Acts 10:1-12:23: Times of Transition.

Actually, Acts 13:1 might be called a turning-point, although the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10 is itself a landmark in early church history.  The Gospel had begun to be slowly diffused through the nations, but there was still a lot of ground to be covered in the disciples themselves.  They still had much to learn.  The conversion of Cornelius was one such lesson.

1. An Elect Gentile, 10:1-11:18.

Conversion of, 10:1-48.  This chapter shows us the opening to Gentiles of the door granting direct access to God.  The early church, made up of Jewish believers, had a very difficult time working through the idea that Gentiles could have such access.  After all, for centuries the Jews had been God’s chosen people and in order to come to God, one had to go through them, as it were. Over and over, Israel had gotten into trouble for mixing with other nations, and now, here was the Gospel message for them equally with Israel.  It was a tough nut to crack and took a direct message/vision from God to get it done.

In the conversion of Cornelius, we see God working both in Peter and Cornelius, vs. 1-33, and His witness in Peter’s message to Cornelius, vs. 34-43, and, finally, in the manifestation of the Spirit, vs. 44-48.

This incident forever refutes the idea that baptism is essential to salvation – unless one believes that unbelievers can receive the Holy Spirit.

Controversy concerning, 11:1-18.

1. Confrontation, vs. 1-3.  It seems terrible that believers would be upset over others receiving the Word of God, but we must remember the cultural and religious background of these people.  God Himself had forbidden religious and/or social admixture with other peoples and Jerusalem and the Temple had for centuries been the focal point of God’s worship.   As we noted above, the early church had great difficulty understanding this change in God’s dealing with mankind “one-on-one,” as it were, instead of through the mediation and channel of Jerusalem.  They failed to understand that a Person is the Way into God’s presence, not a place, John 14:6.

2. Recitation, vs. 4-17.  Peter gives a simple and straight-forward account of what happened, and then finished with the reasonable conclusion in v. 17 that since God was pleased to give “them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

3. Glorification, v. 18.  These early believers recognized the hand and will of God and submitted to it, even if they didn’t completely understand all that was going on.

2. Expanding Grace, 11:19-30.

The Gospel goes to Antioch in Syria and a second influential church is established.  With this church prospering, the church at Jerusalem recedes into the background as far as the divine record is concerned.

Growth of the church, vs. 19-21.  Here we pick up the record begun in 8:4 of the scattered believers.  Saul wanted to exterminate the church at Jerusalem, but all he succeeded in doing was extending the reach of the Gospel.  Note well v. 21.  See also Saul’s later testimony as Paul in Philippians 1:12, But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.

Grace of the church, vs. 22-24.  These verses record the last “investigation” we read of by a delegation from Jerusalem.  The church at Antioch was recognized as a true and independent assembly of believers.  There is no Scriptural support for the denominational and hierarchical structure we see in Christianity today.  There is no “holy city”  or “headquarters” in spite of what men might think.  Though they may choose to work together, no church has any authority over another church.  Each is to be autonomous and responsible only to her Lord.

V. 23 mentions a theme often recurring in Scripture:  the perseverance of the saints.  Cf. 13:43 and 14:22.  While certainly also teaching the preservation of the saints, Scripture also teaches the responsibility of the saints to act like it.

Gathering of the church, vs. 25, 26.  Barnabas became a key man at Antioch.  We saw him first in Acts 4:36, which tells us that he did what he could.  Here he was enabled to do much more, even to playing an important role in the early missionary efforts of Saul/Paul.

Gift from the church, vs. 27-30.  Nothing is said of this church having a “community of goods” as did the church at Jerusalem.  They did, however, have the same compassion and sent aid to relieve the poor saints at Jerusalem.

3. Escape From Death, 12:1-24.

Herod’s Murderous Design, vs. 1-4.  Perhaps this whole incident was politically motivated.  Herod was hated by the Jews.  V. 3 indicates at least that the arrest of Peter was done with the idea of getting on the Jews’ good side.  See in this the sovereign purpose of God.  He permits the death of one of His servants, v. 1, but then delivers another from death.  Why didn’t He deliver them both?  Only He knows.  Only He needs know.  Cf. Job 33:13.

Peter’s Miraculous Deliverance, vs. 5-19.  This is an unbelievable section.  Here is Peter, expecting to die.  Was he worried?  He was sound asleep!  He had witnessed the death of his Lord, had been reconciled to his risen Lord.  Death held no terror for him.

Herod’s Miserable Death, vs. 20-23.  One would think Herod might learn something from all this, but no.  How dense, how stupid we are, apart from the grace of God!

  

 

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March Memories: “The Romans Road.”

When I was a young student in a Fundamentalist Bible college, I was taught how to “soul-win.”  This mostly revolved around a “method.”  Get people to agree with four or five verses in Romans, have them repeat the prayer you recited to them, and, presto, they were saved and their names were written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Then you gave them “assurance of salvation” with a couple of verses of Scripture – and your work was done.  You could add them to the weekly report you were required to turn in as to your visitation and outreach efforts.  It didn’t matter if they were ever baptized or joined a church or gave any evidence that God was at work in their lives; they were “saved.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being “fundamental.”  Even though the word “fundamentalist” is terribly misused by those who have no understanding of its true meaning, or interest in its origin, there are some things which are “fundamental” to Christianity and being a Christian.  And there’s nothing wrong with evangelism; it’s required of us by the Lord.  What I object to is the blatant misuse, in my opinion, of the Word of God for something so important as determining one’s eternal destiny.  This superficial way of using Scripture is the main reason, again in my opinion, for the rise of “fundamendalist-turned-atheist” websites.

And there’s certainly wrong with the verses in Romans.  However, as someone has said, “A text of Scripture taken out of context often becomes a pretext.”  So, what does “the Romans Road” say?  What do the verses which make it up really mean?

for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 (NKJV).

This was often weakened to the idea that, “Well, yes, I’m not perfect,” in order to get the prospective “convert” to agree with it.  That’s not really the point here.  There’s so much more to it than that.  While it’s true that the word translated, “come short,” means “to miss the mark,” what “mark” is it, exactly, that we miss?

It’s easy to say that we miss the mark of the righteousness which the Law requires – and we do miss that mark badly.  Or we can go down a rabbit trail against a particular sin or social shortcoming.  But it occurred to me recently that the “mark” we miss is “the glory of God.”  After all, Romans 3:23 tells us that!

