STRAIGHT TALK ON ETERNAL SECURITY (Part 3 of 3)

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STRAIGHT TALK ON ETERNAL SECURITY

(Part 3 of 3)

Ephesians 1:12-14:

In order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your

salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

who is a deposit [earnest payment] guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of

of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory (NIV).

How do we know we are not only saved but safe? How do we know we are not only saved but secure? Because not only are we saved, but we are also sealed. We are saved and safe, saved and secure, because we are saved and sealed.

Earlier in the series we discovered that “Salvation is of the Lord” (not us), and it is by grace through faith. We can’t be saved by grace and by works. It is “not you holding out, but God holding on.” We also discovered that God uses definite, specific terms. He has a very precise vocabulary.

Now, we are going to look at the fact that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. Let’s isolate verse 13 from the passage at the top of the page from Ephesians:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your

salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (NIV).

It’s extremely important when we study the Bible to interpret words in their context. If you were to ask any of my previous students what the single most important thing they learned, or remember, from my bible and theology classes was, or the thing I preached over and over in an attempt to drill it into their minds, chances are they would reply with, “Context, context, context.”

So, the word “seal” meant something very significant to the original audience in Ephesus, it brought to mind a specific image.

What do you think of when you hear the word “seal?”

If you’re a musician or singer you might think of the artist who adopted that name. If you’re a child or you work in a zoo, a blackish-gray water animal who balances beach balls on their nose may come to mind. If you’re a canner, or grow fruit and vegetables and preserve them, your first image is most likely that of sealing a jar of goods so it is air tight. If you’re a postal worker or you send a lot of correspondence through the mail, you probably think of the adhesive that keeps the envelope closed. And if you’re a car enthusiast, you may think of a seal for an engine gasket.

Some men would never think of the seal on a jar, and some ladies…and probably many men too, would not think of the seals on a car engine. Which reminds me… did you hear about the lady who called her husband and said that the car wouldn’t start. She said it probably had water in the gas tank. When the husband heard her say that he asked her how she would know that, and she answered that she knew because the car was at the bottom of a lake.

Here are three primary meanings of the word “seal” as found in the Bible:

First, a finished transaction. Have you ever had something notarized? If so, you have some idea of what it means to have something sealed (notary embosses/imprints seal). Once it’s notarized it’s a done deal, it’s official. And when you are saved, God seals the transaction.

You can think of it as sort of a business transaction. God doesn’t just take away your sins and place them on Christ’s account, He also does something remarkable; He takes the righteousness of Jesus Christ and He places that in your account. Isn’t that incredible? We are so undeserving and yet God is still so gracious.

I’ve got a question for you: What does it take to get into heaven? In just one word describe what the entrance requirement is to get into heaven. The answer is “perfection.” The Bible says that no sin will enter the gates of heaven.

You might be thinking, “Well, God will let me in, He’s a God of love.” That is true, He is a God of love, but He’s also a holy God who even “turned His back” on His own Son when Christ took our sins upon Himself on the cross.

And so, the only way to get into heaven without Christ is to live an absolutely perfect life in thought and action, not just a good life, but a perfect life. Is anyone out there who is reading this perfect? Do any of you know a perfect person? No, of course not. No one is capable of perfection.

It takes perfection to get into heaven, and if you don’t have perfection, you’re going to need to find it somewhere. And since you can’t reach perfection, you’re going to have to receive perfection as a gift. And there is only one Person who can give it to you, only He can afford to pay the price for you. Hebrews 7:28b says, “…the Son, who had been made perfect forever” (NIV).

How did Jesus purchase that perfection for us? Initially it’s common to answer, “He died for me,” but that’s not totally accurate. When He died, it was because of your sins, it wasn’t His death that purchased perfection for you, it was His life. He lived the perfect life you and I could never live, and God places that perfect righteousness on your account when you acknowledge your gift of salvation by faith.

Jesus truly lived a perfect life, He never sinned even once in thought, word or action. And, when He died, he was paying a debt He didn’t even owe, and then He gave to you a perfection you don’t have and that you don’t deserve.

On your own, you can’t get to heaven, you’re not allowed, you can’t afford the “cover charge.” But, the very first person in line paid for you. So, you can freely enter because you’ve already been paid for. In fact, you’re a special guest of honor, a guest of Jesus.

Our salvation is really so simple that even a child can believe and receive it, yet it’s so deep we can never fully understand just how far-reaching it truly is. The idea that you can lose your salvation is shallow thinking, especially compared to the depth of what salvation is.

If you’ve been saved, if you’re a Christ-follower, you need to understand that God no longer sees you as an evil, wicked, dirty sinner that’s been forgiven. No, He sees you covered in the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. He sees you through the lens of Christ’s blood, He sees you completely justified (“just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned”). He sees you as perfect.

I’m sure many of you are thinking, “I sure don’t feel perfect.” That’s because you’re not. When we say a believer is seen as perfect, we’re talking about our legal position with God. That’s imputed righteousness, the righteousness of Christ becomes ours at the point we surrender to God’s call and are saved.

There’s another righteousness known as “imparted righteousness.” That’s the righteousness that’s lived out in our daily lives. God is still working on us with this issue, and we’ve still got a long way to go. In fact, we’ll never completely get there this side of heaven.

BUT, and that’s a big but, legally, judicially, when you come before God you have received the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. It’s a legal transaction that takes place like money changing hands. Your sins are traded for Christ’s righteousness, and then to complete the transaction He seals it with the Holy Spirit. A finished transaction.

The second meaning of “seal” is ownership.

Think of cattle… ranchers have their stock branded (or sealed) to show ownership. The Black Angus Ranch uses a particular brand (seal) to mark their cattle as their property. If any of them stray away, they can be identified by their seal and brought back to their proper owner. The seal is used so they can tell them apart from all of the other cattle.

The Bible tells us we are sealed, branded, with God’s signature “property of God.” It is stamped right on us and even if we wander off from Him, we are still one of his sheep. We know His voice, and He comes after us, bringing us back into the flock.

Remember the story of Job? Let’s look at Job 1:8-12 (NIV) for a moment:

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on

earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” “Does

Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his

household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his

flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike every-

thing he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The LORD said to Satan, “Very

well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.

Satan had to go before God and ask His permission to affect Job’s life. There was a hedge of protection around him that said, “private property, no trespassing!”

We are sealed, it’s a finished transaction. We are His property if we are saved by grace through faith.

Third, security is indicated by a “seal.” It’s a little like when you seal a letter or package, but it’s much, much more.

For instance, in Matthew 27:66, the Romans put Jesus in the tomb, rolled the enormous bolder over the entrance, and then sealed it. We find out from history that they would take a string on either side held by hot wax, and then the seal was pressed into the wax as it dried and hardened. You may be thinking, “yeah, but that seal was broken, it didn’t last.”

Well, you’re right. But, how long does the seal of the Holy Spirit last? Ephesians 4:30 tells us we are sealed “until the day of redemption.”

Let me say again, it’s a finished transaction. You’re His property and you’re secure!

So, we’ve looked at the seal, and now here’s the promise:

…who is a deposit [earnest payment] guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of

those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:14, NIV).

A “deposit,” or earnest payment, means that there is more to come. How much of a deposit one puts down shows how serious one is. If you put a down payment of $20 on a house you’re obviously not serious. God put the deposit of the Holy Spirit into our hearts, a down payment He would have to forfeit if He went back on the deal. In doing this, He was promising us several things in the future:

One, a new “home” in heaven.

Speaking of heaven, a used car salesman died and went to heaven. When he arrived there was a huge parade with balloons, confetti and people shouting and screaming with joy all in his honor. He thought to himself, “all of this for me?” Then, this used car salesman watched as Jerry Falwell died and went to heaven and nothing happened, everyone just greeted him with a “hello.” And then Billy Graham died and he got the same simple response, just a “hello.” So, the used car salesman said, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand. Shouldn’t there be a parade and celebration for these men instead of me?” The reply was, “No, we get preachers up here all the time, but we’ve never had a used car salesman.”

Two, a new body. I’m very excited about this one. The one I have needs some “adjusting.”

Three, a new “city” with no crime, not taxes (praise God), and no locks will be needed for our doors and windows.

Four, joyful reunions with friends and loved ones.

Five, eternal joy (Revelation 21).

And six, eternal fellowship with Jesus Christ.

