Archive for February, 2010

O Why Not Tonight? A Microcosm of Religion in the South

February 25, 2010

February 25, 2010 – I have decided to post some of the “better” articles from my old Blogger blog.  This one was originally posted in May, 2006.  Here it is, unedited, with the intro I wrote then.

Just for fun, I decided to post this little story I wrote a few months ago. I hope you enjoy it. It’s pretty much all fiction, but it does have a basis in fact. My dad, mother, and I did attend gospel meetings a lot when I was a teenager in the sixties. The pattern for the church building (“meeting house”) is a rural church I preached part-time at from 1971 to 1977. It’s near Vernon, Alabama.

By the way, there really is a Debbie Knight, but I met her at school, not church. She’s a “Brown” now. We’ve been married for 33 years come June 14, 2006. Every minute has been great.

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O Why Not Tonight?
A Microcosm of Religion in the South

It is July, 1963; 8:00 in the evening. I am fourteen years old. It is just now getting good dark. My parents and I have gone to the Meeting House and are seeking revival.

The song of a hundred crickets drifts unimpeded through the open windows of the aging building and forms a primal harmony with the baritone strains of the preacher’s sixty-five year old voice as he exhorts the faithful to forsake the tug of the world and reach upward for the unseen glories of Beulah Land. The church building is situated in a grove of mixed pines and hardwoods on a small rise just off a county road. The wet forest smell created from the late afternoon July rain permeates the one roomed white frame building as it sits obligingly on its stone pillars. The sensory cocktail produced from the cricket’s song, the preacher’s voice, the aroma of the damp woods, and the occasional shuffle of a church member’s feet on the hardwood floor under one of the twelve even harder pine board pews creates a memory that has remained riveted in my mind for over forty years.

It was a pleasanter time. And a simpler one. And perhaps there’s a connection. You figure it out. Anyway, back to the lecture at hand, it was a crucial part of my coming of age in rural north Alabama. Want to go back there with me?

We arrive at the building in our Ford Galaxie 500 ten minutes before the service begins. We find a place in the unmarked graveled area in front and to one side of the Meeting House and Dad parks the car. I am the first to exit the vehicle. The thirty-foot walk to the front door is slightly upgrade and some of the older ladies are moving cautiously in the loose gravel, while escorted by their husbands. I speak politely to them. “Good afternoon, mam.” The older men and I engage in the obligatory handshakes. “I’m fine, sir, how are you?” The local minister, a young man about ten years my senior, greets us on the porch at the open door of the building. I enter. The visiting preacher is waiting near the first pew just inside. He gives the men a firm handshake and smiles pleasantly at the ladies as he bows slightly.

I have a dual mission as I begin to walk slowly down the center aisle. I’ve come to worship. But I’ve also come to look for the young daughter of one of the families in the community. I spot her at once, and she scares the daylights out of me. She’s sitting quietly in the second pew from the back, just in front of where I am now standing. She has the prettiest long brown hair that I have ever seen. I catch a hint of her perfume, and imagine I can hear her soft breathing. All at once, I begin to feel light-headed and short of breath. To avoid the unthinkable – having to actually speak to her – I move rapidly down the aisle toward the front of the building while pretending to look for someone or something, I neither knew nor cared which, on the other side of the plank-walled room. In a few seconds I was safe, having avoided eye contact with the lovely creature, and took my seat. “Debbie Knight,” even her name was magnificent. Why was I so afraid of girls, and especially that girl? I was convinced I was doomed to bachelorhood.

Presently, the young minister mounted the small pulpit and addressed the assembled group. Visitors were welcomed, members were expected, the sick were announced, and the guest preacher was praised. When the local minister finished and sat down, the song leader arose and took his position in front of the pulpit. He announced, “Number 224, Amazing Grace,” and began leading the congregation in acappella singing of the old hymn. Most did not need a song book, as the words had become a part of their memory since childhood. After a couple of songs, an old and venerable gentleman stood up and led a lengthy prayer. The sick were called by name and petitions for their recovery were submitted. Any sinners in the assembled crowd were fervently prayed for, that they might repent before it was everlastingly too late. When the aged brother was finished, he took his seat, and the guest speaker moved to his position behind the pulpit. His sermon lasted an hour. He spoke of God’s love and grace, of faith that could move a mountain of sin, of baptism to wash the sins away, and of the fires of an eternal hell that awaited all who would spurn the invitation. When the sermon was concluded, the congregation rose to their feet and sang the invitation song, O Why Not Tonight. One young man of fifteen years responded and was immersed in the baptistery slightly above and behind the pulpit.

