Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Who Then Can Be Saved?

I believe that the Bible clearly states that salvation is by faith alone. Through faith in the Lord Jesus we receive eternal life.

In response to that belief, I had a question on one of my last posts that I would like to answer here. The question was:

Do you believe that we can ignore the commands of God and then still expect go to heaven? When you read Mt 19:17-18, do you think Jesus was telling us that we can be certain we will enter life even if we break the commandments of the Father by committing adultery or murdering?

Let’s take a look at Matthew 19:16-26 (the rich young ruler) stepwise:

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"

Note what the man asks, what good deed (work) must I do to have eternal life.

And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”

There is only one who is good and that is Jesus (Rev 5:4-5). In other words, all have sinned (Rom 3:9-20).

If you would enter life, keep the commandments."

“If”? Doesn’t sound too promising for doing it on your own.

He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

These are some of the ten commandments. The law.

The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?"

I guess this guy missed the sermon on the mount (Mt 5:1-7:29). No one can keep all of these commandments (Rom 3:20). As Jesus explained, if you have lust in your heart you have already committed adultery (Mt 5:28). If you are angry with someone you have committed murder in your heart (Mt 5:22). This man was not admitting his own sin before God.

Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Jesus exposed this man’s sin. The man loved his possessions more than the poor (his neighbors). Second, Jesus is testing this man’s faith to give up all he owns to follow Jesus (Matt 16:24).

Now, pay close attention to Jesus’ explanation of this whole exchange:

And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying,"Who then can be saved?"

Here is the million dollar question. This man said he had kept all the commandments and his wealth may have been seen as a blessing from God. If he couldn’t get himself into heaven, who could?

But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Jesus’ answer to “who then can be saved” is “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” It is impossible for man to get himself into heaven (Eph 2:8-9). Only God can do it through the work of the cross.

So to answer the commenter, “do you think Jesus was telling us that we can be certain we will enter life even if we break the commandments” : I think that Jesus was telling us that we can never follow all of the commandments. If salvation were based on some cooperation or work on our part, we would all be doomed (Gal 2:16). With man it is impossible.

Which is precisely why Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins. If we could redeem ourselves or somehow contribute to our salvation, then why would the father have sent his only beloved son to be tortured and killed? He did it because there was no other way (Rom 8:3).

And after making such a huge investment, knowing that we can never merit righteousness on our own (Gal 3:10-11), why would he then require some righteousness on our part to keep his gift of salvation (Rom 8: 32)? His sacrifice, his gift, would be a waste because no one would be able to keep it in the end (Gal 2:21).

Saving faith (Eph 1:11-14), the kind that results in following Christ’s example, comes from God (Phil 1:29; 2 Pet 1:1; John 6:44). If we have true, saving faith then we are heaven-bound (Heb 10:19-22; John 5:24; John 6:37; John 10:27-28; Rom 8:38-39). Whatever works come after that, whatever commands are followed, are because of a transformed heart (Eph 3:17), a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), and a spirit-filled life (Romans 8:9) all of which are indicative of the saving faith, not a contribution towards it (Eph 2:10; Phil 1:6; Phil 2:13).

Friday, October 20, 2006

Discernment and Salvation

There were some commenters in my post on assurance who are still unconvinced of the permanence of salvation. I wonder how many verses it would take to convince them.

Unfortunately, no matter how many verses I post or how many arguments I make, there are simply people who do not “get it”. Up until now I think I assumed that people who don’t “get it” had never read the Bible, but clearly there are people who know their Bible and yet still miss the boat on the basic Gospel message.

And these people come in all kinds of flavors. You will see the academic scholarly types on some Discovery Channel show who have a PhD in New Testament studies but clearly don’t understand the Gospel message. How do I know this? Because they always have some weird theory to downplay the facts of the Bible. Some way to explain away God.

We have the Jehovah’s Witnesses who pick and choose the parts of the Bible to believe based on what the Watchtower tells them. You have the Mormons who supersede the Bible with their own book, but do still consider the Bible as the Word of God when interpreted properly. And of course there are my favorite naysayers here, the Roman Catholics who add “tradition” to the authority of scripture and believe that only their magisterium (popes and bishops) are qualified to interpret the Bible.

All of these groups to different degrees nullify the Word of God. And when you deny the Word of God you are denying God himself. That is serious. I want all of my Protestant/bible-believing brethren to understand the seriousness of this.

Do not assume that because someone claims to be a follower of Christ, that they are a true follower of Christ. What?! Isn’t that judgmental? Where is the grace in that? Where is the love?

The love is in identifying the lost and telling them the Gospel. If you stick with just the obvious unbelievers, you are missing a huge part of the mission field. You are leaving what I believe are sincere people trying to find God to the bondage of false religion. I ask you, where is the love in that?

