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.

 

 

July 11, 2016

Saved Believers Persevere to the End

Hebrews 3 12-14

Today we’re paying a return visit to Bob Dellinger’s Bible in a Year Blog where this appeared a few months ago. As always, click the title to read at source.

Firm to the end

Just as there are two sides to every coin, so there are two sides to the doctrine of the security of the believer. On the one side we see boldly imprinted the hands of Jesus, who has promised that no one may snatch away those whom the Father has given him. But there is a flip side, and on the reverse of the coin another image stands out: the persevering believer. Both of these images are true, and both are necessary. There can be no security without Jesus, and there can be no salvation without perseverance in the faith.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Hebrews 3:12-14

Look at the dangers the writer of Hebrews describes. There is the unbelieving heart that causes one to fall away from the living God. There is the deceitfulness of sin that hardens some against God. There is the loss of original confidence that leads to the loss of our sharing in Christ. Are these dangers only a threat to unbelievers? The writer of Hebrews is speaking to the community of believers when he proclaims this warning, and therefore I think it is meant for the church. The exhortation is clear: persevere.

My point is not to deny the promise of Jesus that no one may snatch believers from his hand. But I want to stress the equally important flip side of that truth. Saved believers persevere to the end. If we do not finish the race, we will not gain the prize. We can argue about how we are able to persevere, and whether failure is an option, but there can be no disagreement that keeping our faith to the end is a prerequisite for salvation.

Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance. Hebrews 6:11-12

Look at the qualities that Hebrews uses to describe the life of the believer: diligence, faith, perseverance. We don’t obtain the promise by being lazy, but by the hard work of imitating those who have remained faithful to the end. Jesus assures us that our work will be successful, but it is work nonetheless. Is it only man’s work? Am I teaching a doctrine of salvation by works? No, not at all. It was God’s grace that opened the door to our salvation. It was the Holy Spirit that convicted us of sin, and the blood of Jesus that covered our sin. It was God’s mercy that kept death at bay until we confessed, and the Spirit’s power that enables us to resist sin. I cannot persevere without God’s help, but I must persevere by God’s help to the very end in order to enter the narrow door to salvation.

God has designed his church so that its members endure to the end in faith by means of giving and receiving faith-sustaining words from each other. You and I are the instruments by which God preserves the faith of his children. Perseverance is a community project. Just like God is not going to evangelize the world without human, faith-awakening voices, neither is he going to preserve his church without human faith-sustaining voices. And clearly from the words, “exhort one another” (verse 13), it means all of us, not just preachers. We depend on each other to endure in faith to the end.  ~ John Piper


Today’s graphic is from a six-minute video teaching on this passage from John Piper, who is coincidentally quoted at the end of Bob’s article. Click this link to watch. As a further bonus, you get to see the inductive study method at work, as the markings in the image indicate.

August 26, 2013

Thoughts on “Once Saved, Always Saved”

This is from Jeremy Myers at the blog Till He Comes; you’re encouraged to read at source.

Eternal Security

I sometimes get asked if I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved.” One reader recently sent in this question:

Can a Christian lose their salvation?

The old saying is once saved, always saved.

I have two ways of answering this question, both of which are stated below.

1. Why I do NOT Believe “Once Saved, Always Saved”

The reason there is so much debate over this statement is because of the word “saved.” As I have written about on numerous times previously, the word “saved” (and other related words such as “save” and “salvation”) are used in a variety of ways in the Bible. When you do a study of the ways these words are used, it quickly becomes obvious that the vast majority of them have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything related to gaining or keeping eternal life.

So, for example, the word “saved” might refer to being delivered from one’s enemies, or getting healed from a sickness, or being rescued from drowning at sea. Obviously, these words are not related to gaining or keeping eternal life. I would guess that the majority of times the word “saved” (or save, salvation, etc), are used in Scripture, they are used in this way (e.g., Matt 8:25; Acts 27:31).

Another percentage of words refers to various ideas that are related to eternal life, but are not eternal life themselves. Often, the words in these contexts refer to some aspect of sanctification, or maybe getting rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, or some other related idea (cf. 1 Cor 3:15).

Finally, there is a tiny fraction (I would say less than 1%) of uses where the term probably does refer to receiving eternal life, though even in these contexts, the actual meaning of the word is debatable.