We see that thought earlier in Romans, as well, referring to early mankind:  although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, neither were thankful, Romans 1:21.  This “knowledge” wasn’t just some superficial awareness that God exists.  From the books of Genesis and Job, I believe that there was a wide-spread knowledge of God among the early inhabitants of this planet, long before Sinai and the giving of the Law.  These people “knew,” that is, were acquainted with the God of Heaven.  But they couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge Him as God, so He gave them up to their own desires.  Romans 1:18-32 is a description of the terrible things we do when God takes His hand off us.

We see this also in Revelation 16:9 of some who will go through the terrible events of the end times, but will not repent and give Him glory.

The “mark” we miss is giving God the honor, the adoration, the worship, the service that He and He alone deserves.  Not just some lame, “Well, yes, I’m not perfect.”

Because…

He is.

for the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23.

This verse would lead into some conversation to the effect that the person knew that he would eventually die.  Revelation 20:11-15 might be brought in, with its references to hell and the second death.  This, in turn, would lead to the question, “You don’t want to go to hell, do you?”

Of course not!  No one in their right mind wants to go there, even if they don’t believe it exists.

We can’t even begin to understand all that Romans 6:23 involves.  We live in “death.”  It’s all around us.  I’m not just talking about “physical” death, even though this planet is really just one gigantic graveyard.  And as far as Revelation 20 is concerned, we have nothing with which to compare the terror and horror of that time and place.

And this doesn’t even bring in the spiritual death – the separation and alienation from God, to say nothing of condemnation – that  we all live in, apart from His grace.

We all live in and around “death.”  Dead hopes.  Dead dreams.  Dead love…, relationships…, health…, finances…, and on and on.  Death stalks throughout our land and our lives.

the wages [consequences] of sin is death.

Salvation is much more than just some relief from the consequences of our sin, like the filter on a cigarette, or “safe” sex.  It’s also more than just a fire escape from the final consequences of our sin.  It’s deliverance from the sin itself, not completely nor entirely in this life – would that it were! – but the work is begun in our conversion and continues in our sanctification, that is, as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

but God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, Romans 5:8.

Here the talk would center around how much God loves everybody.  John 3:16 would probably be quoted, as well.  Yet I find it fascinating that the early church never once mentioned the love of God in its preaching.  Indeed, there’s only one occurrence of any of the words translated, “love,” in the Book of Acts, and that’s found in 28:2, where Paul, writing of surviving a shipwreck, wrote the natives showed us no little kindness….  The word translated, “kindness,” is where we get our word “philanthropy.”

In 1 John 1:5, “the love of God” isn’t the message, 1 John 4:8 notwithstanding.

The cross of Christ was all about satisfying God’s justice, about taking care of our sin problem, not just about His love.  Truly, God does have a redemptive love for humanity, otherwise, He’d have never gone to the trouble He has in order to save it.  Individually, however, apart from the Lord Jesus, we are all under God’s wrath, John 3:36.  We are subject to His judgment.

Romans 8:39 and 1 Timothy 1:14 both tell us that the love of God is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  This is why the early church never mentioned the love of God.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, not a single one of us has any right to nor claim on the love of God.

but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ, our Lord, Romans 6:23.

Here, the “method” would be to begin to move toward getting the “convert” to “make his decision,” to get him to “pray the prayer.”  So the talk would revolve around the idea that one must “receive” a gift.  There might be some talk that we can’t earn a gift, or something like that, but the idea was to move the person toward that moment of decision.

That’s not at all what Paul was writing about!

He’s contrasting two ideas:  “death” is the result of something we do, namely, sin.  Now, not all “deaths” are the results of sin; babies die who aren’t yet capable of it.  “Death” itself, however, is the result of sin.  If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned against God, there would be no death.  In contrast to that, “eternal life” is NOT the result of something we do, as much as some would like to make it that.  It’s something God freely gives us because of and only by His grace.  We could never earn it, deserve it, or make it.  We may only receive it by faith, as something foreign to ourselves, to which we contribute nothing.

This leads us to the last verses.

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth, confession is made to salvation. … For “whosoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,”  Romans 10:9, 10, 13.

Here, the “soul-winner” would try to “close the sale,” as if “the customer” were doing nothing more important than buying a car or a vacuum cleaner.  The idea was to get the person to “pray to be saved.”  I even knew “soul-winners” who would begin to pray before the person did, as a means of pressuring them to pray themselves.  And “pressuring” is the right word.  This is how they understood “calling on the name of the LORD.”

Oh my, my brothers and sisters!  This “calling” isn’t just some canned repetition of a prayer someone recites for you, with no real understanding of what is involved or is supposed to be going on!  It isn’t just a prescribed number of “Hail, Marys” or “Our Fathers.”  It’s not just words on a page, or sound waves in the air.

It’s a cry for help, a call for rescue.  It’s a 911 call to Heaven.

“Lord, save me!” was Peter’s cry as he began to sink into the water, Matthew 14:28-33.  He didn’t need someone in the boat to tell him what to say.  He didn’t try to remember what some rabbi or his parents had told him as a child.  His situation told him what to say.

“Lord, save me!”

I’m not suggesting that one needs to be a scholar or theologian to be saved.  I’m simply saying that Romans 10:9, 10 and 13 themselves tell us what is involved.  And I’m not trying to put them into “steps,” the doing of which will get you saved.  But there are some things to consider.

1.  Confess the Lord Jesus.  Not just “accept” Jesus, or some such thing.  It basically means to agree with what God says about Him.  God says He is Lord.  God says the name of Jesus is above every name in heaven or on earth.  God says you can’t only have part of Jesus.  You can’t have Him as Savior without at the same time having Him as Lord.  You can’t separate what He does from who He is.  In fact, if He weren’t who He is, He couldn’t do what He does.

2.  Believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead.  This really involves everything about Jesus, from the fact that He is the Word, that He came into this world to die for sinners, and in the future, every knee will bow before Him as Lord. Having said that, the verse does focus on His death and resurrection, for it is that alone which is the basis for salvation.  Without those, there is no salvation.

3. Believes unto righteousness.  Here we’re brought face-to-face with our condition before God.  That we have indeed sinned, and pay no attention to honoring and obeying God.   That we have nothing approaching the righteousness God requires of us and we can never approach that righteousness in and of ourselves.

