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Max Lucado

 and Salvation

 

There are many ideas about salvation. In the book, In The Grip Of Grace, Mr. Lucado expresses his ideas.  As both Mr. Lucado and this writer are children of the Restoration Movement, I understand something of his frustration with the legalism, which we find therein and elsewhere.  I share in the same frustrations but I do not share in the solution, which he proposes.

 

What is the gist of Mr. Lucado’s ideas in regard to salvation?

A summary of Mr. Lucado’s ideas:

 

1.  Abraham was pleasing to God as recorded in Genesis 15 before he was circumcised.  God reckoned his faith for righteousness.

This is all true as far as I can determine, but we should be careful with our assumptions.

We should not assume that Abraham was the first whose faith was reckoned for righteousness, Abel, Enoch and Noah obeyed by faith. (Hebrews 11: 1- 8)

Neither was Abraham the first that was pleasing to God.  That distinction belongs to Enoch.  Neither was Abraham the first whose faith was reckoned for righteousness.  That distinction goes to Abel and Noah.  (Hebrews 11: 4- 7)

Neither should we assume that having one’s faith reckoned for righteousness is a one time, irrevocable event.  By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called.  Then by faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise.  Then by faith Abraham offered up Isaac when he was tested and his faith was reckoned for righteousness.  His entire life beginning with the call is an example of faith.  (Hebrews 6: 4- 6; 11: 8- 19; James 2: 21- 24)

 

2.  Fourteen years later Abraham received the symbol of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith he had while uncircumcised.

This is true, however circumcision was only such a sign to Abraham who was righteous before circumcision.  After Abraham, the males were circumcised on the eighth day, long before sin and faith came into play in their lives.  Their circumcision was not a sign of righteousness they had before circumcision but it was a sign of covenant between God and Abraham.  (Genesis 17: 11)

 

3.  If he was pleasing to God only after he was circumcised, then he was accepted according to his merit and not according to his faith.  In The Grip Of Grace, PG 47.

Max seems to hold that every response, other than faith, is a matter of merit.  But this is simply not true.  Certainly we are not saved by deeds of righteousness or merit, but the Scriptures speak of the obedience of faith, work of faith and labor of love.  I submit that the obedience of faith is not a work of righteousness.  The faith that saves is never alone.  (Acts 6: 7; Romans 1: 5; 16: 26; 1 Thessalonians 1: 3; 2 Thessalonians 1: 11; James 2: 14- 26; Hebrews 11)

The obedience that proceeds from faith is not only important but also essential.  (2 Thessalonians 1: 8- 10; Hebrews 5: 9)

 

4.  Baptism, communion and church membership like circumcision are seen as symbols.  They are contemporary symbols of salvation but they do not impart salvation.  In The Grip Of Grace, pg. 49

Baptism is certainly symbolic.  It is symbolic of a cleansing, being united with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection and it is a symbol of being born again, but it is also authentic, God really works at that time to accomplish His purposes.  Circumcision on the other hand, is entirely symbolic.  The child at 8 days has no sin to be put off.  He has done no wrong and his circumcision is not an act of faith one his part.

There are some things that are “life or death” issues, if we fail to do them we are not going to make it.  We must believe, repent, confess, be born again, be converted and partake of Jesus or we will not see life.  Other things, such as taking communion and attending church, are not life and death issues.  They were given to us to help us in our walk but contrary to what some say we will not be damned if are not able to participate in all services.  On the other hand if we deliberately disregard God’s instructions, what does that say about our faith.

Salvation is not one dimensional or even two dimensional, the Scriptures list some twenty factors that contribute to salvation.  We are saved by grace but not grace alone.  We must cooperate with God.  We are saved by faith but the faith that saves is never alone.  Faith is more than mental assent.

 

5.  Symbols do not impart salvation, thus baptism though “important” does not impart salvation.  In The Grip Of Grace, PG 50

Max is entitled to his view of salvation but he does not call the shots.  God is sovereign; He can use any factor He chooses that is consistent with grace 

Contrary to Max’s assertions the Scriptures say that baptism, the washing of regeneration, among other factors does save.  (1 Peter 3: 21; Mark 16: 18; Titus 3: 5)

 

6.  God saves us, not because we trust in a symbol, but because we trust in a Savior.  In The Grip Of Grace, PG 50

Most successful propagandist will have an element of truth in their spiel.  Mr. Lucado is a good one.  Certainly we recognize that it is God who saves.  No argument.  There are some who are trusting in baptism, itself, to save.  No argument.  But to infer that all who consider baptism as essential to salvation are trusting in a symbol is simply wrong.  We believe in God, not in our abilities or ourselves.  We may have once trusted in our heritage, but not anymore.

One cannot trust in God and disregard His counsel.  Faith is not simply mental assent.  Trust is more than mental reliance.  Biblical faith always expresses itself in obedience, motivated by love.  Obedience is gift of God, enabling us to know when our faith is complete and perfected.  We don’t go down to the mourner’s bench seeking a feeling, an experience, and a sign that assures we have been saved

 

What is Paul’s view on grace, faith, obedience, and justification?  While Paul taught that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works of righteousness, did he teach that salvation was through faith alone?

Paul said he received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles.  (Romans 1: 5; 16: 26)

All will be judged according to their deeds.  (Romans 2: 6)

Those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth will receive wrath and indignation.  (Romans 2: 8)

We are baptized into Christ and into his death.  (Romans 6: 3- 9)

We are buried with Him through baptism into death.

We are united with Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection through baptism and share in the newness of life.

In baptism our old self was crucified with Him.

