Moses

Without doubt one of the most significant characters in the history of the people of Israel is Moses. He brought them out of the land of Egypt and slavery, he brought them the words of their God, and he led them through the wilderness to the very border of the Promised Land. For forty years Moses was the visible leader of the people of God. What made Moses into a leader? Was he effective? Can we use his example to teach us how to be effective leaders of God’s people? Let’s look at Moses’ example and see what we can learn.

Even though Moses was raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, his earliest years were spent with his natural mother as she was the one called upon to be the wet nurse for the baby Moses. During those years she instilled in the young boy a knowledge of who he was, one of the people of God. The people of God were waiting for God to rescue them from the slavery they were left in. God had promised to Abraham that four hundred years were all He would let the people stay in the land of Egypt. The time for deliverance was near and it looked like the young man Moses was being positioned in the best possible way to lead the Israelites.

In the years after he was given completely into the care of his Egyptian teachers, Moses never forgot his heritage. He used the opportunity God had given him to learn the best that he could. He became wise in the teaching of Egypt (the most advanced civilization of that day). (Acts 7:22) He became a powerful soldier in one of the world’s most powerful armies. “By the time he reached the age of forty, there was probably no greater leader . . . in all the land than Moses.” (Rodgers, p. 35) Indeed to man, and most likely to Moses, he seemed to be the perfect leader to set the Israelites free (cf. Acts 7:23-25). But God does not see as man sees. Moses rashly decides to take matters into his own hands by joining his people. Almost immediately he finds an excuse to begin the rebellion by killing an Egyptian. But instead of being the rallying call to bring the people to his side in rebellion, it rather leads to his betrayal into the hands of Pharaoh. “However, this attempt was in the energy of the flesh and, although God had chosen him for this great task, he attempted through self-effort to bring it to pass. This never accomplishes what God has in mind.” (Rodgers, p. 35)

Instead of facing the wrath of Pharaoh, Moses flees from Egypt. Certainly by then he must have thought that he was wrong about his usefulness in God’s plans. God must have decided on someone else. The next forty years Moses spends as a simple shepherd. He leads mild-mannered sheep along mountain trails to find food and drink for them. He probably fought off wild beasts to protect his sheep, and his heart was probably torn with grief when one of his sheep died. A far different man he became than the young self-reliant man who thought he could deliver his people from Egypt with the might of his arms and the eloquence of his speech.

Yet it is exactly this kind of man that God chooses. God does not want a leader who thinks he can stand alone. God needs leaders who know how to provide, protect and show compassion. The humble are useful to God, the proud cannot serve Him well. So when God calls upon Moses to be the leader of His people and deliver them from bondage, Moses protests that he is not fit to lead. Moses was still thinking in human terms. No longer was he the strong young man he had been. He was no longer well known, he had not used his voice for speeches in many years. Moses did not think he could act as a leader. “When he met God at the burning bush, he was a broken man.” (Rodgers, p. 36)

That is why God chose him. He chose him because he no longer thought of himself as the leader. God wants Moses to rely on Him. God tells Moses to tell the people that He, the great I AM, had sent Moses, and God would deliver the people with His own powerful hand. So eventually Moses agrees to lead the people and when the people hear that God will deliver them, they believe and worship God (Ex. 4:31). Perhaps with this initial success “the old feelings of success and conquest came back.” (Rodgers, p. 36) However, God does not let him keep those old feelings for long.

Things do not proceed as Moses and the people probably expected. The Pharaoh did not let them go immediately. Instead things got harder for the Israelites. Even Moses was reduced to blaming God for the trouble on Israel. (Ex. 5:22-23) Moses still thought God should act as man desired. But God is not a man. A leader of God’s people has to be able to accept God as God is, not as man wants Him to be. A leader of God’s people must be able to accept adversity without doubting in God or His plans. So during the time of the plagues upon Egypt, Moses is growing in his faith toward God and in his ability to be an effective leader.

After the plagues while the people were leaving Egypt, Pharaoh and his army approached. Here might have been the great opportunity for the military mind of Moses. Moses, trained as a mighty warrior of Egypt, could he defeat the Egyptian army with his band of slaves? A question never to be answered because Moses had learned a lesson about leading God’s people: let God lead. Moses told the people, “The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Ex. 14:14) But that faith did not excuse Moses from acting. He simply waited for God to tell him what action He desired, then he did as he was told. Moses had finally become a fit leader of God’s people.

Yet leadership always involves problems. Moses quickly faced a series of problems that would test his leadership. First there was the problem of water for all these people. Although Moses had learned to trust in God, the people “failed to trust God or respond to Moses’ leadership.” (“Moses”) When the people brought the problem to Moses, he cried out to God. (Ex. 15:25) Moses did not try to solve the people’s problems by himself. These were God’s people and he knew that God would be able to solve their problems. In like manner Moses let God solve the problems of food and meat. Moses refused to be the one to solve the problems. God was the true leader of this people. One who leads God’s people must always remember whose people they are and allow God to be the source of answers to problems.

