Category Archives: Salvation

The path Australia treads to ruin

By Spencer D Gear PhD

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(The bushfire in Bunyip State Park, Victoria, Australia. Picture: Ionee Reid. Source: Supplied, courtesy news.com.au)[1]

If we want to deal with the devastation of Australia’s drought and other catastrophes, we need to start with a clean up of the churches and a call to repentance by the nation.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s voice has been silent about this core issue that associates Australia’s spiritual condition with the drought, floods, fires and other crises.

1. A core issue

Why hasn’t the PM called the nation to HUMILITY, PRAYER AND REPENTANCE for our sins and for God to send rain to break the drought?

We need leadership from the Prime Minister to call for a Day of Repentance and Prayer for rain. Step up to the mark Mr Morrison and lead the way! What an example it would be to see a Christian Prime Minister, ScoMo, and many MPs in local churches praying as they repent and ask God to heal the land and send rain.

This also means reversing the ungodly legislation that is a ‘disgrace’ to the people and the nation.

Other nations have called their people to repent in times of disaster.

1.1 Great Britain did it during World War 2

King George VI had called the people of Great Britain to National Days of Prayer and Repentance four times [during World War 2].  Yet, his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, in [66][2] years as the Queen of England, has not once called for [a] National Day of Prayer. The last time Britain had a National Day of Prayer was during the Second World War (Newman 2012).

1.2 South Africans called to prayer during drought

South Africa’s Colin Newman related what happened in South Africa after his conversion to Christ in 1977. The President called for a National Day of Repentance and Humiliation before God. As a new Christian he was impressed with the masses of people in central Cape Town who filled the churches to overflowing. It was a time of intense, earnest heart searching prayers of repentance.

The rains came a couple days later and he was awe struck Newman 2012).

1.3 Zambia’s national day of prayer

clip_image004(map of southern Africa courtesy Biofocuscommunicatie)

Since Zambia officially was declared a Christian nation in 1991,[3] its President has called the nation to days of prayer during drought, and the nation has also celebrated National Days of Thanksgiving when God graciously answered their prayers with rain (Newman 2012).

Could you imagine this kind of statement appearing in any mass media outlet in Australia in a capital city or elsewhere?

“Our [Zambian] identity is established in the Lord Jesus Christ. The values, principles and ethics which we embrace as a people reflect the person of Jesus Christ.

“Love, dignity, integrity, honest, hard work, patriotism among others are the hallmark of who we are as a people,” she said.

That’s from the Lusaka Times 2016. Zambia commemorated its 25th anniversary of the declaration as a Christian Nation (online), 29 December.[4] Lusaka is the capital and largest city in Zambia, with a population of about 1.7 million people.[5]

1.4 Alabama, USA

With parts of Alabama [USA] suffering an exceptional drought, Gov. Bob Riley [was] turning to God for help and asking other Alabamians to join him in praying for rain.

Riley issued a proclamation Thursday declaring June 30 [2007] through July 7 as “Days of Prayer for Rain” and asked citizens to pray individually and in their houses of worship.

“Throughout our history, Alabamians have turned in prayer to God to humbly ask for His blessings and to hold us steady in times of difficulty. This drought is without question a time of great difficulty for our farmers and for communities across our state,” Riley said in a statement.[6]

I know I’ll be criticised, especially by the media, for reminding you and our communities that droughts provide us with a reminder that human beings and government cannot control the creation of when rain comes or when the heavens are closed. Surely this drought reminds us we depend on a Higher Power – the Lord God – who sends the rain and stops the rain.

3. Call to action

clip_image006(James Edmund Allen 1938, prayer for rain, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Australia’s Brian Pickering explained:

It was back in 2006 when Australia experienced a severe drought. God called for Australia to repent following national prayer to end a severe drought. God is still waiting according to the leader of the Australian Prayer Network, Brian Pickering.

God Is Still Waiting for Australia to Repent.[7]

I add: God is still waiting for Australian legislation to be determined by God’s standards. Quit this human morality and practise God’s justice in ALL legislation.

How could my headline be changed to reflect what Australia can do about the BIG drought?

The big dry: ‘See us, hear us, help us Lord God Almighty. We repent of our sins against You. Lord, encourage Aussies please, please to dig deep and send material help to the farmers’.

Prime Minster, Scott Morrison, and church leaders: Australia needs your leadership to call all God-fearing people to pray for an end to the drought.

Why should God break the drought when ‘righteousness exalts a nation’ and Australia legislates laws that are a disgrace, i.e. promoting wicked, immoral behaviour?

We can take action as a nation by repenting of our sins, returning to God, and legislating God’s righteousness. That will mean cancelling legislation that violates God’s commands of righteousness.

3.1 Expect mass media attacks

3.1.1 The ABC

There was an opinion piece in ABC Religion & Ethics by Bryon Smith. It was titled: ‘Faith without works: Why the Prime Minister’s call to pray for rain is offensive’ (Smith 2018).

It was a response to Morrison’s speech in Albury: ‘It’s great to see it raining here in Albury today. I pray for that rain everywhere else around the country. And I do pray for that rain. And I’d encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that’.

Byron Smith found fault with this statement:

For many Christians, this was a small but encouraging gesture: the nation’s most prominent public official acknowledging that rain is a blessing we receive as gift, an expression of our dependence upon a whole network of creaturely relationships overseen by a Creator.

BUT …

for many atheists, it was a small but offensive gesture: the national leader talking to a sky fairy, embracing and promoting irrational superstition. Some responded on social media with angry mockery, warning of theocracy or taking the opportunity to criticise Morrison’s particular brand of Christianity.

As a Christian, I found Morrison’s comment to be offensive. But not because a Prime Minister speaks publicly of prayer or is open about his Christian beliefs.

Rather, what I find truly offensive is the profound disconnect between his professed prayers and the pro-coal – and thus anti-farmer – agenda of his government. To pray when facing a crisis like widespread drought is not the problem. But when the government Morrison leads has spent many years doing little or nothing about the root causes of the warming that is worsening such extreme weather, then inviting the nation to pray in response is somewhat galling (Smith 2018).

So, according to Smith, prayer is unacceptable until the government gets its act together over global warming.

Byron, who sends the rain and who withholds it? You’ve left the Lord God out of your equation, even though you say you speak ‘as a Christian’. Is God’s intervention that far down your priority list?

3.1.2 Pray for Rain

On 22 April 2007, The Sydney Morning Herald had this headline:[8]

Pray for rain, urges [John] Howard’

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(photograph John Howard courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The report stated:

Prime Minister John Howard has urged Australians to pray for rain as hard-hit agricultural regions face zero water allocations due to drought.

Mr Howard warned last week that farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin faced having no water for the coming irrigation year unless heavy rain fell in the next six to eight weeks.

On Sunday he said he intended to meet irrigators over coming weeks to discuss the grim situation.

Meanwhile, he encouraged people to seek divine intervention.

“It’s very serious, it’s unprecedented in my lifetime and I really feel very deeply for the people affected,” Mr Howard told ABC Television.

“So we should all, literally and without any irony, pray for rain over the next six to eight weeks”

What was the result?

3.1.3 It rained

God held off the drought-breaking rains until 2010-11. The headline in ABC News, 14 April 2010, was:

Flood rain reaches Murray-Darling Basin

Chrissy Arthur, ABC News, Brisbane, Qld: Posted 14 Apr 2010, 7:47am:[9]

A river expert says water from the Paroo River in south-west Queensland is flowing into the Darling River in New South Wales for the first time in 20 years.

There were record floods in the Paroo River last month (March 2010) and authorities say that is providing a boost for the Murray-Darling Basin.

clip_image010(No way through to Glenorchy, where the Wimmera River has flooded houses, sheds and farm properties. At Ashens, just north of Glenorchy, in the Wimmera region of NW Victoria, crops are under water. Photo courtesy Laura Poole)’[10]

Former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, got it right on one point I’ve stressed in this series of articles:

‘“We can’t make it rain. But we can ensure that farming families and their communities get all the support they need to get through the drought, recover and get back on their feet” the government said in a statement’.[11]

He didn’t give any hint as to whom or what can cause it to rain. God Almighty has his reasons for delaying the rain, sending cyclones, allowing fires. Some of these include:

  • The link between a nation’s morality and God’s judgment.
  • ‘‘Righteousness raises a people to greatness; to pursue wrong degrades a nation’ (Prov 14:34 REB).
  • Ungodly legislation and practices in Australia are a disgrace to the nation and lead to Australia’s doom.
  • Only God sends the rain and withholds it.
  • Godless, secular Australia refuses to bow the knee to the Lord God Almighty.
  • We want his blessings of rain without the commitment to Him. We deserve what we get.
  • When will local, State and national leaders call the nation to prayer to break the drought and stop other disasters?

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(image courtesy Pinterest)

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(photo courtesy North Queensland Register)[12]

4.  Note

[1] Available at: https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/heatwave-prompts-serious-health-alert-and-fire-bans/news-story/45600fce2e3251bf4838a19c0b9e4578 (Accessed 25 May 2019).

[2] She began her reign in 1952 and the coronation was in 1953. As of 2018 she has reigned 66 years and was aged 92 in 2018.

[3] Lusakatimes.com 2016. Zambia commemorates 25th anniversary of the declaration as a Christian Nation (online), 29 December. Available at: https://www.lusakatimes.com/2016/12/29/zambia-commemorates-25th-anniversary-declaration-christian-nation/ (Accessed 18 August 2018).

[4] Available at: https://www.lusakatimes.com/2016/12/29/zambia-commemorates-25th-anniversary-declaration-christian-nation/ (Accessed 18 August 2018).

[5] Wikipedia (2018. s.v. Lusaka).

[6] Phillip Rawls 2007 (Associated Press writer). Riley calling for statewide prayer for rain. The Decatur Daily (online), 29 June. Available at: http://archive.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/news/070629/rain.shtml (Accessed 6 November 2018).

[7] Vision Christian Radio 2018. God is still waiting for Australia to repent (online). Available at: https://vision.org.au/radio/2016/09/15/god-still-waiting-australia-repent/ (Accessed 18 August 2018).

[8] Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/pray-for-rain-urges-howard-20070422-gdpyx1.html (Accessed 7 January 2019).

[9] Chrissy Arthur 2010. Flood rain reaches Murray-Darling Basin. ABC News Brisbane, Qld. (online), 14 April. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-04-14/flood-rain-reaches-murray-darling-basin/395022 (Accessed 7 January 2019).

[10] ABC Rural and News reporters 2010. Drought breaks at last, as Victoria floods (online), 5 September. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/site-archive/rural/news/content/201009/s3002960.htm (Accessed 7 January 2019).

[11] Stephanie Bedo 2018. Australia’s crippling drought crisis: Overcoming past mistakes to save ourselves for the future. news.com.au (online), 6 August. Available at: https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/australias-crippling-drought-crisis-overcoming-past-mistakes-to-save-ourselves-for-the-future/news-story/136436de96fee5f33809de8d607f413c (Accessed 7 January 2019).

[12] North Queensland Register is based in Townsville City, Qld, Australia. Available at: https://www.northqueenslandregister.com.au/contact-us/ (Accessed 4 April 2019).

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 May 2019.

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Hope for a Hopeless Australia

Salvation gives you hope that is out of this world (1 Peter 1:13)

Image result for Clipart Hope Christ's second coming

(image courtesy Pinterest)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

In today’s values, this verse could be mutilated to say something like: “Don’t let your feelings be judged by anybody. In your thoughts and actions, be open-minded. You do whatever brings you pleasure right now. Set your sights on your self-esteem and go for it with gusto.”

I’m using ‘hopeless’ as an adjective for the wrong direction in which Australians, as a nation, are seeking hope. We seek it in:

blue-arrow-small Consumerism. We are a materialistic society seeking pleasure in things. ‘Australians spent up to $2.4 billion at the Boxing Day sales [2017]’.

blue-arrow-small False ethical standards. Ethical values by government and individuals – in the main – are decided by personal or government choice. There is no overall absolute standard by which moral decisions are made (e.g. Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount). We see this with the legalisation of prostitution, abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, exaltation of same-sex relationships, transgenderism, and defacto relationships. Every one of those ethical values is refuted by the Christian Scriptures but relativism dominates ethical decisions at both national and personal levels.

All About Philosophy provides this explanation:

What is ethical relativism? Relativism is the position that all points of view are equally valid and the individual determines what is true and relative for them (sic). Relativism theorizes that truth is different for different people, not simply that different people believe different things to be true. While there are relativists in science and mathematics, ethical relativism is the most common variety of relativism. Almost everyone has heard a relativist slogan:

  •  What’s right for you may not be what’s right for me.
  •  What’s right for my culture won’t necessarily be what’s right for your culture.
  •  No moral principles are true for all people at all times and in all places.

Ethical relativism represents the position that there are no moral absolutes, no moral right or wrong. This position would assert that our morals evolve and change with social norms over a period of time.

The problems with relativism are:

3d-gold-star (1) In allowing all people to choose their own values, there is no value that can be prohibited because ethics are left up to personal choice. Why should murder be wrong if a person is allowed to choose his or her own values? From where do those standards come?

3d-gold-star (2) The logical consequences of relativism are that it gives licence to all kinds of extreme behaviour such as paedophilia, DV, Hitler’s holocaust, the mass shootings in Christchurch NZ and Sri Lanka, murders, lying, stealing, adultery and all kinds of immoral acts (by God’s standards).

They are some of the problems when there are no absolute standards. All nations need absolutes to make legislation and apprehend criminals.

· Australia’s Christian foundation is demonstrated each day when the President of the House reads a Christian prayer. Christian values brought to Australia by the First Fleet and enshrined in the Australian Constitution: ‘Humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God’.

God’s view is radically different.

1. God’s view of hope

God commands Peter’s readers, you and me to “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 13). These persecuted believers of the first century “were to set their hope completely, with finality, on the grace being brought to them in connection with Jesus Christ’s revelation” (Blum 1981: 52).

When the going gets tough and you are persecuted for your faith, your salvation means that you place your hope completely on the future grace that you will receive when Christ is revealed. When will Christ be revealed again?

We know he was revealed at his birth, death and resurrection. But these believers are told that they must place their hope on the grace “that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (ESV). It was future for the first century church and it is still future for us.

It undoubtedly refers to Christ’s Second Coming (the Parousia). We read about it in I Peter 4:13, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

Or, 1 Cor. 1:7, “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Also 2 Thess. 1:7, “and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”

During these tough times, you will need one another especially. That’s why Scripture teaches:

We must not quit meeting together, as some are doing. No, we need to keep on encouraging each other. This becomes more and more important as you see the Day getting closer. (Heb 10:25 ERV).

2. What is hope?

Our hope is NOT based on the temporal, but on the future revelation of the Lord Jesus. It is sometimes said of Christians that “they are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” Folks, the true Christian is one who is not half-heartedly, but completely and fully, setting his/her hope on the Christ who is to come.

Stephen Spencer states that:

Hope is waiting in confident expectation for God’s promises in Christ, summed up in the gospel. Hope is fundamental because the gospel concerns God’s culmination of his redemptive work, “the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1 Pet 1:13 NRSV), the “hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Most of what for which we trust in Christ remains yet future (Rom 8:24b)….

