Exegesis of Texts Cited in “Proposition One Response from Phil”, Part 3

by Jay Guin

Conclusion: How God saves people despite imperfect doctrine

Throughout my childhood I was taught that I could not be forgiven of a sin until I confessed it, repented of it (by no longer doing that thing), and prayed to God asking for forgiveness. I naturally concluded that I was only forgiven while asleep — because each night I prayed for forgiveness for that day’s sins as I drifted off to sleep. I mean, I knew about “sins of omission” (Our preacher loved preaching on sins of omission), and I saw no way that I could ever be guiltless of those except for the moment after my prayer.

And the next day, I committed some of the same sins again. Sometimes it was because I didn’t even realize that what I was doing was wrong. Sometimes I just wasn’t as good as I wanted to be. And so I concluded that I wasn’t forgiven for those sins at all.

And I couldn’t even ask for forgiveness perfectly. Sometimes I was rude or hateful but unaware of my sin until later reproached by the person I’d offended. And who knows how many sins I’ve committed unaware that were never brought to my attention.

I found myself unable to precisely catalog my daily sins so that I could confess them, much less repent of them. And I doubted the sufficiency of the rote prayer “forgive me of all my sins” when I’d not confessed or repented of those sins. I felt surely damned.

It wasn’t until college, in a class on Romans taught by Dr. Harvey Floyd, that I finally realized that I’d been deceived. Of course, I should continue to try to do better, but I learned that the standard was not perfect confession or perfect repentance. Nor was my salvation dependent on having prayed for forgiveness the moment before my death. I learned for the first time that I am saved by grace.

However, for many years, I still struggled with whether the standard is higher for doctrine. Must we get all the rules right to be saved? Eventually, it occurred to me. As Phil said in Proposition One Response from Phil: “error is equated in God’s eyes with sin.” And that means that doctrinal sin is forgiven on the same terms as any other sin – by grace, for penitent believers.

I find the principle in such verses as –

(Heb 10:13-14)  Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Those who are “made perfect forever” are those “being made holy” — those whom God is still working on but hasn’t yet made perfect. The point is that we are saved (“perfect forever”) because we are growing in Christ — not because we’ve perfected our doctrinal understanding.

Or consider —

(2 Pet 1:5-10)  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall … .

If you grow in the virtues listed in vv. 5 – 7, “you will never fall.” It’s not that we have perfect faith or perfect love; it’s that the direction of our lives (as baptized, penitent believers) is toward God.

Of course, if I’m rich in faith and goodness, then as I become aware of my mistakes and failings, with God’s help, I’ll work on them to continue to grow in faith, but my salvation is shown to be sure by my growth in these very virtues, not by how well I’ve mastered the laws of general and specific authority.

Of course, as a penitent believer who loves God and submits to Jesus as Lord, I study to learn God’s will because I delight in his teachings and because I want to please him by submitting to them. Grace is not license to sin, and the penitent wish to grow in Jesus. But because I’m not yet through growing in Jesus, I’m not yet through making mistakes — nor will I ever be.

But what if someone — a preacher, an elder, a writer — charges me with sin and I disagree with him, finding his reasoning flawed? Am I still penitent if I refuse to accept the accusation?

The frivolous answer is that it depends on whether he is right. I mean, the most prominent leaders within the Churches of Christ can’t agree on everything! How on earth am I to be held accountable for which one (if any) has the true interpretation? Which periodical has the final authority? Today’s Gospel Advocate doesn’t agree with all that it wrote 30 years ago. It sure doesn’t agree with much of what David Lipscomb wrote. Which editorship is the final authority? It’s a hopeless way to seek salvation.

This is not the same case as Peter rebuking Simon Magi, because no one living today is an apostle. If an apostle rebukes me, I must submit to his authority if I’m penitent (1 John 4:6). If an uninspired man rebukes me, and if I honestly disagree with his doctrine, I may be wrong, but I’m still penitent.

