Grace Vs. Works. How we got here

In 1889 Daniel Sommer presented a powerful sermon to about 5,000 brethren at Sand Creek Illinois, setting forth a very legalistic concept. He referred to several things which he called “innovations” because they were not legislated on in the scriptures. He said of those who practice them, “We cannot and will not regard them as brethren.” This idea took hold and eventually led to the division primarily over the issue of instrumental music in worship. The restoration movement, at least one branch of it, took a definite turn toward legalism and several divisions followed over a variety of “issues.”

In 1932 Wm Kay Moser apparently wanted to reawaken a spirit of unity and tolerance among brethren. He wrote a book entitled “The way of salvation” in which he advanced the idea that the movement had become sub par on the subject of grace. But instead of drawing brethren together that seemed to be the spark that ignited strong sentiments that began leading toward replacing the legalistic extreme with a “grace” extreme. Mind sets developed in opposite directions and too much factional loyalty grew.

In 1990 Rubel Shelly, who had himself gravitated out of the legalistic camp, published an article entitled, “Arbeit Macht Frei” a German phrase which was posted over the entrance to the death camp at Auswitch. It means “Work will set you free.” He accused the brotherhood of fostering the idea that only in “doing enough” can one feel secure in his salvation. He said, “It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach that salvation arises from human activity. We cannot contribute one whit to our salvation.”

In 1993 Wineskins produced a special issue on “Grace.” In it was an article by Roy Osborne entitled “Dead men don’t climb ladders.” Its message was self evident. Thomas Warren, Wayne Jackson, and others wrote responses to these publications and the polarization continued to deepen.

By around 2000 the Tulsa Workshop was leaning noticeably toward liberal concepts of grace. By the year 2006 they clearly threw their hat into the ring on the side of liberalism. Each year brought forth a parade of speakers with subject titles in the general theme of rescuing Christians from the idea of salvation by obedience. In 2007 the theme was “Let the chains fall away,” suggesting deliverance from the “sick” restoration movement. In 2011 Abilene Christian University featured on its fall lectureship four of the most noted promoters of antinomianism.

So we are now at a point where there is a strange unwillingness to study what the head of the church has said through His apostles. We can do better. The debate arguments offered on either side do not meet the real issues. Evidently most brethren have not yet recognized what those are. The real questions at issue seem to have gotten buried under the debre of prejudicial argumentation. The concern about “WHO” is right seems to be greater than the concern about “WHAT” is right. They are discussing the merits of works, or lack there of, in abstraction, separate and apart from the sovreignty of God.

A key principle stated in Col. 2:12 is set forth as“Faith in the working of God.” This is how a work is able to produce something without having innate value. The subject is baptism, something we do. The result is “risen with Him,” something God does. The reason it works, Paul said, is “faith in the working of God.”

Heb. 11:6 says it is impossible to please God without this kind of faith. “For he that cometh to God must believe (1) that he is and (2) that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Believing these two things about God is not advocating faith in the merits of our action. It is advocating faith in the promises of God who commanded the action. Moses’ rod could not part the Red sea. But when God placed His blessing there, then Moses stretched forth the rod and the sea parted. Joshua could not make the walls of Jericho fall. But when he did what God instructed, the walls fell. The waters of Jordan did not have healing power but when Namaan dipped seven times according to God’s command, his leprosy was healed.

When I question them about denying that we can do something to be saved, they usually say they mean that you can’t earn it. But that is not the issue. The question we need to resolve is “Can we do something to obtain it?” They are saying “No.” They need to see that earning it and obtaining it are two different things. The Bible applies this to salvation. It says that Jesus gave to believers “power to become children of God.” (John 1:11) So Jesus made it possible for us to be able to do something to become children of God. We have that power. Jesus gave us that right. On Pentecost day 3,000 people used that power. This is the point being misunderstood. If Jesus had not placed the promise there, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” baptism would have no power to remit sins. But He did place it there and “faith in the working of God” will accept it. If we do not believe that God will honor that promise then we do not have “Faith in the working of God,” the faith that saves.

When man obeys a command of God he places His faith in what God will do. God rewards that. It is not a conflict with grace. Our adversary, the devil, opposes this whole idea. Thus he is pictured as “the lawless one.” Jesus said that those whom he can deceive into going his way will end up rejected at the judgment. (Mat. 7:23) Take God at His word. Do not let Satan deceive you into denial of what that word says.


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