This shuts us up to the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to believing sinners, which we must have if we are ever to stand before God uncondemned, Romans 4:5-8.

Conclusion:  These are just a few suggestions as to what is involved in “The Romans Road.”  There is so much more that could be said.

I’m not saying there has to be complete understanding of these things.  Who does that?  Who can do that?  And I’m not trying to discourage people from using these verses in their witnessing.  It’s just that I wish that salvation were treated as something more than “one of the great things of life.”  Have you ever heard preachers say that?  “If you miss salvation, you miss one of the great things of life”?

I have.

Oh, if you miss salvation, you miss life!
_______________

(originally posted June 20, 2013) edited.

2 Years.

Two years ago today, I joined WordPress and published my first post.  I had no idea what to expect.  Since then –

196 posts, counting this one.

6700+ views, though I’d like to know how many actual “visits” that includes.

Folks from 64 countries have dropped by at least once.   Several countries have only one visit.  Some of them, like Qatar or Oman, I’d love to know who visited, and what brought them here.

Numerous comments, likes and such.  Some folks have been kind enough to “reblog” one of my posts on their blog.  If you’re one of them, or have commented, thank you so much.  Even if you haven’t done that, thanks for taking the time just to drop by for a visit.  All of you have been a great blessing to me.

Compared to some of the blogs I follow or visit, this is pretty small potatoes.  Still, God has put each one of us in the body as it pleased Him.  I’m thankful to be used of Him at all.  But who knows, short of eternity, what He might be pleased to do with something I write.

There was a Scottish preacher who was led to preach on the text, “Unto you, O men, I call.”  The problem was, in this seaside town, there had arisen an emergency and all the men of the church were out helping, and there were only women in attendance!  Nevertheless, he felt he must preach it, and so he did.  Unknown to him, in an out-of-the-way place in the church, there was a young lad listening.  God touched this young man’s heart through the message, and he later became a missionary.  It’s been a long time since I heard this incident, and I don’t remember the name of the missionary.  I don’t know if that preacher ever realized the fruit borne by what he must have felt was a failure.

On a hot August afternoon at a Bible college in the Ozarks in the US, a student was walking down a dormitory hallway and saw another student through an open door in one of the rooms.  He stopped by and began to chat with this student.  He began to open the Scriptures to him, notably Ephesians 1, and here we are, 51 years later, telling that story and thanking God for His grace and that student willing to walk through an open door.  I doubt that student, who became a lifelong friend, had any inkling of what that casual visit would start, or the ministry he himself would go on to have.

So, this blog has gone through open doors, as it were, all over this world.  Only eternity will reveal how God has glorified Himself through it, and what He might have been pleased to do with it.  Soli Deo Gloria!

If you’ve had a part in this blog, and you have just by reading this post, thank you.  God’s best to you.

Grateful for grace!

Incidentally, this is our daughter’s 18th wedding anniversary, as well.  Happy anniversary, kids!

“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”?

“The Kindness of God.” Part 9: “…they shall never perish.”

V.  The Certainty of Grace.

In this post, we’ve arrived at a another hotly-contested doctrine;  eternal security.  it’s known by various other names:  “once saved, always saved” (OSAS), “the preservation of the saints,” “the perseverance of the saints.”  Some who hold this last view believe that the saints will persevere.  Others who hold this view do not believe in eternal security, but  believe that the saints must persevere, and that a saint can be lost and saved…again, …and again, …and again….  There is a lot of confusion about this doctrine, and both sides look to the Scriptures to verify their beliefs.

So, are the saints “preserved,” or do they have to “persevere”?  What does the Scripture say?

In this post, we’ll look at some verses which teach saints can never be lost.

1.  John 10:22-31, Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.  And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.  Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do you keep us in doubt?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.  But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I told you.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.”

This records our Lord’s own words.  Every facet of the doctrine is touched on in this excerpt from His teaching.  Note carefully what Jesus said about His audience, His sheep, His Father and Himself, and His Father.

a.  His audience, vs. 25, 26.

He goes straight to the root of the problem:  the Jews in His audience refused to listen to Him because they were not His sheep.  He had already said this to others who were questioning Him: “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God,” John 8:47.  Cf. 8:39, 43.  Scripture plainly teaches that there are some who are “sheep,” and there are some who are not.

b.  His sheep, vs. 27-29.

1).  they hear, in contrast to those to whom the Lord was talking.
2).  He knows them, not just “about” them.  Remember the duet mentioned earlier, how Jesus died for us without knowing our names.  To the contrary, Jesus said He knows His sheep, all of them, each one of them.  They are His and He knows them individually and personally.
c).  they follow Him, “for they know His voice, yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers,” John 10:3, 4.  I was out with a group of young people one evening.  We had built a bonfire.  Some distance away, there was a group of young men, pretty much under the influence and acting like it.  In the darkness, one of them looked remarkably like one of the young men in our group.  Someone remarked on this, but his fiancee immediately replied that she didn’t have any trouble telling them apart!
She had spent a lot of time with him.  She knew him!  Ah, what a lesson there is for us.  There are many voices in the darkness of this world talking about Jesus.  How well do we distinguish between the false and the true?  Do we know Him?   His sheep follow HIM, not just some preacher or “personality”.

c.  Himself, v. 28.

1).  “I give them eternal life.”  There is some discussion about the significance of the word, “eternal.”  Some believe that, well, yes, the life is eternal, but its possession can be lost.  Our Lord refutes this in His next statement.
2).  “They shall never perish.”  How could He have said it any more clearly?  Yet He continues:
3).  “Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”  Some have said to me, “Yes, but they can jump” (!)  This would merely show that the one “jumping” wasn’t a sheep, after all.  The verbs in vs. 27, 28 are present tense:  hearing, knowing, following, giving.  Salvation isn’t something that happened to us 30 years ago, and then nothing since.  Salvation, though indeed coming to us at a point in time, is a present reality.  It wasn’t just something which happened to us then; it is happening to us now.  But the Lord continues.

d.  The Father, v. 29.

“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  We are pointed back to eternity, where the Father chose us and gave us to Christ to redeem.  I can’t think of a stronger way for the Lord to have put it than the statement that His sheep will never perish, either by their own hand, by the hand of others, or by the hand of the Father.  But He’s not done!

e.  The Father and Himself, v. 30.

