Ask Steve: The Unpardonable Sin

December 30, 2013 6:39 pm

 

Currently Reading:

Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church

by Gregg R. Allison

Category: Theology / Ecclesiology

Crossway, 2012

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I love the Lord with all my heart, but I’m afraid that some day I might commit the unpardonable sin that Jesus talked about in Matthew 12. What do you think is the unpardonable sin and should I be worried that I may commit it? 

Answer: There are some unbelievers who are afraid that they can never be saved and Christians who believe that they have lost their salvation because they think they have committed the unpardonable, or unforgivable, sin. I want to assure, especially Christians, that the unpardonable sin is something that can never be committed by a truly saved Christian. The unpardonable sin is not a specific act, such as murder, adultery, or lying, that cannot be covered by Jesus’ blood. It is not even using the Lord’s name in vain or cursing at the Holy Spirit, and thus being unqualified to ever receive forgiveness even if the sinner repents. If any sinner, no matter how evil or how many sins they have committed, comes to Jesus in repentant faith, he will have all his sins forgiven (John 3:16; Rom 10:9; 1 Jn 1:9). Therefore, these people have never committed the unpardonable sin, no matter how heinous their crimes.

So what exactly is the unpardonable sin? Jesus can forgive all sins, since that is what He set out to do on the cross? But what is this one particular sin that Jesus cannot forgive? Is it a one-time act or is it a sin that progresses in stages until a final end?

The unpardonable sin, known also as “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,” was known in Jesus’ day as cursing God or attributing things onto God that is unholy and satanic, such as associating Christ with a demon. It is continual, flippant irreverence towards God, denying Him and blaspheming His name with a heart of rejection after having full knowledge of His revelation. There is nothing left a sinner can learn or be saved from after remaining in such a hardened condition until death. After cursing, rejecting, and misrepresenting Christ in such way, God deems such sin unpardonable in the sense that He removes His spirit of grace from them, leaving them in their hardened condition so that they may die guilty and condemned, with no help of the Holy Spirit to revive them to life and to find forgiveness for their sins.

There are scholars who debate regarding whether the unpardonable sin of Matthew 12 was historically conditioned or whether it is still operative today. In some sense, the unpardonable sin was exclusive in Jesus’ day since it was a judgment upon the Jewish leaders’ rejection of Jesus’ miracles, signs, and wonders. As it relates to Christians today, the unpardonable sin should be defined as willful and rebellious unbelief to the point of death. As I have mentioned, there is no sin that cannot be forgiven, since Christ died for all sins according truths taught in passages such as 1 Peter 3:18. However, if a person dies in the condition of rejecting Christ as Lord and Savior, then his sins remain and he stands condemned. This would be categorized as the sin of rejecting the gospel with a life vilifying Christ, or the unforgivable sin. This is essentially what the unpardonable sin is.

I must clarify that not all who die in their sins (without the salvation of Christ) commit the unpardonable sin. There are unbelievers who die never hearing about the Bible, Jesus, or the gospel message. There are even some who hear the gospel, casually pass on it, but do not curse or attribute to Christ demonic things. There are also those who hear the gospel, but are falsely converted because of their lack of repentance. They respect Christ, but regrettably die without salvation. All of these groups are condemned to hell, but they do not capture the spirit of what Jesus described in Matthew 12:22-32 regarding committing the unpardonable sin.

Wayne Grudem rightfully illustrates the unpardonable sin, in his book Systematic Theology, as a specific type of rejection of Christ that includes a clear knowledge of who Christ is and of the power of the Holy Spirit working through Him, a willful rejection of the facts about Christ that His opponents knew to be true, and slanderously attributing the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ to the power of Satan. Such people reject Christ with a full knowledge of God’s word and have willfully hardened their hearts so much that any ordinary means of bringing him to repentance would have already been rejected. He will not be persuaded by the truth or by demonstrable miracles. This hardened heart full of hatred for Christ, with no willingness to be persuaded by anything of God, puts him beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness, since he is incapable of repenting of his sins or trusting in Christ for pardon. In other words, this sin is unpardonable because it cuts off the sinner from repentance and saving faith through belief in the truth.

An illustration of the unpardonable sin can be clearly seen in Hebrews 6:4-6. This passage speaks about false converts who once have committed themselves superficially to the truth, being exposed to its revelation, then falling away in apostasy. These people willfully turn away from Christ and hold Him in contempt. These false converts have put themselves beyond the reach of God’s means of bringing people to repentance and faith because they willfully reject the only thing that can save them from their sins, which is the gospel of Christ. This sin of remaining hardened in sin, teaching false things about Christ (1 John 5:14-15), and rejecting God’s revelation constitutes the essence of being in the realm of the unpardonable sin, which is successfully committed after one finally dies in the state of rejecting God’s truth and vilifying Christ’s reputation all of his life.