But leadership requires more than a casual commitment. When Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the people committed a very great sin. They turned against God and Moses, and God said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.” (Ex. 32:7) No longer did God claim the people as His own. They were Moses’ people and he had brought them out of Egypt. Originally that was exactly what the younger Moses had intended. He was going to be their savior. Now God was offering Moses the chance to be the kind of leader he once wanted to be.

Yet Moses is no longer the bold and arrogant young leader. He has learned humility from those years leading sheep. But he has also learned to care for the sheep. Boldly Moses stands before God and intercedes for the children of Israel. (Rodgers, p. 41) Humbly he reminds God that they are His children whom He had brought out of Egypt. He also reminds God of the effect it would have on God’s reputation if He destroyed His people in the wilderness. (Exodus 32:11-14)

Moses has been able to intercede on behalf of the people placed under his care. He has put into practice the leadership skills he spent his first eighty years in acquiring. But there are greater challenges facing his leadership. To begin God has agreed to let Moses take care of the problem of idolatry going on with the children of Israel. Moses must be able to discipline the children of Israel if he is going to lead them on behalf of God.

When Moses finally approached the camp of Israel, his initial reaction was one of uncontrolled anger (Exodus 32:19; cf. Cook, p.89). The anger is certainly a result of his early years in Pharaoh’s house where strict obedience was to be expected. Moses breaks the tablets and grinds up the golden calf and makes the people drink of the gold dust mixed with water. Perhaps that would have been the end of the discipline except that some children of Israel were continuing in their idolatry by running around naked (Exodus 32:25). More severe discipline was required for some. This continued rebellion was a test of Moses’ leadership. If he failed to get the rebellion under control, then he could never lead this people for they would always be rebelling against him and God. So Moses calls for those who were loyal to God. The rebels, about three thousand men, were put to death. (Exodus 32:27-28) The rebellion was at an end. But Moses knows that his leadership is still called for. Now he must lead the people back to God and he calls upon them to set a day aside for the LORD. But Moses knows the sin is very great and that sin requires atonement. Moses knows that he may be called upon to make that atonement (Exodus 32:30). So when he stands before God, Moses takes responsibility for his flock and offers his life for them. God does not accept that offer, but he does not allow Moses to forsake his position as leader either. He tells Moses to “go, lead the people”. (Exodus 32:34)

Again Moses had passed a challenge to his leadership. He was able to discipline the rebellious people, quash the resistance of the more stubborn rebels, bring the people back to God, and be accepted by God as still a fit leader for His people. However, his success led to more challenges to his leadership.

Being chosen by God as the leader and then reaffirmed in that leadership position caused some other potential leaders to be jealous. The first attempt to take over, or at least share, the leadership came from Moses’ own family. Miriam and Aaron protested to Moses that they were at least as capable as he was as a leader. After all God spoke to them, as well as to Moses, they said. (Number 12:2) Moses did not make a rebuttal, perhaps as is stated, it was because Moses was such a meek man (Numbers 12:3). Again consider how much has changed in Moses life. Where is the bold and arrogant young Moses who killed the Egyptian? Moses has learned his lessons about leadership. The battles belong to God, so Moses steps aside and lets God do battle. The Lord wastes no time in putting Miriam and Aaron back into their places (Numbers 12:5-12; cf. Edersheim, p. 2:164). Once again Moses is called upon, this time by Aaron, to personally intercede with God. (LaSor, p. 109)

The next challenge to his leadership came in the form of a full-fledged attempt to permanently remove Moses from leadership. The people rose up to stone him to death, along with Caleb and Joshua and Aaron (Numbers 14:10). Once again it is notable that Moses intercedes for the people who sought to kill him (Numbers 14:13-20). But still Moses must accept that the people under his care are to be punished. Moses has to bear with the people in the consequences of their sin, for again he must lead the people back to God and prepare the next generation for entering the Promised Land.

One last attempt is made to displace Moses as leader. This challenge came from the leaders of the assembly. Two hundred and fifty men led by Korah of Moses own tribe of Levi (Numbers 16:1-2). These men protested that Moses and Aaron had made themselves too important, that Moses had failed to bring them to the Promised Land, and that the priesthood should not belong exclusively to Moses and Aaron (Jones, “Korah”) Again Moses faces the battle by saying that the Lord would choose (Num. 16:5) And again Moses was rewarded by God doing battle on his behalf (Num. 16:28-35), and also again Moses is called upon to intercede for the rebellious flock he leads. (Jones, “Korah”)

The final challenge to Moses’ leadership was one that he did not overcome. For the final challenge that faces all leaders is one that comes from within — pride. Moses had struggled and succeeded in letting God do battle with the obvious rebellions and challenges. Moses had stood up for the people time and again sparing their lives even while they sought to kill him. But deep down inside Moses was still the Egyptian trained leader of men. The constant complaints were wearisome. Finally, while the people yet again complained about needing water, Moses slipped. “Moses looked at the people as they were in themselves, instead of thinking of God who now sent them forward, secure in His promise, which He would assuredly fulfill.” (Edersheim, p. 2:186) In the heat of his frustration or anger Moses complained that he must again bring forth water for them (Num. 20:10; cf. Rodgers, p. 55). Moses had said HE was bringing forth water. It was not Moses who brought the water; it was God. Moses had failed to give God the glory due to Him. Perhaps he felt justified in having a share of the glory after all he had put up with, but God immediately notified Moses that he would be punished for his sin (Num. 20:12). “Certainly, this should teach us that no individual can sin with impunity, regardless of who he is or what his station in life.” (Rodgers, p. 55)

