Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 26 (In Reply to Keith Brenton, Part 3)

Justice and mercy

Won’t He judge them by their words and actions as we will be and judge with justice and mercy with them as well as with us?

Yes, he’ll judge them by their words and actions, and he’ll judge with perfect justice. But there is no “justice and mercy.” It’s either justice or it’s mercy. Those are not the same concept!

And mercy is found only in Jesus.

(Rom 15:8-9 ESV)  8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,  9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”

Mercy comes from the sacrificial service of Jesus on earth.

(Eph 2:4-5 ESV)  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–

“Dead in our trespasses” is justice.

(Eph 2:8-9 ESV)  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The “saved through faith” is mercy.

(Eph 2:12 ESV)  12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Before they came to faith in Jesus, the Gentiles were “separated from Christ … having no hope” and “without God.” And this is so even though many Greeks were monotheists, having learned to worship but a single God from Plato and Aristotle. But they didn’t worship the God revealed in Jesus — and so they were hope and without God. There are no substitutes for Jesus.

(Eph 2:13 ESV) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Outside of Jesus — attained through faith — there is no hope, only separation and alienation. We cross the gulf by becoming “in Christ Jesus,” which is by faith in Jesus.

This isn’t an all-or-none proposition, to me, when God’s choice is involved; nothing in scripture says all those who haven’t heard are in darkness and lost and condemned — nor does it say that all is forgiven for those who never heard because they couldn’t have known about the promise. What I am trying to plumb out is whether God’s justice is so overpowering that mercy toward those who don’t know of the promise is impossible.

Again, you begin by assuming what you want to prove — that the Bible doesn’t answer this question. But it does.

And you weight the scales in favor of the conclusion you want to reach: Is “mercy toward those who don’t know of the promise impossible”? The question begs for an answer that all things are possible with God. Possible.

But such logic allows you to prove anything. All things are possible. Possible isn’t the same as true. Or good. Or holy.

No, if God wanted us to believe that those outside of Jesus might be saved, he’d have said so. He didn’t. What he reveals is that his apostles gave their lives to reach people who’d never heard of Jesus — to save them.

What’s the alternative theory?

Those who teach that those who never heard of Jesus might be saved rarely actually say what they in fact believe. You see, any hypothetical scheme to save those who’ve never heard of Jesus will fall apart when confronted with elementary principles of Christianity.

Might they be saved by their good works? Obviously, no. Do we throw out the entire New Testament to create a works salvation for those who’ve never heard of Jesus? Surely not! Even Adam and Eve couldn’t obey well enough, with the minute knowledge of God’s law they had.

It’d unimaginable to me that we in the Churches of Christ would have spent the last 30 years begging our members to find salvation in grace, not works, because works cannot save — only to then turn around and pretend that those outside the church can be saved by their works. Do we really want to teach a works salvation to our members? Again?

Might they be saved by their faith in God? Well, after Pentecost, the Jews weren’t saved by their faith in YHWH, the God of Israel! The God-fearing Gentiles weren’t saved by their faith in the same God!

1 John condemns even believers in Jesus who rejected the incarnation — calling them “antichrist” — even though he was speaking of teachers who believed in God and in Jesus — but who so deeply misunderstood God and Jesus that they couldn’t accept the incarnation.

Might God accept a faith in love, or goodness, or the divine for those who’ve never heard of God?

No. The notion that we can have “faith” in an abstraction is absurd. As we considered in previous posts in this series, “faith” is faith in person — not legal system, not a systematic theology, not a creed book – a person.

God has built a kingdom ruled by a king, and our place is to be loyal to (have faith in) the king. Nothing else is “faith,” and we can’t yank the term out of its Biblical usage and re-apply it in some existential sense as though faith itself saves. Satre would approve. John the apostle would declare such thinking anti-christian and warn us that such thinking is worldly, even damnable!

(1Jo 4:2-6 ESV)  2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.  4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.  5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.  6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Jesus saves those who are in Jesus by faith in Jesus. Faith in love, or goodness, or social justice, or the Divine, or the “unknown god,” or anything else is ultimately humanistic — finding salvation in our own wonderful thoughts.

(Act 4:11-12 ESV) 11 “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

It is, in fact, one of the great mistakes of the Reformation, to make mental assent the turning point in salvation rather than submission to the King of the Universe.

We see faith in Jesus as somewhat arbitrary and wonder why some other kind of faith that also motivates to good works would suffice. But that’s like asking whether I can be a citizen of US while my loyalty is to China. No, I cannot. It’s not about whether you are loyal to someone or something. You aren’t in the kingdom unless you’re loyal to the king of that kingdom.

Ultimately, I think we struggle so much with these questions because we’ve not really comprehended grace. We just can’t get comfortable with receiving a salvation don’t deserve. And, yes, we don’t deserve it. No one else does either.

We come from a legalisitic heritage, a heritage where we are required to earn our salvation. And it’s hard to wash the legalism out of us. Indeed, we think that by being so gracious as to imagine those who’ve never heard of Jesus as saved that we’re fleeing legalism.

But we aren’t. We’re simply replacing one legal system with another — one we made up out of nothing. No, grace carries with it the burden of accepting that we really and truly don’t deserve it, that it’s a “free gift,” as Paul likes to say. It’s no more deserved than God’s election of Israel or Jacob.

And because it’s undeserved, it cannot be earned — not by works and not by a “faith” that somehow merits salvation. It cannot be merited. It’s a gift.

We just aren’t that special. As God told Israel —

(Deu 7:6-8 ESV)  6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt …”

(Deu 9:6 ESV) 6 “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”

(Deu 10:14-15 ESV)  14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.  15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”

We aren’t that special, but God’s election makes us special, so special that he dwells within us to transform us — because we chose to have faith in and be loyal to Jesus as the incarnate Son of God. We submit to him as king, however poorly.

