Grace Offered – Conditionally Accepted

If one would seek a brief New Testament explanation of salvation by grace through faith, then the context of Ephesians 2 would be one of the most definitive commentaries on the subject. In this context, Paul truly gave the road map into the grace of God, and once there, what is required of the obedient to remain there. For a moment, therefore, we need to journey with the Ephesians from their “nature” in sin before their obedience to the gospel, into the revealed saving grace of God in which they stood at the time Paul wrote.

A. Dead in trespasses and sins:

Paul began his definition of grace by reviewing the state of the Ephesians before they were baptized into Christ. As sinners outside Christ, he reminded them, “You were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ep 2:1). They were in a state of condemnation wherein they lived because they, as religious people, were outside the realm of God’s grace. Therefore, he reminded them that in such a state “you walked according to the ways of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ep 2:2).

In the preceding text, notice the pronoun “you.” They were personally responsible for their sinful walk. Their sin had nothing to do with the sin of Adam that some say was supposedly handed down to them as “original sin” from Adam. Neither were they born with a “sinful nature” wherein they were inclined to sin against their own will. Paul clearly wrote that they were individually responsible for their sinful walk of life before they obeyed the gospel.

The Ephesians could not blame Adam. They could not blame God for giving them some “sinful nature.” They could not even blame the devil for supposedly making them sin. They could only blame themselves. They were personally and individually dead in sin because they chose to behave sinfully. Unless one takes ownership of his own sinful behavior, he will not repent. He will not be moved to respond to the grace of God.

We cannot escape our personal responsibility for sin by blaming Adam for some “original sin” that was supposedly passed down to us through birth as a “sinful nature” by which God supposedly cursed our souls. We must stop blaming God for this supposed “sinful nature,” and the Devil for supposedly making us sin. Some theologians have given sinners almost every excuse for not taking ownership of their own sins. Even society does the same by calling some sins—alcoholism—a disease, and thus assuming that the individual does not need, or cannot, take ownership for his or her own “sinful” disease. But Paul never let the Ephesians off the hook in reference to their past life in sin. They were personally responsible for their own culture of sinful behavior. And because they willingly created their own culture of sin, they had to take ownership for their sin before they would willingly respond to the grace of God .

B. Life according to the world:

In their former behavior as sinners, the Ephesians individually chose to walk according to the desires of their father, the devil. Jesus explained the state of some in His Jewish audience when He said, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” (Jn 8:44). When Jesus made this statement, He was speaking to very religious Jews. In the context of Ephesians 2, Paul was likewise speaking to formerly religious Gentiles. Nevertheless, they too were of their father the devil because they “behaved in times past in the lusts of your flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ep 2:3). The Ephesians lived according to the sensual sins of gratifying the desires of the flesh, filling their minds with all wicked thoughts. They followed after a life-style of pride, envy, covetousness and lusts of the mind as idolaters.

They were “by nature” in the habit of behaving after a lustful life-style. It was not that they were born with a sinful nature. The context of what Paul said in Ephesians 2 is entirely against this conclusion. The Ephesians had made a free-moral decision to live according to the lusts of the eyes, flesh and pride of life.

The Greek word that is used here for “nature” refers to a life-style that has been formed after the habit of doing something over a long period of time. The Ephesians, therefore, were “dead in trespasses and sins” because they had adopted a life-style of living according to that which was contrary to the will of God. Their conscience was seared because they had no feelings of guilt that their sinful living was wrong. They were thus judged to be dead in trespasses and sins because there was no hope of eternal life in their state of behavior in their past idolatry. They were separated from God because of their state of condemnation, and thus they could have no hope of eternal life.

The lost state of the Ephesians before their obedience to the gospel confirms the fact that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus was not universally appropriated to all people without obedience. They were good religious idolaters, but they were dead in the sin of their own religiosity. We do not assume that the Ephesians were previously atheists, and thus a nonreligious people. Too often Bible interpreters make this mistake concerning their understanding of the religious world into which the gospel was revealed. On the contrary, the Romans and Greeks were religious. However, the religion was idolatry. They possessed a faith in Zeus and the other Roman and Greek gods that were created after the imagination of very religious people. In fact, when Paul walked into Athens, he complemented the people on their religiosity: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious” (At 17:22).

But religion can save no one. The Ephesians were very religious people, but by nature they were dead in their trespasses and sins (Ep 2:3). They were by nature dead in their relationship with God. We must not be fooled, therefore, with the belief that if one is simply religious and good, he is saved. Without being born again through baptism into the grace of God, one is dead in trespasses and sins.

By the time Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians in A.D. 61,62, the Ephesians had been delivered from their life of sin in their religious idolatry. But before the gospel came to them through the preaching of Paul, they were without hope. If Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross were unconditional, and thus universal, then they would not have been dead in their trespasses and sins before the coming of Paul and the preaching of the gospel. The biblical interpreter must therefore be careful about assuming that the redemption of the cross applies to all people regardless of their knowledge of God’s grace and conditions that He requires for one to make in order to step into His realm of grace.

C. The announcement and response to grace:

And now the glorious news. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ep 2:4,5). Paul’s continued commentary of this outpouring of grace was stated in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It could be nothing else with grace. The outpouring of grace must be nothing short of an outpouring because of mercy, regardless of the state of those to whom it is offered.

Grace was unconditionally offered to humanity, but it is not unconditionally appropriated, or applied to the saving of individual sinners. We must keep in mind that the Ephesians became Christians long after the initial outpouring of grace on the cross in A.D. 30. They were still in a state of condemnation at the time Paul, Aquila and Priscilla came to Ephesus in Acts 18. It was through the ministry of these and others who “came and preached peace to you [Ephesians] who were far off and to those who were near” (Ep 2:17). The offer of grace was preached to the Ephesians while they were dead in trespasses and sins. They responded. And subsequently, Paul could make the statement, “By grace you have been saved” (Ep 2:5). They could be saved by grace only when they heard about the grace of God that was revealed on the cross (Ti 2:11). Grace was appropriated in their lives only when they heard and obeyed the gospel (See At 19). Grace is neither universally appropriated, nor unconditionally received.

We must keep in mind that those to whom Paul was writing the letter of Ephesians were dead in sin after the cross and before they heard the gospel. They did not become alive until they heard and obeyed the gospel. Therefore, they had not been individually elected and predestined to heaven before the creation of the world. If they had been so elected and predestined, then why did Paul say that they were all dead in sin before they obeyed the gospel?

D. Salvation by grace through faith:

“So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17). When the Ephesians heard the word of Christ (Ep 2:17), their faith in Him was brought to life. The words of Jesus would be appropriate here. “He who believes and is baptized, will be saved” (Mk 16:16). The Ephesians were not unconditionally dead in their trespasses and sins. They voluntarily chose a sinful way of life. They adopted such as their culture. Therefore, they could not blame Adam for their sinful behavior as some have supposed. As they were voluntarily and personally accountable for their previous sinful nature, grace came to them voluntarily and personally. Each one who heard the preached gospel, voluntarily and individually responded to the conditions God required to receive the offered gift of His grace. As they voluntarily sinned after their own lusts, they had to respond voluntarily to the preached grace of God. As they individually chose to lead a sinful life, they had to choose individually to respond to the grace of God. Their response to grace, therefore, had to be an obedience of their faith (See Rm 1:5; 16:26).

We must not misunderstand Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:8,9. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.” The grace of God was offered years before while the Ephesians were in a state of condemnation in their trespasses and sins. It was God’s free gift to offer to all men a way of escape from a sinful predicament from which one could not deliver himself. The gift, therefore, had to be free.

However, the reception of the gift came with conditions. Simply because the gift is free does not mean there are no conditions for receiving the gift. Titus 2:11 states, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” The free gift appeared and was announced to the world through preaching. But its application came with conditions on the part of those who heard the message of the gospel. If there were no conditions, then salvation would be universal. If the Ephesians were still dead in their trespasses and sins after the grace of God was revealed through Jesus on the cross, then grace was not universal. Reception and application of the effect of grace is based on the condition of our faith. Since our faith is in the gospel, salvation is by grace through our faith in the gospel.