“I and the Father are one,” that is, they are one in purpose and will.  It has nothing to do with the Son supposedly saying that He is really the Father, as some take it.  No. No.  He’s saying that He and the Father are united in their determination to save the sheep!  Indeed, Jesus pictured this unity when He prayed that “they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us…,” John 17:21.
There are depths here into which no mere mortal can venture, but what the Lord is saying in effect is that only if the Trinity can be separated may one of the sheep be separated from Christ’s flock and be lost.  And His sheep don’t switch back and forth between being sheep and being goats!

2.  Romans 8:28-30, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom he justified, these He also glorified.

We’ve already looked at length at the idea that God merely chose those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  In these verses in Romans, Paul wrote of the completeness of the divine will.  It began with our election in eternity past, Ephesians 1:4.  It will end with our glorification, which is yet future.  John put it like this, Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.
This “golden chain of redemption” stretches from eternity past to eternity future.  No link is weak.  No link will be missing.  No link can be broken.  Those foreknown by means of the purpose and predestination of God will be called, justified and glorified.
According to our text above, we are yet to be, and will be, conformed to the image of His Son.  “Not yet…but shall be.”

3.  Ephesians 1:13, 14, In Him [Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

In these posts, we’ve seen the divine unity and participation in the work of salvation.  It began in eternity past with the Father’s choosing sinners to be saved (again, who would otherwise be lost). It continued with the Son at Calvary, redeeming those chosen by the Father and given to the Son before the events of Genesis 1.  It continues with the Holy Spirit regenerating and calling these elect and redeemed sinners to repentance and faith, and “sealing” them until the entire process is complete.  The Holy Spirit “guarantees” our ultimate possession of our “inheritance.”  The KJV has it that the Spirit is the earnest, the “down payment” of our inheritance.  We don’t have it all now, by any means.  And we won’t get it all in this life, either.  The work has begun, to be sure, but it will take the ages to come, Ephesians 2:7, to show us the riches of that inheritance.

4.  Ephesians 2:10, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Philippians 1:6, Being confident of this very thing, that He Who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:13, For it is God Who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24, Now may the God of peace sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He Who calls you is faithful, Who will also do it.

These five verses all talk about the workmanship and faithfulness of God.  Most Christians believe that they are only partly God’s workmanship – they must still do “their” part.  Perhaps you’re tired of the emphasis on this, but there are multitudes who, week after week, and month after month, and year after year, sit under ministries where that very thing is taught –

“God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

“God has no hands but our hands.”

“God had plan A for Adam, but when Adam fell, He had to go to plan B.”

“Oops!”

If yours is a “plan B” God, read the verses above again.  “Oops” isn’t in His vocabulary.  His pencils have no erasers.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to revise His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond “B”.  Although I suppose in this computer age, where things are “updated” every few minutes, it would be “Plan A.712” or something.  Same thing.  God trying to scratch and scramble to stay ahead of His wayward creation.  I can hardly write such blasphemy.  Certainly don’t believe it!

Even though the verses above are in the order of their NT appearance, they could almost be read as two sentences, with the first three together as one.  Try it.  Believers are God’s creation and workmanship.  Paul was certain that what God had begun, He would finish.

To those who are always saying, “Yes, but what about MY will?” there is Philippians 2:13:  God works, “is operative” in us, BOTH TO WILL and TO DO of His good pleasure (emphasis added).  I know that many find that impossible to believe, that God would, or even could, work like that, but that was why Paul was confident:  God is at work, He gets the job done, and He is faithful.

5.  John 3:14-17,  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

To this point, we’ve emphasized what might be called the divine side of salvation, that is, the purpose and work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  But we can’t stop there.  God doesn’t need to be “saved,” we do.  So, what does all this mean to us, in the practical, everyday world in which we live?

John 3 is the classic teaching on this subject, although the rest of the NT says much more about the practical results and evidence of salvation.  The verses we quoted above show the certainty and result of “faith:” eternal life to whoever believes in Him.  This astounded Nicodemus, but it’s wonderful news to us.  There are no barriers, no hindrances, to our being saved that we don’t put up ourselves.  There’s nothing in Scripture to prevent the salvation of the worst sinner who ever lived.  Paul said that of himself.

Don’t be led astray by the words, “should,” and “might.”  They don’t express uncertainty, that is, that the believer should be saved, but might not be, after all.  Or that he should not perish, but that he might, anyway.  No, no, these words express purpose, God’s purpose, that those who believe will not perish, but will have eternal life.  (Once again, I wish WordPress supported underlining words.)

Because of our fallen condition, as well as our finite understanding, it’s sometimes difficult for us to have a complete view of Scriptural teaching.  On the one hand, some concentrate on those verses which speak of our believing, and so they emphasize “free will,” sometimes to the extent of denying or at least minimizing verses like Philippians 2:13.  Some even go so far as to assert that God can’t work in us at all without our permission and cooperation.

On the other hand, some so emphasize sovereignty that they minimize or in effect deny those verses requiring us to believe.  We’ve referred elsewhere to the brother who would only say, “I was caused to believe.”  A more Biblical statement would have been, “I was enabled to believe.”  Even that, though, is capable of being viewed as saying more than it really does.

God does not believe for us.  We must believe, as surely as we must live, though that life must come from and be sustained by God.  God doesn’t live for us.  In the same way, although faith comes from God, it isn’t exercised for us by God.  It isn’t enough simply to have the Savior “revealed” to us, though that is absolutely necessary.  Having thus “seen” Him, we must also “receive” Him, John 1:11, 12.  We believe, and we are saved, as John 3 tells us.

6.  John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides [remains] on him.”

There are several things in this verse.  The believer has everlasting life.  John doesn’t say that he receives life, though that is the common teaching.  He has life.  Faith is an evidence of spiritual life, not it’s entrance.  There are only two spiritual conditions:  life or under the wrath of God.  There is no third, “neutral,” condition.  If there is no faith, there is no life.  There is only the judgment and wrath of God.  We are by nature children of wrath, Ephesians 2:3.  Only in and through the Lord Jesus is there deliverance from sin, which is the cause of God’s wrath on us.  However, in Christ, that life is eternal, not temporary or sporadic.  Not “here today and gone tomorrow.”  It is life…eternal.