Fortunately, the scriptures don’t speak in terms of my getting all doctrines right as a condition of my continued salvation. That’s not what “repentance” means. Yes, I absolutely should care enough about God’s word to study to try to learn all I can from it. And I should certainly take seriously those who try to teach me better. But my critics aren’t my judges. Only God is. And he has already judged me “perfect forever” because I’m in the process of being made holy.

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27 Comments on “Exegesis of Texts Cited in “Proposition One Response from Phil”, Part 3”


  1. […] Part Three (Conclusions: How God saves people despite imperfect doctrine) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)GraceConversation.comoNew poems at LiturgicalCredo.comGod’s People Reconciling (Part 3 of 4)Texas Looks For Flood Victims […]


  2. Thanks for the thoughts! This thought process was the thought process I was taught growing up. I have used this same illustration many times as I talked about grace and assurance.
    It wasn’t until I sat in a class taught by Harvey Starling that I realized we could actually have assurance of salvation. Harvey introduced us to the book of 1st John. It was as if a burden was lifted from my shoulders. It has taken many additional years to grow in my understanding and knowledge of grace. Your post brings back so many happy thoughts of my time sitting in Harvey’s class at IBC so many years ago. God speed to you my brother.

  3. nick gill Says:

    Peter says:

    “[add] to your goodness, knowledge” and “if you possess these qualities in increasing measure…”

    Would someone please explain to me, in words this HS-graduate can grasp, how my knowledge can both be increasing AND without error?

    Every bit of knowledge gained replaces a faulty bit, doesn’t it?

  4. Wayne McDaniel Says:

    Nick,
    The insight given you by the Spirit has just blessed me. I have overlooked the obvious that you have pointed out so well.

    I just recalled 1 John 2:27, “And as for you, the annointing which you received of him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as his annointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it taught you, you abide in him.”
    Even though those who bind burdens on others are silenced by the living word, those who rely
    upon Jesus alone, may continue to speak to one another, Mal.3:16-18.

  5. K. Rex Butts Says:

    The bottom line is that if a pleasing and acceptable faith to God depends upon us have every last doctrine precisely correct, then we are all doomed because we all fail at some point in trying to understand every possible doctrine no matter how hard we try to get it right…

    …and those who believe they have it all right are wrong, for they have failed to understand the doctrine of humility. 🙂

    Your brother in Christ,

    Rex

  6. Wayne McDaniel Says:

    Rex, Thank you for emphasizing humility. That is how Jesus defined himself, Mt.11.

    Isaiah 57:15 is a beautiful description of those who the Lord is pleased to dwell with.

  7. Alan Says:

    It’s not that we have perfect faith or perfect love; it’s that the direction of our lives (as baptized, penitent believers) is toward God.

    Excellent point, and an excellent choice of texts to show that it is true (2 Pet 1:5-10) Our assurance against falling comes from growing in the virtues as stated by the Holy Spirit through Peter… and not from the accuracy and precision of our discernment about doctrine.

  8. Dusty Chris Says:

    Luckily, whether we understand grace fully (which we likely never will) or not, it still covers us as we mature in our relationship with Christ. Understanding more about grace changes how we feel about grace but doesn’t affect grace at all. It has always been there, and always will be. Whether we are conservative or progressive, it doesn’t affect the fact that we are covered by it. If progressives are wrong, then perhaps the grace of God will suffice until we change to a more conservative view (or vice versa). This is just evidence of the goodness, patience and love of God.

    Jay, I appreciate you writing things down that I didn’t know I thought until I read it. I was never trained in the art of Bibical argument. Reading both sides of this discussion is laborious and somewhat of a beating for me. You express yourself with love and respect for the reader…even if the reader is a dunderhead like me.

    I have learned that I am a progressive (I think) because I believe in grace (woohoo). Could someone describe the characteristics of a progressive or conservative so I can be sure? I know this is remedial but I was just wondering.