Salvation by grace through faith is not of ourselves. In other words, no salvational schemes of men will work. If we could be saved through our own systems of salvation, then our salvation would be meritorious. And since religion is always the meritorious performance of rites, rituals and ceremonies, salvation can never come as a result of one being very religious. This is true because by works of law or religious traditions no one can be saved (See Rm 3:20; Gl 2:16). Salvation is by our faith in the Christ of the gospel, not in the performance of our own religiosity.

When Peter said to the thousands on the day of Pentecost to “save yourselves from this perverse generation” (At 2:40), he did not mean that everyone should construct for himself some system of religion by which one could save himself. What he meant was that the people must take the initiative to do what God commanded in order to access His grace in order to save themselves from their own religiosity. And in order to do this, one must “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (At 2:38). It was through this obedience that the Ephesians responded to the gospel (See At 19:1-18).

E. Faithfulness through works of thanksgiving:

Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that their initial coming to Christ was not the result of any meritorious efforts on their part, lest they boast to one another concerning their obedience. Their salvation was not by meritorious works, but through an obedient faith in response to the grace of God. Nevertheless, as Christians, their faith had to be perfected through a work of love in response to the grace by which they were saved. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we should walk in them” (Ep 2:10). If one would want a commentary on this statement, then Paul gives such in 2 Corinthians 4:15: “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.” It was this grace that reached the people of Ephesus, and thus, it was this grace that moved them to respond to the love of God through Jesus. It was this love that compelled them to obey the gospel (2 Co 5:14).

Paul had told the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Ph 2:12). The Ephesians had been baptized into Christ (Gl 3:26,27). Now it was time that they perfect their faith through their works of faith. “You see that faith was working with his [Abraham] works, and by works was faith made perfect” (Js 2:22). We are God’s “workmanship” when our faith is made perfect through obedience. When our faith works in response to the salvation that we have in Christ, then it is perfected. His grace causes works of thanksgiving. All that God did through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of His Son was for our sakes, “so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15). It is an obedient faith in response to the revealed grace of God that brings one into Christ. This faith is perfected when the obedient continue to work out their salvation in thanksgiving for the grace by which they are saved.

[End of the blog series. The remainder of the lectures will be in a forthcoming book. Be sure and download and distribute the book if you have appreciated this very important subject that defines the core of our Christian beliefs.]

Grace Instructional Manual

The fact that we are saved by grace through faith is not the question. This is a fact. However, the question is how are we saved by grace is what must be determined. Grace through faith means there is a Divine side (grace) and a human side (faith) of God’s plan to deliver us into His eternal arms. What was required on the Divine side (the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and kingdom reign) was revealed to man without any obligation on the part of man. This was the gospel work of God. It was all an action of grace on the part of God.

While mankind was in the curse of sin, God demonstrated His love for mankind through the revelation of the gospel (Rm 5:8; Ph 2:5-11; Ti 2:11). The revelation of God’s grace was not based on the meritorious righteousness of man that put God in debt. The gospel was not God’s effort to settle a debt with humanity (See Rm 4:4). Grace was a free gift. Nevertheless, it was a free gift that demanded requirements on the part of those who desired the benefits of grace (our salvation). The free gift was given on the condition that the recipients comply with the conditions that were necessary in order to benefit from the blessing of the gift.

The case of the cleansing (healing) of Naaman of his leprosy in 2 Kings 5 is a good commentary on how God works through His grace that is offered to the world. Naaman’s case illustrates the offer of the gift, but also the conditions that are placed on those who would enjoy the rewards of the offered gift.

A. By grace God offered Naaman healing.

Elisha sent a messenger to Naaman to tell him, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will come again to you and you will be clean” (2 Kg 5:10). Naaman’s initial reaction to the instructions for his healing was fury (2 Kg 5:11). He was furious because he did not agree with, or initially understand, God’s condition for his healing. He possibly thought that there should be no conditions to receive the blessing. He possibly thought that if he could be healed, then surely God could simply pronounce him healed. So he complained, “Behold, I thought he [Elisha] will surely come out to me and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God and strike his hand over the place and cure the leprosy” (2 Kg 5:11).

Thousands of people around the world today believe that they can either self-proclaim their own salvation, or have someone pronounce it for them. But this is not what God requires in order to be blessed with His grace. Both systems of proclamation are deceptive. We cannot self-proclaim our own salvation because such is a subjective pronouncement. If we would make such an arrogant self-proclamation, then it is subject to how we feel at the time we claim ourselves to be saved. Likewise, others cannot proclaim our salvation for us because we would be depending on the pronouncement of another person in order to have confidence in our salvation. Our salvation must be objectively proclaimed, that is, the pronouncement of our salvation must come directly from an objective reading of such in God’s word. Only God can proclaim our salvation. And this can be done only when we obey what He requires of us in order to be saved.

Naaman’s pride moved him to reason that there should be no conditions for the free gift of healing. Elijah could supposedly just proclaim himself to be healed. From what he said, Naaman wanted to establish his own conditions, which is the mistake many make in reference to God’s offer of grace today. They want the blessing of the grace without following the conditions for the reception of the gift. Some even think they can call on the preacher to call on God for their spiritual healing. But God’s grace is not appropriated in this manner.

In his fury, Naaman then offered an alternative to dipping in the muddy Jordan River. He complained to Elisha, “Are not Abanah and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” (2 Kg 5:12). Naaman’s mistake was to think that his cleansing was in the power of the water. He thus tried to change the water and still receive the blessing. But his healing would be given by the grace of God when he obeyed all the conditions for his healing, and not by any supposed power in the water of a convenient river. And if his healing were to be received, then he had to follow the required instructions to use the right water. The water was necessary, but the instructions concerning what water had to be followed.

When God gives the instructions concerning the reception of His blessing, then we do not have the right to change any of the conditions. God will allow no substitutions. If Naaman had been cleansed by dipping in the “better” waters of the Abanah and Pharpar, then we would assume that we too have the right to substitute the conditions upon which we can receive God’s blessing of grace.

We would also assume that there is some power in the water, as long as it is water. But when Naaman finally dipped in the right water in the right way, according to the instructions of God, it was then that he knew that God means what He says and says what He means in reference to receiving His blessings.

B. Naaman was cleansed by grace through faith.

The cleansing of Naaman was strictly by the grace of God. There was no possible way for Naaman to cleanse himself from leprosy. It was not within his power to bless himself with his own healing. The actual cleansing, therefore, was only by God’s grace. It was a free offer from God. However, Naaman’s faith had to move him to do that which God required of him to receive the free gift of cleansing. His healing only came by the power of God, who only can heal. His healing did not annul the necessity that he had to follow all of God’s instructions to access the gift. We must not forget this point.

No one would conclude that Naaman was healed by meritorious works when God told him to go dip seven times in the Jordan River. Neither would we say that he was healed by “faith and works.” Rather, he was healed by faith that worked to fulfill the instructions of God that were necessary in order for him to receive the blessing (See Gl 5:6). He did not receive the blessing of cleansing until he followed all the instructions (2 Kg 5:14). So until he followed all the instructions, he did not receive the blessing of God’s grace.

When Naaman’s faith eventually moved him to follow the instructions of God, then the free gift of cleansing was realized. He was thus healed “by grace through faith.” His dipping seven times in the Jordan was the expression of his obedient faith in order that he be blessed with the grace of being healed. This is exactly what James meant in James 2:22: “You see that [Naaman’s] faith was working with his works, and by works [to dip in the Jordan River] was faith made perfect.” In this way “a man is justified by works and not by faith only” (Js 2:24).

C. Naaman’s faith went to work.

Salvation is by grace through faith once faith goes to work in obedience to God’s instructions. The free gift of our cleansing of sin by God’s grace is not appropriated to our benefit until there is an expression of faith on our part. God’s cleansing through grace is His work on our behalf for our salvation. However, in order for His work through grace to have effect in reference to our salvation, it must be brought into effect in our lives through an expression of faith by following God’s conditions. Whatever condition God would give for the appropriation of grace to the salvation of the soul of the sinner must be followed in order for the work of God through grace to be applied. Following God-required conditions is not meritorious obedience. It is an expression of faith.