Everything just listed is promised, and God says, just to make it real to you, just so you can know for sure that I AM going to give it to you, I’m going to go ahead right now and place that down payment in your heart. The Holy Spirit became the deposit, or earnest payment, of your inheritance right at that moment.

It is not at all presumptuous, or egotistical, to say that you know you’re going to heaven, because you already have the deposit (earnest payment).

Let’s close this series with 1 John 5:13 from the NIV:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know

that you have eternal life.

 

Copyright 2013 Jeffrey D. Hagan. All rights reserved.

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STRAIGHT TALK ON ETERNAL SECURITY (Part 2 of 3)

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STRAIGHT TALK ON ETERNAL SECURITY

(Part 2 of 3)

by Rev. Jeff Hagan, (ThD), MA, MCC

The first reason to believe in eternal security is because Salvation is of the Lord. We looked at that in the previous article and, with an open mind, discussed asking God to change our thinking on the issue if needed. The goal for any teacher, or preacher, should not be trying to make sure they’ve always been right, but instead to make sure they presently are right. So, again, I ask you to hear me out before you pass judgment on me or this doctrine. Don’t be like a programmed machine, investigate Scripture and decide for yourself.

A second reason to believe in eternal security is the language found in the following passage:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they

follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of

my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them

out of my Father’s hand (John 10:27-29, NIV).

Never” and “no one” (“no one” used twice). “Never perish…,” and “no one” can snatch us out of Jesus’ or the Father’s hand. I don’t know about you, but these are a few words I’m thankful are in this passage.

If language means anything at all, and if God does not have a vocabulary problem, you can’t come away from this passage without saying, “I’m not only saved, I’m secure in that salvation.” The English is clear, but if we were Greek, and spoke the language that the New Testament was originally written in, it would be even clearer. Greek is much more complex and specific than English. That’s why I always use study tools and study helps when I’m tackling the Greek meaning of things in Scripture. So, in the Greek John 10:28-29 becomes even clearer.

Give” means freely bestowed, impossible to earn. When God saved you He gave you the gift of eternal life. If you have to work for something then it’s not a gift.

Look at it like this: Let’s say I have a friend named Larry and Larry’s air-conditioner breaks down (let’s put Larry in Tucson, Arizona to make it more dramatic). So, I hear about the situation and find a new one that is top of the line. It’s got all the latest features. I order it and have it shipped by delivery truck to Larry’s house. He writes me a thank you note and is very happy. A couple weeks later Larry checks his mail and a thick package has arrived in his mailbox. He opens it up and it’s from a finance company and it’s a payment book for the air-conditioner. So, Larry calls me, “Hello, Jeff. The payment book for the air-conditioner was accidentally sent to my address.” And I respond, “That wasn’t a mistake, I made the down payment, now it’s up to you to make the monthly payments.”

Now, would that be a gift? Of course not.

When it comes to the gift of salvation, Jesus not only made the down payment, or the earnest payment, He also makes all of the monthly payments. To think anything else insults the high price He paid on the cross.

Let’s switch it around now. Larry suddenly comes into a lot of money, he wins the lottery or something, and he goes out and buys me a Ferrari. He says to me, “Jeff, you really mean a lot to me. I want you to have this, it’s yours.” And I say, “That’s beautiful, it’s so sleek, I love it, but it’s too much.” He responds, “No, nothings too much for you.” I reply back, “What do you want for it?” He states that there is no catch, he swears there are no strings attached. I can’t help but to ask, “How much did you pay for this?” “$325,00.00” he says. “Wow, I can’t accept this” automatically emits from my mouth. But Larry demands, “No, Jeff, really, it’s yours.” So then I say, “Let me do something to go towards it, I just don’t feel right” and I reach into my pocket and bull out a dollar bill and give it to him. Then, I see you at the gas station and you say, “Looking good. Nice wheels. Where did you get that sweet ride?” And I reply, “Oh, Larry and I bought it.”

What an absolute and complete insult to Larry! And to think there’s anything you can do to keep your salvation after God gave it to you as a gift, that is an absolute and complete insult to God!

Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace…it is the gift of God,” and Romans 6:23, “For the wages…but the gift of God…” Are you getting the picture?

Eternal” life. Eternal means eternal, it’s that simple. Is God in need of a vocabulary lesson? Did He choose the wrong word? No, of course not. In the Greek it means, “without end, never to cease, everlasting.”

The Bible nowhere says you will receive eternal life only when you die, instead, it says that you have it right now. “He who believes…has eternal/everlasting life.” Salvation here is in the present tense.

Ephesians 2, “we are sitting with God in the heavens” – present tense. God doesn’t have a sense of time, he doesn’t need it. Time is a human concept. Remember, He is called the great I AM. We are already there in God’s mindset.

It’s not 30 day life, it’s not 20 year life, or until you sin life, it’s eternal life…and if it doesn’t last forever, it wasn’t eternal then, was it? And if it doesn’t last forever, then God is a liar, or has a very poor grasp on vocabulary, and with no disrespect intended, I could plop these verses down in front of God if I were to lose my salvation and have a solid case against Him. “Why did you lie to me God? I didn’t see any fine print.”

By the way, the word eternal here is the exact same Greek word used to describe our “eternal” God. Think about that for a minute. Your salvation is as eternal as God is. Your salvation will stop it’s existence when God stops His existence…IMPOSSIBLE!

Let’s move on to, “Neverperish. In the Greek “never” is actually a combination of words which we condensed into one word. In Greek it means, “absolutely not, not at all, by no means, under no circumstances” can one lose their salvation.

Some might be thinking, “Yeah, but we can take ourselves out of His (God and/or Jesus) hand.” I disagree. It means “under no circumstances” will they (we) perish.

This reminds me of Romans 8. Let’s look at that passage for a minute:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present

or the future, nor all powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be

able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39, NIV).

I think that pretty much clears it up. We, ourselves, would surely be included in this description from Paul.

The second “no one,” found in verse 28, actually reads “neither shall any pluck them out…” in the Greek. Any devil, demon, sin, beast, man, circumstance…we are safe from all of these and more.

Snatch” or “pluck” means to seize or capture. If someone is trying to take it, then the question comes up, “who is guarding it?”

I use to work up on Capitol Hill in Seattle. It was in a very shady neighborhood, I could share some stories… but I won’t. I worked as security for a large, fancy retirement complex. Every once in a while I would check the parking lot to make sure my car was still there. Each time I’d check the lot and everything was okay I felt a sense of relief, because in this neighborhood if you left your car unattended long enough they’d steal your paint job. I was security there, I was the one guarding there.

But, when it comes to salvation, who’s guarding it? It’s not me, and it’s not you.

Philippians 1:6:

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion

until the day of Christ Jesus (NIV).

2 Timothy 1:12b:

…because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he [not us] is able to guard

what I have entrusted to him for that day (NIV).

John 10:20:

has given them [us] to me [Jesus]…(NIV).

God commissioned Jesus to finish the job. Jesus Christ is perfectly capable of finishing what He starts. In fact, “It is finished” is what Christ said as He died on the cross.

Let’s move on to another word, “Grace.” It’s an incredible word that is closely related to “give” and “gift.” Grace is a gift God gives to those who are undeserving, not those who are somehow good enough. Grace is often times misunderstood.

Many of those who reject eternal security cling to one small phrase in Galatians:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be

burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my word! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves

be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all…You who are trying to be justified by law

have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:1-2, 4, NIV).

What exactly does it mean to fall from grace? Well, I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean losing your salvation. In the context of this passage it means to miss the point of grace by trying to fulfill the law instead of walking in freedom.

There are only two possibilities for those who appear to have “fallen”:

First, they were never saved in the first place. Some refer to this as “Profession without possession.” Anyone can walk down an isle and “say” they are saved, or that they believe. Anyone can get baptized, go to church, sing worship songs, appear to live for God, but God knows their heart, and eventually their true colors will show.

1 John 2:19:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they

would have remained with us; but their going showed none of them belonged to us (NIV).

Some would say they had it and lost it, but the Bible seems to make the point that they never had it.

Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares? Tares are worthless weeds, at times they are even poisonous. In the parable, the “farmhands” said, “Lord, shall we separate the wheat from the tares?” He replied, “No, let them grow together.” God will do the separating of the “tares” on judgment day.