Christians hope “by faith” (Gal 5:5). Faith trusts in God’s promises, while hope expects what is to come….

Christians’ most cherished hope is Christ’s personal, bodily return in judgment and blessing[1]

We are of great earthly good, because our hope is set on Him and his coming to rule and reign forever. If you set your hope on anything in this world, you are on a sinking ship. Chuck Colson’s view is that “the culture in which we live is nearly lost” (Colson 1994, p. x). What a tragedy that so many Christians have their hope on the sinking ship.

If you set your hope on who will win the election, you’re on board the Titanic – a sunken ship.

In order to “set your hope completely” on God’s grace at Christ’s second coming, Peter tells his persecuted readers that you must do two things:

Flower11 First, you are “preparing your minds for action” and

Flower11 Second, “exercise self-control” (1 Pet 1:13 NLT).

3. Simply stated

Hope is not a hope so, maybe, perhaps, it could be, or possibly!

It means you look forward, with anticipation, to Jesus’ second coming, the end of this wretched world, and ‘we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth. Godliness will live there. All this is in keeping with God’s promise’ (2 Pet 3:13 NIRV).

It is not a hope-so but the guarantee of God’s grace coming to believers at the Second Coming of Christ with the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.

Until then, what are Christians to do? See 1 Pet 1:13:

Foward  Prepare your minds for action, and

Foward Exercise personal and church self-control.

4. Notes

[1] Stephen R Spencer 2005. Hope. In Kevin J Vanhoozer (gen ed), Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 305-307.

5. Works consulted

Blum, E. A. 1981, ‘1 Peter’ in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12), gen. ed., Frank E. Gaebelein, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids,
Michigan.

Hope Butterfly Clip Art

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 22 April 2019.

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Can people choose to reject salvation?

Do all people have free will?

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(image courtesy Breaking the Free Will Illusion)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This brief article was prompted by an email from Christian friends. They wrote:

With regard to the [church we attend], the doctrinal issue we are sad about is that they teach “free will” as entrance to salvation.  We strongly disagree as we believe that the unregenerate man/woman is incapable of choosing God, as our wills are enslaved to sin and death through the first fall.  We believe it is only by God’s Grace alone, through Faith, and believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and this Faith is only by revelation of the Holy Ghost. (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis added)

We believe there are two types of religion in this world  –  religion of human achievement, and the true religion of Grace alone and Faith alone by God the Father alone through His Son Jesus Christ alone, and His Spirit alone..[1]

1. People are incapable of choosing God

Is it a biblical teaching that an unregenerate person, dead in sin, is incapable of choosing to serve God?

As to the issue of free will in relation to salvation, how do you define free will?

I define it as the ability to decide between alternatives. Adam and Eve had this free will ability given by God at the beginning of the world. Adam is our representative, ‘Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned’ (Rom 5:12).

This definition is not original with me. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks explained:

There are several points on which there is confusion about what is meant by free will. Some have said that it refers to the ability to desire. But a better definition is that it is the ability to decide between alternatives. Desire is a passion, an emotion; but will is a choice between two or more desires. Also, some think that to be free means that there can be no limitation of alternatives—one must be able to do whatever he wants. But the opposite of freedom is not fewer alternatives, it is being forced to choose one thing and not another. Freedom is not in unlimited options, but in unfettered choice between whatever options there are. As long as the choosing comes from the individual rather than an outside force, the decision is made freely. Free will means the ability to make an unforced decision between two or more alternatives (Geisler & Brooks 1990:63).

1.1   Adam and Eve had free will before and after sin entered the world.

God gave Adam and Eve the capability to choose between two alternatives:

‘In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil….

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of he knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die”’ (Gen 2:9, 15-17 NLT).

So from the beginning of time, Adam was given the choice between alternatives (free will). What happened when Eve came along?

2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied [to the serpent [Satan]. 3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness (Gen 3:2-7 NLT).

Both Adam and Eve had free will that God gave to them. Eve was deceived and was joined by Adam, the ‘sucker’.

2.    Free will after sin entered the world

What about free will after this sin entered the world? Do all human beings, dead in sin (Col 2:13), have the ability to choose among alternatives, including evil over good?

2.1   Meaning of ‘dead in sin’

Here are four translations of the phrase (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13) that should shed some insight on Col 2:13.

GNT: ‘spiritually dead because of your sins’;

NLT: ‘were dead because of your sins’;

ERV:[2] ‘you were spiritually dead because of your sins’;

NIRV:[3] ‘You were living in your sins and lawless ways. But in fact you were dead’.

Regarding Eph 2:1 and ‘dead in sin’:

The word for dead in Greek is nekros, which literally means a corpse or dead body. Since we know Paul is talking about a spiritual state (not a physical state), we must understand this deadness refers to our spiritual life. The Ephesians were alive physically but dead spiritually. Paul chose this comparison because it accurately describes not only the nature of an unbeliever but also the impossibility of an unbeliever recognizing and correcting his own condition. Just as a corpse cannot revive itself to life, neither can an unbeliever revive his own spirit into new life (Verse by Verse Ministry international 2018).

2.2   Biblical examples of free will from the Old Testament

clip_image002Exodus 19:3-8 (NLT):

3 Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

7 So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. 8 And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord.

The Lord, through Moses, gave the ‘family of Jacob’ this choice: ‘obey me and keep my covenant‘ and you will receive ‘special treasure’. However, he reminded ‘the descendants of Israel of what God ‘did to the Egyptians’. They had the choice to be like the Egyptians or to obey God’s covenant. What was the free will choice: ‘We will do everything the Lord has commanded’.

That was an example of the group free will of the 12 tribes of Israel to make a choice.

clip_image002[1]   Deuteronomy 5

This is the chapter where the Ten Commandments are repeated. These 3 verses provide a solid foundation built on the free will they could choose to be idolaters or serve God:

8 ‘You must not make any idols. Don’t make any statues or pictures of anything up in the sky or of anything on the earth or of anything down in the water. 9 Don’t worship or serve idols of any kind, because I am the Lord your God. I hate for my people to worship other gods. People who sin against me become my enemies. And I will punish them, and their children, their grandchildren, and even their great-grandchildren. 10 But I will be very kind to people who love me and obey my commands. I will be kind to their families for thousands of generations! (Deut 5:8-10 ERV)

This chapter has many commands to obey God’s laws, but also has warnings about disobeying:

blue-corrosion-arrow-small In vv 8-9, the command was against idolatry ‘because I am the Lord your God’. That’s the positive command.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small However, if the Israelites chose to serve other gods (they are able to sin against God), they then become His enemies and He punishes them, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small God will be very kind to the obedient people and their families for thousands of generations (v. 10).

If it was impossible for the Israelites to choose to disobey God, there would be no point in issuing this warning. The teaching here is that the Israelites had the power of alternative choices – idols or the one true God. This defines free will.

clip_image002[1] Deut 11:27-28 (NLT):

27 You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. 28 But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the clip_image004Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before.

The Israelites could choose between 2 alternatives: (1) obey the Lord’s commands and be blessed, or (2) Reject the Lord’s commands, worship other gods, and they will be cursed. This is free will in action in God’s old covenant.

clip_image005Joshua 24:11-15 (NLT):

11 “When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. 12 And I sent terror[c] ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. 13 I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord”.

It is clear what Joshua laid before the Israelites who were sinners: Choose whom you will serve – the gods of your ancestors and the Amorites – OR serve the Lord. God’s chosen people had a free will choice between 2 alternatives.

For further exposition on Josh 24:15, see: Choose does not mean choice! Joshua 24:15.

3.    Free will and salvation

What do we find in the NT when the Gospel of salvation is offered to all people? Can they accept or reject it? Or are they unconditionally elected and are irresistibly drawn to Jesus because He died only for the elect?

I have taken these points from my article, What is the nature of human free will?

When we ask, ‘What is the nature of free will or free choice?’ we may be asking: How long is a piece of string in theological terms? If we are going to answer this question with biblical accuracy, we will need to ask further questions about:

Image result for clipart choose Christ(image courtesy ChristArt)

  1. Free will / free choice and the power of God (see Isa 45:11-13; 46:4; Jer 32:16-44; Acts 4:24-31);
  2. Free choice and the decrees of God (Rom 8:28; Eph 1:9, 11; 3:11);
  3. Free choice and the salvation of human beings (Tit 2:11; Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; Matt 18:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 16:31; 17:30; Phil 1:39; 1 Jn 3:23);
  4. Free choice as it is related to God’s providence (Jas 4:2);
  5. Free choice and God’s foreknowledge (Rom 8:29-30; 2 Cor 6:1-2; 1 Pt 1:1-2);
  6. Free choice and a human being’s moral nature (Jn 1:12-13; 7:17; Rom 3:26; Heb 3:7-8, 15; 4);
  7. Free choice and Adam’s original sin (the origin of the sin of the human race) [Gen 3:1-8; Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22; 1 Tim 2:13-14];
  8. Free choice and human depravity (Deut 6:4-5; Matt 22:35-38; Rom 2:14; 7:18; 8:14; 2 Tim 3:4);
  9. Free choice and eternal security/perseverance of the saints (Jer 3:12, 14, 22; Hos 14:4; Mt 24:13; Mk 4:16-17; 7:21-23; Jn 6:66-67; 13:10-11; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 2 Pt 2:20-22; 1 Jn 2:19)[listed in  Thiessen 1949:524].

In relation to salvation, I consider that the Bible teaches …
clip_image002[2]All salvation is provided by God himself. It is a gift from God. As Eph 2:8-9 (NLT) puts it,

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

clip_image006God elects / predestines people to salvation:

According to Arminianism, election is that act of God whereby he foreordains to eternal life those whom he foresees will respond in faith to the gospel. According to Calvinism, election is that act of God whereby he foreordains to eternal life those who, because of sin, cannot and will not respond in faith to the gospel. Which of these two views is the one the Bible teaches? Or is there a third, mediating option? (Storms 2018).

This is supported by verses such as 1 Peter 1:1 (NIV),

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

God in his foreknowledge, elected people to salvation. Was this an unconditional election (Calvinism), or was it conditional election (Arminianism) or based on some other factor. That other element is:

clip_image002[3]People choose (because of their free will) between alternatives: to respond in faith and repentance to the Gospel OR to reject the Gospel. An example is found with the Philippian jailer and Paul and Silas when released from prison:

Image result for clipart Philippian jailer(image of Philippian jailer courtesy Garden of Praise)

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

31 They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’ 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house (Acts 16:25-31 NIV).

This jailer, dead in trespasses and sin, responded to the proclamation made by Paul and Silas in prison, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ Paul and Silas did not say, ‘Do nothing. God has done it all for you. You are unconditionally elected and are in the Kingdom’.
Instead, Paul & Silas commanded: ‘[You] believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household’.

There cannot be a Gospel response to receive salvation without human responsibility of the choice between Yes or No to the Gospel. Otherwise it is God’s authoritarian dictatorship that does away with certain biblical emphases.
How can this be? It’s because God’s grace has been extended to everyone and they respond in faith or reject the Gospel. We have this partially explained in Titus 2:11 (NIV), ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’.

Salvation is offered to all but not all respond in faith. That’s not because of irresistible grace because ‘the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’.
For further explanations, see my articles:

There may be many questions that come from my response. In my understanding of free will, I’m a leaky, Reformed Arminian. To his dying day, Jacob Arminius was a Dutch Reformed minister who taught in the Reformed University of Leiden. I’m a ‘leaky’ one because I do not believe in Arminian infant baptism. Baptism is for believers in my biblical understanding. (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 8:36, 38).

See my article, Believer’s baptism or infant baptism?

4. Conclusion

From the beginning of time (with Adam and Eve) right through to salvation, God’s view is that human beings have free-will choice to accept or reject him. All people can choose to follow other gods or God Himself (Joshua 24:14-15).

They can choose to accept or reject evidence for the existence of God (Romans 1:18-22) or choose to believe in Jesus (Acts 16:31) or reject his offer of salvation (John 3:19-21).

In this article, I use ‘choose’ and ‘free will’ to mean the ability to decide between alternatives. Yes, people are drawn to salvation by God the Father (John 6:44) but Scripture assures us that all people are drawn since Jesus since Jesus death and resurrection when he was ‘lifted up (John 12:32).

5. Works consulted

Geisler, N L & Brooks, R M 1990. When skeptics ask. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books.

Storms, S 2018. The Arminian concept of election. Sam Storms: Enjoying God (online). Available at: http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/the-arminian-concept-of-election (Accessed 16 August 2018).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Verse by Verse Ministry international 2018. Could you explain the connection between our spiritual “deadness” and God’s grace, as presented in Ephesians 2:1-10? (online). Available at: https://www.versebyverseministry.org/bible-answers/could-you-explain-ephesians-21-10 (Accessed 16 August 2018).

6.   Notes


[1] I received this email on 1 May 2018.

[2] The ERV is the Easy-to-Read Version. This version also is for a lower literacy level.

[3] The NIRV is the New International Reader’s Version. This is for a lower literacy level than the NIV.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 06 March 2019

Flourish pattern with butterflies vector clip art

Christian trash burned up at Judgment Seat of Christ

 

 

Image result for clipart rip off

By Spencer D Gear PhD

We know from mass media coverage that people, especially the young, can work for low wages and encounter further rip-offs. In Australia, we’ve seen that with businesses such as 7-11, The Super Retail Group, hospitality industry, Woolworths, Coles, Hungry Jack’s and KFC.

Who has caught these employers involved in the rip-offs? The Fair Work Ombudsman has picked up some of these underpayments and some have come from complaints by former employees.

So, the concept of judgment for both achievement and condemnation applies in both secular society and the Scriptures.

1. The judge’s job

When I looked up the meaning of the noun, ‘judge’, in the Collins’ English Dictionary, I discovered two meanings:

  1. A judge in the law courts who was decides the application of the law.
  2. This is a person who decides who is the winner of a competition (Collins English Dictionary (Collins English Dictionary 2018. s.v. judge).

In NT Greek, judge is used in these two senses. The first condemns and the other rewards. There will be condemnation for unbelievers and rewards for believers.

One of the significant NT verses emphasising the judgment for believers is 2 Cor 5:10 (NIV): ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad’.

This is known as the Bema Seat Judgment because the Greek word used for judgment in this verse is bema. It will be a judgment only for true believers in Christ, born again people.

Don Stewart explained:

The bema is a tribunal for rewards. In the large Olympic arenas, there was an elevated seat on which the judge of the contest sat. After the contests were over, the successful competitors would assemble before the bema to receive their rewards or crowns. The bema was not a judicial bench where someone was condemned; it was a reward seat. Likewise, the Judgment Seat of Christ is not a judicial bench. The Christian life is a race, and the divine umpire is Jesus Christ. After the race is over for each believer, He will gather every member before the bema for the purpose of examining each one and giving the proper reward to each (Stewart 2018).

That was the question asked on a Christian forum online:

Could you please tell us who or what you believe is being burned up in the following verses: 1 Corinthians 3:8-15 (NASB)?1

2. Who is the audience in Corinth?

Who is Paul addressing in 1 Cor 3:8-15?2 At the beginning of chapter 3, he is clear that his audience consists of ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ (3:1). So this passage is dealing with what happens to Christians when their rewards are determined by God at the end of life (v 8).

