By Bobby Witherington
A brother in Christ from another area enclosed with a personal letter to me a copy of the July 31, 1983 issue of The Persuader, a bulletin published by the Scyene Road church of Christ in Dallas, Texas, and which is edited by brother Arnold Hardin. A featured article in this bulletin was one entitled “Afraid of Grace,” written by brother Dan Rogers. In his first sentence Dan said: “Although many will no doubt deny it, I believe that, generally speaking, we church of Christ folk are terribly, terribly afraid of grace.” In his last paragraph brother Rogers again said, “We church of Christ folk are terribly, terribly afraid of grace.”
I must confess that I did not know that we are “terribly, terribly afraid of grace.” Most people tend to avoid those things of which they are “terribly, terribly afraid.” For example, I am “terribly, terribly afraid” of wild, wounded bears. So I leave them alone. Entirely. But I do not avoid the subject of grace. In fact, in my last gospel meeting I preached a sermon entitled “Salvation by Grace.” And as a matter of coincidence on the day before receiving this “Afraid of Grace” article, along with brother Dodson, I taught a lesson on grace to some patients at Patton Hospital. These patients are not yet members of the church of Christ, so that lesson naturally did not scare them. But brother Dodson did not seem unnerved by my lesson. Come to think of it, the brethren in the church where I last preached a sermon on that subject did not seem unnerved either. In fact, on numerous occasions I have preached on grace, but I do not recall any “church of Christ folk” becoming “terribly, terribly afraid.” Maybe some brethren are “terribly, terribly afraid of grace,” but I have not met any. And brother Rogers believes that “generally speaking, we church of Christ folk are terribly, terribly afraid of grace.”
Thayer’s Lexicon defines grace as “good-will, loving kindness, favor.” Additionally he stated “the New Testament writers use charis (grace, bw) pre-eminently of that kindness by which God bestows favor even upon the ill-deserving and grants to sinners the pardon of their offences, and bids them accept of eternal salvation through Christ. ” That thought thrills my soul! It does not make me “terribly, terribly afraid.”
However, I must confess that I believe in a Savior Who “cannot deny himself’ (2 Tim. 2:13). This means that whatever the Lord taught on one subject does not contradict what He taught on other subjects. It means that the “grace” passages harmonize with the passages which teach the necessity of obedience. Of course, I believe 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.” “Grace, ” as used here sets forth the divine side of salvation – God doing for us what we can not do for ourselves. “Faith” sets forth the human side of salvation -God requiring of us what we can do for ourselves. The expression, “and that not of yourselves.- it is the gift of God,” refers neither to grace nor faith, but to the whole process of our being saved by grace through faith. It has to be the “gift of God,” for man, through sin, offended the infinite holiness of God and thus alienated himself from God. This being true, man is utterly powerless to devise his own system whereby he may receive God’s forgiveness. If man could devise his own law of pardon then he could claim salvation on the basis of human merit – earning God’s favor by his own self-appointed meritorious works.
But it is one thing to rule out man-conceived, meritorious works, and quite another to rule out the Christ-authorized works of obedience. That human activity must compliment the grace of God is suggested by the following: (1) Grace is given of God (Jas. 4:6) but man has access to it by faith (Rom. 5:1,2). (2) Grace brings salvation (Tit. 2:11), but man must work it out by obedience (Phil. 2:12). (3) Grace provides the word (Acts 20:32), but man must receive it with meekness (Jas. 1:21). (4) Grace elects man to salvation (Rom. 11:5), but we are elected unto obedience (1 Pet. 1:2). (5) Grace is in Christ (2 Tim. 2: 1) but man must enter Christ by baptism (Gal. 3:27). The grace of God teaches (Tit. 2:11) but man must practice the teaching (Tit. 2:12).
Salvation by grace proves that man lacks ability; it does not destroy accountability. It proves that salvation is unmerited; it does not make salvation unconditional. After we meet all the conditions we are at best “unprofitable servants” (Lk. 17: 10). We can earn salvation, but we must do ” The will of the Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:2 1). Are we “terribly, terribly afraid of grace?” No! A thousand times no. What we are “terribly, terribly afraid of” is not Bible teaching on grace, but the unbiblical attempts of such men as Arnold Hardin and Dan Rogers to array passages on grace against those passages which stress the necessity of obedience.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 2, p. 49
January 19, 1984