Many are complacent and don’t get out beyond the church walls. Maybe they’ve been deceived into believing they are saved. Satan doesn’t mind you believing in eternal security, if you’re not saved.

The second possibility is that they are saved, and God will deal with them in His own time in His own way. This is a dangerous place to be, you don’t want to be the one who is testing God’s patience. Although He is long-suffering and patient, the meter will run out, eventually God will read your meter.

1 Timothy 5:24:

The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of

others trail behind them (NIV).

To say one can lose, or forfeit, their salvation is really just a cop-out. It ignores one of the cardinal doctrines of the New Testament found in Hebrews 12:6-8:

…because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as sons.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined

by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are

illegitimate children and not true sons (NIV).

Remember, God doesn’t spank (discipline) the devil’s children, God spanks His own children.

Well, moving right along, here’s the hypothetical illustration that people seem to always want to use: “Do you mean I can be saved and then go out and kill someone and still go to heaven.” Well, the short answer is “yes.” We don’t have to make a guess here, there’s examples in the Bible: David and Moses. Let’s take a look at David.

Was David saved? Let’s look at 1 Samuel 13:14 and find out:

…the LORD has sought a man after his own heart [referring to David] and appointed him leader

of his people (NIV).

In the Psalms David refers to himself as the apple of God’s eye, and later he committed adultery and murder. When he was confronted by the prophet Nathan with an illustration of someone in the kingdom who had done something horribly wrong, David pronounced his own judgment (without realizing it at first) when he said, “whoever did this shall pay four-fold.”

David’s judgment was four-fould:

First, his baby died. First Samuel 12:14 makes this very clear:

But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt,

the son born to you will die (NIV).

Now, don’t go putting words in my mouth at this point. I’m not saying that every time a baby dies the parents are being punished for something, don’t misunderstand the point. I’m not saying that and the Bible doesn’t say that. But in this particular case, it was the reason. And despite David’s heartfelt prayers and tears of anguish, the baby died. Sin always brings loss. And some people end up throwing away a lifetime of work, and a good marriage and family, all for one night of pleasure. David is an example of the pattern: lust, sin and death.

Second, his son Amnon became an immoral man who regularly had sex with prostitutes. He picked up on his father’s immorality, to the point he actually raped his own half-sister, Tamar. Just imagine the shame, anger and guilt David must have felt having raised such a sinful pervert.

Third, David’s son Amnon died a premature death in disgrace.

When one of David’s other sons, Absalom, heard what Amnon had done, he was furious. In fact, he took vengeance into his own hands and hired hit men to kill Amnon.

For the second time now, David is making his way to the cemetery.

Fourth, Absalom ended up rebelling and also died prematurely. His rebellion even resulted in war. He also died in disgrace, he hung by his own hair being caught in the branches of a tree.

Again, David heads for the cemetery.

Wouldn’t you agree that David ended up paying a high price for his sin?

Here’s the point: In spite of all of this, David never lost his salvation. In Psalm 51:12 David prays that the joy of his salvation be restored. He didn’t lose his salvation, but he did lose his joy.

There is a difference between relationship and fellowship. Refer back to the first article, especially the example I used of the Prodigal Son.

Here’s a couple of questions for us to look at:

First, does God punish sin in believers? Absolutely. Grace is anything BUT a license to sin. We just saw an example of this when we looked at the example of David and his punishment.

God knows your address, email, phone number, facebook account, and it doesn’t matter if you have caller I.D. or call blocking, it doesn’t matter because God is big enough to “ring your bell” regardless. “Your sin will find you out.” Your sin will catch up with you and be revealed, it will cause discipline to come upon you.

Second question, does God take back the salvation He gave us if we sin horrifically? No, he does not. Again, we also saw this in the example of David. Do we pay for it though? You better believe it. You’ll pay and pay dearly. But, you can’t get away from the fact that the Bible tells us that nothing can ever separate us from His love and grace.

It is certainly possible for me (you, us) to do something so stupid that I lose my family, my friends, my ministry, but nothing can separate me from His protection, love and grace.

One last comment. It’s interesting to note that if you ask someone what it is you have to do to lose your salvation, they can never tell you. Wouldn’t you think God would be clear on that if it were possible? And if, as we have seen, adultery and murder aren’t enough, what’s worse than that? Besides, who of us hasn’t committed the sins of both lust (a sin in the family of adultery) and hate (a sin in the family of murder)?

 

 Copyright 2013 by Jeffrey D. Hagan. All rights reserved.

 

STRAIGHT TALK ON ETERNAL SECURITY (Part 1 of 3)

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STRAIGHT TALK ON ETERNAL SECURIY (Part 1 of 3)

 Eternal Security (Part 1 of 3)

Let’s pretend for a minute that all of us have just boarded an airplane for a non-stop trip overseas. All of us get on the airplane, take our seats, and fasten our seat belts. Then, we go to reach for a magazine and when we do we notice something near our feet that concerns us…it’s a set of bicycle pedals. Connected to those pedals is a large sprocket with a chain going down through the floor and to the engines.

So, you call for a flight attendant, and you ask, “What’s going on with these bicycle pedals?” She says, “Look all around.” You look and notice that everybody has them. “Why do we all have these pedals?” you ask. “Well, the pilot has agreed to get us in the air, but it’s up to us to keep it in the air. He’ll get us up to 30,000 feet, but then all of you will have to pedal really hard to keep it up there.”

I’m telling you, I don’t care how hard we pedal, how long, or how fast…we are going to go down. And your chances of keeping that airplane in the air by pedaling is the same as your chances of obtaining and keeping salvation by your own efforts (or works). If the “pilot” of our souls doesn’t get us there and keep us there, we have no hope.

Charles Stanley, a well-known Southern Baptist pastor, and author, was raised in a church where he was taught all his life that one could lose their salvation (in fact, so was I). He did not believe in eternal security or, “once saved, always saved,” as some people call it.

In Bible college he started to struggle with the issue. Here’s a quote from Charles Stanley:

It was my intense study of the scripture that caused me to begin doubting my position, that you could lose your salvation. Verse by verse, I picked my way through the passages used to support each view. Through this process, 2 things became apparent. I was guilty of ignoring the context of many verses that I had quoted to defend my view. When I began to dig deeper into the text, they took on different meanings. Secondly, I discovered through my study that the belief in salvation by grace cannot be reconciled with the belief that one can lose his salvation. If I must do or not do something in order to keep from losing it, then salvation would not be by faith, but by works. I specifically remember the day that this truth dawned on me, I found myself at a theological fork in the road. To maintain my position, I realized that I would have to abandon my belief in salvation by grace alone. It was like a light came on. Suddenly, I saw it, I wanted to shout. I felt like a man just freed from prison. I began to thank God that for all those years I was wrong, and then I was struck with the most awesome thought of all: I had been eternally secure since the day I got saved as a 12 year old boy.

 I urge you, if you don’t believe in eternal security, have patience over the next few articles. Do what Charles Stanley did. Search the Scriptures with an open mind, set aside your biases. Reserve any judgment, if you’d be so kind, until the end of the series.

Some of you are thinking, “I already believe in eternal security.” But why do you? What’s your proof, chapter and verse? “Be ready to give an answer to any man who asks of you of the hope that lies in you.” This will strengthen your position. And it will deepen your appreciation for what it is you have in Christ, and it will cause you to want to live a Christ-like life because of that appreciation.

But many are confused over this issue, and need to get this information solidified in their thinking. This is a huge issue. It’s about whether salvation is by grace or by works.

Critics of eternal security often say, “If I believed that way I’d get saved and just live however I want to live and do whatever I want to do, that’s just a license to sin.” First, you can’t get saved with that kind of attitude. In order to be saved you need faith and repentance (a change of mind and of heart).

Second, remember God disciplines His children when they need it. His discipline is always right, so it will point you back in the direction of pursuing holiness. Just because God loves His children unconditionally doesn’t mean you can live however, and do whatever, you want. We’ll look at that more in the following articles in this three part series.

Here is one reason to believe in eternal security:

Salvation is of the Lord, it comes from Him. If you believe one can lose their salvation, chances are you do not understand just how great and complete it is, how deep it is, and how far reaching it is.

Everything one needs to know about salvation can be found in Ephesians chapter two, it is a remarkable chapter. The first thing it shows is our condition before we are saved:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1, NIV).