3. Paul’s use of metaphors: God tests our works

Image result for clipart metaphorPaul cannot mean literal buildings, foundation. silver and chaff when he wrote of ‘fellow workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building’ (v. 9). He is dealing with something other than the physical when he wrote of Christians (fellow workers) involved in ‘God’s service’, ‘God’s field’, and ‘God’s building’, but he used a natural analogy his audience would understand – a metaphor..

Examine the metaphors that are used in this passage.

A metaphor is ‘a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable’ (Oxford Dictionaries Online 2018. s.v. metaphor). It is like a word picture using figurative language. It refers to something concrete in our experience, but uses it an an analogy to teach spiritual truth.
Here are the metaphors I observed in this passage:

v. 8, plants + waters –> own reward, which is the Christian’s labor (while on earth after salvation).

v. 9, Christians are God’s ‘fellow workers’ who are in ‘God’s field’ and are ‘God’s building’. Metaphors from agriculture and carpentry are used here to convey God’s message.

v. 10, ‘master builder’, ‘laid foundation’, ‘building’, ‘how he builds’. These are metaphors again to demonstrate what kind of foundation and building are being built into the Christian’s ‘own reward’. Seems to me that this points to James 2 in action.

v. 11, ‘lay a foundation’, ‘is laid’. This verse talks about a true foundation, which is Jesus Christ. The inference is that there are other foundations Christians can build on that will not lead to a good ‘reward’. The next verse tells us this:

v. 12, ‘builds’, ‘foundation’, ‘gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw’. All of those are metaphors but when speaking of the two types of ‘rewards’, Paul differentiates between the refined reward of ‘gold, silver, precious stones’ and what will be burnt up, ‘wood, hay, straw’ (anticipating v. 15).

v. 13, ‘man’s work’, ‘revealed with fire’, ‘fire … tests the quality’;

 

v. 14, ‘man’s [Christian person’s] work’, ‘built’, ‘reward’.

 

v. 15, How is this reward determined? Paul used the metaphor of ‘burned up’, ‘suffer loss’, ‘through fire’.

All through this passage, Paul uses metaphors of analogies known to the people of his day and ours – agriculture and particularly of carpentry.

4. It takes place at the Judgment Seat of Christ

In my understanding, Paul taught what takes place at the Judgment Seat of Christ where our works (AFTER salvation) will be tested to determine if they are trash (wood, hay, straw) or treasure (rewards of silver, gold, precious stones). Trash is burnt up; treasure is purified.

What is to be ‘revealed with fire’ is metaphorical language for when God hands out rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ and believers will know the Judge’s decision on what were trash and treasure in the believers’ works.

What will be ‘burned up’ is like saying that what Christians do that is outside of what is articulated in James 2 (NIV) and Matt 25:31-46 (NIV) will be regarded as trash to be incinerated or discarded by Christ

We see in v. 15 that Christians can be those whose lives are built on ‘wood, hay & chaff’ or ‘silver, gold and precious stones’.
Paul is not speaking of literal fire. He’s using the example of fire as a metaphor to demonstrate that junk gets God’s treatment as does treasure. This ‘fire’ is God’s way of telling what amounts to true works after salvation and false works.

5. How will you respond?

In your personal or group responses, I encourage you not to examine your lives using Christian cliches like: they are ‘dead works’; that’s coming from my sinful nature; or if Satan didn’t tempt me I’d be as pure as gold in God’s sight. Christian cliches need to be translated into practical actions.

That is the junk in your life that will be burned up?

For me, it has been the times when I didn’t think of others and work to better love my neighbour. There have been the times when I became angry with those who were close to me and with employees. My motives have not always been pure. I have hurt people, including my wife and children. It’s too late to take back the hurt but I did seek forgiveness, etc.

What is the treasure in your life that will not be destroyed at the Judgment Seat of Christ?

For me, they have been the times when I genuinely loved and served my neighbour with practical help and care. I spent 34 years as a counsellor, mostly with non-Christians. I thank God for helping me with many break-throughs. I was an instrument that God used. Today I’m helping an elderly couple and the husband is in the early stages of dementia. I’m involved in a discipling ministry and challenging secular values and consequences in my society through the mass media, etc. None of this is to brag about what I’m doing.

This is where I often fail:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:30-31 NIV).?

Loving God will all my heart, soul, mind and strength is a discipline in which I fail all too regularly. Instead, I fall back on my puny self – which amounts to wood, hay and chaff that are burnt up.

Only God knows what is truly genuine or false in our works for Him, but we have enough information in the Bible to give us direction.

5.1 This message throughout the Bible

You will find this same message in both OT and NT:

  • Psalm 62:12 (NIV), ‘and with you, Lord, is unfailing love’; and, ‘You reward everyone according to what they have done’.
  • Matt 16:27 (NIV), ‘For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done’.
  • Rom 14:10 (NIV), ‘You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?[a] Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat’.
  • Eph 6:8 (NIV), ‘because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free’.
  • 2 Tim 4:7-8 (NIV), ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing’.
  • 1 John 8 (NIV), ‘Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully’.

Image result for clipart well done good and faithful servant

6.  Works consulted

Stewart, D 2018. What Is the Judgment Seat of Christ? (The Bema) The Blue Letter Bible (online). Available at: https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_144.cfm (Accessed 25 August 2018).

7.  Notes

1christianityboard.com 2018. Who or what is the fire burning? GodsGrace#1, original post, 23 August. Available at: https://www.christianityboard.com/threads/who-or-what-is-the-fire-burning.26560/ (Accessed 25 August 2018).

2Most of what follows is in ibid., being my response to GodsGrace as OzSpen#61, 25 August 2018.

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 25 August 2018.

Can Christians become absolutely sinless?

Comments Off on Can Christians become absolutely sinless?

April 9th, 2018 Salvation, Sanctification, Sin

Related image

By Spencer D Gear PhD

How would you, as a Christian,[1] respond to this provocative question?

Why did God / Christ call us to be Holy and Perfect when he knew we are sinners? What was He exhorting us to do / be?[2]

The Scriptures used for support were:

  • 1 Peter 1:16, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’, and
  • Matt 5:48, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’.

Be perfect

This article will pursue the meaning of ‘perfect’ (Matt 5:48).

  • The KJV states, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’’
  • The NRSV translation, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’.
  • International Standard Version (ISV): ‘So be perfect [or mature],[3]as your heavenly Father is perfect [or mature]’[4].
  • Revised English Bible (REB):[5] ‘There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds’.

These four translations demonstrate how ‘perfect’ as an English meaning may not be the best understanding of the koine Greek for that word. Let’s seek some further information.

If not perfection, what is it?

The problem we have[6] is with the English meaning of ‘perfect’ that communicates the idea of complete or absolute sinlessness. Even with Jesus living in me, I’m incapable of that standard – because I have a sinful nature that God does not have.

What are the alternatives?

(1) Either God is requiring something I cannot attain (perfection) – which makes God a liar (which He is not – Heb 6:18), or

(2) In the original languages, ‘perfection’ has a meaning that is different from our English understanding.

Teleios exposes the meaning

Related imageThe word for ‘perfect’ in Matt 5:48 is teleios. It refers to a goal and I don’t know one single word in English to convey its meaning. It doesn’t mean absolute sinlessness, just like God cannot sin, because if we go back to Matt 5:6, the disciples are blessed if they ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’. Verse 7 states, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’ (NIV). They are not yet completely merciful but will be shown mercy by God if they engage in merciful acts.

Therefore, I conclude that ‘perfect’ is not the meaning of teleios. In fact, it’s a misleading interpretation of the original. The statement of Matt 5:48 comes from Deut 18:13, ‘Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God’ (KJV), which modern translations render as, ‘You shall be blameless before the Lord your God’ (NKJV). Here, ‘perfect’ is the Hebrew, tham, which means ‘complete’, like a whole number (Lenski).

Westminster vs Wesley

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 35, asked: What is sanctification? ‘Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man, after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness’.

By contrast, John Wesley in ‘A Plain Account of Christian Perfection’ wrote:

“To explain myself a little farther on this head: (1.) Not only sin, properly so called, (that is, a voluntary transgression of a known law,) but sin, improperly so called, (that is, an involuntary transgression of a divine law, known or unknown,) needs the atoning blood. (2.) I believe there is no such perfection in this life as excludes these involuntary transgressions which I apprehend to be naturally consequent on the ignorance and mistakes inseparable from mortality. (3.) Therefore sinless perfection is a phrase I never use, lest I should seem to contradict myself. (4.) I believe, a person filled with the love of God is still liable to these involuntary transgressions. (5.) Such transgressions you may call sins, if you please: I do not, for the reasons above-mentioned”.

So the Westminster Calvinistic divines maintained that the Christian is renewed in the whole person and is enabled to die to sin and live for righteousness – which is progressive sanctification.

By contrast, Wesley considered that when a person voluntarily committed sins, it was possible to stop these as the person grew to Christian maturity.

However, the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Australia, as an example of a Wesleyan approach to sanctification, states that ‘our mission’ is to …

spread scriptural holiness throughout every land…. [This involves] guiding believers to experience entire sanctification so that they are enabled to live whole and holy lives (Wesleyan Methodist Church Australia, Our Mission).

The Church of the Nazarene adopts a similar perspective on entire sanctification.

Conclusion

We are called to reach the goal of maturity in Christ, to become blameless, complete, and people of integrity in his sight.

There is a divergence of interpretation among certain denominations on this topic. Some believe in progressive sanctification / holiness while others pursue cessation of deliberate voluntary sin, calling the effect entire sanctification.

Notes

[1] When I refer to a Christian, I mean an evangelical Christian who believes and proclaims the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone (Acts 4:12).

[2] Christian Forums.net 2018. ‘Are Christians called to be holy and perfect?’ Rajesh Sahu#1, 6 April. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/are-christians-called-to-be-holy-and-perfect.75394/ (Accessed 8 April 2018).

[3] This was given as a footnote in the ISV text.

[4] Ibid. CFnet.

[5] This is a revised edition of The New English Bible.

[6] The following is my response as OzSpen#18 on CFnet.

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 May 2018

James 2:21-26 (ESV): It’s true you can be justified by works.

 By Spencer D Gear PhD [1]

It’s true clip_image002

You can be justified by works clip_image004

Is James a preacher of falsehood?clip_image006

1. Introduction

It was early May 2015 and our backyard was flooding with water pouring onto it from the neighbour’s property. I needed sandbags to stop the water from coming into our house. To go to the Council’s works’ depot, I drove down Boundary Rd., North Lakes towards Deception Bay Rd. I came to the creek and the water was flooded over the causeway. Instead of trying to cross, not knowing the depth of the water, I turned around. Was I justified in not crossing the flooded causeway? Of course!

In my writing of this paragraph of my sermon, I have used the ‘justify’ format so that my writing is carefully aligned on the right and left margins. I have used the “justify” format function of MS Word for this paragraph.

 

Daniel morcombe.jpg(Daniel Morcombe photograph, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

DANIEL Morcombe, 13, went missing while waiting for a bus in 2003 [on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast]. It was almost eight years before his remains were found’. In 2014, Brett Peter Cowan faced trial charged with his murder’.[1a]

ABC News (Australia) reported on 15 March 2014 that

Brett Peter Cowan has been sentenced to life in jail with a minimum non-parole period of 20 years for the murder of Sunshine Coast teenager Daniel Morcombe.

Cowan was … found guilty of murder, indecent treatment of a child and interfering with a corpse.[2]

He was sentenced in Brisbane’s Supreme Court by Justice Roslyn Atkinson. Was the Justice justified in sentencing Cowan to life in prison?

Here I have used the English word, ‘justified’, to mean 3 different things:

Flower24 Justified in not crossing a flooded road;

Flower24 A paragraph of my typed sermon justified as part of its written format;

Flower24 A justice in court justified in inflicting punishment on a criminal, based on Australian law.

Please keep these examples in mind as we examine the language of this passage from James 2:21-26.

(a) Abraham justified by works (v. 21);

(b) Rahab, the prostitute, justified by works (v. 25);

(c) ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (v. 24);

(d) Then Paul has the audacity to state this of believers: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom 5:1 ESV).

1.1 A quick review (James 2:14-20)

Since I preached on James 2:14-20 a month ago, you may have forgotten some of the content. James 2:17 gives a quick summary of this passage: ‘So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’

1.1.1 Faith by itself isn’t enough.

1.1.2 Unless faith produces good deeds, it is not the real thing.

1.1.3 Faith without good deeds is dead or useless.

True faith is demonstrated by the good works that follow faith. James is not teaching that good works are need for you to obtain genuine faith. But if you have fair dinkum faith, we will see that unseen faith by the seen good works that you do. That’s the fundamental teaching in James 2:14-20.

Now to understand what James is saying that caused Luther so much heartache. It is not that difficult to understand if we keep this in mind the negative aspect in vv 14-20 – faith without works is useless. Now James turns to what a genuine, saving faith will look like.

He gives one example that we could expect – Abraham. But the other seems out in left field – Rahab, a prostitute. These 2 OT characters are as different as chalk and cheese by outward appearances. But when we get to the heart of the matter they are on the same page. You might say: What? Abraham the man of faith and Rahab the harlot. Those 2 examples seem such an unlikely couple to demonstrate justification by works.

To understand James 2:21, we must know the meaning of James 2:20. It reads, ‘Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?’ (ESV).

Now James sets out to demonstrate that genuine faith that is not followed by good works is useless. Look who he uses as his first example.

2. Abraham justified by works?

Faith & WorksNote the entire verse 21 (ESV): ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?’ The NIV translates as: ‘Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?’

This verse refers to Abraham’s offering up Isaac, recorded in Genesis 22. When Abraham was obedient to God’s test and bound Isaac to the wood on the altar, took the knife to slaughter his son (Gen 22:10) but the angel of the Lord intervened to stop this sacrifice of Isaac. These are the works that James is speaking about.

2.1 Didn’t this happen when he offered Isaac on the altar? (v. 21)

What we are not told in verse 21 is about Abraham believing God and being justified by faith, or being counted as righteousness. We have to wait until James 2:23 to read about that.

However, it is critical for our understanding that we know that Abraham’s being justified by works in James 2:21 follows Abraham’s being justified by faith.

We are told about this justification by faith in Genesis 15 in God’s Covenant with Abram. God’s promise was his very own son to be Abram’s heir (Gen 15:4) and Abram’s descendants would be as many as the stars in the heaven (Gen 15:5). Then in Gen 15:6 we have these words from Abram, ‘And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness’. This is where Abram was justified by faith in God alone.

This is the verse to which Paul refers when he wrote to the Romans 4:3, ‘For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”’. To the Galatians 3:6, Paul wrote, ‘Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”’. In these 2 verses in Romans and Galatians, Paul is referring to Gen 15:6 when Abram was justified by faith.

However James 2:21 is referring to another incident in the life of Abraham when he offered up Isaac as a sacrifice, a demonstration of Abraham’s faith in God.