With the service concluded, everyone filed out the front door through which they had entered the building an hour and a half before. The young man was congratulated on his conversion and the guest preacher commended for his magnificent lesson. Neighbors visited in the cool night air and discussed the weather and that year’s cotton crop. By and by, all returned to their cars and pickup trucks and made their way to their homes, resolved to come back tomorrow night and do it all again. I rode home with my parents and contemplated becoming a preacher when I grew up.

By the way, I finally found my nerve. Debbie and I have been married for over thirty years. God’s grace is truly amazing.

John Brown
December 9, 2005

Catharsis

February 25, 2010

Psalms 137
1 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion.
2 We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it.
3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the LORD’S song In a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill!
6 If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth-If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy. (NKJV)

Here in the land of plenty, we wept when we remembered our Christ.
Our four-wheel drive pickups sit in our three car garages beside our wife’s Mercedes.
Our son quarterbacks the football team, our daughter is the head cheerleader.
The longings of our hearts have been met and exceeded.
We have willingly sold ourselves as captives to the expectations of others.
They have plundered our dignity and raped our innocence.
We remained enslaved to their desires which we have adopted as our own.
If I forget you, O Yahweh,
If I do not cleave to you, my Messiah,
May you remind me of Your steadfast lovingkindness with the firmness of Your hand.
May my eyes behold what endures, and ignore what does not.
May purifying coals of fire be heaped upon my head, if I do not exalt You, my Lord and my Savior, as King of my life.

(This is a re-post from my old Blogger blog…John)

If You Build it, They will Come

February 21, 2010

Perhaps you remember that quote from “Field of Dreams.”  But, I’m not talking about a baseball field.  I’m talking about a Christian life.

The Bible talks about building our life on Christ here:

1 Corinthians 3:14 NKJV 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it (the foundation of Christ) endures, he will receive a reward.

We are to build our life in/on Christ here:

Ephesians 2:22 NKJV 22 in whom (Christ) you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Christians are to walk in and be built up in Christ here:

Colossians 2:6-7 NKJV 6 As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.

When others see me they are supposed to see Jesus.  My life is to be Christ’s life.  Jesus was the perfect embodiment of God’s commands in the Old Testament.  He kept not only the letter of the Torah, but the spirit of it as well.  He particularly exemplified this proverb:

Proverbs 3:3 NKJV 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart,

Jesus also understood that proper obedience required a proper attitude as taught here:

Joel 2:13 NKJV 13 So rend your heart, and not your garments….

I must take my Christianity seriously.  Repentance and contrition must be a way of life.  Mercy and truth must be present without and within.  The words of Jesus will be my constant meditation.  I will comprehend and believe these words of Christ:

John 6:63 NKJV 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

Jesus’ words are my life.  I will start with the Beatitudes and move forward from there.  In case I have forgotten, they include dependence, repentance, humility, desire, mercy, purity, and peacefulness.  If others don’t see these in me, they don’t see Christ in me – and they will look elsewhere.

What we need in the church of Christ is to present to the world a people of unity and compassion.  Arguments cease when egos are laid aside.  Remember the word h-u-m-i-l-i-t-y.  Arguments cease when we accept as our pattern what we know is right.  Arguments cease when we don’t have time for them because we are too busy weeping/repenting, meditating/praying, and loving/serving.

I really believe that if the world saw the church doing what I just said, people would start walking up and asking to be baptized.  They would want to have what they saw in us – and that would be Christ.  Our neighbors would show up at our services and become converted through the power of the word as they saw it lived out in our lives in addition to being taught in our pulpits.  We would have little need to emphasize argument if we properly emphasized life.

The root problem of a poorly lived Christian life is faith.  A faith problem causes a love problem which causes a life problem.  God’s holy word is the seed of faith.  The word grows faith, faith grows love, and love grows a Christian.

