“The Kindness of God.” Part 10: “If you continue….”

The previous post looked at verses which teach that a true believer can never lose his salvation.  In this final post, we want to look at a couple of verses which are often used to teach, as a Boston Church of Christ elder once told me, one can be a child of God and still end up in Hell.

In the other post, we saw what might be called the believer’s reassurance.  This post deals with what might be called the believer’s responsibility.  In other words, contrary to what many opponents of eternal security believe it says, and even some who agree with it seem to teach, salvation isn’t just some sort of eternal “fire insurance,” which, once having, a person can put it into a safety deposit box with other papers and forget about it.

No, no, salvation is eternal life,  and life is to be lived.  We have a new grandson and his mom says that he’s big for his age.  Well, he is a chunk, but I joked to her that he didn’t read the same baby-development book.

You see, birth brings up expectations of growth, development and maturing.  So it is with the new birth.  There is to be growth, development and maturing.  We sometimes say that it’s a shame that a baby has to grow up because they’re so cute when they’re little.  We know, however, that we really don’t mean that; it would be a great sorrow if they didn’t grow up.

1.  John 8:30, 31, As He [Jesus] spoke these words, many believed in Him.  Then Jesus said to them, “If you abide in My word, then are you My disciples indeed.”

The KJV translated this verse, “If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed.”  This verse is taken to mean that a believer who doesn’t “continue” or “abide” in Christ becomes lost.  However, our Lord didn’t say that one who continues remains a disciple; He said that such a one is a disciple indeed, that is, truly.  Continuation in the faith is not a condition of salvation; it is an evidence of it.

It is here that much of fundamental or contemporary Christianity errs on eternal security.  The Scripture is clear about the certainty of salvation for those who have it, but that is the difficulty.  The Bible nowhere tells us to take “having it” for granted.  In the little saying, “once saved, always saved,” the emphasis is usually on “always saved.”  The Scripture places the emphasis on, “once saved.”

Just because I’ve “believed,” that is, given mental assent to some statement or confession of faith, or gone through some church ritual, or “done something,” whatever the “something” might be, doesn’t mean I’m truly saved.  Remember Nicodemus. There are multitudes in our churches who’ve gone through some ritual or ceremony, or have been manipulated into making a “profession of faith,” but like Nicodemus, need something else.

It’s important to see that the “believers” in v. 31 above wound up trying to kill Jesus before the chapter is over, v. 59!  They didn’t “abide” in His word at all, but rejected it.  There are many who begin in the Word, but some aspect of it offends them, some OT event or some NT teaching, and they turn aside.  It’s not up to us to say that such are lost, but it’s a serious matter to reject the Word, any part of it.

There’s a lot more we could say about this.  Cf. such verses as Acts 2:42; 11:23; 13:43 and 14:22.

2.  Hebrews 6:1-6, Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection [maturity], not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection from the dead, and of eternal judgment.  And this we will do, if God permits.  For it is impossible for those once enlightened, and having tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.

We’ve quoted such an extensive portion because most people never get away from four words in v. 6, if they fall away, and conclude, sometimes vehemently, that “eternal security” is a doctrine from the Pit.  Much of the discussion centers around whether or not the writer is thinking of true Christians.  Without going into great detail, let’s just say that the writer refers to those who have been renewed …unto repentance.  This isn’t a description of those who are still dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1.

There is no “if” in the original language.  The verses might be translated something like this:

“For [it is] impossible, those once enlightened, who tasted of the heavenly gift and became partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God and works of [the] age to come, and fell away, again to renew [them] to repentance, crucifying for themselves the Son of God, and exposing [Him] publicly.”

For these people, the “falling away” is as real as anything said about them.  Does this mean, then, that it’s possible to lose your salvation?

Think very carefully before you answer.

If the text does indeed teach that you can lose your salvation, it also clearly teaches something else.  According to these verses, if it is possible to lose your salvation, it is not possible to get it back!  Read the verses again.  Yet, many claim to have been “saved” several times….  According to the text, that’s not possible.

There are at least two results of the idea that one can lose his salvation.  First, it results in a superficial view of sin and the innate sinfulness of human nature.  The logical result of this is “sinless perfection,” for anything less than this opens us up to losing our salvation.  After all, when it comes to sin, how much is “too much”?  Wasn’t it a little sin, as we would count it, that plunged our entire race into the miserable condition it’s in?