Dead? But I’m breathing.” Yes, but you are dead. Dead man walking. Like, “The Walking Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” or “Night of the Living Dead.” When it comes to the lost world out there, wherever they are, it’s where the dead people live…spiritually dead people.

The Bible tells us we are created in God’s image, a trinity – body, soul, and spirit. And sinful man is born incomplete, born with a dead spirit, “As in Adam, all die” the Bible says, and remember, when Adam sinned, it says he died that day, even though he lived another 900 plus years physically, he died that day, spiritually.

When you get saved, God does something special, something wonderful, He sends the Holy Spirit to quicken, to make alive, your spirit. Your spirit is resurrected, raised from the dead, born again. And the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in your heart. So, our condition before salvation is dead and we were dominated by sin.

Ephesians 2:2: “followed the ways of the world” (NIV). Picture in your mind a dead fish floating down a stream; when the stream turns to the left, so does the fish, when it turns to the right, so does the fish, etc. It’s just floating along, dead, in the way of the stream. That’s us, floating along dead, in the ways of the world.

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3, NIV).

Verse 3b, “we were by nature,” we were born depraved. Doing wrong comes naturally to us. Doing right only happens when we are taught, nurtured, and disciplined. You don’t have to teach your children to do wrong, they do that naturally. They are selfish and tell fibs all on their own without being taught how to do so. Why does a cat meow? It’s in their nature. Why does a dog chew on bones? It’s in their nature. Why do birds fly south for the winter? It’s in their nature. Why do politicians lie? Wait…let’s leave that one alone.

The Bible tells us our nature is sinful (the sin nature). Remember this, you are not a sinner because you sin, you sin because you’re a sinner. Because, in our initial state our spirit is dead, we’re dominated and depraved, if we die that way we are doomed.

We were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3b, NIV).

If all that we read were verses 1-3, and then we just stopped, it would be an extremely depressing message. It would seem hopeless and helpless. However, the two most important words in the entire chapter are found in verse 4, let’s look at those two words: “But…God.” Praise the Lord for those two words. Only God could take this dark and dismal situation described above and do something about it:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ

even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5, NIV).

Isn’t that absolutely awesome! And it’s all possible because of that quickening spirit, God’s Holy Spirit, which comes to live inside of us.

Here’s what this has been leading up to: In order for you to be able to lose your salvation, your spirit would have to die again. You will not go to hell with a spirit that has the Holy Spirit within it. To lose your salvation, your spirit would have to die after God raised it from the dead. However, when God raises something from the dead, He does a perfect job. When God raised His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead, He did it in a permanent way, never to die again. That’s why Hebrews 6 says that “if” it were possible to lose your salvation (implying that it isn’t possible) you could never be saved again, because Jesus would have to be crucified again, put to death again, and that’s not going to happen.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your

salvation. Having believed, your were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy

Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory (NIV).

Deposit” here is also translated as “earnest.” It carries with it the idea of putting a down payment on a house, if one does so and defaults, the owner keeps that money. God is saying, “I’m sure this one is going to make it, I’ll make the down payment right now. If this one ends up in hell, you can keep the deposit” (but then the Holy Spirit would have to be in hell as well).

Some people claim to get saved over and over whenever there is a guest speaker, a revival service, or an altar call, but then they go out and slip back into old habits and then feel they need to be saved again. It goes like this, “I got wasted (or some other sin) and lost my salvation”…but did they? Did they really? Did your resurrected spirit really die again?

Or, “Saved again?” Really? Okay, so your spirit was quickened again, it was made alive again? I don’t think so. Once it is alive, it’s alive. How about, “Oh man, I went out and shot a dear out of season, my spirit must be dead again.” It doesn’t work that way. All of these sound ridiculous don’t they?

So, you might be thinking, does that mean I can go out and do whatever I want? Sure, if you don’t mind being disciplined by a righteous God. Hebrews 12 tells us God disciplines His children.

Have you ever been out shopping, or to a restaurant, and witnessed some bratty, spoiled kid that needed a good spanking? The kid needed it but why didn’t you do it? It’s the same reason God doesn’t spank the devil’s children, they’re not his.

You might say, “But I know they were saved, I saw them at the altar, they were crying, and they drifted away, and it’s been 30 years, and God hasn’t “spanked” them.” If this is the case how do you know for a fact they were truly saved? Are you basing it on that one day? Jesus said in Matthew that some seed looks like it’s going to make it for a day, but it had no depth of earth, and didn’t make it, but for one day it looked good. And really, how do you know God hasn’t “spanked” (disciplined) them? How do you know they’re not living a life of mental torture? The fact is, you don’t know, you can’t know.

But, if you need a biblical explanation for those who appear to have been saved and supposedly lost it, then look at 1 John 2:19:

They went out from us, but did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they

would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us (NIV).

They were never saved in the first place.

Now, can a person slip back into sin and old habits? Absolutely. Remember when you first got saved, it was like you were “on fire” for God, but, when you sin, it’s like you’re throwing water on that fire, quenching the spirit if you will, and you can do that until it’s just a tiny little spark. However, the one thing you can’t do is put it out completely. Why? Because you are not the one who lit it in the first place. God did. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is not about you holding out, it’s about God holding on.

Part of the problem is many people confuse their relationship with God with their fellowship with God. They are two different things. God is your Father, you are His child, that’s why we’re brothers and sisters in Christ. Now, that’s family, that’s a relationship.

An example of what I am saying can be seen in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The son took everything his father had to give and went his own way and did his own thing. During all that time their fellowship was definitely broken, however, their relationship was not.

If you are not saved, you’re missing out on amazing fellowship with God, because you don’t have a relationship with Him. You’re incomplete and I bet you can feel it inside. Your spirit is dead. I urge you to let God bring it to life, permanently.

If you are saved and you know it, awesome! If you gained some knowledge about the incredible salvation you have, awesome! If you’re thankful for it, for unconditional love, for eternal security, for peace of mind, then give God the glory and credit He deserves. 

 

By Jeffrey D. Hagan. Copyright 2013 by Jeffrey D. Hagan. All rights reserved.  

TULIP: PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS (PART 6 OF 6)

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(I am not the author of the book in the photo)

TULIP: PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS

(Part 6 of 6)

by Jeffrey D. Hagan, (ThD), MA, MCC

 

 

Perseverance of the Saints is the term used to summarize what the Scriptures teach about the eternal security of the believer. It answers the question, “Once a person is saved, can they lose their salvation?” Perseverance of the saints is the “P” in the TULIP acronym, which is commonly used to express what are known as the five points of Calvinism. Because the term “perseverance of the saints” can cause people to have the wrong idea about what is meant, some individuals will use terms like “eternal security,” “once saved always saved,” or “held by God.” Each of these terms does show some aspect of what the Scriptures teach about the security of the believer. However, like any biblical doctrine, what is important is not the name given to the doctrine but how accurately it summarizes what the Scriptures teach about that topic. Regardless of which name is used to refer to this important doctrine, a thorough examination of the Scriptures will show that, when it is correctly understood, it is an accurate description of what the Scriptures teach.

 

The most simple explanation for this doctrine is the phrase: “Once saved, always saved.” The Scriptures teach that those who are born again will continue trusting in Christ forever. God, by His own power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, keeps or preserves the believer forever. This remarkable truth is found in Ephesians 1:13-14, where we see that believers are sealed by the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory. When we are born again, we receive the promised indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that is God’s guarantee that He who began a good work in us will complete it (Philippians 1:6). In order for us to lose our salvation after we have received the promised Holy Spirit, God would have to break His promise on His “guarantee,” which He cannot do. So, the believer is eternally secure because God is eternally faithful.

 

To understand this doctrine one needs to understand the unique and special love that God has for His children. Romans 8:28-39 tells us that (1) no one can bring a charge against God’s elect; (2) nothing can separate the elect from the love of Christ; (3) God makes everything work together for the good of the elect; and (4) all who God saves will be glorified. God loves His children (the elect) so much that nothing can separate them from Him. This same truth is also seen in many other passages as well. In John 10:27-30, Jesus says:

 

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me; I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; nor can anyone snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (NIV).

 

In John 6:37-47 we see Jesus claiming that everyone the Father gives Him will come to Him and He will raise them up at the last day.

 

Another supporting passage for the eternal security of the believer is found in John 5:24, where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (NIV). Notice that eternal life is not something we get in the future, it is something we have once we believe. By its very nature, eternal life must last forever, or it could not be eternal. This passage says that, if we believe the gospel, we have eternal life and will not be condemned; therefore, it can certainly be said we are eternally secure.