Christians attract people.  Christians make good friends and neighbors.  Most people I know like to be around good people.  If we truly build good personal Christian lives others will indeed come.

I am unworthy, but Jesus loves me

February 17, 2010

I will make these seven simple words my daily confession.  Only one sin is heinous in God’s sight.  Yet I have committed many.  Only one sin makes me unworthy for fellowship with Him that is perfect.  Yet forgiveness, healing, and hope are found in Jesus Christ.

Let me suggest that we remind ourselves of these two simple facts repeatedly during the day.  I am unworthy.  Jesus loves me.

The first (I am unworthy) teaches me humility.  My sin, with its resulting unworthiness, must be faced and acknowledged.  I am prepared to approach God only when I am humble.  Humility empowers me for service, for it frees me to think of others and not myself.  I prepare to love God and my neighbor by learning humility.  The work of love is only possible with a humble heart.

The second (Jesus loves me) bathes me in hope.  Why does God love me when I transgress His good will?  Candidly, I don’t know.  But, His word makes it abundantly clear that He does love me and all sinners.  Jesus is indeed the Friend of sinners, and He wants to be my Friend.  Giving Him my life by gospel obedience seals that friendship with its resulting forgiveness…and hope.

It is the contrast in the statement that makes it so powerful.  It is one thing to love a good person, but Jesus loves me when I’ve been bad.  That is truly amazing.  “Amazing Grace” is more than a hymn.  It is the reality of a hope-blessed life.  I am unworthy, but Jesus loves me!

Say the statement to yourself often as your day passes.  Meditate on the scriptural truth underlying it.  A medley of texts appears at the end of this article.    Emphasize different words as you say the statement over and over.  Think humility of attitude, hope of heaven, and motivation for right living and Christ-like helping of others.  I am unworthy, but Jesus loves me!

Here are a few of many Bible passages that teach the truth of the love of Christ in spite of my unworthiness of His love.  The emphasis in the texts is mine.

Psalms 103:10-12 NKJV 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Matthew 11:19 NKJV 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.

Luke 19:10 NKJV 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Romans 5:6-11 NKJV 6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

1 Timothy 1:15-16 NKJV 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

Why Pray?

February 9, 2010

I sometimes wonder why God wants us to pray.  He knows my needs before I ask.  He knows whether I am thankful for His blessings, or not.  He knows what I think about Him.  So why pray at all?  Why bore God with things He already knows?

Perhaps it is because prayer is more for our benefit than it is for God’s.  Note the familiar passage:

1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 NKJV 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Look at the last part of verse 18.  Prayer is God’s will “for you.”  Now, since God only wants what is best for us, prayer must be a good thing for me.  When I pray, not only does this please God, but good things start happening for me.  These good things are not limited to getting something I may have asked for.  How many different ways am I blessed through my own prayers?  Well, here’s what prayer does for me.

Prayer blesses me by drawing me closer to God.  When I pray to God, my concentration on Him becomes more intense.  If my thoughts are focused on God, it makes me want to be like Him.  This has a highly positive effect on the ease with which I walk with Him.  Just the act of praying makes it easier to live the Christian life.

Prayer blesses me by causing me to be less selfish.  Sure, I’ll pray about my own perceived needs, but, I’ll also pray for others.   This helps me empathize with them.  The time I spend thinking about others is time I don’t spend thinking about myself.  This helps me be less selfish.  This helps me be less easily offended.  The burden of self is diminished by prayer.

Prayer blesses me by causing me to appreciate my blessings. As I thank God for what He has done for me, I will likely begin to realize that I am more blessed than I imagined.  Understanding something of how blessed I am does wonders for my self-image. God has been so good to me!  I want to be good to others like God has been good to me.  My blessings grow and multiply as I pray.

Prayer blesses me by causing me to more accurately define my real needs.  When praying for myself, I am probably not going to ask for a new Mercedes, or expensive clothes, or a really big mansion to live in, or anything like that.  I saw a headline in Yahoo News that the Super Bowl win was an answer to the Saint’s fans prayers.  Well, I hope not.  Surely they could find something better to pray for than the outcome of an entertainment event.  I would be surprised if any of us actually pray for something like that.  No, we pray for health, safety, physical necessities, strength to do right, and forgiveness.  Praying helps me remember what is really important.