Now we must consider when Naaman’s faith brought the healing of his leprosy. Naaman’s faith in receiving the healing that would come from the grace of God first manifested itself when he heard that there was someone in Samaria who could possibly heal him (2 Kg 5:3). When he heard of the possibility of healing, he took ten talents of silver, 6,000 pieces of gold, and ten changes of clothing, and headed for Samaria. He wrongly assumed that he could purchase a free gift.

Naaman had faith that there was healing in Samaria, but his faith alone did not heal him. His faith did not “save” him from his leprosy until it was connected with what God required of him in obedience. His faith brought him to a knowledge of what would be required of him to receive the grace of healing. The power of the healing was not in his faith, but in the grace of God to heal. Therefore, his faith would have accomplished nothing toward his healing if he had not obeyed all the instructions that were necessary for his healing. Until there was an “obedience of faith” (Rm 1:5; 16:26), there could be no grace appropriated to the healing of his leprosy.

Since our salvation is by grace through faith, then our faith is of no consequence until it moves us to do all that God requires of us to receive the blessing of His grace. We cannot add to the conditions that God requires, neither can we subtract from them. Our faith must be expressed, demonstrated and manifested through our obedience to the conditions that God requires.

As previously stated, the above is the conclusion that we would derive from the context of James 2:14-26. James’ argument is not in reference to salvation by meritorious works. No one can meritoriously work in order to be saved, for no amount of good works can atone for a single sin. And for sure, no one can obey law perfectly in order to save himself. What James is discussing is that we cannot be saved by a faith that does not work. No unexpressed faith is acceptable to God. It is not acceptable because unexpressed faith repudiates the instructions of God concerning what one must do in order to be saved. Any conclusion in reference to our salvation by grace through faith that does not honor the will of God, will not move one to obey the instructions of God as to how one must access His grace.

James said, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and by works was faith made perfect” (Js 2:21,22). Paul added, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something about which to boast, but not before God” (Rm 4:2). Did James and Paul contradict one another? Certainly not! The proposition of Paul was that he was arguing against meritorious works of law, whereas James was arguing for obedient works that are an expression of faith. Paul’s argument against the Jews who sought to work meritoriously to save themselves would put God in debt to save. James’ works of faith express our thanksgiving for our salvation (See 2 Co 4:15). There is a difference between works that express faith and works that seek to merit salvation. Because many have not recognized this difference, they have had great difficultly in understanding Paul’s letter to the Romans and what James revealed in James 2.

In the context of Naaman’s healing, when Naaman’s faith moved him to do exactly what God told him to do, without any additions, substitutions or subtractions, then his healing by the grace of God was realized. The same principle applies to us today. God offers His grace, but until we comply with all instructions that He requires, we cannot access His saving grace. If He instructs us to “dip” in the waters of baptism, then that is exactly what we must do in order to be cleansed of our sin (See At 22:16). We must be dipped in the water, the water cannot be dipped over us.

[Next in series: Oct. 28]

Israel Accessed Grace

In Numbers 21:4-9 there is a case in the history of Israel that illustrates God’s healing grace. However, the healing of Israel at the time was based on the conditions that God prescribed.

At the time, the Israelites were in a state of rebellion against the authority and leadership of Moses. The people complained, “Why have you [Moses] brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, nor is there any water; and our soul loathes this miserable bread” (Nm 21:5). As punishment of the people for their rebellion against God’s sanctioned authority, Moses, “The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people” (Nm 21:6). The biting serpents subsequently brought the desired result. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned” (Nm 21:7).

The Lord heard the mournful pleas of the people. He then commanded Moses to “make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole” where it could be seen by all the people (Nm 21:8). However, in order for the people to procure healing (grace) from God’s offer, there was a condition: “And it will come to pass that everyone who is bitten, when he looks on it, he will live” (Nm 21:8). It was grace that provided the opportunity for healing. However, the condition was that the faith of the people had to move them to look upon the brass serpent for healing. Their faith had to move them to respond to the instructions for healing. If there were no movement, there would have been no healing.

God’s grace provides the opportunity for forgiveness. His opportunity for healing was communicated to the people. The people must have faith that what is provided by God will accomplish the desired forgiveness. And then, the people must act on their faith to receive the blessing of the opportunity that has been provided by grace. As there was no such thing as “faith only” healing of those who were bitten by the serpents in Israel, so there is no “faith only” healing from sin by those today who recognize that they are sinners. One must following the instructions of God in order to access the grace of God that is offered by the One who was lifted up on the cross two thousand years ago.

Through faith we have access to the atonement for our sins. The offer of atonement comes as a result of grace. But there must be a responsive faith on our part that moves us to “look upon” what God offers through grace in order that we access the blessing that comes through grace. It is for this reason that the Hebrew writer stated, “But 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 diligently seek Him” (Hb 11:6). If the believer makes no effort to come to the source of healing, then there is no reward.

The grace that provided salvation from the flood of Noah’s day was offered to Noah. The offer and acceptance is not unlike the grace that is offered by God today that we be delivered from the coming destruction of all humanity by fire. Those of Noah’s generation “were disobedient when the longsuffering of God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared” (1 Pt 3:20). As God offered a way of escape to those of faith when the ark was being prepared, He does the same today. Through His grace He offers a way of escape from the coming destruction (See 2 Th 1:7-9).

Notice what Peter said in applying the situation of Noah’s day to our’s today: “The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us” (1 Pt 3:21). As the waters of the flood washed away a sinful generation of Noah’s day, so the waters of baptism bring one into a realm of safety from the impending destruction that is coming (See 2 Th 1:7-9; 1 Pt 4:17). The comparison between the two cases is that Noah was saved by grace because of his obedient faith in response to God’s instructions concerning the building of the ark. The rebellious Israelites who were bitten by snakes that brought death were healed when they, by faith, were moved to look upon the serpent of brass that was made by Moses. Sinners today are saved through obedient faith when they obediently look to Jesus and respond to God’s instructions to be baptized for the remission of sins (At 2:38).

Noah and the Israelites were saved by an obedient faith, just as sinners today can be saved by obedient faith. But because Noah was saved through an obedient faith that moved him to follow the instructions of God to build the ark does not mean that he was meritoriously saved through works. Likewise, sinners today are not saved by meritorious obedience in following the instructions of God as to how one must access the grace of God. Obediently doing what God tells us to do is not meritorious obedience. It is an obedient response to the will of God. If such obedience were meritorious, then we could do nothing in following the Bible without it being meritorious obedience. Obeying God’s commands is a manifestation of our faith.

In the cases of Noah and Moses, faith and grace were consistently carried out in five simple steps in order to bring the condemned into a reconciled relationship with God. In the same manner, God brings all those who walk by faith into a saved relationship with Himself.

  1. God makes an offer to bless. Through grace, God offers reconciliation and life. God does not bless or condemn without first revealing how one is either blessed or condemned.
  2. The offer is communicated to those whom God seeks to bless. God communicates His offer to man through words of revelation. We cannot invent our own means by which we would accept God’s offer. With the offer also comes the consequential condemnation if one does not acept the offer.
  3. There must be faith in what one will realize as a result of obedience to the offer. We must have faith in what God has freely offered, for without faith in what God offers through grace, we will not respond to God’s offer of deliverance.
  4. One must respond with obedience. Through obedience that originates from faith one must comply with all that God would require of us to receive the free gift that comes through a grace offer.
  5. Obedience leads to reaping the benefits of the offered blessing. Upon obedience to the conditions to receive the free gift of grace, we reap the blessings of grace.

In reference to accepting the grace of God, this is the way it has always been since the beginning of time. This is the way it will always be until Jesus comes again. Any theology, therefore, that changes this simple plan as to how God works with man in reference to salvation, distorts the purpose of the cross and brings into question the sufficiency of the grace of God.