 

There is actually very little scriptural warrant for arguing against the eternal security of the believer. There are a few verses that if taken out of context might give the impression one could lose their salvation, but when they are looked at carefully in their context it is clear that this is not the case at all. Most people know someone who expressed faith in Christ at one time and appeared to be a genuine Christian who later left the faith and now does not want to have anything to do with Jesus or His church. Those people might even deny that God exists. For those who do not want to accept what the scriptures say about the security of the believer, these kinds of situations are “proof” that the doctrine of eternal security cannot be right. However, the Scriptures show us otherwise, they teach that people like those who say Christ is Savior at one time but later walk away and deny Christ were never truly saved to begin with. For example, 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong tous. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showedthat none of them belonged to us” (NIV). Scripture is also clear that not everyone who claims to be a Christian truly is. Jesus Himself says that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-22). Rather than proving we can lose our salvation, those who profess Christ and “fall away” just reinforce the importance of testing our salvation to make sure we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5) and making our calling and election sure by continually taking inventory of our lives to make sure we are maturing in godliness (2 Peter 1:10).

 

One of the misunderstandings regarding the doctrine of perseverance of the saints is that it will lead to “carnal Christians” who believe that since they are eternally secure they can just go out and do whatever they want and still be saved. That is a misunderstanding of the doctrine and what the Scriptures teach. One who believes they can live any way they want because they have professed Christ is not demonstrating true saving faith (1 John 2:3-4). Our eternal security rests on the scriptural teaching that those who God justifies, He will also glorify (Romans 8:29-30). Those who are saved will be conformed to the image of Christ through the process of sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11). When a person is saved, the Holy Spirit breaks the bondage of sin and gives the believer a new heart and a desire to strive for holiness. Therefore, a true Christian will never simply “live any way they want” because that kind of attitude is not possible for someone who has been given a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17).

 

As we can see, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints accurately represents what the Scriptures teach on this important topic. If someone is truly saved, they have been made alive by the Holy Spirit and has a new heart with new desires. There is no way that one who has been “born again” can later be “unborn.” Because of God’s unique love for His children, He will keep all of His children safe from harm, and Jesus has promised that He would lose none of His sheep. The doctrine of perseverance of the saints recognizes that true Christians will persevere and are eternally secure because God keeps them that way. It is based on the fact that Jesus, the “author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2), is able to completely save those the Father has given Him (Hebrews 7:25) and to keep them saved through all eternity.

Copyright 2013 by Jeffrey D. Hagan. All rights reserved.

TULIP: IRRESISTIBLE GRACE (Part 5 of 6)

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irresist grace cologne from john calvin klein

TULIP: IRRESISTIBLE GRACE (Part 5 of 6)

by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hagan, (ThD), MA, MCC

Irresistible Grace is a term used to summarize what the Scriptures teach about the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of sinners. It is the “I” in the TULIP acronym that is used to describe the five points of Calvinism (also referred to as the doctrines of grace). Some refer to this doctrine as “effectual calling,” “efficacious grace,” and “transformed by the Holy Spirit.” Each of these terms do show us some aspect of what Scriptures teach about the doctrine of irresistible grace. However, what is truly of value is not the name given to the doctrine but how accurately the doctrine summarizes what the Scriptures teach regarding the nature and purpose of the work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of sinful, spiritually dead humanity. No matter which name you use to refer to irresistible grace, a thorough study of the Scriptures will show that, when correctly understood, it is an accurate description of what the Scriptures teach on this important topic.

To put it simply, irresistible grace refers to the Scriptural truth that whatever God decrees to happen will surely happen, including the salvation of individuals. The Holy Spirit will work in the lives of the elect so that they will unavoidably come to faith in Christ. The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit does not fail in bringing those sinners who He personally called to salvation in Christ (John 6:37-40). At the core of this doctrine is the answer to the question: Why does one person believe the gospel and another does not? Is it because one is smarter, more talented, or has some other characteristic that allows them to realize the significance of the gospel message? Or is it because God does something unique in the lives of those who He saves? If it is because of what the person who believes does, or is, then in a real sense they are responsible for their salvation and has a reason to boast (or brag). However, if the difference is that God alone does something unique in the hearts and lives of those who believe in Him and are saved, then there is no basis or reason for boasting (bragging) and salvation is truly and completely a gift of grace. Of course, the answer from Scripture for these questions is that the Holy Spirit does do something unique in the hearts of those who are saved. Scripture tells us that God saves people “because of his mercy…through the washingof rebirth [regeneration] and renewed by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5, NIV). In other words, those who believe the gospel and are saved are able to do so because they have been transformed by the Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of irresistible grace recognizes that the Scriptures describe natural “man” as “dead in his trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13), and, because “man” is spiritually dead, “he” must first be made alive, regenerated, in order to understood and respond to the gospel message. An illustration of this is found when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. In John 11:43, we see that Jesus told Lazarus to “come forth” and that Lazarus came forth out of the tomb. What had to happen before Lazarus, who had been dead for several days, could respond to the command of Jesus? He had to be made alive because a dead man cannot hear or respond. The same thing is true spiritually. If we are dead in our sins, as Scripture clearly teaches, then before we can respond to the gospel message and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ we first have to be made alive.

Remember Jesus telling Nicodemus in John 3:3 that one must be “born again to see the kingdom of God”? John 1:12-13 tells us that being born again is not the result of something we do but is a sovereign act of God. Just as Lazarus could not bring himself back to life or respond to the command of Jesus without being brought back to life, neither can sinful humanity. Ephesians 2:1-10 makes it quite clear that while we are still dead in our trespasses and sin God makes us alive. Scripture is also clear that the act of being born again, regenerated, is a sovereign act of God. It is something He does which gives us the ability to believe the gospel message, not something that comes as a result of our belief.

The reason this doctrine is called “irresistiblegrace is that it always results in God’s intended outcome, the salvation of the person it is given to. It is important to realize that the act of being regenerated cannot be separated from the act of believing the gospel. This is clearly shown in Ephesians 2:1-10. There is a definite connection between the act of being made alive by God (Ephesians 2:1, 5) and the result of being saved by grace (Ephesians 2:5, 8). This is because everything related to salvation, including the faith to believe, is an act of God’s grace. The reason God’s grace is irresistible and always brings about the desired result is that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into” His kingdom (Colossians 1:13, NIV). Or, as Psalm 3:8 puts it, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”

To understand the doctrine of “irresistible grace,” it is important to realize that this is a special grace given only to those God has chosen for salvation (His elect) and is different from what is known as “common grace” which God gives to both believer and unbeliever. While there are many aspects of common grace, including life and everything that is needed to sustain it, common grace is what is often referred to as the “outward call of God.” This is God’s revelation of Himself which is given to all humanity through the fact of creation and their consciences. It also includes the general call of the gospel that goes out anytime the gospel message is preached. This call can be resisted and rejected by those who hear it (Matthew 22:14; Romans 1:18-32). However, God also gives an “inward call” which always results in salvation. This is the call of God that Jesus refers to in John 6:37-47. The certainty of this inward call is seen in John 6:37: “All that the Father give me will come to me, whoever comesto me I will never drive away” (NIV). John 6:44 helps to solidify this: “No one can come to meunless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (NIV).

Other passages where irresistible grace can be seen include 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; Acts 13:48; 16:14 and Romans 8:30. In 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, after explaining why some people do not believe the gospel (it is veiled to them and their minds have been blinded toward it), Paul writes, “For God, who said ‘let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our heartsto give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV). The God who said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) is the same God who gives the light of salvation to those He chooses. The same truth is seen in a different way in Acts 13:48. Here it says that “all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (NIV). God saves those He chooses to save; therefore, His saving grace is always effective (efficacious). In Acts 16:14, we have another example of God’s irresistible grace in action. The Lord opened the heart of Lydia “to respond to Paul’s irresistible grmessage” (NIV). And in Romans 8:29-30 we see that everyone God calls to salvation (the inward call) will be saved (justified).

A common misunderstanding regarding the doctrine of irresistible grace is that it implies people are forced to accept Christ and are dragged into heaven “kicking and screaming.” Of course, neither one of these is a true description of the doctrine of irresistible grace as revealed in the Scriptures. In fact, the core of irresistible grace is the transforming power of the Holy Spirit where He takes a person dead in trespasses and sins and gives them spiritual life so that they can recognize the unsurpassed value of God’s offer of salvation. Then, having been set free from the bondage of sin, that person comes to Christ willingly.

