Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Risk

“Thus the apostle, addressing believers, says, ‘Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things, the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience’ (Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6). He does not threaten that wrath will descend upon them; but he admonishes them, while they think how the wrath of God is prepared for the wicked, on account of the crimes which he had enumerated, not to RUN THE RISK OF PROVOKING IT” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” pages 372-373).

This is another famous statement of John Calvin regarding believers. Over a recent period, I’ve been trying to assess Calvin’s theology and how it plays into his interpretation of certain passages that seem to conflict with it. One such conflict is here in Ephesians 5:6. Calvin explains it away—but, not really…the last phrase of his statement (that I capitalized) enlarges the opposing view: that, if Paul invested time in telling believers about the consequences of immoral living, then there must be a chance for believers to be deceived by sin such that they walk away from their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Notice that in Ephesians 1, Paul calls the church “saints,” and “faithful in Christ Jesus.” By the fact that he calls the members “saints,” and says that they are “in Christ,” we see that those to which he is writing are BELIEVERS!

Why would Paul send such a strong statement to the believers at Ephesus? To answer this question, let me provide a quote from an article regarding the apostasy passages of Hebrews. The quote is commentary on Hebrews 6:7-8—

“The writer herewith describes believers AND UNBELIEVERS WHO HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO THE THINGS OF GOD; both types of land receive the rain. Only the good land produces fruit, however. The bad land yields only weeds. The fruit and weeds stand for the good works of believers and the SINFUL DEEDS OF UNBELIEVERS (ESPECIALLY APOSTASY) RESPECTIVELY…the writer wants us to identify the apostates of vv.4-6 with the unfruitful land/ They have had much contact with spiritual things/ Nevertheless, they HAVE NOT PERSEVERED IN THEIR FAITH. Their defection is bad fruit (‘thorns and thistles’) that reveals their unsaved condition. Woe unto them, for they will face the judgment of God!” (Robert A. Peterson, “Apostasy,” pages 22-23).

Notice that with regard to Hebrews 6, Peterson says that the analogy of the lands and fruit/thorns involves unbelievers. However, this is laughable when you consider his remarks from earlier about verses within Hebrews 6:

“In 5:11-6:3 the writer spanks his readers for their lack of progress IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE and urges them to spiritual maturity” (Peterson, 20).

Or, this statement:

“In fact, they are SPIRITUAL INFANTS…because they have not consistently put into practice the Christian teaching they know (5:13-14)” (Peterson, 20).

And this statement is more shocking than the first two:

“The expression ‘tasted the heavenly gift’ speaks of experiencing spiritual blessings. The attempt of CALVINIST INTERPRETERS TO UNDERSTAND THE TERMS ‘tasting’…and ‘partaking’ (‘of the Holy Spirit’) of partial and not full participation IS MISGUIDED” (Peterson, 21).

And what about Hebrews 6:4-5?

“These verses seem to describe believers; the burden of proof LIES WITH SOMEONE CLAIMING THEY DO NOT” (Peterson, 21).

So, if Hebrews 6:7-8 lie WITHIN THE CHAPTER OF HEBREWS 6, and there is NO BREAK in the verses, or an indication of a subject change, then how can the writer just up and switch the subject to OTHER PEOPLE (like unbelievers) in verses 7 and 8? The truth is that he can’t. And he doesn’t. However, Peterson is a Calvinist and writes the way he does to support his presupposition: that believers cannot walk away from the Lord.

Calvin, in his remarks on Ephesians 4 (first quote above), does the exact same thing. It’s true that Paul isn’t telling them the wrath of God WILL come down, as if God’s wrath on them is guaranteed. However, Calvin does mention THE RISK of provoking God to punishment. And I think that risk indicates the POSSIBILITY of doing so.

And what does it mean if something is “possible”? If something is possible, it means that it is “potential,” or “likely,” or that there is a “chance” that it can happen. I think, though, that this possibility frightens believers because we like to think that once we make a profession, our final salvation is guaranteed. But I don’t think Scripture shows it to be that way.

Over the next several months, we will spend time talking about the issue of apostasy. For now, I just wanted to introduce you to the importance of scriptural warnings. God is God—and He will make good on His promises, whether to bless or to curse…

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