Christianity 201

January 20, 2017

The Tension between God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

Today we’re paying another return visit to Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below. This subject may be familiar to many of you, but possibly new to others. This article provides a good window into both sides of an ongoing discussion.

“Can I Lose My Salvation?”

A common question for many is, “Can I lose my salvation?” I’ve heard both sides of the argument, and only God truly knows a person’s heart, but I can share a few thoughts. The reason there is a debate is because the Scriptures teach that salvation is a gift from God that cannot be earned, but they also offer warnings about falling away. There should be a healthy tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. This issue should not create a spirit of division, elitism, or theological superiority.

One school of thought suggests that salvation cannot be lost, as in losing your car keys, but that it can be left, as in walking away from it. This may be why Jesus spoke of the man who said in his heart “my master delays His coming; therefore, I will turn from living a godly life”. When the master returned unexpectedly, the servant was banished because he chose to turn from what he knew to be right.

In another passage, Jesus said, “You have left your first love,” when speaking to the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:4). James 5:19-20 adds, if anyone wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, a soul is saved from death. If anything, these Scriptures, and many more, reinforce the fact that we have certain responsibilities.

1. We must look at the context of such verses. For example, in James 5 the context is a believer who is sick because he or she wandered from God (a pattern of sin) – from alcohol and drugs to lying and slander, and from sexual sin to the sin of pride – the warnings, convictions, and rebukes were all ignored. The elders become involved in hope that confession and repentance take place, and that faith-filled prayer releases the person from God’s chastisement (cf. Hebrews 12:5-7). The believer is heading toward physical death as the result of wandering from God, but if repentance takes place, they will be restored – the soul is saved and his ongoing pattern of sin (multitude) is covered, concealed, and dealt with. This verse is not about salvation, but disobedience.

We should never turn from what we know to be right. Jesus encouraged His followers to be watchful, prepared, and ready for His return. Are we watchful? Are we prepared? Are we ready? (Read Matthew 24:45-51; Luke 21:34.) The Scriptures offer a healthy tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

The other school of thought suggests that some passages are dealing with people who never fully surrendered to Christ. As a result, they fell away. They heard the gospel, but never fully embraced it and turned from their sins; they only had “intellectual” knowledge of salvation. According to this view, the real question isn’t, “Can a person lose their salvation?” but, “Was the person really saved to begin with?”

Titus 1:16 and James 2:14 both conclude that many people “say” that they know God, but deny Him by their lifestyle. I John 2:19 suggests that those who acknowledge Christ initially, but deny Him later, are not saved to begin with: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.

2. Who holds us together? If we must maintain our salvation, what happens if Alzheimers or some other mind-debilitating disease sets in and begins to twist, corrupt, and pollute our thinking? Is all lost, or are we held together because we are a child of God? I am convinced, like Paul, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing can separate us from God, but we should never ignore the strong warnings about turning from Him.

When it comes to salvation, we all agree that God gets all the glory and all the credit. Salvation is His work. We are never outside of His sovereignty and control: “It is God who makes us stand firm in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:21).

Our salvation is guaranteed based on the assurances found in Scripture, but we also must “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (cf. Philippians 2:12). My goal is to be faithful to the command to preach, witness, and proclaim while understanding that God does the drawing, saving, and sealing.

3. At the heart of the division is Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Sadly, brother is shooting brother and sister is wounding sister. Have we forgotten how to show grace to those in the Body who we disagree with? Those who believe you can lose your salvation should not chide those who believe in eternal security – “once saved always saved” is by no means a license to sin – it’s a belief in God’s guarantee. But on the flip side, those who embrace eternal security should not mock those who disagree.

I can hear it now, “But what about Hebrews 6:4-6.” It says, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

Based on my understanding of terms such as “enlightened,” “tasted,” and “shared,” they are not necessarily words linked to salvation. Judas Iscariot was enlightened—he knew a great deal. He also tasted and shared in the ministry of Christ, but we all know his fate. When he fell away, repentance was elusive. His fate was sealed. However, this verse should force all Christians to take inventory.

We all sin and fall short, but the important question to ask is what is the condition of your heart—have you truly repented and believed in Christ as your Lord and Savior, or are you trusting in false assurance? This may be why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?

Our actions reveal a great deal about our relationship with Christ. A.W. Tozer said: “When people find that after being in the church for years they are not making much progress, they ought to examine themselves and wonder whether they have been truly converted.”

Has your heart become so hard as to reject Jesus Christ? If so, you can change that today. I’m aware that I’m driving this point home, but I’d rather err on the side of speaking too much about a committed relationship with Jesus than too little. It’s never too late to get back on track: “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord (Micah 3:7). God is sovereign but man has a responsibility to repent and return.

 

 

March 29, 2015

Don’t Get Pushed Around

galatians5_1

Devotional ideas come by a variety of means. Today I found a scrap of paper in something my father owned, on which was written the name Richard L. Strauss (a Christian writer, not the music composer). I looked into his writings and much of what is available online would be too lengthy to use here, but this one met the size parameters, and I felt I was meant to use it today. The scripture verses are in King James, but you can update them at BibleGateway.com or similar sites. The late Dr. Richard L. Strauss was pastor of Emmanuel Faith Community in Escondido, California.

Why Get Pushed Around?

NOBODY LIKES to get pushed around. We don’t like to get stepped on, taken advantage of, treated unfairly, or denied our rights. True, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. But we still find it demeaning and degrading to get pushed around.

When it comes to spiritual issues, however, all of a sudden most of us get very weak-kneed. All of a sudden, we’re ready to back down, to give in, to roll over and play dead. And yet, this is where the Bible tells us to hold fast.