Another misunderstanding regarding this doctrine is that it teaches the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted at all. However, that is not what the doctrine teaches because that is not what the Scriptures teach. God’s grace can be resisted, and the Holy Spirit’s influence can be resisted, even by one of the elect. However, what the doctrine does rightly recognize is that the Holy Spirit overcomes all such resistance and that He will draw the elect with an irresistible grace that makes them want to come to God and helps them understand the gospel so they can, and will, believe it.

The doctrine of irresistible grace simply recognizes that the Scriptures teach God is sovereign and can overcome all resistance when He wills to. What God determines (decrees) will come to pass. This can be seen all throughout Scripture. In Daniel 4:35, we see that “He[God] does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No onecan hold back His hand” (NIV). Psalm 115:3 declares, “Our God is in the heaven; he doeswhatever pleases him” (NIV). God’s grace in salvation is irresistible because when God sets out to fulfill His sovereign purpose, no person or thing can resist Him successfully.

The doctrine of irresistible grace accurately summarizes what the Scriptures teach about the nature of saving faith as well as what must happen to overcome humanity’s depraved nature. Since in our natural state we are dead in trespasses and sins, it stands to reason that we must be regenerated before we can respond to the outward call of the gospel. Until that takes place, we will resist the gospel message and the grace of God; however, once one has been “born again” and has a heart that is bent toward God, the grace of God will irresistibly draw them to put their faith in Christ and be saved. These two acts (regeneration and faith) cannot be separated from each other. They are so closely intertwined that often times we cannot tell them apart.

Copyright 2013 Jeffrey D. Hagan. All rights reserved.

TULIP: LIMITED ATONEMENT (Part 4 of 6)

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TULIP: LIMITED ATONEMENT (Part 4 of 6)

by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hagan, (ThD), MA, MCC

Please keep in mind – this article is in our “TULIP” series so it gives a five point view of Calvinism. It is our opinion that five point or four point Calvinism is an issue where believers can “agree to disagree.” So, although this article presents a case for five point Calvinism, we are in no way questioning the faith or integrity of those who adhere to a four point Calvinist view. We encourage all of those who read this article for interest, devotions, personal knowledge, education, or theological enrichment, to expand their learning by studying all aspects of this doctrine, pro and con.

Limited Atonement is a phrase used to summarize what the Scriptures teach regarding the purpose for Christ’s death on the cross and what His life, death and resurrection accomplished. It represents the third letter of the TULIP acronym, “L,” which is commonly used to explain what are known as the five points of Calvinism, also referred to as the doctrines of grace. The doctrine of limited atonement is the most controversial and perhaps most misunderstood of all the TULIP doctrines. Since the name can confuse people and cause them to have incorrect ideas about what is meant, some people use phrases like “particular redemption,” “definite redemption,” or “actual atonement.” These names rightly focus on the biblical fact that Jesus’ death on the cross was intentional and had a definite purpose and that it succeeded in accomplishing that purpose. However, like all of the doctrines in TULIP, what is important is not the term we use to describe the doctrine but how accurately the doctrine expresses what the Scriptures teach about the nature and purpose of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

The doctrine of limited atonement affirms that the Scriptures teach Christ’s atoning work on the cross was done with a specific purpose in mind – to redeem for God people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Revelation 5:9). Jesus died, according to Matthew 1:21, to “save his people from their sins” (NIV). This truth is seen all throughout the Scriptures. In John 10:15, we see that He lays “down his life for my [his] sheep” (NIV). Who are the sheep? They are the people chosen by God from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). These are the same ones Jesus said were given to Him by the Father in order that He would fulfill the Father’s will by not losing any of them and by raising all of them up in the end (John 6:37-40). The truth that Jesus came for a specific reason is found in both the Old and New Testaments. A significant passage, probably the most significant passage in the Old Testament on the atonement, is Isaiah 53. In this passage alone, we are shown He was stricken for the transgressions of God’s people (Isaiah 53:8); that He would “justify many” because “he will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11, NIV); and that He “bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12b, NIV). These verses and many others talk about an atonement that was particular in who it covered (God’s people), was substitutionary in nature (He actually took their sins upon Himself at the cross), and actually accomplished what God planned for it to do (justify many). It is clear we have here a picture of an intentional, specific atonement. Christ did not simply make justification a possibility, He actually justified those He died for. He died to save them, not to only make them savable.

The doctrine of limited atonement also recognizes that Scriptures teach Jesus’ death on the cross was a substitutionary atonement for sins. Many theologians use the word “vicarious” to describe the atonement. This word means “acting on behalf of” or “representing another’ and is used to describe “something performed or suffered by one person with the results accruing [being applied] to the benefit or advantage of another.” The substitutionary atonement of Christ means He was acting as a representative for a specific group of people (the elect) who would receive a direct benefit (salvation) as the result of His death. The idea is clearly portrayed in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin [Christ] to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV). If Jesus actually took my place and bore my sin on the cross as Scripture teaches, then I can never be punished for that sin. In order for Christ’s atonement to truly be a substitutionary atonement, then it must actually secure a real salvation for all whom He died for. If the atonement only makes salvation a possibility, then it cannot be a substitutionary atonement. If Christ acted as a real and true substitute for those He died for, then all He died for will be saved. To say that Christ died a substitutionary death in the place of all sinners but that not all sinners will be save is contradictory.

Four different words or aspects of the atonement are clearly presented in Scripture, and each one better helps us understand the nature and degree of the atonement. These four words are ransom, reconciliation, propitiation and substitute. These four aspects of Christ’s atonement all speak of Christ as having actually accomplished something in His death. Even a brief study of these four terms in their Scriptural contexts leads to the clear conclusion that one cannot hold to a true universal atonement without also requiring universal salvation. If one holds the unlimited atonement view while denying universal salvation, they end up with a redemption that leaves humanity not completely free or actually redeemed, a reconciliation that leaves humanity still estranged from God, a propitiation that leaves humanity still under God’s wrath, and a substitutionary death that still makes the sinner help pay the debt of their sin. All of these aspects of the atoning work of Christ then become nothing more than a possibility that relies upon humanity to make them a reality.

But this is not what the Scriptures teach. They teach that those who are redeemed by Christ are truly free and their debt has been paid in full. They teach that those who are reconciled to God are actually reconciled and the separation that existed between them and God has been taken away (Colossians 2:14). They teach that Christ’s death on the cross was a sacrifice that completely satisfied the wrath of God. They also teach that Christ was indeed a substitute who acted in place of, and on behalf of, His people. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30, NIV). The debt was paid in full. Let’s look at Colossians 2:13-14:

 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God

made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written

code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took

it away, nailing it to the cross (NIV).

A common misunderstanding regarding the doctrine of limited atonement is that this position somehow lessens or limits the value of the atonement of Christ. However, the direct opposite is true. Limited atonement correctly recognizes that Christ’s death was of infinite value and lacked nothing. In fact, it is of such great value that, if God had willed it, Christ’s death could have save every single member of the human race. Christ would not have had to suffer any more or do anything different to save every human who ever lived than what He did do in securing the salvation of the elect. But that was not God’s purpose in sending Christ to the cross. God’s purpose in the atonement was that Jesus would forever secure the salvation of those the Father had given to Him (Hebrews 7:25). So, while Christ’s atonement was limited in its intent or purpose, it was unlimited in its power.

Another common misunderstanding regarding the doctrine of limited atonement is that it somehow lessens or decreases the love of God for humanity. But once again, the exact opposite is true. Of all of the doctrines of grace, the doctrine of limited atonement, when properly understood, amplifies the love of God; it does not decrease it. Limited atonement reinforces the intense love of God that is revealed in the Scriptures. God loves His people with a love that saves them from their sin, as opposed to the love in the unlimited atonement view which portrays God’s love as being more general in nature. In the unlimited atonement view, He loves everyone in a general sense but saves no one in particular and, in fact, leaves the issue of their salvation up to them. Which do you find more loving, a love that actually saves people or a love that makes salvation “possible” to those who are dead in trespasses and sins and are incapable of choosing God?

