Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Spurgeon's Sermon on Hebrews 6:4-6

I highly encourage you to read carefully Spurgeon's brilliant theological exposition here, as he avoids the main weaknesses of both classic Arminian and Calvinist expositions of this passage:


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bavinck on Perseverance & Warnings

Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics (4 volumes in all) is perhaps the finest systematic theology ever written within the reformed tradition, but only in the last few years has it been translated into English. Here is a worthy reading project for anyone interested! The fourth and final volume (subtitled: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation) was just released, and there is a phenomenal section on perseverance and apostasy in which Bavinck writes this:

"Now the question with respect to this doctrine of perseverance is not whether those who have obtained a true saving faith could not, if left to themselves, lose it again by their own fault and sins: nor whether sometimes all the activity, boldness, and comfort of faith actually ceases, and faith itself goes into hiding under the cares of life and the delights of the world. The question is whether God upholds, continues, and completes the work of grace he has begun, or whether he sometimes permits it to be totally ruined by the power of sin...[Perseverance] is a gift of God. He watches over it and sees to it that the work of grace is continued and completed. He does not, however, do this apart from believers but through them. In regeneration and faith, he grants a grace that as such bears an inadmissible character; he grants a life that is by nature eternal; he bestows the benefits of calling, justification, and glorification that are mutually and unbreakably interconnected. All of the above-mentioned admonitions and threats that Scripture addresses to believers, therefore, do not prove a thing against the doctrine of perseverance. They are rather the way in which God himself confirms his promise and gift through believers. They are the MEANS by which perseverance in life is realized. After all, perseverance is also not coercive but, as a gift of God, impacts humans in a spiritual manner. It is precisely God's will, by admonition and warning, morally to lead believers to heavenly blessedness and by the grace of the Holy Spirit to prompt them willingly to persevere in faith and love. It is therefore completely mistaken to reason from the admonitions of Holy Scripture to the possibility of a total loss of grace. This conclusion is illegimate as when, in the case of Christ, people infer from his temptation that he was able to sin. The certainty of the outcome does not render the MEANS superfluous but is inseparably connected with them in the decree of God. Paul knew with certainty that in the case of shipwreck no one would lose one's life, yet he declares, 'Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.' (Acts 27:22, 31)" (pp. 267-68)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Resources

Many of the HANDOUTS I use when I teach through The Race Set Before Us and/or on the topics of warnings & promises, and perseverance & assurance, have now been made available in PDF format on the website of Three Rivers Grace Community Church in Pittsburgh where I have taught (there is also some audio of some teaching sessions, but the sound quality is not good). In the future I hope to continue posting more handouts and essays there. Here's the link:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Laboring In Vain

Philippians 2:14-16—“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

Galatians 2:1-2—“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”

Galatians 3:3-4—“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?”

Galatians 4:8-11—“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”

I Corinthians 15:1-10—“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

I Corinthians 15:12-14—“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

I Corinthians 15:58—“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

II Corinthians 5:16-6:1—“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

I Thessalonians 2:1-8—“For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

I Thessalonians 2:17-3:5—“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Calvin on the Necessity of Perseverance

"Still, our redemption would be imperfect if he did not lead us ever onward to the final goal of salvation. Accordingly, the moment we turn away even slightly from him, our salvation, which rests firmly in him, gradually vanishes away. As a result, all those who do not repose in him voluntarily deprive themselves of all grace." (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.1)

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Scottish Confession of 1560 on Assurance and Good Works

The Scottish Confession (easy to find through google), written in 1560 by a group of Reformed theologians that included John Knox, says this with respect to assurance of salvation and the good works that believers do:

Chapter 12 - Faith in the Holy Spirit

This our faith and its assurance do not proceed from flesh and blood, that is to say, from natural powers within us, but are the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; whom we confess to be God, equal with the Father and with his Son, who sanctifies us, and brings us into all truth by his own working, without whom we should remain forever enemies to God and ignorant of his Son, Christ Jesus. For by nature we are so dead, so blind, and so perverse, that neither can we feel when we are pricked, see the light when it shines, nor assent to the will of God when it is revealed, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus quicken that which is dead, remove the darkness from our minds, and bow our stubborn hearts to the obedience of his blessed will. And so, as we confess that God the Father created us when we were not, as his Son our Lord Jesus redeemed us when we were enemies to him, so also do we confess that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and regenerates us, without respect to any merit proceeding from us, be it before or after our regeneration. To put this even more plainly; as we willingly disclaim any honor and glory from our own creation and redemption, so do we willingly also for our regeneration and sanctification; for by ourselves we are not capable of thinking one good thought, but he who has begun the work in us alone continues us in it, to the praise and glory of his undeserved grace.

Chapter 13 - The Cause of Good Works

The cause of good works, we confess, is not our free will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who dwells in our hearts by true faith, brings forth such works as God has prepared for us to walk in. For we most boldly affirm that it is blasphemy to say that Christ Jesus abides in the hearts of those in whom is no spirit of sanctification. Therefore we do not hesitate to affirm that murderers, oppressors, cruel persecutors, adulterers, filthy persons, idolaters, drunkards, thieves, and all workers of iniquity, have neither true faith nor anything of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, so long as they obstinately continue in wickedness.

