Monday, August 31, 2009

A Questionable Eternal Security, Part II-E: Hebrews 10:26-29

26 For if we deliberately sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (Q) 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries. (R) 28 If anyone disregards Moses' law, he dies without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. (S) 29 How much worse punishment, do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as profane [c] the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Geisler claims here, as he does in every passage in Hebrews that he uses, that the “loss” refers to a loss of “rewards” instead of salvation. He gives eleven reasons why his interpretation is true, but I’m only gonna focus on three of the eleven.

The first reason for his interpretation is “The reference to those who ‘insulted the Spirit of grace’ (v.29) implies these people were believers who had that Spirit to insult” (“Four Views on Eternal Security,” page 100).

But this point disproves his about the loss of rewards! Why? because, if they are believers, and believers can insult the Spirit of grace, then this seems to be a serious offense. Notice that verse 26 says, “If we DELIBERATELY SIN after receiving the knowledge of the truth…” This tells us that someone has “received” the knowledge of the truth, which means they are saved (1 Tim. 2:4), and still continues to sin (despite the fact that he or she was saved FROM sin).

Next, insulting the Spirit of grace is something that, as Geisler said, ONLY BELIEVERS can do! And there is grave danger in that. I believe that’s why Paul wrote in Ephesians,

30 And don't grieve God's Holy Spirit, (AS) who sealed you [l] for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30, HCSB)

Grieving God’s Spirit in Ephesians 4:30 is linked to being “sealed.” Why is that? I think the grieving is linked to the sealing because, should a person refuse to yield to the Spirit he or she received into their lives, the Spirit becomes “outraged” and “insulted” and comes to feel as if He’s an “unwelcome guest” in the heart of the believer. Once the Spirit has been shunned and “pushed out” of the person’s life, may God have mercy on his or her soul.

There are some who don’t believe that it is possible for a believer to push the Spirit of out of his or her life; but Scripture shows us how this can happen after a person continually rejects the work of the Spirit.

Psalm 78 tells us that

53 He led them safely, and they were not afraid;
but the sea covered their enemies. (AY) 54 He brought them to His holy land,
to the mountain His right hand acquired. (AZ) 55 He drove out nations before them. (BA) He apportioned their inheritance by lot and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents. (BB) 56 But they rebelliously tested the Most High God,
for they did not keep His decrees. (BC) 57 They treacherously turned away like their fathers; they became warped like a faulty bow. (BD) 58 They enraged Him with their high places and provoked His jealousy with their carved images. (BE) 59 God heard and became furious; He completely rejected Israel. (BF) 60 He abandoned the tabernacle at Shiloh, the tent where He resided among men. (BG) [j]61 He gave up His strength [k] to captivity and His splendor to the hand of a foe. (BH) 62 He surrendered His people to the sword
because He was enraged with His heritage. (BI) 63 Fire consumed His chosen young men, and His young women had no wedding songs. (BJ) [l] 64 His priests fell by the sword, but the [m] widows could not lament. (Psalm 78:53-64, HCSB)

According to verses 59 and 60, God rejected His people because of their continued sin. Verse 60 says that “He abandoned the tabernacle at Shiloh, THE TENT WHERE HE RESIDED AMONG MEN.” The Lord was so enraged with His people, that He abandoned them. He had been with them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in the wilderness. He had provided manna from heaven, and kept their clothes and shoes from wearing out. But the Lord had to respond to their sin; and Israel sinned against Him so much that He felt that abandoning the tent where He dwelled was the only way to get through to them (and the only form of justice that remained for His people). We find, however, these words of hope in John’s Gospel:

14 The Word (AA) became flesh (AB) [k] and took up residence [l] among us. We observed His glory, (AC) the glory as the One and Only (AD) Son [m] from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, HCSB)

John tells us that the Word (being Christ, who is “the Word” according to John 1:1) “took up residence” among men. The word for “took up residence” here is the Greek word that means “to TABERNACLE.” So, even though God abandoned His people and left the tabernacle at Shiloh, he RETURNED to dwell among men once more, when He took on human flesh in the Incarnation. Because we are saved when we confess His TABERNACLING here on earth, there is no other such event. The Lord now dwells on earth, especially in the hearts of His children. And if we reject the Lord’s dwelling in our hearts (1 Peter 1:21 calls the Spirit “The Spirit of Christ”), there is no other way to have His presence in our lives. If we reject Him within, and He withdraws Himself from us (because we have rejected Him), then there is no hope of us being saved in the end.

So the idea of the Spirit of Grace being insulted is not one that the writer just throws onto Scripture (to show the severity of such an action); the writer provides it here because it can happen—believers CAN REJECT THE SPIRIT OF GRACE!

The next reason Geisler lists (of the three I will provide here) is the “loss-of-rewards” position:

“The ‘fearful expectation of judgment’ (v.27) fits the description of the believers coming before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10), where their works will be tried by fire and they will suffer loss of reward (see 1 Cor. 3:13-14 and the comments above)” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views,” page 100).

I would say that 1 Corinthians 3 does involve a “loss of reward” for “God’s co-workers.” However, the context here in Hebrews 10 involves a much more severe punishment than the loss of a crown or a jewel. The writer uses the “testimony of two or three witnesses” from the law of Moses (v.28) as an analogy. In the Law of Moses, if a person was given witness to disobeying the Law of Moses, that person died a PHYSICAL death. But notice the writer’s words in Hebrews 10:29—

“HOW MUCH WORSE PUNISHMENT, do you think ONE WILL DESERVE who has TRAMPLED on the Son of God, REGARDED AS PROFANE the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and INSULTED the Spirit of Grace?” (Heb. 10:29, HCSB)

The “worse punishment” mentioned here in verse 29 must be a whole lot more severe than the physical death of those who disobeyed the law of Moses (v.28). Only SPIRITUAL DEATH is worse than physical death!

Look at verse 27. How can a loss of eternal rewards (crowns, etc.) equal a “terrifying expectation of judgment, AND THE FURY OF A FIRE ABOUT TO CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES”? Notice that the fire discussed here will not do what Geisler believes it will: while in 1 Corinthians 3, the loss will be burnt up and the person will be saved; however, here in Hebrews 10, the “reward” will not be burnt up—instead, the PEOPLE, “the adversaries,” will be consumed! Hebrews 10 is talking about eternal damnation on an entirely different scale than that mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3. As a result, Geisler’s proof-text won’t work here.

In verse 31, the writer says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” How can a “loss of rewards” be terrifying, if all the Lord is gonna do is take away your crowns and jewels in glory? If that’s ALL the Lord is gonna do as a punishment, I don’t see how that can be “terrifying.” It’s the same thing as if a kid loses their allowance. How is that terrifying? What is more terrifying to children is thinking of the possibility that they could be beaten with a belt or spanked by their parents. It is the physical punishment that is far more harmful to them than losing an allowance. I would say the same thing works for the issue of Hebrews 10 here. What is more terrifying than losing rewards is to lose salvation, to be told by the Lord, “Depart from me.” To be turned away from the Lord is far worse than losing a crown or a jewel in eternity.

Geisler’s final reason (the last one I will use here) concerns Hebrews 10:39—

“This chapter ends with the writer affirming with confidence that believers will not be lost: ‘But we are not of those who SHRINK BACK AND ARE DESTROYED, but of those who BELIEVE AND ARE SAVED’(10:39)” (Geisler, 100).

Notice that “shrink back” is the opposite of “believe,” and “are destroyed” is the opposite of “are saved.” If “saved” is the opposite of “destroyed,” then the writer can’t be writing an argument about “loss of rewards.” Here, the connotation of “saved” involves being delivered from eternal judgment and damnation. In other words, being “saved” takes someone away from “Hell” itself. When the writer says, “we are…of those WHO BELIEVE AND ARE SAVED,” he makes it clear that what is “saved” is clearly the PEOPLE; if “the people” can be “destroyed,” then “people” are those who are saved. But, if Geisler’s “rewards” view fit here, then only the “rewards” can be saved. Clearly, when linking damnation or salvation to the people, the writer makes it clear that crowns and jewels are not being mentioned.

We have explored another of Geisler’s proof-texts. There are still more to come, so stay tuned.

A Questionable Eternal Security, Part II-D: Hebrews 2

“ ‘We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that WE DO NOT DRIFT AWAY.’ Like the other warnings in Hebrews (see 6:4-7; 10:26-29), the context indicates that these believers are warned about LOSING THEIR REWARDS, not salvation, which is an ‘eternal redemption.’ The context calls them ‘those who will inherit salvation’ (1:14) and ‘brothers’ (2:17). The use of ‘we’(2:1) also points to other believers along with the author. Further, to ‘drift away’ is not a figure of speech indicating a LOSS OF SALVATION. Later warnings to the same audience indicate that THE AUTHOR IS SPEAKING OF A LOSS OF ‘MATURITY’ (6:1; cf. 5:13-14)” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, general editor. Grand Rapids: ZOndervan, 2002, page 98).

In the above quote, Geisler discusses Hebrews 2:1. But the problem with Geisler’s interpretation is that he does not cover the context of Hebrews 2. Let’s read verses 1 through 4 and discover the context of Hebrews 2:

1 We must therefore pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels was legally binding, (A) [a] and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, (B) 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. (C) 4 At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions [of gifts] from the Holy Spirit according to His will. (Hebrews 2:1-4, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The “drifting away” of verse 1 is given context with verse 3: “How will we escape if we NEGLECT such a great SALVATION?”.The word for “neglect” in this passage is the participle “ameleisantes.” The participle is an aorist active participle, stemming from the verb “ameleo” (to neglect).

I think I should take some time here and tell those who don’t know Greek of this verb that is now before us. The verb is “aorist” in that the “aorist” tense in the Greek stands for something that is past. It is a completed action, done in the past. The verb is in the “active” voice because the subject, being “we,” is the subject committing the action. The verb is a “participle,” which means that it involves some use of “ing” attached to it, like “walking,” or “talking,” etc. Because the verb here is in the past tense and the subject is committing it, this verb would properly be translated as “having neglected.” So the first phrase of verse 3 should read, “How will we escape HAVING NEGLECTED such a great salvation?” The verb for “escape” is “ekpheuksometha,” which is a “future middle indicative” verb. Let me take time to explain the designation of this verb.