So what lessons can we learn from Moses example of leadership? We learn first that a leader may need to be educated in the ways of the world. God’s people live and work and move in the world. Knowledge of how the world works is a helpful tool. But the leader must always remember that his training is only a tool. More important than an earthly education are humility and service, like what Moses learned as a shepherd. Then God’s leader must be able to balance the two parts of his training, leading the people of God with wisdom and humility. Also the leader must be willing to sacrifice of himself and to intercede on behalf of God’s people, even when the people are unkind toward, or rebelling against, the leader. Finally, the leader must be able to step aside and let God fight the battles, and then he must give God the glory. For it is only in God that the battles can be won. Moses, as a leader of God’s people, was “a man who performed great deeds in the strength that only God can provide.” (“Moses”)

By Glenn E. Hamilton

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cook, F. C. ed. The Bible Commentary: Exodus-Ruth. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953.

Edersheim, Alfred. Bible History, Old Testament. 7 vols. 1890 ed. Reprint 1 vol. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

Jones, T. H. “Korah.” New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Ed. I. Howard Marshall, et al. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

LaSor, William, et al. Old Testament Survey. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

“Moses.” The Revell Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1990.

Rodgers, Thomas. The Panorama of the Old Testament. Newburgh: Trinity, 1988.

ABRAHAM: The Father of our Faith

The apostle Paul said “that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7), but what was so special about Abraham and his faith? What kind of faith did Abraham have? How did that faith react in suffering? How did that faith react in failure? How did that faith react in prosperity? How did that faith react in doubting? The only way to know the answer is to look at the life of Abraham, see how his faith reacted to the circumstances of life, and then decide how best to place that kind of faith in our own lives. (“Abraham”)

Abram, as Abraham was called when he is first introduced to us in the Bible, was born and raised in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. (Gen. 11:26-32) Ur was “the capital city of the Sumerians, one of the oldest civilisations [sic] in Mesopotamia.” (Keller, p. 20) Archaeologists have also uncovered many useful pieces of information about the metropolis of Ur of the time of Abram. For example, Ur was a very pagan city containing at least five major temples in its sacred precinct, the largest of which was dedicated to the moon-god. (Keller, pp. 13-14, cf. Josh. 24: 2, 14-15) Despite the greatness of the city, the Bible says that Abram’s father took his family and left Ur to go to Canaan, but stopped at the city of Haran. (Gen. 11:31)

Why did the family choose to leave the city of Ur? Were they looking for a better life? Perhaps they were looking to become rich. The Bible does not leave us guessing. God later tells Abram, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans . . . .”(Gen. 15:7, NASB) God had moved the family to go to Canaan, but they stopped and settled in Haran. God had a plan for Abram, but Abram’s family became and obstacle to the plan by remaining outside of Canaan. So the first challenge to Abram’s faith in God would be whether he would stay with his family in relative safety and security or whether he would follow God into unknown places.

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;’” (Gen. 12:1, NASB) God has set the stage for this first test by telling Abram to leave everything. When one wants to follow God, all earthly entanglements have to be shed. “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him . . . .”(Gen. 12:4, NASB) Abram’s faith is seen in his action: he “went forth” as he had been told. “His obedience and trust in the God who has called him are exemplary.” (LaSor, p. 49) All faith requires obedient action. “Abraham’s faith is perhaps best seen in his ready obedience whenever called by God.” (Wiseman, “Abraham”) “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8; cf. Jas. 1:26)

When Abram reaches this new land which God promised to him, he builds an altar and calls on the name of the LORD. (Gen. 12:5-9) Throughout the Bible there are examples of people calling on the name of the LORD. (e.g., Gen. 4:26, Joel 2:32; Acts 22:16, Rom. 10:13) When someone calls on the name of the LORD, they are either establishing, maintaining, or restoring a relationship with God. Specifically, such a call “denotes the claiming of God’s protection”. (NBD, “Call”, p. 159) Abram has trusted in the Lord and has acted on that faith; now he claims of God the protection God had promised. Abram and God are in a relationship with mutual requirements.

Does faith mean that Abram never again sinned (disobeyed God)? No. Problems soon arise in Abram’s new relationship with God. There is a famine in the land to which God had sent Abram. (Gen. 12:10) Abram’s lack of faith is seen in that instead of calling on God and relying on His protection, Abram decides to leave the promised land and find a new place in Egypt. When Abram arrives in Egypt his faith weakens farther for instead of relying on God’s promise to bless him, Abram lies and has Sarai lie about their relationship. (Gen. 12:11-16) “Abraham . . . [is] to be condemned for [his] complicity in lying, no matter how noble a motive [he] may have had, or how much truth the lie contained.” (Kaiser, p. 120) Eventually it is the pagan Pharaoh that rebukes Abram on behalf of God. (Gen. 12:17-20)

Does that mean Abram is not a good model for faith? Certainly not. Consider how Abram reacted to the rebuke. He leaves Egypt and returns to where he was supposed to be in Canaan. (Gen. 13: 1) When Abram got back to where he had earlier built an altar, “Abram called on the name of the LORD.” (Gen. 13:4) He restored his relationship with God and placed himself again under God’s protection. The faith of which Abraham is our father, is a faith that turns back to God in sincere repentance after times of wandering apart from God.

