Monday, April 26, 2010

Exploring the Hermeneutical Dilemma, Part II-A: 8:38-39 and Jude

It’s that time of the semester again, when students go crazy: the time of year when massive reading is required and papers are due. This week (Thursday, April 29) I have two ten-page research papers due, one for Christian Apologetics and the other for Old Testament Theology. So, needless to say, I’m ALWAYS writing and thinking on theology. But, I must confess: it kinda makes me happy (I’m smiling)...

I’m back today to deal with the Doctrine of Eternal Security once more. As I’ve stated in posts as of late, ESers (our eternal security friends) have major problems when it comes to matching their verses up against the rest of Scripture. If security in Christ is guaranteed, I keep asking myself, then why are verses like Hebrews 6:4-6 and 2 Peter 2:20-22 (for example) in the Bible? Why are they even in the biblical canon? And if they are in the canon, and “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for DOCTRINE, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16)then doesn’t that indicate that apostasy should be a doctrine that the church is made aware of?? I think that, with the Scriptures being what they are, there are TOO MANY verses in Scripture that seem to indicate that believers can lose faith and “fall away.” Because of that, we need to formulate better doctrine of the issue of security in Christ. If there are verses that indicate I can fall away, then the verses that affirm security cannot affirm unconditional eternal security; for, if they do, then Scripture has contradicted itself (unconditional + conditional security), since both of these types of security are contradictions when taken together.

Now, on to the subject for this post: Romans 8:38-39, one of the most famous proof texts regarding eternal security:

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39, NKJV).

I heard this passage today cited as a passage that provides eternal security regarding our salvation. The preacher (who I shall call David) said, “Nothing shall be able to separate us...NOT EVEN YOU can take yourself out of His hand.” After this statement he said, “You are saved by grace, not by your faithfulness or your commitment.”

Why is it that these two verses are so often quoted by proponents of eternal security? Because so many ESers believe that these verses “seal the deal” when it comes to the debate over whether or not someone can lose their salvation.
However, what are we to do with this verse?

“But you, beloved, BUILDING YOURSELVES UP ON YOUR MOST HOLY FAITH, praying in the Holy Spirit, KEEP YOURSELVES IN THE LOVE OF GOD, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude v.20).

What is so unique about this passage is that Jude’s instructions to the believers involve the issue of “faith,” and building themselves up in the faith. The Greek verb for “building up” is “epoikodomountes,” which can also mean “building upon.” Perhaps Jude’s reference here in verse 20 echoes the message of 2 Peter 1:5-11??? I will return to this later, but I’ll let you search the Scriptures and compare the two passages...

So the believers are to “build themselves up in the faith”; but, beyond this, they are to “keep themselves in the love of God” (v.21). The verb with the issue of faith in verse 20 is a participle, which is translated as “building.” So, Jude is saying, “continually building yourselves up” (since the verb is a present participle implying continuous action), “keep yourselves in the love of God.” While building up their faith, they are to continue to remain in God’s love.

But, wait a minute!!! Doesn’t this pose problems for the passage of Romans 8:38-39? “I thought that “nothing” would be able to separate me from God’s love!” The ESers would say. The question becomes then, what do we do with one passage that says that nothing would separate us from God’s love, while the other commands us to “keep ourselves” in God’s love?

What do we do also with the fact that Jude distinguishes between the ungodly men and the congregation in terms of the Spirit? Jude writes regarding the mockers,

“These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, NOT HAVING THE SPIRIT” (Jude 19).
But what does he say about the congregation?
“BUT YOU, BELOVED...praying in the HOLY SPIRIT...” (Jude 20)

So we see that the congregation is to “pray in the Holy Spirit” and “build upon their faith” because they are genuinely saved!!! Jude has distinguished, as did John in 1 John 2, between the saved and unsaved. So Calvinist theologians can stop throwing up the “they-were-never-saved” rule in the faces of Arminians. Scripture clearly delineates who the saved and unsaved are!! The question is not about the false teachers and ungodly men...but about the congregations, whom the writers consider to have genuine salvation.

So what about the genuinely saved congregation? They are “beloved,” (v.20) and are told to “build upon” (v.20) their faith, and “pray in the Holy Spirit” (v.20). And then, they are told to “keep themselves in the love of God.” So we see that, while the congregation is genuinely saved, there is a fear that these ungodly men can cause the genuine believers in the letter to go astray.

