Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 12, 1970
NUMBER 44, PAGE 1-3a

Truth, Error, And The Grace Of God

Edward Fudge

One mark of the early church frequently missing today is a calm and clear view of truth and error. One constantly hears warnings about error generally, yet many times the warning is not specific and is not associated with any particular Bible passage. And at least one result has been a sort of state of fearfulness among many of us. I do not mean alertness, or caution. Those require specific warnings from the word of God. I mean fearfulness that is ready to shoot at anything that moves in the bushes. The answer to this condition (as with any other which is not desirable) will be found in the word of God, and that will be the sourcebook for this article.

The early church did not seem to have this general fear of general error. They knew certain things to be absolutely true. They knew certain doctrines to be absolutely false. And they knew why they were false. All of this was grounded in the gospel facts about Jesus Christ and the eternal scheme of redemption which God was working out. Those Christians knew Jesus Christ. Their hope was in Him.

Basic To The New Covenant

This was a chief difference between the old and new covenants. The old depended on the people (1) knowing all the will of God and (2) doing it all perfectly (Dent. 6:25). It was a fatal proposition on both counts. No person knew it all and no one ever kept all he did know.

Judging was easy: all were guilty and all were condemned (Rom. 3:19). This is the "weakness" of any system of justification which depends on man for it to work (see Rom. 8:3).

Jesus changed things. He came to do the will of God (Heb. 10:7) and to fulfill the law and prophets (Matt. 5:17). As one who did the will of God perfectly, He could become a substitute for all other men and pay the penalty for sin. He could act on man's behalf as a representative man, or "last Adam." So He was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). He bore our punishment, in advance (1 Pet. 2:24). God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor. 5:19). Because of His obedience, those who are in Him can be saved although they never do achieve perfect obedience themselves. They are not saved because they obey perfectly, but because they believe on Jesus (read Romans 5:15-21).

Some will say, "Then we should sin more so God will forgive more. If these things are true, sin does not matter." They said it to Paul and he wrote Romans 6 to answer the charge. Sure sin matters. Christ died in order to free men from it. But there is a sphere where sin is not imputed to the sinner and that sphere is "in Christ." There man can enjoy "the righteousness which is by faith." There he can know the blessedness of which David spoke in Psalm 32: 1, 2 and which Paul refers to in Romans 4:6-8.

"How can God do this and be just?" one asks. "Sin must be punished!" Exactly right! And that is why Christ died — He became sin for us and then paid the penalty for sin Himself. Do we really believe that His offering was able to perfect forever those who are sanctified? Sure it's good news, that is why we call it "Gospel." Brethren, if we are "Gospel preachers" let's give the people the good news. Sometimes we sound like ministers of "death unto death" rather than "life unto life." My opinions are not gospel. My conclusions are not gospel. But the good news of Jesus Christ and His offering for my sin IS! The world is dying without this news. The church must take it to them! Yet many times we have been so preoccupied with other things that we have neglected our real task.

The person who expects to be saved because of his own full knowledge or his own perfect record misunderstands the very nature of the gospel of Christ. To him it is not good news, it is a frustrating and difficult system of condemnation. To him it is not a new kind of covenant, it is the old covenant with a new set of rules. For him all the fatal qualities of the old are present also in the new. To him, Christ is a mere law giver, not a representative law-keeper who justifies others by His obedience.

Such a person misunderstands what God has done: that He can count us righteous in Jesus Christ. Not because we know it all or do it all right: in spite of our shortcomings in knowledge and obedience. God saves us through the merit of Jesus Christ. But we must be in Him and then we must walk with faith in Him as Savior, sacrifice, priest and Lord.

The Nature Of Saving Truth And Damning Error.

The question then arises as to the place of truth and the danger of error. Three questions are involved: what is the purpose of truth which saves and what is its nature? What is the nature of error which condemns? What is the nature of other truth and what is its purpose?

Because salvation is "in Christ," whatever truth is necessary for one to be in that saving relationship is truth necessary for salvation. Whatever error prevents or severs the relationship with Him condemns for that very reason (1 John 5:11, 12).

