made man a creature of choice, with the ability or power to choose, and
for good or bad, to accept the consequences of his choice. In his
dealings with man, there are times when God uses the either/or
principle, and gives man only one choice that is right and good. At
other times, man may be given more than one choice, either or all of
which may be acceptable. But man often invokes this either/or principle
when there is no need for it, and to his own destruction.
The doctrine of
justification by faith only is a good example of this either/or
principle. God has decreed that man is justified by faith and works, but
man has decided that he must choose between faith and works. Martin
Luther made this mistake, and ended up rejecting the Book of James as
"spurious" because it contradicted his conclusion that works had nothing
to do with salvation.
The Methodist Discipline
states that "we are justified by faith only" (Art. IX). The Baptist
Manual says that "the salvation of sinners is wholly by grace" (Art.
IV), yet says that justification is "solely through faith in Christ"
(Art. V). God saves man by grace, faith, repentance, confession,
baptism, works - a combination of God's grace and man's obedience, but
man decides that salvation must be by faith only or grace only,
contradicts himself, confuses people, frustrates the grace of God, and
deprives himself of the salvation which God offers.
God invoked the either/or
principle with the first of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt have no
other gods before me"
exhorted the people to make this choice
24:15), and Elijah
said, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow
him: but if Baal, then follow him"
says, "No man can serve two masters ... ye cannot serve God and mammon"
6:24). The Lord
told the Laodiceans, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor
hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm,
and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth"
The hypocritical scribes
and Pharisees were practicing the either/or principle when they paid
tithes, but "omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy,
and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other
23:23). There is
no limit to the number of things we can do under the heading of "the
fruit of the Spirit." We will have to use the either/or principle when
it comes to the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit, but we
can practice "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness,
faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law"
When God has limited us,
we need to abide within the bounds of that limitation. The Israelites
were taught to circumcise their male children "on the eighth day"
12:3), not the
seventh or ninth day. Naaman was commanded to dip "seven times" in the
5:10), not six or
eight times. Yet, when Elisha told Joash to "smite upon the ground" with
the arrows, the king "smote thrice, and stayed. And the man of God was
wroth with him, and said, Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times;
then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed: whereas now thou
shalt smite Syria but thrice"
Some brethren misapply
the either/or principle. They tell us that "it is better to do something
wrong than to do nothing," implying that we must make one of only two
choices: do nothing, or do something wrong. They ignore a third choice:
do something, but do it right. And by following the scriptures, we will
be "throughly furnished unto all good works"
Tim. 3:16, 17).
Paul condemned the idea of "let us do evil that good may come"
3:8). We need to
refrain from that practice, and reprove those who teach or practice
Some have insisted that
we must believe that Jesus was either human or divine while on earth,
but that we cannot believe both, or else our secular education in
mathematics and spiritual knowledge becomes suspect. Now, some are
conceding that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, and to this the
scriptures agree: he was of the seed of David according to the flesh,
but at the same time he was "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God
In order to satisfy the
doctrines of men, the premillennialist and others have invoked the
either/or principle with respect to Christ and the church, and the
church and the kingdom. Some say that salvation is in Christ, but not in
the church, yet the Bible says that "the Lord added to the church daily
such as should be saved"
purchased the church with his blood
20:28), "he is the
savior of the body"
wisdom is made known through Christ and the church (Eph.
3:10, 11), and God
is glorified through Christ and the church
Neither do we have to
choose between the church and the kingdom as separate entities
established at different times with separate identities, for the same
terms are used interchangeably in the scriptures
16:18, 19; Col. 1:13, 18; Heb. 12:23, 28).
The term kingdom is simply one of several metaphors (house of God,
flock/fold, body, etc.), by which God's called-out people (the church)
Bible language is not
confusing when the principle of either/or is discussed. The matter only
becomes characterized by confusion and strife when man is not content to
abide by the ways and thoughts of God
55:8, 9), and when
man is guilty of "intruding into those things which he hath not seen,
vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind..."
2:18). If God
invokes the either/or principle, let us abide by it; if he does not, let
us not bind it upon ourselves or on others.
Passing Judgment on Others
Rumors -- How They Fly!
The Pharisee Shield