For as soon as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, whom God's elect children receive by true faith, takes possession of the heart of any man, so soon does he regenerate and renew him, so that he begins to hate what before he loved, and to love what he hated before. Thence comes that continual battle which is between the flesh and Spirit in God's children, while the flesh and the natural man, being corrupt, lust for things pleasant and delightful to themselves, are envious in adversity and proud in prosperity, and every moment prone and ready to offend the majesty of God. But the Spirit of God, who bears witness to our spirit that we are the sons of God, makes us resist filthy pleasures and groan in God's presence for deliverance from this bondage of corruption, and finally to triumph over sin so that it does not reign in our mortal bodies.

Carnal men do not share this conflict since they do not have God's Spirit, but they readily follow and obey sin and feel no regrets, since they act as the devil and their corrupt nature urge. But the sons of God, as already said, fight against sin, sob and mourn when they find themselves tempted to do evil, and if they fall, they rise again with earnest and unfeigned repentance. They do these things, not by their own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus, apart from whom they can do nothing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Calvin on the Perseverance of the Saints

John Calvin, in his commentary on the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), writes this with respect to Mark 13:22/Matthew 24:24 ("False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect."):

"This was added for the purpose of exciting alarm, that believers may be more careful to be on their guard; for when such unbounded freedom of action is allowed to false prophets, and when they are permitted to exert such powers of deceiving, those who are careless and inattentive would easily be entangled by their snares. Christ therefore exhorts and arouses his disciples to keep watch, and at the same time reminds them that there is no reason for being troubled at the strangeness of the sight, if they see many persons on every hand led away into error. While he excites them to solicitude, that Satan may not overtake them in a state of sloth, he gives them abundant ground of confidence on which they may calmly rely, when he promises that they will be safe under the defense and protection of God against all the snares of Satan. And thus, however frail and slippery the condition of the godly may be, yet here is a firm footing on which they may stand; for it is not possible for them to fall away from salvation, to whom the Son of God is a faithful guardian. For they have not sufficient energy to resist the attacks of Satan, unless in consequence of their being the sheep of Christ, which none can pluck out of his hand (John 10:28). It must therefore be observed, that the permanency of our salvation does not depend on us, but on the secret election of God; for though our salvation is kept through faith, as Peter tells us (1 Peter 1:5), yet we ought to ascend higher, and assure ourselves that we are in safety, because the Father hath given us to the Son, and the Son himself declares, that none who have been given to him shall perish (John 17:12)." Harmony of the Evangelists, Vol. 3, p. 141

P.S. I notice that in Mark 14:35 and Matthew 26:39 this same phrase in Greek for "if possible" (ei dunaton) appears in Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane: "My Father, IF POSSIBLE, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." Here is another example of something that is impossible and will never come about from the perspective of God's sovereign will, yet that exerts real influence as warning or prayer.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

J. Edwards on Perseverance & Warnings

The following quotes come from a little known sermon by Jonathan Edwards, entitled "Persevering Faith." Unfortunately it is not published in the Works of Jonathan Edwards or any popular compilations of JE's sermons; it is only available in the Works published by Yale, which are quite expensive:

"[Perseverance] 'tis necessary to salvation as a necessary consequence and evidence of a title to salvation. There never is a title to salvation without it. Though it have not the righteousness by which a title to life is attained, yet none have that righteousness that don't persevere; and that because although it is not proper to say that perseverance is necessary in order to justification, yet a persevering principle is necessary in order to justification...'Tis necessary that a man should believe in Christ, and cleave to Christ in a persevering way: a temporary faith don't justifiy. But in order to that, persons must have that faith that is of a persevering, everlasting sort. He must have that sort of seed that is an abiding seed. 'Tis not a vanishing but a durable faith that justifies."

"Perseverance is necessary to salvation, as 'tis a necessary prerequisite to the actual possession of eternal life. A way of persevering holiness is the way to glory, and the only way to it; and 'tis impossible that we should arrive at glory without going to it in a way of persevering holiness, as 'tis impossible that we should go from one town to another without passing the ground that is between one and the other. We read of the strait gate and the narrow way. 'Tis necessary that both should be passed, before we obtain a crown of glory. God hath set up that crown of glory at the end of a race; and therefore he that stops short of the end of the race and turns back, and so never comes to the end of the race, will never come to the crown. And so 'tis necessary for every Christian, that he should finish his course...Perseverance in holiness is a necessary prerequisite to glory."

"Those promises of eternal life to perseverance are for the comfort of the saints, for the more a person by experience finds that his goodness if of a persevering kind, the more evidence has he of his title to life."

"A hypocrite's faith is but a temporary faith."

"A godly man ordinarily lives a holy life, which implies not only negative, but positive religion." [my italics]

"Though it be promised that true saints shall be so influenced and assisted, as that they shall persevere; yet this is one MEANS by which God influences them, viz. counsels and warnings against falling away."