About a year ago when we were looking for a church we attended a Baptist church and filled out the standard visitor card with our information. A few weeks later our doorbell rang and a group from that church was at our door. We talked with them for awhile and told them about ourselves and from the conversation I would have thought it was clear we were Christians. At least we said we were.

However, right before they left they asked us what must be their standard parting question(s). If you died tonight, where would you go? How do you know that? At the time I thought it was a bit odd to ask us that since we had identified ourselves as Christians, but now I see the brilliance in it.

Every saved person should be able to answer those two questions. If the answers are wrong, then you need to be concerned for that person’s soul.

Anybody can call themselves a Christian, anybody can think they are a Christian, but there is only one way to actually be a Christian and let’s make sure that is clear. We are not doing anyone a favor by allowing them to be wrong on that one.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Assurance of Salvation, Part 3

I have given the verses that tell us that our salvation is assured, that once we have truly accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior we are sealed in our salvation. The next question is, can we feel that security? Can we experience assurance?

MacArthur uses the epistle of 1 John to develop a series of object tests to apply to your life to know that you are genuinely saved. As John said in his first epistle, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13).

Here are the eleven “tests” extracted from 1 John in question form:

1. Are you enjoying fellowship with God and Christ?
2. Are you sensitive to sin in your life?
3. Are you obedient to God’s Word?
4. Do you reject the world?
5. Do you love Christ and eagerly wait for his return?
6. Do you see the decreasing pattern of sin in your life?
7. Do you love other Christians?
8. Do you experience answers to your prayers?
9. Do you experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit?
10. Can you discern between spiritual truth and error?
11. Have you been rejected, alienated for your faith in Christ?

MacArthur goes on to quote Jonathan Edwards who nicely summed up these ideas in his A Treatise of Religious Affections by saying “the truly saved pursue holiness”. But the key is, we don’t pursue holiness to be saved, pursuing holiness is the inevitable outcome of entering into a saving relationship with Christ. As Edwards said “Your assurance then is based on the fact that you see in your life the pursuit of holy things”.

Our message at church today touched on the idea of false faith. There are many people who had an experience as a child where they heard the gospel message, maybe went forward for an altar call, and had professed with their lips that they wanted to accept Christ as their Savior. However, there was no change in their life after these “professions”. Later in their life when they truly understood their need for a Savior and made a true profession, they knew that they were in possession of a saving faith because of how their lives began to change through the work of the Holy Spirit.

So the big question isn’t whether salvation can be secure, because it mostly certainly can be. The question is, do you have a saving faith? As Paul said, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? --unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor 13:5).

(For details on the 11 tests, please see MacArthur’s transcripts linked in Part 1)

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Assurance of Salvation, Part 2

Before looking at the second question from The Assurance of Salvation, Part I (“can I feel secure”), I would like to just post a few more verses that support the idea that salvation is secure.

This particular topic has come at me from a couple of different directions this week, you know how God does that sometimes?

The Assurance of Faith:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Heb 11:1

let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Heb 10:22-23

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13

which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 2 Tim 1:12

Sealed with the Holy Spirit:

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 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 guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory. Eph 1:11-14

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 2 Cor 1:21-22

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Eph 4:30

An Inheritance:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7

to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Pet 1:4-5

God Will Persevere:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Heb 10:14

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, Jude 1:24

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Phil 1:6

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Assurance of Salvation, Part 1

Can anyone be assured of their salvation? In other words, if I were to die tonight, can I be sure that I will be going to heaven?

I am going to use some more sermon transcripts from MacArthur which do a wonderful job of discussing the assurance of salvation. The transcripts I have are three parts of a larger series and specifically deal with the how a believer can be assured that they have the true saving faith which results in salvation.

Our Precious Faith: Tests of Assurance, Part 1
Our Precious Faith: Tests of Assurance, Part 2
Our Precious Faith: Tests of Assurance, Part 3

MacArthur opens with the 2 basic questions:

The subject here then is the assurance of salvation. And we have noted that there are basically two questions to ask. Question number one, is salvation forever? Is salvation forever? Is it secure? Question number two, can I feel that security? One is a fact and the other is a personal confidence. They are inseparable. And we have noted in our study that if salvation was not eternal, if salvation was not secure, then there would be no discussion about assurance because how could you be assured of an insecure salvation? But if salvation is forever and if it is secure, then you can experience assurance

So, for the first part of this discussion let’s establish the permanence of salvation. Does the Bible say that salvation is forever? MacArthur says:

Let's go back to question number one for a our salvation forever? In other words, once you have come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, is that eternal? The answer, of course, is yes. And there are many places in the Word of God where that is very clearly noted for us. Listen to just a few. John 5:24, "Truly truly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life." If you believe you have eternal life you will never come into judgment, you have passed out of death in to life. And you will notice there is no fine print.

