Sunday, May 20, 2012

Life in the Balance

Click on the picture to read a great post that pretty much
says exactly what I would say if I were not posting this paper. :)
The Plea of a Calvinistic Armenian

*note* This is quite long, not typical blog fare, but trusting that some of you might be interested in something that is rather "anti-fluff," I decided to post a paper written by my pastor brother when he was 17 and in Bible college - it being Sunday, and myself being in the mood for something sermon-like. I've actually wanted to do this for quite some time, but never found the time to type it up. :P 

Discussion would be awesome, and if I feel like it, I might post a couple more at later times - he actually has several that I found quite fun, and I know his mentor/grader person at the time was taking these papers home to share with his children. But your feedback yea/nay would be very helpful on that front. :)  

This one just happens to be one I like, mostly because I get so sick of the arguing that I see between Calvinists and Armenians. These are not my words; I do not agree with each one written here (given that he was only 17 at the time, I'm fairly certain he doesn't perfectly agree with it all anymore either), :) but I think this paper covers some seriously important parts of God's Word, and that of course never changes. 

Introduction. As I begin on this critical topic, three unhappy young men who were once friends of mine come to mind; friends I've thought a lot about and frequently prayed for. All three I've prayed with; together we've shared about the Lord's work in our live, and we've numerous times served Christ together in ministry. But then something happened. Each of these apparently very sincere believers, at separate times, left off serving the Lord either in discouragement or rebellion, totally quite the way of life they were following, and so far have disappeared from the scene of my life, and from the life of God's Church. I know at least one of them has clearly voiced his utter rejection of Christ, and has no interest in returning his will to the Lord's control at any time. How tragic and how sobering the experiences have been for those friends, their families and for me! Up until those times, I had never known the impact of sin, black-sliding, and rebellion, and seeing it damage and destroy people I knew really affected me. I asked myself over and over, why and how could it happen? If they left the Lord, were they truly saved in the first place? It had definitely seemed like they were sincere. If they were really saved, could they reject their salvation, or lose it through unbelief, or rebellion? Or were they, as some say, "once saved, always saved," and was God in His unchangeable faithfulness keeping them no matter what, and would He someday bring them back from the low points in their lives?

These questions and others popped up again as I studied for the essay assignment, and this week I found more questions than I did answers on the subject. One wonderful part of **** College is that it is constantly forcing me to address important issues about which I previously had no understanding, and always tried to avoid because I didn't know much of anything. What the Bible says about the assurance of salvation must be known, however, and known clearly. Protestants have long been divided, particularly on the issues of free will vs. predestination or the possibility of losing salvation vs. eternal security. Our college seems no exception. Almost every Arminian or Calvinist statement I read this week appeared to have a provable point. I agreed predominantly with both sides, thus making myself a Calvinistic Arminian. Instead of getting ourselves stuck and further mutilated and disoriented in the wrestling match between Calvinists and Armenians, like I have been doing the past few days, let's take a simpler and more refreshing look at some things our final authority, the Bible, and particularly the book of I John, says about the assurance of our great salvation. We will discover three balancing Scriptural truths of assurance that prevent the Church from falling into either extreme of a carnal eternal security or a carnal lack of confidence in one's personal salvation. 

I. The Positive Faith. The first question I would like to answer is "How do I know I am saved?" "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us." (1 John 5:13-14) In matters as important as eternal salvation, there is no room for uncertainty in the mind of the Christian. The first truth Scripture tells us clearly about is that the believer can be absolutely certain of his own salvation when he puts his wholehearted trust in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Eternal life is the surest thing there is. "And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life." (I John 2:25) There need not be any Christian who all his life says, "I don't know if I'm really saved," or, "I hope I'm saved," because God has promised the free gift of salvation not on a basis of worthiness, but to all who ask for it, and believe its true components. Sometimes a person who doubts salvation doubts or misunderstands the power of God, and the completeness of Christ's sacrifice. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on Me hath everlasting life." (John 6:47)

"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture saith, 'Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.'" (Romans 10:9-11)

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God... He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son. And this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life: and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." (I John 5:1 & 10-12)