Thursday, August 9, 2007

John Calvin On Faith & Assurance

There is much controversy over whether John Calvin held that assurance is (in some sense) the essence of faith, or if he was closer to the later Westminster Confession, which argued against this view. Below are a series of excerpts from his sections on faith and assurance in The Institutes of the Christian Religion (which you should plan on reading if you haven't!); you decide where he comes down:

“Therefore our mind must be otherwise illumined and our heart strengthened, that the Word of God may obtain full faith among us. Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.2.7)

“…faith is a knowledge of the divine benevolence toward us and a sure persuasion of its truth.” (John Calvin, 3.2.12)

“Also, there are very many who so conceive of God’s mercy that they receive almost no consolation from it. They are constrained with miserable anxiety at the same time as they are in doubt whether he will be merciful to them because they confine that very kindness of which they seem utterly persuaded within too narrow limits. For among themselves they ponder that it is indeed great and abundant, shed upon many, available and ready for all; but that it is uncertain whether it will even come to them, or rather, whether they will come to it. This reasoning, when it stops in mid-course, is only half. Therefore, it does not so much strengthen the spirit in secure tranquility as trouble it with uneasy doubting. But there is a far different feeling of full assurance that in the Scriptures is always attributed to faith…there is no right faith except when we dare with tranquil hearts to stand in God’s sight. This boldness arises only out of a sure confidence in divine benevolence and salvation. This is so true that the word ‘faith’ is very often used for confidence. Here, indeed, is the chief hinge on which faith turns: that we do not regard the promises of mercy that God offers as true only outside ourselves, but not at all in us; rather that we make them ours by inwardly embracing them.” (John Calvin, 3.2.15-16)

“Briefly, he alone is truly a believer who, convinced by a firm conviction that God is a kindly and well-disposed Father toward him, promises himself all things on the basis of his generosity; who, relying upon the promises of divine benevolence toward him, lays hold on an undoubted expectation of salvation. As the apostle points out in these words: ‘If we hold our confidence and glorying in our hope, firm even to the end.’ [Heb. 3:7]. Thus, he considers that no one hopes well in the Lord except him who confidently glories in the inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom. No man is a believer, I say, except him who, leaning upon the assurance of his salvation, confidently triumphs over the devil and death…And everywhere he so teaches as to intimate that we cannot otherwise well comprehend the goodness of God unless we gather from it the fruit of great assurance.” (John Calvin, 3.2.16)

“Still, someone will say: ‘Believers experience something far different: In recognizing the grace of God toward themselves they are not only tried by disquiet, which often comes upon them, but they are repeatedly shaken by gravest terrors. For so violent are the temptations that trouble their minds as not to seem quite compatible with that certainty of faith.’ Accordingly, we shall have to solve this difficulty if we wish the above-stated doctrine to stand. Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. On the other hand, we say that believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief. Far, indeed, are we from putting their consciences in any peaceful repose, undisturbed by any tumult at all. Yet, once again, we deny that, in whatever way they are afflicted, they fall away and depart from the certain assurance received from God’s mercy.” (John Calvin, 3.2.17)

“To sum up: When first even the least drop of faith is instilled in our minds, we begin to contemplate God’s face, peaceful and calm and gracious toward us.” (John Calvin, 3.2.19)

“…thence unbelief obtains weapons and devices to overthrow faith. Yet these are always directed to this objective: that, thinking God to be against us and hostile to us, we should not hope for any help from him, and should fear him as if he were our deadly enemy…And when any sort of temptation assails us—suggesting that God is our enemy because he is unfavorable toward us—faith, on the other hand, replies that while he afflicts us he is also merciful because his chastisement arises out of love rather than wrath…Thus the godly mind, however strange the ways in which it is vexed and troubled, finally surmounts all difficulties, and never allows itself to be deprived of assurance of divine mercy.” (John Calvin, 3.2.20-21)

“We seek a faith that distinguishes the children of God from the wicked, and believers from unbelievers. If someone believes that God both justly commands all that he commands and truly threatens, shall he therefore be called a believer? By no means! Therefore, there can be no firm condition of faith unless it rests upon God’s mercy.” (John Calvin, 3.2.30)

“Indeed, if we should have to judge from our works how the Lord feels toward us, for my part, I grant that we can in no way attain it by conjecture. But since faith ought to correspond to a simple and free promise, no place for doubting is left. For with what sort of confidence will we be armed, I pray, if we reason that God is favorable to us provided our purity of life so merit it?” (John Calvin, 3.2.38)

“Thus, they say that even though according to our present state of righteousness we can judge concerning our possession of the grace of God, the knowledge of final perseverance remains in suspense. A fine confidence of salvation is left to us, if by moral conjecture we judge that at the present moment we are in grace, but we know not what will become of us tomorrow!” (John Calvin, 3.2.40)

The Calvinist Definition of Assurance

“Assurance of faith is the conviction that one has been redeemed by Christ and will enjoy everlasting salvation.” (Joel Beeke, “The Fullness of Grace,” p. 107)

“By ‘Christian assurance,’ I refer to a Christian believer’s confidence that he or she is already in a right standing with God, and that this will issue in ultimate salvation.” (D.A. Carson, “Reflections on Assurance,” p. 384)

“Assurance of salvation is a God-given awareness that He has accepted the death of Christ on your behalf and forgiven you of your sins. It involves confidence that God loves you, that He has chosen you, and that you will go to heaven. Assurance includes a sense of freedom from the guilt of sin, relief from the fear of judgment, and joy in your relationship with God as your Father.” (Donald Whitney, How Can I Be Sure I’m A Christian?, p. 12)

“…the undoubted certainty that a person belongs to Christ, possesses his saving grace, and will ultimately enjoy everlasting salvation.” (Joel Beeke, Quest For Full Assurance, p. 5)

John Murray: The Distinction Between the "Basis of Salvation" and the "Basis of Assurance of Salvation"

"When we speak of the grounds of assurance, we are thinking of the ways in which a believer comes to entertain this assurance, not of the grounds on which his salvation rests. The grounds of salvation are as secure for the person who does not have full assurance as for the person who has."