Second, this being saved and lost and saved, again and again, results in an even more superficial view of salvation than the one generally held today, in which salvation is little more than a fire escape from hell, or a key to “health and wealth,” or as a cure-all for the world’s social ills.  Seldom is one’s standing before a holy, righteous and just God even thought about.

Why is it impossible to be saved more than once?  It’s impossible to be saved more than once, according to the writer, because of what it takes to be saved at all!  The only way sinful men and women, and there isn’t any other kind, the only way they can be saved is through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.  There is no other way! 

To lose your salvation would bring great dishonor to the Lord Jesus – “exposing [Him] publicly.”  The “effect” of all this on the Lord Jesus is never ever even considered.  It’s all about us, “coming and going,” as it were, at our pleasure.   It’s with good reason that Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame,…  He hung naked on a Roman cross for the salvation of His sheep.  To say that even one of them can lose their salvation is to say that all that dishonor and suffering was for nothing.

Furthermore, according to Hebrews 10:26, if we sin willfully after we receive the knowledge of the truth [if we “fall away”], there remains no longer a sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation….

If it were possible to lose salvation…, there would be no “second chance.”

Well, then, if the writer isn’t teaching loss of salvation, what is he teaching?

Remember, Hebrews 6 isn’t the beginning of the book.  Chapter 6 starts with the word, therefore, and brings us to the conclusion of 5:12-14,

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age [mature], that is, those who by reason of use [practice] have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

The writer has turned aside for a moment to apply his teaching about the preeminence of Christ to the lives of his readers, in order to remind them that Christianity isn’t just an academic exercise in certain doctrines or historical facts.  These facts and doctrines are intended to have a radical and permanent effect in the hearts and lives of men and women.  These facts and doctrines aren’t an end in themselves, but are meant to bring people from cursing to blessing – from being “foreigners” to being “family” – from being “sinners” to being “saints”.  He contrasts where his readers are with where they ought to be.  Instead of being leaders and teachers, helping others along their Christian walk, and themselves being able to digest the strong meat of the word – things hard to explain, 5:11 – they are still immature, still clinging to first principles.

In chapter 6, the writer encourages his readers to go on to maturity, that is, to advance, make progress.  To do this, they don’t have to go back to the beginning and “start over;” they don’t have to “get saved” again, or to “rededicate” their lives, but to go on from where they are.  They weren’t to lay again the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith toward God.  They weren’t to return to the ceremonial acts of washing of the OT, cf. 9:10, or the laying on of hands, that is, identifying with the OT sacrifices, cf. Leviticus 1:4.  These could never take away sin, could never prepare those who took part in them for the resurrection of the dead, and…eternal judgment.

Could there be another thought here, as well?  Could it be that “falling away” isn’t just committing some overt sin or turning aside into false doctrine?  To be sure, these are to be avoided at all cost, but there may be something else here, something much more serious, if you will, because multitudes of professing Christians are guilty of it, yet it’s never mentioned.

Could it be, from the writer’s view of expected progress and spiritual growth that “falling away” is simply “to stand still”?  To stagnate?  How many there are who have been church members for years, and yet have made no progress in the Christian life at all.  Indeed, they seem to think that having their name on a church roll is enough and they’re on their way to “a better place.”   Yet they never read the Bible, and have no real interest in it’s teachings.  They never pray, or if they do, it’s just some “form” prescribed by their church.  They’re indistinguishable from the world around them.

Would the writer consider this as – “falling away”?  It’s something to think about.

Or perhaps, they once were active in church.  I remember a lady showing me an award for 15 years of perfect Sunday School attendance.  Make no mistake.  That’s quite an accomplishment – 780 consecutive Sundays.  But now, she hadn’t been to church in several years.

Oh, it’s a dangerous thing to be a “once were” professor of faith in Christ, “once were” active and interested in the things of God, but now….  Can it be said that such persons have “continued,” that they have “persevered”?  Are they saved?  Are they lost?  Only God knows for sure.  There’s only been one Human Being Who infallibly and truly knows what is in man, John 2:25.