Since Abraham’s faith did not mean he was sinless, someone might think instead that his faith meant that he had absolutely no doubts in God’s promises. A little farther along in his life, Abram still has no child and he asks God how He will keep His promise. (Gen. 15:2-3) God responds by yet again promising Abram many descendants from his own body. (Gen. 15:4-5) “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6, NASB) Notice yet again that since God “reckoned” Abram’s faith as righteousness, it shows that Abram was not righteous (sinless) on his own (cf. Rom. 4:1-5). But does it mean that Abram no longer had any doubts about God’s promise? No, look at what the passage says immediately after God promises the land again to Abram, “He said ‘O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?’” (Gen. 15:8, NASB) Abram still has doubts and needs assurance in spite of the fact that he believes God. He knows that God can keep His promise, but he also knows that he is not a perfect follower (as seen already in the Egypt incident). Can Abram be sure the promise will be fulfilled even if he should again sin. So God patiently makes a covenant with Abram in a form that Abram could understand: a Chaldean covenant (Rodgers, p. 26) And God made this covenant unilateral meaning that “the responsibility for its fulfillment would rest totally on God.” (Rodgers, p.26; cf. Kaiser, pp. 129-130) From here on Abram accepts God’s promise without doubt, God will fulfill it because He must. In like manner our faith like Abraham’s must accept, in spite of any lingering doubts, that God will fulfill His promises.

However, having faith in His promises did not keep Abram from trying to help along the fulfillment of the promise. Sarai gives her servant Hagar to Abram as a concubine in order to have a son through her. (Kaiser, p. 121) Although a son was born through Hagar, God makes it clear to Abraham (for God changed his name) that He does not need anyone’s help to keep His promises. (Gen. 17:17-22) Again Abraham had done the wrong thing. He did not turn away from God as he had earlier by going to Egypt, rather he had tried to help God keep His promise. (Kaiser, p.121) Sometimes we might try to figure out how to help God keep his promises, but God does not need our help. God told Abraham to let Him worry about keeping His own promises. And with faith Abraham was able to stop trying to anticipate how God wanted the promise fulfilled.

Yet sometimes it seems there is no earthly way possible for God to keep His promises. Does fear that promises may not be kept excuse us from having faith in God? Consider that after Abraham had the promised child, Isaac, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Was that a reasonable demand? Did faith require obedience to demands man might consider unreasonable? Did faith require obedience to a command which might negate a promise of God? Here was God testing Abraham “to know his heart and to see if he would obey and fear the Lord who gave him the son he loved so dearly.” (Kaiser, p. 124) In chapter 22 of Genesis, we finally see the culmination of the faith of which Abraham is the father. “Abraham can meet the test in only one way – total and complete faith in the God who promised him Isaac and fulfilled the promise when it was beyond human means. Abraham meets the test.” (LaSor, p.49) He did what God asked. No more failures, no more doubts, no more trying to anticipate God. Abraham simply obeyed. “His faith rested in a belief in God’s ability, if need be, to raise his son from the dead (Gen 22:12, 18; Heb. 11:19).” (Wiseman, “Abraham”)

Abraham finally learned the lesson of faith. “In hope against hope he believed . . . being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” (Rom. 4:18, 23) Abraham’s faith is one we are called to emulate. “As a true believer, he struggled successfully with doubt, found comfort and strength in prayer, and met life’s greatest challenges by acting on the conviction that God’s Word is trustworthy, to be believed, and to be obeyed.” (“Abraham”) He is an example to us, not that we should imitate his weaknesses, but rather that despite our own weaknesses we might believe that God is able to perform what He has promised to us. As Abraham’s faith began with believing things he had not seen (the land, a son), our faith is also called to begin with believing what we have not seen, “as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead”. (Rom. 4:24)

By Glenn E. Hamilton

“Abraham.” The Revell Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1990.

Kaiser, Walter, Jr., et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

Keller, Werner. The Bible as History. Revised ed. New York: Bantam, 1980.

LaSor, William, et al. Old Testament Survey. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Rodgers, Thomas. The Panorama of the Old Testament. Newburgh: Trinity, 1988.

Wiseman, D. J. “Abraham.” New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Ed. I. Howard Marshall, et al. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

 

The Importance of Assembling

First Century Christians lived in a time where their government declared war on Christianity. The assaults on people of faith were not done in secret (Heb. 10:32-34). Lands, homes and property were taken by the governing powers. Preachers were regularly interrogated by civil authorities for speaking the truth about Christ (Acts 5:17-18).