(John Murray, "The Assurance of Faith," in Collected Writings of John Muray, Volume 2: Systematic Theology, p. 270).

Jonathan Edwards On What To Do When You Lack Assurance Of Salvation

“It is not God’s design that men should obtain assurance in any other way than by mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it. And although self-examination be a duty of great use and importance, and by no means to be neglected, yet it is not the principal means by which the saints do get satisfaction of their good estate. Assurance is not to be obtained so much by self-examination as by action. The Apostle Paul sought assurance chiefly this way, even by ‘forgetting the things that were behind, and reaching forth unto those things that were before, pressing towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; if by any means he might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.’ And it was by this means chiefly that he obtained assurance: I Cor. 9:26, ‘I therefore so run, not as uncertainly.’ He obtained assurance of winning the prize, more by running than by considering. The swiftness of his pace did more towards his assurance of a conquest than the strictness of his examination.” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, p. 123)

Westminster Confession on Assurance

I. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation (which hope of theirs shall perish): yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.

II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.

III. This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.

(Chapter 18, “On Assurance of Grace & Salvation”)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Catholic Theology on Assurance

Here is a little help to get a head start on our future discussions on assurance of salvation. It is often either forgotten or unknown today that the doctrine of assurance was at the very heart of the divide between Protestants and Catholics during the Reformation. Here are two standard quotes from the Catholic viewpoint. The first comes from the Council of Trent, which was designed specifically to counter Luther and Calvin and the teaching of Protestants, and the second comes from a major Catholic theologian who was a contemporary of Calvin's. Both quotes accurately convey what is still Catholic teaching today.

“But, although it is necessary to believe that sins neither are remitted, nor ever were remitted save gratuitously by the mercy of God for Christ's sake; yet is it not to be said, that sins are forgiven, or have been forgiven, to any one who boasts of his confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins, and rests on that alone; seeing that it may exist, yea does in our day exist, amongst heretics and schismatics; and with great vehemence is this vain confidence, and one alien from all godliness, preached up in opposition to the Catholic Church. But neither is this to be asserted,-that they who are truly justified must needs, without any doubting whatever, settle within themselves that they are justified, and that no one is absolved from sins and justified, but he that believes for certain that he is absolved and justified; and that absolution and justification are effected by this faith alone: as though whoso has not this belief, doubts of the promises of God, and of the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ. For even as no pious person ought to doubt of the mercy of God, of the merit of Christ, and of the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments, even so each one, when he regards himself, and his own weakness and indisposition, may have fear and apprehension touching his own grace; seeing that no one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.”
(Council of Trent, sixth session, §9, “Against the Vain Confidence of Heretics”)

“The principle heresy of Protestants is that saints may obtain to a certain assurance of their gracious and pardoned state before God.” (Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, 1542-1621)

Initial Questions and Issues on Assurance

The following come in no particular order. If you have Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, chapter 40 (pp. 788-809) deals with the doctrines of the perseverance of the saints and the assurance of salvation.

1.) Is assurance of salvation normative or exceptional in the Christian life?

2.) What are the differences between Catholics, Arminians, and Calvinists on assurance? What are strong points of each, and weak? What main problems (practically, not biblically) do each run into?

3.) Is assurance part of the essence of faith, or something entirely distinct that can be absent while true saving faith is present? This has been a huge question in the Protestant tradition, and is worth wrestling over. Think of biblical arguments. What problems do you run into in each direction?

4.) How do handle the tension between "I write these things so that you might know that you have eternal life" and "only the one who endures to the end will be saved"? That is, if we must endure to the end to be saved and not fall away, how can we have assurance until we have actually done it?

5.) What is the definition of assurance of salvation? How would Arminians and Calvinists define it differently?

6.) What role does the reality of false professors (Matthew 7:21-23, 13:1-30), not only now but on the last day, play in the doctrine of assurance?

7.) How can I know I am not self-deceived and actually have saving faith?

8.) What degree or kind of certainty are we talking about in the doctrine of assurance?

9.) What is the basis or foundation of assurance of salvation? How does it relate to the basis or foundation of salvation? That is, it is important to recognize that asking how I come to know God savingly, and how I come to know that I know God savingly, are two distinct questions.

10.) What passages of Scripture are particularly important and central for constructing the doctrine of assurance?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Perseverance Is Promised: 1 Cor. 1:8-9

This is such a crucial reality for believers to understand as they cling to Jesus and follow him! I have mentioned this before, and we will come to it again, but it is not enough to say that God promises to save us not only now, but also forever, in the future--because that leaves a lot of time in between! And unless you hold to the loss of rewards view and think that apostasy from Jesus and falling away from faith doesn't mean anything (eternally) significant, then "once saved, always saved" just doesn't cut it. That's why it isn't the fifth point of TULIP--the "perseverance of the saints" is. Namely, all those chosen by God and who belong to His Son will infallibly be protected (through faith!) for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.

