Sunday, January 04, 2004

Christians and perseverance

Baptist and Reformed Christians agree with one another that someone who is truly born again will not become unsaved. Our Baptists brethren call their understanding of this teaching eternal security of the believer or once saved always saved (OSAS). Reformed Christians are uncomfortable with those phrases for several reasons and opt not to use those terms.

One reason that we don't care for those terms is we believe they can lead to a false sense of security. Someone may have walked an aisle, said a sinners prayer and been baptised but then they never produce any of the spiritual fruit that must come with being born a new creature in Christ Jesus. Such a person may think they have a get out of hell free card, when in fact, if they were to study the Scriptures, they would see the many warnings in God's Word about being presumptuous about such things.

The Holy Scriptures are very clear that those who are new creatures in Christ Jesus will be about doing good works and that those who are truly born again WILL endure or persevere in the faith to the end.

I am, like most Reformed Christians, much more comfortable with the phrase perseverance of the saints because it gives biblical security to those that are saved, but it rightly will not allow for presumption of salvation for someone who is not seeing the fruits of the spirit in his or her life.

I am not going to attempt to prove that one cannot truly loose salvation here, because both Reformed and Baptist Christians agree on that. What I hope to show is that if we are saved we will (must) persevere in the faith.

Lets look at the Scriptures:

And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. (Matt. 10:21-22)

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved .(Matt. 24:9-13)

What are the implications of the Word's of Jesus in these verses above? Is Jesus just being rhetorical or is what He says an important warning to His people. I believe it is the latter. The true believer must endure (persevere) in the faith. Anyone who claims Christ but does not persevere will be lost and rejected on the Last Day.

Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:22,23)

Notice in the verse above that we are talking about disciples of Christ and that they are being exhorted to "continue" in the faith.

Q: Is this simply a rhetorical point, or is it as the Arminian believes a warning against loosing salvation?
A: It may be the case that both possibilities are wrong, and the Reformed view is a third and far better option. The disciples in the New Covenant Church are made up of those who are born again and those that are not born again, just as we find from Genesis forward through Revelation. If looked at that way the Arminian argument looses all its weight, but it also shows why the OSAS phrase is poorly worded.

If we look at these New Testament warnings in the context of the whole Bible (all of the Scriptures) we will find that this is a constant theme of the writers of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Revelation.

My Baptist brethren cannot make good (logical/contextual) sense of this versa and numerous others, because (I believe) he has mistakenly, and far to drastically, cut the New Testament Scriptures away from the Old. He seems to have forgotten that the Bereans looked in the Old to see if what Paul preached in the New Covenant era was so. They would certainly have seen that God's covenant people had always included wheat and tares.

For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. (Rom 11:21,22)

Q: Who is Paul writing these words to?
A: He tells us at the beginning of this epistle. Paul is writing, "To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." But notice Paul has just told these Christians that God had broken off unbelieving Jews from the olive tree (covenant people of God) and has grafted believing Gentiles into the covenant people of God (the Olive tree). He then warns them to "take heed lest he also spare not thee" and again to "continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."

Q: How can these words make sense in the OSAS position?
A: I don't believe they can make sense from the strict OSAS view. They do make sense from an Arminian position, but the Arminian has plenty of other Scriptures that will not allow for his position either.

Is there a contradiction in the Word of God? Certainly not!! But if we hold closely to the OSAS or full Arminian positions, then we must live with a contradiction. Both schools of thought must ignore large segments of the Bible to continue with their chosen doctrinal position. The Reformed/Covenantal position takes the numerous proof texts of both these schools of thought seriously without dismissing one set or the other and without doing exegetical gymnastics to explain them away. Both the proof texts of the OSAS individual and the proof texts of the Arminian position fit nicely together when looked at covenantally.

If you hold to OSAS you must ask yourself how is it that Paul, writing to saints, can say "take heed lest he also spare not thee" and "thou also shalt be cut off." What is it that saints can be cut off from? What were the Jews cut off from?

We must remember that Paul in Romans is writing to Christians. He addressed them as "all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints" (Rom. 1:7) and it is these same saints who are warned to "take heed" and then further warned that they can be "cut off" just as the unbelieving Jews were cut off.

I hope you will look carefully at the other Scriptures that follow and see if they can easily fit into the OSAS position without some serious qualifications.

In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister...(Col. 1:22, 23)

Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; (Heb 2:1-3)

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end... (Heb. 3:12-14)

Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (James 5:19,20)

There are many more verses that seem to be problematic to the OSAS position, but they make perfect sense in the covenantal view. All that are baptised into the Church, which is the body of Christ, are addressed as brethren and saints. Does this mean they are all born again? No, but still they are truly in Christ and are connected to him. God has always dealt with His people covenantally, and if we ignore this fact as we study the Scriptures we will err in our understanding in one way or another.

John 15 is another example this covenantal perspective.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned
. (John 15:1-6)

Jesus is here speaking to His disciples. They, like all Christians, are in Christ. They are branches and covenantally connected to Christ who is the True Vine. A branch, which by definition must be connected to the vine, can be cut off and cast into the fire, if it does not continue to abide in Christ.

How does the branch continue to abide in Chrsit and not get cut off? The branch must be productive and produce fruit. Those branches that do not produce spiritual fruit are cut off. Jesus gives us very practical ways to know that we are continuing to abide in him. He says in verse ten "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love."

The Bible is a covenant book given to us by our Covenant God. In order to understand some of the hard stuff we must look at it covenantally. OSAS falls far short of dealing with the verses mentioned in this article and I don't think that they can be dealt with from the OSAS position. They fit perfectly with the Reformed Doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints.

Coram Deo,

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