Prayer blesses me by causing me to have more love for my neighbor.  Just mentioning someone to God in prayer causes me to feel more compassion for them.  Also, it is difficult to have hard feelings toward someone for whom you are praying.  If you are having a struggle getting along with another person, start praying for them.  You may see attitude improvement in more than one person.  My motivation to obey the Second Commandment increases as I pray.

Prayer blesses me by causing me to more easily forgive others.  I will certainly pray for my own forgiveness.  A clear realization of how many times I fall short makes my neighbor’s transgressions against me (be they real or imagined) seem much less significant.  We are all in this together.  The other guy may not have acted the way he should have, but how perfect have I been in the past days and weeks?  Understanding my need for forgiveness makes me a better forgiver.  Prayer casts my own sinfulness before my eyes.

Prayer blesses me by causing me to be more active.  Asking for a blessing reminds me that I have a part in obtaining that blessing.  If I ask for a stronger faith, perhaps I need to read my Bible more.  If I ask for my children and/or grandchildren to grow into faithful Christians, perhaps I need to spend more time with them and be a better example.  If I ask to be more Christ-like, perhaps I need to reexamine my commitment.  Prayer energizes.

Prayer blesses me by causing me to feel better.  If prayer leads me to do all of the above:  I’m spiritual, I’m sharing, I’m thankful, I’m understanding, I’m loving, I’m forgiving, and I’m active; I think that will give me cause to feel humbly good about myself, and…I think I will!

Loving the Creator and His Creatures

February 5, 2010

There is no dichotomy between love and obedience to God’s commands.  “Commandment” is not a dirty word.  Examine the following two statements of Jesus.  I am totally convinced that these two statements are in perfect harmony and that Jesus knew what He was saying on both occasions.

Jesus said:

Matthew 22:37-39 NKJV 37 … You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus also said:

John 14:15 NKJV If you love Me, keep My commandments.

Let me tell you a story.  There was a certain medical doctor.  Upon completion of medical school, he took the Hippocratic Oath.  Among other things, he swore:  “…I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required…” (Wikipedia, Hippocratic Oath, modern version).  In other words, he would become a healer.

Now, let me ask you a question.  How would he know how to exercise his mission as a healer?  Would he not know because of his training?  Of course he would.  And what was his training?  Was it not how to identify various symptoms of disease and which procedures to use to most effectively treat them?  I know that’s pretty simplified, but isn’t that basically it?

In the above illustration, the healing is the love and the procedures are the commandments.  The doctor must follow accepted medical protocol to heal his patient.  The Christian must obey the commandments of God to love God and love his neighbor.

You see, God’s commandments teach us how to love.  I really want to love God because He is so good to me.  Well, how do I do that?  I love God by keeping His commandments.  At least, that’s what Jesus said.

Allow me to offer a text from the rather challenging chapter of Romans 7:

Romans 7:7 NKJV … I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”

Surely at least part of what Paul is saying is that he would not have fully understood that covetousness was wrong unless God had pointed that out for him in the Law of Moses.  That is, he would not have fully understood that he could not love God while entertaining covetous thoughts.

Allow Peter to speak:

1 Peter 1:13-15 NKJV 13 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,

Verse 14 refers to the necessity of obedience.  Is this legalism?  Is this a negation of God’s grace?  Of course not.  Peter could have just as easily said, “as loving children.”  Obedience is love carried out.  An argument could be made that there is no faith without works.  It could also be said that there is no love without obedience, or that by obedience, love is made perfect (compare James 2:22 NKJV Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?).

Do you want to love God and your neighbor?  Do you want to know how to do it?  Check out the beatitudes in Matthew 5.1-12 and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.22-23.  These are good starter lists.

There is no love without obedience.  The person who wants to emphasize obedience to God’s commands in his life is not a legalist.  He’s a lover.

Morning After

February 4, 2010

[Note on 4 February 2010:  I wrote this when I was the minister at Center Hill, about four miles from the Tennessee line.  I am re-posting it here from my old Blogger blog.  The date I actually wrote it was 4 July 2006.]