Understanding the unpardonable sin should give Christians assurance that they have not committed the sin. If a Christian worries that he has committed the sin, then that is good news that he has not placed himself within the realm of committing that sin. The unpardonable sin cannot be committed by those whom God has elected, justified, is regenerating, and will ultimately glorify. This means that the unpardonable sin can only be committed by the reprobates, most specifically those spoken about in 1 John 5:14-15 and Hebrews 6:4-6. The unpardonable sin is not even committed by unbelievers who have rejected the gospel, have spoken wrongly about Christ, but ultimately comes to repentance and faith.

This should come as a hope of encouragement for both believers and Christians. Christians have assurance of their salvation and will persevere in their faith until the end. Unbelievers, on the other hand, have the opportunity to be saved from any sin they have committed, even if it involves hating God or rejecting God’s word at some point in his life. If he comes to true repentance in his life, then he has not arrived at the stage that he has committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin only becomes final when one dies in the conditions that lead up to that point. Therefore, a former blasphemer of God who seeks reconciliation with God should not be worried that he has committed the unpardonable sin unless he has made an immovable resolve to die in unbelief. Until then, forgiveness and grace abounds. However, those who die committing the unpardonable sin end up receiving the greatest condemnation on Judgment Day and the worst imaginable punishment in hell (Matt 10:15; 11:24).

Ask Steve: Daniel and the Time of the Gentiles

December 23, 2013 11:04 pm

 

Currently Reading:

The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters

by Albert Mohler

Category: Christian Leadership

Bethany House, 2012

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am trying to understand the book of Daniel. Can you give me a brief overview of the book and what the prophet Daniel taught the Jewish people concerning “the time of the Gentiles”?

Answer:  The book of Daniel falls into the genre category of prophecy. It centers on the life of the Jewish exile Daniel, who resided in Babylon and was even promoted to a position of high honor in the Babylonian court. During this time, Daniel received a series of visions from the Lord concerning events that will transpire until the end of time, and even helped to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dreams through the aid of God’s revelation. These visions showed “the time of the Gentiles,” which is the period of time that Gentile nations would be world powers, and Israel as subjects, until the final kingdom of God is established in Zion, making Jerusalem and the Messiah’s rule the dominant world power thereafter. The fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenant depends on Israel’s repentance in the last days, which makes the topic of “the time of the Gentiles” important to the study of Israel’s future restoration and salvation. 

The dominant theme that the book of Daniel taught the Jewish people concerning the time of the Gentiles was the succession of Gentile empires that will dominate the world before the establishment of God’s final empire. In chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon received a frightening dream and sought for an interpretation of it (v. 3). When the sorcerers and the Chaldeans failed to properly interpret the meaning of the dream, Nebuchadnezzar had the men slain (v. 12-13). The king eventually learned of Daniel’s keen ability to interpret dreams (v. 16) and called upon him to undertake the task.

When he stood before the king, Daniel not only revealed the object of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (the single great statue), but gave the meaning behind it. The first part of the statue (the head of gold) represented the kingdom of Babylon(v. 37). The silver breast and arms represented the next world empire that came after and conquered Babylon, which was the Medo-Persian Empire (v. 39). The bronze belly and thighs represented the following world empire, which was the Grecian empire (v. 39b). The legs of iron represented the world empire that followed the Grecian empire, which was Rome(v. 40). This fourth entity was so strong that it crushed and broke all the previous empires in pieces (v. 40b). The feet and toes made of potter’s clay and iron represents the fifth and final Gentile power, which is a sort of revived Roman Empire, which has not come to pass yet in world history. When this event does come to pass in some specified time in history (during the time of the 7-Year Tribulation depicted in the book of Revelation and Matthew 24), then another event happens: a stone that is cut out of the mountain without hands crushes the iron, bronze, clay, and the silver (v. 45), symbolizing the destruction of the final Roman Empire and essentially all Gentile kingdoms thereafter. In its place, there is a divine kingdom that is set up by God, which is essentially the kingdom of God that comes to earth, which Jesus often spoke of in the Gospels. It is described as an empire that will endure forever and not coincide with other existing Gentile powers (v. 44). Daniel described this prophetic vision as things that will take place in the future (v. 45), which describes the major kingdoms in the time of the Gentiles and how they will come to an end by the destroying hand of God Himself.

The succession of Gentile world powers was reaffirmed through Daniel’s latter dream regarding the future and the time of the Gentiles. This vision is clearly presented in Daniel 7. The chapter introduces us to a dream that Daniel had, in which he saw four great beasts coming up from the sea, different from one another (v. 3). The first one was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle, which represented Babylon(v. 4). The second beast looked like a bear, and it devoured the meat of its fallen enemy (v. 5). This beast represented Medo-Persia. The third beast looked like a leopard, which had four heads, and four wings on its back (v. 6). This represented Greece, the four heads representing the 4 generals who divided the kingdom after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. The fourth beast was depicted as dreadful, strong, and had large iron teeth (v. 7). This represented the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day. This empire did not die, but continues to live on in a divided status until the end of time, when a conspicuous little horn will arise and bring power back to this empire over the world (v. 8). This represents the final world empire operated by the Beast of Revelation 13.