  9. Randall Says:

    In trying to keep up with this site for several weeks it is evident that many churches of Christ will remain stuck in such an exclusivistic mindset. So much talking back and forth and over what? We are not discussing the nature of the atonement; the uniquemess of the person of Jesus; how a completley holy God could love sinners such as ourselves; or how such an infinite being reveals himself to finite and fallen beings so clearly. We are discussing issues of such minimal importance and saying fellowship in christ depends on it. The instumental music issue has gone on for over a century and a half! and we have added other trivial issue to it. What does it say about us that we could we do that?

    This is embarrassing. I can’t imagine wanting to invite a friend or neighbor to participate in such a conversation or with such a denomination. The kingdom of God is about things like love, mercy, forgiveness and righteousness and peace, not squabbles over insignificant matters. This site could go on for months with no signs of abating. I don’t mean to be offensive but if this is what the church is about I understand the world not wanting to be involved.

  10. Wayne McDaniel Says:

    Dusty,
    From what you wrote a few days ago, you have already tasted the powers of the age to come in some of the gatherings in your home. I think the short answer to your question is humility or pride.

    Our pride disguises itself in many ways, but always trys to CONTROL others, and does not hesitate to bind things the Lord has not, Mt.23:4, Acts 15. Paul called some “false brethren” that insisted upon circumcision for Gentiles, Gal.2:4. Jesus said that unless men turn and become humble as little children, they cannot enter the kingdom, Mt.18:3-4. When we compare Isaiah 57:15 with Mt. 5:3-4, and Jesus’ self description, Mt.11:29, we see the heart to whom the Lord will NOT reckon sin, Rom.4:7-8.

    In contrast with Jesus, there were teachers that had contempt for others: “But this multitude that knows not the law are accursed.”,John 7:49. Jesus spoke a parable to those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought”, Lk.18:9. They had far too much pride to say, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”

    If confessing sins and praying for each other was RESTORED among us (James 5:16, 1 John 5:16), those who are inclined to condemn others could begin to share the joy of all who TRUST a loving Father.

  11. K. Rex Butts Says:

    My thoughts were inspired by one of my undergraduate professors, Dr. Flavil Yeakley, at Harding University in Searcy, AR. If you know Dr. Yeakley then you know his witty sense of humor that he frequently employs to get a point across.

    So one day Dr. Yeakley was telling us about a disagreement he was having with another preacher. The preacher, according to Dr. Yeakley, said “I’m right and there’s not one error in me. Just show me one place where I am in error.”
    Dr. Yeakley resonded “How ’bout humility!”

    This was his way of speaking to a class that had a very similar conversation taking place as is taking place on this blog. I did not learn much about church statistics but I did learn a great lesson from a Christian man who had his convictions but was willing to practice grace towards those who did not share his convictions. I think it is one of the most important lessons that can be taught in an undergraduate ministry program and/or preaching school.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Rex

  12. Todd Deaver Says:

    Randall,

    I understand your frustration. Many of us here have experienced it as well. But if the conservative Church of Christ is consumed with arguments over trivialities, wouldn’t an effort to challenge their theology and get them refocused on the important things be worthwhile? That’s what some of us are attempting here.

  13. Jay Guin Says:

    Dusty,

    To me anyone is a progressive if he sees doctrinal error as covered by grace on the same terms as any other sin — speaking, of course, only of those who’ve been saved and remain penitent believers. If you think God judges doctrinal error more strictly than moral sin — a view that goes back to Benjamin Franklin (the Restoration Movement editor-bishop, not the guy on the $100 bill) at least — then I’d call you a conservative. By my own definition, there are men that I’d consider progressive who are much more conservative than I am on any number of issues, but I have the pleasure of hearing them call me “brother.” Thus, you don’t have to agree with me on instrumental music or the role of women to be a fellow progressive. You just have to be willing to concede that we’re both saved despite our disagreements (and without regard to God’s finite patience).

