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This, Not That

Many of the proverbs of the Bible present contrasts to teach their lessons.  There is a certain proverbial formula and pattern that uses a "this, not that” construction.  For example, Proverbs 12:11 states, "He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.”  This lesson teaches us that we should do productive work and not pursue worthless things.  With this formula in mind, let’s consider a few lessons on various topics by using the "this, not that” pattern.

Salvation is by faith, but salvation is not by faith only.  The Bible clearly teaches the fundamental necessity of faith in the salvation of man.  It tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) and that salvation comes by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8).  However, the Bible is equally clear in teaching that faith alone is insufficient to save man.  James wrote, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24; see vv. 14-26 for full context).  This means that merely having a mental recognition and acceptance of Christ does not produce salvation.  To be saved, our belief in Christ must be manifested through a personal transformation that results in obedience to Christ’s word.  We become disciples of Christ only by learning from and following the Lord.  Jesus said, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Baptism now saves you, but you are not saved by works.  Baptism (Biblically defined as immersion in water) is one of the works of faith by which we are saved.  Jesus said, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).  In Acts 2:38, Peter commanded by the Holy Spirit, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Later, Peter wrote that "baptism now saves you” in 1Peter 3:21.  However, let us understand that the act of baptism itself has no merit to earn our salvation.  As mentioned before, it is "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, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  There is no conflict in the Bible’s message, for grace, faith, and works such as baptism are all necessary, complementary elements of God’s plan for man’s salvation.

Do good to all men, but if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.  In Galatians 6:10, the Bible commands, "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”  We keep this commandment by loving, praying for, and sharing with our brothers and sisters in Christ, our neighbors, and even our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48; Rom. 12:20; Jas. 2:14-16; 1John 3:16-18).  However, doing good to others has to be genuinely good according to God’s word.  While it may seem good to us to always give a person what he needs, that is not always the case.  We may want to feed a hungry man, but we must first remember this principle of Scripture: "If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2Thess. 3:10).  God has commissioned man to work for his bread (Gen. 3:17-19), and hunger is a natural consequence for one who will not work.  Proverbs 16:26 says, "A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on” (Prov. 16:26).  Therefore, we must not interfere with God’s discipline of a lazy man who will not work.

Submit to governing authorities, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart.  The Bible identifies three major institutions that are ordained by God for man: family, civil government, and the church.  As subjects of God, it is our duty to submit to all of these institutions according to God’s word.  Regarding civil government, both Romans 13:1-7 and 1Peter 2:13-17 commend us to be in submission.  These passages also define civil government as "a minister of God to you for good.”  Therefore, if a civil government strays from its God-given purpose and becomes a minister of evil, then Christians may find themselves in conflict.  In that case, we abide by the commandment of 1Peter 3:15 – "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”  Even if our obedience to God results in persecution or prosecution by governing authorities, we must do what is right in the sight of our Lord (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29; 1Pet. 3:13-17).  The Lord Jesus is always our highest authority, and His will is always our highest law.

Although these particular lessons are not especially related to one another, they all demonstrate the need to understand the full message of God’s word on any subject.  Using the proverbial "this, not that” formula helps to clarify these lessons and prevent any misunderstanding.  Many other lessons can also be taught in this way.  Perhaps you will think of some yourself.  Viewing anything from God’s word with the "this, not that” approach will help give you a better understanding.

Stacey E. Durham



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