If a verb is in the “future” tense, the verb will be translated with the words “will be” or “will.” An example of this would be “will run.” The verb before us in the “middle” voice, which means that the person, the “we,” is doing the action (attempting to escape, according to Hebrews 2). The indicative label shows that the verb is stated as a matter of fact (although here, it is used hypothetically to state what would happen IF the believers neglected or abandoned their salvation). The writer says that the believers will not escape once they have neglected their salvation in Christ. There is no escape; and the writer tells us this in verse 2:

2 For if the message spoken through angels was legally binding, (A) [a] and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, (B) 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:2, HCSB)

If the Old Testament Law was binding and was enacted with punishment for those who disobeyed, punishment would befall the one who disobeyed the law of Christ, the law of faith.
The end of verse 3 and verse 4 tell us that salvation in Christ is true because its authenticity has been manifested:

It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. (C) 4 At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions [of gifts] from the Holy Spirit according to His will.(Hebrews 2:3b-4, HCSB)

The salvation in Christ of which the writer speaks has been demonstrated by signs and miracles, as well as the Spirit’s distribution of gifts, His giving them to the church. These signs prove that the salvation of which the writer speaks is the real thing; and that, for the readers to desert their faith in Christ is to desert the only real “saving” grace they have. Outside of Christ, there is no escaping the coming wrath.

So as we see, this passage is not referring to the loss of rewards; we are clearly told that this passage is referring to “drifting away” from true “salvation” (2:3). Once again, Geisler fails to do his homework on such texts. I honestly don’t see how he could put such a presuppositional spin on a passage like this one.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Perseverance and Final Salvation

Dear Readership,

The following article was taken from "The Arminian Magazine, No. 2, Fall 2004, volume 22. I thought it would be good to post here, considering our series on the Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security. Enjoy!


Is Perseverance in Faith Necessary to Obtain Final Salvation?
Steve Witzki

"Final perseverance implies final faithfulness-he that endures to the end shall be saved-he that is faithful unto death shall have a crown of life. And will any man attempt to say that he who does not endure to the end, and is unfaithful, shall ever enter into life?" [Adam Clarke, Commentary, 5:595].

Clarke, as with most Christians, would find it incredible to think that there are actually Christians who would argue that unfaithful Christians -those who do not endure in faith to the end-still will enter into life everlasting with Jesus. But this is exactly what we find being taught today, and from none other than the popular author and pastor Charles Stanley, "The unfaithful believer will not lose his salvation. . Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy.. Christ will not deny an unbelieving
Christian his or her salvation" [Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? pp. 93-94, emphasis added].

Remarkably, Stanley is arguing for saved unbelievers. To most Christians this seems to be an oxymoron like "married bachelor," that makes no sense. Yet, this teaching is entirely consistent with Stanley's theology of salvation. He teaches that salvation "is applied at the moment of faith.And its permanence is not contingent upon the permanence of one's faith" [p. 80]. Since one moment of faith secures one's eternal destiny then it necessarily follows that a believer's salvation cannot be taken from them "for any reason, whether it be sin or disbelief" [p. 81]. Therefore it is no surprise that Stanley objects to "those who hold that one's faith must be maintained to ensure the possession of eternal life" [p. 92].

I have demonstrated in a previous Arminian article, "The Meaning of Eternal Life and Who Possesses It" [Fall 2002] that the Scriptures do teach that one's possession of eternal life is conditioned upon a maintained attitude of trust in the person and source of eternal life-the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not alone in this assessment of the Scriptural witness. Even the Classical Calvinist agrees with the Arminian that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must continue to the end if one is going to experience salvation in the age to come. For example, Reformed author James White says,

Throughout this passage [John 6:35-45] an important truth is presented that again might be missed in many English translations. When Jesus describes the one who comes to Him and who believes in Him, He uses the present tense to describe this coming, believing, or, in other passages, hearing or seeing. The present tense refers to a continuous, ongoing action. . The wonderful promises that are provided by Christ are not for those who do not truly and continually believe. The faith that saves is a living faith, a faith that always looks to Christ as Lord and Savior. . Many in our world today.. teach essentially that a person can perform an act of believing on Christ once, and after this, they can fall away even into total unbelief

and yet still supposedly be "saved." . Christ does not save men in this way. The true Christian is the one continually coming, always believing in Christ. Real Christian faith is an ongoing faith, not a one-time act. If one wishes to be eternally satiated, one meal is not enough. If we wish to feast on the bread of heaven, we must do so all our lives. We will never hunger or thirst if we are always coming and always believing in Christ [Drawn by the Father, pp. 19-20].

James Arminius said, "At the beginning of faith in Christ and of conversion to God, the believer becomes a living member of Christ. If he perseveres in the faith of Christ and maintains a good conscience, he remains a living member. But if he becomes indolent, has no care for himself, gives place to sin, he becomes, by degrees half-dead: and proceeding in this way he at length wholly dies, and ceases to be a member of Christ" [Works, 3:470, emphasis added).

Wesley admonished believers to likewise, "Continue to believe in him that loved thee, and gave himself for thee; that bore all thy sins in his own body on the tree; and he saveth thee from all condemnation, by his blood continually applied. Thus it is that we continue in a justified state." He goes on to add, For, by that faith in his life, death, and intercession for us, renewed from moment to moment, we are every whit clean, and there is not only now no condemnation for us, but no such desert of punishment as was before, the Lord cleansing both our hearts and lives. By the same faith we feel the power of Christ every moment resting upon us, whereby alone we are what we are; whereby we are enabled to continue in spiritual life, and without which, notwithstanding all our present holiness, we should be devils the next moment. But as long as we retain our faith in him,we "draw water out of the wells of salvation ["The Repentance of Believers," 2.4-5].

Wesley was in complete agreement with Arminius who taught "that it is impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation.. On the other hand, if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation-that is, if they still continue unbelievers" [Works, 1:742]. This is clearly expressed by Wesley in his Serious Thoughts Upon the Perseverance of the Saints. Throughout this article Wesley states the objection raised by those who hold to unconditional security and then provides a response that is true to the Scriptural text:

10. "But how can this [teaching that a Christian can fall from God as to perish everlastingly] be reconciled with the words of the Lord: 'He that believeth shall be saved?'"

Do you think these words mean, "He that believes" at this moment "shall" certainly and inevitably "be saved?"

If this interpretation be good, then, by all the rules of speech, the other part of the sentence must mean, "He" that does "not believe" at this moment, "shall" certainly and inevitably "be damned."

Therefore that interpretation cannot be good. The plain meaning, then, of the whole sentence is, "He that believeth," if he continue in faith, "shall be saved; he that believeth not," if he continue in unbelief, "shall be damned."

11. "But does not Christ say elsewhere, 'He that believeth hath everlasting life?' (John 3:36), and 'He that believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death untolife?'" (v. 24).

I answer, (1.) The love of God is everlasting life. It is, in substance, the life of heaven. Now, everyone that believes, loves God, and therefore, "hath everlasting life."

(2.) Everyone that believes "is" therefore, "passed from death," spiritual death, "unto life;" and,

(3.) "Shall not come into condemnation," if he endureth in the faith unto the end; according to our Lord's own words, "He that endureth unto the end shall be saved [Matt 10:22];" and,"Verily I say unto you, if a man keep my sayings, he shall never see death" (John 8:51) [Works, 10:288, emphasis added)

To understand salvation as being conditional upon a persevering faith inevitably raised another objection encountered by Wesley,

"Nay, but are not 'all the promises, yea and amen?'" They are firm as the pillars of heavens. Perform the condition, and the promise is sure. Believe, and thou shalt be saved. "But many promises are absolute and unconditional." In many, the condition is not expressed. But this does not prove, there is none implied. . For example: "This is the Father's will, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing." [John 6:39] Most sure, all that God hath given him, or as it is expressed in the next verse, "every one that believeth on him," namely, to the end, "he will raise up at the last day, to reign with him forever" (John 6:40) [Works, 10:290-291, emphasis added].

"So long as he performs the condition, so long is he heir of the salvation," writes Daniel Whedon.

"When he ceases to be a believer he loses all claim to the divine promise, and all interest in eternal

life. That he has once believed no longer secures him heaven, any more than the fact that he has once disbelieved secures eternal death" [Commentary, 2:288].

To Wesley, God will deliver on all the promises of God . provided that you fulfill the condition. "Again: 'I am the living bread:- If any man eat of this bread,' (by faith,) 'he shall live forever.' (John 6:51.) True; if he continue to eat thereof. And who can doubt of it? [Works, 10:291, emphasis added].

The last objection Wesley deals with is handled in the same way as the others:

29. "Can a child of God, then, go to hell? Or can a man be a child of God today, and a child of the devil tomorrow? If God is our Father once, is He not our Father always?"

I answer, (1.) A child of God, that is, a true believer (for he that believeth is born of God), while he continues a true believer, cannot go to hell. But, (2.) If a believer make shipwreck of the faith, he is no longer a child of God. And then he may go to hell, yea, and he certainly will if he continues in unbelief. (3.) If a believer may make shipwreck of faith, then a man that believes now, may be an unbeliever some time hence; yea, very possibly tomorrow; but if so, he who is a child of God today, may be a child of the devil tomorrow. For, (4.) God is the Father of them that believe, so long as they believe. But the devil is the father of them that believe not, whether they did once believe or no [Works, 10:297-98, emphasis added].

Wesley rightly understood that no biblical author guarantees one's final salvation apart from a living faith. The Apostle Peter agrees when he says to his fellow believers "you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet 1:9). Joseph Benson arrives at the same conclusion as Wesley in his commentary on Matthew 10:22: But be not discouraged at the prospect of these trials, for he that perseveres in the faith and practice of the gospel, and who bears constantly and with invincible patience these persecutions, (which my grace is sufficient to enable you all to do,) shall be finally and eternally saved from all sin and misery, into the kingdom and glory of God [Notes, 4:99, emphasis added].

Adam Clarke began our discussion by asking a rhetorical question: And will any man attempt to say that he who does not endure to the end, and is unfaithful, shall ever enter into life? He never would have expected to hear a "Yes" response from an influential pastor such as Charles Stanley.

May the body of Christ rise up and refute such teaching and proclaim that which is agreement with what God has declared, "But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my

soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul" (Heb 10:38-39, NASB).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Intermission in Series: A Note on Interpretation

This post will take a break in Geisler’s series (this post only). I wanted to take time and examine Geisler’s work.