Commentator C. E. B. Cranfield summarised this very well:

For James, no less than for Paul, the words of Gen. 15.6 quoted in [James 2] verse 23 (“And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness”) are decisive. It was by his faith that Abraham was justified. His works (his readiness to offer up Isaac related to Gen. 22) did not earn his justification (about which we hear already in Gen. 15): they were simply the fruit and the outward evidence of his faith (Cranfield 1965:340).[3]

That’s an excellent statement and summary. Even though these verses got Luther tangled up, they are not all that difficult to understand if we consider the context in James 2 and the references to Genesis 15 and Gen 22. In James 2:21, Abraham is stated as being justified by works. This is an illustration of the true faith that Abraham already had. Abraham’s good works and his faith are inseparable, but the works DO NOT lead to Abraham’s faith and righteousness before God. Abraham’s work of offering up Isaac is a proof of genuine faith.

Again, Cranfield said it well, ‘Had there been no works, Abraham would not have been justified; but that would have been because the absence of works would have meant that he had no real faith’ (Cranfield 1965:340).[4]

So to answer the question, ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac?’ We say, ‘Yes, Abraham the father of the Jews, including Jewish Christians, ‘was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar’ (that’s the NLT translation). However, this demonstration of works was based on Abraham’s being declared to be righteous by faith.

The same applies to all believers. Our good works demonstrate that we are already believers who have been justified by faith. This leads to the summary in James 2:22,

2.2 Faith active with works (v. 22)

This is what I’ve just explained and James 2:22 states, ‘You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works’. Or as the NLT puts it, ‘You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete’.

What could it possibly mean that Abraham’s

3. Faith completed by works (v.  22)

arrow-small NASB, ‘as a result of the works, faith was perfected’.

arrow-small CEV, ‘He proved that his faith was real by what he did’.

arrow-small NRSV, ‘faith was brought to completion by the works’.

‘Was completed or perfected’ is the aorist tense (point action) of the verb, teleiow, meaning ‘to carry to the end, to complete like love in 1 John 4:18’,[5] which reads, ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love’. The same verb is in James 1:4 with ergon teleion, ‘And let steadfastness have its full effect (or ‘must finish its work’ NIV), that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ (ESV).

Faith is ‘brought to its intended goal’ by good works. Abraham was justified by faith (Gen 15) but his faith was made complete by his offering of Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen 22). Your works will demonstrate whether your faith is the real thing.

My wife, Desley, and I really enjoy custard apples. They are grown in different parts of the Queensland east coast and into northern NSW. A custard apple tree is made perfect, brought to its intended goal, by producing custard apple fruit. If you have faith that is genuine, you will have that faith perfected by your doing good works (Hiebert 1979:194).

Let’s use a down to earth analogy: This photo is an example of justification by works for the custard apple tree.

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(courtesy www.custardapples.com.au)

This is the justification by faith for the custard apple tree – flowers:

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(photo courtesy toptropicals.com)

Wherever you have a genuine custard apple tree and flowers, it must blossom into the good works of custard apple fruit.

So, wherever people have genuine faith, it must blossom into good works – feeding the hungry, clothing those needing clothes, and meeting human need. It will also blossom into Christians proclaiming the Gospel. Timothy was a pastor who cared for people. However, what did Paul say to Timothy? ‘But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry’ (2 Tim 4:5 NIV). Primarily, he was not an evangelist, but God’s instruction still was, ‘Do the work of an evangelist’.

No matter what the gifts of people, we need to engage in practical good works among needy people. We may choose to do it locally or through international humanitarian groups such as Compassion, Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Mercy Ships, or many other ministries.

Notice the emphasis of James 2:23:

3.1 Scripture was fulfilled (v. 23)

‘and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God’.

This refers back to Gen 15:6, which I’ve already covered, when Abraham was justified by faith.

3.1.1 Abraham believed God (v. 23)

3.1.2 It was counted to him as righteousness (v. 23)

a. Abraham was called a friend of God (v. 23)

Where is Abraham called ‘a friend of God’? These words do not come from Gen 15 or Gen 22. So to what is James referring? Here are a few possibilities:

clip_image012A close relationship between God and Abraham is implied in Gen 18:17-18 (ESV): ‘7 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?’

clip_image012[1]We know from 2 Chron 20:7 that King Jehoshaphat while addressing God, spoke of Abraham as ‘Abraham your friend’ (ESV).

clip_image012[2]In Isa 41:8, God spoke of ‘Abraham, my friend’.

So there you have a few examples of Abraham’s intimate relationship with God so that Abraham could be called a ‘friend of God’.

Now James 2:24 gives a summary:

4. This means: A person is justified by works (v. 24)

‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’. How is that possible? As I’ve attempted to show in my last message and this one that being justified by works and not faith alone means that genuine faith, fair dinkum faith in Christ alone for salvation, is not the real thing unless it is shown by its good works. Good deeds follow salvation but they are a package. If there is no good works, there is no genuine faith. So it is biblically sound to say that a Christian is justified by works and not faith alone, as long as one remembers that faith and works are used interchangeably as a demonstration of genuine faith in Christ alone for salvation.

4.1 Not justified by faith alone (v. 24)

Miss Placed FaithNow, you won’t accuse me of preaching a false doctrine when I say that we are not justified by faith alone, will you? That’s exactly what James taught because of the compulsory combination of genuine faith expressed through good works. If you don’t have the good works, you don’t have real, saving faith. But the good works come after saving faith. They demonstrate that you already have faith.

Then we come to an unexpected example of justification by works. We can understand Abraham demonstrating his faith by moving to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Abraham was a hero of the faith.

But then we have this provocative example in a Jewish culture that treated women as sub-standard. Bible History online has an article, ‘Jewish women and the Temple’, in which it says this about Jewish women in the first century AD:

Rabbinic literature was filled with contempt for women. The rabbis taught that women were not to be saluted, or spoken to in the street, and they were not to be instructed in the law or receive an inheritance. A woman walked six paces behind her husband and if she uncovered her hair in a public place she was considered a harlot.

In ancient Israel the Jewish culture was one of the most male dominant cultures in the whole world…. The Mishnah taught that a woman was like a gentile slave who could be obtained by intercourse, money or writ (m. Qidd 1:1).[6]

The Mishnah dealt with the debates on the Jewish oral law that were composed by the Jews between AD 70 and 200 and forms part of the Talmud. If you want to investigate any teaching (such as that on women) within the Mishnah, that is called a Midrash.[7]

Now to …

5. Rahab, the prostitute, justified by works (v. 25)

She is a very unexpected example. Not only was she a woman, but also she had been a prostitute. We read about Rahab in Joshua chs 2-6. Remember the story? Paul Cornford has been preaching about her in recent weeks. Just a few incidents from her life are mentioned here in James:

5.1 She was justified by works (v 25)

This verse from James 2:25 (ESV) states, ‘And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?’

Don’t miss the introductory words, ‘And in the same way’ (homoi?s). And in the same way as Abraham, but what a prominent contrast. James has taken 2 people of very different characters and demonstrated how their faith was followed by works, thus proving their justification by faith.

Remember the story?

5.1.1 When? Receiving messengers & sending out by another way (v. 25)

What were the works that justified her? We know from Joshua 2:1 and 6:17, 22 that Rahab received the spies (here in James they are called messengers). Joshua had sent 2 spies to check the land of Canaan, but especially Jericho. Rahab hid these spies in her house. The King of Jericho went to Rahab saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house for they have come to search out all the land’ (Josh 2:3).

To protect the spies, what did Rahab do? ‘She let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall’ (Josh 2:15). The spies departed by another way and Rahab ‘tied the scarlet cord in the window’ (Josh 2:21).

That’s all we have reference to here in James 2:25, but that’s enough to demonstrate she was justified by works. HOWEVER, where is Rahab’s faith that preceded her good works?

This we know:

clip_image014 Rahab has her name in Christ’s family tree, his genealogy, according to Matt 1:5 (ESV): ‘and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse….’

clip_image016 Here’s the BIG one regarding Rahab’s faith: ‘By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies’ (Heb 11:31 ESV).

In the great faith chapter of the Bible we have proof of Rahab’s faith and this meant she did not perish with the disobedient ones because of what she did for the spies.

When James asks, ‘Was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works?’ He is asking: What works did Rahab do to demonstrate she had faith in the living God? Her good works entailed what she did for the spies, the messengers.

Now James concluded his discussion:

6. Faith without works is dead (v 26)

James 2:26, ‘For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead’ (ESV).

6.1 Just as the body apart from the spirit is dead (v. 26)

What happens when your spirit leaves your body when you breathe your last breath? We have information about this in Eccl 12:6-7 (NLT):

‘Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. 7 For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it’.

The analogy is:

6.2 In a similar way, faith without works is dead (v. 26)

I hope you have gained the message in my expositions on James 2 that if you don’t have works that follow faith, then your faith is not genuine.

So to say that you are justified by your works is using justify to mean demonstrate to be righteous. Just as custard apples justify the existence of a living custard apple tree that blossoms and produces fruit, so a Christian’s works justify that he or she has genuine faith. Unless you have works accompanying faith, you do not have fair dinkum faith that saves.

7. Conclusion

Wayne Grudem, a Reformed Baptist theologian, summarised his interpretation of James 2, stating that

“show to be righteous” is an acceptable sense for the word justified, but also on the consideration that this sense fits well with the primary purpose of James in [James 2].[8] James is concerned to show that mere intellectual agreement with the gospel is a “faith” that is really no faith at all. He is concerned to argue against those who say they have faith but show no change in their lives. He says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (James 2:18) [Grudem 1999:322].

Now to some,

7.1 Applications of James 2:21-26 to your life and this church

Let me suggest a couple before I ask for your contributions:

  1. What does it mean to be justified by works? It means that you will SHOW you are righteous before God by your good deeds. What good works should we be doing as individuals and as a church?
  2. No matter how bad your past, Rahab is an example that demonstrates that justification by faith leads to justification by works – the practice of good works.
  3. Is the title of this sermon accurate? ‘It’s true! You can be justified by works!’ Dare I add, true Christians MUST be justified by works!
  4. Now it’s over to you. How can you apply this message to your life and this church’s ministry?

8. Works consulted

Cranfield, C E B 1965. The message of James. Scottish Journal of Theology 18 (3), September, 338-345.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

James 2:21-26 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

9.  Notes


[1] Preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld., Australia, Sunday 17 June 2016, PM Service..

[1a] The Courier-Mail 2013. 10 years later, the life and death of Daniel Morcombe (online), December 06. Available at: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/years-later-the-life-and-death-of-daniel-morcombe/story-fnihsrf2-1226776823830 (Accessed 28 August 2016).

[2] ABC News, 2014. Daniel Morcombe’s killer sentenced to life in prison (online), 15 March. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-14/daniel-morcombe-killer-brett-peter-cowan-sentenced/5320538 (Accessed 7 May 2016).

[3] This Cranfield citation is from Hiebert (1979:192).

[4] This citation is taken from Hiebert (1979:193).

[5] Robertson (1933:37).

[6] Bible History online n d. ‘Women in Jewish history’. Available at: http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html (Accessed 10 May 2016).

[7] What is a midrash? (online), Got Questions? Available at: http://www.gotquestions.org/Mishnah-midrash.html (Accessed 10 May 2016).

[8] The original said, ‘this section’.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 August 2016.

Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus (John 6:53-54, 60, 66)

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(image of Eucharist courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

It is not unusual to meet someone with an Anglo-Catholic understanding of the Eucharist who makes extreme claims like this:

If you are WRONG then you are divisive. When Jesus says this is my flesh/blood and you then say it isn’t….you are being divisive. One of us is right and the other is wrong.

No pointing fingers. He is flat out wrong and so are you if you don’t believe what Jesus said. I believe what Jesus said.[1]

I had made the comment to another person online:[2]

The Roman Catholic New Advent exposition of ‘The real presence as a fact’ states: ‘The whole structure of the discourse [John 6] of promise demands a literal interpretation of the words: “eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood”‘ (The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist).

Interpreting it literally sure sounds to be closer to being a vampire.

A. You are non-believers if you don’t accept what I believe about the teaching on Jesus’ body and blood.

This fellow became even more dogmatic:

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” [John 6:52-54]. Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him [John 6:66].

The Jews questioned Him and you can see what he told them. Now you are questioning Him. I think he has the same message for you. They walked away and so are you. How sad.

clip_image004So I Tom55 say to you non-believers what Jesus told the Jews….VERY TRULY I TELL YOU IT IS HIS FLESH AND BLOOD. Walk away if you want. It won’t effect (sic) my salvation

As we know “This is a hard saying so who can listen to it?”  Apparently those of you who don’t believe what Jesus said (blue font emphasis added)[4].

So those who don’t accept his sacramental view of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his flesh are non-believers who don’t believe what Jesus said.

Really? Or is this tom55, the interpreter, imposing his view on the biblical text? Could Tom be engaging in eisegesis instead of exegesis of John 6:53-54?

See the article, ‘What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis?[5]

Now let’s do some checking, using contextual interpretation of Scripture.

B. Which is the correct interpretation?

Let’s check who is really right or wrong. Could this be a classic example of misinterpretation because of failure to observe the context?

John 6:47-58 (ESV) states:

47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread[a] the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.”

C. Meaning of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood

1. Let us deal with the meaning of vv 53-54,[6] which states,

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’.

Here, Jesus repeats a truth he stated as the second part of v. 51, ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever’. Note the emphasis in v. 53, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man … you have no life in you.’ Now v 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh … has eternal life’.

2. What will be the result of this? ‘I will raise him up on the last day’ (v 54).

3. Who is the one whose flesh is eaten? He has the title of ‘the Son of Man’ (v. 53). Yes, he is a fleshly human being – a man – but God has placed his seal of approval on him (Jn 6:27).

4. So the meaning is that the Son of Man is a title given to Jesus, but it does not overlook the fact that he is a flesh and blood human being. The supreme revelation of God is through Jesus, the Son of Man. Unlike any other fleshly human being, he has the amazing ability to grant a person eternal life if that one ‘eats’ of him.

5. ‘Drink his/my blood’ is added in vv 53 & 54. The Jews objected strongly to this statement (see v 51). Why? The Law of Moses forbade the drinking of blood (see Gen 9:2-4 ESV). So to drink the blood of the Son of Man was offensive to them.

6. John 6:54 & 40 have a close connection:

(a) v. 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’, and

(b) v. 40, ‘For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’.

clip_image006The only major difference between these two verses is eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood vs. looking to the Son and believing in Him. We come to an obvious conclusion of interpretation: The eating the flesh and drinking the flood is a metaphorical way of referring to looking to the Son and believing in the Son. How come? The result of both activities is the same – receiving eternal life and being raised on the last day.

7. This caused the eminent church father, St. Augustine of Hippo, to state: ‘Believe, and you have eaten’ [Tractate 25.12 (John 6:15-44)]. This is a concise summary of the teaching of John 6:53-54.

8. There are no indications in John 6:53-54 that this refers to the Lord’s Supper. If we make it refer to the Eucharist, it means that one of the things necessary to receive eternal life is to participate in the Lord’s Supper to eat the body and drink the blood. This would amount to works religion which is antithetical to New Testament Christianity (Eph 2:8-9 ESV).

9. There are cannibalistic overtones if one accepts the literal body and blood instead of the metaphorical meaning that points to looking to Jesus and believing in Him to receive eternal life.