[Next in series: Oct. 26]

Noah Accessed Grace

Grace is always accessed by faith because God accepts no meritorious works on our part for the atonement of our sins. And since no one can keep law perfectly in order to demand salvation, salvation must always be based on grace. However, when we say that we access grace through faith we are referring to an obedience of faith whereby we respond to that which God offers through His grace. We would say that obedient faith is the means by which people have always come into the “graces” of God. When the faith of the faithful is mentioned throughout the entire Bible, we must always understand that reference is made to an obedient faith. Simply believing that God exists has never brought anyone into the favor of God. Only when one acts on his or her faith in obedient response to God, do they receive the blessings and promises of God that are offered by grace.

In our efforts to define the nature of obedient faith by which we access God’s grace, the text of Genesis 6:5-8 is a good commentary of a time when the grace of God needed to be offered. We are reminded in the New Testament that Noah acted on his faith. “By faith Noah, being warned by God of things not yet seen, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house” (Hb 11:7). His faith moved him to prepare for an impending judgment that God would bring upon the earth.

In the historical context of Noah’s day, God “saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth” (Gn 6:5). Because the population of the whole world was given over to sin, God said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Gn 6:7). But of all humanity, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gn 6:8). “Noah was a just man and blameless in his time. And Noah walked with God” (Gn 6:9). Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord because he obediently walked in the will of the Lord. God’s favor was based on his obedience.

Noah and his family were blessed in that they did not have to suffer the impending destruction that God would bring upon the earth and all humanity. The promise of Noah’s deliverance from the imminent destruction was an offer of grace. The destruction was coming, but Noah could not have delivered himself without walking in the instructions of God. Because he feared God, through his obedience of faith he prepared the ark. He accessed grace through an obedient walk.

The historical event of the flood of Noah’s day is the first commentary in the Bible that explains how God works through grace and faith. We can apply this example of Noah and the flood with the situation of all those who are in sin. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rm 3:23). Sin separates everyone from God (Is 59:2). Therefore, in order for God to remain just (righteous) in view of the fact that all have sinned, and are in danger of being eternally separated from Him, there must be a promise of escape from destruction that is based on the grace of God.

Because all people exist in a state of condemnation because of sin, there must be an escape from sin through pardon. Sin demands justice and judgment. In order for God to remain just (righteous) in view of the fact that all sin, He offers mercy and grace. However, the condition for accepting God’s pardon through grace is contingent on the fact that one believes in God to the point of responding to the offer of grace. In this way, Noah responded by building an ark. This is what Paul meant in Romans 3:25,26. God set forth Christ . . .

“. . . to be an atoning sacrifice by His blood through faith in order to declare His righteousness [justice] for the remission of sins in the past because of the forbearance of God, to declare at this time, I say, His righteousness that He might be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesul”.

God is declared just (righteous) because through His mercy He offers by grace the opportunity for deliverance from sin to those who are willing “to build an ark” for their salvation. He created us with the ability to make choices, and thus, in order for God to be declared righteous in view of the fact that we all sin, grace had to be offered.

God remained just in destroying the world of sinful humanity in the flood because He offered Noah a way of escape through the command to build an ark. On the other hand, the wicked world persisted in sin, though Noah continued to preach repentance throughout the time he was preparing the ark (1 Pt 3:20; 2 Pt 2:5). Noah’s generation that was destroyed in the flood, therefore, had no excuse for their lack of repentance (See Rm 1:18-23). In contrast to such a disobedient generation, by faith Noah responded to God’s warning by building the ark (Hb 11:7). God’s offer was salvation through the ark that was built as a result of Noah’s faith.

Grace made the means of salvation from the flood possible for Noah and his family. Faith moved him to build. In order for Noah to believe and build, there first had to be the revelation of how Noah could be delivered. The means of how he could be delivered from destruction came through grace. In order for God to remain just, Noah had to be told how he and his family could access the grace (salvation) of God. Saving grace, therefore, must be based on the following conditions:

  1. An announcement must be made. The impending action on the part of God must be announced to those to whom it will affect. In the case of Noah, God announced, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them. And behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gn 6:13).
  2. Instructions for deliverance must be given. Instructions must be given as to how one can access the grace of God. God said to Noah, “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood” (Gn 6:14).
  3. Obedient faith must move the faithful to accept the offer of God’s deliverance. Obedient faith moved Noah to access God’s offer. “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gn 6:8). However, Noah had to respond with faith to God’s graceful offer in order to be delivered from the flood. “By faith Noah, being warned by God of things not yet seen, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is according to faith” (Hb 11:7).

Noah’s family would never have been saved from the flood if Noah had never acted on his faith. Faith alone would have left him without a prepared ark for the salvation of his family. The offer of salvation from the flood was through grace, but the acceptance of the offer demanded that Noah obediently prepare the ark.

  1. Action must be taken on the part of the faithful. In order to access the grace of God, our faith must respond as Noah’s faith responded to the warning of God that destruction was coming upon the wicked. “Thus Noah did according to all that God commanded him” (Gn 6:22). This was Paul’s “obedience of faith” of which he reminded the Roman Christians (Rm 1:5; 16:26). It is a faith that follows the instructions of God as to how one can access God’s grace.

Acceptable faith is not meritorious. That is, faith must be in God, not in our ability to meritoriously perform in reference to law and works to earn God’s grace. If Noah were working meritoriously in order to save his family, then he would have had to know that there was a flood coming. He would have had to scheme his own method of deliverance, and thus, build the ark according to his own knowledge and skills in order to deliver himself from the flood waters.

God told Noah how He would bring destruction upon the wicked because of their rejection of His will (Gn 6:17). In God’s instructions, all the information Noah needed to know concerning the building of an ark was given in order that he deliver his family from the coming judgment. This was knowledge that could come only through revelation. And with the revelation of the coming flood about which Noah knew nothing in reference to its magnitude, Noah was also given knowledge as to how the ark was to be built. Through grace God not only reveals judgment that is coming, He also reveals how we can escape the judgment.

If Noah had not obeyed through faith the instructions given by God concerning the construction of the ark, then he could never have saved himself and his family. When God gives instructions concerning how one must access His grace, then we have no choice concerning the instructions that we must follow. We cannot subtract, substitute or ignore God’s instructions as to how we can access God’s grace.

Religion results from the desire of religiously oriented people to construction their own means by which they will access the grace of God. Through the meritorious performance of religious rites, rituals and ceremonies it is assume that the adherents of a particular religious group can earn the grace of God. The faith of the people, therefore, is in their legal performance of their religion rites, rituals and ceremonies, not in the grace of God who has explained how we are to respond to Him. For example, Jesus explained, “But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him” (Jn 4:23). The Father seeks “true worshipers” who worship Him according to how He seeks to be worshiped. In other words, we cannot “build a religion” by which we can assume our religion will save us. Our faith must be in God, not in our religion. Our worship must be according to what God seeks.

[Next in series: Oct. 24]

Book Release

[The following is the epilogue to the new book, Following Jesus Through Troubled Waters. In order to understand the message of this unique book, you might want to read through the following epilogue. It will give you a good idea about the content of the book. The theme of the book is directed to Christians who are struggling through the Covid-19 pandemic. This book may help in better understanding how Christians should rejoice in these times of great apprehension. We would encourage you to forward the book on to all your friends. You can download the book free through the following link.]

It is difficult to write an epilogue for a book as this. In many ways, we did not cover a great deal of expository Bible study in the book. On the contrary, we leaned more toward advice in reference to the present pandemic that is upon us throughout the world. If we lived in the early 1900’s during the Spanish influenza pandemic, we would have written in the same manner because of the impact the pandemic was having on the world at the time. The difference between then and now is that in those days there was little scientific research on the subject of pandemics. And besides this, there was not the news media throughout the world as there is today to inform us of the worldwide impact of the Covid-19 virus.

There is at least one good thing about the international news media of today. Combined with all the scientific research in reference to pandemics, the news media has educated all of us on the matter of the Covid-19 virus. Everyone who has kept up will all the news on the subject has become an “expert” in the field to the point that the experts are no longer functioning alone in the isolation of some obscure laboratory. What has been discovered in the laboratories today has been broadcast immediately to the entire world. The advantage of this is that we have all been informed concerning the Covid-19 virus. Though we have all been somewhat brought into a state of fear concerning the matter because of the world’s obsession with how Covid supposedly affects how we should be governed, as individuals we will learn how to deal with the pandemic. Humanity has a way of dealing with pandemics, and then, moves on.