That's why it is essential to see that God promises not only that He has saved and will save on the last day all those who belong to Him, but also that He will sustain, guard, keep, protect and preserve them until the end so that they do not deny Jesus but stay faithful to him, thus receiving the prize and the inheritance. I have mentioned a number of passages earlier in the summer that I believe teach this (Philippians 1:6, I Thessalonians 5:23-24, Romans 5:9-10, Romans 8:28-39, Jude 24-25, etc.). But I have totally forgotten about I Corinthians 1:8-9. Listen to this promise--and realize it is given to a church that, on the surface, would appear to be the most "unspiritual", "unsanctified" group of Christians we know of in the NT! Which simply means that it is grounded in God's power and faithfulness, and not in our ability or performance or willpower.

"I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you-so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

Notice, lastly, that there are no "ifs" attached to this promise. That doesn't mean perseverance and faith and obedience aren't necessary to be saved--they are. But it does mean that the promise is not based on anything inherent in them. Instead, it is actually perseverance and faith that are based on the promise that God will see us through to the end.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What Does 1 John 3:20 Mean?

This is a very familiar passage in a very famous letter:

"Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us."

What does the phrase in italics mean, in light of the surrounding context? It is not immediately obvious, and I have a feeling that many Christians assume a meaning that is not likely. What do you think it means?

Why Scot McKnight Is Not A Calvinist

Answer: The Warning Passages in Hebrews


This is an older post on Dr. McKnight's popular blog, JesusCreed, written shortly after that Christianity Today cover article on young Calvinists came out a few months ago. McKnight taught for many years at one of the leading evangelical seminaries in the world, Trinity, and now teaches at North Park University. I really like McKnight in many ways--he is very genuine, passionately committed to Christ and to the gospel, has maintained a high view of Scripture even at the top levels of critical scholarship, and is clearly a dear brother in Christ and transparently lives out the gospel better than many who call themselves Calvinists. He's a little too sympathetic to those who want to downplay historic biblical orthodoxy at times for my taste, but I consistently sense that he is willing to follow the Scriptures wherever they lead. In this post--which, if you have the time, I also encourage you to read through some of the comments (including some by Scot), in which The Race Set Before Us is mentioned a few times--it becomes clear that a main reason many reject Calvinism is because it seems to downplay seriously the force of the warnings and the reality of apostasy from the faith and the consequences professing believers will experience. This, in my mind, heightens the sense of responsibility we should have to be balanced in proclaiming both the promises and sovereign grace of God, and the warnings and the eternal judgment they actually (and not hypothetically) threaten on all who say "Lord, Lord" but do not do what He commands--without using either to cancel out or diminish the others. If you read through the comments, it also becomes crystal clear how crucial it is to have a basic grasp of "compatibilism." I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reflecting On Fallen Runners

My aim is for this to be a kind of brief summary post, listing the various reasons I do not believe that true, authentic believers who have been forgiven, justified and saved can ever fall way into destruction and be lost. And therefore, anyone who fails to endure and persevere--in faith--throughout the race which is set before us demonstrates by their falling away that they never were savingly called by God.

1.) I John 2:19 "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us."

2.) Matthew 7:21-23, where those who show up on the last day and say "Lord, Lord" (that is, they are professing Christians and not atheists or Muslims, etc.) and are rejected and condemned because they did not do the will of the Father, are told by Jesus that "I never knew you." Not just now, not just at a certain point when you fell away or lost your faith, but I NEVER knew you as my own.

3.) The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15). Read together in all three gospels in which it appears, this parable makes it clear that true faith which receives the word in a good heart both bears fruit and perseveres, while those who fall away either did not understand or had no root in themselves. While not explicit, the impression given is surely no that the other three soils got off to a good start and were genuine, but only later problems arose. Instead, from the very beginning the word did not take root to grow.

4.) The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). Here those who confess Jesus with their lips and who claim to belong to Him are--as so often in Jesus' parables--divided up into two groups, the wheat and the weeds or tares. Explicitly, the weeds in the field (i.e. professing believers who are not genuine and who will not be saved on the last day) are said to be planted by the "enemy" (Satan), and not by the good sower. However, on the last day (see Matthew 7, Matthew 25, etc.) these two groups--which are so often difficult or even impossible to distinguish now--will be separated before the judgment seat of God. However, there is no hint here that those who will be shown to be weeds on the last day started off as wheat or changed their course or identity halfway through. The opposite, in fact, is the case: they were planted as weeds from the beginning. Moreover, it is also significant that Matthew places this parable immediately after the parable of the sower, thus showing that the three "bad" soils that hear the word but fall away were never, indeed, "good" soils but instead never belonged to Jesus.

5.) The Promises of God: Passages such as Philippians 1:6; Romans 5:1-11; Romans 8:28-39; John 6:37-40, 44, 54; 10:27-30; I Thessalonians 5:24; II Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 10:39, etc. Simply put, these passages just cannot be understood within any framework that teaches that true believers who belong to God can fall away and perish. Thus, if Hymenaeus or Alexander or Demas or Judas were genuine believers who later fell away and forfeited their salvation, these promises cannot be trusted. We will always inevitably add the totally unwarranted "if" to them like John Wesley (See TRSBU, p. 22, also footnote 6)

6.) All true believers have the Spirit (Romans 8:9, etc.). And the Spirit is the downpayment and guarantee of our future inheritance, which is being kept for us and cannot be lost (see II Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14, I Peter 1:3-5). God's preservation of them through faith will uphold them through all trials and keep them from stumbling.

