Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Exhortations In Disguise

“Jesus reminds us of the nature of our pilgrimage in this present age. Jesus holds before us both his assuring promise to preserve the elect and his warning admonition that calls for vigilant perseverance in order to be saved. Is there an unbearable tension between them? What is the relationship between the two? Does election swallow up warning? Or does warning devour election?

It is precisely at this point that many slip to one side or the other. I. Howard Marshall opts for the latter as he claims, ‘for the Church as the heir of Israel’s election, her election is conditional upon her desire to retain it.’ For Marshall, God’s election of us is only as sure as our vigilance. Others want to adjust the warning by smothering it with election so that they transmute the warning into either a test of genuine faith or simply a warning for hypocrites. Neither view does justice to the biblical text, because Mark intends both warning and promise to retain their full functions for believers. What is the relationship, therefore? Election is not conditioned upon perseverance, nor does election nullify the necessity of perseverance. Rather, JESUS FULLY INTENDS FOR US TO UNDERSTAND THAT GOD, WHO ELECTED HIS OWN FOR SALVATION, SECURES THEM FROM APOSTASY AND PRESERVES THEM THROUGH AFFLICTIONS BY USE OF WARNINGS THAT CAUTION WATCHFULNESS, WARINESS, AND VIGILANT STEADFASTNESS”
(Thomas Schreiner, “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, page 159).

Schreiner’s statement above is characteristic of what Schreiner will often do throughout his book.

He constantly tells the reader that “both warning and promise” must be held in tandem; that neither can be overwhelmed or outweighed by the other. But look at his remark regarding the warnings:

“Jesus fully intends for us to understand that God...secures them [believers] from apostasy and preserves them through afflictions by the use of warnings...”

We are first told that neither I. Howard Marshall’s approach, nor approaches like John MacArthur’s, are correct. Then, we are fed the idea of “once saved, always saved” and told that the warnings are really “exhortations in disguise,” a means by which God “secures” and “preserves” His people.

But if this is the case, why use a warning? Why not use encouragements only? Schreiner’s approach blurs the difference between an “exhortation” and a “warning.”

Let’s define both of these terms (from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary):

Exhortation: 2 : language intended to incite and encourage

Warning: 2 : something that warns or serves to warn

Now we will see what it means to “exhort” and “warn”:

Warn: 1 a : to give notice to beforehand especially of danger or evil

Encourage: 1 a : to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope

An encouragement or exhortation is there to “inspire,” while a warning is there to “give notice...of danger or evil.” The function of an encouragement is to say, “keep going,” while the function of a warning is to say, “watch out.” These are two different responses altogether, so both must be taken into account when arriving at an interpretation of a passage.

Schreiner, though, can’t seem to admit his bias. Here then, is his most telling statement of the entire quote above:

“Jesus fully intends for us to understand that God, who elected his own for salvation, secures them from apostasy and preserves them through afflictions by use of warnings that caution watchfulness, wariness, and vigilant steadfastness” (159).

First, he tells us that he’s Calvinist:


Secondly, he tells us that the warnings are really “exhortations in disguise”:

“God...secures them from apostasy and preserves use of warnings...”

In Schreiner’s Calvinist system, there is no way that the saved CAN FAIL to endure until the end! However, this contradicts what Paul says of the possibility of his own disqualification in the race for eternal life (1 Cor. 9:25-27).

In the Calvinist system, failure to endure is never an option; and yet, Jesus felt the need to warn His disciples in Matthew 10, Matthew 24, and Mark 13 about “false prophets and false Christs” who would attempt to lead the elect astray.

In addition, look at what Schreiner says about election:

“Election is not conditioned upon perseverance, nor does election nullify the necessity of perseverance.”

I’d say that he’s right with the second phrase, but WRONG with the first one. The Bible teaches that election IS CONDITIONED upon perseverance. In 2 Peter, Peter tells us that we must add perseverance to our faith and this is to be done so as to secure our calling and election:

“But also for this very reason, GIVING ALL DILIGENCE, ADD TO YOUR FAITH virtue...knowledge...self-control...PERSEVERANCE...godliness...brotherly, brethren, BE EVEN MORE DILIGENT TO MAKE YOUR CALL AND ELECTION SURE, FOR IF YOU DO THESE THINGS YOU WILL NEVER STUMBLE; for so AN ENTRANCE will be supplied to you abundantly INTO THE EVERLASTING KINGDOM OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST” (2 Peter 1:5-7, 10-11, NKJV).

Why does Peter write to “make your call and election sure,” if God secures every believer’s election? There would be no need for neither you nor me to attempt to “add” to God’s secure election—IF it’s a guaranteed election!!

Peter goes on to say the following to the believers:


Peter notes here that there is a possibility that the believers themselves could fall away and be “led away with the error of the wicked,” into everlasting punishment. This is why he warns them “beforehand,” as Jesus does in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:25).

As my last piece of biblical evidence in this post, I will use Paul’s words to the church at Rome:

“And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and DOING THE SAME, THAT YOU WILL ESCAPE THE JUDGMENT OF GOD?

Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, FORBEARANCE, and LONGSUFFERING, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

But in accordance with your HARDNESS AND YOUR IMPENITENT HEART YOU ARE TREASURING UP FOR YOURSELF WRATH IN THE DAY OF WRATH AND REVELATION OF THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT OF GOD, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds.’: eternal life to those who by PATIENT CONTINUANCE IN DOING GOOD seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—INDIGNATION AND WRATH, TRIBULATION AND ANGUISH, ON EVERY SOUL OF MAN WHO DOES EVIL...but GLORY, HONOR, AND PEACE TO EVERYONE WHO WORKS WHAT IS GOOD...FOR THERE IS NO PARTIALITY WITH GOD” (Romans 2:3-11, NKJV).

Schreiner may attempt to make the warnings sound like exhortations, but warnings can’t be exhortations and exhortations cannot be warnings. One encourages, while the other admonishes. In the words of Paul, while “all Scripture” is used for “doctrine” and “instruction in righteousness,” Scripture is also used for “reproof,” correction, rebuke when someone sins (2 Tim. 3:16, NKJV). There is a serious tone to Jesus’ words about enduring to the end...and I think we need to start paying attention...

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