Nevertheless, we have been informed concerning the insidious nature of this particular virus. The world survived the Spanish flu pandemic over one hundred years ago, and the world will do the same with this virus. We will survive. Thousands have already died, and thousands more will perish. But we are confident that civilization will survive, and carry on. This is especially true in reference to the church of our Lord.

Millions died from the Spanish flu pandemic, but at the time of this writing only hundreds of thousands have perished from the Covid-19 virus. This may change in the future, but not likely. Since many vaccines are being developed and will be administered to the general public worldwide, it seems unlikely that the world population will suffer anything close to what it suffered during the Spanish flu pandemic when over sixty million people perished worldwide.

One good thing that has come out of this pandemic is that we have all been informed concerning the system of inflection by which the Covid-19 virus moves among populations. Science has published enough information about the spread of this virus that all of us have been taught what health precautions we must take in order to guard ourselves, and the general public, from being infected with the virus. Since much of the world is as the population of Africa—over half the population of Africa lives in urban centers—there are some very important health measures that we are encouraged to take in order to protect ourselves and society as a whole. These are often common sense measures that should have been taught long before the arrival of Covid-19. The implementation of these health precautions will not only spare many from the Covid virus, but also from many other viruses that continually circulation among the populations of the world.

In reference to the Bible, we have all learned a very important truth. The general cleanliness principles of the Sinai law are as valid today as they were over four thousand years ago when they were given to Israel at Mount Sinai. If even these laws had been practiced as health measures today, we would have been spared the tragedy of many diseases that people suffer today. Though not a specific point of any Sinai precept, we too can wash our hands regularly in respect to those Sinai laws that deal with cleanliness. We can minimize body contact, especially contact with dead bodies. We can eat clean food, and food that is meant for human consumption. The Israelites needed no social distancing rules since they were all socially distanced from one another on farms that were scattered throughout Palestine. It is only when people started massing in urban centers did the problems surrounding worldwide epidemics begin to occur.

The scribes and Pharisees actually had a point when they came and complained to Jesus about the disciples of Jesus going to “McDonalds” in downtown Jerusalem and then not washing their hands before they ate their hamburgers and fries (chips). Unfortunately, they complained on the occasion in order to set a trap for Jesus by enforcing an application of the law that was foreign to the Sinai law. “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread” (Mt 15:2).

Of course the Sinai law said nothing about washing hands before eating bread. What the religious leaders had done was make a law in reference to the application of the laws that dealt with cleanliness. Where they went wrong was that they bound their applications (interpretations) of the law on the people. There was no specific precept in the Sinai law that commanded that one should wash his or her hands before eating. General cleanliness precepts were given, but the people had to be allowed to make a decision as to how they would apply the laws concerning cleanliness. The scribes and Pharisees implemented a good application in reference to not going to “McDonalds” and eating a hamburger without first sanitizing one’s hands. But their application was not a specific law. They only made their application (interpretation) of the law binding, and by doing such, they set aside the law itself.

Social distancing to contain the Covid-19 virus may be questionable since the contagion factor is still somewhat vague. Tuberculosis and influenza, as well as Covid-19, are all airborne viruses. However, tuberculosis and influenza are transmitted more by droplets, and not dispersed as an aerosol, that is, as a microscopic mist. And since the scientists are now concluding that the Covid-19 is an aerosol dispersed virus, then the social distancing formerly suggested by the scientific world must go far beyond the suggested two meters. In other words, the Covid-19 virus hangs in the air up to several meters away from the infected individual who coughs or sneezes. When the ambient temperature outside the human body is cooler than one’s body temperature, this means that the Covid-19 virus will hang in the air for a greater period of time in the winter than in the summer. If one is not in a ventilated area, the virus can just hang in the air, awaiting someone to pass through the mist and subsequently inhale from the unseen cloud of contamination.

When found on surfaces, it was first assumed that within 72 hours the Covid-19 virus died. But recent studies have revealed that in laboratory conditions, the virus has remained active for up to three weeks on surfaces. That is not encouraging when considering the contamination of indoor restaurants. But then the scientists have correctly suggested that all flat surfaces be sanitized. It is good to sanitize our hands, but it is an extra precaution to sanitize all the flat surfaces of public places, including buses and taxis.

Wearing a face mask in public places is good advice. It is good advice because millions of people have never been taught to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. In fact, it is quite amazing to discover how many people from childhood were never taught by their parents to wash their hands or cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. One advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the Ebola epidemic, is that people have been taught to be clean. The Sinai law taught the principle that “godliness is next to cleanliness”—this statement is not in the Bible—which principle of life should be taught from childhood. The principle was based on the fact that godliness entails obedience to God’s principles for cleanliness that were inherent in the cleanliness laws of the Sinai law.

Everyone should probably download and read the book, None of These Diseases that was written by Dr. S. I. McMillen and first published in 1962. Later editions were coauthored by Dr. David E. Stern. Over one million copies of this book have been sold. McMillen did a masterful job in going through the Sinai laws in order to point out how many of those laws were connected with diseases about which the world at that time had no knowledge. It was not until the arrival of modern science that the reason behind the Sinai cleanliness laws was revealed, and thus why God gave the laws in the first place. When those laws were taught to the Israelites, the people protected themselves from many diseases. We must do the same in our world today which is overpopulated in many urban centers around the world.

If God was concerned about the health of His people throughout the Old Testament, then He is still concerned today. Since the giving of the Sinai law to the Israelites, we have learned a great deal about diseases and infections, which things the Israelites never knew. By learning how diseases and infections are transmitted from one person to another, we have learned why God prescribed for His people certain instructions in the Sinai law to prevent the transmission of such, and subsequently, germs and viruses that cause diseases. We are without excuse today if we scientifically know what causes many diseases and infections, and yet ignore taking the advice of the scientific community as to how to avoid such diseases and infections.

If the Israelites did not maintain the “cleanliness laws” of the Sinai law, then they were without excuse for breaking the Sinai law as a whole, though God never explained the purpose why He gave the laws concerning cleanliness. The Israelites may not have understood the reasons why the cleanliness laws were given, nevertheless, they had to keep the laws regardless of the scientific reasons for the laws that we know today.

If we violate cleanliness laws today that are explained to us by the scientific community, we are not breaking the law of God, as was the case with Israel. However, we are revealing that we are somewhat foolish by knowingly violating those principles of cleanliness that will aid in our continued health. Violating cleanliness rules simply because we believe that God will take care of us, leans on the side of foolishness, if not tempting God. If we become ill because we willingly violated cleanliness rules, then we cannot blame God. The science of health is a blessing from God. Honoring rules of good health is common sense. One may not have been taught some of the common rules of good health when young, but it is time to educate ourselves on these matters. It is now as Paul wrote. “When I was a child I spoke as a child. I understood as a child. I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Co 13:11). It is now a time for one to educate himself or herself in reference to healthy living, and thus put away the ignorance of childhood in reference to one’s own health and the health of others. This is the implementation of love in which Paul wrote the preceding statement.

Unmerited Favor Of God

The Greek word for grace is charis. It is a word that was used with various shades of meaning in the New Testament: “And the Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the grace [charis] of God was upon Him” (Lk 2:40). “Now Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor [charis] with God and man” (Lk 2:52). “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace [charis] of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia” (2 Co 8:1). “And when I come, whomever you may approve by letters, these will I send to carry your gift [charis] to Jerusalem” (1 Co 16:3).

Depending on the context, the word charis usually carries with it the meaning of “favor,” “unmerited favor,” or “free gift.” In the context of our salvation, it is God’s unmerited favor, or free gift, that He extends to us, which favor comes as a result of our obedient faith. It is a gift that cannot be earned. In other words, one cannot put God in debt to pay one for his obedience to God’s laws, or his good works (See Rm 4:4).

The use of the word “grace” was illustrated in the actions of the Gentile Christians of Macedonia who sent their “grace” contribution to the Jewish famine victims of Judea (2 Co 8:1-4). Since the Jewish brethren in Judea were suffering from a famine, they could not pay for the “gift” that came their way through the generosity of the Gentile brethren. The gift had to be received without debt.