What other evidence do we have of the genuine salvation of the congregants? Return to the beginning of Jude’s letter. In verse 1, Jude calls the church “called,” “sanctified,” and “preserved in Jesus Christ.” Did you notice that Jude called them “preserved.” But the question then becomes, “How are the believers PRESERVED in Jesus Christ?” The answer? “By faith” (1 Peter 1:5). So this is why Jude first tells them in his exhortation to “build up their faith”---because we are preserved in Christ by faith. Not only are the believers “called, sanctified, and preserved,” but they are also considered by Jude as having salvation: “I was very diligent to write to you concerning OUR COMMON SALVATION...” (Jude 3) The congregation then, consists of genuine believers.

Still, though, they are told to “keep themselves in the love of God” while “building upon their faith.” The question is, why do they need to keep themselves in the love of God if they cannot take themselves out of the love of God?” To answer this question, Jeremy Evans comes to the rescue with speech-act theory:

“Generally speaking, discourse between persons involves MORE THAN WORDS BUT INCLUDES ACTIONS (or proposed actions) BUILT INTO THE CONTENTS OF THE WORDS...pertinent to this discussion on biblical imperatives is REALIZING WHAT GOD COMMANDS MUST HAVE A LOGICAL CONNECTION WITH WHAT HE INTENDS TO ACCOMPLISH through His act of commanding...” (Jeremy A. Evans, “Reflections on Determinism and Human Freedom,” from “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 270).

The speech-act theory, according to Jeremy Evans, God gives commands because He has “intention” with those commands. So if God is saying in Jude, “keep yourselves in the love of God,” then He intends to preserve us---however, He will not preserve us if we decide not to heed His commands. The Lord desires to work IN us, but He will not work WITHOUT us (Philippians 2:12).

Schreiner and Caneday make a good point about Jude’s epistle:

"Some understand falling to refer to A FAILURE TO LIVE A PRODUCTIVE CHRISTIAN LIFE INSTEAD OF APOSTASY. They offer in defense of this the fact that Jude speaks of being presented before God ‘without fault.’ Such an interpretation veers away from the context of the letter of Jude. THE CONCERN OF JUDE THROUGHOUT THE LETTER IS APOSTASY. HE OMINOUSLY REMINDS THE READERS THAT EVEN THOUGH ISRAEL WAS LIBERATED FROM EGYPT THOSE WHO SINNED FAILED TO REACH THE LAND OF PROMISE (Jude 5). Angels who sinned have no second chance (Jude 6), and Sodom and Gomorrah serve, ‘as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire’ (Jude 7 NIV). Jude does not introduce Sodom and Gomorrah to titillate his readers. HE IS CONCERNED THAT THEY DO NOT PRESUME UPON GRACE AND THINK THAT THEY WILL BE SPARED FROM THE JUDGMENT THAT LEVELED THOSE CITIES...” (Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday, “ ‘The Race Set Before Us’: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, page 258).

Notice that Schreiner and Caneday state what Jude means in the letter: the concern of Jude throughout the letter is apostasy.” Jude is concerned that the congregation, as genuine believers, could apostatize and depart from the faith. Why is this the best interpretation? Because of Jude’s examples. In Jude 5, Jude discusses that, although Israel (as a nation) was delivered from Egypt, the wilderness generation did not make it to the promise land because they “did not believe.” So we find that God’s own people did not inherit the promise.

In verse 6, the angels who “left their own abode” are imprisoned, awaiting their day of judgment. These are the 1/3 of the angels that forsook God in Revelation.
In verse 7, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, “having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh” are done away with due to God’s righteous judgment.

What is the purpose of the examples? To show us that, although Israel, the angels, and the cities started off good, they end up in a worse state than their first---and God deals them eternal punishment for departing from their right (good) positions.

So, if the believers were told to “keep themselves in the love of God,” then how can “nothing separate us from the love of God?” The only way this is possible is if we are “continually believing” and trusting in the Lord. No one can separate us from the love of God but us...

In my next post, I will deal with Romans 8:38-39 and how the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate plays into the hermeneutical dilemma concerning the Doctrine of Eternal Security.

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