  14. Bondservant Says:

    I have noticed that some conservatives of the cofC denomination will call brother to those who are progressives of the cofC denomination who have fellowship among other denomination churches. But yet these conservatives who accept the progressives still condemn those of the other denomination churches while accepting the progressives as brothers?? Is their some kind of double standard going on here?

  15. Robert Says:

    I appreciate this conversation (debate). Keep it up Todd and Jay. The era of the internet is a great tool for learning. Just like the printing press allowed the Reformation Movement to expand – the Internet allows a new era of expansion for restoring biblical discipleship based on the grace of God.

  16. Randall Says:

    Todd,
    I believe I understand your intent and I can applaud your efforts. I am nearly 60 and have fought that battle for decades; and I am worn out by it. I know God will grant you more success than I enjoyed and maybe I am one of many that participated, or tired to, in moving things in a better direction. It is now time for me to move on. I cannot imagine spending my retirement listening to the same arguments and with so much attention focused on this “stuff.”

    May God richly bless your efforts so that one day we may be known as being like Jesus rather than being exclusivistic in so many ways.
    Peace,
    Randall

  17. Dusty Chris Says:

    Thanks Jay. I appreciate the definition. And I guess I can offically call myself a progressive. I want to go on record offering grace to progressives and conservative alike. We are all brothers and sisters who are striving toward a common goal…declaring ‘Jesus is Lord’ to a lost a dying world.

  18. Ed Boggess Says:

    “What does it say about us that we could do that?” It says that we are a people of the book and take the Bible seriously as God’s revealed will. It says that conversion sets one on a course to try to please God in every way and that includes doing Bible things in Bible ways. “Trivialities”? It is all in the eye of the beholder. To the Catholic opposition to images and prayer to Mary seem trivial; to the Episcopalian fussing over vestments seem trivial, to me feuding over how many cups is trivial. Any time anyone chooses to ignore biblical authority rather than to carefully consider what God wills, it is an indication of a deeper problem.
    This is where, it seems to me, the line is drawn. Any error can damn when it evidences a heart that no longer desires God’s will. Error is lies and lies are of their father the devil. The devil uses lies to tempt us to do our will in place of God’s will. Grace is sufficient to cover any sin, but grace is cut off to the man who no longer enthrones the Lord.

  19. Ric Says:

    AH, Dr. Floyd what memories. His classes and those of Dr. Collins helped me grow so much.

  20. Bob Brandon Says:

    Something needs to be kept in perspective: in the big scheme of things, we decide what doctrine is. We read the inspired text, we interpret what we read, and we apply what we interpret. Too often lost in this process is the principle that the text cannot mean what it could not have meant to the original writers and recipients. “For those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”

    By way of example, some would say that the doctrine of the Trinity is a salvation theme, subject to perdition for getting it wrong. That certainly would’ve been news to the first century believers and to believers into the early fourth century. It took 60 years of this empire-wide feuding largely inflamed by Athanasius and Arias – and their partisans – to result in the imperial adoption of this doctrine by law (where such insistence had not previously been considered necessary or important).

    What was once – and remains, for the discerning – a mystery became a doctrine, the failure to get right resulting in death (and not just spiritual death).

    For what it’s worth.

  21. Charles McLean Says:

    “If an apostle rebukes me, I must submit to his authority if I’m penitent (1 John 4:6). If an uninspired man rebukes me, and if I honestly disagree with his doctrine, I may be wrong, but I’m still penitent.”

    Here we find ourselves merely farther left on this indeterminate “scale of repentance” than the traditional belief. I still find this concept of salvation being dependent upon our “penitence” being hard to accept. Phil and Jay assume different points upon this continuum, but neither biblically demonstrates the nature of this continuum nor how to determine its parameters. Jay adds a new “authority” concept to the discussion, but even the Twelve were not infallible. Ask Peter about Paul busting his chops over the ham sandwich question. And just about every brother I know will claim the scriptures as his “authority”. I still do not find convincing the argument establishing penitence, rather than faith, as the sine qua non of the believer’s salvation.