10. When John stated, ‘And I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:40, 54), it demonstrates that eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally does not confer immortality/resurrection at the last day. The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist is not designed for immortality. However looking to the Son and believing in Him are for that purpose.

D. How to add confusion: Tom’s responses

This fellow added bewilderment with his deliberate distortion of what I wrote. This is his answer to the 10 points above. [7] I’ll reply as Oz[8] between each point to determine if he had understood what I wrote and responded accurately:

1. Thank you for making my point. I agree with you. “Jesus repeats a truth” which means it was important which is why he repeated it.

Oz: He has not known the truth to which I referred. I’ll repeat what I stated: Jesus repeats a truth he stated as the second part of v. 51, ‘If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever’. Note the emphasis in v. 53, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man … you have no life in you.’ Now v 54, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh … has eternal life’.

The truth repeated is this: When Jesus said anyone was to eat his flesh, it meant that it was the means of receiving eternal life, living forever. It was not referring to eating Jesus’ literal flesh but to living forever through faith in Jesus Christ. To eat his literal flesh then or now was impossible. He was not dead when he said this. After his death, there was no literal flesh to consume (and so to avoid the charge of cannibalism).

This demonstrates that Tom is so entrenched in his Roman Catholicism of interpreting the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood as literal that he cannot understand the context is referring to a metaphor for receiving eternal life.

What’s a metaphor? A metaphor is ‘a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly: figurative language’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary. s v metaphor).

2. And the result of this truth is ‘I will raise him up on the last day’

Oz: The result of eternal life is that the believer will be raised up at the last day. The result of eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally is not being raised up. The resurrection at the last day is dependent on a person receiving eternal life before that person’s physical death.

3-4-6 is double speak, confusing and rubbish

Oz: This is an offensive way of addressing me and does not deal with the content of what I wrote. Therefore it is a red herring fallacy of a reply.

What did I say in #3? I referred to the one whose flesh was eaten had the title of ‘the Son of Man’ (v. 53). While on earth, he was a man of flesh and God approved him (Jn 6:27). What’s double speak, confusing and rubbish about that? I know I needed to explain further the meaning of the Son of Man. To explain the meaning of this title for Jesus, see What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of Man? (gotquestions.org).

In #4 I continued with the emphasis that the Son of Man title for Jesus does not overlook his being a flesh and blood human being. This amazing, fleshly Son of Man has the ability to grant anyone eternal life if he/she ‘eats’ of him, i.e. eats = has faith in him.

My point at #6 of the close connection between John 6:40 and 54 was not explained well enough by me. The close connection is that those who look to the Son and believe in Him have eternal life (John 6:40) and that’s the message of John 6:54 except that Jesus uses the metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking his blood to have eternal life.

5. You are right about the Jews and it being abominable to them. They walked away and then Jesus doubled down on what he said. He didn’t clarify and say it was a metaphor or a symbol. He let them walk away and asked his Apostles if they were going to walk. IT WAS A HARD SAYING!! They didn’t believe him….. Just like you don’t.

Of course the Jews would object to the eating of flesh and drinking of blood that Jesus used (see my comment in #5) because they didn’t understand the metaphor Jesus was using. This is not a rubbish of an explanation but a fact. If anyone reads John 6:53-54 in a literal fashion, they would find it abhorrent. It was a hard saying because it would require the Jews to believe in the Son of Man to receive eternal life. They were not near ready to do that.

7. I am glad you brought up Augustine. Like a good protestant you only quoted what fit your belief. Here is more of what he said:

“I promised you, who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s table. . . . That bread that you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ” (Sermons 227).

“What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction” (ibid., 272).

“Nobody eats this flesh without previously adoring it” (Explanation of the Psalms 99).

“He took flesh from the flesh of Mary . . . and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. . . . We do sin by not adoring

Oz: Like a good Roman Catholic you did two things:

(1) You ignored the quote I gave from Augustine, ‘Believe, and you have eaten’ [Tractate 25.12 (John 6:15-44)]. Augustine knew exactly what John 6 was referring to with the eating and drinking. It dealt with believing in Jesus.

(2) You quote some other examples from Augustine and then don’t understand that Augustine used further metaphors to explain his position. These metaphors are the ones you have highlighted:

  •  That bread … is the body of Christ’.
  •  That chalice … is the blood of Christ’.
  •  The bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ’.
  •  gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation’.

Every one of those examples is a metaphor, just like when Jesus said,

  • ‘I am the door’ (John 10:9 ESV). He was not a literal door.
  • ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12 ESV). He was not a literal, physical light.
  • ‘You are the salt of the earth’ (Matt 5:13 ESV). Christians are not literal salt.

clip_image008The problem Tom runs into is that his RCC fixation on literal flesh and blood will not allow him to see that the context is using these metaphors as believing, in order to receive eternal life and to be resurrected at the last day.

8. During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said “this is my body/blood do this in remembrance of me” and your theory there are no indications John 6:53-54 it refers to the Lords Supper?? You TWISTED that so much it broke!!!

Oz: No, Tom, I have ‘twisted’ nothing. I have read the verses in context and there is not a word in John 6 to indicate a thing about the Lord’s Supper. There is not a word that Jesus was here referring to the Eucharist – not a single word.

9. Look up the definition of the word cannibalism.

Oz: Why didn’t you provide me with that definition, Tom?

Look again at what I wrote at #9: ‘There are cannibalistic overtones if one accepts the literal body and blood instead of the metaphorical meaning that points to looking to Jesus and believing in Him to receive eternal life’.

What’s the definition of cannibalism? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first definition is that cannibalism means ‘the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being’ (s v cannibalism).

What I wrote was true to the definition. It is Tom’s position that plays into the overtones of cannibalism in the ‘ritualistic’ eating of the flesh and blood of a human being – Jesus.

10. Makes no sense.

Oz: Perhaps my explanation was not as clear as it ought to have been. I wrote at this point: When John stated, ‘And I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:40, 54), it demonstrates that eating the flesh and drinking the blood literally does not confer immortality/resurrection at the last day. The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist is not designed for immortality. However looking to the Son and believing in Him are for that purpose.

clip_image010This is what I meant: To be able to speak of resurrection at the last day (John 6:40, 54), one has to have received eternal life. Therefore, what John is stating in using the metaphor of eating flesh and drinking blood is to give a picture of how to receive eternal life. To engage in physical eating of human flesh and drinking human blood does not bring eternal life that leads to last day resurrection. What does do this? Looking to the Son and believing in him.

That’s exactly what John was teaching in John 6:40, 54. He was not dealing with a literal eating of flesh and blood but referred to a metaphor of eating flesh and blood that was designed to represent the faith in Jesus to receive eternal life.

E. John 6:60, 66: Why did many of Jesus’ disciples desert him?

Let’s deal with two verses that Roman Catholics sometimes use to support their claim that John 6:53-54 refers to the bread and the wine literally becoming the flesh and blood of Jesus when the Eucharist is celebrated. Tom indicated in his statement about John 6:66 that those who don’t believe this refers to literal flesh and blood are regarded by him, a Roman Catholic, as non-believers (see above).

Those verses are:

  • John 6:60 (ESV), ‘When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”’ and
  • John 6:66 (ESV), ‘After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him’.

1. Who were these disciples?

You will note from John 6:67 (ESV), the context of John 6:66, ‘So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”’ So the ‘disciples’ of John 6:66 are separate from the Twelve.

Who were these disciples who were not among the Twelve? The larger context from John 6:59 infers that they were Galileans (from Capernaum) and were from a larger group of disciples who followed Jesus. A sifting of the larger group of disciples began to take place here (John 6:60, 66). Verse 66 says ‘many of his disciples turned back’. It does not say that all of his extra disciples deserted him; however, many did. We do know that of the number who remained true to Jesus, there were more than 500 brothers and sisters who assembled to meet the risen Jesus after his resurrection, according to 1 Cor 15:6 (ESV).

2. How did the disciples respond to Jesus?

According to John 6:60, the disciples (not the Twelve) reacted with skleros to Jesus’ message. They, figuratively, reacted in words that were ‘hard, harsh, unpleasant’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:763.1.b). Lenski describes the skleros reaction as ‘“stiff,” dried out and hard, like a twig that has become brittle. The word does not here mean dark and difficult to understand but objectionable, offensive, impossible to accept and to believe’ (Lenski 1943:504-505).

In John 6:60, where it states, ‘This is a hard saying’, the Greek, ho logos houtos (Lit. the saying this), we need to comprehend that this refers to the entire Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-59). What offended them and caused the stiff, unbending, harsh reaction? In this discourse there seems to be four main issues about which they reacted (stated by Carson 1991:300):

(a) They were more interested in food (6:26), Jesus’ becoming a political king (6:14-15), and manipulating the miraculous (6:30-31), than in dealing with the spiritual realities of eternal life.

(b) They were unprepared to give up their personal, sovereign authority, even in Christian matters. So they did not take the first steps of genuine faith (see 6:41-46).

(c) What particularly got up their noses was Jesus’ claim that he was greater than Moses and was sent by God and uniquely qualified to give life (John 6:32ff., 58), and

(d) The stark metaphor of eating the flesh and drinking the blood (John 6:53-54) was offensive to them.

Those who consider that in John 6:60, 66, John is speaking in terms of the human body or humanity, have a general objection that this is referring to the ‘the idea of eating and drinking the human nature of the one whom these disciples saw standing before their eyes like any other man’ (Lenski 1943:505). This is how the Roman Catholics interpret it – as literal body and blood. Tim Staples gives his RC explanation:

When we examine the surrounding context of John 6:53, Jesus’ words could hardly have been clearer. In verse 51, he plainly claims to be “the living bread” that his followers must eat. And he says in no uncertain terms that “the bread which I shall give . . . is my flesh.” Then, when the Jews were found “disput[ing] among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” in verse 52, he reiterates even more emphatically, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”….

Moreover, when we consider the language used by John, a literal interpretation—however disturbing—becomes even more obvious. In John 6:50-53 we encounter various forms of the Greek verb phago, “eating.” However, after the Jews begin to express incredulity at the idea of eating Christ’s flesh, the language begins to intensify. In verse 54, John begins to use trogo instead of phago. Trogo is a decidedly more graphic term, meaning “to chew on” or to “gnaw on”—as when an animal is ripping apart its prey (Staples 2010).

However, the wider context (as I have tried to show in this article) demonstrates that the eating of the flesh and drinking the blood is used as a metaphor to demonstrate the nature of belief in Jesus that leads to eternal life and the resurrection at the end of the world, i.e. ‘I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:54 NIV).

3. Alleged disciples do not make Christian believers

Since many of Jesus’ disciples here found his teaching to be harsh, the question needs to be asked: Were these ‘disciples’ true believers who became hardened by his message and stiffly resisted it, or were they really unbelievers who gave up pursuing Jesus? Carson explained:

“Disciples” must be distinguished from “the Twelve” (cf. vv. 66-67). More importantly, just as there is faith and faith (2:23-25), so are there disciples and disciples. At the most elementary level, a disciple is someone who is at that point following Jesus, either literally by joining the group that pursued him from place to place, or metaphorically in regarding him as the authoritative teacher. Such a “disciple” is not necessarily a “Christian”, someone who has savingly trusted Jesus and sworn allegiance to him, given by the Father to the Son, drawn by the Father and born again by the Spirit. Jesus will make it clear in due course that only those who continue in his word are truly his ‘disciples’ (8:31). The ‘disciples’ described here do not remain in his word; they find it to be hard teaching…. These “disciples” will not long remain disciples, because they find Jesus word intolerable (Carson 1991:300).

The conclusion is that John 6:60 and 66 refer to a bunch of disciples (not the Twelve) whose faith was so frail or non-existent that they found it easy to drift away when they couldn’t tolerate the stiff, hard, harsh or unpleasant teachings of Jesus in his whole Bread of Life discourse. Therefore, they did not continue in his teachings and can be written off as his disciples.

F. When will the supply run out?

One fellow asked these two brilliant questions:

Regarding the eating and drinking of “Jesus’ flesh and blood” being ‘literal’, how long will it be before it has all been consumed and none remains?

Or is it not that ‘literal’?[9]

G. Conclusion

In context, the meaning of John 6:53-54 is easy to discern. It has to do with obtaining eternal life and being raised at the last day. Therefore, it could not refer to the literal eating of Jesus’ body or drinking of Jesus’ blood. It is a metaphor for believing in Jesus.

Image result for clipart believeIt does not refer to a sacramental view of the Eucharist. Therefore, those who disbelieve in the literal meaning of the body and blood of Jesus are not non-believers but are Christians who correctly interpret these two verses in context. This is a classic example of how eisegesis can overcome a passage and cause it to become void of sound exegesis.

It is important to believe what Jesus stated but the meaning of some of his statements are sometimes misconstrued because of lack of knowledge of the culture from 2,000 years ago or failure to engage in careful hermeneutics in context. That’s the issue with tom55. He has failed to interpret contextually and then has labelled people who don’t believe as he believes, as non-believers. He thus has become a dogmatic extremist in his approach to other believers.

Augustine summarised the biblical content well: ‘Believe, and you have eaten’.

It was expected that a Roman Catholic would distort this metaphorical meaning of eating the flesh and drinking the blood to indicate believing in Jesus to receive eternal life. He could not get out of his fixation with a literal eating and drinking, which makes no sense in context or throughout Scripture.

As for the disciples who deserted Jesus, these were not the Twelve but part of a larger group of followers who may not have been believers. However, there was a separation of the wheat from the weeds in discerning true believers from the false.

H. Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature [10]. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Inter-Varsity Press / William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1943 The Wartburg Press; assigned 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Staples, T 2010. What Catholics believe about John 6. This Rock 21(6), November. Available from Catholic Answers (1996-2016) at: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/what-catholics-believe-about-john-6 (Accessed 1 September 2016).

I.  Notes


[1] Christianity Board 2012. In Reference To CyBs Statement of Faith – Christian Forum (online), tom55#251. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/17009-in-reference-to-cybs-statement-of-faith-christian-forum/page-9 (Accessed 20 August 2016).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#250.

[4] Ibid., tom55#252.

[5] Got Questions Ministries 2002-2016. What is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis? (online) Available at: http://www.gotquestions.org/exegesis-eisegesis.html (Accessed 20 August 2016).

[6] Many of the following points are based on Carson (1991:296-297).

[7] Ibid., tom55#254.

[8] My response is at ibid., OzSpen#257.

[9] Ibid., Oneoff#256.

[10] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 September 2016.

Jesus as the one way, except ….

Jesus Is The Way

By Spencer D Gear PhD

A skeptic about Jesus as the only way to salvation showed up on Christian Forums.net. He wrote:

I was born again in 1970, worked with Campus Crusade for Christ, attended Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and have been waist-deep in theology for many, many years. So, yeah, I’ll match “Christian credentials” with other posters, if that’s important to you.
Do I believe my statement, “Pretty soon the category of people ….”?