Questions

1.  What are the two viewpoints on this doctrine?

2.  What are the five things Jesus says in John 10:22-31?

3.  What assurance do we have that the “foreknown” will be glorified?

4.  What “part” does each member of the Trinity play in our salvation?

5.  Whose work is our salvation?

6.  Is “the work of God” all that is necessary to our salvation?

7.  What part does faith play in our salvation?

8.  Where does faith come from?

9.  Do we actually believe, or is it somehow just “the work of God” in us?

10. Is saving faith passive?

11. What is true of those without faith?

“The Kindness of God.” Part 8: “…those who are called.”

IV. Called by Grace.

So far, we’ve looked at the role of the Father in planning salvation; we’ve looked at the Son and His securing of it.  In this post, we want to look at the role of the Holy Spirit in one aspect of our salvation, namely, our entering into it.

There are whole movements which focus entirely on the Spirit, but our Lord said that the Spirit’s work isn’t to emphasize the Spirit or to give believers something to be proud of because they have a particular gift.  It’s to emphasize and glorify the Lord Jesus, John 16:4, and it’s emphatic, “Me [the Lord Jesus], He shall glorify….”  

There are some who focus almost entirely on the work of the Father.  Every message must be about or at least include a reference to the sovereignty of God.  Even in the midst of appeals for people to believe on Christ, they will have to insert, “if you’re one of the elect, you will be saved.”  I’ve had this happen.  That may be doctrinally true, but no lost person in Scripture was ever told that.  Jesus didn’t tell Nicodemus that he had to be one of the elect.

Without doubt, the Father and the Spirit are important to our salvation.  Indeed, they are essential to it!  Without them, there would be no salvation!  However, the focus of our faith is to be on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus:  Who He was and what He did.  The Philippian jailer was told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

We’re told the same thing.

At the same time, we’ll never do that without the work of the Spirit.  There are more than 75 references to “calling” in Scripture.  Not all of these, of course, refer to the Spirit, but verses like John 6:44; 2 Timothy 1:9, 10; Titus 3:5, etc., are clear that “calling” is a work of the Spirit which infallibly brings an elect and redeemed sinner [the work of the Father and Son] to faith in Christ.

Another word used to describe the Spirit’s work is “efficacious.”  It is “effective,” that is, it gets the job done.

The word most commonly used is “irresistible,” because it fits the particular acronym which inadequately summarizes these doctrines,  This word is usually rejected as being something coercive:  God saving people against their will.  However, even in daily life, there are many instances of people being saved against their will.  People who are drowning sometimes struggle against their rescuers and have to be subdued before they can be rescued.  People trying to commit suicide are sometimes prevented from doing this, and some of them might never “forgive” their rescuers.  Still, such people are looked on as heroes.  It is only God, Who rescues from a far greater danger than anything this world knows about, Who is told that He can’t do that.  We must be “willing,” or He is helpless.

There is, however, another way of defining the word, “irresistible.”  It is food to someone who is starving.  It is water to someone who is dying of thirst,  Our Lord used both of these figures in His own teaching:  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Matthew 5:6.  See also John 4:10-14; 6:35, 48.  That’s the Spirit’s work – to make us hungry and thirsty.

In this post, we want to look at two men who experienced God’s call:  Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus.  Two words broadly summarize our topic:  regeneration and reconciliation.  Nicodemus gives us great insight into the first and Saul into the second.

A.  Nicodemus:  You must be born again, John 3:7.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why Nicodemus?”  Why not the woman at the well, or any of the other people Jesus dealt with?  Why is Nicodemus the only one given that message?  It’s never mentioned in the Book of Acts, either.  If Jesus and the Apostles had been like some modern preachers, it would have been in every message.

1.  The man, Nicodemus.

Who was Nicodemus?  In the first place, he was a Jew, and as such already identified with the people of God.  This brought him and them great advantage:  Romans 3:1, 3; 9:4, 5.  Second, he himself was a leader of those people:  the teacher of Israel, John 3:10, perhaps signifying a unique place among his people.  This would have brought him great prestige, honor and wealth.  Third, he was a Pharisee, a bad thing in our day because of those who abused their position, but something highly respected in his own day.  Fourth, simply as a Jew, he would have believed that righteousness before God was something which he could accomplish himself.

Scripture seems to support that idea.  In Deuteronomy 6:25, Moses told Israel, “Then it shall be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”  However, even Moses himself, and God, as well, recognized that Israel would never do that.  There isn’t a single verse in the Old Testament to indicate that they would actually be obedient, even though they twice agreed to do all that the Lord commanded.  Moses wasn’t even down from Sinai before the people had violated the first and seventh commandments in a wild orgy in front of the golden calf.

So, Nicodemus thought it was up to him.  As far as he knew, he was already “in”.  Our Lord’s message, as it were, blindsided him.

What was the message?

2.  The message to Nicodemus.

a.  He needed something he didn’t have.

For all that he had, he didn’t have the one thing necessary:  life.  That’s what “birth” is all about:  life.  Without getting into the abortion debate, birth is the evidence of life, not its beginning.  A “dead birth” is a contradiction in terms.  (If you, or someone you know, have suffered a “stillbirth,” I’m so sorry.  I don’t mean to add to or make light of that loss and grief.)

b.  He needed something he couldn’t do.

John 3 is the story of one very likely who thought that his heritage, his position, his keeping of the Law – who he was and what he did – were more than enough for him to “enter the kingdom”.  After all, he was a member of the family of Israel, God’s chosen nation.  However, our Lord said to him, “Nicodemus, that’s not enough.  You must be born into God’s family.”

In addition, Nicodemus was and had done this and this and this.  Yet the Lord in effect said, “Nicodemus, that’s not enough.  You need something you can’t do.  Even if you could return to your mother’s womb, it would do no good.  All that the flesh can produce is ‘flesh’.  You need something the flesh can’t do; you need a spiritual birth, a birth produced only and solely by the Spirit of God,”

Boiled down to one sentence, Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he, Nicodemus, needed God to do something for him that he himself couldn’t do.  He needed a second birth, a spiritual birth, something that was not, and could never be, the result of anything he could do.  He needed something that could not be done or started by “the flesh”.

Modern error has turned that exactly around.  Now we’re told that God needs us to do something for Him that He Himself cannot do:  “God’s done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

That is not what the Lord told Nicodemus.