Over the last few posts, I’ve showed the reader how Geisler uses proof texts and gets his interpretations all wrong. He does the same thing again with the verse Matthew 10:33—

“It should also be observed that these individuals are ‘in heaven’ (Matt. 10:33); they are only being denied special recognition by the Father, not a place in his family. They will receive no ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ (25:23) approbation from their Father, BUT THEY WILL BE IN HIS HEAVEN” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security,” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, page 95).

First off, those mentioned in Matthew 10:33 are not “in heaven.” Notice that the text says that the Father is “in heaven,” not the people. In the context of Matthew 10, Jesus gives us a statement that contradicts Geisler:
“Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt. 10:28, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Starting in verse 16, the Lord Jesus begins to talk about persecutions that believers would experience because of their connection to Jesus. Perseverance is in order, for Jesus tells His disciples, “You will be hated by everyone because of My name. BUT THE ONE WHO ENDURES TO THE END WILL BE DELIVERED” (Matt. 10:22).
The denial of Christ that He despises here is a denial that involves a rejection of who He is on account of persecution, as the context of the chapter attests.

Geisler’s words about the Matthew 25 text trouble me immensely:

“They will receive no ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ (25:23) approbation from their Father, BUT THEY WILL BE IN HIS HEAVEN.”

Let’s look at Matthew 25 to see the context that Geisler misses:

We find that in the Parable of the Talents, there are three servants left with a certain amount of money (“talents”) while the Master is gone to a faraway country. He doesn’t stay gone forever, and He returns. When He does, each servant is made to give an account of what they’ve done with their money. Let’s see the response of the first servant:

19 "After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. Look, I've earned five more talents.'
21 "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master's joy! (Matthew 25:19-21, HCSB)

The first servant took his five talents and made five more. He was rewarded: “share your master’s joy!”

And then the second servant did the same:

22 "Then the man with two talents also approached. He said, 'Master, you gave me two talents. Look, I've earned two more talents.'
23 "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master's joy!' (Matt. 25:22-23)

But what about the third servant?

24 "Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, 'Master, I know you. You're a difficult man, reaping where you haven't sown and gathering where you haven't scattered seed. (G) 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.'
26 "But his master replied to him, 'You evil, lazy slave! (H) If you knew that I reap where I haven't sown and gather where I haven't scattered, 27 then [d] you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money [e] back with interest.
28 " 'So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. (I) 30 And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. (J) In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Matt. 25:24-30)

As we can see from the context, there is only ONE servant that is chastised—and that is the servant with one talent who hid his in the ground (v. 25). Notice what happens to the lazy servant? He does not get patted on the head and told, “well, at least you learned your lesson.” No—instead, he first LOSES his talent: “take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents.” Secondly, he is cast into hell—“And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Where is this place that contains “weeping and gnashing of teeth”? Matthew 13:42 tells us,

"They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

The place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is called “the blazing furnace” here in Matthew 13:42. Revelation refers to hell with a similar label:

"The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." (Revelation 20:10).

The “blazing furnace” of Matthew 13 is the “lake of fire” of Revelation 20.
In addition, Luke 13:28 tells us that this place will be “outside of the kingdom”:

"There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that place, when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but yourselves thrown out."

Here we see that “that place” contains “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as the Pharisees themselves are “thrown out” of the “kingdom of God” where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets are.

We see from the context of Matthew 25, then, that the servant who had his talent taken from him ALSO lost his eternal life—as he was cast into hell. Geisler likes to argue the “loss-of-rewards” position, but, according to Scripture, rewards only come for those who remain faithful. As for the unfaithful, they lose EVERYTHING—including eternal life.

A Questionable Eternal Security, Part II-C: Psalm 69:27-28

“‘Charge them with crime upon crime; DO NOT LET THEM SHARE IN YOUR SALVATION. MAY THEY BE BLOTTED OUT OF THE BOOK OF LIFE and not be listed with righteous.’ Some believe this is referring to the book of eternal life, namely, the Lamb’s ‘book of life’ (Rev. 13:8), which records the names of all the saved (cf. 3:5; 20:15)…this, however, is unlikely. First, these people are God’s ‘enemies’ (Ps. 69:4, 18, 19), who do not ‘share in…[God’s] salvation’ (v.27). Thus, they are unbelievers, whose names never were in the Lamb’s book of life” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security,” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, page 93).

First, let’s read Psalm 69:27-28—

27 Add guilt to their guilt;
do not let them share in Your righteousness. (AB)
28 Let them be erased from the book of life
and not be recorded with the righteous. (Psalm 69:27-28, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

First, let me say that Geisler’s translation of this verse is incorrect. The word he uses for “salvation” is “dikaiosune,” which is “righteousness.” David uses a word for “salvation,” and that is the word “soteria.”

Next, he states that the enemies of David are “God’s enemies”; however, the verses he quotes show that those mentioned are only David’s enemies: In verse 4, David calls them “my deceitful enemies”; in verse 18, he calls them “my enemies”; in verse 19 he calls them “my adversaries.” Never are they referred to as God’s enemies.

Then, Geisler states that the enemies in question “do not share in God’s salvation.” The first problem is that, as mentioned above, the Greek word here in the Greek OT (Septuagint) is “dikaiosune,” which means “righteousness,” not “soteria” (salvation). The second problem with Geisler’s statement is that David does not say that they do not share in God’s righteousness. David cries out for God with the words, “DO NOT LET THEM SHARE in Your righteousness.” He’s calling on God for divine revenge.

Geisler’s next words are as follows:

“Moreover, the Old Testament refers to many ‘books,’ none of which are the book of salvation in which the names of the elect are recorded (Rev. 21:27). There is the book that counts all the living (Ps. 87:6), the book that recounts the events of our lives (56:8), the book that keeps track of the days of our lives (51:1). None of these is the Lamb’s book of life, the book of eternal life that records from all eternity who is saved. These ‘books’ are in fact probably all figures of speech describing God’s omniscience about things in this life” (93).

Geisler’s statement above shows that he’s forgetting one book: that which Moses and the Lord dialogue about in Exodus after the people worship the golden calf:

“So Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘Oh, this people has committed a great sin; they have made for themselves a god of gold. Now if You would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book You have written.’ The LORD replied to Moses: ‘Whoever has sinned against Me I WILL ERASE FROM MY BOOK’” (Exodus 32:31-33, HCSB).

We read the words of the Lord God here in Exodus 32, where He tells Moses that sin can get someone’s name “erased from My book.” Since the subject matter involves sin and eternity, what other book could be discussed but the Lamb’s Book of Life? None of the other books involve the subject matter of salvation than the Book of Life.

Last but not least, Geisler states that blotting names out of the Lamb’s Book is impossible:

“Finally, Psalm 69 cannot be referring to the Lamb’s book of life since no name can be blotted out of that book. Jesus said: ‘I will NEVER blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels’ (Rev. 3:5), and all the names of the elect have been in it for eternity (17:8; cf. 13:8)” (94).

The problem with Geisler’s statement above regarding Revelation 3:5 is that he ignores context in his assessment. Let’s look at Revelation 3:1-5—

1 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: "The One who has the seven spirits of God (A) and the seven stars says: I know your works; you have a reputation [a] for being alive, but you are dead. 2 Be alert and strengthen [b] what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God. 3 Remember therefore what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come [c] like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you. [d] 4 But you have a few people [e] in Sardis who have not defiled [f] their clothes, and they will walk with Me in white, because they are worthy. 5 In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, (B) but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels. (Revelation 3:1-5, HCSB)

When the Lord talks about “never” erasing names from the book of life, He promises to do this only with “the victor,” or “the one who overcomes.” There is a qualifier to the ones whose names will never be blotted out of the book. The church at Sardis, in context, was lagging in its devotion to the Lord and its perseverance. The Lord told the church “if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA AT WHAT HOUR I WILL COME AGAINST YOU.” This, then, sounds like the church itself was on the verge of losing its heavenly possession, since the Lord was promising to come AGAINST HIS CHURCH! Notice that the Lord tells the church in verse 1 that they are “dead” and “I have not found your works COMPLETE before My God” (v.2). Only a few people in this church had remained in the truth.

Psalm 69 does involve the Lamb’s Book of Life; and David prayed that his enemies would be taken out of it. If this is simply a figure of speech, the burden of proof lies on Geisler’s shoulders.

A Questionable Eternal Security, Part II-B: 2 Peter 2:1-22

“Peter speaks of those who denied ‘the sovereign Lord who bought them’ (v.1) but who had ‘known the way of righteousness’ (v.21). This seems to indicate, so Arminians argue, that they were at one time truly saved. But the rest of the chapter indicates that their present denial has led to their ultimate doom, since the ‘blackest darkness is reserved for them’ (cf. v.17). They are ‘dogs’ (a figure used of unbelievers), not lambs (see v. 22). Also, they are called ‘slaves of depravity’ (v.19). In brief, they are not a ‘new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17) of God. However, a closer look at the context reveals that the persons who are ‘denying the sovereign Lord’ (2 Pet. 2:1) WERE NEVER TRUE BELIEVERS but were ‘false teachers’ and ‘false prophets’ (v.1). Hence, their ‘knowledge’ of the Lord (v.20) was obviously one of mental assent, not heart commitment” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security,” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, page 92).

Tonight’s post involves the text of 2 Peter 2.
Geisler, as always, rule out the idea that these people were once saved. But let’s look at the text closely.

First, in verse 1, we find that these “false prophets” were guilty of “denying the Master WHO BOUGHT THEM.” Notice the text says that the Master, the Lord, bought them; this means that they were recipients of the redemption He purchased with His own blood. Those who never accept Christ have not been “bought” with the Lord’s blood (in the sense that the atonement has been appropriated to them).

Secondly, look at the title Peter gives them in the chapter:

“Accursed children!” (2 Peter 2:14, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Peter calls the false teachers “children” (Greek word “tekna”). Why would Peter refer to them as “children” if they were never saved at all? The word here for “accursed” is “kataras,” meaning “cursed.” Peter does not call them “children of wrath,” or in the Greek, “tekna orges,” as he does in Ephesians 2:3.