There is a certain body of truth which was jealously guarded by the early Christians. It is called "the faith" (Jude 3), "the gospel" (Gal. 1:3) or the "doctrine of Christ" (2 John 9). This body of doctrine included all that was needed to get one from Satan's power to Christ and God's grace. It declared that Jesus was God in the flesh, that He died, was raised, was seen, ascended to heaven, was given glory and honor, and received the name (or position) of Savior, Lord and Judge (Acts 2:14-32; 3:13-26; 10:36-43; 13:17-41; Rom. 1:1-4; 1 Cor. 14:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:16).

This "core" of teaching gave God's offer of pardon and told men how to receive that offer. This included faith in Christ as Lord, repentance from sin and confession with the mouth of the faith in the heart (Lk. 24:46-47; Rom. 10:9, 10). It was climaxed by baptism into Christ (Gal. 3:27). Because baptism is an act of submission to Christ as Lord (Acts 2:32-38; 10:48) and an act of faith (Col. 2:12) it is for the forgiveness of sins (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Any error which denies this "gospel" condemns, because it denies that which saves. The New Testament writers warned against error of this sort (see Gal. 1:6ff; Col. 1:22; 2:4; Jude 3-4; 1 John 2:22-24; 2 John 7-9). Antichrist is still present and we must resist every denial of the saving gospel. (Perhaps a word here is proper on this point: it seems that to the extent the people of God become involved in lesser disputes, to that extent they lose sight of the real enemy of their soul and fail to stand for the gospel where it is being attacked most bitterly.)

The Purpose Of Other Truth.

There is another sort of apostolic teaching, designed for a different purpose. Most of the epistles come here. This teaching does not give life; it sustains it. It is not to tell men how to be saved but how to live after they are saved and urge them to stay saved. It is not to bring men to the new birth but to help them grow up in Christ. This teaching equips them for service, arms them for battle, encourages them to steadfastness.

But a second kind of teaching brings the possibility of a second kind of error. God's grace teaches men to live sober, righteous and godly lives in view of Christ's return (Tit. 2:11-15). It is a perversion of grace to justify worldly living or lusts of the flesh. Some in the early church fell into this error, and New Testament passages deal with it clearly (see Rom. 6; Gal. 5; 2 Pet. 2; Rev. 2:14-20). To willfully disregard the high life in Christ is to disregard Christ as Lord of life. And that IS basic to salvation.

Summing Up.

The New Testament deals with two sorts of harmful errors: those which deny the gospel and those which pervert its effects in the life of a Christian. When we apply these truths to our situation today there are two considerations.

(1) We should stand fast for the truth of the gospel. We should not fail to renounce any teaching which denies Christ's divinity, His saving work, His present Lordship or His judgmental coming. And we must insist on the moral life which God requires of the one in His grace.

(2) We should learn to make a Biblical distinction between teaching necessary for salvation in the first place and teaching designed to aid our growth in Christ. Otherwise we will be condemning each other for spiritual immaturity or unwillful ignorance — a thing never done by New Testament writers. We must "rightly divide the word of truth."

The man "in Christ" is saved by God's grace, not his own wisdom. He is righteous, not because he is "right" on every issue, but because he is right about Jesus Christ and seeks to obey Him. We must learn to take this attitude, regardless of the consequences. Otherwise we come dangerously near the condemnation of the Jews described in Romans 10:1-4 (verse four explains "God's righteousness" in 1-3).

God's people have always had the problem of trusting in themselves instead of their God (Amos 6:1; Rev. 3:17). The notion that one can be saved by his accomplishments or learning is especially dangerous because it blinds one to the only means of true righteousness. Let us avoid this error with all our might. (The other extreme to this is perverted grace, which we have already noted.)

Let us humbly seek to obey God's will as far as humanly possible. We can leave judging to God. We can love all brethren in Christ as beloved saints who, like ourselves, need God's grace. We can leave off all name-calling and party-spirit. We can ask God's forgiveness for our own sins and those of others.

If the Gospel is "Gospel" at all it is Good News. Unless it IS good news to us — so good we can scarcely believe it — there is a chance that we have not understood what it really is. May God help us all.

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