One of the main arguments used against limited atonement is that, if Christ did not atone for the sins of everybody in the world and only intended to save the elect, how do you explain the numerous Scripture passages that appear to offer the gospel to “whosoever will come?” How can God offer salvation to all, including those He has not elected or foreordained to be saved? How can we understand the paradox that arises because the Scriptures teach God intends that only the elect will be saved, but, on the other hand, Scriptures also declare that God freely and sincerely offers salvation to everyone who will believe (Ezekiel 33:11; Isaiah 45:22; 55:1; Matthew 11:28; 23:37; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 22:17)? The answer to this seeming paradox is simply a recognition of all that the Scriptures teach: (1) the call of the gospel is universal in the sense that anybody that hears it and believes in it will be saved; (2) because everyone is dead in trespasses and sin, no one will believe the gospel and respond to it in faith unless God first makes those who are dead in their trespasses and sins alive (Ephesians 2:1-5). The Scriptures teach that “whosoever believes” will have eternal life and then explains why some believe and some do not.

Another argument used against limited atonement points to the Scripture passages that speak of Christ’s atonement in a more general or unlimited sense. For example, in 1 John 2:2 John says that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the “whole world.” Also, in John 4:42 Jesus is called the “Savior of the world” and in John 1:29 is said to “take away the sin of the world.” Other verses that appear to imply an unlimited view of the atonement include 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “He died for all” and 1 Timothy 2:6: “He gave Himself a ransom for all” (although Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 say Christ came to “give His life a ransom for many”). Those who believe in unlimited atonement use these kinds of verses to make the point that, if Christ died for all and takes away the sins of the world, then His atonement cannot be limited to only the elect. However, these verses can be reconciled with the many other verses supporting the doctrine of limited atonement by simply recognizing that Scripture frequently uses the words “world” and “all” in a limited sense. The passages do not automatically mean “every single person in the entire world.” This is clear when just a few verses are looked at. In Luke 2:1 we see that a “decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered,” and Luke 2:3 says, “So all went to be registered everyone to his own city.” But, clearly, that is not talking about every single person in the whole world. Caesar’s decree was not meant for the Japanese, Chinese or numerous other people throughout the world.

Similarly, the Pharisees, being troubled with the growing popularity of Jesus, said, “Look how the whole world has gone after Him!” Did every single person in the world follow Jesus? Or was the “world” limited to a small area of Palestine where Jesus preached?

It should be unquestionably clear that the phrase “all” or “all the world” does not necessarily mean every single person. Understanding that fact allows one to view each of these seemingly universal passages in their proper contexts, and, when that is done, it becomes obvious that they do not present any conflict with the doctrine of limited atonement.

Still another argument against limited atonement is that it is an obstacle to preaching the gospel and to evangelism in particular. Those who use this argument will say that if an evangelist cannot say, “Christ died for you,” then his effectiveness in presenting the gospel will be limited. Or they will say that, if only the elect will be saved, why should the gospel be preached at all? Again, these objections can easily be handled. The gospel is to be preached to everyone because it is the power of God to salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16), and it is the means that God has ordained by which the elect will be saved (Romans 10:14-17). Also, the evangelist does not need to tell the unbeliever that “Christ died for your sins,” specifically. All they need to proclaim is that Christ died to pay the penalty for sin and provide a way for sinners to be reconciled to God. Believe in Him, and you will be saved. Besides, stating “Christ died for your sins” is an issue of semantics in this regard. That phrase can be used in a general sense of “you” just as the Scriptures use “world” in a general sense.

The doctrines of grace, and in particular the doctrine of limited atonement, empower evangelism instead of hindering it. Embracing these incredible biblical truths allows one to boldly and clearly proclaim the good news of the gospel, knowing that the power is not in our presentation or in the ability of the audience to understand it or desire to believe it, but, instead, rests entirely on an all-powerful God who has determined to save people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Belief in unlimited atonement, on the other hand, presents many logical and Scriptural problems. First, if the atonement was truly unlimited, then every person would be saved as all of their sins, including the sin of unbelief, would have been paid for by Christ on the cross. However, such a universalist view is clearly not biblical, as the Scriptures are very clear that not all people are saved or will be saved. Therefore, both the Arminian and Calvinist believe in some sort of limited atonement:

The Arminian limits the effectiveness of the atonement in saying Christ died for all

people but not all people will be saved. This view of the atonement limits its power

as it only makes salvation a possibility and does not actually save anyone. On the

other hand, the Calvinist limits the intent of the atonement by stating that Christ’s

atonement was for specific people (the elect) and that it completely secured salvation

of those whom He died for. So, all Christians believe in some sort of limited atone-

ment. The question, then, is not whether the Bible teaches a limited atonement but

how or in what sense the atonement is limited. Is the power of the atonement limited

in that it only makes salvation a possibility, or is its power to save unlimited and it

actually results in the salvation of those whom God intended to save (the elect, His

sheep)? Does God do the limiting, or does man? Does God’s sovereign grace and

purpose dictate the ultimate success or failure of the redemptive work of Christ, or

does the will of man decided whether God’s intentions and purposes will be realized

(www.gotquestions.org, “Limited Atonement” – is it biblical?).

 

A serious problem with unlimited atonement is that it makes redemption just a potential or hypothetical act. An unlimited atonement means that Christ’s sacrifice is not effective until the sinner does their part in believing. In this view, the sinner’s faith is the deciding factor as to whether Christ’s atonement actually accomplishes anything. If the doctrine of unlimited atonement is true, then it has Christ dying for people the Father knew would not be saved and it has Christ paying the penalty for the sins of people who would also have to pay the penalty for the same sin. This would make God unjust. Either God punishes people for the sins that Christ atoned for, or Christ’s atonement was somehow insufficient in that it does not aptly cover all the sins of those who He died for. The problem with this view becomes even clearer when one considers that at the time Christ died on the cross there were already sinners that had died who will face the wrath of God in hell for their sin. Logically, it makes no sense for God the Father to have Christ atone for sins of people who were already suffering the wrath of God for their sin. Where is the justice in punishing Christ for the sins of those that were already being punished for their sins? This also shows that an unlimited atonement cannot be a substitutionary atonement.

Another problem with the unlimited atonement viewpoint is that it belittles the righteousness of God and destroys the basis of a believer’s assurance. An important part of a believer’s assurance is that God is righteous and that He will not nor cannot punish sin twice. So, the sin that is covered by Christ’s blood can never be charged to the sinner’s account. Yet that is what a universal atonement inevitably leads to. Christ is punished for the sins of those that are not saved, and then they are also punished in hell for the same sins.

Unlimited atonement says that, while Christ does incredible things to bring salvation to His people, His death on the cross did not actually secure that salvation for anyone. Christ’s death is not enough in and of itself to save lost people, and, in order for His atoning work to be effective there is a requirement that sinners themselves have to meet. That requirement is faith. For humanity to be saved, they must add their faith to Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Therefore, the effectiveness of the atonement is limited by humanity’s faith or their lack thereof. On the other hand, limited atonement believes that Christ’s death and resurrection actually secures the salvation of His people. While God does indeed require faith of His people, Christ’s death even paid for the sin of our unbelief, and, therefore, His death meets all requirements for our salvation and provides everything needed to secure the salvation of God’s people including the faith to believe. In other words, God requires faith of His people, however, he supplies that very thing He requires. That is pure unconditional love, a salvation that is by grace alone through Christ alone. Christ plus absolutely nothing equals salvation – an atonement so thorough and complete that it secures everything required for salvation, including the faith that God gives us in order to believe (Ephesians 2:8).

Limited atonement, like the other doctrines of grace, upholds and glorifies the unity of the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit working in unison for the purpose of salvation. These doctrines build upon one another. The doctrine of total depravity defines what the Scriptures teach about the spiritual condition of unregenerate man and leaves one with the question “Who can be saved?” The doctrine of unconditional election answers the question by declaring God’s sovereign choice in choosing to save people in spite of their depravity and based entirely on God’s sovereign choice to redeem for Himself people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Next, the doctrine of limited atonement explains how God can be perfectly just and still redeem those sinful people and reconcile them to Himself. The only solution to the depravity of humanity was for God to provide a Savior who would act as their substitute and suffer the wrath of God for their sins. He did this in the death of Christ, who, having been crucified, completely and totally “canceled the written code, with its regulations,that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14, NIV). That brings us to another question: how can a spiritually dead sinner who is hostile to God have faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross? That question is answered by the doctrine in the TULIP acronym known as irresistible grace, the “I” in the acronym. This will be the topic of the next article in this series.

