Dead Men Don’t Climb Ladders! (June 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

by Roy Osborne
June, 1993

In every discipline there are what might be called, “generally accepted mistakes.” These are things which the general populace seems to accept as true, but are not. Many people believe certain quotes are from the Bible, when actually they come from Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Benjamin Franklin, or others. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is not, as many believe, a quote from the Bible, but from an old rabbi by the name of Phineas ben Yair, and quoted in a sermon by John Wesley.

The average man in the street believes that keeping the Ten Commandments is a sure way to justification before God. Some form of this erroneous belief lies at the base of most religious philosophy today. This is surely one of the most popular “generally accepted mistakes.”

We seem unable to give up the idea that we must DO SOMETHING to effect our justification. Some of the most prominent preachers, in and out of the Church of Christ, teach justification as a cooperative effort on the part of God and man. Man does all he can and God supplies the rest. Man climbs the ladder as far as he can go, and God reaches down the rest of the way to save him.

The fallacy of this should be evident to all who read Paul’s words in Ephesians 2: “God… made us alive with Christ, even when we were DEAD in transgressions… it is by grace you have been saved….” DEAD MEN DON’T CLIMB LADDERS! Those who are dead cannot contribute anything to the process.

The late K. C. Moser (a giant in biblical understanding) said, “One of the most difficult truths for man to accept is that he has a real Savior. He desires that Jesus tell him what to do to save himself! It is astonishing how many and who they are who have such an idea.”

We seem to feel that there is a certain piety in working to be holy; a certain personal need fulfilled when I “clean up my act,” and decide to be a good boy or girl. The prophet, who described his righteous acts as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), understood the personal egotism which mars self-achieved goodness. No wonder Paul, in the Ephesian passage referred to above, said, “… not of works, lest any man should boast.”

The preaching of justification totally by God’s grace does not relieve man of all responsibility, as some seem to fear. It is not an antinomian philosophy, which leaves the subject free to do as he pleases, or to do nothing at all. The opposite of works salvation is not freedom from obedience, but TOTAL dependence on the Lord. It is not freedom from acting rightly, but freedom from self-reliance. The acceptance, by faith, of God’s grace, transforms me into a new creature, whose purpose and meaning of life are defined by the Lord.

The baptism of John was inadequate because it was a baptism of repentance, leaving the burden still on the shoulders of the sinner to correct his mistakes and live righteously. The baptism of Christ takes the burden off the one who cannot bear it, and surrenders it to the one who can. Your were DEAD in your sins, and “DEAD MEN DON’T CLIMB LADDERS.”

It is no wonder we do not find peace, nor answers to the myriad problems of life. Paul, in Romans 5, says, “having been justified by faith let us have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I can never find peace as long as I strive for personal righteousness. I must always live with the fear that there is more I should know, and more I should correct and more I should do. Total faith is total surrender to him, and every step is accompanied by the aura of his felt presence. What I do I do with the overwhelming sense of his presence in my life, not judging my righteousness but forgiving my unrighteousness.

There have always been those who were uncomfortable with not knowing. Even the disciples of Jesus many times asked him to reveal some mystery to them. His answer was “it is not for you to know…,´ depend on me.

Job longed to understand the mystery of his life and its terrible problems. But God gave him no answers. It was as if God said to him, “Job, I don’t need you smart. I don’t need you to understand me or explain me. I just want you to have complete faith in me.”

To depend on my personal understanding and logic is to reduce God to a level I can understand. It removes the supernatural from my religion. It makes God no greater than the scope of my limited mind’s capacity. The older I get the more I want a God I don’t understand. If he is not greater than my understanding he is not great enough to run my world, which I don’t understand and cannot control.

It was not an accidental trick of literary style that caused Jesus to introduce the first great sermon he preached (Matthew 5) with a call for complete humility. Only the “poor in spirit” (and I am told the word for poor in the original language means having nothing at all) are capable of total surrender to him who is the total Savior.

The belief that I must “climb the ladder” as far as I can and God will reach the rest of the way, leaves my faith as nothing more than a motivator to the actions which justify me. This denies faith as being of any value on its own… the spiritual connection I have with a very personal Savior and a very loving Father. Given this “incidental” role of motivator, my faith cannot help me when the troubles of life overwhelm and the dark hours come. If it only motivates me to act, and the only justification is in the action, I am removed from the comfort of the Savior by the weak failures in my personal actions. No wonder so many go to church for comfort, but leave with only an increased sense of guilt.

The acceptance of God’s grace and the shed blood of Jesus Christ as the total cause of my justification, does not allow me a permissive religion. On the contrary, when I totally surrender to Jesus Christ (as Lord of my life) I, by faith, open myself to the transforming power of his Spirit, which makes of me a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:27). This new creature takes its meaning and direction from Jesus Christ, for there is no other source of light. Human logic and complete understanding are not necessary to one who simply wishes to imitate Christ. As Peter said, “To whom shall we go, Lord, you have the words of eternal life.”

God did not confuse the language of the Babel tower builders to keep them from succeeding in their attempt to climb up to heaven. He stopped them to impress upon them the foolishness of the quest, and their own helplessness. Physical mortals do not climb to spiritual heights with earth-bound tools. Neither do men, who are dead in sin, perform acts of righteousness, with sin-broken tools. Christianity is not a religion of achievement but of submission. DEAD MEN DON’T CLIMB LADDERS!Wineskins Magazine

Roy Osborne

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1584 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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