Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Other Side, Part I: The Right Question

I am so thankful for a little thing we call “podcasts.” To churches and pastors who use them and encourage them, let me just say “thank you so much.” I think podcasts are marvelous little tools invented that will bring glory to God. For those like me who get sick from time to time and can’t get out the door to go to church---we find ways of “going to church” inside our own homes and apartments.

And that is what I did this past Sunday. I sat down to listen to a sermon on a church podcast. There was a sermon selection that most appealed to me, so I listened to it. The sermon was on the issue of “losing salvation,” and the sermon was preached by a man I shall refer to as “John.” The importance of this discussion is not the name of the man, but of the doctrine that he espoused and the manner in which he espoused it.

John used a number of proof-texts in his discussion of the doctrine of eternal security, such as 1 John 5:13, Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 6:23, 2 Corinthians 5:21, John 10:27-29, Ephesians 1:13-14, Romans 8:29ff, etc. When he talked about people who walk away, he ended up using the famous proof text of 1 John 2, which I’ve already exegeted in detail (search for material surrounding “1 John 2,” especially in my section under “The Race Set Before Us”). I’ve already shown that 1 John 2:19, specifically, refers to the false teachers, NOT the congregants themselves. As for the congregants, John was sure of their anointing and salvation (1 Jn. 2:27), but still warned them to remain in Christ (v. 28). Why did they need the warning to “remain” if they could not fall away? This is something that John (the current preacher) did not tell the congregation in his sermon.

All the above passages I referenced (as well as other proof passages he said that I didn’t note) point to his arguing for “unconditional eternal security,” which states that a person is secure in Christ and that he or she cannot fall away. What John failed to do, however, is show that there are passages that affirm the idea of falling away. What about Hebrews 6, for example, which states that a person can become “enlightened” (in contrast to being darkened without Christ, Eph. 5:8), as well as “a companion of the Holy Spirit,” and still “fall away” (Heb. 6:4-6)? What about James’ statement that a man’s faith without works cannot save him (James 2:14-26)? How about Peter warning the congregation of scattered believers with the words “beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, BEING LED AWAY WITH THE ERROR OF THE WICKED” (2 Peter 3:17, NKJV)? If Peter is writing to a group of genuine believers, those he addresses as “those who have obtained like precious faith with us” (2 Pet. 1:1), how can he then turn around and warn them about falling from their own stability in Christ? What about 2 Peter 3:14-15, where Peter tells the believers to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless,” and count the Lord’s delay as “salvation” (2 Pet. 3:14-15)? John didn’t approach these texts, and, consequently, didn’t give place to answering these questions.

But he spent time trying to argue the truth of Scripture from human logic, however. Some of his statements were the following:

(1) “If we cannot save ourselves, then we cannot unsave ourselves.”
(2) “If my good works cannot save me, then how can my bad works unsave me?”
(3) “To be unsecure in that [salvation] means that WE ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN GOD.”
(4) “If we say that we can lose our salvation, we’re saying that GOD CAN’T HOLD ONTO HIS OWN.”

I’ve stated many times here at the Center for Theological Studies (CTS) that God is not responsible for individuals who walk away (so we can eliminate #4). Number one is a response that I will deal with in another post. Number three is a response that was dealt with in Genesis, when Adam and Eve tried to “become gods” (by the way, they failed miserably!). So we can eliminate number 3. Adam and Eve sinned against God and turned against Him, but this did not make them more powerful than God or make God impotent or weak in any way. The response I desire to tackle in this post, however, is response #2: “If my good works cannot SAVE me, then how can my bad works UNSAVE me?”

The problem with the above question asked by John (about good and bad works) is that the question is not really disagreed about amongst Calvinists and Arminians. As a Classical Arminian, I do not disagree; my works, my merit, COULD NOT and DID NOT save me. Only faith in the work of Christ on the Cross saved me. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “and the life I now live in the flesh I LIVE BY FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (NKJV). Any new life that we have has been given to us by the grace of God through faith, the gift of God, in the work of the Son of God on the cross. So I wouldn’t disagree.

However...the issue is not one of works that determines salvation, as the Scriptures make clear (Eph. 2:8-9). The issue instead involves not WORKS, but FAITH itself. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH. And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God...” Confession and belief are conditions for salvation (Rom. 10:9).

So the question is not about good works and bad works; but instead, to have faith or to lose faith: “if my faith saves me, then can my losing faith, my neglecting salvation, later condemn me?”

And then comes the age-old question, “What do the Scriptures have to say about it?”

The first passage would be that of Romans 11, where Paul is warning the Gentiles not to boast of their privileged status in the Gospel, while discounting the Jews in salvation:

“You will say then, ‘branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF they were broken off, AND YOU STAND BY FAITH. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either” (Romans 11:19-21, NKJV).

The Jews were once connected to the vine, that supports the branches. However, because of unbelief, they were cut off from the vine. Why are the Gentiles engrafted? Because of faith: “You stand by faith.” The only security the Gentiles have in their connection to the vine is their faith. Faith is “the tie that binds” the Gentiles to the vine. Paul then tells the Gentiles, “do not be haughty.” In other words, they cannot boast and brag because their faith is the only connection they have. Should they turn to unbelief and lose faith, they will face what the Jews are experiencing (“God did not spare the natural branches”).

Notice Paul’s words to the Gentiles are more intense in verse 22:

“Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: ON THOSE WHO FELL, SEVERITY; but toward you, goodness, IF YOU CONTINUE IN HIS GOODNESS. OTHERWISE YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF” (Rom. 11:22, NKJV).

What do we do these words in Romans 11:22? Do we just ignore them or do we accept them? If we’re gonna accept them, then Paul himself told us the nature of our security: In Christ, BY FAITH. Our faith is how we stand or fall before the eyes of the Lord.

The next key passage would be 1 Peter 1:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...who ARE KEPT BY THE POWER OF GOD THROUGH FAITH FOR SALVATION ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3,5 NKJV).

Peter states here that the power of God, the divine preservation of the saints is faith. This is why faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). God gives us faith in order to keep those who believe. So for those passages that talk about the Lord keeping His sheep, I can agree: the Lord keeps the believers through faith. The believer's God-given faith is there to preserve him or her from destruction. So eternal securitists can stop saying that Arminians do not believe in any form of spiritual security. We just don't believe that the security is eternal for every believer...and we have biblical reasons for so thinking!!!

Well, I’ve shown us that our security comes through faith in the atoning work of Christ. Now the question to ask is, “If a person stands by their faith, can they fall by their unbelief?” or, the following: “If a person has professed faith in Christ, can they lose faith and commit apostasy (walk away from Christ)?” I will answer this question in my next post.

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