Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Question of Eternal Security, Part 4

This is where conversation generally becomes abrasive: we quote Scripture, but do not reason together whether we have a right understanding of Scripture. I don’t find a single place in the New Testament where Jesus simply quoted Scripture and ceased. He reasoned with His audience. So too did Peter in Acts 2 and 3, as well as Paul in Acts 17. It is a simple matter to step from sound doctrinal teaching to, “desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what [we] say nor the things which [we] affirm,” 1st Timothy 1:7. I am far from immune; if I stray in my doctrinal teaching then I expect (and I pray, welcome) needed correction from mature believers.

The covenant of salvation was not made between men and God; it was made within the Godhead; and it was struck before the world was created. “[God] saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works (our efforts, even after being saved, do not enter the equation), but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,” 2nd Timothy 1:9. “In hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,” Titus 1:2. “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made…[Abraham’s] Seed, who is Christ,” Galatians 3:16. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,” Ephesians 1:4. Salvation is a free gift divorced from our efforts to attain or maintain it, Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23. The latter states, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul writes about the nature of God’s gifts: “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable,” Romans 11:29. In other words, once given, eternal life cannot be rescinded. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself,” 2nd Timothy 2:13.

The fifth chapter of Galatians describes the very substance of conditional salvation: adding obedience to faith. The Galatian church did not hold the beginning of their confidence steadfast to the end—faith in Christ alone apart from works, Hebrews 3:14—but turned from faith to works, Galatians 3:1-9; 5:1-6. If these believers had truly fallen from grace (as Galatians 5:4 states) in the sense that their salvation was lost, then we must refer to Hebrews 6:4-6 and judge that repentance was now impossible according to conditional salvation when the above passage is used in this context. In this case why was Paul even wasting his time speaking with a group of men who could not be saved again? Obedience as a requisite for salvation has been put to death in Christ. Now we walk at liberty, Galatians 5:13, Romans 14; 1st Corinthians 6:12. Paul worried that they had professed vainly, Galatians 4:11; he warned them that faith alone saves. “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh (effort/obedience)?” Galatians 5:3. Is it our obedience that saves, or Christ? It is a dangerous road to walk when you teach that works must be manifest in a believer’s life or salvation is forfeit, or that gross sin separates a believer from their life in Christ. Works slowly, subtly erode faith and takes its place. The Christian life is “being,” not “doing.” Do works have their place? Of course! This is fruit bearing for the Christian and will reap great reward on the day we stand before our Lord. Christ alone does this through us when we abide in Him: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…It is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure,” Philippians 1:6; 2:13.

We read, “For He [the Father] made Him who knew no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” 2nd Corinthians 5:21. This is the greatest place Christianity disagrees with man’s religion: what man has always wanted to do for himself, God has done for us in Christ, and offers eternal life as a free gift to those who admit their bankruptcy. Christ paid the full debt of our sin on the cross; this is the “good news” of the gospel. It is rather queer good news if we find that salvation is by grace though faith, which leads to the bondage of living a “good” life in order to retain our status. Forgive me for saying so, but this doctrine denigrates the cross of our Lord and what He accomplished for us. “It is finished!” John 19:30. It was a Greek accounting term which also meant, “Paid in full!” What was paid in full? The sin-debt we owed God, of course! We are free from sin, and alive in Christ. Having the debt of sin removed in Christ, we were free to approach God in faith through His Son, and the outcome of being freed from sin is reconciliation with God, and eternal life, Romans 5:1; Hebrews 6:18-20; 10:20. God’s promise and oath are a strong consolation for those who have laid hold of the hope of eternal life.

“By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities…He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors,” Isaiah 53:11-12. Christ’s merit, which is limitless, is credited to us. Since Christ is our surety (Hebrews 7:22), our sins are transferred to Him, while His righteousness is given to us—the only reason we’ll enter Heaven. John wrote concerning the new nature, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God,” 1st John 3:9. Since John already went over the fact that believers do still sin (1:7-10; also see Romans 7), then he must be referring to our new nature. The new man born of the Holy Spirit cannot have sin imputed in a legal sense. “He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life (an eternal possession), and shall not come into judgment (no more fear of wrath), but has passed from death into life,” John 5:24. The believer is immediately and eternally a member of the family of God, 2nd Corinthians 5:17. Which camp the believer settles in, however, determines much about our life on earth. Either we wander as carnal Christians through the wilderness of disobedience, risking destruction (Hebrews 3:16-17), or we by faith enter Canaan and find God’s rest; a present rest here on earth given to those who are in God’s will, Hebrews 4:1; Matthew 11:29 (note Jesus’ offering of a ‘second rest’).

The first rest every Christian enters; this is the rest of salvation from sin’s penalty: justification. The second rest not every Christian enters because it requires enduring faith in the One who offers it, Hebrews 10:35-36, and is appropriated by continuing trust in God our Savior. This is sanctification: an ongoing “salvation” that endures throughout a believer’s life; salvation from sin’s daily influence. The first is given; “I will give you rest,” Matthew 11:28. The second is found, “you will find rest for your souls,” verse 29. The latter is done when you take Jesus’ yoke and learn from Him. The writer of Hebrews is teaching that while all Israel left Egypt, saved by the Lord, most were content to unbelief which fostered disobedience, while others that had steadfast faith entered Canaan (God’s will; walking in the Spirit) and found God’s rest by surrender to Him. All Israel was saved by the painting of the blood on the doorposts, and so were not condemned with Egypt, Exodus 12:28; 1st Corinthians 11:32. Rather, they were chastened by the Lord in the wilderness, even unto death since God is jealous for His name, Hebrews 3:7-11; Psalm 95:7-11. This “rest” the writer refers to is not Heaven, for there are enemies to overcome and struggles to be had; this refers to the spiritual verses the carnal Christian’s walk, and how each respective walk ends: either triumph or tragedy. We all follow the Lord out of the condemnation of this world: but will we follow Him into His rest? Neither loses salvation; one is honored and brought to the head of the table, while one is shamed and made to sit at the end, Luke 14:8-11.
To be Continued.

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All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.