At the same time, remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to another immature group of believers: examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith, 2 Corinthians 13:5.  None of this pumping them up to feel good about themselves, as is the modern habit of some; Paul told them to examine themselves to see whether they were saved or not.  To yet another church, which had turned aside from his teaching, he wrote that he was afraid for them, and that he had doubts about them, Galatians 4:11, 20.

Perhaps there are some who will say, “Oh, now you’re teaching salvation by works,” and, for them, that will be the end of it.  However, remember that the inspired Apostle wrote, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6 (emphasis added).

This is how faith is manifested, not just in some “profession,” but in working, that is, being obedient to the Word, cf. Hebrews 11.  Here is how faith is motivated, not just in some ritual, or of necessity, or of “habit,” but through love   Not in drudgery, as in a task grudgingly performed, or in dread, because God will “get me” if I don’t do such and such, but things done in delight and devotion, because we’ve seen and experienced something of the greatness and goodness of God.  See also James 1:17, 20, 26.  “Dead” faith doesn’t come from the living God.

The Lord Jesus Himself described love toward Himself as being obedient to His Word, John 14:21, 23-24,  “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me….  If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word….  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.” 

Read these words very carefully.  They are serious, indeed.  The only way faith is made evident, and the only way one can have Scriptural assurance of salvation, is through loving and willing obedience to the Word of God.  This isn’t “perfection,” it’s “perseverance.”

Some say that our Lord meant that we are to live only by the words of the Gospels, as if the other books somehow “don’t count.”  However, all the NT is His Word, not just its first four books.

Make no mistake about it.  Sinners are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who He is and what He did for sinners.  However, there are different “kinds” of faith.  There is an “historical” faith, content with the bare facts of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord.  Then there is a “doctrinal” faith, which simply agrees with or repeats the beliefs of a particular church or denomination, whether those beliefs are Scriptural or not.  There is a “natural” faith, the kind often talked about in fundamentalist circles, which believes the car will start when you turn the key in the ignition.  There is even a “devilish” faith, James 1:19.  None of these is “saving” faith, which comes from God, and not from ourselves, Ephesians 2:8-10.

There are those who disagree with the assessment of the last paragraph.  They will argue that “faith” is “faith” – there is only one kind of faith.  I cannot agree.  I don’t believe that “saving faith,” and, say, “devilish faith” are the same “kind” of faith.

The Scripture teaches that no one who is truly saved can ever be lost, but in response to the question, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” even our Lord answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able,” Luke 13:23, 24.
__________

Conclusion.

Considering all that could be said, not only of this doctrine, but of all of them, this series has been a very narrow and incomplete look at them.   I hope at the very least that it has given you something to think about.  Still, the main thing isn’t, “What do you think of these doctrines?” though I do hope you agree with them.  The main thing is, “What do you think of the Lord Jesus?”

Questions

1.  In John 8:30, 31, what does our Lord say about true believers?

2.  Is “perseverance” a condition of salvation?

3.  What happened to the “believers” in John 8?

4.  What does Hebrews 6:1-6 teach about “losing salvation?”

5.  Is it possible to be “saved” multiple times?

6.  Why, or why not?

7.  What is an important consideration in salvation?

8.  What does Hebrews 10:26 say about being “saved again?”

9.  What does the writer of Hebrews expect of his readers?

10. What are the manifestation of and the motivation for faith?

11. What is “perseverance”?

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2 thoughts on ““The Kindness of God.” Part 10: “If you continue….”

  1. I am really enjoying this series. Thank you for it. In this one your statement about the emphasis should be on the…once saved…instead of the..always saved. That was really great.

    • Thank you for your kind comments and your following. The series is a distillation of about 50 years holding these doctrines. I was introduced to them in August ’63 by a fellow student where I was going to college. Took me a couple of years to work my way through all the objections, etc. The emphasis about “once saved…” came from the several years I spent among fundamentalists, with their emphasis on “soul-winning” methodology, and the number of people who ever acted like they were saved, opposed to the much greater numbers of “professions,” many of whom were assured they were saved, and could never lose it. When I came to the doctrines of grace, I lost all that, and it took me several years to fill in the gap. I finally figured out that it was the message, not the “method,” that God uses to save sinners. Thanks, again.

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