We are freed from sin.  (Romans 6: 3- 9)

Having been obedient to that form of teaching, we have been freed from sin.  (Romans 6: 17- 18)

Obedience of the Gentiles.  (Romans 15: 18)

We are the sons of God by baptism.  (Galatians 3: 27)

We are clothed with Christ (and with His righteousness) when baptized.  (Galatians 3: 27)

Faith works through love.  (Galatians 5: 6)

Obey the truth.  (Galatians 5: 7)

Those that do not obey the gospel will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.  (2 Thessalonians 1: 8, 9)

Don’t associate with those who do not obey this letter.  (2 Thessalonians 3: 14)

God is the author of eternal salvation to those that obey.  (Heb 5: 9)

 

Is baptism a symbol of justification we have received through faith?

Certainly we can agree that baptism is a symbol.  It is a symbol of cleansing, birth and being united with Christ, but there is no indication that it is a symbol of justification before baptism.  Max assumes that because circumcision was a sign to Abraham of the righteous that was reckoned to him prior to circumcision that baptism stands in the same place to us.  This is an unwarranted assumption.

The Scriptures do not make Lucado’s assumed analogy; they compare circumcision to baptism in the removal of the body of flesh.

(Colossians 2: 11- 13)

But most telling is Paul’s statement to the Galatians that those who were baptized into Christ were clothed with Christ.  That is, by faith. They are clothed with the righteousness of Christ (justification) after baptism.  (Galatians 3: 26, 27)

 

Is baptism only a symbol?

While baptism is a symbol it is not only a symbol.  God in His sovereignty has decided to perform authentic work in the lives of believers when they obey.  When we let ourselves be baptized, according to Paul:

 

Does justification by faith eliminate baptism as a factor in salvation?

No, it does not.  Although justification is essential to salvation it does not comprise the totality of salvation.  Salvation includes forgiveness, reconciliation, sanctification, renewal, etc.  The need for baptism is not displaced.

But more to the point, when we examine the faith that justifies and saves, we find that that faith is never alone, we are justified and saved by a perfected, obedient faith.  Faith without love, even the faith that could move mountains, is nothing.  Raw faith, mere mental assent, without obedience is dead and useless.  (James 2: 14- 26; 1 Corinthians 13: 2)

When Abraham was offering Isaac, God prevented him and said, “For now I know that you fear God.”   Stop the presses. God knew before.  This was not news to Him.  This statement was made for Abraham and you and me.  James in explaining justification referred to this very incident.  He said, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says. AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS, and he was God the friend of God.”  Baptism is God’s gift to us so that we may know when God reckons our faith for righteousness.  It is when faith obeys God. 

Paul says it best.  “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”   (Galatians 5: 6)  As we read Hebrews 11, we can’t help but note that the faith, which is reckoned for righteousness, obeys,

 

Is obedience, including baptism, not only “important“ but also essential to salvation?

Paul says that those who do not know God and obey the gospel will pay the penalty of eternal destruction. This sound very serious to me.  What is the gospel?  The gospel is the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus when he paid the penalty for our sins and conquered death.  We “obey the gospel” when we reenact the death, burial and resurrection in our own live through baptism.   (2 Thessalonians 1: 8; 1 Corinthians 15: 1- 4).

The gospel of Christ can be perverted.  A work of righteousness is done to merit righteousness before God.  It proceeds from faith in us, not faith in God.  It is motivated by pride or fear not love.  It is the idea that the physical act of baptism, by itself, results in forgiveness of sins.  Apart from faith in God and Christ and in His death, burial and resurrection it is meaningless.  We do not advocate “baptismal regeneration” and the baptism of infants.  The obedience of faith is a different matter.  It proceeds from faith in God, motivated by love.  It is not trust in a symbol.  If we were trusting in a symbol the greatest evangelical work we could do would be to go down to the community pool, get in the water and baptize those little rascals whether they like it or not.

 

Can God’s symbols be ignored?

But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.  (Genesis 17: 14)

A Christian cannot any more ignore baptism and be acceptable to God, than a Jew could never ignore circumcisions and be acceptable to God.

Surely no one believes that because a Jew was circumcised his ticket was irrevocably punched for heaven.  There are to many passages that speak of the circumcision of the heart for that to be true.  Neither do we believe that simply being dunked saves.  There must be a change of heart also.  By the same token, we suggest that those who claim to have had a change of heart but do not obey, demonstrate that their heart has not been changed.  (Deuteronomy 10: 16; Jeremiah 4: 4; 9:25; Romans 2: 28, 29)

 

What is behind Max’s teaching?

I have never met Max and have not even been a fan.  Therefore it may seem more than a little presumptuous to offer an opinion about his motives.  I leave judgment to God, who will judge us all.  But I suspect there are two primary factors.

First, Max is a child of the Restoration Movement as am I.  I suspect that he is appalled by the legalism and judgmental attitude that has been characteristic of to many of us.  We have failed to emphasize God’s love and grace and spirituality while demanding adherence to law and commands.

Second, I suspect that he has been impressed with the moral uprightness and sincerity of those in the “denominational world” who we have counted as lost.  Lost, because they have not been baptized or because they use a piano in their worship services.  You mean that God would condemn simply for not being immersed in water!

What can I say?  I admit that I have missed the mark in many ways and I have been trying with the help of God to make some changes in my thinking and life.  Sometimes when we make corrections, we overcorrect and drive off the other side of the road.

I have also been aware of the many “good” folks in the denominational world, but we are not going to be saved by “our goodness” and they are not going to be saved by “their goodness.”  We are going to be saved by our faith in God.  Amazing!  How much faith must we have? We don’t have to wonder and speculate.  Faith is perfected as expressed by obeying the gospel through love.  Jesus tells us of some who will acknowledge Him as Lord and did many great things in His name but never have done His will.  I suspect that Max has been trying to rationalize this situation.  (Matthew 7: 21- 23)

 

God bless.

 Arland  Pafford  

 

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Last Update   09/26/12