So many folks today are just like him, trusting in what they are or have done. They are quite content with their religion or church, or lack thereof, thank you. They have walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, had a few drops of water on their foreheads when they were infants.  Their father or mother or grandmother was a Christian.  They have been baptized.  Confirmed.  Seen a vision.  Do their best,  Pay their bills.  Take care of their family.  And on and on.

They are secure in their belief that God will welcome them into “a better place,” but have no understanding that they are under His condemnation because their sins have never been dealt with, and they have no righteousness He will accept.  They are dead in trespasses and sin, Ephesians 2:1, and need a life they can neither generate nor initiate.

The Lord rebuked Nicodemus because, as “the teacher in Israel,” he should have known the OT references to “a clean heart,” “circumcision of the heart,” etc., found in verses like Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 18:31; 36:36.  The promises made to Israel in the New Covenant go far beyond anything human nature or effort can produce.  Yet Nicodemus, like the rest of us apart from the grace of God, missed the message.  We “must be born again.”

Without regeneration, or the new birth, you and I are “in the flesh,” that is, we’re just ordinary human beings with a sinful nature and the corrupted faculties – mind, emotions, will – that go along with it.  Those who are the flesh cannot please God, Romans 8:8.  Repentance and faith in Christ are surely pleasing to God; yet things which are pleasing to God are impossible for the flesh to produce.  “Flesh” cannot produce “spirit,” nor can fleshly efforts have spiritual results.  One can “make his decision,” or do any of a multitude of other things men say will save them, every day for the rest of one’s life and not be saved, because that which is born of – that which comes from – the flesh is flesh.

The new birth is as impossible to mankind as the Virgin birth; both must be of God.

B.  Saul, called…out of darkness into His marvelous light, 1 Peter 2:9.

In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul wrote, …for this cause I obtained mercy, that in my first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting (KJV).

Paul wrote that he was a “pattern,” a “schematic” for believers.  This doesn’t mean that we’re to travel our world starting churches, though some are called to do that.  Nor does it mean that we receive and write down new revelations from God.  Some have claimed that, some still claim that, and they are all wrong.  God calls no one to deliver further revelation – of any kind – from Him.

What Paul meant was that in himself we can see how God works in every believer, not exactly, of course, because we’re all different, but generally.  There are many ways we could develop this.

1.  The surprise of his conversion.

The last thing on Saul’s mind on the morning of that fateful trip to Damascus would have been that before he got there, he would be a disciple of the very One he was determined to destroy!

In John 6:44, 45, the Lord Jesus gave a capsule summary of the problem we all have. It is that not one of us, on our own, has the ability to come to God.  He must “draw” us before we will or even can come to Him.  Some make a great deal out of the fact that the word the Lord used in John 6 for “draw” is the same word used to describe Paul being “dragged” out of the city and left for dead in Acts 14:19.  They just simply cannot conceive of the idea that God would or could, for that matter, “drag” people into the kingdom.

However, in reading the Book of Acts, it seems to me that Paul was indeed “dragged” kicking and screaming to the very edge of salvation.  This leads us to  our second thought for this post.

2.  The “stages” of his conversion.

It seems to me that Paul passed through four stages, the first two not necessarily consecutive, in his journey from darkness to light.

a.  resistance, Acts 6:10 (KJV).  Though not specifically mentioned, we believe that Paul could well have been one of those from Cilicia, cf. Acts 22:3; 23:34, unable to resist the witness of Stephen, yet unwilling to receive it.  Cf. Acts 9:5; 26:14.

b. rebellion, cf. acts 26:9.  Paul was certainly present at the stoning of Stephen, Acts 7:58.  From that time, Paul did all he could do to stamp out what he considered blasphemous heresy, and at the same time drown out the conviction coming from the testimony of those whom he was persecuting, Acts 9:5 (KJV); 26:14.  Cf. Romans 1:18, of those who suppress the truth. 

He was breathing out threats and murder against Christians.  He wasn’t asking God to show him the right way; he thought he had it.  He was convinced that he was serving God.  Cf. John 16:2.  Jesus didn’t come to him and ask him if he’d like to be saved. The Holy Spirit didn’t try to “woo” him or in some way “cooperate” with Saul’s will, as is so often taught today that He must do with our wills.  Saul’s will was to kill Christians! That was his “decision.”

In his testimony before Agrippa, Acts 26:11, 12, he says that it was while he was thus occupied in persecuting and killing Christians, being exceedingly enraged against them(!), that the Lord appeared to Him.  Paul didn’t even know who this One was Whose brightness he saw.  This leads to our third point.

c.  realization.  Paul must have been shocked beyond belief to hear a voice from the brightness saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  He thought he had been persecuting blasphemers and heretics, thus being obedient to the OT teaching about such things – and thus to God.  Now, this “voice” from what must have been the Shekinah glory accuses him of persecuting its owner!  in effect, of persecuting God! The fourth point follows closely.

d.  reception.  We mentioned earlier that we believe Paul was indeed “dragged” kicking and screaming to the very edge of salvation.  However, when he found out what was involved, and who “Jesus of Nazareth” really is, he willingly walked over the border, as it were.  He asked, “What do you want me to do?” and then he went out and did it.
___________

We’ll deal more with this in our final post, Lord willing, but for now, there are multitudes of people just like Paul – and Nicodemus, firmly convinced of their standing before God. They’re members of the church, perhaps even active in it or leaders in it.  They’ve gone through the proper ceremonies or rituals, sprinkled as unknowing infants or walking an aisle or praying a prayer.  Why, they’re not heathen, they believe in God! They have their “docs” (doctrines) all in a row and can recite the Catechism from start to finish.  They’re thoroughly orthodox, and thoroughly lost, because they’ve never come to the point where they ask the Lord what He wants them to do.

For far too many others, “faith” is about God doing what they want Him to do.

Where are you in this progression?  Resistant to the truths of the Word, though perhaps you’ve heard them all your life?  Rebellious against them, wanting nothing to do with Christ, even though perhaps you come to church?  Realizing that you do need something only Christ can provide?  You’re a sinner justly under the condemnation of God and you know that only Christ can do something about it, having died for sinners.  Don’t stop there.  You must go through the last step:  receiving.  Coming to Him as your Lord and Savior, trusting Him to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Believing on Him, resting in Him, relying of Him in every area of life.  Following His leadership.

There is another possibility.  Paul grew up with his beliefs.  So did Nicodemus. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve ever heard, or read, these things.  What will you do with them?  Now that you’ve heard them, where will you start on this progression?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…, Acts 16:31.