A Christian who is not confident about the state of his salvation in Christ may not have enough knowledge about his basis for salvation. But very often he simply is not focused on Christ's love and perfect work, but too much on himself, and what he thinks he must do. "What do I have to do to be saved?" "I must not be saved, look at all the bad things I do!" This person stays struggling in carnal insecurity, and he who wonders about his salvation never grows spiritually; he remains a spiritual infant who's not entirely certain he has even been born yet. He needs to take his eyes off himself, and see all that Christ is and what Christ has saved him from. When salvation is questioned, a personal evaluation should take place. How strong in your faith? True, saving faith will determine all your behavior. Insecure Christian, do you believe what Christ has promised? Have you been to Christ's cross, and given up your life to Christ? Do you love Christ? If yes, rejoice and be confident! You are Christ's! Your state of salvation may be held some time in question, but it must be resolved. Before I was sure of my salvation, I frequently doubted because I focused predominately on my behavior and not giving  all to the Master, my own sinfulness, and not the Savior. When I finally gave up, and for the first time focused wholly on what Christ really did in taking away all my sin, I finally understood the love of Christ, and I loved Him! And with that new awakening, I never lacked assurance again, and grew spiritually by leaps and bounds. It was no carnal confidence, but a trust in Christ. We can and must be certain of our personal present salvation. This is the first truth of assurance. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. " ( I John 4:10)

II. The Personal Focus. The second truth of assurance we see from Scripture is that it is personal. In His earthly ministry, Jesus was always concerned about individual responsibility with His listeners. He spoke a true hard-core message, and then drove the message deep into the individual heart, producing strong conviction. "Now, what about you?"

I take personal responsibility for Christ's death on the cross. My sins put Him there; He died for me. The person who takes personal responsibility and holds strong personal convictions will be the most assured of his salvation. Salvation is also personal because only the Lord and I by His witness within know for certain that I am saved. No one else sees the inside of my soul. Likewise, I as an imperfect judge cannot be certain of another's heart condition; that is between him and the Lord. If he says, "I am a Christian, I believe in Jesus Christ," and his basis of belief is correct, I take his word for it, and hope for the best. God alone is ultimately the Judge of the heart; I believe one day, a man will be surprised when he sees people that he thought for sure were saved repelled into the fires of hell, and others who, by his standards, must not be saved, embraced into the gates of heaven. So many people seem to think they have the ability to say, "That person is saved," or "That person isn't saved." We shouldn't, and really can't wonder so much about someone else's salvation, we should be concerned for Christ's reputation. 

There are, however, good standards of evaluation and outward evidences for genuine salvation listed in I John. And because the assurance of salvation is primarily personal, these standards of evaluation were intended for each Christian to first apply personally to his or her own life for evidences of a genuine and working faith in Christ. "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life." Let's see what these evidences are.

- A new love for God and for His commandements. (I John 5:1-3) I have felt, and every Christ feels, a new, strong love for Christ upon conversion. Hopefully, after that point, the Christian's loving relationship with Christ will grow every day.

- A new tendency toward righteousness rather than the old tendency toward sin. (I John 3:6-10) Romans 6 teaches that Christians are to be dead to sin but alive unto God. Human souls still sin, because of a sinful "flesh," but the old bent for sin is to be gone, as Christians have a renewed mind and heart that henceforth seeks to please God with the grace He makes available to them. The Christian's goal is to be as pure and sinless in his walk as possible. Christ's death on the Cross covers all sin for all time. Hypothetically, it is possible that a Christian could sin "all he wanted," and still have all his sin forgiven. But no believer who loves God, His commandments, and His righteousness would ever presume to do so. He is a new creatures, constrained by the love and fear of God. 

- A new love for others more than ourselves. "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." (I John 3:15-19) "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also." (I John 4:7-11, 20-21)

- The witness of the Spirit. "Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit." (I John 4:13) 

"If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which He hath testified of His Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself..." (I John 5:9-10) The presence and power of the Holy Spirit to move and convict and change in the saint's life is evidence of salvation. We have Christ's Spirit dwelling in us, and He should be controlling us! (Romans 8) This would be further evidenced by the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)

In summary, here is the evaluation: "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment. And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us." (I John 3:21-24)

"Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." (I John 3:7-10)

How do we measure up? All true saving faith has outward working evidences. If one truly believes, these fruits will show themselves in that person's life, and they should show to some degree in all believers, though we all are at our own differing levels of increasing sanctification and Christ-likeness. "Those who are spiritual," as the Bible describes, can hold other believers accountable to this, and encourage them to examine the fruit of their lives. 