Historically, the Gentile brethren had every reason to resent the Jews. The Jews had historically been arrogant toward the “pagan” Gentiles. However, when both Jews and Gentiles came together in Christ, love prevailed and favor (grace) was poured out on the Jewish brethren by the Gentile brethren who were in need during a severe famine in Judea. This is grace. In our time of need in reference to our salvation, God let love prevail, and subsequently grace was extended.

John wrote of grace as an historical event. “For the [Sinai] law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17). Though the grace of God has existed since the creation of Adam, John’s emphasis was on the revelation of grace through the sacrificial offering of Jesus on the cross. This is what Paul explained in Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Grace is God’s gift to man that appeared through Jesus Christ. Grace meant that there could never be some system of repayment. Grace was free and unearned.

It was the event of the appearing of the grace of God that was prophesied by the prophets. “Of this salvation [by grace], Peter wrote, “the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ who was in them did signify” (1 Pt 1:10,11). In other words, though God extended His grace to His people who lived before the cross, His grace could never be understood without a demonstration. And that demonstration finally showed up in the manger of a barn in a small village of Bethlehem.

The word “lovingkindness” is used in the Old Testament to refer to grace. “Lovingkindness” is a combination of two words that was used by translators to define the action of grace in the Old Testament. Since God is “loving,” it is only natural that He should extend “kindness” to His creation.

Grace is the lovingkindness of God toward man, which grace was prophesied by the prophets and revealed through the gospel event. It is God’s unmerited gift that He continues to extend to man in order to bring us into His fellowship. It is His steadfast love toward His creation. Under the Old Testament law grace was revealed in God’s steadfast patience with His people in their rebellious walk away from Him. Though the greater portion of Israel went into apostasy, there was always the remnant of faith who remained committed to God. God’s lovingkindness (grace) continued with this remnant of faithful people to the time when a personal revelation of grace could be made known through Jesus.

We must not make the mistake of thinking that the grace of God did not exist from the beginning when the first free-moral individual was created. The intensity of grace was revealed in the advent of the incarnate Son of God on the cross, though God from the beginning of time always worked with those of faith through grace. It is necessary to understand that grace was working in the lives of the Old Testament heroes of faith, for they too could not live without sin before God. God’s grace at any time in history was demonstrated at the cross. Since the cross had to be a point in time, grace would extend before and after the cross. This is the thought that was in the mind of Paul when he wrote, “God has set forth [Jesus] to be an atoning sacrifice by His blood through faith in order to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins in the past [before the cross] because of the forbearance of God [of all who lived before the cross]” (Rm 3:25).

Under the New Testament covenant, we speak of grace as a past event of history. This was Paul’s point in the statement of Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” The cross in our past was the appearing of the grace of God. It was the revelation of the favor that God has always had for those who walk by faith. Grace is thus “the gift of God” (Ep 2:8). It is as Paul explained in Romans 5:15: “But the free gift is not as the offense. For if by the offense of one many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Jesus was the gospel demonstration of God’s grace toward man. He was God’s free gift of grace for the salvation of all those of all history who came and would come to God through obedient faith.

The necessity of God’s grace was revealed because of the total inability on the part of man to deliver himself through meritorious religiosity from his own predicament of sin. In other words, there could be no system of religious rites, rituals or ceremonies that we could perform in order to earn our salvation. There could be no amount of good works by which we could appease God for our sins, or place God in debt to reward us with eternal life. Romans 4:4 is always true in reference to our problem of sin: “Now to him who works [meritoriously], the reward [of salvation] is not credited according to grace, but according to debt.”

Sin moved man so far away from God, that God had to come all the way from heaven to the cross in order to reconcile man unto Himself (See Ph 2:5-11). The event of God’s grace on the cross is magnified by the impossibility of man to reconcile himself unto God through either law keeping or meritorious works. All have sinned (Rm 3:23). All have been unable to keep law perfectly, and thus all men are lawbreakers (1 Jn 3:4). We are lawbreakers to the point of being in bondage to our own sin (Rm 7:7-20). Before contacting the blood of the crucified Son, we were all sinners by the nature of the ways of this world, and thus lost in sin (Ep 2:1-3). But in a state of hopelessness in a world of sin, God intervened with the event of the cross (Ep 2:12). “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8).

The only possible way for mankind to be delivered from a state of sin was that God had to give freely the gift of grace through Jesus Christ. God came into this world through Jesus in order that we might become the righteousness of God through grace. “For He has made Him who knew no sin to be sin on behalf of us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Co 5:21). Jesus was the revelation of the grace of God. Through Jesus, God opened the heavenly door in order that we might truly see the opportunity of entering the presence of God (See Rm 3:21-26; 5:12-21). Buddha, Confusius, Muhammad and many others religious leaders were great leaders. However, none of these leaders every claimed to be a substitutionary offering on behalf of the God of heaven for the sins of their followers. Religious leaders have sought to instruct their followers to live more in harmony with their fellow man. However, their function as religious leaders was never to be an offering for the sins of the followers.

Because of grace, we must conclude that God is righteous. Since He is our Creator, He must take responsibility for creating us as free-moral individuals with the ability to make choices. Since no person cannot live without sin, then no one could be saved if God did not step in with His grace. If He had not stepped in on our behalf at the cross, then God would be judged a fiendish God for creating us in the first place. Therefore, our response to His free gift of grace through Jesus reveals that He is a righteous God. We are the signal of His righteousness to the world because we have free-morally responded to His grace.

The glory of grace is that it was revealed through the event of the cross without our expectation, for we were all by nature the children of wrath, and thus, dead in our sins. “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). The event of the cross was a surprise to those who knew that they were lost in sin. Though the Jewish disciples were expecting an earthly king who would redeem them from foreign occupation (At 1:6), the purpose for which Jesus came was to redeem humanity from sin, not from political oppression. The disciples’ deliverance was not from earthly powers, but from the spiritual powers of darkness (See Ep 1:18-22).

When the resurrected Jesus talked with the two men on the road to Emmaus, “their eyes were restrained so that they would not know Him” (Lk 24:16). Without recognizing who Jesus was, they spoke with Him of “things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Lk 24:19). But they said nothing concerning the salvational event of the cross. As the apostles, they too did not associate the event of the cross with the revelation of God’s grace. They understood the cross redemption only when the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles and all the world that the cross event was the revelation of the grace of God. This did not take place until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in Acts 2.

At first the crucifixion of Jesus was only an historical event that crushed the hopes of the disciples in a king who would possibly deliver them from Roman oppression (Lk 24:21). But when the Spirit revealed that the cross was the revelation of God’s Suffering Servant for the salvation of all men, then the significance of the cross became more than a tragedy. It became the hope of the world.

Faith is the response of those who were before their obedience to the gospel, mourning over their sin. Faith caused rejoicing over the grace event of the cross. Our faith is in the Redeemer on the cross, for we believe that His crucifixion was more than the martyrdom of a great religious leader. It was the revelation of God’s gift to all men. Since we could not deliver ourselves out of our bondage of sin, God sent the offering of His only begotten Son. Faith in this gospel event will result in our salvation from our death in sin. Obedient faith brings us into the realm of God’s grace. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rm 5:1,2). It is for this reason that faith moves sinners to do all that God would require in order to come into His realm of grace. This was why Paul asked the Christians in Rome, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Rm 6:3).

The sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross was the advent of God’s grace into this world. In order for one to reap the salvational blessings of this gospel event, he or she must be crucified and baptized with Jesus into His death for the remission of sins (At 2:38). Our entrance into the realm of God’s grace occurs when we go to the cross and grave with Jesus in baptism, and then come forth to walk in newness of life with Him (Rm 6:3-6).

