any way, shape, or form” but John recorded Jesus’ response to those who asked “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” as “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28-29). Now who do you believe?

The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews made the matter as clear as a bell when he penned these words: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9).

Eric L. Padgett