Here’s a little story I wrote a few weeks ago and have “doctored up” from time to time. I have had an interest in the Civil War for years and would like to write a full length novel some day, Lord willing. We’ll see…

Since I grew up and live now in North Alabama, the Western Theater has been my primary interest. It’s less than a two-hour drive to Franklin, Tennessee. I’ve been there. I walked through the confederate cemetery, containing nearly fifteen hundred fallen southern soldiers, near dusk on the eve of the battle anniversary in 2005. I went inside Carnton Mansion, the Confederate hospital during and after the battle, and saw the bloodstains on the floor from November 30, 1864. I walked up the same stairway that General Nathan Bedford Forrest strode up and saw the upper balcony from which he surveyed the field just before the battle began.

This fictional story takes the form of a letter that a Confederate Calvary Officer from North Alabama wrote to his wife the evening of the day after the Battle of Franklin.

The Army of Tennessee (the Southern army in the West, the Army of Northern Virginia led by Robert E. Lee was the Southern Army in the East) was basically destroyed as a viable fighting force at the Battle of Franklin. The South was going downhill before Franklin, now, it was falling from a cliff. The battle began about 4:00 P.M. and continued for five hours, till after dark. A good friend of mine had an ancestor who fought there as a Confederate general. He fell at Franklin.

Though I was never a soldier, I have attempted to portray the horror of war. It is blunt at times. There is a reason for that. I don’t want the lesson below to be missed.

The spiritual application of my story is this – things like this are what happens when we ignore the teaching of Jesus about peacemaking.

Morning After

December 1, 1864
Franklin, Tennessee

Dear Deborah,

This morning dawned sunny and crisply cold. While my men were preparing the morning campfire, the light from the just risen morning sun glinting off the limestone outcrops reminded me of the pastures on our own farm and made me wish I was back on Blue Water Creek.

Events moved so rapidly yesterday afternoon and into the night that I hardly had time to think, much less reflect on what was happening. I’ll tell you a little about it. I don’t think I can ever tell the whole story. I just don’t have the stomach for it.

Yesterday was terrible. No, it was worse than terrible. When the blood and gore of the battle finally ended, there wasn’t much left of the old Army of Tennessee. The Yankees actually left the field when it was over. I reckon they’ll be laughing all the way up to Nashville about what fools we made of ourselves. Most generals would think twice about attacking a strongly fortified position while advancing upgrade over a large open area allowing the enemy a clear field of fire. By the way, did I mention our artillery hadn’t caught up with us, so we had to commit mass suicide without even the consolation of having artillery support while we did it? I’m sure the hundreds of southern widowed wives and bereaved mothers will want to thank the gallant General Hood for that.

I imagine I’ll hear shortly that we’ll be marching on up the road toward Nashville so Hood can complete the task of destroying his army, or what’s left of it. General Forrest thought we could get a sizable force around to their rear and let them have it from there. NBF has certainly done that maneuver many times before. But not the all-wise and all-courageous Hood. Show them what we’re made of, show them we’re men, march straight into the Yankee muskets while the ground becomes piled higher and higher with fallen sons, and brothers, and husbands around you. Well, Hood showed them. Guess he really feels like a general now. Much more of yesterday, and he won’t have anything left to general with.

I thought the worst was over till I went onto the field today to assist in recovering our dead. No bullets are flying past my head now. That worst is over. But this worst is different. I’m not sure which is the most severe.

I found a small spring of water in a sparse grove of trees a couple hundred yards from what had been the Federal line. I counted thirty-eight men all dead in one place near that spring. One young private, maybe he had had his sixteenth birthday, was lying dead on his back. There was a single splotch of blood, about the size of a silver dollar, in the center of his chest. Bits of frost had formed on his eyebrows and his brown hair. He had obviously been dead awhile.

His right eye was closed. But, he had died with his left eye still open. It stared straight up. As I stopped briefly and stood over him, he seemed to be staring straight at me with that one left eye. I imagined he wanted to ask me something. Maybe to tell his girlfriend that he loved her. Maybe to tell his ma where he fell and how he died.

