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The Perseverance of the Saints, part 4

November 3, 2015

Grace to you! God’s children will persevere in their faith till they are with Christ. God preserves His children many ways but one way is by warning them to watch from falling away from Him. Acts 27 showed us that Paul was assured by God that no life would be lost yet when people sought to bail from the ship Paul told them that if they did not stay on the boat, they would die. God used the warning to keep all of them on the boat and therefore alive. We also see this same pattern in the book of Hebrews. Two passages in Hebrews are often used, incorrectly I think, to teach that a person can lose their salvation.

Hebrews 6:4-6, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”

And Hebrews 10:23-27, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

Both passages state that someone who is a believer needs to heed the warnings not to fall away from Jesus. However, neither passage says that the falling away actually has happened. What function do these warnings serve, then?  “Instead, the conditional warnings appeal to our minds to conceive or imagine the invariable consequences that come to all who pursue a course of apostasy from Christ” (The Race Set Before Us, 199).  The warnings are intended to serve as a means of salvation for God’s elect by helping them imagine with their mind’s eye the horror of apostasy and, as a result, never choose such a course. God begins the good work and finishes what He starts. And yet He uses means, such as the warnings, to bring about His end goal. The means of grace, such as prayer, warning passages, etc., are never skipped over in getting us to our final secured haven with Christ. God’s children will hear the warnings about ‘going over the edge’ and will therefore stay away from the danger. As Hebrews 6:9 says in light of the warnings, “Though we speak in this way (the way of warnings), yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.” The writer knew the warnings would be used by the Lord to keep all of God’s children from wandering away.

The Perseverance of the Saints, part 3

November 3, 2015

Grace to you! So far we have begun to look at how God preserves His people by leading them to persevere in their faith. Those who don’t persevere show they never were true believers from the beginning. (1 John 2:19)

In Acts 27, Paul is on his way to stand trial before Caesar. However, during the ship’s voyage they encounter a major storm that threatens to take their lives. Paul was assured by the Lord that he would stand before Caesar but now that promise seems threatened with a major storm. Acts 27:21-25, the Lord told Paul what was really going to take place.

When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. “Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. (Acts 27:21-25)

Paul knew that no life would be lost; God had told him.

Yet something interesting happens. Verses 29-32 tell us, “Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it fall away.”

How can Paul say one moment “no life will be lost” but turn around and say “unless these men remain on the ship” they will die?! It’s because both are true. God uses the warning to bring about the foretold end! God works through means. And here God uses a warning to get exactly what He has ordained: every life saved. Yet, if they had left the ship they would have died. But God used the real warning to get them to do another action: stay put on the ship!

This is how verses the ‘guarantee our salvation’ and verses that say we must ‘continue in faith or perish’ work together. The warning passages will motivate true believers to stay on the ship of faith. Why? So that no salvation life will be lost! We will see how this principle works in Hebrews 6 and 10 next week!

The Perseverance of the Saints, part 2

November 3, 2015

Grace to you! Last week we saw that some Christians think you can lose your salvation and some believe you can never lose your salvation. But we pointed out that the historic teaching of the perseverance of the saints brings together the bible verses both sides seek to use for their positions. The tension in scripture we find is this: we are told that God will keep forever those who trust in Him but people are also warned about the danger of falling away from the living God. So how do these various passages fit together and what do they mean for us today?

Let’s consider a couple of points. First, we have to determine whether the scripture is speaking from God’s viewpoint or an outsider looking on type of view. For example, when a passage speaks about God completing what He started (Phillipians 1:6), it is speaking from God’s standpoint. God who not only knows but has ordained the beginning and the end can speak confidently that He will “lose none but raise them up on the last day.” (John 6:39)

But if a scripture verse is written from a human’s eye viewpoint, then it can speak with some uncertainty about a person’s final destiny. Consider how Paul talks about how Christ has reconciled us a completed action but then adds the conditional phrase “if you continue in the faith.” (Colossians 1:21-22) Wait a minute Paul! How can you say I am saved but then say only “if you continue in the faith”?! Paul says this as an outsider looking at a person’s life. Paul doesn’t know what God knows. How do I know someone is a Christian? Only by them persevering or continuing in the faith. A true believer will never quit following Jesus. From my viewpoint, I can’t ultimately see inside someone’s heart to know if they are bona fide true believer in Christ. So I can say like Paul that I see that you are a Christian “if you continue in the faith.” Since I have limited knowledge about your true eternal state, I’d have to speak conditionally. When God looks at us, He can say fully what He will do for His people. As a limited human being like Paul was, I have to speak conditionally about your eternal destiny in terms of you persevering in following Jesus.