In chapter 8, Daniel received a dream that described specific Gentile rulers who would come into power. He saw a ram (the Medo-Persian Empire) that was struck down by a male goat (Greece) with a conspicuous horn (Alexander the Great) between his eyes (v. 6). This conspicuous horn was eventually shattered, signifying the death of Alexander. The four horns that came up out of its place represented the four generals who became kings over 4 sectors of the Grecian empire. The small horn of verse 9 represented the coming of Antiochus Epiphanes, who greatly persecuted the Jewish people. Like Antiochus, the Beast of the final world empire is also identified as a little horn, which shows that Antiochus prefigured the final Antichrist who will oppress and persecute Israel during the Great Tribulation until the Messiah finally comes to finally do away with Gentile domination.

In conclusion, the prophetic message involving the “time of the Gentiles” is a fascinating subject that has much to do with Israel’s future and the coming messianic kingdom. Despite Gentile domination and the horrors that Israel experienced and will undergo until the end of time, there is the hope of deliverance, spiritual salvation, and national restoration in that the Son of Man will defeat the Gentile powers and set up His righteous kingdom that will rule dominate the earth. Thus, the book of Daniel is a prophetic book that marvelously explores the greatness of God’s sovereignty and His control of all future events toward a meaningful and glorious end. 

Recommended Resource: The Handwriting on the Wall by Dr. David Jeremiah

Ask Steve: Dichotomism and Trichotomism

December 22, 2013 4:06 am

 

Currently Reading:

Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, Updated and Expanded

by John Piper

Category: Church Ministry

B&H Publishing Group, 2013

 

 

 

Question: Steve, am I made up of a spirit, soul and body? In other words, do I have three parts as a human being? More? Less? What are your thoughts on what we humans are made of?

Answer: 

There is some debate about what constitutes a human being, or how many parts they have. The Bible makes an illustration of the human being as being made up of a spirit, soul, and body. But questions abound. Are the spirit, soul, and body all the same thing? Or are they three separate parts? Or could the spirit and the soul be one and the same while the body is different? Although I am not particularly dogmatic about my stance and don’t think that it is a heresy whether I choose the two-part theory or the three-part, my observation is that Scripture most likely points to the two-part theory, or dichotomism.

Dichotomism teaches that the human is composed of a physical body and an immaterial soul/spirit (which are two terms used interchangeably speaking of the same entity). The physical body is the visible part of the person, which everyone sees. This physical part will eventually die, but will be resurrected to glory when Christ returns for His church. The nonmaterial part of the person is called the soul/spirit. There is no distinction between soul and spirit. At times, Scripture may speak of soul and spirit as two separate parts, but they are most likely one and the same entity. When texts are compared (such as Gen 41:8 with Psalm 42:6 and Heb 12:23 with Rev 6:9), it appears that soul and spirit are merely interchangeable terms. Other texts like Matthew 10:28, Acts 2:31, and 1 Corinthians 5:3 also reveals the soul and spirit to be the same entity. Genesis 2:7 affirms that there are only two parts to the human body: the body derived from the dust of the ground, and the soul that was breathed into the person by God.

Regardless of what view you take of this position, one must agree with two things: 1. The body is not the only entity that a human has, and it is not the same as the soul or spirit, 2. Any one entity is not more important than the other. Believing that the body is all there is (with no spirit/soul) is to believe that this material world is all there is to life, thus denying the afterlife. This view is held by most secular humanists, who do not believe in God, sin, or an immaterial existence beyond this world.

Believers, who think that the body and the soul are the same, run into some problems as well. This is called monism. If the body and the soul are inseparable, then that would indicate that believers who die fall into “soul sleep,” and do not go to any intermediate heaven or hell. People who believe in this theory may be in the danger of also placing too much emphasis on the physical body (ex. health, lusts, pleasures), but not having enough eternal perspective that only comes with regard to the soul/spirit (ex. building treasures in heaven, evangelism). This is the folly of elevating the body in importance over the soul/spirit. However, the opposite effect can also be true, where one elevates the spirit/soul over the physical body since “eternity is all that matters.” One must understand that the physical body will be resurrected in glory someday and must not be treated as second-class, but should be properly cared for as good steward in this life, knowing that it will be the physical (but sinless) body we will have for all eternity in the new heavens and the new earth.

