Monday, December 11, 2017

Questions Concerning Noah's Salvation

By Al Maxey:

The other day, while scrolling through the posts on Facebook, I came across a picture of Noah's ark with these words attached: "Grace did not save Noah, ... obedience did" (you can see this graphic at the left of this paragraph). Needless to say, this got my immediate attention. I do not know the person who designed this graphic, nor do I know the nature of his/her theological convictions, but the words attached to the graphic seem to suggest rather strongly that salvation is more about what man does than about what God does. It is a diminishing of God's grace, and an elevation of man's own effort. Grace is set aside, faith is not even mentioned, and obedience to some system of laws, rules, regulations and commands becomes the very means of one's salvation. It was because Noah obeyed that Noah was saved. He was not saved by grace, and faith is nowhere in view. Thus, for Noah, according to this view, salvation was based on his own effort; it was "wages due" for human obedience, rather than a gift of grace from a loving, merciful God. Such teaching is not only false, it borders on blasphemy!

Frankly, I find this picture (more specifically: the message embedded) offensive, for it suggests a theological perspective that is, in my view, utterly opposed to biblical truth regarding salvation. "By grace you have been saved," declares the apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:5) ... except in the case of Noah, I suppose! In Noah's case, God's grace has no bearing ... or so the message on this graphic seems to teach. If that was indeed the intent of the designer of this graphic, then he/she has failed to perceive the divine intent with regard to the matter of salvation. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not as a result of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9). There are those within Christendom who teach that salvation may only be acquired by obedience to commands. It is imperative, they say, that we search the Scriptures for these commands and obey them faithfully. If we do, God will save us. From the very beginning, man has sought to appease God by his own efforts, hoping that by doing so well enough he could merit God's favor. Such a theology shows a woeful lack of understanding not only of God's grace, but also of the salvation process itself: a process predetermined by our God. We see something similar from the pen of St. Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274), who wrote, "Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; to know what he ought to do" [Two precepts of Charity]. Notice that the focus is entirely on what mandoes (works-based) and knows (knowledge-based); nothing is even said about God: no mention of grace, love, mercy. When salvation is viewed as the result of something we do, rather than something He has already done, we have a false, twisted view of the true nature of salvation. Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), a contemporary of Aquinas, and perhaps with the above teaching of Aquinas partially in mind, offers a much better and far more biblical perspective: "One must not always think so much about what one should do, but rather what one should be. Our works do not ennoble us; we must ennoble our works" [Work and Being].

God's call to Noah (and to us as well) was to BE something, far more than it was to DO something. In actuality, the latter tends to fall into place when the former is embraced. When we are loving, we do loving things; when we are kind, we do acts of kindness; when we are merciful, we show mercy in our interactions with others. Our acts of obedience are simply the grateful overflow of hearts filled with faith and love for the One who has graciously accepted us as His beloved children. We don't obey to BE His children, we obey because we ARE His children. Paul affirms this in a beautiful way: we are saved by grace through faith, not as a result of anything we have done, or ever could do; then, as a result of that divine acceptance, we gladly embrace the good works God desires for us to engage in to His glory and to the benefit of others (Ephesians 2:10). By grace we are saved for good works, not by good works. Obedience is a response to His gracious acceptance and salvation, not a means whereby we acquire it. Long before Noah ever began his building project, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8, KJV). While the rest of the world was devoted to walking every wicked path they could find, "Noah walked with God" (vs. 9), and "by faith" and with "reverence" in his heart for his Lord, he built the ark (Hebrews 11:7). Noah was a righteous man (Genesis 6:9), an example unto all who would thereafter be "an heir of righteousness which is according to faith" (Hebrews 11:7). With regard to the building of the ark, Noah had answered God's call "to BE" long before he answered His call "to DO." Noah was not a man living under rigid regulation in the hope of being saved; Noah was a man living in relationship with His God, walking with His God, loving and being loved; already assured of his acceptance and salvation. Obedience was simply a natural by-product of this saving relationship, not the means for acquiring it. Noah was saved long before he was called by God to build the ark, a vehicle that would spare him and his family from the deadly impact of the flood. Thus, God's grace preceded Noah's obedience, with the latter being a manifestation of the love and faith of Noah for such a gracious God. Indeed, the command to build the ark was an act of grace, just as Noah's compliance was an act of faith. We are saved by grace through faith, with our works merely reflecting this great reality. To shift the focus from grace/faith to works/obedience, with respect to salvation, is to undermine the very nature of God's redemptive purpose and plan.

We are told simply, but powerfully, that "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8). Most translations use the word "favor" here, although in both the Greek and the Hebrew, the word employed in the text is the common word for "grace," which is often characterized as "unmerited favor." In other words, by the use of this word it is being made clear that Noah had in no way earned this favor by the perfect performance of certain works. Rather, when God looked into Noah's heart, He perceived a genuine desire to know God and a true devotion to serve Him to the best of his understanding, opportunity and ability. Noah was not perfect; no man is. But, God is not looking for religious perfection, He is looking for hearts looking for Him, and when He finds them He reaches out to them with a call to a deep personal relationship. Noah accepted that call of grace by faith, and he "walked with God." This is the first occurrence of the word "grace" in Scripture, by the way. "Now for the first time 'grace' finds a tongue to express its name" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, p. 104]. "It is salutary to note that the most godly and important man in the entire world at that time ... was merely a sinner saved by grace!" [Dr. Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings, p. 177]. Dr. Morris continues: "Note the consistent biblical order here: First, Noah 'found grace.' Then Noah was 'a just man' (that is: 'justified' or 'declared to be righteous'). Thus he was 'perfect in his generations' (or 'complete,' in so far as God's records are concerned), and therefore he was able to 'walk with God.' Salvation in any era is exactly in this way. By sovereign grace, received through faith, the believer is justified before God and declared to be complete in Him. Only as a result of, and on the basis of, this glorious gift of grace, can one then 'walk' in fellowship with God, showing the genuineness of his faith by his works. Four times it is said later, for example, that Noah 'did all that God commanded him' (Genesis 6:22; 7:5; 7:9; 7:16)" [ibid].

Yes, Noah was obedient to God's will; yes, Noah lived his life performing good deeds. BUT, he was obedient and he was active because he was saved, NOT in order to be saved. Noah lived his life by faith, a faith that did not remain hidden, but one which manifested itself in all areas of his life. Of all the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11, Noah is the only one whose testimony both begins and ends with an emphasis on his FAITH (Hebrews 11:7). For someone to declare, "Grace did not save Noah, ... obedience did" is appalling, and it shows the author of such a statement needs to be taken aside and shown the way of the Lord God more accurately!