7.) There are no "drop outs" in between the "already" and "not yet". Many passages teach this, such as Romans 5:9-10, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 2:4-8, Philippians 1:6, etc. Yet this is exactly what the loss of salvation view must hold to--that there really are people who experience the "already" of being forgiven, justified, saved, adopted, brought from death to life, and somehow become unforgiven, unjustified, unsaved, unadopted, and who regress back from life into death again. Yet there clearly are no passages in the NT which ever teach or even come close to inferring such a thing. Instead, present possession of the "already" of salvation always acts as a guarantee of future participation in the "not yet." We who have now received the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15) are waiting eagerly and confidently for our (future) adoption as sons (Romans 8:23).

8.) Denies the Assurance of Salvation: Of course, we have yet to discuss this topic and we are coming to it soon. But regardless of the difficulties that surround the doctrine of assurance, it seems radically clear that the NT writers not only think that it is possible for believers to have assurance of salvation, but even expect them to pursue it and experience it. I am writing these things that you might know that you have eternal life. However, if a true believer can lose their salvation by an act of their own will, then for all practical purposes there is no way I can ever really have any kind of assurance at all. For my will triumphs over God's grasp of me. My hold of Him takes priority over His hold on me. And therefore, I can only trust His promises as far as I can trust my own willpower and endurance. Which is not very far when life becomes hard and the power and desire of sin rears its ugly head. It is not a coincidence that the doctrine of assurance has never been a firm reality in Arminian theology.

9.) The Case of Judas' Apostasy: We saw last night the vast differences between Peter and Judas. Though both commit similar acts of treason and betrayal, and deny their Lord, Peter repents and is restored and Judas is not. We are given several insights into this in the NT. First, though Satan has asked permission to sift (plural!) YOU like wheat--the disciples, at least Peter and Judas--Jesus has prayed for (singular!) YOU, Peter, and when (not if) you get back up and start running again, turn and strengthen your brothers. Thus the intercession of Jesus is the difference between Peter and Judas. Second, the gospels make it clear all over (for instance, John 6:70-71) that Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas did not belong to him, but that Peter is in another class. Lastly, John 17:6-12 is crystal clear: "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled."

Warnings in the Apostolic Fathers

Last night in class I read the account of Polycarp's martydom and of his faithful endurance until the end, not denying Christ but rather confessing him even under persecution. This account comes from a group of writings that are known today as the "Apostolic Fathers." This refers to early Christian writers such as Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Barnabas, who lived in the first several centuries after the close of the New Testament canon. They wrote several centuries before Augustine, and thus their writings are the earliest extant Christian writings we possess outside of the New Testament. For instance, most scholars date the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians to about 96 A.D.! I highly recommend taking the time to read through these valuable writings at some point, and seeing how the gospel and the Christian life and nature of the church was understood by the first generations of Christians. I've linked to the book Early Christian Writings below.

In reading through these letters recently, I have been struck at how the various writers make use of warnings to exhort and encourage and rebuke the believers they are writing to. I'll try to make note of some of these warnings here in the near future. For now, I'll just point out several things that all of the warnings I have seen in these writings have in common. First, they are all addressed to believers with no hint that the writer believes they may be fakes or that warnings imply that those being exhorted may not actually be genuinely saved. In fact, these early writers often make the explicit point that they are writing the warnings for themselves as well. Second, the warnings are radically future oriented. The crown of life and the prize of salvation and similar images are referenced often, and made conditional on perseverance and endurance in discipleship. Third, these writers conceive with crystal clarity that the prize at stake in enduring to the end is salvation, and what is threatened is final condemnation and judgment. There is simply no way a "loss of rewards" view can be read out of these letters. Eternal life is what is at stake. Here are a few quotes from the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians:

"Besides these men of saintly life [i.e. Old Testament examples, and Peter and Paul], there are many more of the elect who have undergone hardships and torments instigated by jealousy, and provide admirable object lessons for ourselves. There were women, hounded by jealousy...who endured fearful and diabolical tortures, yet in spite of their bodily frailty they finished the race of faith unshaken, and received their noble reward...Now, all this is not being written as a warning to you alone, my dear friends, but for a reminder to ourselves as well, because we too are in the same arena and have the same conflict before us."

"Lot, for his hospitality and his piety, was brought safely out of Sodom, when fire and brimstone were raining down in judgment on all the region about. Moreover, on that occasion the Lord made it plain that, while He never forsakes those who place their hopes in Him, He visits pains and penaltieson the rebellious; and as a sign of this, Lot's wife, who had accompanied him in his flight, but later changed her mind and fell out with him, was turned into a pillar of salt to this day. That was to let all men see how doubt and distrust of God's power to bring a judgment upon themselves, and become a warning of future generations."

"Take care then, my friends, lest, if we fail to conduct ourselves worthily of Him and to do what is good and acceptable to Him in amity together, all this beneficence of His should turn to our condemnation."