No wonder, therefore, the New Testament has so much to say about standing firm. I would like to explore some of the Scriptures in which the Greek word steko, meaning “to stand firm”, is used. Let’s find out the specific issues on which we are to stand firm, the specific areas where we must refuse to let Satan push us around.

1. In the faith.

Spiritual warfare is stamped all over the four commands the Bible gives in I Corinthians 16:13. It reads: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”

First, “Watch.” Like armies in battle, we Christians should always be watchful of enemy movements; we must be constantly on the lookout for potential attack by Satan. Secondly, “stand fast in the faith.” When we see an attack coming, we may be most tempted to retreat, or even desert. But when our faith is threatened, God wants us to stand firm, to hang tough.

The last two commands involve combat itself. “Quit you like men” is a quaint King James rendering that means “Act like men”. In other words, be brave, be courageous, whatever dangers you face. And finally, “Be strong.” Use all the power that God has made available to you through His Spirit.

AWOLs. The ranks of professing Christians has had many deserters. Most Christian young people know, for example, that the Bible’s explanation of life, the universe, man and history is the only truth. Yet, when they are confronted with the anti-Christian bias in the secular school, they wilt.

Christian adults are no stronger. All too often, believers subordinate their Christian commitments to worldly demands; people who profess to be Christians typically allow their work or even hobbies to keep them from studying the Bible or serving their Savior.

In Daniel, we have an outstanding Biblical model of one who is truly standing firm in the faith. Daniel’s commitment to his God was tested from the moment he arrived captive in Babylon as a young man. But when he was forbidden to pray on pain of death, he prayed anyway, trusting God to care for him as He chose.

Let’s dare to be the Daniels in our world. Let us stand firm in the faith whatever the cost.

2. In our freedom.

Freedom from the law is the theme of Galatians. God does not accept us because we’ve kept His laws. We are saved only because He has forgiven us and has granted us the gift of life in His Son.

But there are always people who would like to get you back under the law. That’s why Paul says in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

The trouble with the legalists is that they don’t understand God’s grace. They think it’s dangerous to let people out from under the law. Actually, legalism is the more dangerous teaching. For one thing, the legalists tend to compare their “obedience” with others; and pride, of course, goes before a fall.

For another, they tend to rely upon their own strength to keep the rules. And the inevitable result of self-reliance is a spiritual nose dive. Worn out from trying in vain to keep the law in the energy of the flesh, some of them just give up in despair. Others, thinking that God owes them something for their efforts, get disillusioned when they don’t get what they expect.

Paul vs. Peter. Standing firm against the legalists is not easy, to be sure. Strong, seemingly-spiritual personalities will sometimes put heavy pressure on you. Paul had that experience. It was none other than the great Apostle Peter, who got himself trapped in the legalistic rule that Jewish believers should not eat at the same table with Gentile believers, and Peter was influencing others to think the same way.

But Paul stood up to Peter. He wrote in Galatians 2:14: “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”

The pitfalls of legalism are endless. Satan would love to get you bogged down in one of them. So, watch out for him. Don’t get tangled up in that web of bondage. Like Paul, we must stand firm in our Christian liberty, as well as in the Christian faith.

3. In one accord.

Paul says in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ; that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

Instead of maintaining unity and harmony, we Christians have been fighting one another all over the place. Churches are splitting over trivial issues, para-church organizations are feuding against one another, Christian husbands and wives can’t get along, parents and children are at war.

This was a problem at Philippi. After the above exhortation, Paul went right on to settle a church fight between two wrangling women. They were probably fighting over their own views, their own rights, their own ways of doing things. But Paul says, “No, no, no. The most important issue in the church is unity, harmony and love; not your views, your rights, and your ways. Our love for each other is that which distinguishes us from the world. Stand firm in that.”

This often requires our giving in to others, letting them take advantage of us, forgiving them when they wrong us. Isn’t that interesting? Letting others push us around may be the very thing we need to stand firm against Satan, who seeks to sow discord among us. Don’t let Satan push us around in this matter anymore. Stand firm in the faith, in your freedom, and in one accord.

4. In the Apostles’ doctrine.

We read in II Thessalonians 2:15: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

What have they been taught? Our King James translation says “traditions”, but the idea in the Greek word paradosis is the authoritative teaching that has been handed down. It emphasizes the authority outside the immediate teacherin this case, the authority of God. He gave this truth to the apostles, and they passed it on, sometimes by spoken word and sometimes by letter. But we have it today recorded and preserved in our Bibles.

To stand fast and hold firm onto the Word of God, we need to get familiar with it. Learn what it means and how it applies to life. Some people will try to move you away from it. They will tell you that it’s old fashioned; they’ll laugh at you for still following it in this day and age.

It would be so easy to get caught in the tide of social or cultural changes. But we must hang on to the time-tested truths of God’s Word. Stand firm. Don’t back down. Don’t let anybody push you around when it comes to the doctrine of Scripture. It doesn’t matter who else believes it or who doesn’t. When you live by the old adage, “If God says it, I believe it, and that settles it”, you will have clear direction and purpose.

Yes, we must stand firm in the faith, in the freedom we have in Christ, in unity and harmony with other believers, and in the doctrine of the Holy Scripture. We can do it because we have Christ who strengthens us. Having now seen what the Word of God commands, may all of us have a little more spiritual grit and gumption in standing up for Christ whenever Satan tries to push us around.


The book title by Richard L. Strauss that was written on the piece of paper is The Joy of Knowing God. It has been posted online and can be read in its entirety without any additional software or apps by clicking this link.  Another book by the same author is also available in full, How To Really Know The Will of God at this link.