III. The Possible Failure. So far in this essay, we have discussed two balancing truths for the assurance of salvation. First, Scripture alls us to a positive faith, the Christian can be entirely certain of salvation because of Christ; there is no room fora carnal lack of confidence. Second, we see that the focus of assurance is personal, and that we should evaluate ourselves by the evidence of Christian fruit in our lives, and hold one another accountable to these standards. This paper has yet one one final question to address, and it is probably the most controversial of all questions. "Once I am saved, is it possible fo me to fall from grace and lose my salvation?" Can a person be honestly persuaded to follow Christ, and then later be convinced to turn his back on God and not believe? Calvin would answer no, man does not have the power whatsoever to revoke the covenant of salvation that God has initiated. However, after studying Scripture, there may be ample support to answer yes to that question. Several Biblical scholars have identified as many as 2500 passages warning believers of the dangers of apostasy and carnal eternal security. Following are just a few passages. "And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers." (Luke 12:42-43, 45-46)

"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart form the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils." (I Timothy 4:1)

"Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. It is a faithful saying: for if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He will also deny us." (II Timothy 2:10-12)

"For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world..." It may be argued that a person who backslides in such a manner was not really saved to begin with. [*ahem* gotta add that's what I would say. :P] Many times this is true, but so apparent too is the host of those who have believed, confessed, worked, and borne fruit before looking back from following the plow! I have met many people in the inner city, in my own neighborhood, all around the country who will say, "I used to believe that, but now I don't; now I know better." "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." (II Peter 2:20-22)

After studying many such verses, I do think it is possible for someone who once believed in Christ for salvation to turn away in unbelief. But I also believe it is very difficult for a person who is strongly persuaded of the awesome truth of salvation in Jesus Christ to be turned away again. It is the final, most extreme state of reprobation. 

We have therefore a great warning. There is no trouble or temptation taken us, that we are not able to escape by the faith and power that God provides for us in Christ. But we can resist the grace of God. We were drawn to God, and believed on Him, and we can be drawn away by unbelief. [But once He has made us His own... how can that be disbelieved? Once you know something... how can you unknow it?] "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end." (Hebrews 3:12-14) [For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure...]

Conclusion. Herein lies the need to be sober and vigilant, prepared with the armor of God against an enemy who seeks to devour. We are engaged in a great spiritual war for souls, our own and those of the lost in the world, and we can be the sure victors through faith in Christ's fight for us. "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." (I John 5:18) The soldier of Christ keeps himself, that he does not sin. He puts up his guard against a constant enemy that is stronger than he alone. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." He daily "works out his own salvation with fear and trembling" to be pleasing in the sight of God in all things. "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity." (II Peter 1:5-7) He knows that Satan wants the souls of all men, and if the devil doesn't steal souls for eternity, sin will at least bind the saint and darken his sight, making his spiritually ineffective.

Yet many have believed "once saved, always saved," and their theme song is "Saved, saved, O happy condition! I can sin all I want, and still have remission." This is obviously a false and dangerous notion! The Christian's salvation is a liberty to do what he is supposed to, never a license to do what he wants. Christ died to save us from sin, not to keep us in our sin. A person with such ideas has  a faulty understanding of salvation, and probaby does not have it. O Christian, the blight and blot of sin is out of the question, no matter what its consequences may seem to be! The solder wants someday to hear the word, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." He longs to receive a crown someday, not simply to wear it for all eternity, but to cast it down in humble adoration at his Savior's feet. 

The other extreme of "eternal insecurity" is a slap in God's face, not having the confidence to believe that He will be faithful to do as He promised. It may come from a misunderstanding of the requirements of salvation, or too much focus on oneself rather than the key Person and Power of salvation. 

"I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

But I know Whom I have believèd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day."

The requirement is believing in the work of Jesus Christ, and as a result selling out your life to be His and not your own. The child who is led to Christ is asked to make Him Savior and Lord. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." As an entirely new creature in Christ, there is an entirely new behavior expected of the Christian. He is careful to every day put on the armor that God provides, and make primary use of that shield of faith against the devil's fiery darts of sins and doubts and hears and sorrows against our salvation and sanctification. Faith is what saves, faith is what protects and strengthens. "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (I John 5:4-5)

So then the critical question for application in this essay is, how strong is my faith? How very close is my relationship with a very real, very alive, and powerful God? The Christian walk is all centered around Him, and as long as He is close, we can be confident wherever we go. 

"I serve a risen Savior; He's in the world today;
I know that he is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy; I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He's always near.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."
- A. H. Ackley

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