Let me give one very clear example from Paul in Romans 11:6, “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Paul is talking here about how God chooses and saves a ‘remnant.’ But the main point to see for what I’m saying now is that Paul insists that if you try to blend grace and works, you do not merely weaken or pollute grace, you nullify it altogether – grace (undeserved favor) is no longer grace at all.
And the Bible is full of many such ‘either-or’ matters, matters of fundamental importance:
Josh 24:14-15 – the choice between the Lord (Yawheh) and the ‘gods [idols] your forefathers worshiped’. It is abundantly clear that this could never be a matter of ‘both…and’ (compare the First Commandment – Exod. 20:3)
Yahweh or Baal – 1 Kings 18:16ff. The Israelites were specifically rebuked for endlessly wavering between two opinions, and refusing to make the choice (v. 21)
1 Thess. 1:9f. – For the Thessalonians, turning to the living and true God necessarily meant turning from their idols.
Titus 2:11ff. – Paul wants Titus to be very clear in his teaching that when God’s saving grace is truly received, it “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions….” Grace is, in this sense inherently negative (which is very much out of character with much of so-called Christianity today). Saving grace teaches us not only to receive, but also to renounce.
1 Jn. 2:15b “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.” -- love of the Father or love of the world
Matt. 6:24 – “You cannot serve two masters….God and mammon (money).”
Gal. 1:6-7a – Paul emphatically insists that one must make a choice between beliving the true Gospel or a different ‘gospel’ (“which,” he insists “is really no gospel at all”) [compare Gal. 5:4; 1 John 4:1ff.; Titus 1:9]
Gal. 5:16ff. – In Galatians 5 Paul traces out the irreconcilable war between “flesh” and “Spirit”
2 Cor. 6:14-17 Paul again presents a compelling list of things that must not be yoked together or mixed; things we ought not even attempt to harmonize, but rather keep separate (and keep ourselves separate from).
And this either-or (saying ‘yes’ to ‘A’ means saying ‘no’ to ‘B’) principle necessarily permeates our religious thought and life.
- And so a person must choose between atheism or theism.
- Those who choose theism face the choice between monotheism or polytheism.
- Those who choose monotheism must choose between Judaism, Islam and Christianity (because, to cite just one crucial difference, Christianity insists that God is Three-in-One – a Trinity – and Judaism and Islam emphatically reject this).
- Those who choose Christianity face the choice of whether to be Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant (because, again, there are fundamental and contradictory differences – for example, Protestants insist that justification is by grace alone through faith alone, and the official teaching or Roman Catholicism says that this Protestant belief is a heresy that causes damnation).
- Those who choose to be Protestant face the choice of whether to be essentially Lutheran, Reformed or Baptist -- because, to cite just one example, these three groups believe fundamentally different things about ‘baptism’ and they cannot all be right at the same time. (At this level, however, all three groups can be genuinely saved because they agree, at the core, on the Biblical Gospel.)
I know that looking at things this way will be very uncomfortable and unwelcome to some. But the issue is whether or not this way of conceiving things is true (including true to Scripture). Until these post-modern times, people acknowledged that these distinctions were real and inescapable, even if they were hard to accept.
But today, even many professing evangelicals are profoundly confused, and the confusion is spiritually dangerous. (Ephesians 4:14; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Tim. 2:16-17; 2 Pet. 3:16)
One final thought from Charles Spurgeon, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather, it is the difference between right and almost right.” And that takes things to a higher level still. (Phil. 1:9-10f.; 1 Thess. 5:1-2; 1 John 4:1ff.)