"Therefore, since there is nothing He does not see and hear, let us approach Him with awe, and have done with this hateful fondness for mischief-making, so that we may find shelter in His mercy from the judgment to come...Then let us strain every nerve to be found among those who wait in patience for Him, so that we too may earn a share of His promised gifts. And how is this to be done, my friends? Why, by fixing our minds trustfully on God; by finding out what is pleasing and acceptable to Him; by doing whatever agrees with His perfect will; by following the paths of truth. Wickedness and wrongdoing of every kind must be utterly renounced; all greed, quarreling, malice and fraud, scandals and backbiting, enmity towards God, glorification of self, presumption, conceit, and lack of hospitality; for men who do such things--and not only men who do them, but men who consent to them--are held in detestation by God."

"Then let us show ourselves obedient to His all-holy and glorious Name, so that we may escape the doom that was pronounced of old by wisdom upon the ungodly, and may dwell in trustful reliance on the most sacred Name of His majesty. Be counseled by us, and you will have nothing to regret. As surely as God lives, as Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit also (on whom are set the faith and hope of God's elect), so surely the man who keeps the divinely appointed decrees and statutes with humility and an unfailing consideration for others, and never looks back, will be enrolled in honor among the number of those who are saved through Jesus Christ, by whom is God glorified forever and ever, Amen. But if there are any who refuse to heed the declarations He has made through our lips, let them not doubt the gravity of the guilt and the peril in which they involve themselves. For our part we will take care to be innocent of any such offense; and we will entreat the Creator of all things with heartfelt prayer and supplication that the full sum of His elect, as it has been numbered throughout all the world, may ever be preserved intact through His beloved Son Jesus Christ, by whom He has called us out of darkenss to light, and from ignorance to the clear knowledge of the glory of His name."

All of these quotes come from pp. 23-47, in Early Christian Writings:

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Conference Videos for Upcoming Endurance DG Conference

Click on the link for regularly updated videos from the speakers who will be at this coming years Desiring God conference, "STAND: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints". The ones that are up already are really good--very tantalizing. I'm definitely looking forward to September 28th-30th.


Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews

Here is the link to a new "Four Views" book on the warning passages in Hebrews. I know nothing about it, so I have no idea what views are presented (or left out) or of what quality the book is. Still, looks very worth reading.

P.S. I just scrolled down to the bottom of the amazon.com page and there is a lengthy review of the book's contents. Tests of Genuineness, two Arminian/Loss of Salvation, and Loss of Rewards...but NO Means of Salvation defender! How can this be? Absolutely inexcusable, in light of the fact that The Race Set Before Us was published six years prior to this book!

Does Hebrews 12:17 Teach That Esau Could Not Repent?

We've touched briefly on this passage and alluded to it a few times in class, particularly its relationship to the statement earlier in Hebrews 6:4-8 about how it is impossible to restore Christians who apostatize back to repentance again. The question then becomes, does this entail that there are situations in which people have a genuine desire to repent, but are not allowed to (either by God or by the people of God)? This would be a scary situation, obviously, as many believers would become terrified that in spite of their desires to repent, that God will not accept it. This could easily lead to unhealthy spiritual paralyzation . Is this what Hebrews 12:17 is saying was the case with Esau?

I don't think so. Look at the context again: "See that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no 'root of bitterness' springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance (literally, "no place") to repent, though he sought it with tears." This last phrase is the crucial one. I have often (unconsciously) interpreted it in the past as saying that Esau could not repent, though he sought repentance with tears. I think many read it this way. However, notice that all the text says is that Esau sought "it" with tears (this is faithful to the Greek, which is likewise ambiguous). So understanding this text centers around identifying what "it" was that Esau sought in vain. The word "it" in Greek is feminine singular, and there are two feminine singular nouns earlier in the verse which "it" could be referring to. The first is, indeed, "repentance." However, the other possibility is "the blessing." This is a reference to his birthright (in v. 16) which Esau had previously sold. Notice that plugging this in for "it" would change radically the thrust of the last phrase: "For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought to gain back his birthright with tears."

This makes much more sense to me of the passage, for several reasons. First, the phrase "he found no place for repentance" doesn't sound like a description of something that was impossible for Esau to do, but rather describing that in spite of his pursuit to gain back his birthright in tears, he nonetheless did not do so in repentance; his heart was hardened and he was not repentant in spirit--that is, he found "no place" for repentance in his pursuit to reacquire what he really wanted. That is, there was no God-centered sorrow over sin and over having transgressed against the Lord, but merely a despising of the consequences of his action. Second, this lines up very well with Paul's distinction in 2 Corinthians 7:10-13 between a "godly sorrow" that leads to salvation with regret, and a "wordly sorrow" that only produces death and loss. So Paul has categories for tears that do not include repentance. And lastly, we know of so many other people in Scripture (Peter! David!) who committed similar acts of disobedience and sin, but who did repent afterwards.

Therefore, this warning in Hebrews 12:12-17 refers not to the impossibility of repenting after sin or to the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit mentioned in the gospels, but rather that turning away from God will lead to destruction if there is not repentance, as Esau himself demonstrates.

