“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” 1 Timothy 4:16
In our last issue we carried a brief report from Sydney outlining the results of a combined Arranging Brethren’s meeting held in June. The purpose of the meeting was to address a number of issues relating to false ideas on the Spirit, unbalanced views on grace and redemption and misleading positions on open fellowship with the churches. A number of brief addresses were given around these topics and the brethren who attended felt that they were better equipped to tackle some of these emerging views.
In this issue of The Lampstand we wish to examine some of these issues a little further and warn brethren and sisters about the dangers of current evangelical trends which are being quite persuasively presented through popular literature. Sadly some of this literature is being recommended to brethren and sisters as a means of ‘opening up’ our understanding on subjects such as grace and salvation.
The four articles that appear in our feature deal with the subtle dangers of these evangelical trends and re-assert our position on these matters. The first article presents an overview of some of the problems that are currently surfacing. The second explains the distinctiveness of our beliefs, whilst the third looks at our unique position in relation to our fellowship with God. The last looks at the significance of the grace of God.
They are not meant to be exhaustive discussions on the subject of grace and salvation. Instead they are designed to alert us to the potential dangers that exist around us. It is so easy to be deceived by persuasive ideas that lessen our appreciation of the one Gospel. The apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim 4:16). It is one thing to take heed; it is another thing to continue. The first involves an attention to detail, whilst the second requires long persistence and faithful perseverance. Together they form an important bond in maintaining the doctrinal and personal purity required of us all.
What is the grace of God? It is not a New Testament phenomenon. It was first expressed in differing ways by various Hebrew words. The word hen meant “favour”, chamal meant “to spare or pity”, chesed meant “goodness or steadfast love” and racham meant “to love deeply, or to have compassion”. All these ideas express a sense of undeserved favour and love towards mankind. It is a sense of pity and compassion that God shows towards His people. The Greek words eleos and charis confirm these definitions.
As we shall see in the following articles this grace is not some mystical force that pervades a person’s life and makes them amenable to God’s voice and ideas. Neither is it some kind of favour that God is prepared to show unconditionally to the ungodly. It is the compassionate response of our heavenly Father towards those who fear Him (Psa 103:17). It is the expression of forbearance and forgiveness which flows from Him after His righteousness has been upheld (Rom 3:25,26). It was defined as an expression of divine kindness towards those who have the privilege of being in Christ Jesus (see Eph 2:4,7).
There is a wonderful balance about the whole subject of redemption. Take Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8,9—“For 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”. If we were to leave the exposition at that point we could be forgiven for believing that faith is all you need to be saved. In fact it could be argued that Paul specifically prohibits works when it comes to salvation.
But like so many of Paul’s explanations you need to read on. “For”, he continues by way of elaboration, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”. What the apostle is teaching is this—we cannot save ourselves; salvation is a free gift. Nevertheless there is an effort and response required on our part. There must be faith in the revealed will and purpose of God. And whilst there can be no deeds of self-righteousness, there must be fruit instead, something Paul terms “good works”—a wonderful phrase describing the obedience that springs from faith and love. These works are not self-induced. We are simply the work of God upon which the tool of the Word has had some effect. God, through the spirit Word, is the source of all that we do. It supplies the motive and will. It generates the strength to continue. All we can do is respond to its influence and power and on this basis God is prepared to offer us the free and undeserved gift of eternal life.
Hence, salvation is undeserved, but not totally unconditional. Grace is freely available, but it is not unconnected to our love for God. Mercy is unreserved, but it is not unrelated to the obedience of our faith. We cannot earn eternal life, but if there is not a reflection of the Father’s character in us then there will be no life. It is not always easy to get the balance right. May these brief articles assist us to contemplate the wondrous hope of salvation we have in Christ Jesus and appreciate the wondrous gift of grace.