But I think what he really wanted was to ask me was “Why?” Why was he on this battlefield? Why did he have to die before he was twenty, before he could plant his own seed and see his name carried on? His family had no slaves. They farmed their small place by the sweat of their own brow. It was the rich planters down around Montgomery who owned most of the slaves. It was their war. Why did he have to be in it? He didn’t care what flag flew over the capitol. He just cared about his family, his girlfriend, his bluetick hound dog, and his next meal. Now all that was lost, and what was the point of it? Maybe that’s what he wanted to say. Maybe that’s what all the dead soldiers wanted to say.

I’m writing this letter by the campfire after supper, like I usually do, but I can still see that innocent, questioning stare from that kid’s open left eye. I think it’ll stick with me till I have a not-so-innocent, questioning stare of my own.

The scene at that spring this morning reminded me of the time Paw’s hogs got the cholera. I remember there were about ten of them who had tried to get to that spring under the big oak tree where the hills drop off into the creek bottom. They had drug themselves there to drink from that spring, not understanding that they were dying. The first one died near the water. Then another one crawled up and died, then another and another. Before long the hogs that came last were crawling over the already dead hogs, trying to get to the spring, and were dying on top of them. When we discovered them, they were in a neat little pile, all dead by the spring.

That’s how it was this morning. The dead Confederates, dressed in their ragged butternut clothes, like they were just going out to the field to plow the mules – piled two and three high, all dead by the spring, just like so many dead animals. Tell their mothers, wives, and sweethearts that they died so the rich planters can keep their slaves. I’m sure they’ll find a lot of consolation in that.

I hate this war, Deb. I hate it because of the senseless killing, and I hate it because it makes me want to be a senseless killer. I see no glory and I see no honor. All I see is arrogance and greed. And the death and misery produced by them. Both sides are so blinded by their own depravity that they don’t comprehend the results of their actions. I just want to go home, if there’s any home left.

I better turn in now. There may be some more killing tomorrow. I guess it’s either kill or get killed. Sure something to look forward too, isn’t it?

I think about you all the time. I hope I’ll see you again.

I love you.

Isaiah Hall
Major, CSA Calvary

Grace v Obedience: Mutually Exclusive?

February 2, 2010

I have never understood why someone would think that if I did something that God said do (obedience) I was somehow earning my salvation or practicing a legalistic religion, thus, in their minds, nullifying salvation by God’s grace.

Here is how to have a legalistic, merit-based religion.  The one who knows all of God’s commands and never violates a single one of them has earned their salvation.  When they knock on heaven’s door, God is obligated to let them in.  They did all that God said, all of the time.  They deserve heaven for they have earned it.

Or, here’s another way to earn heaven.  When a person recalls that they have committed, say, twenty sins last week, they immediately hop in the DeLorean and go back to the beginning of last week, relive those sinful times, and get it right using their second chance.  They do that for every week of their life till they have redone all their sins, correcting them the second time around.  Now, with no sin blemish on their record, they have God in their debt.  He is obliged to save them.

One would needs be the most naive person in the world to think they could live an entire life without sinning a single time.  Only Jesus did that.  So, self-perfection is taken off the table.

As we all know, “Back to the Future” doesn’t work in real life.  So, reliving the moment, literally, falls to the floor also.

Those are the only two options I see for earning salvation.  Only Jesus lived the perfect life.  I can’t go back in time.  So, I can’t earn my salvation.

Here is salvation in the Bible.  When my faith in Christ leads me to obey His commandments, He forgives me.

…though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, (Hebrews 5:8-9 NKJV)

If obedience to the commandments means legalism, well then, I guess Jesus was a legalist.  But, Jesus nowhere indicates that He believed we could justify ourselves.  The whole purpose of the cross was that we could be forgiven because we weren’t going to make it by perfectly keeping a code of laws such as the Law of Moses.

It is impossible in actual practice for me to have merit on my part.  All the merit to justify me in spite of my past sins, comes from Jesus.  I would call that salvation by grace.

So, when God says something like:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)

He must be talking about His love, His grace, and the blood of Jesus being the power that saves me, but, in no way implying that I can omit obedience to His will in my life and hope to receive His favor.