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 Shelley.com.
- “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