Recently I saw a statement on a Facebook friend’s status about how we will be judged on that great day by what we have done in our lives. He is a preacher for a hard line Church of Christ in the Bible belt. I commented that I will be judged on that great day by one great Man’s deed done on one day.
He half agreed with me, but added a verse about how we will all have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged for the deeds we have done in our lives (2 Cor 5:10). That frustrated me a little, until I woke up the next day and remembered a trick I learned when I first discovered that every book in the New Testament is about grace and forgiveness. If you find a verse that sounds harsh and judgmental, just look ten verses before or after it and you will find a verse that is awash in forgiveness, grace and good news! So I went back to 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and found one of my favorite verses, one that the hard line Churches of Christ hate, hate, hate: verse 21: “He who knew no sin, became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”
Just quoting that one verse can label you as a liberal in most hard line Churches of Christ, and in many it will label you as a false teacher. (Yes, using a verse in the Bible can label you as a false teacher!)
So back another preacher came with another quote, this time from the polar apostle John. John liked to contrast things as black and white, right or wrong, heaven or hell. So the preacher quoted ”Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)
But by this time I knew what to do. Within 10 verses before that passage is this: ”If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8,9) That particular passage is so upsetting to hard line Church of Christ people that one preacher published in 1978 an entire book on that passage alone. (Spoiler Alert: John didn’t mean to say that, as far as that preacher is concerned.)
The Churches of Christ, hard line, have been battling the Baptists (once saved, always saved) and the Catholics (just go to confession) for so many years that they have a hard time with affirming large swaths of forgiveness. They prefer small stingy scraps of forgiveness, and to trust in themselves, and their own obedience. Of course when they talk about obedience, they usually mean going to church every time the doors are open. Of course they include the other things: don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, etc. But the biggies are going to the right church (hint: the hard line Churches of Christ) every Sunday to take communion, being baptized correctly, worshipping correctly, etc. The songs they sing affirm the good news, but the sermons and the Bible classes do not. Oh, occasionally there will be some young upstart who will start preaching about forgiveness, how we can be bold in our prayers, and we can be sure we are saved, but he will go liberal within five years, and get kicked out, so he doesn’t really count.
The hard line Churches of Christ love to misquote James 2: “faith without works is dead”, forgetting that the works are not “going to church” and “worshipping correctly”, but giving to the poor, and treating the poor with equal respect. “So speak and so act as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:25) The law of liberty is the law of freedom (hint: forgiveness).
The apostle Paul quoted Genesis 15 that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as if it was obedient righteousness, even though all he had done was believe God’s promise that he would have many descendants and inherit the land of Canaan. But in chapters 16-20 Abraham failed to show that he believed God. He stumbled around making faithless mistake after faithless mistake (have a child by Hagar, telling the kings his wife was his sister) until in chapter 21 he demonstrates he believes God would even raise Isaac from the dead if he were to kill him on an altar. Abraham finally passed the test of his faith. So the saving faith that the apostle Paul points out for the Jewish believers to take note of, is Abraham’s imperfect faith that stumbled around until it found expression in a powerful act of obedient faith.
And that is what our faith in Christ is like. I say I believe Jesus rose from the dead, but my life shows that often I don’t believe that. I stumble around in unbelief, but sometimes my life shows that I truly do believe that Jesus rose and I too one day will rise from the dead.