Questions

1.  What does “efficacious grace” mean?

2.  What is another way of looking at the term “irresistible” beside “coercive”?

3.  Why is Nicodemus the only recorded person told about the new birth?

4.  What four things did Nicodemus have “going” for him?  Can you think of any others?

5.  What was the meaning of the message he was given?

6.  What was God’s purpose in saving Saul of Tarsus?

7.  Would Saul have “accepted” Jesus?  Why or why not?

8.  What is the significance of the first two “stages” of his conversion?

9.  What is the significance of the final two stages of his conversion?

10. At which stage are you?  You don’t have to write, just something to think about.

“The Kindness of God.” Part 4: “…whom He foreknew”

In our last post, we considered some misconceptions about the doctrine of election and then looked at what the Bible says about that much-controverted doctrine.  In this post, we want to look at the widely-held view that God chose those whom He knew would choose Him.  We’ll also study verses which are said to oppose our view and then, finally, some objections against the doctrine.

C.  Election and the Foreknowledge of God.

Sooner or later, in reading the Bible, one will come across verses which refer to election.  This may cause questions, especially among new believers.  Usually, an older Christian or a preacher or a book will point them to verses like Romans 8:29, which says, in part, whom He foreknew, He predestined…. (NKJV).  The one asking the question is assured that “…it’s really quite simple.  God looked down through the corridors of time and foresaw some who would choose to believe in Jesus.  These are the ones whom God chose to be His elect.”  I’ve heard it myself.  See also 1 Peter 1:2.  This explanation sounds plausible, it appeals to Scripture and it’s the almost universally accepted teaching about election.  Is it true?  Did God just choose those whom He knew would choose Him?

There are several things to say about this “choice” of God’s, which really isn’t HIS choice at all.

 1.  The Bible itself uses the picture of God looking down from heaven in Psalm 14:2 and 53:2.  Psalm 14:2 says, the LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. If the “looking down through history” view is correct, it seems to me that David would have made some comment which would support it.  However, he wrote in v. 3, They are all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.  Instead of seeing some who will “accept” Him, God sees only wholesale and total rejection of Himself.  Not even one person will turn to Him.  No, not one.  Paul refers to this verse in Romans 3:10, 11 in his teaching about the universal sinfulness of mankind.

2.  The Bible sometimes links together God’s purpose and His foreknowledge, and when it does, God’s purpose is mentioned first.  In Acts 2:23, Peter declared that the Lord Jesus was delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of  God. Surely, surely, no one would be so foolish as to believe that Christ’s death on the Cross was included in God’s purpose simply because God “foresaw” that it would happen!  Acts 4:28 clearly indicates otherwise:  to do whatever YOUR hand and YOUR PURPOSE determined before to be done (emphasis added).  God’s “foreknowledge” is based on His knowledge beforehand about what HE plans to do, and not at all on what He simply sees that others are going to do.

3.  Those who believe in conditional election, that is, that God only foresaw those who would believe, sometimes argue from the omniscience of God, that is, that He knows everything.  This is true.  God does know everything.  He knows everything intuitively, that is, He doesn’t learn by observation and experience, like we do.  Furthermore, He knows everything immediately.  He doesn’t have to search His memory for some fact or thought.  He knows everything all the time.  In addition, He knows what could happen, but won’t, Isaiah 48:18, 19, as well as what will actually come to pass.

The thing is, what makes the difference between an actual event and a possible event?  If we say that God knows something will come to pass simply as a matter of knowing it beforehand and not because He purposed it, aren’t we saying that there is something outside of God by which He is affected and to which He responds?  Does the Almighty God of Scripture just react to what is going on?  Though they may not realize it, this seems to me to be the actual view of most professing Christians.  In contrast, the Scripture teaches that God is proactive, Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11.

Our conclusion is that the Bible does not teach that God merely chose or elected those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  This unBiblical teaching strikes at the very heart of Christianity and denies or distorts its major teaching of salvation by grace through faith.

D. Scriptures Used to Contradict Our View.

1.  2 Peter 3:9, God is not willing that any should perish. 

Though that’s how it’s usually quoted, the whole verse actually says, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us [some versions read, “you”], not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 

First, what is the “promise” to which Peter refers?  It’s the promise of His coming, 3:4.  Because it has been such a long time [in our thinking] since the promise was made, almost 2000 years now, many will scoff at and ridicule the idea of Christ’s return at all. This skeptical attitude brings out the question, “Why hasn’t He returned?”

Peter answers the question in v. 9: there are still some people to be saved.

Who are these people?  Are they, as modern Christians believe, people whom God is trying His best to save, but they won’t let Him?

Of, or to whom, is it said that God is longsuffering?  Well, who are the “us” or “you” to whom or about Peter is writing.  1 Peter was written to “the elect,” 1:2.  2 Peter was written to those whom Peter exhorts to make their calling and election sure, or certain, 1:10.  In other words, Peter himself defines what he means in 2 Peter 3:9:  God is longsuffering toward us – the elect.  A few verses later, he tells us to account that the longsuffering of the Lord is salvation, v. 15.

Perhaps Peter remembered what our Lord said in John 10:16, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring and there will be one flock and one shepherd.  The Lord hasn’t come back yet because all His sheep aren’t in the fold. In this year of our Lord, 2015, some of them may not even be born yet, though I don’t know that.  He may come back today.  If He had already come back, some of His sheep would be lost, because they are by nature the children of wrath, just as the others, Ephesians 2:3.

2.  1 Timothy 2:4, [God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

According to some, this verse means that God wants everyone to be saved.  Those who know the older KJV say, “It’s God’s will for everyone to be saved.”

In the language of the New Testament, there are two words translated “will”.  Though there is some discussion about this, one word is much stronger than the other.  It refers to something deliberate and settled, which will lead to action.  The second word refers more to an inclination or wish, which may or may not lead to action.

It is this second word that Paul used in writing to Timothy.  We might paraphrase the verse like this:  “God would not mind if all men were saved….”

Paul couldn’t have used the first word because, as we saw in Matthew 13:11, there are some men from whom the truth is hidden, and so they are unable to come to the knowledge of the truth, without which they can’t be saved.  And there are many who would have embraced the truth, but it was never sent to them.