Yes, I do. The exceptions pretty much reduce the doctrine to “the only way, except when …,” which is quite different from “the only way.” It strikes me as slightly bizarre that the hardline “only way” folks are willing to consign all Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, not to mention Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, to Hell, while carving out exceptions for those who have not reached the fictional age of accountability or are mentally disabled. (True hardliners, of course, permit no exceptions – so at least their theology is consistent, albeit repulsive).??[1]

My reply was:[2]

Key with Jesus name on itGod does not talk of exceptions; that is human language to try to explain what seems unreasonable to us when we deal with God’s kingdom and who should enter. God’s language is that he has made provision for the salvation of certain people in His ways. I have addressed this as it relates to children in, Children and heaven.
Now to your view that Jesus as the ‘only way’ consigns Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons & JWs to hell. So did God mean it when he said,

‘You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them’ (Ex 20:3-5 ESV)?

Yes, he did mean it and if the nation violated God’s laws they suffered the consequences. This is because God is a jealous and holy God who will not tolerate other gods of worship. He’s the same God in OT and NT – in spite of what some higher critics want to say about the alleged differences.
Those who do not submit to the Trinitarian Lord God are serving ‘other gods’ and such worship is forbidden if one wants to get into God’s kingdom. You’ll probably label me as a hardliner. The fact is that I want to remain faithful to Scripture and the one who said his people are to have no other gods, is the same one who said that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6 ESV) and that there is salvation in no other person than through Jesus (Acts 4:12 ESV).

A.  The ‘only way’ is a fabrication

He stated:

Do I consider that Jesus as the only way to salvation to be “hollow” and/or a fabrication?

No, I suspect that the conventional doctrine is probably fundamentally misguided, meaning that we are not fully grasping what Jesus meant. (I am admittedly troubled by how many of the really puzzling and divisive doctrines have their roots in John and Revelation, but I realize that concerns about inerrancy are not permitted at this site.) I will not be surprised at all to meet hordes of people in Heaven whom the hardline “only way” folks would not now recognize as Christians at all. On the other hand, I will not be shocked if the most hardline “only way” folks are entirely correct and even infants are consigned to Hell – nothing requires God to be the sort of God we might like Him to be. On all of these potentially repulsive doctrines, my position is simply that we will eventually see that the end result is worthy of the Creator of the Universe.?[3]

Knock KnockThe fundamental doctrine of Jesus as the only way to salvation is not misguided, as you suggest, but is based on God’s holiness and perfection in determining who should be saved and how they should be saved and enter His presence.

Seems to me that your Jesus is one of syncretism who allows anyone into his kingdom because the hardline ‘only way’ Jesus is too narrow minded for a syncretistic view.
You claim that you are ‘troubled by how many of the really puzzling and divisive doctrines have their roots in John and Revelation”. Acts 4:12 (ESV) is not in John’s writings. Neither is Acts 13:26 (NIV), which provides this insight, ‘Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent’. God-fearing people have received the message of salvation.

Acts 10:43 (NIV) confirms: ‘All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name’. They believe in Jesus for salvation. Then they become Christians and are no longer Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Shintoists, pagans, New Agers, JWs, Mormons, secularists, atheists, agnostics, etc. They become born-again Christians who have received Jesus as the only way to salvation.

B.  An area of agreement

However, there is one area in which I would agree with you: ‘Nothing requires God to be the sort of God we might like Him to be’. There will be God-fearers who make it into God’s kingdom whom we would never know how they came to fear God. However, I dare not make ‘one way’ Christians into hardliners who are unreasonable. Those who believe Jesus is the ‘only way’ to salvation are following what Scripture teaches.
God doesn’t dance to your or my tune. He sets the boundaries for who is in and who is out of the kingdom. From the teaching available to us, salvation through Jesus Christ alone is the only way to become a Christian (John 14:6 ESV; Acts 4:12 ESV).

C.  One way in other religions

It is a fallacy to think that evangelical Christianity is for hardliners who require Jesus as the one and only way to salvation.

Have you checked out these other religions and what they consider as the way to enlightenment and Paradise? See my articles:

bronze-arrow-small  Is Islam a religion of peace at its core?

bronze-arrow-small  Visualization and Affirmation

bronze-arrow-small The dangers of Eastern meditation

Take a read of these other articles that demonstrate that Christianity is not the only faith that promotes a narrow way:

designRed-small  Why Hinduism is the “Eternal way”, the true religion (Western Hindu);

designRed-small Buddhism, The ‘only’ way to enlightenment.

designRed-small Islam, ‘This is Islam – The Only Way for This Life and The Hereafter’ (The Islamic Bulletin).

DirectiondesignRed-small What about atheism? Its one way must exclude belief in God. See Atheist Foundation of Australia where it states that membership is open to ‘any natural person, who subscribes to the Objects of the Foundation and agrees to be bound by its Rules, may be admitted to membership by the Committee’. What are the objects of the foundation?

    i. To encourage and to provide a means of expression for informed free-thought on philosophical and social issues.

ii. To safeguard the rights of all non-religious people.

iii. To serve as a focal point for the community of non-religious people.

iv. To offer verifiable information in place of superstition and to promote logic and reason.

v. To promote atheism.

So even atheism has a one-way to membership through your acceptance of its 5 objects.

I wish you good fortune in trying to find the secret to the Google, Bing or Yahoo one-way formulas they use to search the Internet for your words.

D.  The Jesus’ one-way difference

What makes Jesus as the only way different to other world religions and philosophies? Briefly, these are fundamentals you will not find in other religions:

clip_image002 Forgiveness of all your sins (Matthew 6:14-15; 1 John 1:9).

clip_image002[1] Freedom from the guilt of sin (Psalm 103:8-12; Romans 8:1);

clip_image002[2] Eternal life that begins now and extends into eternity (Matthew 7:13-14; John 3:16; 1 John 5:13-14);

clip_image002[3] Ultimately this eternal life means life after death and ultimate Paradise in the presence of God (Luke 23:43; John 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Revelation 21:1-27).

E.  Conclusion

Because other ways state they are the only way to various ultimate realities, which ones forgive sins and guarantee eternal life? This is the one that means changed lives in the present as well? It changes drunkard abusers into loving husbands whose life focuses on serving others.

Only one! That’s the Christ of Christianity who saves people from sin, cleanses the guilt, offers peace within and peace eternally, and an eternal relationship with God.

F.  Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net 2016. Apologetics & Theology, 24 June. ‘It’s so simple’, Runner#17. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/its-so-simple.65197/ (Accessed 25 June 2016).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[3] Ibid., Runner#17.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 August 2016.

Salvation by grace but not by force: A person chooses to believe

(tulip image public domain)

Image result for photo rose public domain

(rose image public domain)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

In the argy bargy that goes on between Calvinists and Arminians over the nature of salvation, some important elements are minimised or rejected. If TULIP is promoted by Calvinists, what is excluded? If semi-Pelagians are identified as Arminians, what is added to Arminianism? What about the FACTS of Arminianism?

I write as a convinced Reformed/Classical Arminian who is not a semi-Pelagian in my doctrine of theology.

1. Why do some people reject salvation?

I was engaged in a discussion online about why some accept Christ while others reject him.

I confirm that I believe in salvation by grace,[1] but NOT salvation by irresistible grace and unconditional election. Why? The Bible tells me so! This is what the Bible teaches about salvation by grace:

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31 NIV)

What did Paul & Silas say to the Philippian jailer? It’s a command, ‘[You] believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’. So Paul and Silas confirm that there will be no salvation unless ‘you believe’ [aorist imperative]. It does not command, ‘God will believe in the Lord Jesus for you and you will be saved’. It does not say, ‘You will be irresistibly drawn by grace to Christ for salvation and be unconditionally elected’.

So I believe in salvation by grace where the person believes. Acts 16:31 (NIV) does not teach irresistible grace. There would be no command to ‘believe’ that would have meaning to the Philippian jailer if it were not possible for him to believe or refuse to believe. Yes, ‘believe’ is an imperative in the Greek language – a command – but that does not state or imply that he must obey the command. It is not ‘you must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you have no choice in the matter because God has decreed and guaranteed your election to salvation. You have no choice in the matter; you are forced to come to Christ’. That would be a gross interpolation of the command, ‘Believe’.

Ribbon Salvation ButtonEphesians 2:8-9 (NIV) provides the critical dimension from God’s perspective: ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast’.

However one understands the reason for people accepting or rejecting salvation, these are the core elements of salvation:

  • It is by God’s grace.
  • It is by faith.
  • This salvation of grace through faith comes as a gift from God.
  • It cannot be obtained by good works, thus eliminating any personal bragging about the works done to earn salvation.

Salvation as a gift from God does not eliminate a person’s saying, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to salvation. The ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ provides the means while the substance, salvation, is a gift from God himself. There is a human mystery of how this takes place that salvation is a gift from God but human beings need to respond positively to the Gospel to receive it. The most obvious solution, to me, is to state that God’s gift is mediated through human receipt of that gift.

We see this on the human level. I have known of situations where a wife purchased an expensive gift to give to her husband for his birthday but when she presented it to him it was rejected. He had a number of reasons for not receiving it, some related to unresolved conflict in the marriage. So it is possible for an expensive gift to be purchased and rejected. A similar situation develops when the supreme sacrificial gift of salvation is offered to people and for various reasons they reject the offer.

2. God frees the will to believe

Image result for two ways clipart public domainI was following up a comment online that stated: ‘Those Christ died for are reconciled to God while they are enemies/unbelievers Rom 5:10! You are denying what Christ’s death done’.[2]

My response was:[3]

I know you don’t like the theology of Christ dying for ALL sinners, but  that’s exactly what 1 John 2:2 (ESV) teaches: ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’. So, the sins of the whole world come in the embrace of God’s propitiation. What is propitiation? Romans 3:24-25 (ESV) states believers

are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

‘Propitiation’ here refers to ‘a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor’ (Grudem 1999:254). So, instead of being opposed to sinners, God is now favourable towards them, because of Christ’s propitious sacrifice.

There are other emphases that point to God freeing the will so that it is open to receiving Christ.
That God has freed the will is inferred from the number of exhortations in Scripture to:

It would be impossible to turn to God, repent or believe if God had not in some way made it possible for such to happen for rebel sinners. He does this by sending grace beforehand. Titus 2:11 (ESV) teaches this, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’.

The only way I’ve seen Calvinists squirm out of verses such as 1 John 2:2 (ESV) and Titus 2:11 (ESV) is to redefine ‘world’ to mean some people groups of the world or the world of the elect. However, we can’t do that in either of these 2 verses that make it clear that they refer to the ‘sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2 ESV) and the grace of God has appeared ‘bring salvation to all people’ (Titus 2:11). This latter verse makes it clear it is ‘to all people’ and NOT ‘to all elect people’.

There is no problem with the grace of God bringing salvation to all people and not all people being saved (universalism) when one understands that God has freed the human will to respond. How do we know? I’ve demonstrated that above with the exhortations:

  • turn to God;
  • repent, and
  • believe.

None of these exhortations would have meaning if they meant,

  • turn to God and by that God means, I decree you to turn to God and you are forced to make that decision.
  • repent, but God predestines that repentance and it is irresistible;
  • believe, and you have no choice in the matter. You are unconditionally drawn to Christ.

What kind of God would coerce people to turn to Him, force them to repent, and compel them to believe? That would be an example of God, the bully, who is a monster of partiality. He decrees salvation for the elect and damnation for the unbelievers – but the unbelievers cannot choose to believe because of God’s will that they be damned forever. That is not an example of the God of grace and mercy towards the undeserving.

Another chimed in:

Why would someone not accept reconciliation? That makes no sense.

The answer is … you don’t accept reconciliation because you can’t. You’re dead in your sins and trespasses…you are not a sheep who hears Gods call … you are not chosen by God. God has decided not to have mercy and compassion on you.[4]

3. Salvation by grace, but not irresistible grace

This is a response that is typical of arrogant Calvinists I meet on Christian forums or in some Calvinistic churches:

Reconciled while being enemies!
False religionists, who reject Salvation by Grace, do also reject the Truth of God’s Grace, that those Christ has died for, had been reconciled to God, by that Death, while they were enemies Rom 5:10,
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
This reconciliation to God was without them meeting any conditions, not any requirements, in fact it occurred while they were in a state of hostility and hatred and enmity against God;
And it was while they were being so, that they were actually reconciled, that is brought into harmony and agreement with God, received into His Favor and Friendship ! Don’t be deceived by false teachers, they were reconciled to God, not potentially reconciled to God, it was not just possibly and not actually, they were reconciled to God on the bases of the Death of Christ. If it was only made possible, Christ’s Death fell far short of the Glory of God. They were all reconciled to God and put in harmony with Him, as they had been when they were in harmony with God in Adam before the fall!
The fleshly carnal mind ruled by pride cannot receive this Grace Truth, it rejects it every time![5]

That kind of comment is like pouring petrol on the fire of this Reformed Arminian, so I replied:[6]

I most certainly believe in salvation by grace, but NOT your salvation by irresistible grace. Why? The Bible tells me so!clip_image001 This is what the Bible teaches about salvation by grace:

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31 NIV)

What did Paul & Silas say to the Philippian jailer? It’s a command, ‘[You] Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’. So Paul and Silas confirm that there will be no salvation unless ‘you believe’ [aorist tense imperative]. It does not command, ‘God will believe in the Lord Jesus for you and you will be saved’. It does not say, ‘You will be irresistibly drawn by grace to Christ for salvation and be unconditionally elected’.

So I believe in salvation by grace where the person chooses to believe. Acts 16:31 (NIV) does not teach irresistible grace.

4. Objection to God who frees the will to believe

The examples I gave above of turn to God, repent, and believe, brought this response:

The contradiction is still there. Those enemies Christ died for are reconciled to God by His Death while they are enemies, which is not true for all, since some who are enemies are under Gods Wrath and Condemnation John 3:18, 36.[7]

He added:

All the scripture you quoted [for turn to God, repent, and believe] I have no problem with. Yet you can not explain why some as enemies and unbelievers are reconciled to God by Christ death, and others are not, and are under Gods Wrath and Condemnation John 3:18, 36.[8]

These last two quotes by this poster are conveying the same message with almost identical words. Calvinists with a fixation on TULIP cannot get past what God has done in freeing the human will of all human beings to believe or reject the Gospel. This is my attempt to explain further. It is not comprehensive and a person may pick holes in some of the points:

Do you want me to conclude that the God of Calvinism has the answer to why some receive Christ and others reject, because of unconditional election and irresistible grace – married to limited atonement?

There are simple steps to the solution to why some accept and others reject salvation. These steps are not comprehensive and some may take exception to some. I don’t expect Calvinists to endorse any action of free will in salvation:[9]

  1. Salvation is by grace through faith, without good works (Eph 2:8-9 NIV).
  2. ‘Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ’ (Rom 10:17 NIV). There is no salvation through exposure to natural revelation (e.g. Rom 1:18ff), but a person must hear or read the Gospel message.
  3. ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’ (John 5:39-40 ESV). Individual choice is involved. People refuse to come – for various reasons. Jesus’ words are profound, ‘Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’. They refuse to come. They have the free will to receive or reject. This is Jesus telling us part of his theology of salvation.
  4. ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:44 NIV). The Father draws; he does not drag people into the kingdom through unconditional election or irresistible grace. The drawing is not forceful, to the point of giving no other alternative.
  5. We know from Titus 2:11 (ESV) that ‘the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’. This grace of God appeared with the passion-resurrection of Jesus, making salvation available to all. Yes, ALL!
  6. The fact is that people who hear the Gospel are drawn by the Father, but they have a choice to make – accept or reject the Gospel. The human will has been freed to enable human beings to make a decision for or against Christ. Human beings who are dead in sin are freed to believe by God himself.
  7. There is a godly mystery (1 Cor 2:7 NIV) involved in how God, by his Spirit, takes the message of salvation, exposes human beings to it, they are drawn (not forced) by the Father, and they have the choice to reject or ‘believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household’ (Acts 16:31 NIV).
  8. In this process, Satan’s influence cannot be under-estimated in influencing people to reject salvation. We are reminded in 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV), ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’. Satan the deceiver and devourer of all things good, including the Gospel, should not be ignored.