There is no other king. There thus is no other salvation.

And we properly feel a little guilty. Why us? What makes us special? Why not my neighbor? To which God answers, “Because I chose you to invite everyone else in.”

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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7 Responses to Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 26 (In Reply to Keith Brenton, Part 3)

  1. Monty says:

    Jay,
    Another excellent post, I do believe we (I know I do) suffer from survivor’s guilt. Like you said, “why me?” It’s very humbling to know that you’ve been “elected.” And I say that rejecting Calvinism. I think Jesus’ words concerning himself as the fulfiment of Isaiah’s prophecy apply to the conversation in Luke 4:18 “he has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners.” All (of the age of accountability)are either prisoners of sin or prisoners released from sin and set free. No exceptions. Or consider Zechariah’s Song in Luke 1: 76 and following concerning the prophecy about John the Baptist. “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give the people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet unto the path of peace.” There is alot in that passage to talk about not the least of which describes the nation of Israel as “sitting in darkness.” What struck me about that is here was the nation that had the Law and the Prophets and yet spiritually they were referred to as “in darkness” needing the light of Jesus in the same way that the Gentiles do. If the Jews “sat in darkness” then is there any hope for Gentiles who “know not God?” Evidently, not without Jesus.

  2. Jerry says:

    And because it’s undeserved, it cannot be earned — not by works and not by a “faith” that somehow merits salvation. It cannot be merited. It’s a gift.

    And that should settle the issue. Thank you, Jay, for pointing out that contending that “good” people without Jesus can be saved is simply works salvation in a different guise.

    Perhaps they could be with God in Heaven if they were truly good – but “there is none good, no not one” save God alone.

  3. Charles McLean says:

    Jay said: “Ultimately, I think we struggle so much with these questions because we’ve not really comprehended grace. We just can’t get comfortable with receiving a salvation don’t deserve.”
    >>>
    Well said, Jay. We seem hard-wired to the idea of getting what we deserve. Anything less (or more) does not track with our moral compass. But salvation by grace not only turns that compass on its ear, it attacks the most precious thing the Adamic man has– our self-esteem. How can we consider ourselves better than anyone else when the only thing we have of eternal value was given to us not only free, but contrary to what we deserved? The Adamic man is still trying to “take dominion” in a thousand petty ways, rather than satisfying himself that this dominion has now been given over to Jesus, and that we participate only as we are in Him.

    Jay, I don’t know if we can’t UNDERstand grace, or if we just can’t STAND it.

  4. laymond says:

    ” It’s either justice or it’s mercy.” ( I beg to differ)

    Exd 20:6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

    I believe God showing mercy, is a form of God’s justice. Even in todays courts, extenuating circumstances call out for mercy.

    Exd 15:13 Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people [which] thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided [them] in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.

    I have no doubt that God could do the same with those who have not heard.

    “And mercy is found only in Jesus.” and Jesus said My father and I are one, so why would you think Jesus would Judge differently than God?
    Either we all get the justice we deserve, or we are all shown mercy, maybe to different degrees as needed , or called for.
    As I see what Jay is saying we either “DESERVE” to be forgiven or we “DESERVE” to go to hell. And as Jay teaches we never deserve Heaven,” Might they be saved by their good works? Obviously, no” then no one is admitted to heaven without first being given mercy. And in that case justice is never carried out, because justice never includes mercy. ” It’s either justice or it’s mercy.”

    Jay said “It’d unimaginable to me that we in the Churches of Christ would have spent the last 30 years begging our members to find salvation in grace, not works, because works cannot save — ”
    It is unimaginable to me that the “church of Christ” ever taught that. When Jesus Christ puts so much emphasis on “good works” “saving works”, works we will be judged on. Works others have already been judged on.

  5. Norton says:

    As Paul says in Romans, it is theoretically possible for one to be saved by his persistence in keeping God’s laws and doing good. However; no one is persistent in doing good. That applies to both those who have the knowledge of God’s written laws and those who don’t. Those who have never heard of the true God still violate their consciences, where God has also “written” His laws. So, find a mentally competent person who never violates his conscience and you have found a person who can be saved without the knowledge of Jesus and his grace. Good luck in finding such a person. No one comes to the Father except by Jesus. There is no other name whereby we can be saved.

  6. Charles McLean says:

    I hear one vote for “can’t STAND it”.

    As to this part-Jesus, part-works, “salvation-by-doing-my-best-which-is-better-than-those-guys” system of redemption that keeps being presented — it reminds me of the old joke about two hunters. You know the one…

    Two hunters were walking through the woods when they came across a grizzly bear cub. They stopped to pat it and heard a deafening roar from across the clearing. The cub’s mother had seen them and was charging, rapidly closing the distance. One hunter dropped to the ground, reached into his pack and began to change his boots for a pair of running shoes. “Are you crazy?” shouted his companion. “You can’t outrun that bear!”

    “I don’t have to outrun her. I just have to outrun YOU.”

  7. Jerry says:

    While it is true that salvation is in none other than Jesus, justice also involves mercy – to the oppressed. Remember Isaiah:

    Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:1-4, ESV)

    Of course, Matthew 12:18ff quotes this and applies it to the ministry of Jesus as “he healed all their sick.” Jesus does not bring justice in the way that people today cry out for it in the streets – and burn things down if they do not get what they call “justice.” He creates justice by making things right.

    While justice does involve judgment – when people reject Jesus – Jesus is vitally concerned with “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (see Matthew 23:23). In fact, one of the “woes” He pronounced on the Pharisees was because they neglected these while straining and gnats and swallowing camels! The justice Jesus brings is more than judgment; He also brings it by showing mercy – but not to those who have no faith in Him.

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