In verse 15, Peter writes, “By ABANDONING THE STRAIGHT PATH, they have gone astray and have followed the path of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…” (2 Pet. 2:15). Merriam-Webster gives us the meaning of the word “abandon”:

b : to give up with the intent of never again claiming a right or interest in.

So those who “abandoned” the straight path “gave up” the godly direction they were headed in—and it seems that, in the case of the false teachers, they would never return to their godly beginning ever again. A person cannot abandon something they were never a part of to begin with.

I think here is a good place to examine something else in 2 Peter 2 that I think we forget about: the people, those affected by the false teachers. Most people believe that apostasy, or defection from the faith, involves people who were never believers; however, if that were true, why, as I said last night in my post on 1 Timothy, does Paul write and warn THE CHURCH about the dangers of deception? Why does he even write the church of 2 Corinthians about his “fear” that they would be deceived and led away from Christ? That they would be unfaithful to Christ? That they would not be presented as a chaste virgin to Christ? I think Paul’s warnings to the church show us how much of a reality deception is—and how it can affect even those of us who underestimate the power of sin’s grip.

Not only are the false teachers involved, but even those they target—genuine believers who are immature in the faith and prone to deception. We read these words later in 2 Peter 2:

“For uttering bombastic, empty words, they seduce, by fleshly desires and debauchery, PEOPLE WHO HAVE BARELY ESCAPED (or barely escaping) FROM THOSE WHO LIVE IN ERROR” (2 Peter 2:18).

Notice that those “who have barely escaped” are contrasted with “those who live in error.” Those who have escaped, then, are those who have gone the way of righteousness (righteousness and godliness are the opposite of error). However, Peter says that they have “barely escaped,” which means that they are weak in the faith. Dare I say it, that these people are those Jesus refers to in Luke 8 regarding the crop that has no “root”?

But, according to Geisler and other Calvinists, those who have no “root” must be unsaved! But if they have “barely” escaped the world, they have nonetheless STILL ESCAPED THE WORLD! Something must be said for this group that hasn’t bore much fruit, like those who are mature in the faith and endure and bear fruit.

And then comes verse 20:

“For if, having escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in these things and defeated, the last state is worse for them than the first.”

Notice that this verse is talking about “the deceived,” those of the body of Christ who FOLLOW the false teachers. It notes that they have “escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” which means that these people have come to the knowledge of the truth, they have been saved (1 Tim. 2:4).

Next, it says IF “they are again entangled in these things and defeated…” This “if” shows us the possibility that such believers could go back to the world. This very verse, then, proves that APOSTASY does refer to believers! They can get entangled again with the world, they can go back to their former way of life! If it were not so, then Peter would not have made mention of it. But notice too, that, not only do these believers go back to the world—they are “defeated” in their attempt, which means that, while trying to wage war against their flesh, they LOSE the war! Their flesh overtakes them, and sin overwhelms them, and they yield to it again—as if they were never freed from it! This is possible, since Peter talks about it. Anyone, including Geisler, who is gonna say that these verses have nothing to do with believers must prove to me that the words in the text mean something else OTHER than what I’m reading them to mean. All I’ve done is take a common-sense approach to the text. And if it says that those who “escaped” the world can return to it and become “entangled,” then I have no justification whatsoever to deny that true believers can fall back into sin. To deny what this text says is to hold to a presupposition that will not allow someone to acknowledge what’s staring them in the face. It is the equivalent of looking at John 14, where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and saying to myself, “This doesn’t really mean Jesus is the only way to salvation and eternal life.” And to say that is absolutely ridiculous!

But, should the believer fall back into the world, should he, as Jesus says, “put his hand to the plow and look back,”(Luke 9:62), “the last state is worse for them than the first.” What is their “first state”? A sinner (before Christ). What is their “last state”? What happens AFTER they become saved and then go back out into the world again. Peter says that, should they do so, they will end up more cursed than they were as sinners to begin with.

As I pointed out in the verses above about those who “barely escaped,” the idea of “escaping” the world is found in chapter 1 of Peter’s second letter:

“By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them YOU MAY SHARE IN THE DIVINE NATURE, ESCAPING THE CORRUPTION THAT IS IN THE WORLD because of evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4).

For the readers of 2 Peter to “share in the divine nature” means that they will “escape the corruption that is in the world.” By God’s promises, He has given the believers an opportunity to “escape the world,” to be saved from the world and its nearing destruction. So we know that those who “barely escaped” or are “barely escaping” are those who are believers. There is no hint in the text that these persons are unsaved.

Verse 21 reads, “For it would have been better for them NOT TO HAVE KNOWN THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS than, after knowing it, TO TURN BACK FROM THE HOLY COMMANDMENT DELIVERED TO THEM” (2 Peter 2:21).

They have “known the way of righteousness,” which means they have more than just head knowledge of godliness. There is a somewhat similar phrase found in Scripture—and the reference is Psalm 1:6—

“For the Lord watches over THE WAY OF THE RIGHTEOUS, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.”

Here, we see that the “way of the righteous” is in contrast to “the way of the wicked.” Those who have barely escaped the world are characterized as once having “known the way of righteousness,” which means that at one time, they walked the path of godliness, they once did godly things, they once had a godly lifestyle, they were once part of the body of Christ.

But Peter says that one can know the right way, have been a part of it, and can “turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” They can have knowledge of the truth (be saved, 1 Tim. 2:4) and still turn back to the world. And Peter says that it would be better for them to have never come to Christ than, after coming to Christ, they should walk away from Him and betray Him, spit on and profane His blood that He shed for them.

The last verse of the chapter, verse 22, is one that I cannot end this post without discussing:

“It has happened to them according to the true proverb: a dog returns to its own vomit, and, ‘a sow, after washing itself, wallows in the mud’” (2 Peter 2:22).

When a dog vomits, his vomit lies OUTSIDE of his body—it was once WITHIN him, but, once he RELEASES it, the vomit is no longer inside of him. But, when he RETURNS to his vomit, he goes back to the very thing he ONCE RELEASED and begins to soak it up again. It is almost as if he “re-swallows” everything he once got rid of. And this is what apostates do—they go back into the world and “re-embrace” EVERYTHING THEY ONCE LET GO OF!

The sow does the same thing. The sow goes and washes itself, which means that it is clean. We don’t read in the text where the sow doesn’t wash all the filth off. We are told that the sow is clean; then, the sow “wallows in the mud.” The sow takes its CLEAN STATE and stains itself once again! In other words, the sow goes back to the very filth it once left to get clean.

All the verses of 2 Peter 2 show us that a person can come to Christ, come to a saving faith (“saved” and come to the knowledge of the truth as 1 Tim. 2:4 tells us), and then, can reenter the world. However, we’re told that if believers do so, then they are in a more disastrous state than before they ever came to Christ! For, once a person “betrays” Christ, as did Judas, as did the false teachers, they can never return to their former way of life (Hebrews 6:4-6).

Geisler’s comments ended with a discussion of the false teachers; however, he errs greatly not to go into a discussion of those who are deceived by the false teachers. For the deceived are not like the deceivers. Whereas the deceivers choose not to have anything to do with Christ (except to destroy His church), the deceived are genuine believers who are immature in the faith, and have barely gotten away from the clutches of the world. Such “unstable” people are prime targets of the false teachers. However, I would argue that the “unstable” are not all fake and phony Christians. Some of these believers are genuine about their faith—but they can easily be led astray.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Questionable Eternal Security, Part II: Responses to Biblical Arminian Arguments

I’m back to continue our study of Norman Geisler’s defense of what he calls the “Moderate Calvinist” view of the Doctrine of Eternal Security. In Part II, I am going to explore Geisler’s response to Arminian scriptural arguments.

Tonight’s scripture and argument will involve 1 Timothy 4:1-2. I’ll print the text here:

1 Now the Spirit (A) explicitly says that in the latter times (B) some will depart from the faith, (C) paying attention to deceitful spirits (D) and the teachings of demons, (E) 2 through the hypocrisy (F) of liars whose consciences (G) are seared. (1 Timothy 4:1-2, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Geisler responds,

“Arminians point out that such must have once had the faith or they could not have later departed from it. In response, the phrase ‘the faith’ is used by Paul in the Pastoral Letters…as equivalent to ‘the Christian faith’ with all its essential doctrines (1 Tim. 3:9; 4:6) and ethics (1 Tim. 6:10)…further, the New Testament speaks of persons who have ‘wandered’ from the faith (1 Tim. 6:10), ‘denied’ it (5:8), ‘destroyed’ it in some (2 Tim. 3:8), and ‘departed’ from it (1 Tim. 4:1). It is difficult not to believe that at least some of these phrases, if not all, describe people who are truly lost” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pp. 90-91).

Here we see Geisler showing exegetically how it is that someone could argue that those who abandoned the Christian faith lost their salvation. Then, however, he commits his blunder:

“We need only ask whether there is any indisputable evidence that the Bible affirms that any of these people were true believers to begin with. An examination of these texts yields a negative answer…These are people who indeed professed the doctrines of the Christian faith, but the passages describe none of them as having once been true believers. Like Simon the sorcerer, they may have ‘believed’ and been ‘baptized’ (Acts 8:13). However, the subsequent action of Simon in trying to buy the power of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s condemnation of him reveal that his faith was only nominal and not saving faith” (91).

When Geisler starts to examine these two verses in 1 Timothy 4, he seems to be dead on target with his exegesis of genuine believers who fall from the faith. He then provides an answer that clearly has nothing to do with 1 Tim. 4 and argues from it that true believers cannot fall from the faith.

His text, Acts 8, shows Simon Magus who desires the gift of laying on of hands more than anything else. Yes, he covets the gift, and believes that he can “buy” it. And yes, this proves that his heart is not in the right place. But what about the believers of the text in 1 Timothy 4? Do we ever read ANYWHERE in the text that they were never believers to begin with? We are told nothing about their motivation, except that they “pay attention,” or “give heed,” to false teachings. We are told, however, the motivation of the false teachers themselves:

“2 through the hypocrisy (F) of liars whose consciences (G) are seared.” (1 Tim. 4:2, HCSB)

The false teachers themselves are “liars” and “hypocrites” whose “consciences are seared”; in other words, these false teachers have made their break with the faith and desire to do nothing but uproot genuine believers from it as well.

In contrast to Geisler, I believe that the bible teaches that even genuine believers can fall from the faith.