Leave out the free will choice – as Calvinists do – and it excludes a core element in the reception of the Gospel by people. Exclude free will and you eliminate what Jesus included: ‘You refuse to come to me that you may have life’ (John 5:40 ESV).

Salvation is all of God. He has provided it through Christ’s sacrifice, which was a propitiation, but in God’s grace He has made salvation available to people to receive or reject – with eternal consequences.

5. Begging the question fallacy

If a person starts an Internet discussion with a post that supports the premise of limited atonement and reaches the same conclusion, what has this person done? This is what a fellow did on a Christian forum. He began,

Not all men are reconciled to God by Christ’s death while being enemies, and that’s simply because Christ’s death was not for everyone without exception. That’s why some are reconciled to God while being enemies and unbelievers Rom 5:10 and why some are under Gods wrath and condemnation while being enemies and unbelievers Jn 3:18, 36!

There is simply only one explanation for this, Christ died for some who are enemies and unbelievers and did not die for others who are enemies and unbelievers!

The enemies and unbelievers that Christ died for are reconciled to God by it, did not perform any conditions whatsoever, because they were actively enemies and unbelievers, So Christ fulfilled all the conditions necessary for them to be reconciled to God while being enemies and unbelievers![10]

There was a back and forth with a number of different posters, including myself, until he came to this conclusion:

The contradiction is still there. Those enemies Christ died for are reconciled to God by His Death while they are enemies, which is not true for all, since some who are enemies are under Gods Wrath and Condemnation John 3:18,36.[11]

Notice what he did. He cited the same verses (John 3:18, 36) in this second post as with his first one. My response was:[12]

I can be the super, computer geek fixer for all the IT problems of the world – through my international agencies in every country – but not one person with a PC or laptop or IPad breakdown will receive any help from the super geek fixers until they pick up the phone, go to the Internet, or email with details of the issue.

This analogy demonstrates the truth of 1 John 2:2 (ESV), ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’. Jesus has propitiated the wrath of God for the sins of the whole world, but not one person will receive the benefits of that propitiation until he or she bows the knee in submission to Jesus Christ and accepts his offer by faith and repentance.

There is no contradiction. The issue is with your failure to see that God has ordained it that human beings must ‘pick up the phone’ and accept Jesus’ propitiation for their sins. Your problem is with the human side of accepting God’s forgiveness and responding in faith to the offer of salvation.

That’s because of your fixation on limited atonement and refusal to admit to what 1 John 2:2 (ESV) teaches in relation to propitiation for the sins of the whole world and that requires human response for redemption to happen.

This fellow’s claim is that

No one has been able to appropriately answer the points made in the op. Those Christ died for are reconciled to God while they are enemies and unbelievers Rom 5:10, yet that is not the case with all men without exception John 3:18, 36.[13]

My retort was:

That’s because you engage in a begging the question logical fallacy. In this instance, you begin with this premise:[14]

Not all men are reconciled to God by Christ’s death while being enemies, and that’s simply because Christ’s death was not for everyone without exception. That’s why some are reconciled to God while being enemies and unbelievers Rom 5:10 and why some are under Gods wrath and condemnation while being enemies and unbelievers Jn 3:18, 36!

There is simply only one explanation for this, Christ died for some who are enemies and unbelievers and did not die for others who are enemies and unbelievers![15]

What’s your conclusion? ‘No one has been able to appropriately answer the points made in the op’.[16] So you conclude where you began with Calvinism’s answer, which is your premise, thus demonstrating you use a begging the question logical fallacy. This is also called circular reasoning.
You will never ever receive an answer to the questions of the original post because your premise is embedded in your conclusion. Nobody will be able to convince you that your premise is wrong when you don’t seem to be open to such a challenge. You refuse to conclude with anything other than a Calvinistic conclusion – limited atonement – which was your premise.

6. Conclusion

Calvinists promote salvation by grace through faith that is irresistible because God has unconditionally elected a person to salvation. Add to this the fact for them that Jesus did not die for all people, but only for the elect. Therefore, it is logical for them to say that human beings have no need to receive Jesus into their hearts as God has already saved them by his eternal decree.

Reformed or Classical Arminians believe salvation is by grace through faith but any person can resist this grace that God has extended to them when salvation is proclaimed. For Arminians, God has freed the will of all people so that they can respond with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the offer of salvation. However, salvation is always that which is provided by God himself through Christ’s sacrifice.

I conclude in favour of the Reformed Arminian theology because I understand it as providing the consistent biblical view. For a further explanation, see my articles:

clip_image003 Salvation is a work of God and human beings: More misinformation about Arminianism

clip_image003[1] Calvinist misrepresents the Reformed

clip_image003[2] Blatant misrepresentation of Arminians by Calvinists

clip_image003[3] Some Calvinistic antagonism towards Arminians

clip_image003[4] Stutters on the stairway: Arminianism vs Calvinism (eternal security)

clip_image003[5] Prevenient grace – kinda clumsy!

clip_image003[6] It’s amazing what some Calvinists will do

clip_image003[6] Is any flavor of Arminianism promoting error?

7. Works consulted

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press (published by arrangement with Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

8.  Notes

[1] This is my post at Christian Forums.net, Apologetics & Theology, ‘No conditions to be reconciled’, OzSpen#36, 18 April 2016. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/no-conditions-to-be-reconciled.64255/page-2 (Accessed 19 April 2016). This was a reply to beloved57#12.

[2] Ibid., beloved57#19.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#37.

[4] Ibid., Cygnus#23.

[5] Ibid., beloved57#12.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#36.

[7] Ibid., beloved57#40.

[8] Ibid., beloved57#42.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#51.

[10] Ibid., beloved57#1.

[11] Ibid., beloved57#40.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#70.

[13] Ibid., beloved57#66.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#68.

[15] Ibid., beloved57#1.

[16] ‘op’ means original post,Beloved57#1.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 May 2016.

Why is eternal security such a touchy subject?

Hanging Cat

(image courtesy ChristArt.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

If you want to stir up some controversy, go to a Presbyterian church and question the eternal security of the Christian believer. To suggest that a Christian can fall away and even commit apostasy from the faith (1 Tim 1:18-20; Heb 6:4-6) is almost to have the anathema pronounced over you. I had a TULIP Presbyterian member tell me on 1 May 2016 that he would not attend a Wesleyan Methodist church in his rural community because those people ‘believe people can lose their salvation’.

1. Samples of OSAS

Try opposing once-saved-always-saved (OSAS) in some Baptist churches and you could be vigorously opposed. I’ve experienced similar animosity in opposing OSAS on Christian forums where Calvinists and Arminians hover and engage in sometimes antagonistic interaction. Some examples of this included:

bronze-arrow-small ‘Surely Satan does not want us to know that faith is the security of our salvation: “who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5 NASB)
He wants every one of us who believes to stop believing, so we will no longer have access to God’s protection for our salvation through that faith’.[1]

bronze-arrow-small ‘Some teachers and preachers of the Word teach OSNAS [once saved not always saved] so that they can keep their congregation under their thumb—fearful, insecure and dependent on their leaders to know what to do to maintain or keep their salvation. (Many cults function this way.) The more sincere ones are just afraid that teaching OSAS will cause their congregations members to leave church and sin like there’s no tomorrow. This opposite is true, though’.[2]

bronze-arrow-small ‘This statement — “faith is the security of our salvation” — is also one of the reasons why there is resistance to the doctrine of eternal security. There are many Christians who believe that it is their faith and/or their good works which keeps them saved’.[3]

You can encounter similar antagonism by promoting TULIP in Wesleyan, Assemblies of God, or Free Will Baptist churches. Then if you promote Arminianism in Reformed, Presbyterian, or Reformed Baptist churches, you’ll find similar resistance.

That’s a sampling from an online Christian forum, but it could happen anywhere that there are Christians from both sides of the theological fence in a congregation – promoting Arminianism or Calvinism.

2. Eternal security: A touchy topic

Why is eternal security such a contentious subject among Christians? I encountered it again with the topic, ‘Why is there so much resistance to the eternal security of the believer?[4]

2.1 He fired away

The opening post got the discussion underway with this perspective:

The eternal security of the believer is a fundamental Bible truth (1 Jn 5:13). Yet there is considerable resistance to this doctrine in many quarters, and at the same time many believers who really don’t know the Scriptures are uncertain about something which should be absolutely certain. So why is there so much resistance? I believe there are at least two reasons, and perhaps you might find that there are several others.

The first reason in my esitmation (sic) is the opposition of the archenemy of God and of the Christian. Satan does not want anyone to know – without the shadow of a doubt – that their salvation is eternally secure.

The second reason is that Gospel Truth is not being preached and taught as it ought to be (in all its fulness), babes in Christ are not being discipled as they ought to be, and too many believers do not really understand their position in Christ. The point of this thread is to determine whether we clearly understand our position in Christ.[5]

How should I, a Christian believer who accepts perseverance of the saints but not OSAS, answer such a person’s unfortunate misinterpretation of 1 John 5:13 (ESV)? I responded:[6]

2.2 The meaning of 1 John 5:13

What does 1 John 5:13 (ESV) teach? The verse states, ‘I write [Gk aorist tense] these things to you who believe [Gk present tense] in the name of the Son of God that you may know [Gk perfect tense] that you have [Gk present tense] eternal life.

The aorist tense is point action. The present tense refers to continuing action in the present time. The perfect tense refers to an action in the past with continuing results. In Dana & Mantey’s advanced Greek text, they explain that there are ‘two fundamental ways of viewing action’ for Greek tenses. ‘It may be contemplated in single perspective, as a point, which we may call punctiliar action…; or it may be regarded as in progress, as a line, and this we may call linear action…. The perfect tense is a combination of these two ideas: it looks in perspective at the action, and regards the results of the action as continuing to exist; that is, in progress at a given point. Hence the perfect has both elements, linear and punctiliar. The aorist may be represented by a dot (clip_image001), the present by a line (————), and the perfect by the combination of the two (clip_image001[1]————-) [Dana & Mantey 1955:179].

Therefore, the meaning of 1 John 5:13 (ESV) is NOT that somebody believed in the past and thus is guaranteed eternal security for salvation, no matter what he or she does after saying ‘yes’ to Jesus. The meaning is that it is written to those ‘who continue to believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may continue to have the result of knowing that you are continuing to have eternal life’. So, perseverance of the saints is better language than eternal security OSAS, based on this verse, 1 John 5:13 (ESV). Christian believers are those who continue to believe to the end of their lives.
Why is that the case? It is because the original Greek language of the text affirms that the Christians who continue to believe in the name of the Son of God will know that they continue to have eternal life. Thus, eternal life is guaranteed to those who persevere in the faith – they continue to believe.

3. Resistance to teaching on eternal security

Another person made a perceptive observation:

What security EXACTLY is being resisted? Rom 8:38-39 (NIV) or some other issue?

1 John 5:13 (NIV), IN context, refers to EVERYTHING John wrote in this whole letter. It says nothing about ‘eternal security’.

That is a catch phrase for RT [Reformed Theology].[7]

He’s correct. First John 5:13 (NIV) reads, ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’.

What is being resisted is the spiritual condition of continuing to believe (Greek present tense). For those who continue to believe, the result is that the believers will know they have eternal life.

Why is there resistance to the eternal security teaching? From my point of view, it is related to these issues:

1. It is not a biblical teaching and when this is shown to the OSAS folks, they can get defensive and resistant to hear what the Scriptures state. I’ve found nothing in Scripture that supports the view that a person can believe in Christ once, live a life in continuing, deliberate sin, and be guaranteed eternal security of salvation. See my articles:

clip_image003 Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

clip_image003[1] Loss of salvation is nowhere taught in the Bible;

clip_image003[2] Where do Scriptures say Christians can be lost?

clip_image003[3] Controversies: Once saved, always saved.

clip_image003[4] What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

clip_image003[5] Did Arminius refute eternal security?

2. They may resist the doctrine of eternal security or OSAS because the biblical view is perseverance of the saints. They have not been taught this.

This doctrine is taught in passages such as John 3:36 (ESV),

Whoever believes [continues believing] in the Son has [continues having] eternal life; whoever does not obey [continues not obeying] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains [continues remaining] on him.

What I have inserted in square brackets [ ] indicates the meaning of the Greek present tense. There is only eternal life for those who continue believing in the Son, Jesus, and continue to remain in him. There is no eternal life for those who continue not to obey the Son.

Perseverance of the saints is the biblical teaching that believers who continue believing in Jesus to the end of life or the second coming of Jesus, are the ones guaranteed eternal life. They are the ones who enjoy eternal security.

3. This is a core issue: A person’s theological views are driven by presuppositions.

Concerning NT scholars, Graham Stanton wrote:

Why do the conclusions of New Testament scholars differ so widely? Anyone who begins to read books about the New Testament soon becomes aware that competent scholars defend with equal vigour and sincerity widely differing approaches to the New Testament. The variety of viewpoints often causes great perplexity both to theological students and to the church at large…. The presuppositions adopted either consciously or unconsciously by the interpreter are far more influential in New Testament scholarship than disagreements over method (Stanton 1977:60)

If it is not possible for a person to lay aside his or her presuppositions, Stanton recommends three safeguards:

(a) The interpreter who is aware of the danger of not laying aside the person’s assumptions is more likely to avoid this problem.

(b) Use the historical, critical method. This will help rule out fanciful, allegorical [and postmodern][8] interpretations.

(c) ‘The third safeguard is even more important. The interpreter must allow his own presuppositions and his own pre-understanding to be modified or even completely reshaped by the text itself. Unless this is allowed to happen, the interpreter will be unable to avoid projecting his own ideas on to the text’ (Stanton 1977:68).

While Stanton wrote for a scholarly audience, his ‘safeguards’ are just as important in Christian conversation, preaching and discussion about Calvinism and Arminianism.

Until those presuppositions change, the possibilities of changing from one view to the other is nigh impossible. The Calvinistic view of OSAS or perseverance of the saints is driven by the presuppositions of TULIP and if one accepts the content of TULI, then P is a normal and natural consequence. The Arminian theology is driven by FACTS. ‘Arminianism may be represented by the acronym FACTS’:

Freed by Grace (to Believe)
Atonement for All
Conditional Election
Total Depravity
Security in Christ (Abasciano & Glynn 2013).