Members of the church did not want to assemble because of the government intrusions (Heb. 10:35-39). It just wasn’t safe going to church. Aquila and Priscilla were forced to leave their home in Rome due to the edict of Claudius (A.D. 49) expelling all Jews from the city (Acts 18:1-2). Apparently, many Christians were likewise caught up in the explosions throughout the Roman Empire as history records the “plundering of their possessions” (Heb. 10:34) assumedly as they fled. Philo accounts how Jews in Alexandria were forced to leave their homes and herded together in the city (In Flaccum 8.56). “Their enemies overran the houses now left empty and began to loot them, dividing up the contents like spoils of war.” The incidence was “accompanied by other acts of public outrage and violence (cf. F. F. Bruce, NICNT: Hebrews, 269). 1 Would we blame these Christians for not attending services given their concerns for their personal welfare?

The Hebrew writer records how the early Christians “endured a great fight of afflictions;” became “gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions,” while implying many were mistreated by simple association with other persecuted Christians (Heb. 10:32-33). Philo (Against Flaccus 72, 74, 84-85, 95, 173) and Josephus (Against Apion 1.43) recorded how Jews were subjected to public humiliation and abuse in a theater during an organized massacre (A.D. 38).

Of course, we know how Paul spent many years in prison for his faith (Col. 4:18; Phil. 1:7; Heb. 10:34). We could reminisce of Stephen’s murder (Acts 7:58ff), John the Baptist’s execution (Matt. 14:6-11), or James death under Herod Agrippa (A.D. 43). Not to mention the persecution lead by Saul that left many Christians injured or dead (Acts 22:4-5).

It is in this environment that the Hebrew writer warns the brethren not to forsake assembling (Heb. 10:25). He immediately conjoins such an act to willful sin (Heb. 10:26-31). After which he implores them not to quit their faith after everything they have been through already (Heb. 10:32-39). The act of forsaking the assembling of saints is indicative of one who draws back to perdition (Heb. 10:39). To further encourage the battered brethren, the author of Hebrews sights many examples of people with the kind of faith that doesn’t draw back (Heb. 11). Endurance becomes the theme as the Hebrew writer returns to the hostility present at that time (Heb. 12:1-4). Ultimately, Christ is the perfect example of faith as one “who endured such hostility from sinners.”

Isn’t it strange how our brethren will often water down the importance of assembling? The early Christians went to church knowing it could mean their arrest, torture or humiliation. To be associated with Christians was enough to ruin one’s life. Yet, the book of Hebrews chronicles the explicit commands and exhortations not to throw their faith away by forsaking the assembling. Forsaking church services is a reflection of our faith.

Imagine our brethren on the judgment day telling Christ on the throne that they thought it better to miss the assembling of the saints for any number of reasons. There were sporting events, family socials, overtime at work, minor health complaints, the need to sleep in, etc. What would the early Christians think of those excuses after all they went through? God wouldn’t excuse their desire to forsake church services just because they were being persecuted! God certainly won’t excuse our forsaking church services for any reason within our control.

In the near future, persecution might be added to our list of reasons to forsake. Will we miss the assembling of the saints just because it could cause us to lose our possessions, our dignity or even our life? Christ “laid down His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). Is He asking too much when He requires our attendance in worship to Him?

1Daniel H. King, Sr., The Book of Hebrews, Truth Commentaries, Guardian of Truth Foundation, p.351.

By Steve A. Hamilton

shamilton@rap.midco.net

 

 

Salvation by Grace By James Cope

In Titus 2:11-13 we read: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” This passage affirms that the grace of God that brings salvation teaches us. The salvation here mentioned is obviously salvation from sin and its power. There is a grace of God, however, that does not bring salvation from sin, and from its operation we can gain a good idea of the meaning of grace in its spiritual implications.

The word grace simply means “favor.” Actually we live and move and have our very being by the grace of God. By His grace we breathe the air. By His grace we eat the food to satisfy our hunger. By His grace we drink water to quench our thirst. Every physical blessing we enjoy may be properly ascribed to the grace of God.

It is equally true that this grace by which we live is unmerited By this we mean that there is nothing inherent about man which obligates God to bestow His favor upon him. Man has not and cannot do anything to obligate God to him apart from God’s self-chosen love and Will toward man. This is as true spiritually as physically.

If man lives by God’s grace he cannot be passive toward that grace. God provides food but man must eat it. God provides water, but man must drink it. God provides air but man must breathe it. God does not force His grace upon man in the physical realm; neither does He force His grace upon man in spiritual matters.

Grace Teaches

The passage under consideration (Titus 2:11) declares that God’s grace teaches. This statement harmonizes with every other passage in the Bible having to do with man’s salvation. It was and is through the process of teaching that God reveals His interest in and love for sinful man. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21). After man, by his own inventions, learning, wisdom and philosophy had demonstrated the utter foolishness of trying to save himself, Jehovah interposed the gospel to do for man that which he had not done and could never do for and by himself. Thus Jesus spoke: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), and Paul declares: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The grace of God, then, reveals itself in the gospel and the gospel can save none who refuse to believe it. This is exactly the point the Apostle makes in Ephesians 2:8 when he says, “By grace are ye saved through faith.” This is the same grace of Titus 2:11 — the grace “that bringeth salvation,” the grace that teaches.