In Acts 16:30-31, for example, the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” On the one hand, it seems that the jailer might have been asking about how to receive eternal life. But frankly, at this time, that may not have been the primary question on his mind. At that time, if a jailer let prisoners escape, the jailer would be tortured and killed. Maybe the jailer was not asking how to get eternal life, but how to be delivered (saved) from being killed by the authorities. This reading is possible. I am not sure how the jailer meant his question, and so don’t mind reading it either way. Besides, whatever he meant by it, Paul and Silas answer the most important question, which is how to receive eternal life: believe in Jesus for it.

There are a few other examples of places where the word “saved” could be understood as eternal life, or could be understood as referring to something else (Eph 2:1-10 is one), but these examples are less than 1% of the uses in the Bible.

But here is what happens. Most church-going people assume that the word “saved” almost always means “get forgiveness of sins so you can go to heaven when you die” even though it rarely means that. So when they come across a passage like 1 Corinthians 15:2 where Paul says the Corinthians will be saved only if they hold fast to the word that was preached to them. And people say, “See? If you don’t hold fast, then you aren’t saved? See? Once saved, always saved is false!”

Right. But what does the word “saved” mean in this context? Is Paul really talking about the concept of “forgiveness of sins, escaping hell, going to heaven when you die?” No, he is not. Paul is using the word “saved” in the same way he uses it in 1 Corinthians 3:15. The word “saved” in 1 Corinthians refers to reward and honor at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is something Christians can lose.

So the question, “Do you believe in ‘Once Saved, Always Saved?’ is a trick question. There are numerous verses in the Bible which indicate that there is some things in our Christian life which can be lost, and these texts use the word “saved” to talk about how to be saved from losing these things.

So do I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved?” No. I do not. This slogan is unclear, imprecise, and does not fit with many Scriptures which indicate that there are many spiritual blessings in the Christian life that can be lost.

2. Why I believe “Once Saved, Always Saved”

Of course, after saying what I have said above about “Once Saved, Always Saved” I always try to then answer the question that people are really asking. When people ask if I believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved” what they are really asking is if I believe that eternal life can be lost. That is, do I believe in eternal security?

And the answer to that is a resounding Yes!

Once you see the difference in Scripture between the word “saved” and the terms “eternal life” or “everlasting life” or even something like “justification” you being to see that while there are numerous verses which talk about saving something that can  be lost, there is not a single verse in the Bible which talks about losing eternal life, losing everlasting life, or losing our justification. All of these gifts of God, once given, are never revoked or taken back.

There is no place in the Bible that talks about getting unjustified, unsealed, unregenerated, unindwelled, unbaptized by the Spirit, or any such thing.

If everlasting life can be lost, it has the wrong name.

Yes, I know there are difficult verses in the Bible, and troubling passages (Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10 for example), but with a basic framework understanding of what Jesus teaches about eternal life being given freely to everyone and anyone who believes in Him for it, and that since Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners there is no sin that can take away the benefits of His death from us, and dozens of other Scriptures which talk about God’s infinite, unmerited, outrageous, scandalous grace, the clear teaching of Scripture seems to be that once God gives eternal life to someone, they have it eternally.

Yes, yes, there are people who might abuse this idea. Yes, there are people who think they have eternal life, but don’t. Yes, there are lots of false ideas out there about what eternal life is and how to get it. I am not talking about any of that. All I am saying is that according to Scripture, if a person has eternal life, then they have eternal life eternally. They shall never perish!

So do I believe in Once Saved, Always Saved? You tell me! What are your thoughts about the saying, “Once Saved, Always Saved”?

[click here to add your voice to existing comments]

June 14, 2012

Devotional Potpourri

From Jeff Mikels in January:

He Came

  1. Jesus came as Prophet to bring the Word of God to us.
  2. Jesus came as Priest to represent us to the Father.
  3. Jesus came as SON to bring us into God’s family
  4. Jesus came as Savior to take away our sin.
  5. Jesus came as King to receive our submission.
  • to have 1-4 without 5 is pointless mercy
  • to have 5 without 1-4 is Islamic legalism
  • to have them all together is the beautiful harmony of grace

Dan Delzell looks at the question Can Deliberate Sin Negate Your Conversion Experience?

Every Christian hits rough spots at times where a particular sin just seems to get the upper hand for awhile. It might be a grudge….or impure thoughts….or jealousy….or whatever. By God’s grace, believers somehow manage to bounce back and get beyond these spiritual setbacks. It’s so much better to be living “in the zone” of God’s abundant love, power, and boundaries.

But what about the professing believer who never bounces back? He just continues charging into sin while pursuing those desires which are contrary to God’s will. What are we to make of such a person?