Second, salvation is conditional if understood in the right way. Along the same lines as above, our faith is ever trusting. It’s not that we just at one time believed in Jesus, but we keep on believing in Jesus. “The just shall live by his faith.” (Romans 1:17) Salvation is conditional in that a person has persevering faith. It’s not that someone was truly saved and then could lose it. It’s that those who were truly saved will keep on believing from when they first came to Christ until they meet Christ in glory! Those who don’t continue in faith show they never were Christians in the first place! (See 1 John 2:19) Next week we will look at how the warning passages about the possibility of falling away relate to our Christian lives.

The Perseverance of the Saints, Part 1

October 14, 2015

Grace to you! Some Christians believe that once a person is saved they can never lose their salvation. Other Christians believe that a person can get saved but later lose their salvation. How do we sort through the differences? Is there something maybe both sides are right about and also something both sides are missing in their views? Biblically speaking, both sides need to relook at the issue.

Those who believe ‘once saved, always saved’ idea seem to have biblical support. Passages such as, “God who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phillipians 1:6) The thought is, “How can a Christian lose their salvation if God who started their salvation also promises to finish what He started?” Or listen to John 10:29, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” How can a Christian lose their salvation if God is holding us? Something would have to be stronger than God Himself to take us from His hand and of course, nothing is! And there are also other passages such as Romans 8:1, 28-32, etc.

Yet, those who believe you can lose your salvation seem to have verses that support their position also. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12) Or consider Hebrews 10:26-27, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (Compare also Hebrews 6:4-6) So how are we to make sense of these various verses? How can they fit together?

Something that has been overlooked in the modern church is the historic doctrine called the ‘perseverance of the saints.’ This doctrine says that those who are saved will eternally be saved but those who are saved will always continue to persevere in their faith. This speaks out against those who believe ‘once saved, always saved’ and yet after their initial profession of faith believe they can just sit down in the pew and never grow spiritually. These types of people the bible warns that they are not persevering in the faith and are in danger of being under judgment.

Perseverance of the saints also speaks against the view of believing a true Christian can ‘lose their salvation.’ How? Because a true believer will themselves persevere and be preserved by God. So what does this look like practically? In short, the bible often gives verses from an outside looking on viewpoint. How do I know you are a real Christian? Not only by your initial profession of faith in Christ, but by your constant living for Christ the rest of your life. Those who profess faith in Christ but then stop pursuing Christ show they never were truly in Christ. (See 1 John 2:19) Next week we will look at the different passages and how they actually fit together. Until then, keep pursuing Christ lest you fall away under judgment!

Spirituality And Our Leadership Crisis

October 12, 2015

Grace to you! It’s getting close to that time again. The time when we are constantly inundated with presidential campaign ads, with primary debates, and folks chewing the fat at the local stores over who is best qualified to lead our nation. Each one makes the same promise to make us safe from the threats that loom over us. The candidate who convinces the people that their leadership will provide the greatest amount of security usually winds up winning the presidency.

However, Ben Franklin gave our nation an early warning about desiring certainty in security coming from leaders. “They (the citizens) that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This means that the citizens will have to give up more and more liberties for the illusive pursuit of full security. The end result is that the people eventually wind up with neither liberty nor security.

The desire for temporal security was even a problem for Israel. God had miraculously delivered them from slavery. However, once they got a taste of their new found freedom and its temporal risks, they begged to go back to Egypt where they could be safe from the dangers of the world! They said, “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:12) So why is it that people are so willing to give up liberty for security? Is there a better way for people to live in light of life’s uncertainties? Biblically speaking, yes there is!