With these thoughts before us it is not difficult to understand why Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world and preach (teach) the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:16), and “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Teaching or preaching the gospel was the means by which God’s grace was to be made known to the peoples of earth. For man to reject the gospel, then, is to rebel at the grace of God which brings salvation.

Teaching the gospel is necessary, but teaching alone can profit none whatever. Where teaching falls on deaf ears and stubborn hearts it is as seed sown on hardened, wayside soil (Matthew 13:4). There must be a hearing of the Word, a hearing whose disposition is to heed, if the teaching is to profit; hence, Jesus not only said to His disciples, “Take heed what you hear.” but also, “Take heed how you hear.” A receptive heart is a necessity if grace’s teaching is to enlighten it.

Grace Demands Faith

Just as one cannot come to God without believing that “God is” and that He rewards them who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), so one cannot come to Jesus Christ without believing He is the Son of God (John 5:39,40; 6:28-47; 8:21-24). The heart indisposed to hearing and learning can never be drawn to God in this condition (John 6:44,45). As long as there is no will to learn the teaching there cannot possibly be any faith to save, and for the Word to profit it must be learned (John 6:45) with a view to believing and doing what it says (John 7:17), because apart from faith in it, the Word cannot profit those who hear it (Hebrews 4:2).

The grace of God, then, provides the means for man’s redemption from sin, but man in sin must appropriate this means (the gospel) by hearing, learning, and believing it. This means that man is not passive but active in his salvation. For him to be otherwise is to make of him a mere machine, wholly without power to discern or choose between good and evil. If he is altogether passive he could not save himself if he would, and he would not if he could. In such condition if man is lost he cannot help it and if he is saved he cannot prevent it. If we deny man’s activity in salvation we thereby deny his free moral agency, and if man, as God made him, is not a free moral agent with power to choose between good and evil and thereby determine his own eternal destiny, the entire Bible is useless. All its pleadings, overtures and invitations plus all its warnings, threats and commandments are but sounding brass and clanging cymbals — they are empty, absurd and wasted.

There is not one passage in the Bible which indicates man is not free to choose between good and evil, between God and Satan, between salvation and damnation. It is this one consideration which gives grace its efficacy as that grace is revealed in the gospel. The gospel is powerless to save him who refuses to believe it. It is God’s chosen medium to save man who does believe it.

Grace and Works

“But,” asks one, “does not Paul declare in Ephesians 2:8, ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast‘?” Indeed the Apostle so states, but instead of this passage teaching that salvation is of grace without man’s activity, it affirms the exact opposite. Notice the expression “through faith.” Salvation is “by grace through faith,” not by grace without faith. The grace is God’s part, in man’s salvation, the faith is man’s part.

Then what about the expression: “that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast?” Obviously, though man is active in salvation his salvation comes neither through his own wisdom (I Corinthians 1:21), his own merit (Romans 3:9-19), nor his own works as is the clear implication of the passage before us. God does the saving, not man. Jehovah has designed the plan of salvation, has revealed it to man in the gospel, and has invited man to embrace it. When man in sin accepts the divine plan and conforms his life thereto, by virtue of this action he acknowledges his own inability to design and execute a plan for saving himself. Though he submits to the will of God, salvation is not of himself but of God; hence it is “not of works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5).

If finite man could save himself through his own wisdom or his own standard of righteousness he would have whereof to boast even before God. This is exactly what Paul declares in I Corinthians 1 man has not done and can never do. As indicated above, God designed and perfected the plan for man’s redemption; hence, salvation is not and cannot be by the works of man apart form God’s revelation and, therefore man cannot boast about his salvation.

It (salvation) is the gift of God” in exactly the same sense that Jesus Christ is the gift of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), but because God gave His Son it does not follow that all the world is saved by Him. Actually, Jesus Christ is God’s “offer” of salvation and cannot be a “gift” unless and until He is accepted. So it is with salvation. Salvation if “offered” to sinners through the gospel but does not become and cannot properly be a gift until accepted or appropriated. Man’s action or inaction with reference to God’s offer is that which determines salvation’s remaining an “offer” or becoming a “gift.” Here again we see salvation predicated on man’s disposition or will toward it.

Grace and Baptism

Sometimes we are told that if one must be baptized in order to be saved, salvation is made to depend upon a work of man, not on the grace of God. The fallacy in this reasoning is easily detected when we remember that baptism is not a work of man. While it is true that man is active in submitting to baptism, it is not true that baptism had its origin or continues its purpose in the wisdom or works of men. The Lord Jesus once asked the stubborn Jews a timely question about the baptism administered by John the Baptist. Said He, “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” (Matthew 21:25). Obviously, John’s baptism came from God (John 1:33), not from men. This being true, Jews submitting to it were doing the work of God. In like manner, when sinners are baptized at the command of Jesus Christ, they are doing the work of God, not the work of men for baptism exists now by order of God, not by order of men (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2;38; I Peter 3:21). On another occasion the Jews asked Jesus, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent” (John 6:28,29). We ask: “How can this be true?” i.e. in what sense can one do the work of God when he believes on Jesus Christ? The answer is clear if we will remember that God thus commands it. Anytime we do what God commands because He ordered it we are working the work of God. This is equally true of believing on His Son, repenting of sins, confessing faith in
Christ with the mouth, being baptized, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, or doing anything else of which God is the Author.