See my articles in support of this latter view:

clip_image005 Continue in the faith to guarantee eternal life;

clip_image005[1] Loss of salvation is nowhere taught in the Bible;

clip_image005[2] Is it possible or impossible to fall away from the Christian faith?

Now let’s look at the teachings of some leading lights in this theological debate.

3.1 Arminius and eternal security

It is sometimes said by those who oppose Arminian theology that Arminius (1560-1609)[9] did not believe in eternal security. Let’s check out some evidence:

clip_image007

Jacobus Arminius (image courtesy Wikipedia)

It is worth quoting Arminius at some length in his teaching on ‘The Perseverance of the Saints’:

My sentiments respecting the perseverance of the saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies—yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also by his Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of his hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.

Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.

Thus, Arminius, whose views have been most often associated with loss of salvation and repudiation of eternal security, actually stated that the one who is ‘a true believer’ (presumably meaning that he/she continues as a true Christian), cannot either totally or finally commit apostasy and fall away from the faith. Here’s the key: Is that person continuing to trust in Jesus alone for salvation?

3.2 Calvinism and eternal security

clip_image009

John Calvin (image courtesy www.biography.com)

 

John Calvin (1509-1564)[10] was the one after whom the Calvinistic system of theology was named. He promoted the view of eternal security that the Lord’s promise declares that all who have been received by the Lord ‘in true faith have been given to him by the Father, no one of whom, since he is their guardian and shepherd, will perish [cf. I John 3:16; 6:39]’. Of Judas, Calvin claims that ‘the Lord’s assertion in another passage [John 6:70] that he was chosen by him with the apostles is made only with reference to the ministry…. That is, he had chosen him for the apostolic office. But when he speaks of election unto salvation, he banishes him far from the number of the elect’ [John 13:18] (Calvin, 1960:3.24.7 and 3.24.9, pp. 973, 975).

What was the Calvinistic view of perseverance of the saints by those after Calvin? The Synod of Dort[11] that met in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, in 1618-1619, in response to the Remonstrants’ challenge, concluded that

for God, who is rich in mercy,[12] according to the unchangeable purpose of His election,[13] does not completely withdraw His Holy Spirit from His own even in their deplorable fall.[14] Neither does He permit them to sink so deep that they fall away from the grace of adoption and the state of justification,[15] or commit the sin unto death[16] or the sin against the Holy Spirit[17] and, totally deserted by Him, plunge themselves into eternal ruin (Synod of Dordt, Head 5, Art 6).[18]

It is not surprising that Calvinism would adopt the position of eternal security since it believes that the only ones out of all humanity who are recipients of salvation to eternal life are those who have been unconditionally elected to salvation and drawn through irresistible grace. The natural corollary is that those who are predestined unconditionally to salvation will persevere to the end. If such a person, in the Calvinistic system, were to fall from grace, then it would be a demonstration that that person had not received the effectual call of salvation. See the explanation of TULIP (the five points of Calvinism).

The Westminster Confession of Faith,[19] an eminent Calvinistic confession, in its chapter, ‘Of the Perseverance of the Saints’, states:

1. They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves (ch 17).[20]

Therefore, the Calvinistic position is that those who are unchangeably drawn to salvation by God through election, will not be permitted to fall away from the grace of adoption in Christ to return to eternal ruin. The perseverance of the saints depends, not on human free will, but on the immutable decree of election. However, they may be tempted by Satan, fall into severe sins and even continue committing such for a time and bring temporal judgments on themselves. However, their salvation will not be lost.

3.3 The church fathers and eternal security

What can we discern from the writings of the church fathers on this topic? It was Arminius’s view

that almost all antiquity [i.e. the teaching of the church fathers] is of the opinion, that believers can fall away and perish…. “Elect” and “believers” are not convertible terms according to the view of the fathers, unless perseverance be added to faith. Nor is it declared, by Christ, in Matt. xxiv,24, that the elect can not depart from Christ, but that they can not be deceived, by which is meant that though the power of deception is great, yet it is not so great as to seduce the elect (Arminius, 1977:493, emphasis in original).

 

Using Judas as an example, these church fathers reached different conclusions concerning his eternal destiny in the beginning and at the end of his life.

 

a. Concerning Judas

File:F463.highresBaiserJudas.jpg(Francais: Daiser de Judas, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Irenaeus (ca AD 125-202),[21] bishop of Lyons in Gaul about the year AD 180, wrote in Against Heresies (about AD 185), of Judas[22]

‘who was expelled from the number of the twelve, and never restored to his place…. but Judas was deprived [of his office], and cast out, while Matthias was ordained in his place….’

‘But Judas having been once for all cast away, never returns into the number of the disciples; otherwise a different person would not have been chosen to fill his place. Besides, the Lord also declared regarding him, Woe to the man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed [Matthew 26:24]; and, It were better for him if he had never been born [Mark 14:21]; and he was called the son of perdition [John 17:12] by Him’ (Against Heresies, 2.20.2, 5).

Chrysostom (ca AD 347-407),[23] was born and ministered in Antioch, Syria, and was the golden-mouthed expositor and orator. He wrote, ‘For Judas too was a child of the kingdom, and it was said to him with the disciples, you shall sit on twelve thrones [Matthew 19:28]; yet he became a child of hell’ (Homily 26 on Matthew).

Ambrose of Milan (ca AD 340-397),[24] administrator and preacher, said, ‘For both Saul and Judas were once good…. Sometimes they are at first good, who afterwards become and continue evil; and for this respect they are said to be written in the book of life, and blotted out of it’ (cited from The Works of John Fletcher, p. 137).

St Augustine of Hippo (ca AD 354-430),[25] philosopher and theologian, in his Tractate 62 (John 13:26-21) had quite a bit to say about Judas and his condition. This is but a sample:

It was after this bread, then, that Satan entered into the Lord’s betrayer, that, as now given over to his power, he might take full possession of one into whom before this he had only entered in order to lead him into error. For we are not to suppose that he was not in him when he went to the Jews and bargained about the price of betraying the Lord; for the evangelist Luke very plainly attests this when he says: Then entered Satan into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot, being one of the twelve; and he went his way, and communed with the chief priests [Luke 22:3-4]. Here, you see, it is shown that Satan had already entered into Judas. His first entrance, therefore, was when he implanted in his heart the thought of betraying Christ; for in such a spirit had he already come to the supper. But now, after the bread, he entered into him, no longer to tempt one who belonged to another, but to take possession of him as his own.

But it was not then, as some thoughtless readers suppose, that Judas received the body of Christ. For we are to understand that the Lord had already dispensed to all of them the sacrament of His body and blood, when Judas also was present, as very clearly related by Saint Luke [Luke 22:19-21]; and it was after this that we come to the moment when, in accordance with John’s account, the Lord made a full disclosure of His betrayer by dipping and holding out to him the morsel of bread, and intimating perhaps by the dipping of the bread the false pretensions of the other. For the dipping of a thing does not always imply its washing; but some things are dipped in order to be dyed. But if a good meaning is to be here attached to the dipping, his ingratitude for that good was deservedly followed by damnation (Tractate 62.2-3).

What can we conclude from these church fathers about Judas’s destiny? He was once a child of the kingdom (Chrysostom) and then was damned after Satan entered him and he betrayed Jesus. Movement from being chosen as a disciple of Jesus to being a ‘son of perdition’ is a demonstration that these church fathers saw a falling away from grace.

b. Church fathers and eternal security for believers

clip_image011

Irenaeus (image courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image012 Irenaeus (ca 125-202), bishop of Lyons, ‘was most influenced by St. Polycarp who had known the apostles or their immediate disciples’. It was he who wrote in one of his most celebrated publications:

Christ shall not die again in behalf of those who now commit sin, for death shall no more have dominion over Him…. We ought not, therefore, as that presbyter remarks, to be puffed up, nor be severe upon those of old time, but ought ourselves to fear, lest perchance, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but be shut out from His kingdom (Against Heresies 4.27.2).

clip_image014

Tertullian (image courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image012[1] Tertullian (ca 155/160-220)[26], the son of a centurion and a pagan until middle life, wrote,

But some think as if God were under a necessity of bestowing even on the unworthy, what He has engaged (to give); and they turn His liberality into slavery…. For do not many afterward fall out of (grace)? Is not this gift taken away from many? (Tertullian, On Repentance, ch. 6).

clip_image012[2] St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430)[27] wrote: ‘This grace He placed in Him in whom we have obtained a lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things.’ And thus as He worketh that we come to Him, so He worketh that we do not depart’ (Augustine 1887b).

Augustine also wrote: ‘He that made us without ourselves, will not save us without ourselves’ (cited in Wesley, 1872/1978:281).[28] We note Augustine’s struggle with human free will and divine sovereignty in the following teaching from, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will” (Augustine, 1887a):

Lest, however, it should be thought that men themselves in this matter do nothing by free will, it is said in the Psalm, ‘Harden not your hearts;’ [Ps. 95:5] and in Ezekiel himself, ‘Cast away from you all your transgressions’ [Ezek. 18:31]…. We should remember that He says, ‘Make you a new heart and a new spirit,’ who also promises, ‘I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you.’[Ezek. 36:26] How is it, then, that He who says, ‘Make you,’ also says, ‘I will give you’? Why does He command, if He is to give? Why does He give if man is to make, except it be that He gives what He commands when He helps him to obey whom He commands?…” [Ch. 31 (XV)]

It is certain that it is we that will when we will, but it is He who makes us will what is good, of whom it is said (as he has just now expressed it), ‘The will is prepared by the Lord.’ [Prov. 8:35] Of the same Lord it is said, ‘The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord, and his way doth He will.’ [Ps. 37:23] Of the same Lord again it is said, ‘It is God who worketh in you, even to will!’ [Phil. 2:13] It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will, who has said, ‘I will make you to walk in my statutes, and to observe my judgments, and to do them’ [Ezek. 36:27]…. [Ch. 32 (XVI), emphasis in original].

Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will…. On which account the apostle says, “I am confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” [Phil. 1:6] He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will’ [Ch. 33 [XVII]).

These church fathers taught that a person who believed in Christ could be shut out of the kingdom, thus losing salvation. However, Augustine’s view was people ‘act when we act; but it is He [God] who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will’.

4. Conclusion

There have been those throughout church history who have believed it is possible for a person to commit apostasy and fall away from the Christian faith. Others teach the opposite. This Arminian-Calvinistic divide will continue. Reasons were suggested why eternal security (OSAS) is a touchy subject and provokes such antagonism in the Christian community.

One of the dominant reasons suggested for such continuing conflict involved the presuppositions from both sides of the debate. If a person cannot lay aside his or her presuppositions, Graham Stanton suggested three safeguards: (1) Interpreters are to be aware of their own presuppositions; (2) Use the historical critical method to avoid fanciful allegorical interpretations; and (3) Most importantly, interpreters need to allow their own presuppositions to be modified by the content of the biblical text. Unless this happens, the interpreter will impose his or her own ideas onto the text (Stanton 1977:68).

5. Works consulted

Abasciano, B & Glynn, M 2013. An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism. Society of Evangelical Arminians (online). Available at: http://evangelicalarminians.org/an-outline-of-the-facts-of-arminianism-vs-the-tulip-of-calvinism/ (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Arminius, J 1977, The writings of James Arminius, vol. 3 (Nichols, J & Bagnall, WR eds.), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Also available at CCEL, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Augustine, A 1887a. ‘On grace and free will’, in Schaff, P (ed), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series (online), vol 5. Tr by P Holmes & R E Wallis.  Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by K Knight at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1510.htm (Accessed 10 April 2015).

Augustine A 1887b. ‘On the predestination of the saints’, in Schaff, P (ed), Nicene and Post-Nicene fathers, first series (online), vol 5, rev by B B Warfield. Tr by P Holmes & R E Wallis. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/15122.htm (Accessed 10 April 2015).

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Calvin, J 1960, Institutes of the Christian religion, vols. 1-2 (McNeill, JT ed. & Battles, FL transl.), The Westminster Press, Philadelphia. Also available online at CRTA, http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/books/institutes/ (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Dana, H E & Mantey, J R 1927/1955, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Toronto, Canada: The Macmillan Company.

Harper, J S 2002, “A Wesleyan Arminian view,” in Four views on eternal security, gen. ed. J. M. Pinson, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Stanton, G N 1977, Presuppositions in New Testament criticism, in I H Marshall (ed), New Testament interpretation: Essays on principles and methods, 60-71. Milton Keyes, England: The Paternoster Press Ltd. This chapter is available also at: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/nt-interpretation/nti_03.pdf (Accessed 1 May 2016).

Wesley, J 1872/1978, The works of John Wesley (vol. 6), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Also available at Wesley Center Online, http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/ (Accessed 1 May 2016).


Notes

[1] This is located at Christian Forums.net, Apologetics & Theology, 29 May 2015, Jethro Bodine#3. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/why-is-there-so-much-resistance-to-the-eternal-security-of-the-believer.59729/ (Accessed 3 June 2015).

[2] Ibid., DWJL511#4.

[3] Ibid., Malachi#9.

[4] Ibid., Malachi#1.

[5] Ibid., Malachi#1.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#132.

[7] Ibid., StanJ#16.

[8] Postmodern is my insertion.

[9] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Jacobus Arminius). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Jacobus-Arminius (Accessed 2 May 2016)

[10] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v John Calvin). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Calvin (Accessed 2 May 2016).

[11] Dort is the English spelling for Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

[12] Eph 2:4-5 (NIV).

[13] Eph 1:11 (NIV).

[14] Ps 51:13 (NIV).

[15] Gal 4:5 (NIV).

[16] 1 John 5:16-18 (NIV).

[17] Matt 12:31-32 (NIV).

[18] Canadian & American Reformed Churches 2016. ‘God will not permit his elect to be lost’. Available at: http://www.canrc.org/?page=281 (Accessed 18 April 2016).

[19] This Confession was produced by the Westminster Assembly, completed in 1646 and approved by the British parliament in June 1648 (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2016. s v Westminster Confession). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Westminster-Confession (Accessed 2 May 2016).

[20] Available from The Orthodox Presbyterian Church at: http://www.opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_17 (Accessed 18 April 2016). Scriptures to support this position are provided in Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 17, Center for Reformed Theology & Apologetics 1996-2016. Available at: http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ (Accessed 18 April 2016).

[21] Lifespan dates are from ‘St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons: Biography’, Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/irenaeus (Accessed 29 December 2013).

[22] These details of Irenaeus are from Cairns (1981:110), who stated that he ‘was born in Smurna, had been influenced by Polycarp’s preaching while Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna’. Against Heresies is his ‘greatest work’ and ‘was done in the field of polemics writing against Gnosticism’ (Cairns 1981:10).

[23] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:141).

[24] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:145).

[25] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:146).

[26] Lifespan details, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Tertullian). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Tertullian (Accessed 1 May 2016).

[27] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Augustine). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Augustine (Accessed 1 May 2016).

[28] This quote by Augustine is from John Wesley’s Sermon LXIII, “The General Spread of the Gospel”(in Wesley, 1872/1978b, p. 277ff). However, Wesley did not footnote his bibliographical details for Augustine and Augustine’s quote was repeated in Harper (2002:251), also without bibliographical information. I have not been able to locate Augustine’s exact quote in his works on the World Wide Web.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 May 2016.