Look at 1 Timothy 4:16—

“Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; PERSEVERE IN THESE THINGS, for by doing this YOU WILL SAVE BOTH YOURSELF AND YOUR HEARERS” (1 Tim. 4:16, HCSB).
Paul exhorts Timothy to continue teaching sound doctrine to the church at Ephesus. Why? “For by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” If it were not possible for these believers to abandon the faith, why is Paul so concerned that both Timothy and the congregation remain in sound doctrine? Why is he concerned about Timothy being saved? Isn’t Timothy already saved? Isn’t Timothy firm in the faith and doesn’t need to be encouraged to stay on the right path? Paul clearly shows Timothy that he fears that the church will turn to the wrong path—which is why he writes the way he does in his epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy.

Let’s look at Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:

“Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us. FOR SOME HAVE ALREADY TURNED AWAY TO FOLLOW SATAN” (1 Tim. 5:14-15, HCSB).

Notice that these instructions are given regarding younger women (widows, those under the age of sixty years old). Paul wants these younger women to marry because their idleness could lead them to abandon the faith—“for some have already turned aside to follow Satan”). If this were not possible, if it were not possible for genuine believers to turn to Satan, why then would Paul issue such expectations? Why would he give such instruction? After all, he did say that by keeping house, the women would “give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us.”

If this isn’t enough, try on 1 Timothy 6 for size:

“Timothy, GUARD what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the ‘knowledge’ that falsely bears that name. By professing it, SOME PEOPLE HAVE DEVIATED FROM THE FAITH” (1 Tim. 6:20-21, HCSB).

At the conclusion of his letter, Paul once again warns Timothy about false teaching. He tells Timothy to “GUARD what has been entrusted to you…” In telling Timothy this, Paul tells Timothy to be on watch, to keep the sound doctrine and ministry he has been given, to keep himself from paying attention to such false teaching and to not give any attention to the false teachers. Instead of worrying how to combat the false teachers, Timothy should focus on how to give sound teaching to the congregation so as to prevent more people from following Satan.

Two things: First, notice that Paul distinguishes true knowledge from the false teaching being taught at Ephesus: “the ‘knowledge’ that FALSELY BEARS THAT NAME” (v.20). Paul desires to make it clear to Timothy that the false teaching, while being called ‘knowledge,’ is no knowledge at all! Rather, it is given a name to mislead and deceive people who desire to know the truth. Secondly, Paul tells Timothy that some have “professed it,” which means that some have publicly testified to their belief in such “false” information. As a result, they have walked away from sound doctrine and the faith of which they were formerly a part. We get the idea, then, that this false teaching was nothing to “snuff” at—rather, it was so powerful in its impact that even genuine believers were following after it.

Contrary to Geisler, then, Paul shows us that false teaching could easily lead genuine believers astray. False teaching was having such an impact on the church at Ephesus, which is why Paul exhorted Timothy to persevere in sound teaching. The goal for perseverance was to assure the salvation of himself and all who sat under his instruction. Paul bore the same concern for the church at Corinth when he wrote the following:

“I wish you would put up with a little foolishness from me. Yes, do put up with me. FOR I AM JEALOUS OVER YOU WITH A GODLY JEALOUSY, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ. But I FEAR that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, YOUR MINDS MAY BE CORRUPTED FROM A COMPLETE AND PURE DEVOTION TO CHRIST” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, HCSB).

Paul tells them of his jealousy for their devotion (to Christ), and then tells them that he is afraid that they could possibly be led astray from such devotion. Paul seems to have a concern for the entire church, and he doesn’t tell us that he only fears a certain “unsaved” segment of the population!

Once again, Geisler is proven wrong on the basis of Scripture. His initial conclusions are correct: those who “abandon” the faith are real genuine believers. We are told of others like Demas who forsake Christ because of their love of the world, but here we are given a warning by Paul for the entire church at Ephesus to remain in sound doctrine; in addition, Paul warns them of the fa├žade of such false teaching—which deceives people into thinking it is something that it is not.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Questionable Eternal Security, Part I-C

“Jesus places those who ‘believe for a while’ among those who are not saved like the one who continues to believe (cf. Luke 8:13; cf. v.15)” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security,” page 85).

In the last post, I quoted from page 85 regarding the issue of having faith and being faithful. Here, though, I’d like to deal with the reference to Luke 8:13 in Geisler’s argument.

I think the passage of Luke 8:11-15 shows us what endurance is all about. Shortly after Geisler’s words above, however, we find this:

“Arminians argue that the Bible uses the term ‘belief’ in the present tense, NOT AS A ONCE-FOR-ALL, COMPLETED ACT when we were first saved. For example, they assert that the participles in John’s Gospel that promise eternal life for believing speak of belief in the present tense, namely, as a continual process. Hence, they translate, for example, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever CONTINUES TO BELIEVE in Him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16)” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security,” page 85).

In one moment, as with Luke 8, Geisler is praising “the one who continues to believe,” while in the next moment, he’s saying that John 3:16 doesn’t really involve “continued faith.” However, we’ve just seen Luke 8, where the types of soil are differentiated. Let’s look at the passage itself and see the difference in the four types of soil:

“the seed is the word of God. The seeds along the path are those who have heard. Then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, SO THAT THEY MAY NOT BELIEVE AND BE SAVED. And the seeds on the rock are those who, when they hear, welcome the word with joy. Having no root, these believe for a while and depart in a time of testing. As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. But the seed in the good ground—these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit” (Luke 8:11-15, HCSB).

The seeds along the path get eaten up—the Devil snatches the word; as a result, “they may not believe and be saved.” The key to salvation is for these people to believe and let “the implanted word” save their souls (James 1:21).
The seeds along the rocks are those who “believe for a while and depart in a time of testing.” These people believe for a while, according to Jesus; therefore, if believing and being saved are connected in verse 12 (to believe is to be saved), then those of Luke 8:13 experience the blessings of salvation “for a while” and then depart, leave the gospel, walk away from the word because of persecution. These people, therefore, WERE SAVED for a time—albeit a short time. They did profess belief in Christ.

Let’s look at another inconsistency of Geisler’s: in his quote above, he states, that the seed that fell on stony ground and “believed for a time” was considered to be “not saved.” However, this is what he wrote on page 86 of the book:
“Thus, the act of faith that is the condition for receiving the gift of salvation can be a MOMENT OF DECISION. It simply means that ONE BEGINS TO BELIEVE IN THE PRESENT” (pg. 86, capitalization mine).

If Geisler’s statement from page 86 is true, then those who “depart in a time of testing” in Luke 8 are those who were saved—if only for a time. This contradicts Geisler’s statement about the stony seed above.

But here comes the difference-maker: Luke 8 is not so much about being saved per se as it is about understanding. Notice these words of Jesus in Luke 8:10—

“So He said, ‘The secrets of the kingdom of God have been given for you to KNOW; but to the rest it is in parables, so that
‘Looking they may not see, and HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND’.”

The key to understanding Jesus’ parable is to realize that the difference in the crops is more than just “receiving” the Word—it is about gaining understanding of the Word itself. And Jesus makes the point that it is easy to “believe,” but it’s another thing to “endure.” Only the crop that both believes AND ENDURES yields the abundant harvest.

In addition, I think Luke 8 proves the exegetical problem Geisler noted above. Geisler claims that John 3:16 is not discussing a “continued belief,” but rather, “ a moment in time.” However, as we see, the stony seed “believed for a time” but then fell away. The stony seed maintained a belief “for a limited time only,” and this wasn’t enough to bring forth a harvest in the end. I would say that this, too, applies to believers today. It is simply not enough to just believe in one moment in time. In order to inherit “the promise,” we must continue to believe. Only continual belief will bring forth endurance. “Blessed is a man who ENDURES TRIALS, because when he passes the test HE WILL RECEIVE THE CROWN OF LIFE that He has promised to THOSE WHO LOVE HIM” (James 1:12).

A Questionable Eternal Security, Part I-B

“Finally, there is a difference in HAVING FAITH TO THE END and BEING FAITHFUL TO THE END. Perseverance in faith naturally involves the former BUT NOT NECESSARILY THE LATTER…that is, if one is a true believer, then he or she will continue to believe in Christ to the end. Jesus places those who ‘believe for a while’ among those who are not saved like the one who continues to believe (cf. Luke 8:13; cf. v.15). Hence, continuance in the faith is a demonstration of who is saved, not a CONDITION of being saved. But continuance in faithfulness to Christ is not a demonstration of salvation or a condition for getting it” (Norman Geisler, “A Moderate Calvinist View,” from “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, general editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, page 85).

Last night I spent time exposing problems in Geisler’s proof-text (last post). Tonight, I will do much of the same.

Here, Geisler states that “there is a difference in having faith to the end and being faithful to the end. Perseverance in faith naturally involves the former [having faith] but not necessarily the latter [being faithful].” The problem with this statement, however, is that we have biblical proof against the idea that all a person needs is faith (without endurance).

2 Peter 1:5-7 says, “For this very reason, make every effort to SUPPLEMENT YOUR FAITH with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with ENDURANCE, ENDURANCE with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (Holman Christian Standard Bible).

As you can see, endurance is to SUPPLEMENT faith, which means that not only is faith required to finish well and receive eternal life. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary gives us the meaning of the word “supplement”:

1 a : something that completes or makes an addition.

At the very least, Peter writes to the believers of the Diaspora to ADD to their faith, to build on their faith. At the most, Peter tells them to “complete” their faith by adding endurance (among other things). James has this same message for his audience in James 2:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can his faith save him?...foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is USELESS? Wasn’t Abraham our father JUSTIFIED BY WORKS when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that FAITH WAS ACTIVE TOGETHER WITH HIS WORKS, and BY WORKS, FAITH WAS PERFECTED” (James 2:14, 20-22, HCSB).

According to Geisler, “continuance in the faith is a demonstration of who is saved, not a CONDITION of being saved”; but Peter has something to say to this as well.

Look at 2 Peter 1:10—

“Therefore, brothers, make every effort to CONFIRM your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble.”

What does it mean to “confirm” one’s calling and election?

2 : to make firm or firmer : STRENGTHEN confirm one's resolve.

To confirm one’s calling and election then, means to “reinforce” it, to make it
stronger, to strengthen it. What does the word “strengthen” mean?

