By Leslie Diestelkamp
Among my dearly beloved brethren in Christ, the New Testament doctrine of salvation by grace needs a defense today just as baptism for remission of sins needs defense among the people of the denominational world. Yet, though most gospel preachers with whom I talk agree completely with the things I shall write in this series of articles, seldom do we hear a sermon on these matters and almost never do we read essays in the papers about it.
Now it is true that we read a great deal about grace, but 98% of it is intended to show the abuses of Bible teaching and to expose certain Calvinistic doctrines. Those of us who believe strongly the things I am about to write may have been hesitant to write – to “go public” – lest we be falsely branded as Calvinists and also lest what we write be misused by those who do indeed advocate false concepts about grace.
For generations faithful preachers have defended the necessity of baptism because we loved lost souls and we knew such souls continue in a lost condition until they surrender in full obedience. Today I also defend the importance of grace in God’s scheme of redemption because I fear some of my brethren may be putting too much trust in human merit and may, therefore, fall short of God’s grace.
First Century Grace
Within twenty-five years after the crucifixion, Paul was guided by the Holy Spirit to make a defense of grace even among “the saints . . . and to the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1, 2). In that letter, Paul urged the brethren to remember that they had been dead in sin, that Gad loved them even then, that God had quickened them – made them alive in Christ, and that all of this was of grace (Eph. 2:1-5). Paul even warned them not to trust in works of human merit – works that would allow them to boast and he urged them to recognize that it was altogether of grace that God had admitted them, as Gentiles, into the fold of the redeemed (Eph. 2:8, 9; 3:1-6).
Likewise we, as American Christians, must be constant ly urged to remember that we are not God’s people because we are better than others, but rather that, being as totally lost as the most wretched heathen, we may be saved by grace just as he may be. The moment that we assume our need of grace is less than the need of the pagan, we may be endangering our souls in some reliance upon merit. There endangering not a single condition of salvation that is applicable to the heathen that does not also apply with equal strength to us. The pagan and we are all unworthy – and we are as unworthy as he (Rom. 3:23). And grace is the cure. Let us be unafraid to say that “only by grace are we saved.”
Only By Grace
No doubt many brethren will be shocked when they read the title of this section. Some may immediately say, “Leslie has joined the Calvinists.” But I assure you that my purpose is not to be sensational nor to create criticism. Rather, I just want to get my point across so that it will be remembered. What is the point I want to impress? I want all of us to clearly see that there is no way we can have salvation from sins now and eternal salvation in heaven except by God’s amazing grace!
But lest some misunderstand, please notice that I do not say we are saved by “grace alone” or “grace only.” There is a great difference between “only by grace” and “by grace only.” To illustrate: we may certainly say that we only live by breathing. When we fail to breathe, we die. However, one certainly does not live by breathing only. He must eat and drink. And if we can understand the illustration, then we can surely understand that we may only be saved by God’s unmerited favor – that without that grace we would all be forever hopelessly lost.
No Other Means
When we have sinned, we have left ourselves in a condition of absolute helplessness as far as human merit is concerned. We cannot run away from our guilt: “Be sure, your sins will find you out” (Num. 32:23). Likewise, and for sure, we cannot work our way out of the problem (Rom. 3:20 – “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.”). And we cannot wash away our sins through human means. “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).
No other human being can wash us for they have no cleanser that is sufficient. All the powers that be are incapable in our behalf. Governments, armies and even religious systems lack any cleansing power. We are totally dependent upon God’s grace (Eph. 2:8).
Why do I write these things to my brethren? I will tell you why: (1) I do not want to be lost and I do not want others to be lost. Yet, if we fail to recognize our helplessness, we may certainly fail to avail ourselves of saving grace. (2) I fear that many children of God may be lost eternally because they tried to work their way out of sinful guilt. It is indeed necessary to turn from sinfulness in repentance, but forgiveness comes to the Christian who acknowledges his sins to God (1 Jn. 1:7-9). (3) Some may become discouraged and quit trying because they see that they are failing in perfection. But when we really understand grace, we can be of good courage “and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23).
If God would have Oven Abraham, Noah, David and Daniel, all of them thus sacrificed would not have purchased redemption for even one sinner. And if God would have demanded that we give ourselves as a burnt offering, we would still be unforgiven. If God would have demanded that we work ourselves to death or that we pay every cent we ever have or that we bathe ourselves every hour of every day, and though we would have been obligated to do what God said, all of this would not have been a sufficient sacrifice for our salvation. “For by grace are ye saved” (Eph. 2:5). Next: “Unconditional Grace.”
Truth Magazine XXIV: 13, pp. 216-217
March 27, 1980