[Next in series: Oct. 22

Misunderstood Simplicity (B)

We need to understand in as simple terms as possible the events of the gospel. When we use this word, we are referring to the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and present kingdom reign of Jesus, the Son of God. Without going into detail in explaining every event of what Jesus did for us in order that we have the opportunity to join Him in eternity, we suggest that the reader download Book 79, Gospel Restoration, from the Biblical Research Library at the following website:

An unfortunate misunderstanding centers around how people have failed to understand the gospel in the context of the New Testament. To many the word is erroneously used to refer to law. For example, when someone would say, “We must obey the gospel,” what is often meant is that we must obey the law of God. But this understanding is contrary to the gospel itself as it is revealed in the New Testament. The fact that one would use the word “gospel” to refer to a legal system of law is a denial of the gospel itself.

Immediately after Jesus returned from His fast in the wilderness, He “came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God” (Mk 1:14). Does this mean He started preaching the law of God? Is the gospel just another system of law that must be meritoriously obeyed? If it were, then the Jewish audience to whom Jesus preached would have understood that He was just preaching another system of law, as opposed to the Sinai law under which they sought to justify themselves before God.

The English word “gospel” was used by translators to translate the Greek word euaggelion. This word simply means “good news.” But if the word “gospel” means law, then it would not be good news. Law is not good news simply because no one can keep law perfectly in order to save himself. There are no perfect law-keepers who are saved, no, not one (Rm 3:9,10). In fact, Paul said he lived until law came: “For without law, I was once alive. But when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rm 7:9).

Paul told Peter that because they could not be justified by law-keeping, they fled to Christ (Gl 2:16). In view of the early Jewish Christians’ attempt to be delivered from law, and thus, sin and death, why would the Holy Spirit supposedly use the word “gospel” as a reference to another system of law under which one would again be brought into bondage because it too could not be obeyed perfectly? In other words, in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 Paul revealed that Jesus was coming from heaven to destroy from the presence of God all “those who have not obeyed the gospel.” Did he mean that those who had not obeyed every point of law would lose their souls? Did he infer, therefore, that the gospel, if it is law, must be obeyed perfectly in order for one not to suffer destruction from the presence of the Lord?

When Jesus began His ministry, He stated the good news (gospel) that He had arrived and was going to the cross in order to reveal the grace of God by which men could be saved. Little by little throughout His earthly ministry He taught the people about the coming grace, though His first disciples did not understand the good news (gospel) of the cross until after the event.

As Paul explained briefly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, the gospel was the revelation of the death of the incarnate Son of God for our sins. It was His resurrection for our hope. This was an act of grace on the part of God, not law. This all happened in history before one word was written of the New Testament. This was the grace of God that was revealed as an event on a cross outside Jerusalem. Obedience to the gospel does not refer to obedience to another system of law whereby one would seek to justify himself before God. Obedience to the gospel is joining with Jesus on the cross, in the tomb, and in His resurrection (See Rm 6:3-6). Our obedience to the gospel is a response to the grace of God that was revealed at the cross over two thousand years ago (2 Co 4:15; Ti 2:11). The “truth of the gospel” is the offering of Jesus for our sins on the cross (See Cl 1:5; Gl 2:5,14). So hereafter when we speak of “obedience to the gospel,” we are not referring to obedience to another system of law, but to a response to the grace of God that was revealed through the death, burial, resurrection, ascension and reign of the incarnate Son of God. We obey this gospel by our own repentance, burial and resurrection from the grave of water.

Somewhere between the extremes and misunderstandings concerning grace, there must be a simple understanding of God’s grace that is important and central to Christian faith. We would not for a moment believe that what is so important concerning our salvation would be difficult to understand. Because some have developed their own theologies on grace in reaction to legal religiosity, we must caution ourselves when we come to the New Testament in order to study this subject. We must guard our objectivity by allowing the word of God to speak for itself. We must assume that understanding the grace of God is not difficult simply because God wants us to be assured of our salvation. Grace should bring comfort, not theological confusion. Grace brings peace of mind in reference to our relationship with God. We must assume, therefore, that the Holy Spirit’s teaching on the subject is so clear that even the novice student of the Bible can understand the truth of the matter.

[Next in series: Oct. 20]

Misunderstood Simplicity (A)

Grace is the love of God that reaches out to all humanity through the gospel. It was revealed through the cross of His incarnate Son. If we delete any part of the gospel mission of the Son of God, then there is no grace. Therefore, if we ignore Jesus, there is no grace. Jesus Christ was Isaiah’s Suffering Servant of God (Is 52:13-15; 53). He was the very illustration of God’s grace toward humanity.

In all the discussions throughout history concerning grace, some seem to have had difficulty in understanding the revelation and demonstration of God’s grace through the incarnation and cross. But if we obediently respond with faith in the incarnate, crucified and resurrected Son, then we are on our way to understanding the motivating power of the gospel (2 Co 4:15; 5:14).

A. Martin Luther and grace:

In his struggle against the sale of indulgences—that contributions could be made to the Catholic Church in order to buy the right to sin—Martin Luther struggled to harmonize grace and works as they were revealed through Paul and James. Luther had difficulty understanding the concept of an obedience faith in response to the grace of God. In his reaction to the sale of indulgences, he referred to the book of James as “an epistle of straw.” He assumed that James was supposedly promoting meritorious justification by works alone. Since Luther obsessed over justification by faith, he misunderstood Paul’s focus on faith and grace. He thus sought to ignore the principle of obedient works of faith that was taught by James. Rather than reconciling James’ justification by works with Paul’s justification by faith, Luther came up with the teaching that salvation is by faith alone. In his reaction to the Roman Catholic church selling the right to sin, Luther went to the extreme to teach that faith eliminated all works in reference to one’s salvation, and thus, he affirmed that salvation was by faith alone.

Paul’s emphasis on grace was certainly intended by the Holy Spirit. In his life before the waters of baptism in Damascus, Paul was breathing murderous threats against the disciples (At 9:1). But after his cleansing by the grace of God in the waters of baptism (At 22:16), who else would be the obvious choice to write concerning the wonderful grace of God? If grace could save the chief of sinners, then it could save anyone.

In his teaching on faith and grace, Paul did not become antinomian as many writers have unfortunately become on this subject. Antinomism is the teaching that through faith and grace one is relieved of all responsibility toward law. In his teaching on faith and grace, however, Paul did not teach that grace covers the sin of the saint to the point that it makes no difference what one believes or how one behaves in reference to law. Therefore, Paul affirmed, we will not sin in order that grace may abound (Rm 6:1). Paul always maintained an inseparable connection between grace and obedience. He always taught that obedience was a manifestation of faith, not a meritorious effort to justify ourselves in response to the cross. As there is no such thing as self-sanctification through meritorious works of law, neither is there any such thing as meritorious self-justification by works in reference to sin.

B. Augustine and grace:

Augustine promoted one of the most interesting concepts of grace. He believed that all men were born totally depraved, and thus, unable to respond to the will of God. He believed that it was not within the ability of any person to make a free-moral choice to respond to the call of God through His grace. According to Augustine, therefore, salvation came only as a result of God making individual choices as to who would be given unmerited (unearned) grace and who would not. Augustine taught that one does not merit the ability to choose his salvation through obedience. Those who would be saved have already been chosen by God. Such is an insidious teaching that is a direct attack against the very character of God. The teaching assumes that God is fiendish in allowing people to be born into this world who do not have the ability to respond by faith to the love of God. Babies who are not chosen for eternal life are thus condemned to hell, even at the time of their birth.

C. John Calvin and grace:

John Calvin accepted the core of Augustine’s belief on the supposed inability of individual to free-morally respond to the love of God. He thus promoted the teaching that the grace of God was limited only to those whom God had chosen individually for eternal life. Subsequently, salvation was limited only to those whom God unconditionally elected. Calvin believed that before the world was created, God individually elected those who would be saved. Everyone else would be rejected. And since God has already elected those who will go to heaven, then His grace is limited only to these individuals who have been chosen.

Calvin’s teaching means that God’s grace is not a part of the universal call of God to all men through the gospel. In fact, Calvin’s teaching nullifies the great commission and the preaching of the gospel to the world in order that all people respond to the gospel with a penitent heart. Those of this belief—commonly referred to as Calvinism—contend that it is only the responsibility of the evangelist to inform the individually elected in the world that they are already saved. Their gospel message is only an announcement of salvation, not a call to repentance through the preaching of the gospel.