The word “strengthen” means “to make stronger.” In other words, to just have faith is not enough. Faith is incomplete, as James says, without works. But just because faith is incomplete, however, doesn’t make faith NONEXISTENT without works! Look at what else James had to say about faith and works:

“You see that a man is justified by works AND NOT BY FAITH ALONE.” (James 2:24)

We read in Romans 5 that we are “justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1); but we discover in James that faith is just the FOUNDATION of the Christian life, not ALL THERE IS TO IT! Go back to the James 2:14, 20 reference above—the one who has no work to support his faith has a faith that is “useless.” And something that is useless cannot serve the intended purpose; but that doesn’t mean that the object itself does not exist. Take for instance, Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 regarding salt:

“You are the salt of the earth. But IF THE SALT SHOULD LOSE ITS TASTE, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men” (Matt. 5:13).

If the salt loses its saltiness, it doesn’t become NONEXISTENT! It just becomes useless as a preservative. I’ve done some study on Palestine sea salt and discovered that, once the salt lost its saltiness, the salt then served a new function: it was used to stop leaks on the rooves of houses! The salt still existed—it just served a different purpose than what its existence was intended for…

And, without works, James says, our faith becomes useless to us. Our faith doesn’t do us any good, doesn’t benefit us at all to say that we “just believe,” without any lifestyle change to prove we believe. Our faith, however does serve a function: it is just a foundation without a building. In short, our sanctification becomes the equivalent of a brick foundation without the house upon it! Our sanctification becomes “the house that we never built”; and this is not because God didn’t desire to produce it in us…but because we never desired to see it done in our lives ourselves.

Now go back to James. Verse 26 tells us,

“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

This doesn’t mean that, without the spirit, the body is NONEXISTENT! The body is still physically present—but the body CANNOT operate, cannot move, registers no activity because the spirit is gone. This analogy shows us the importance of works—because, without them, while our faith can be very much present, our faith will be still, stagnant, just merely existing. And what purpose does our faith serve EXCEPT to condemn us at the Lord’s coming?

I will tackle Luke 8 in my next post.

A Questionable Eternal Security

This Fall, I am continuing my journey in the study of Calvinism and Arminianism, which I’ve been involved in all summer. Over the last twelve weeks (3 months), I’ve examined each of the five tenets of the two theological systems. I’ve come to remain Arminian under the tenets of Total Depravity, Conditional Election, Unlimited Atonement, and Resistable Grace. But there’s one more tenet that I will study this semester that will determine the last say-so on my theological system: that is the tenet of Perseverance of the Saints. The doctrine is called “perseverance,” but it will also be identified here (as in theological literature) as “eternal security.” More likely than not, you will see “eternal security” on some book somewhere in some bookstore. For those of you who may not know that, I wanted to give you a “heads-up” so you won’t be alarmed.

As I stated, then, this means that this semester, I will study the doctrine of perseverance quite heavily. I will study the other tenets (doctrines) in semesters to come…but the issue of perseverance is one that I’ve always wondered about. The question that we should ask ourselves regarding this doctrine is, “Is it possible for a person to fall from grace?” Is eternal security promised to us in Scripture? And if so, how exactly is eternal security defined? What we believe about perseverance (as well as the rest of the theological tenets) will determine how we live.

For the last three days, I’ve been reading a book called “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, general editor (Stan N. Gundry, series editor). I’ve finished the book (didn’t take me long); and of the four views presented (Classical Calvinist, Moderate Calvinist, Reformed Arminian, Wesleyan Arminian), the most interesting (not the best) of the views was Norman Geisler’s chapter on “Moderate Calvinism.”

In his chapter, Geisler devotes a section to “Theological Arguments in Favor of Eternal Security.” One of his reasons for eternal security is “God cannot deny himself.” Geisler writes:

“The apostle declares: ‘If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself’ (2 Tim. 2:13, NKJV).This is a particularly powerful text for eternal security. It addresses the Arminian challenge directly, since it declares that even if our faith falters, God’s faithfulness does not. Because salvation comes from God, in order for us to lose our salvation, God would have to ‘deny himself,’ which is impossible. SO WE CAN NO MORE LOSE OUR SALVATION THAN GOD CAN CEASE BEING GOD” (Norman Geisler, “Moderate Calvinist View,” from “Four Views on Eternal Security,” by J. Matthew Pinson, general editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pp. 80-81).

Norman Geisler quotes 2 Timothy 2:13, but I will quote verses 11, 12, and 13 of that chapter here:

“This saying is trustworthy: For IF we HAVE DIED with Him, we will also live with Him; IF WE ENDURE, we will also reign with Him; IF WE DENY Him, He will also deny us; IF WE ARE FAITHLESS, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The parts of the verses I capitalized above are for emphasis. The “IF”s above are conditionals. A conditional statement is something that happens IN LIGHT OF or BECAUSE OF something else. Another way of discussing conditional statements is to use the phrase “If____, then ______.” For example, a conditional statement would be “if I go outside while it’s raining, then I’ll get my hair wet.” Going outside in the rain is the cause of you getting your hair wet (which is the effect). There is a cause and effect relationship with conditional statements.

So when Paul says “if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him,” he is saying that dying with Him (dying with faith in Him) will cause us to live with Him forever. When he says, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him,” Paul is saying that “if we remain in the faith until the end, then we will rule with Him in the heavens. Notice that he says “we will ALSO reign with Him.” This idea of “also” reigning with Him means that he is attaching the idea of reigning with Christ WITH something else. What is that something else? The previous statement: “if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him.” So, only by ENDURING the race of life will we NOT ONLY live with Him, BUT ALSO REIGN with Him!

Now, let’s look at Geisler’s statement again:

“This is a particularly powerful text for eternal security. It addresses the Arminian challenge directly, since it declares that even if our faith falters, God’s faithfulness does not. Because salvation comes from God, in order for us to lose our salvation, God would have to ‘deny himself,’ which is impossible. SO WE CAN NO MORE LOSE OUR SALVATION THAN GOD CAN CEASE BEING GOD.”

Geisler writes, “EVEN if our faith falters, God’s faithfulness does not.” I would say that according to 2 Timothy 2:13, that is true; however, it is the next statement that poses a problem: “because our salvation comes from God, in order for us to lose our salvation, God would have to ‘deny Himself,’ which is impossible.”

Geisler’s presupposition accounts for the leap in his logic here: since God remains faithful despite our faithlessness, we can’t lose our salvation because God is faithful (and salvation comes from God).

However, this is where Geisler makes his mistake: he uses God’s faithfulness as a way to CANCEL OUT God’s requirement of faithfulness for man. Paul refutes Geisler’s argument with these words:

3 What then? If some did not believe, (C) will their unbelief cancel God's faithfulness? 4 Absolutely not! (D) God must be true, but everyone is a liar, (E) as it is written:
That You may be justified in Your words
and triumph when You judge. (F) (G)
5 But if our unrighteousness highlights [a] God's righteousness, (H) what are we to say? (I) I use a human argument: (J) [b] Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath? 6 Absolutely not! Otherwise, how will God judge the world? (Romans 3:3-6, HCSB)

In the context of Romans 3, Paul is writing about the faithfulness of God (despite the unbelief of the Jews). All throughout the Old Testament, we find Israel being unfaithful to God—and yet, we find God REMAINING FAITHFUL! His faithfulness, however, DID NOT cancel out His judgment on the Jews. Although they were His people, and He loved them, His love involved His wrath as well (because He is a just God who punishes wickedness and rewards righteousness).

Paul asked a question: “If our UNRIGHTEOUSNESS highlights God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS…Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath?” In other words, to use Geisler, “if we are faithless and God is faithful, does that cancel out our judgment?” But let’s hear Paul’s response:

“ABSOLUTELY NOT! Otherwise, HOW WILL GOD JUDGE THE WORLD?”

God can only judge the world IF He is righteous. And since He is righteous, He will remain faithful. However, it does not cancel out man’s responsibility to persevere to the end. So if man does not persevere, despite God’s faithfulness, man WILL NOT BE SAVED! Instead, God’s faithfulness will serve its purpose as Paul tells us in Romans 3—His faithfulness will be judgment upon the heads of all those who were unfaithful to Him.

Geisler makes a nice attempt here to hold up his view of eternal security—but he fumbles when it comes to Romans 3. Paul shows us in the text that God’s actions do not nullify OURS before Him. Contrary to Edwin Palmer’s assessment of perseverance, “Perseverance” itself is not “the perseverance of God.” Man perseveres, but God preserves…

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The "Cornelius" Fumble

“It [the Diatribe] cites Cornelius as an example of one whose prayers and alms pleased God before he was baptized or breathed on by the Holy Ghost (cf. Acts 10:4). I, too, have read Luke on the Acts; but I HAVE NEVER FOUND A SINGLE SYLLABLE TO SUGGEST THAT CORNELIUS’S WORDS WERE MORALLY GOOD WITHOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT, which is the Diatribe’s dream. On the contrary, I find that he was ‘a just man, and one that feared God’—so Luke describes him (v.2). But to call a man without the Holy Spirit a ‘just man, and one that feared God’, IS THE SAME AS TO CALL BELIAL CHRIST! Moreover, the whole argument of the passage is concerned to show that Cornelius was ‘clean’ before God: the vision sent down to Peter from heaven to reprove him bore witness to that. By such notable deeds and words does Luke call attention to the righteousness and faith of Cornelius. But, for all that, the Diatribe and its beloved Sophists, standing open-eyed under the bright light of Luke’s words and of clear fact, CONTINUE IN THEIR BLINDNESS; such is their lack of care in reading and marking the Scriptures…granted, Cornelius was NOT YET BAPTISED, AND HAD NOT YET HEARD THE WORD OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION; but does it hence follow that HE WAS WITHOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT? On these principles, you will be saying that John the Baptist and his parents, and the mother of Christ, and Simeon, were without the Holy Spirit! Let us bid such thick darkness farewell!” (Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will,” pp. 246-247).

In the above quote, Luther responds to Erasmus’ claim about Cornelius being a man without the Spirit, who was called “God-fearing” and devout, in addition to being a man who prayed to God.