There is no fine print, I like that. MacArthur goes on to quote other verses from Jesus mostly from John 6. I like John 10:

Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." John 10:25-30

But I think my favorite passage on the permanence of salvation is found in Romans 8:

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any 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. Romans 8:28-39

Notice, nothing can separate us from the love of God and from the previous verse, we cannot be snatched out of God's hand. No matter how bad things get, we belong to God.

Saving faith, the kind that brings true salvation, comes from God and therefore cannot fail.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid... Isa 12:2

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thess 5:24

If we have true, saving faith, we have a guaranteed salvation. There is no fine print.

In Part 2 I will discuss the “tests of assurance” by MacArthur.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

What is Saving Faith?

I have talked about “genuine faith” in a few posts and would like to highlight some points from a sermon transcript called “The Nature of Saving Faith” by John MacArthur.

On this blog I have seen two deviations from the biblical idea of salvation by faith (from commenters). The first is the Roman Catholic view of salvation by faith plus works. The second is the universalist idea of salvation for all, no faith or works required.

The key to the Protestant view of salvation is the idea of genuine faith or saving faith. So while only faith is required for salvation, a true faith will result in works which outwardly validate the faith.

But just as there is a true faith, there is also a false faith based on works which is highlighted well by a quote from Luther:

“Faith is not something dreamed, a human illusion although this is what many people understand by the term. Whenever they see that it is not followed either by an improvement in morals or by good works, while much is still being said about faith, they fall into the error of declaring that faith is not enough, that we must do works if we are to become upright and attain salvation. The reason is that when they hear the gospel they miss the point. In their hearts and out of their own resources they conjure up an idea which they call belief which they treat as genuine faith. All the same, it is but a human fabrication, an idea without a corresponding experience in the depths of the heart. It is therefore ineffective and not followed by a better kind of life,”

MacArthur goes on to describe a second false faith, a “dead faith” where there are no validating works:

“And then that most insightful of all passages with relation to this matter of faith, James 2. Let's look at it very briefly. James 2, verse 14, "What use is it, my brethren," very important statement, "What use is it if a man says he has faith but he has no works, what use is it? Can that faith...what? him?" What's the answer?, can't save him.

Can faith like that save? What good is it? Can faith not accompanied by moral character save? Can faith not accompanied by righteous conduct save? Of course not.

Verse 19 really pinpoints it. "You believe that God is one, you do well. The devils also believe and shudder." That's tremendous statement. You believe that God is one? You do well. The devils also believe and shudder, they're one up on you. They believe and shudder. You believe and you think you're saved. They're ahead of you. Demons have all the right theology but they will not bow to the lordship of Christ. They will not bow to the sovereignty of God. They chose rebellion. They hate good and they cherish evil. In a sense, dead faith is inferior to demon faith, at least they tremble.”

So what then is saving faith? It is turning from sin and submitting to Christ. And a saving faith is required for genuine salvation.

MacArthur gives 4 characteristics of saving faith:
1. It is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9)
2. It is permanent (Phil 1:6)
3. It is obedient (Phil 2:13)
4. It is humble (Matt 18:4)

MacArthur’s closing paragraph says:

“And people who cling to a memory, to a salvation based upon a memory of an emotional feeling sometime in the past but lack love for Christ and lack a deep desire to obey Him, don't belong to Him. And again I remind you of that tremendously haunting verse, 1 Peter 2:7, "To those who believe, He is precious." I'll tell you how you can spot a Christian, to that person Christ is what?...precious...precious. You don't have to debate whether he should submit to Christ, he's precious to Him. He longs to submit. And people who don't believe no matter what the past was aren't saved. That's why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, "Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith." May God grant you a true saving faith, a permanent gift that begins in humility and brokenness over sin and ends up in obedience unto righteousness...that's true faith. And it's a gift that only God can give. And if you desire it, pray and ask that He would grant it to you.”

If you do not understand the principles of saving faith, I strongly urge you to read MacArthur’s transcript in full.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

The Oldest Trick in the Book

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:1-6

We all know how the story ends.

It is the oldest trick in the book. Well actually, I would say there are a couple of old tricks here but those are posts for another day.

What I would like to emphasize here is how denying God’s Word leads to disaster. That is how Satan tempted Eve, by questioning the validity of God’s Word.

The trick is no different today. Denying the existence, validity or sufficiency of God’s Word leads to error. The effects of this denial may have very grave consequences depending on the extent.