  22. Mitchell Says:

    “It wasn’t until college, in a class on Romans taught by Dr. Harvey Floyd, that I finally realized that I’d been deceived.”

    I had that same class, among others, under Dr. Floyd and experienced the same realization. What an amazing man! He brought me to a full realization of grace and forgiveness and I am forever in his debt. I believe that the “kicker” for me was the realization that John’s words in 1 John 1:7-9 teaches a continual forgiveness for those who are consistent followers.

  23. Jay Guin Says:

    Charles,

    See my posts —

    What is “Faith”? Part 1 (Toward a Definition)

    What is “Faith”? Part 2 (James, Paul & the Spirit)

    explaining the essential unity of faith and penitence.

  24. Dusty Chris Says:

    Jay,

    Since you wrote this, I have been thinking about it. It seems to me there is a greater divide between “conservatives” and “progressives.” I think there is a deeper difference about how one views salvation.

    It seems most progressives see the essence of Christianity in “salvation by grace.” Salvation is not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done for us. The prospect that I am accepted by God by sheer grace is humbling and in that, there is freedom and joy. My part of salvation is to humbly accept the gift and from that, live a moral and submissive life in Christ.

    Ultra-conservatives might say ‘I am saved by God because I am a moral person and I have the correct doctrine.’ Ultra-conservatives may see themselves as having a moral high ground over those who do not share in the religious fervor and correct doctrine. Therefore, ‘I am saved because I have the correct beliefs about God and live a moral life…therefore I am covered by the grace of God.’

    There is power in having superior morals and superior doctrine. Where ultra-conservatives lack may be in humility, sensitivity, forgiveness, and love…the essence of the ministry of Christ. The message of grace threatens their sense of being right which threatens their sense of power.

    Progressives, on the other hand, may not be so sure of their doctrine but may focus on the healing, forgiveness, and loving a lost and dying world for Christ. Progressives may focus more on ministry and less on doctrine.

    It may be that the conservatives have a hard time comprehending and practicing the “softer side” of Jesus and it may be harder for the progressives to identify with the judgement and discipline of God.

    I may be saying the same thing as you, but that is how I understand the difference. I am not pigeon-holing anyone, I am only trying to understand how we practice the grace of God in our lives from the two different perspectives. I am not saying one is more correct than the other (although I might prefer one over the other). I am very willing to be corrected if I am in error here.

  25. Alan Says:

    Dusty wrote:

    Ultra-conservatives might say ‘I am saved by God because I am a moral person and I have the correct doctrine.’

    I think you are mostly right in your assessment. But I think conservatives would object to the statement I just quoted. I don’t know of any conservative churches of Christ where they think they are saved by their own morals and doctrine. Even the most conservative churches I know of still believe that our most righteous acts are like filthy rags, and that our only hope of salvation is Jesus. They agree that Jesus pays our debt; we cannot. They would say personal righteousness and sound doctrine are necessary conditions for salvation, but not sufficient. Most progressives I know would also say that. The difference is in whether grace covers the doctrinal errors we don’t recognize.

  26. Jerry S Says:

    Wayne,

    Thank you for a beautiful, insightful post! I looked up Isaiah 57:15. Before I got to it, I was smitten by v. 12 – “I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you.”

    What an indictment of a works-based salvation!

    Then, I was comforted by vv. 17 – 19.

    “I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, YET HE KEPT ON IN HIS WILLFUL WAYS.” [No comfort there, is there?]

    The next verse continues the thought.] “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near, says the Lord. ‘And I will heal them.'”

    Healing, peace, and praise come to those whom God is guiding and restoring.

    This is why Isaiah is sometimes called “The Fifth Gospel.”


  27. […] that not a single one stands for what he said it stands for. Not one. See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Phil never […]


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