Let’s explore Luther’s quote and see his error. First, he states, “…I have NEVER FOUND a single syllable to suggest that Cornelius’s words were morally good without the Holy Spirit…” Contrary to Luther though, we find these words about Cornelius’s prayers in Acts 10:

“Your PRAYERS and your acts of charity have come up as a memorial offering before God” (Acts 10:4b, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

However, it is in the same chapter that we find Cornelius receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit:

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message” (Acts 10:44).

Cornelius was part of this group that heard the message. If he received the Holy Spirit during Peter’s preaching, this means that, BEFORE Peter’s preaching, Cornelius didn’t have the Holy Spirit.

We find other references to attest to the coming of the Spirit on Cornelius and his household as a salvation experience:

“All the prophets testify about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins” (v.43).

We notice that, only after the coming of the Spirit, are Cornelius and his household baptized:

“Then Peter responded, ‘Can anyone withhold water and prevent these from being baptized, WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)

And what are we told about the necessity of possessing the Spirit?

“But if anyone DOES NOT HAVE THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9b).

So although Cornelius was “God-fearing,” he didn’t have the Spirit (even though he believed).

Now let me say at this moment that I believe that a person must possess the Spirit—otherwise, that person does not belong to Christ. But we have to keep in mind, too, that at the time of Cornelius’s conversion, the Gentiles had not yet received the Spirit of God. Notice that in Acts 10, when Cornelius and his household receive the Spirit, that “the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:45).

Luther makes another erring statement at the end of the above quote: “granted, Cornelius was NOT YET BAPTISED, AND HAD NOT YET HEARD THE WORD OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION; but does it hence follow that HE WAS WITHOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT? On these principles, you will be saying that John the Baptist and his parents, and the mother of Christ, and Simeon, were without the Holy Spirit! Let us bid such thick darkness farewell!”

Luther first states his disbelief that Cornelius was not saved; the problem with this, however, is that Peter’s statement in Acts 10:47 implies that Cornelius had just received the Spirit during his preaching. How then, could Cornelius have had the Spirit PRIOR to this?

Secondly, notice that he states, “Cornelius was not yet baptized, and had not yet heard the word of Christ’s resurrection.” Yet and still, the Word was to precede faith:

“But how can they call on Him in whom THEY HAVE NOT BELIEVED? And how can they believe WITHOUT HEARING ABOUT HIM? And how can they hear WITHOUT A PREACHER?...so FAITH COMES FROM WHAT IS HEARD, AND WHAT IS HEARD COMES THROUGH THE MESSAGE ABOUT CHRIST” (Romans 10:14, 17).

So, before a person can believe, the Word must be preached to them; and, once the Word is preached, and the person hears the message, they can then call on the Name of the Lord. This is why, in Acts 10, we find Peter preaching the message of salvation (Acts 10:34-43).

So, what of Cornelius and his household? Were they “saved” prior to Acts 10? No. But the text tells us that Cornelius and his household were “God-fearers” (Acts 10:2, 22). And Luke uses this very same description of the thief on the cross in Luke 23:

“But the other [criminal] answered, rebuking him: ‘Don’t you even FEAR GOD, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because WE’RE GETTING BACK WHAT WE DESERVE FOR THE THINGS WE DID, BUT THIS MAN HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG” (Luke 23:40-41).

One of the criminals (the one quoted above) told the other criminal that he needed to “fear God.” And then, what does he say? He tells the other thief that they are being punished because their deeds merit their punishment—while Jesus, the man in the middle, doesn’t deserve His punishment.

The thief on the cross who makes these remarks shows that he, unlike the other selfish thief, FEARS GOD! He has been convicted about his sin (his current punishment of death), but not only has he been convicted of his sin—he also sees the need to accept Christ. Notice, then, the God-fearing criminal’s next step:

“Then he said, ‘Jesus, REMEMBER ME when you come into Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42)

The next step of the thief is to tell the Lord that he wanted to be where the Lord was—in other words, he wanted to go to heaven, he accepted Christ as his Savior! He told the Lord to “remember me,” which means that he was proclaiming himself to be a FOLLOWER of Christ! And the Lord’s response?

“And He [Christ] said to him, ‘I ASSURE YOU: TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE” (Luke 23:43).

The Lord accepts his plea and promises him that he would be in Heaven with the Lord. The only way the thief on the cross could have told the Lord to remember him, is if the Lord even KNEW him! And, because he accepted Christ as his Lord in his heart, he could make this request. The Lord could remember him because he was a disciple of His!

Back to Luther’s quote: “On these principles, you will be saying that John the Baptist and his parents, and the mother of Christ, and Simeon, were without the Holy Spirit! Let us bid such thick darkness farewell!”

Luther states that if we are to view Cornelius as being devoid of the Spirit, we have to say that “John the Baptist,” his parents, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Simeon all lacked the Spirit.

Starting with John the Baptist; we are told that John would have the Holy Spirit within himself from birth:

“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. HE WILL BE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT WHILE STILL IN HIS MOTHER’S WOMB” (Luke 1:15, HCSB).

The above words from the angel of the Lord to Zechariah tell us of John the Baptist’s birth.

Next, what about John’s parents?

“Then his father Zechariah was FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT and PROPHESIED…” (Luke 1:67)
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth WAS FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT” (Luke 1:41).

We see the Lord using Elizabeth and Zechariah as servants. We are also told in Luke 1:6 that “Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” We are not given this description with Cornelius: instead, all we’re told is that he was “God-fearing” and that he prayed to God.

What about Mary, Jesus’ mother?

“I am the Lord’s slave…may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary calls herself “the Lord’s slave,” which means that she is a servant of God, someone who has yielded herself as a servant of righteousness. Notice, too, that the Lord is giving Mary a divine mission to fulfill—to bear the Savior of the world. With Cornelius, however, the Lord tells Cornelius to go see Peter so that he may hear the message and be saved. Cornelius’s encounter with God is salvific in nature, not missional. Before Cornelius would be an instrument for God, he first had to be saved and receive the Holy Spirit. Mary doesn’t have to receive the Spirit here—because she already has the Spirit! This is why the angel Gabriel makes the following announcement:

“THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL COME UPON YOU, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

In addition, notice Gabriel’s opening words to Mary: “Rejoice, FAVORED WOMAN! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). What does the Lord say to Cornelius?

“Your prayers and acts of charity have come up as a MEMORIAL OFFERING BEFORE GOD” (Acts 10:4).

With Cornelius, God tells him that He has remembered Cornelius BECAUSE OF his acts of charity and his prayers! The emphasis seems to be on Cornelius’s deeds toward the Jewish people (as well as his prayers). With Mary, though, the Lord assigns her a task that involves the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit; and remember, in Cornelius’s case, he didn’t have the Spirit! Also, the Lord’s presence is with her. Although the angel appears to Cornelius, we never read of the Lord’s presence being with him—just his good deeds!

Last but not least, Luther points out Simeon in this group as well. Let’s look at Simeon:

“There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS ON HIM. IT HAD BEEN REVEALED TO HIM BY THE HOLY SPIRIT that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. GUIDED BY THE SPIRIT, he entered the temple complex” (Luke 2:25-27a).

Notice that the text tells us that the Holy Spirit “was on” Simeon. The Spirit was in his life! In addition, the Spirit was not only IN him, the Spirit had REVEALED things to him! Last but not least, the Spirit GUIDES his entrance into the temple.
According to Luke 2:25-27a, Simeon is called a “devout” and “righteous man,” but we are told something about him that we are NOT told about Cornelius: and that is that the Spirit is in him.

Back to Cornelius: Cornelius was described as “devout” and “God-fearing”; but he was without the Spirit. Even being a “good” person is not enough for salvation! A person must hear the Word of the Lord and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved!

Cornelius’s prayers involved being saved. This is why the Lord tells him to send men to Joppa to find Peter (Acts 10:5-6). With the others Luther mentions to bolster his position, however, we read of their “rightness” with the Lord; the Lord is using them for His glory, filling them with His Spirit and allowing them to speak and prophesy in His Name. These things are the OUTWORKING of the Spirit on a person’s life:

“…This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘And it will be in the last days,’ says God, ‘that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity: then your sons and your daughters WILL PROPHESY…I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, AND THEY WILL PROPHESY” (Acts 2:16-18).

The prophecies of Simeon, Mary, Elizabeth, and Zechariah are all evidence of the Spirit’s residence within. Cornelius, however, is a God-fearer who, although feeling the Spirit’s conviction and inner guilt, has not heard the message yet and waits to receive the effects of salvation. So to place Cornelius in the same category with these others is a grave mistake.

Luther commits here what I call “The Cornelius Fumble.” Here, we see Luther’s argument break down—for, here is a man who is God-fearing without the Spirit. I will explain the importance of Cornelius in this regard soon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

God's Just Standard

“The Diatribe gathers its second absurdity from Mistress Reason—‘human’ reason, so-called: to wit, that on my view blame must attach, not to the vessel, but to the potter, especially in view of the fact that He is a potter who creates this clay as well as moulds it. ‘Here (says the Diatribe) ‘the vessel is cast into eternal fire, a fate which it in no way deserved, except that it was not under its own control… At this point, they demand that God should act according to man’s idea of right, and do what seems proper to themselves—or else that He should cease to be God! ‘The secrets of His majesty,’ they say, ‘shall not profit him; let him render a reason why He is God, or why He wills and does that which has no appearance of justice in it… Rules must be laid down for Him, and He is not to damn any but those who have deserved it by our reckoning! In this way, Paul must presumably recall it, and allow that it has no force, and remodel it; because the Potter in question (this is the Diatribe’s explanation) makes the vessel unto dishonor on the grounds of merit preceding, just as He rejected some of the Jews by reason of unbelief, and received Gentiles by reason of their faith. But if God works in such a way as to regard merit, why do objectors grumble and complain?...what becomes of the power of the Potter to make what vessel He will, if He is controlled by merits and rules, and is not allowed to make as He would, but is required to make as He should? Respect for merit militates against power and freedom for Him to make what He will; as is proved by the case of the ‘good man of the house’ who, when the workmen grumbled and demanded their rights, replied by asserting his freedom of will in dealing with his own goods (cf. Matt. 20:15). It is these considerations that preclude the validity of the Diatribe’s gloss” (Martin Luther, Part xiii, “Of the righteousness of God in justifying and condemning sinners” in “Erasmus’ Treatment of Texts,” from “The Bondage of the Will.” Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2007, pages 232-233. Translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston).

