|Volume 20 Number 4 April 2018||
T. Pierce Brown
We are reasonably sure that almost everyone who reads this believes that the Lord is coming back. There are so many thoughts we should be thinking and kinds of preparation we need to be making in view of that wonderful fact. However, we want to challenge your thinking with a new kind of thought that crossed my mind a few days ago.
Every few days there comes to my desk an appeal of one congregation or another for money. There seems to be thousands or maybe millions of souls who could be won for Christ if we just had the money! I am firmly convinced that neither money nor the lack of it is our big problem. If everyone who claims to be a Christian would invest about 10 cents worth of shoe leather and perhaps 2 cents worth of conversation (if we can assume that what you say is worth 2 cents) the church could at least double in less than a year’s time. However, this article is concerned with money and what we might do with it.
We also see notices every week concerning congregations who are willing to borrow from $20,000 to $2,000,000 to build buildings, which serve as cathedrals, meeting places (occasionally) or “church plants”—whatever they are. Now, just suppose (if the effort does not blow your mind) that half of us were half as concerned with winning souls as we are with perpetuating an image, ministering to our pride, comfort, etc. Now, suppose the elders of a congregation of such a group (assuming it could be found) should reason like this: “If the Lord should come back within 5 years, neither the building nor the $2,000,000 we owe would make any difference.” Then their minds would pass on to another interesting fact: “In fact, all our debts would be canceled! What if we had borrowed $2,000,000 of the money the Devil would be using, with no intention of ever paying back anything but the interest! Then if the Lord came back within the next five years, we would have had the use of the $2,000,000 of the money the Devil had been using—winning souls to Christ—and would never have to pay it back!”
Now just imagine that 20,000 congregations got the vision of what could be done if they just had the money, as these apparently do that keep sending the letters out. Each one borrows only $200,000 (a trifling amount, considering the fact that in the average congregation far more than that is owed on the cars of the members). There would be four billion dollars available immediately for wining souls, and if the Lord came back next year, none of it would be paid back! Even if He did not come back for 25 years, do you think he would rather have us borrow $4,000,000 to win souls or to build monuments to our materialistic dreams? (Of course, I realize there is not really this dichotomy. It is not a matter of building buildings or winning souls. All of us who have directed building programs know that it is all for the purpose of winning souls, don’t we? When we just get through with the building, everyone gets excited about bringing new people.)
Since the high-powered money raisers are not able to be in every congregation to get contributions of one million dollars in one contribution, why not consider the next best thing and borrow one million dollars that you will never have to pay back if the Lord returns soon, and get directly involved in using it for winning souls—since that is your real purpose anyway? You might even get it fixed to never pay anything but interest whether He comes or not!
Of course, if you are just naturally a small-minded, cheap-thinking person, and your mind just can’t comprehend all those dollar marks and zeros, we could make our mark in the world if each Christian would just invest in one good pair of shoes, a $1 New Testament and set a goal to win just one person to Christ this year. The first year, we might have 4 million members. The second year, 8 million. The third year, 16 million and the fourth year 32,000,000! By that time, if Christ has not come, we could raise all the money we needed with or without borrowing. Why not try one method or the other? The last is a lot simpler and can be started by one person, if you want to try.
“Justification” in legal language means to “acquit” or “to state officially in court that somebody is not guilty of a crime.” In the New Testament, it refers to God’s gracious act (Romans 8:33), grounded in the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 4:25), by which He accepts into a right relationship with Him the sinner who in faith entrusts himself to Christ. The true Scriptural justification “by faith” has no reference at all to the faith of sinner, but to the “faith of the Son of God” by whose perfect faith the sinner is justified. Justification means God’s reckoning a man to be righteous who has no righteousness of his own.
The individual who believes in Christ, repents of all wrongs and is baptized for the remission of sins according to the Scriptures (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38) is justified, accounted righteous, while still a sinner, by the blood of Christ. God, at that point, declares the believing obedient person to be righteous, while he is ungodly. If God changed him first, he would not be ungodly. The sinner’s faith, repentance and baptism are not “meritorious” works. They are simply giving God the credit of revealing the truth of His grace in the Gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). It is Christ’s shed blood, and that alone, which is the procuring cause of God’s declaring an ungodly individual to be righteous or justified. While God’s grace is the reason for it, man’s faith and obedience to His commands is simply the instrumental condition to receive His grace. Righteousness is not something that may be achieved by man in any manner, but it is received by faith.
The ability to merit or to earn salvation is simply not possible for mortals. No man is ever saved in his own personal identity as possessing any true righteousness of his own (Isaiah 64:6). It is the perfect faith of Jesus Christ that constitutes “the righteousness of God,” and it is “the faith of Christ” that saves and justifies—not the sinner’s faith. This is in perfect harmony with an extensive body of teaching found in the New Testament as cited in the following Scriptures.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 KJV)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. (Galatians 3:22)
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. (Philippians 3:9)
Unfortunately, all of the above cited Scriptures from the Authorized Version (KJV) were changed later in the English Revised version to read in each instance, “faith in Christ” to bolster the theory of justification by “faith only.” The very notion that God could impute justification to a sinful man merely upon the basis of believing in Christ is a delusion. Justification in any true sense requires that the justified be accounted as righteous and of undeserving of any penalty whatever, and no man’s faith is sufficient ground for such an imputation.
On the other hand, the faith of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Bible, is indeed a legitimate ground of man’s justification, because Christ’s faith was perfect. Speaking of Christ, Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered, and having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” The faith of Christ was the obedient, perfect faith, lacking nothing whatever, and therefore, the obedient faith of the Son of God, sinless and holy, is the only ground of justification. People are saved “in Christ” having been incorporated into Him by faith. To be in Christ is that device contrived by God Himself by which a man might truly and legitimately be justified by the faith of Jesus Christ. The belief that God’s righteousness is some imputation accomplished by the sinner’s faith, therefore, is totally unfounded.