Kept By The Power Of God...Through Faith

We talked in class this past week of how the NT writers do not see an either/or relationship between the necessity of believers persevering by faith, and of God's sovereignly presevering them by His grace, but rather a both/and relationship in which our endurance is the very manifestation of God's upholding and sustaining us by His power. I Peter 1:3-9 is perhaps the classic example of this:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

Nonetheless, this passage is by no means the only text that speaks of this dynamic (check out the quotes I mentioned earlier, below, by Berkouwer and others which highlight this theme, too; see TRSBU, p. 205, footnote 119)). Once you see it, it becomes impossible not to see it everywhere. For instance, notice how the letter of Jude ends with this dual perspective. In Jude 20-21 we are commanded: "But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life." Yet a mere few verses later, in Jude 24-25, Jude extols the power and grace of God to bring about this very thing in our lives: "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." So who keeps who? Do we keep ourselves in the path of faith, or does God. For Jude, it is self-evidently both. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, FOR it is God who is working in us to work and to will for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13; compare I Corinthians 15:10 and Colossians 1:28-29)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Who Is Being Warned In Hebrews?

A huge difference between the "Tests of Genuineness" (TOG) and "Means of Salvation" (MOS) views is how the identity of the people described and addressed in Hebrews 6:4-8 and Hebrews 10:26-31 is understood. For the "TOG" view--ably defended by Wayne Grudem and many others--the people described in these two passages are merely professing Christians who are not actually saved--that is, they are self-deceived hypocrites who do not have true saving faith. For the "MOS" view, as espoused by Schreiner and Caneday, these people are true, genuine Christians who are in a saving relationship with God through Christ and whose sins have been definitively forgiven and who are regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit and who are justified by the blood of Jesus. This is, to be sure, no small difference. It is also practical, as it colors how we hear and receive these warnings.

I plan on discussing this specific matter, and these two passages, soon in class (Lord willing). But for now, what do you see in these two passages (LISTED BELOW) that would argue for either view? What would lead us to think these are not authentic, born again Christians described here, but rather frauds and fakes who were never saved to begin with? What evidence, on the other hand, can be put forth that would argue that these people are actual, genuine believers who have experienced true salvation? If we are honest, decent arguments can be given for both sides. There is a reason that there has always been such fierce debate over these two passages throughout history. However, when all the evidence is seen cumulatively together, does one view or the other seem to have more validty, being demonstrated to be much more likely? How would the original audience have heard these warnings? Start writing down your thoughts.

Hebrews 6:4-8: "For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned."

Hebrews 10:26-31: "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

(of course, these passages should be consulted in their entire overall contexts to be understood as accurately as possible)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Call For The Perseverance Of The Saints

Revelation 13:7-10—“Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the perseverance and faith of the saints.”

Revelation 14:9-12—“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name." Here is a call for the perseverance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”

What Should We Tell Brand New Converts?

Many things, of course! But after a dramatic conversion in the early years of the church (recorded in Acts 11), Barnabas is sent by the apostles to bring some order to this "mess" and sort things out for the future. Notice the one thing that Luke points out Barnabas instructed these brand new, baby Christians in:

Acts 11:21-24—“And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”

The Parable of the Sower

In Luke's version of the parable of the sower (found in Luke 8:4-18), we are confronted once again with the familiar description of the four different kinds of soil, all of which hear the gospel and--at least in some way--initially respond to it in "faith." However, just like in Mark (4:1-25) and Matthew (13:1-23), Luke's Jesus informs us that only one kind of soil upon which the seed (i.e. gospel) falls actually experiences final salvation. What is different about this soil compared to the other three? A comparison of the three accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke is profoundly enlightening, and if you have never studied this crucial parable in-depth, I commend this exercise to you.

I will not attempt to describe all the differences these accounts give us between the four soils which lead three to "fall away" and only one to receive salvation. But Luke's version adds something about the fourth soil which Matthew and Mark do not: in Luke 8:15 we read: "As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with perseverance.” I have translated this last word in the Greek (hypomone) not as "patience" as most English versions do, for this is a radically watered-down revision of Luke's thought. This word in Greek almost always refers to endurance/perseverance, and other words are used by NT writers when wanting to convey the thought of "patience" or "forbearance." Also, the verbal form of this same word is used by Jesus in Matthew 10:22, 24:12, and Mark 13:13 when he says that it is only the one who "endures" to end who will be saved. And most importantly, the only other time Luke uses this word in his entire gospel is in Luke 21:19, which says: "And by your perseverance you will gain your lives." This clearly does not mean "patience" here! In conclusion, then, one of the fundamental marks of the "good soil," which receives the word in faith and does not turn aside to the riches of live or the cares of this world or bows under persecution or unpopularity, and thus receives the kingdom on the last day, is perseverance.

Hebrews 10:35-39--"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls."

Friday, July 6, 2007

Piper on Perseverance

Here are three messages on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints by John Piper:


DISCUSSION QUESTION: What Is The Difference Between The "Tests of Genuineness" and "Means of Salvation" Views?

We ended class this past Tuesday with this question briefly brought up. For those who are (or lean towards) Calvinists and who thus have a strong view of God's final preservation of all His chosen people--that is, that no true believers will fall away and perish--the two options for understanding the warnings are the Tests of Genuineness view (Wayne Grudem, etc.) and the Means of Salvation view (Schreiner & Caneday, etc.). So a crucial question is, what are the legitimate differences between these two interpretations of the warning passages? On the other hand, what common ground and similarities are there between them? Does it matter--practically--which one we hold to? We'll discuss this more in class, but I'd love to start some dialogue now in the comments section: what differences or similarities do you see between these two views?