Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Paul Has His Reasons

“The Evidence-of-Genuineness proponents base their doctrine of perseverance on God’s promises in Scripture that He will complete His work of salvation in the individual believer. Even though a believer may fail miserably and sin terribly, he cannot remain in that condition. A Christian may fall totally, but his fall will not be final. The true believer will persevere” (Kenneth D. Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 177).

In studying the Doctrine of Eternal Security, I’ve learned that oftentimes, what is not said is just as important as what is said. Pertaining to the issue of the security of the believer, Calvinist theology dictates that the elect will persevere in faith because they have been given a faith that will remain. As seen in the quote above, Molinists believe the same thing. When it comes to the issue of eternal security, Molinists stand arm-in-arm with Calvinists.
I could cover many things pertaining to this issue; however, today, my goal is to cover a particular passage regarding the doctrine of eternal security. The quote above is the stated position of Molinists (and Calvinists). After the above quote, there is a scriptural passage given as justification for the above position in a footnote:

“Phil. 1:6, “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 177).

Today, I wanna look at this verse in the Scriptures, place it in the context of Philippians 1, and see what this verse tells us with regards to the eternal security debate.

First, let’s notice that Keathley calls verses like Philippians 1:6 unconditional promises:

“Moody asserts that Calvinists have put so much emphasis on the assurance passages that they have bleached out the full force of the warning passages. However, he appears to have committed the same error in reverse when he ignores THE UNCONDITIONAL NATURE OF THE PROMISES OF PRESERVATION and makes them subordinate to the warning passages” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 175).

The promise of preservation in Philippians 1:6 for example, is, to Ken Keathley, an “unconditional promise”.

But is it really? Let’s examine the immediate context of Philippians 1:6...in this case, the following verse:

“just as it is right for me to think this of you all, BECAUSE I have you in my heart, inasmuch as BOTH IN MY CHAINS AND IN THE DEFENSE AND CONFIRMATION OF THE GOSPEL, YOU ALL ARE PARTAKERS WITH ME OF GRACE” (Philippians 1:7, NKJV).

The question on the table is, “Can we label Philippians 1:6 an ‘unqualified’ divine promise?” The answer to the question is “No.” In verse 7, we find that the Philippians are “sugkoinonous,” the Greek word for “partaker,” “participant,” or “sharer.” What are the Philippians “sharers” in? They share not only in Paul’s chains, but also in the defense and confirmation of the gospel: the Philippians, like Paul, are currently defending the faith at the time of Paul’s letter to them. Not only are they defending the faith, but by their own lives, they are “confirming” the gospel.

How are the Philippians “confirming the gospel”? Paul tells us that “you have always obeyed,” especially in his presence; he desires they do the same in his absence (2:12). Not only have the Philippians obeyed Paul by doing what he has instructed them to, but he tells them that to be unified in Christ will serve as further confirmation of the truth:

“Only let your conduct be WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, so that whether I come and see you, or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, WHICH IS TO THEM A PROOF OF PERDITION, BUT TO YOU OF SALVATION, and that from God” (Phil. 1:27-28, NKJV).

For the Philippians, standing unified in Christ, contending for the faith, with holy boldness, would be “proof of salvation” for the Philippians, while serving as “proof of perdition” for their enemies. By so doing they would be proving themselves “worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

What need was there to make themselves worthy, IF God had already foreordained each individual to be saved on account of the gospel? Peter poses the same question to us in his first epistle: If the scattered believers of the Dispersion were “unconditionally elected” to salvation, why then, did they need to “be even more diligent to make their call and election sure” so as to “never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10)? There must be a reason why the lifestyles of the Philippians and scattered believers were to confirm their standing in Christ.

And it is no different with Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Go back to Philippians 1:

“just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are partakers with me of grace.”

Paul states that “it is right for me to think this,” meaning that he has a reason to think that God will complete His work in them---namely, that the actions of the Philippian believers TESTIFY to this confidence. Paul can be confident because of the labor of love shown to God by the Philippians.

Contrary to the assumed idea that Philippians 1:6 states an “unqualified promise,” it actually states an optimism of Paul’s that is qualified by Paul himself (“just as it is right for me to think this of you all”). Paul has his reasons; and he is assured of God’s work in them because they continue to persevere.

The writer of Hebrews had something similar to say to the Hebrew converts to Christianity who were suffering persecution (in a situation quite like the Philippians):

“But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore, DO NOT CAST AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE, which has great reward. FOR YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:32-36, NKJV).

The word “parresian” is the Greek word for “confidence.” According to Thayer’s Dictionary of the New Testament, the word can also mean “cheerful courage, free and fearless confidence, boldness,” and even “assurance.” And why do the Hebrew believers need to keep their assurance? Because “you have need of endurance” (Heb. 10:36). The believers need to maintain their assurance so that they can endure. Assurance of God’s promises is what produces endurance. This assurance is called the “full assurance of faith” earlier in the chapter (10:22). It is our faith that we must not throw away---for faith fuels the race of life, which requires endurance (Heb. 12:1-3). To lose faith is to lose endurance (Mark 4:16-17; Luke 8:13).

As has been shown here, Paul is confident of God’s work in the Philippians...but he is only confident because of the Philippians’ participation in the gospel (its defense) as well as a lifestyle “worthy of the gospel.” In other words, their current conduct and spiritual unity gave him great optimism regarding God’s future work in them. This confidence of Paul’s is not just written by Paul’s hand as a great compliment; rather, it is written by a soldier of Jesus Christ to fellow soldiers who were “enduring hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3) even in the face of persecution.

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