 

Copyright 2013 Jeffrey D. Hagan. All rights reserved.

 

TULIP: UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION (Part 3 of 6)

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TULIP: UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION (Part 3 of 6)

by Rev. Jeff Hagan, (ThD), MA, MCC

Unconditional election is a phrase used to summarize what the Scriptures teach regarding the predestination – or the election – of people for salvation. It represents the “U” in the acronym TULIP, which is commonly used to explain the five points of Calvinism, also known as the doctrines of grace. Some of the terms used for this doctrine also include “unmerited [unearned] favor,” “sovereign election,” and “adopted by God [or adoption].” All of these names are appropriate because each one shows some aspect of the doctrine of election. However, far more important than the term we use to describe the doctrine is how accurately the doctrine expresses what the Scriptures teach regarding these very important topics.

 The disagreement over unconditional election is not about whether or not God elects or predestines people to salvation, the disagreement centers around on what basis He elects them. Does He elect them based on His foreknowledge that those individuals will have faith in Christ one day, or is it based purely on God’s sovereign choice to save them? As the word “unconditional” indicates, this position holds that God’s election of people to salvation is done “with no conditions attached, either foreseen or otherwise.” God elects people to salvation purely by His own sovereign choice and not because of some future action they will carry out or some condition they will meet. Those who come to Christ become God’s children by His will, not by their own. “They were not God’s children by nature or because of human desires. God himself was the one who made them his children” (John 1:13, CEV).

 God, before the foundation of the world, chose to make certain individuals the objects

of His unmerited favor or special grace (Mark 13:20; Ephesians 1:4-5; Revelation 13:8;

Revelation 17:8). These individuals from every tribe, tongue and nation were chosen by

God for adoption, not because of anything they would do but because of His sovereign

will (Romans 9:11-13; Romans 9:16: Romans 10:20; 1 Corinthians 1:27-29; 2 Timothy

1:9). God could have chosen to save all men (He certainly has the power and authority

to do so), and He could have chosen to save no one (He is under no obligation to save

anyone). He instead chose to save some and leave others to the consequences of their

sin (Exodus 33:19; Deuteronomy 7:6-7; Romans 9:10-24; Acts 13:48; 1 Peter 2:8)

(www.GotQuestions.org, “Question:’Unconditional election – is it biblical?’”).

There are many verses in the Old and New Testaments that address the topic of election, and, when one looks at all that the Scriptures teach about election and predestination, it becomes clear that God’s choice was not based on any known future act or response, but entirely on God’s own good pleasure and sovereign will. Correctly understood, God’s unconditional election is “one link in the unbreakable chain” of salvation found in Romans 8:28:

 For those God foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the likeness of

his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he

predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those whom he justified,

he also glorified (NIV).

All those who God has predestined will be saved (John 6:39; Romans 8:30) because they are the ones that God the Father gives to Jesus Christ (John 6:37) who will raise them up on the last day (John 6:39; John 17:2). They are Christ’s sheep (John 10:1-30) who hear His voice and for who He died (John 10:15) in order to give them eternal life and make them secure forever in the hand of God (John 10:26-30).

There are several common misunderstandings regarding unconditional election. First, it is important to understand that the doctrine does not teach that God’s choice is based on His mood or some kind of random selection. It is not made without reason. What it does teach is that God elects someone to salvation not because of something of worth that He finds in the individual, but because of His unfathomable, mysterious will. He makes the choice as to who will be saved for His own reasons, according to His own perfect will and for His own good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5). And while some oppose the doctrine of election because they see it us “unfair,” it is nevertheless based upon God’s will and it pleases Him; therefore, it must be good and perfectly fair.

A second misunderstanding is that unconditional election suppresses and even prevents evangelism, but the truth is the exact opposite – it empowers and confirms it. When one properly understands that God has not only elected certain individuals to salvation but has also ordained the means of salvation – the preaching of the gospel (Romans 1:16; 10:14-17) – it empowers the spreading of the gospel message and the call to evangelism. We see this exact thing in Paul’s writing to Timothy in the middle of serious persecution.

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain

salvation which is in Christ…” (2 Timothy 2:10, NIV).

A correct understanding of the doctrine of election encourages evangelism and guarantees its success. It conquers the fear of failure when sharing the gospel and empowers people to stay faithful to the message in times of great struggles. They know that the power lies in the gospel message itself as well as in God’s sovereign election and not in their feeble presentation. A biblical understanding of election helps one share the gospel freely with all people, knowing that any one of them could be Christ’s sheep whom He is calling into His flock (John 10:16). It is not up to us to decide or discover if someone is elect or non-elect, and there is always a hope for salvation for anyone who will confess their sin, repent, and believe in Christ. The gospel message should be preached to all people with the knowledge that God will use it to draw His sheep to Himself.

Third, unconditional election also does not mean that there will be people in heaven who do not want to be there, nor will there be people in hell who wanted to go to heaven but could not be because they were not elect. Unconditional election appropriately recognizes that, apart from God’s supernatural work in the life of a sinner, humanity will always choose to reject God and rebel against Him (see my article on “Total Depravity” for more information on this topic). What unconditional election does properly recognize is that God intervenes in the lives of the elect and works in their lives through the Holy Spirit so that they willingly respond to faith in Him. Because they are “his sheep…they hear his voice and follow him” (John 10:1-30). As for the non-elect, God is still gracious to them, but because of their sin they are not appreciative of that grace, nor do they acknowledge Him as God (Romans 1:18-20). As a result, they receive the punishment that is due them. Those God elects are beneficiaries of His sovereign grace and mercy, and those whom He does not elect receive the justice they have earned. While the elect receive God’s perfect grace, the non-elect receive God’s perfect justice.

Those who disagree with unconditional election often use verses like 1 Timothy 2:4 and John 3:16. How do we reconcile election with a verse like 1 Timothy 2:4, that says God “wants all men to be saved” (NIV), or John 3:16, that says God “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV)? The answer is found when one has a proper understanding of the will of God and the love of God. God’s “passive” will needs to be understood in contrast to His “decreed” will (those things He foreordains to happen). The passive will of God includes the things He might desire, in a sense, but does not foreordain or bring to pass. Surely, if God is sovereign and all-powerful, as the Scriptures declare Him to be, then He could cause the salvation of all people if that was His predetermined will. Reconciling these and other verses with the many that show election to be an unconditional choice of God is no more difficult than recognizing that there are things God might desire but does not predetermine to happen. It could be said that God does not desire for people to sin but as part of his predetermined plan He allows them to sin. So, while there is a true and legitimate sense in which God does not take pleasure in punishing the wicked and wishes that all would be saved, His predetermined plan allows for the fact that some will indeed go to hell.

In a similar way, regarding John 3:16 and God’s love, the difference is found in God’s general love for all of His creation versus His specific love for His children, the elect. The difference is that God’s love for His elect is an intense love that has Him actually doing something about their lost condition instead of simply sitting by wishing that they would turn to Him in love, a picture so often painted by those who believe they are in control of their own eternal destiny. In a generic sense, God wants all to be saved and He loves all of humanity, but that is entirely different from the specific love He has for His elect and His desire and provision for their salvation.

When one examines what the Scriptures teach about election and predestination, it becomes clear that the doctrine of unconditional election accurately represents what Scriptures teach on this important topic. While this – or any of the other doctrines of grace – can certainly stand on their own merit, their importance becomes even clearer when they are considered together systematically with all that the Scriptures teach about salvation. They essentially serve as building blocks, with each one providing a necessary part of a Scriptural understanding of salvation. Total depravity defines humanity’s need for salvation and reveals our hopelessness when left to our own resources. It leaves us with the question “Who can be saved?” The answer is found in understanding unconditional election – God’s sovereign choice to save people despite their depravity and based entirely on His redeeming for Himself people from every “tribe, tongue and nation.” And this He does by predestining them to “to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:5, NIV). A correct understanding of this doctrine should not cause one to question the justice of God, but instead one should be in awe of His great mercy. The question we should really be asking is not why God chooses only some to salvation, but why would He choose anyone at all.

(This is part 3 of a 6 part series on TULIP which can be found on www.booksie.com/truegraceministries).

 

Copyright 2013 Jeffrey D. Hagan. All rights reserved.