Well….the Arminian might say that such a person has lost his salvation….while the Calvinist might say that such a person was never saved in the first place….or that he will eventually repent and return to God. What does God’s Word say? Can deliberate sin negate your conversion experience? It’s a question worth addressing because it’s a question that comes up quite often.

[continue reading here]

Finally, Canadian counselor George Hartwell at Listening Prayer on Head versus Heart Prayer.

Creativity cannot be forced. Memory cannot be forced. Instead we find that creativity follows when we give ourselves a break or after we are asleep. Writers who know that they cannot force inspiration learn to live with the flow of creativity.

Our heart, what psychology calls the unconscious mind, is like a stubborn child. It is quite difficult for our head to control our heart. See Romans 7. Forcing the heart does not work.  Learn to cooperate with your heart.

I don’t know if over-dependence on the rational mind is the death of us, but I do remember that the serpent seduced Adam and Eve with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This Bible account at least suggests that life based on head knowledge  shut down the life-giving flow of God’s presence to Adam and Eve.

Is pride in head knowledge our downfall?  Does life based on head knowledge mean life independent from God.  When we try to figure everything out are we trying to be ‘like God.’  Does head control generate a false sense of power, control and independence?  

Timothy Galway, The Inner Game of Tennis, points out that too much instruction hinders a player from playing their best game. When the head is out of the way we may find ourselves playing better than normal – ‘beyond ourselves’.

With humility do I recover the realization that real freedom comes in being who God created me to be. Real power comes from the presence of God, as we encounter God, while listening and obeying God. Real faith is a gift of God comes in the presence of God, as we encounter God, as we listen to God. Real healing occurs in the presence of God, as we encounter God and listen to God.

 Real prayer is not based on head knowledge. Real prayer is based on coming into the presence of God, an encounter with God, listening to God.

January 16, 2012

Confession, Belief, Security

Bill Mounce is a regular at Koinonia, where this exposition of Romans 10:9 appeared last week.

Something occurred to me this morning, and I am curious as to what you think about it. It actually has far reaching ramifications.

If you have been following this blog, then you know that I have been thinking about what is a Christian, how do we define it. Specifically, I have been looking for a balance between Jesus’ “Follow me” and the more propositional statements of Paul.

An example of the later is Rom 10:9. Paul is talking about the nearness of the word of faith and says, “if you confess (ὁμολογήσῃς) with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe (πιστεύσῃς) in your heart that  God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes (πιστεύεται) and is made righteous, and with the mouth he confesses (ὁμολογεῖται) and is saved” (Rom 10:9-10).

Here is my question. I have always thought of this confession and believing more in terms of a single event, namely, conversion, going through the gate (Matt 7:13-14). But does it have to be limited to this?

Doug Moo in his commentary says, “Paul is therefore explaining the ‘nearness’ of the word of faith, the gospel, by emphasizing that it demands only a simple response and that, when responded to, it mediates God’s salvation” (657).

Now, certainly this is true of conversion, which is coming to a point of confessing and believing. But I wonder if Paul would agree with the sentiment that a person could make a one-time confession, and later deny his confession, and still be saved. I wonder if Paul would agree that a person could come to a point of faith, and later deny his faith, and still be saved.

I can find no such teaching in Paul. 

Nor can I find it in Jesus. In fact, he has some pretty strong words to say on the subject. For example, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation [i.e., to not confess Jesus’ Lordship], of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels [i.e., to distance in judgment]” (Mark 8:38).

I wonder if we should continue to see the importance of the first time we confess and believe, when we are made righteous and are saved, and yet realize that in the fullest sense of the words, Christians are people who confess Christ and people who believe in the resurrection. If we cease to confess and if we cease to believe, then we can no longer legitimately be called Christians, believers, followers of Christ.

As far as the Greek is concerned the aorists ὁμολογήσῃς and πιστεύσῃς don’t really help us. The aorist is not necessarily punctiliar; it does not necessarily point to a single point in time. Thankfully we are far beyond that view of the aorist. In fact, if these are constative aorists, they could nicely cover the entire range of our lives. And πιστεύεται and ὁμολογεῖται are present tense.

At this point I don’t want to say that this is necessarily what Paul is teaching in Rom 10. But Calvin and Wesley are both in agreement that if a person does not continue in their confession of Christ and belief in his (death and) resurrection, they can hardly be called Christian.

And as I have often argued, whether they never were true Christians or lost their salvation is a nearly irrelevant question, since in either case the person ends up in hell.

William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill’s other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at www.billmounce.com