Divine and Human

We should not lose sight of the fact that there are two sides to the scheme of redemption — the divine and the human. God and man’s. There are some things that belong exclusively to God while there are others that belong entirely to man. For example, it was God’s prerogative to decide to offer man salvation; it is man’s prerogative to accept or reject the offer. It was God’s choice to send His Son; it is man’s choice to believe on or disbelieve Him. It is God’s order for men to be baptized in order to be saved; it is left up to man whether he will be baptized and be saved or reject baptism and be damned.

As certain as God offers salvation to sinners by the preaching of the gospel it is just that certain that this is the grace of God that brings salvation by teaching. Contrariwise, to reject the gospel as it is preached, i.e., the gospel taught, is to refuse the grace of God and thereby forfeit salvation.

What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25).

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; While it is said, ‘Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation’” (Hebrews 3:12-15).

Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. for if the Word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3).

And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now He commandeth all men every where to repent; Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness but that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him form the dead” (Acts 17:30,31).

And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58).

Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).

By James R. Cope; The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 12, October, 1952.
Via http://lavistachurchofchrist.org

 

Book Review: From Fear to Faith by Matthew Allen

“The goal of our study has been to help New Testament Christians move toward a new paradigm that is characterized by a confidence in God and an increased assurance of His promise of salvation” (p. 59. Emphasis mine).

A paradigm is a pattern.  Webster particularly defines a paradigm as “a pattern, example, or model.”  So I wonder, what’s wrong with the pattern laid out for us by Christ?  Why do we need a new pattern to follow?  Is Matthew Allen implying that the pattern laid out in God’s word does not adequately produce confidence?  The Apostle Paul said, Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).

So what is this new pattern?  Sadly, this book outlines a “grace based” philosophy that isn’t new at all.  Rather, it is a perversion of the gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).  Wittingly or unwittingly Brother Allen has fallen into a doctrine as old as the King James Version when John Calvin wrestled with this same question.  Does God require perfect obedience to obtain the remission of sins?

From the opening chapter of this book, perfect obedience is marginalized.  Grace is emphasized as an unconditional favor post-baptism.  Repentance is trivialized.  God’s mercy is limitless.  Continual cleansing is advocated.  The culminating effect of such writings makes one think we are fine being sinful; after all, we “cannot meet all of God’s standards” (p. 55).

Perfect obedience is marginalized.  To the author, perfection is not attainable.  “All Christians need to move away from the idea that human perfection is attainable.  It simply is not” (p. 9).  He writes in the first chapter, “We need to get away from the unspoken teaching that says we have to be absolutely perfect all the time in order to get to heaven” (p. 6).  Never mind the fact that the scriptures do not talk about absolute perfection.  The author makes that point clear by sighting passages such as Romans 3:23.   However, scriptures do say, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).  Human perfection is attainable from time to time in righteousness while God is consistently perfect.  In Matthew 19:21, Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  If perfection was not possible why did Jesus tell the Rich Young Ruler he could have been perfect?  Other passages teach the same concept that perfection is obtainable (Jn. 17:23; Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:28; Col. 4:12; 1 Thess. 3:10; Heb. 11:40; 12:23; Jas. 1:4; 2:22; 3:2; 1 Pet. 5:10).  Jesus even sights the church in Sardis for not having perfect works (Rev. 3:2).

Brother Allen needs to consider that if perfect obedience is not attainable, then perfect love is not attainable.  In order to love Christ, we must obey him (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:3).  Yet, we all fall short of our obedience to our Savior as the author abundantly emphasizes.  If we cannot obey Christ it means we don’t love Him!

Further, the Apostle John says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18).  If we can’t attain obedience, we have not been made perfect in love because love requires obedience.  If we can’t attain perfect love through obedience then we have something to fear.  If we don’t love Him because we don’t obey Him, we don’t have the assurance of salvation!  Obviously, the author’s understanding of obedience is seriously flawed.

The author goes on to state, “We must not expect Christians to come out of the baptistery water and be capable of perfection” (p. 6).  I would beg to differ! Simon the Sorcerer was a new convert (Acts 8:13) but notice the rebuke he got from Peter (Acts 8:20-23).  That was anything but mild.  Peter did not coddle Simon in his sin.  Perhaps the author sees this as “shooting our own” (p. 7).  Yet, it serves as an example that we must confront sin rather than tolerate it.  People should not be encouraged in their sins (Rom. 6:1-2).

Further, it seems the author is blaming the church for the sins of the weak or ignorant.  “Our weakest and most vulnerable Christians fall away too soon because some congregations have created such a sterile environment that they feel completely uncomfortable and intimidated by others sitting in the pew” (p. 6).  If I understand this argument, Brother Allen is upset that Christians have the gall to live righteously in their “environment” because it makes others feel bad about their sins.  Again, we find an attitude toward the acceptance of sins.  Does a sterile environment in the pew actually cause people to fall away?  James says sin occurs when people are drawn away by their desires (Jas. 1:13-16).  Remember, it is in obedience to God’s instructions that we worship Him in that sterile environment (1 Cor. 14:40).  Surely, God is not tempting the weak to feel uncomfortable by setting them next to a godly individual during worship.