Notice how people work. If people have “treasure laid up in heaven”, then their ultimate allegiance and sense of security will be there. (Matthew 6:20) Why? Because those who have their trust in Christ, know that no matter what happens to them in this life their reward and treasures cannot be affected. “Jesus is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) Believers know that there cannot be complete security this side of heaven and therefore shouldn’t be willing to trade liberty for pseudo promises of temporal safety. However, the more we as a culture move away from viewing life from an eternal standpoint the more temporally focused we become. And the more danger we fear over our lives and temporal hopes we have. The more we see people willing to support a leader who promises them full security here, the more you can be sure those people have a temporal view of reality. Why? Because “where your treasure is, there your heart is.” (Matthew 6:21)

The only freedom a people in a nation can retain is for them not to trade their liberty for pseudo-security promises of leaders. And the only way for people to not hope in pseudo-security promises is for them to place their heart’s affections on things that truly last. Put your heart and treasure into Christ and His kingdom to truly know fully liberty! “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Early Christians Didn’t Believe In The Resurrection Until…

October 12, 2015

Grace to you! One of the interesting facts of the bible is its blatant honesty about the people of God in its pages. It repeatedly exposes the failures of people who are supposed to model what it means to trust the Lord. An event that leaves the early disciples in a conundrum is the resurrection of Jesus. Far from what many modern skeptics believe about the naiveté of the early Christians faith being willing to believe in myths such as a physical resurrection, scripture portrays them with a blazing honesty. It shocks us when we look at their initial response upon hearing of the Lord Jesus whom they saw flogged, beaten physically beyond recognition, crucified, and then his lifeless body laid in a tomb were told that Jesus was now alive! They simply could not believe it!!!

Listen to these words in Luke 24:33-43 “33 And they (the women who just saw Jesus alive) rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread. 36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I Myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and He took it and ate before them.”

And this is not the only recorded skepticism various disciples had about a dead man really being alive. Look at these references also for more stubborn unwillingness to accept the fact that Jesus literally rose from the dead: Matthew 28:1-17, especially vs 17; John 20:24-31, especially vs 25; Luke 24:1-11, especially vs 11.

Why such skepticism? Because dead people, at least in their experiences, didn’t come back to life. But that was the point! God had broken into history and raised Christ from the dead despite their assumptions about how reality worked! I find it interesting when I talk to my skeptical friends about Christ’s resurrection. They express reluctance to accept the idea that a dead man came back to life three days later. If they would look a little closer at the biblical accounts, they would see they have the same skepticism in common with the early Christians. Perhaps they will see that faith isn’t blind, but built on the fact that something mind blowing had to change the rampant skepticism of the early followers of Jesus. What could resurrect their dashed hopes in the dead Jesus? Only a real physical resurrection!

I Once Was Blind, But Now I See

October 12, 2015

Grace to you! Throughout the Bible, we see that God is a missionary God. When Adam sinned, it was the Lord who came looking for him to restore him to fellowship with His creator. We see that God is the one who gave the sacrifices to His people to point them towards the ultimate sacrifice for sins to be made in the Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise, God’s message for His people is for them to imitate Him in His missional and evangelistic focus. Jesus commands His followers to take the gospel into all the world and make disciples (See Matthew 28:18-20). But how do we share the gospel? What is an easy way for someone to fulfill the Great Commission in sharing the gospel with their family, friends, and neighbors?

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to share the gospel is by retelling your own personal testimony of how you came to savingly know the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a prime example of this in John 9. Jesus meets a man born blind from birth (vs 1). People have mixed reactions to the one they previously knew was blind but now was able to see. Some couldn’t believe it was the same man, but others, and the man himself, reaffirmed that he indeed was formerly blind but now could see (vv 8-9). The shock of the event catches on. Even the religious leaders bring him in for a series of questions to find out about the “Jesus guy” (vv 13-23).

Do the religious leaders finally consent to the miracle change in the man? No, they continue to harass him about his character and the character of the one called Jesus (vv 24-34). The Pharisees threw multiple Bible, theological, and personal questions at the man. The simple and truthful response of the man was priceless: “One thing I do know, I once was blind but now I see.” (John 9:25)

Many believers have a great fear of talking to non-Christians about the gospel. They are afraid that people may raise objections to them that they don’t know how to answer. They think that they don’t know enough of the Bible to talk to others about Jesus. But the blind man didn’t know any deep theology nor was apt at answering the Pharisees’ questions. He stuck with what he knew. And what he knew was that once his life was one way and now it had been radically changed by Jesus.

We can share our personal testimony the same way. We can tell others what we used to be like before Jesus (how we were blind), how Jesus worked in our life (He put mud on my eyes), and what our life has been like since Jesus changed us (I now can see!). Will you do that? Will you in love tell others how Christ has changed you and what difference He has made in your life to someone this week? By you telling your story, God may use it to remove their spiritual blindness so that they may see the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ!


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