I’ve been reading Martin Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will” with a detailed eye for the last few days. Whenever Luther provides scriptural justification for his conclusions, I’m always “zooming” in on such quotes and assessing his scriptural evidence to see if he makes sense or not. The above quote (somewhat abridged for length’s sake) shows Luther attacking “The Diatribe” (Erasmus) and his explanations of God and His work. Luther quotes Matthew 20:15 as a way to explain why God picks some men for salvation and lets others go to damnation.

But the scriptural passage of Matthew 20:15 poses problems for Luther’s argument. To see it, let’s go to Matthew 20:

1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. (A) 2 After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine in the morning, [a] he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 To those men he said, 'You also go to my vineyard, and I'll give you whatever is right.' So off they went. 5 About noon and at three, [b] he went out again and did the same thing. 6 Then about five [c] he went and found others standing around, [d] and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?' 7 " 'Because no one hired us,' they said to him. " 'You also go to my vineyard,' he told them. [e] 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, 'Call the workers and give them their pay, (B) starting with the last and ending with the first.' [f 9 "When those who were hired about five [g] came, they each received one denarius. 10 So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. 11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: 12 'These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat! (C) ' 13 "He replied to one of them, 'Friend, I'm doing you no wrong. Didn't you agree with me on a denarius? (D) 14 Take what's yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my business? [h] Are you jealous [i] because I'm generous? (Matthew 20:1-15, Holman Christian Standard. All verses will come from this version unless otherwise stated).

The parable itself is about the Lord hiring workers in His vineyard. He agrees with them all for the SAME PRICE. Notice too, that He invited everyone He found standing around to come to work for Him: He “went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard…” (v.1); “When He went out about nine in the morning, he saw others STANDING IN THE MARKETPLACE doing nothing….” (v.3); “about noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around” (vv.5-6). Everyone He found doing nothing, He put them to work. He didn’t discriminate against ANYONE who wanted to work in His vineyard. Doesn’t sound like Calvinism, does it? If Calvinism were true, then the Lord would have “weeded out” some workers and left others.

At the end of this parable, the workers who worked all day complain about receiving the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Jesus’ words to the unsatisfied workers was “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business? ARE YOU JEALOUS BECAUSE I’M GENEROUS?’” (Matt. 20:15)

Notice that the Lord talks about doing what He wants to do with His business—however, His decision to do as He pleases is based on His “generosity,” not arbitrariness! The Lord gives to those who worked one hour THE SAME AMOUNT as those who worked all day because HE CHOSE TO give generously! The Lord withheld nothing from any party here, so the Lord Himself violated no rules of fairness. All workers were found, hired, and paid what the Lord promised them.

And the Lord does the same thing for all of us: as 2 Peter 3:9 says, He desires that “none perish, but all to come to repentance.” Because of that, the Lord is always willing to hire workers in His vineyard and pay them what He promises them (which is no more or no less than anyone else receives). But if Calvinists have it their way, God now begins to “discriminate” between who He chooses for Heaven and Hell. This, however, doesn’t make sense when you consider that all died in Adam and all have the opportunity to be made alive in Christ (Rom. 5).

Commands for the Helpless

“…if I ask how it is proved that the existence of ‘free-will’ in man is indicated and implied wherever the phrases ‘if thou art willing,’ ‘if thou shalt do,’ ‘if thou shalt hear,’ are used, she will say, ‘BECAUSE THE NATURE OF WORDS AND USE OF LANGUAGE AMONG MEN SEEM TO REQUIRE IT.’ Therefore, she bases her judgment of things and words that are of God upon the CUSTOMS AND CONCERNS OF MEN; and what is more perverse than that, when the former are HEAVENLY and the latter EARTHLY? Thus in her stupidity she betrays herself as thinking of God only as of man.

But what if I prove that the nature of words and use of language, even among men, is not always such as to make it an act of mockery to say to the impotent, ‘if thou art willing,’ ‘if thou shalt do,’ ‘if thou shalt hear’? How often do parents thus play with their children, bidding them to come to them, or do this or that, only in order that it may appear HOW IMPOTENT THEY ARE, and that they may be compelled to call for the help of the parent’s hand? How often does a faithful physician tell an obstinate patient to do or stop doing things that are impossible or injurious to him, so as to bring him by experience of himself to a knowledge of his disease or weakness, to which he cannot lead him by any other course?...If now, God, as a Father, deals with us as with His sons, with a view to showing us the impotence of which we are ignorant; or as a faithful physician, with a view to making known to us our disease; or if, to taunt His enemies, who proudly resist His counsel and the laws He has set forth (by which He achieves this end most effectively), He should say: ‘do,’ ‘hear,’ ‘keep,’ or: ‘if thou shalt hear,’ ‘if thou art willing,’ ‘if thou shalt do; it can be fairly concluded from this that therefore we can do these things freely, or else God is mocking us? Why should not this conclusion follow rather: therefore, God is trying us, that by His law He may bring us to a knowledge of our impotence, if we are His friends? Or else, He is really and deservedly taunting and mocking us, if we are His proud enemies? For this, as Paul teaches, is the intent of divine legislation (cf. Rom. 3:20, 5:20; Gal. 3:19, 24)”
(Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will,” pp. 152-153).

The above quote from Martin Luther is the summary of his rebuttal to Erasmus’ claim of commands as an indication of expectation from God to mankind.

I agree with him—the Law was to show mankind his inability to keep it. However, there is more to the Law than just the fact that it shows us our inability to keep every jot and tittle of it. The Law was also given with the purpose of the Law being fulfilled.

Let’s look at Romans 3:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says (AC) speaks to those who are subject to the law, (AD) [g] so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God's judgment. (AE) [h] 20 For no flesh will be justified [i] in His sight by the works of the law, (AF) for through the law [comes] the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

In Romans 3:9-18, Paul has used Old Testament references from the book of Psalms to show that man is guilty before God. But what is man guilty of? Transgressing God’s Law—because “the law…speaks to those who are subject to the law.” Every person on the face of the earth is subject to God’s judgment because all sinned in Adam:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, (S) and death through sin, (T) in this way death spread to all men, (U) because all sinned. (Rom. 5:12, HCSB)

Because all of mankind sinned (in that Adam represented mankind, and sinned in the Garden), man is guilty of transgressing God’s Law.

And this act of transgression is important because it shows us that “the whole world” is “subject to God’s judgment” (Rom. 3:19). We read these words in Romans 3:23-24—

23 For all have sinned (AN) and fall short of the [l] glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace (AO) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 3:23-24, HCSB)

The entire world, EVERY person, is guilty of transgressing God’s Law, of disobeying God’s commands, of rebellion against God.

And if man is considered “guilty” for disobeying God’s commands, then this implies that man had a DUTY to KEEP the Law!

Paul says this about the law in Romans 3:31—

31 Do we then cancel the law through faith? Absolutely not! (BA) On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Rom. 3:31, HCSB)

So we “uphold” the law, not abolish it. The word in the Greek for “uphold” in Romans 3:31 is “histanomen,” which means “to uphold or sustain the authority or force” of something. To uphold the Law, then, means that we sustain the authority of the Law, we continue to honor the Law as the revelation of God to us.

So, contrary to popular thought, we don’t do away with the Law; for Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5,

“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I DID NOT COME TO DESTROY BUT TO FULFILL. For I assure you: Until Heaven and earth pass away, NOT THE SMALLEST LETTER OR ONE STROKE OF A LETTER WILL PASS FROM THE LAW UNTIL ALL THINGS ARE ACCOMPLISHED. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of Heaven. But WHOEVER PRACTICES AND TEACHES THESE COMMANDMENTS WILL BE CALLED GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. For I tell you, unless YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS SURPASSES THAT OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:17-20).

In verses 21ff, the Lord Jesus begins to give a new interpretation of the Law, NOT a new Law itself! If the Law was simply to show us our inability, but not to give us rules to live our lives by, then why would Jesus go into such a long discourse about the Spirit of the Law instead of the “letter”?

And what about the Lord’s words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected THE MORE IMPORTANT MATTERS OF THE LAW—JUSTICE, MERCY, AND FAITH. These things should have been done WITHOUT NEGLECTING THE OTHERS” (Matt.23:23).

In this verse, the Lord doesn’t tell the Pharisees that keeping the Law is a BAD thing—rather, He tells them that there were OTHER things of the Law that they neglected! They should have practiced justice, mercy, and faith WHILE KEEPING THE OTHER PORTIONS OF THE LAW!!

And Paul talks about Christ’s fulfillment of the Law and what that means for the believer:

“What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, GOD DID. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and a sin offering, IN ORDER THAT THE LAW’S REQUIREMENT WOULD BE ACCOMPLISHED IN US WHO DO NOT WALK ACCORDING TO THE FLESH BUT ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT. For those whose lives are according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those whose lives are according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit…for the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because IT DOES NOT SUBMIT itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those whose lives are in the flesh are unable to please God. YOU, HOWEVER, ARE NOT IN THE FLESH, BUT IN THE SPIRIT, SINCE THE SPIRIT OF GOD LIVES IN YOU” (Rom. 8:3-5,7-9a).

The word for “accomplished” in Romans 8:4 is “plerothe,” which is the subjunctive form of ‘pleroo,” which means “to fulfill.” We mentioned earlier in this post that Jesus talks about Himself fulfilling the Law in Matthew 5:17 (not abolishing the Law). Those of us who are in Christ, then, fulfill the Law first, because we have Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21); secondly, according to Romans 8, we have the Spirit in us; and the way to please God is to walk according to the Spirit, which is the only way that the Law will be fulfilled in us.

I won’t go into more proof against Luther’s position. But I will say that, everywhere in Paul’s letters, he constantly used the Old Testament to exhort the people of God. If the Old Testament was to be done away with (and not only the letter), then why, according to Scripture, are we urged to walk according to the Spirit and fulfill the Spirit of the Law (which gives life) instead of the letter? It seems then, since “His [Christ]divine power has given us EVERYTHING REQUIRED FOR LIFE AND GODLINESS, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3), then we have no excuse to walk according to God’s requirements. To just say that the Law shows me my inability to keep it still leaves me without any indication of God’s expectation. Surely, then, God expects me to do more than just ACCEPT that I cannot keep the Law…