The chapter on “New Perspectives on Obedience” gives me pause.  The author sarcastically ridicules the obedient as keeping a check-list that has to be fulfilled as though they are void of love for God.  He creates a dichotomy between “having to obey rather than wanting to obey” (p. 45).  Does it matter whether a person obeys from a sense of obligation (2 Cor. 9:5), fear (Eccl. 12:13), or love (Jn. 14:15)?  As parents, does it matter to us how our child obeys when he is about to run out in front of traffic?  Works from love don’t merit our salvation any more than works from fear.  If we do what we are supposed to do we are still unprofitable servants (Lk. 17:10).

Repentance is trivialized.  Repentance is “to change one’s mind or purpose” concerning sin (Vines).  It is the resolution not to sin again!  Yet, Brother Allen believes repentance is impossible and sets a person up for failure. “We can resolve to never sin again.  If we do this, we set ourselves up for failure.  This is impossible.  See 1 John 1:8” (p. 10).   A few lines later he reiterates, “Since resolving to never sin and not facing our sin are ways leading to defeat we must learn from our sin” (p. 10).  This is extremely troubling for me to accept.  God says that repentance is required for the forgiveness of sin and Brother Allen says it leads to defeat and failure.  Is this part of the new paradigm (Acts 5:29)?  Why would God tell us to do something that would lead to our defeat in the fight against sin?  Obviously, the author has made a tremendous blunder in his rationale.  If that is not the case, his sheep skin is wearing thin (Matt. 7:15).

Mercy is limitless. The author generalizes to the point of fallacy on the subject of mercy.  “God has never begrudged any gift to mankind. God’s mercy is without limit. No one is beyond His saving power” (p. 21).  Yet, God told Moses that His mercy was conditional.  “For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.   So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16).  God “repays man according to his work, and makes man to find a reward according to his way. Surely God will never do wickedly, nor will the Almighty pervert justice” (Job 34:11-12).  Mercy is obtained at baptism (1 Pet. 2:9-10).  Yet, mercy can be lost through disobedience (Heb. 10:26-31).

Grace is unconditional post-baptism.  The underlining problem with this whole book is Brother Allen’s misunderstanding of grace.  He recognizes the free gift of our Lord’s grace but he fails to see how it is accepted on our part.  He would have us believe there is nothing we can do after baptism but passively accept His free gift.  He fails to recognize that anytime we obey God’s commands we are working the works of God unto salvation (Jn. 6:28-29).  Obedience is part of our faith in Christ.

Obedience is required because God commands it (Jn. 14:15, 21; 1 Cor. 7:19; 1 Jn. 2:3-4; 3:22, 24; 5:2-3; 2 Jn. 1:6; Rev. 14:12; 22:14).  Grace is based on human performance.  Grace teaches us to conduct ourselves in certain godly ways.  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14; emphasis mine).  To say, “Grace is not based on human performance” (p. 26) is to mislead people into thinking there is nothing they must do for salvation.  We are saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8).  Grace is God’s part in our salvation while faith is our active part which is demonstrated by our obedience (Jas. 2: 17-26).

For a proper explanation concerning grace I would highly recommend an article written by James R. Cope entitled, “Salvation by Grace.”  The article can be found at:  http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/SalvationByGrace.html.  Brother Cope’s article explains just how we accept our salvation by grace through faith.

Continual cleansing is advocated.  The chapter on “Justified in Christ” is a soft peddling of the continual cleansing concept.  He states in that chapter, “God promises to cleanse us of all sin.  Our salvation is not dependent upon our perfection – but on God’s cleansing!” (p. 32).  Again, we find the author contradicting scriptures on the subject of perfection while affirming the work of God in our salvation to the neglect of any involvement of the sinner.  A few sentences later he states, “God wants to forgive people who want forgiveness.  He forgives people who realize they need forgiveness.  He forgives people who feel truly unworthy of forgiveness” (p. 32).  One will notice he never says God forgives those who repent or ask for forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4).  The reason for that oversight is because the author seems to believe forgiveness is complete at baptism.  After Brother Allen sights passages that teach salvation occurs at baptism he writes, “We will be saved, wholly, completely and forevermore!” (p. 7).  To the author it seems asking for forgiveness is not necessary after baptism.

Conclusion.  This book review should not be taken as documenting every possible error.  There are many more questionable statements throughout this book.  The five points above represent the most glaring contradictions to God’s word in Brother Allen’s book.

From Fear to Faith by Matthew Allen and published by Spiritbuilding Publishing is the worst Bible class book I have ever had to endure.  Brother Allen’s influence has caused one congregation that studied this material to divide within a few months.  Instead of building one another up in the assurance of salvation, this book helped tear apart a once loving congregation.  False doctrine has that affect (Acts 20:29-30).

 By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net