Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Divine Fidelity and Human Infidelity

“Another suggestion [to Hebrews] is that perhaps these verses themselves imply the possibility that the recipients of God’s pledged faithfulness could turn away and so limit the fulfillment of the promises. It is observed that several of these verses use present-tense verbs to describe the beneficiaries: Hebrews 7:25 speaks of ‘those who are coming near to God’ through Jesus and Hebrews 10:14 of ‘those who are being sanctified.’ So, the argument goes, THE PRESENT PARTICIPLES IMPLY THE CLEAR DANGER THAT THE BENEFICIARIES THEMSELVES MAY AT SOME POINT ABORT THE PROCESS, TURN BACK, AND FAIL TO REACH THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF FINAL SALVATION. THIS STILL, I THINK, raises questions ABOUT WHY THE AUTHOR WOULD EXPRESS HIMSELF SO STRONGLY ABOUT GOD’S ABSOLUTE FAITHFULNESS IF HUMAN INFIDELITY CAN SHORT-CIRCUIT IT, especially since this is the very thing he fears some of his readers may do” (Buist M. Fanning, “A Classical Reformed View,” from “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews” by Herbert W. Bateman IV, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, pages 199-200).

Fanning’s biggest question regarding Hebrews is “how can the writer imply that a believer can abandon the current path of salvation IF the Lord remains faithful?”
I have a good answer for this question. To find the answer, turn to Romans 3.
At this place in Romans, Paul has already told the Jews that they, claiming to have God’s written Law, are just as guilty as the Gentile world because “you, the judge, do the same things” (Rom. 2:1, Holman Christian Standard Bible). He then goes into what it means to be a true Jew—“a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter” (Rom. 2:29, HCSB).
In Romans 3, he begins to label the whole world as guilty before God. His argument starts as follows:

“So what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the spoken words of God. What then? IF SOME DID NOT BELIEVE, WILL THEIR UNBELIEF CANCEL GOD’S FAITHFULNESS? Absolutely not! God must be true, but everyone is a liar, as it is written:
‘That You may be justified in Your words and triumph when You judge.’
But if our unrighteousness highlights God’s righteousness, what are we to say? I use a human argument: is God unrighteous to inflict wrath? Absolutely not! OTHERWISE, HOW WILL GOD JUDGE THE WORLD?” (Rom. 3:1-6, HCSB)

Verses 5 and 6 are the essential verses I believe that oppose Fanning’s argument. Our unrighteousness does indeed highlight the righteousness of God—for even when we are “faithless, He is faithful—for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) I have discussed these verses in Norman Geisler’s argument in the book on “Four Views on Eternal Security” by General Editor J. Matthew Pinson. However, I will discuss them with Fanning’s argument here.

Our unrighteousness MAGNIFIES the righteousness of God in that the Lord is still faithful to us, even when we are unfaithful to Him. However, God’s faithfulness doesn’t cancel out man’s unfaithfulness. And neither does man's unfaithfulness cancel out God's faithfulness. This is why Paul asks, “If some did not believe, will their unbelief cancel God’s faithfulness? ABSOLUTELY NOT!” (Rom. 3:3, 4) If God's faithfulness is not cancelled out by man's unfaithfulness, then neither is man's unfaithfulness cancelled out by God's faithfulness.

Then in verse 5, Paul provides a “Q & A” session for the Calvinist: “But if our unrighteousness HIGHLIGHTS God’s righteousness, what are we to say?...IS GOD UNRIGHTEOUS TO INFLICT WRATH?...otherwise, HOW WILL GOD JUDGE THE WORLD?”
The question asked is this: If my unrighteousness, my sin and evil, bring about good, then am I responsible for my sin and evil? Is God wrong for punishing me? Paul said, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!! Otherwise, how will God judge the world?” (Rom. 3:6, HCSB)
So God’s faithfulness, God’s fidelity, does not CANCEL OUT or OVERWEIGH our infidelity; rather, God’s faithfulness is how He will “judge the world.”

If God’s fidelity outweighed our infidelity, then God could judge no one—because our actions would be based on God’s faithfulness; and, since God will always be faithful, we are always assured of nothing but reward. However, God will judge the world; and since His faithfulness will not cancel out the sins of man, mankind will be held responsible for their sins.

Fanning may not wanna believe it, but God is absolutely faithful at all times; however, this does not “blot out” the transgressions of man. Rather, God’s faithfulness MAGNIFIES MY UNFAITHFULNESS!!

What purpose does God’s faithfulness serve, then, if it does not cancel out my unfaithfulness? It does serve as the standard by which I will be judged for my deeds (as Paul tells us in Romans 3); however, God’s faithfulness is there to exhort me to continue to persevere in the faith:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that HE HAS INAUGURATED FOR US, through the curtain (that is, His flesh); and since we have a GREAT HIGH PRIEST OVER THE HOUSE OF GOD, LET US DRAW NEAR WITH A TRUE HEART IN FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us HOLD ON TO THE CONFESSION OF OUR HOPE WITHOUT WAVERING, FOR HE WHO PROMISED IS FAITHFUL” (Hebrews 10:19-23, HCSB).

As the evidence clearly reveals, because Christ’s death and resurrection allow us to enter the sanctuary, and Christ is now our high priest, we are to “draw near” to God, come to Him. In addition, all of this is to encourage us to “be faithful”—or, as the text says, “hold on to the confession of our hope WITHOUT WAVERING.” We are not to waver in our faith, to drift in our faith, to teeter-totter back and forth with regards to whether or not we believe in Christ’s promises. Why are we to be faithful? “FOR HE WHO PROMISED IS FAITHFUL.” HIS FAITHFULNESS DEMANDS OUR FAITHFULNESS UNTIL THE END!!!

Christ’s provision through His death and resurrection gives us the spiritual strength we need to remain faithful and cling to God, even in times of intense suffering and persecution. And the same God who said, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16; Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7) is the same God who says, “Be faithful, because I am faithful.”

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