Some try to say that the text refers to “all kinds of men,” but I see no reason for that.  God Himself says that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11.  God doesn’t rub His hands in glee at the prospect of the damnation of sinners, even though He is under no obligation to prevent it.

3.  1 John 4:8, God is love.

There are those who agree that there is nothing in us to draw God to us, and that we don’t deserve to be saved.  There is, however, according to them, something in God which draws Him to us.  That “something” is His love, which, they say, is His basic attribute.  They argue that because of this basic attribute, God must love every individual and cannot, therefore, choose to bless one and bypass another.

If this is so, then isn’t it interesting that the Lord Jesus never publicly proclaimed the love of God.  John 3 records a private conversation.  Furthermore, the early church never even mentioned it.  In the entire book of Acts, there is only one occurrence of any form of the various words translated, “love.”  It’s found in Acts 28:2, where, after the shipwreck of Paul and his companions and they were able to make it to shore, the natives showed them no little kindness.  Our word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek word translated “kindness.”

After His resurrection, our Lord clearly told the disciples what they were to preach.  It would be good exercise for you to read those six chapters – there are only six.  When you do, you’ll find that the disciples understood the command and preached only those things the Lord told them to.  The “love of God” wasn’t one of them.  Incidentally, “the love of God” isn’t “the message” in 1 John, either.

E.  Some Objections to the Doctrine of Election.

1.  “God is no respecter of persons.”

This is true.  However, without exception, when this impartiality of God is mentioned in Scripture, it’s always in connection with His justice, never His grace.  In the judgment of unbelievers, there is and will be no favoritism based on economic condition or ethnicity or political connection or anything else that is often the basis of human decision or action.  No one will be treated less fairly that anyone else.

The world has the cynical saying, “All people are equal.  Some are just more ‘equal’ than others.”  We all understand what that means:  the recognition that among men there is seldom the true impartiality there ought to be in matters requiring fairness or equity.  That is not the case with God, nor will it ever be.  No one will be judged less strictly or more severely that his or her sins warrant.  No one who stands before Him will have any cause to complain at His judgment.  Every unbeliever will get what they deserve, no more and no less.

2.  It makes God a hypocrite or liar.

After all, “whosoever will may come.”  If God has chosen some to be saved, this invitation isn’t true and God is making promises to people He hasn’t chosen to respond to them.

There are some things wrong with this objection.

a.  “Whosoever will may come.”  This is indisputably true.  There is nothing in Scripture that prevents or forbids anyone from coming to Christ.  What many deny or fail to realize is that, apart from the sovereign grace of God, we’re all “whosoever ‘won’ts’.”

b.  It ignores the crucial difference between “may” and “can.”  “May” gives permission; “can” assumes ability.  The Scriptures do not say, “Whosoever will can come.”  In fact. it was the Lord Himself who said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him,” John 6:44 (emphasis added).

c.  This objection goes just as much against the “foresight” argument, which admits that God knows just as infallibly who will and will not receive the Gospel.  Yet the proponents of this argument do not believe that God is hypocritically offering the Gospel to those He infallibly knows will reject it.

3.  Election is a divisive doctrine.

So it is, but that’s not the doctrine’s fault.  The reason it is “divisive” and calls forth such bitterness and anger is because of man.  The fact that God has sovereignly and graciously intervened to prevent the destruction of some sinners and not others calls forth the hostility and rebellion that lies at the root of all sin.  That God is sovereign in salvation, men hate because they wish to be God.  They want to call the shots, to make the rules.  That God is gracious in salvation, choosing some sinners to be saved for no reason to be found in themselves, sinful men hate because they will not let go of their hope of meriting or receiving the grace of God through some act or worthiness of their own.  They believe God somehow to be in their debt, instead of realizing or admitting their own spiritual bankruptcy, depravity and guilt.

 4.  Election is fatalism.

There is a huge difference between this doctrine and fatalism.  In fatalism, things happen without rhyme or reason, simply because they must happen.  There is no wise God to plan it, no omnipotence to bring it about, no love to temper it, no justice to make it fair.  It simply must happen.  The difference might be illustrated by the following story: a ship carrying both Muslims and Christians encountered a severe storm.  One of the sailors was swept overboard.  The Muslims said, “If it is written that he be saved, he will be saved.”  The Christians replied, “Perhaps it is written that we should save him,” and threw a rope and life-preserver to the struggling sailor.  The doctrine of election doesn’t deny or negate the use of means, but rather, it is through these means that election is fulfilled.  The only thing that “just happens” is “nothing.”

5.  Election discourages evangelism.

The only kind of evangelism that understanding the truth about election discourages is the kind that says, “God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

I spent my first several years as a believer among fundamentalists who were very much into “soul-winning.”  But it was all about “method:” go through these four steps with a person and if he does these things, he’ll be saved.  In preaching, I don’t know how many times I heard a preacher say, after the message, “Now we come to the most important part of the service,” in which verse after verse after verse of “Just As I Am” was sung and the preacher would urge people to come forward to “the altar.”

Beloved, God only has one altar, and that’s the only place we’ll ever find salvation:  at the foot of that Cross stained by the blood of the Son of God, who died that sinners might be saved – not by or because of what they do, but because of who He is and what He did for such as us.  It’s not in the front of some building.  Or a piece of furniture which is part of some liturgy.  These are the invention of men.

I did an earlier post on “The Roman’s Road,” which explains a little more about this and my experiences as a Fundamentalist.  Just let me finish with this.  We’re all sinners and there’s only one way to be delivered from sin and only one Person who can do anything about it:  the Lord Jesus Christ.  Only in Him is there salvation.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Questions

1.  Did God just “look down the corridors of time” to see who would “accept” Him?

2.  According to Scripture, which comes first:  God’s foreknowledge or His purpose?

3.  How does God know all things that will happen?

4.  Does it really matter what one believes about God’s “foreknowledge”?

5.  Why hasn’t Jesus returned to this earth yet?

6.  Did God plan salvation so everyone could be saved?

7.  How could God NOT plan the salvation of everyone?

8.  What four things did the early church preach?  (Note: you’ll have to read the six chapters about the post-resurrection ministry of the Lord.  You could perhaps say there were only two things He told them to preach.  Nevertheless, what did He say?)

9.  Doesn’t this view make God a respecter of persons?

10. Doesn’t it make Him a hypocrite?

11. Isn’t it fatalism?

12. How are people saved?