Because some could not accept the fact that one was lost if he did not have an opportunity to hear and obey the gospel, another possibility had to be invented in order to get good people into heaven. Therefore, in response to the teaching of Calvin, some came up with the doctrine of universalism. The universalist contends that grace is unconditionally appropriated to all men, and thus all men will be saved, regardless of whether they have the opportunity to hear and obey the gospel. Salvation, therefore, is by grace alone, apart from any conditions of law that God would require on the part of any individual.

[Next in series: Oct. 18]

YouTube Posts

As a notice to all those who are reading the blogs, I wanted to make an announcement about the new YouTube channel that I have established. I wanted a platform where I could post the many videos that I have posted throughout the years, especially the “On The Road Series.” You can now go to my YouTube channel and view the past videos.

I will be starting a new series of teaching videos in the months to come. But for now, I am trying to repost all the past videos. Be sure to go to the channel at “Dr. Roger E. Dickson” and subscribe. When you subscribe, YouTube will notify you when a new video is published. You can click the link below and go there to see what’s up:

Fabric of Civilization (G)

• Committed to community: We were recently contacted by the chairman of a political party in the country of Namibia. We have known Festus Thomas, the chairman of this party, for many years, having spent many nights in his home enjoying the hospitality of himself and his sweet wife. As the chairman of the Christian Party of Namibia, he sits in the Namibian parliament for the purpose of promoting the objectives of the Christian Party. He subsequently argues on behalf of the people he represents from the perspective of Christian principles.

Representative Thomas recently contacted us in order to inform us that the Namibia parliamentary leaders recently met in reference to the possible banning church assemblies throughout the country because of the Covid-19 virus. Festus wanted to inform us that their party won their case, and thus the churches of Namibia would not be ban from assembly throughout the country because of the pandemic. Churches would be allowed to make their own decisions concerning how they would meet, and what precautions they would take in order to protect their members. But the government would not be allowed to hand down any government mandates to terminate church assemblies. The government voted to stay out of the function of the churches.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in many countries of the world that are ruled by atheistic government officials, specifically in those democratic governments of the West where politicians must please atheistic voters. Such governments see no problem with restricting church assemblies. They will often allow pubs to be opened, but ban religious assemblies.

We can appreciate the concern of governments to establish guidelines in reference to all assemblies in order that the citizens be protected from viral infections that are air borne. However, it is interesting to note that South Africa is the most tuberculosis infected nation of the world, with over seventy thousand deaths resulting each year because of this infection. But with such an infected population, the government has never considered banning church assemblies in order to protect the people, neither have face masks been mandated to be worn in public by those infected with tuberculosis.

Some restrictions in reference to air borne viruses are possible in Western countries, but quite impossible in most societies of the developing world. Large cities in developing world environments have populations that are very congested. In these situations, people simply cannot be banned from being together in their communities. This is a reality in the major cities of these countries, and thus the possibility of banning people from socializing with one another is simply not possible. We must be careful, therefore, not to make moral judgments of those nations who cannot carry out in their normal everyday lives Western restrictions in reference to social distancing.

We must not forget that the emotional psychology of human behavior determines the very core of how societies function. When this psychology is attacked by a moral norm that is contrary to God’s moral standards, then society as a whole is under attack. And when the societies within a civilization become unglued with detrimental social norms that are contrary to God, then we know that a civilization is on the brink of decline, if not extinction. And once a civilization morally implodes, then those who survive must pick up the pieces of human fragments and start building again. If one does not believe this, then we would suggest that a good study of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire be in order. Better yet, it would be good to study again how God had to start human civilization over again with only eight people after the global flood of Noah’s day (See Gn 6 – 9).

We were recently in a telephone conversation with a member of the church on the other side of the world. This was a member of a church that before the pandemic days, had an assembly attendance on Sunday morning of about four hundred people. When the pandemic struck, and the elders of the church introduced safety measures in order to protect the body from self-infection, they disbanded the assembly for a few weeks. They did so because most of the members were aged people who had known one another for decades. They were close friends who had known one another for many years. Therefore, the leaders of the church, in agreement with the church, implemented safety measures in order to protect the aged members in reference to any large single assembly on Sunday morning. The members went to meeting in their homes.

This particular church normally met in a building that they had constructed over a half century ago. But health restrictions that were suggested by the medical people of the country encouraged churches to refrain from large congested single assemblies. So this and many other single-assembly churches complied with the suggestions.

Once they returned to a single assembly, they organized their assembly in order to maintain social distancing as best as possible when meeting in the building. As families, they spaced themselves apart from one another in the assembly. If they had to go to two assemblies, they did in order that each family not have to sit close to other families.

But what was a pleasant surprise to us was what this particular member of this church said to us over the telephone. We commented, “We are supposing that the aged members are remaining at home in order to protect themselves. They are the most vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus.” However, the informant member on the other end of the line said, “No, it is the aged who are coming, and the younger are staying away.”

Now that was certainly surprising. Nevertheless, it was quite revealing, and understandable. The older members had for decades formed close friendships with one another. To them, it was not about attendance on Sunday morning in order to comply with some tradition nor legal mandate. It was about long-term friends having the opportunity every Sunday to meet together in worship of God. This was a beautiful testimony to Christian friendship, and the true intent of what the Holy Spirit meant for us to understand from His statements in Hebrews 10:24,25. These older Christians certainly did not show up because it had been ingrained in their conscious to be obedient to some legal doctrine of attendance. On the contrary, they were in love with one another because of decades of mutual friendships. And so it should be.

We would assume that the younger members would develop such friendships in the coming years. Unfortunately, when similar church assemblies were banned in Western churches because of the pandemic, and then restarted, church leaders discovered that about twenty percent of the attendees never came back. The reason they never came back is that they were never there in the first place. “Church attendance” was simply a legal matter, not a reunion of friends on Sunday morning.

So we would conclude that Christians who are in love with one another will always find a way to be with one another. It is their inherent nature, not a command that they would obey. If one’s attendance to church assemblies is still focused on obedience to some legal command, then he or she still does not get the point of the assembly of the saints. Those aged members of the preceding illustration got the point. Their attendance was based on old friends enjoying worship together.

Regardless of any restrictions that may be placed on old friends in reference to protecting themselves from air borne viruses, old Christian friends will always be committed to one another. It is easy for atheistic societies as England and Europe to implement strict measures in reference to social distancing in church assemblies. But when Christians want to remain in contact with one another, they will find a way.

It may be that for a time, as in wars and pandemics, Christians being together may be highly restricted. Nevertheless, they will in some way find a way to associate with one another. This has happened for centuries, and will continue. Fortunately, Christians today in the West have the advantage of the Internet. But this has been a blessing only in the last twenty years. Throughout world history until about twenty years ago, Christians were out of contact with one another during times of great social distress. In fact, the Holy Spirit even suggested that Christians in some areas forgo marriage because of the social distress that had been imposed on the Christian community because of Nero’s reign of terror against Christians in Rome during the 60s. In this case, Paul suggested,

Now concerning virgins [who are not married], I have no commandment of the Lord. However, I give my opinion as one who has obtained mercy by the Lord to be trustworthy. Therefore, I suppose that this is good because of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry [in these times of distress] you have not sinned. And if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless, such will have trouble in the flesh. I am trying to spare you (1 Co 7:25-28).

After Paul wrote the preceding words, social distress would eventually increase against Christians in the Roman Empire. By the end of the first century, and into the second century, Christianity would be made illegal. The result of this in the city of Rome was that those Christians who lived there would eventually have to socially distance themselves in the catacombs (caves) beneath the city of Rome. Some Christians lived and died in the catacombs, while some were caught and thrown to lions in the coliseum for the entertainment of a truly ungodly society. Nevertheless, the power of the gospel eventually prevailed throughout the Roman Empire because Christians refused to be subjugated to the control of government. They chose to serve God above man. The same will happen today. It is simply true in all ages of history that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rm 8:37). That statement was first written to Christians in Rome. It is still true today because He who works in us is greater than he who is in the world.

(End of series. The book will be forthcoming.]