The third option is called trichotomy, which believes in the distinct parts of body, soul, and spirit. Like the dichotomist’s view, trichotomy understands the body to be the physical, visible part of man. They define the soul as the essence of our being, or what animates us and characterizes us as people. It is the psychological element of man, the basis for our reason, intellect, and social interactions. Possession of a soul distinguishes humans from plants, animals, and other forms of animate life. According to the trichotomist, the spirit is distinct from the soul in that the spirit is what actually connects us to God. It is the religious element of man which allows man to respond to spiritual things. Because unbelievers are dead in sin (Eph 2:1;Col2:13), that entails that the spirit within them is dead as well, until it can be revived to life through rebirth by the Holy Spirit. When sinners repent and get saved, their spirits come to life, and it is because of the life of the spirit that believers can actually respond to and obey God. God has to bring life to the spirit, which He does in His sovereignty that allows the sinner to repent and trust in Jesus for salvation.

In response to monism and dichotomism, there are few things that need to be said. First is that monism, especially in the materialistic sense, should be rejected, since the Bible clearly does not support the idea that humans are only composed of a physical body or that the body and soul are the same. Trichotomism is a much stronger position and is not a heretical idea to hold in any way. However, dichotomism is to be preferred over trichotomism because there seems to be more biblical support for the idea that humans have only a body and a soul/spirit.

For example, Jesus says in Matthew 10:28 that people must fear the One (God) who can kill both body and cast soul into hell. Here Jesus speaks of two entities, not three, implying that the spirit and soul may be one and the same. There are many passages that use the words spirit and soul as if they were different parts. However, context would indicate to us whether the terms speak of different entities or are used interchangeably to speak about the same idea. In Luke 1:46-47, Mary speaks about how her soul exalts the Lord and her spirit rejoices in her Savior. It seems as if the text speaks about two distinct parts of her body, but the two terms portray the same kind of activity, which is worship of God. Trichotomists say that it is the spirit that is responsible for any kind of genuine spiritual interaction with God, yet Luke 1:46-47 portrays Mary’s “soul” as participating in the same function of the spirit as well. Other instances of the term being used interchangeably are John 12:27 and 13:21, and Hebrews 12:39 and Revelation 6:9, which seems to indicate that the spirit and soul are one unit indicate of the person, separate from the physical body.

The human being is essentially a complex unity composed of a body and a more difficult unity of the spirit and soul. Holding to the doctrine of dichotomy is important because it gives us a healthy understanding of the human being. It is not only body, and so we should not live for this world alone while ignoring the things of eternity, since Christ commands the church in Matthew 6:19-21 to store up treasures in heaven.

In contrast, concentrating on the soul/spirit and ignoring the health of the body is not beneficial either, since it leans on a platonic view of the Christian faith that ignores the place of our physical bodies in the new earth. We must have a healthy balance that will honor God with our bodies, being able to maintain it properly but not idolize it, as well as understanding our priorities in this life and how that affects our eternity in heaven. 

Ask Steve: The Image of God

December 16, 2013 5:48 pm

 

Currently Reading:

Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Eldership

by Alexander Strauch

Category: Church Ministry / Biblical Studies

Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1995, 3rd Edition

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, lately I have become interested in the topic of the image of God. But as I read my Bible, I don’t see any definition of what the image of God is. Can you help me understand what the image of God is?

 

Answer:

The image of God does not have a direct definition in Scripture, yet many passages comments about man in such a manner that it becomes evident that the image of God is a doctrine that Scripture teaches, and such teachings makes it clear that those made it God’s image are different and unique that those that are not. Humans are the only ones made in the image of God. Gen 1:26-27 makes this identification, which the rest of the Bible does not assign to angels, animals or any other living creatures. Many scholars and Christians differ as to what the image of God actually means. In response to your initial question, I must say that the image of God is more than the ability to walk upright.

Being made in the image of God means that we are like God in some ways and represent God. This does not mean that we are made like God in essence and being. We can never be mini-deities or be another ontological son like Jesus Christ. Rather, we as finite beings are made to mirror or reflect God’s image for the glory of God. We are made to represent God’s character. We are in God’s image in that we have intellectual, cognitive, and rational capacities that no other created things have. We also have moral capabilities, or the ability to understand right and wrong, and are thus held accountable to God because of it (Rom 2:14-16). Animals, reptiles, and fish do not have an understanding of right and wrong or a conscience, but humans do because they have been created like God in this respect. Humans also have relational and stewardship abilities that other created beings have (Gen 1:28; Psalm 8:5). Because of all these factors that show that man alone reflects God’s image, they are endowed with a sense of dignity and worth that no other created beings have. This becomes important to understand because it reveals why humans alone have been given the opportunity to be redeemed from sin, and how humans are to rightfully respond to God and to other people.

In terms of their relational and stewardship capacities, men reflect God’s image in their duties towards God, fellow men, and creation. In being made in God’s image, men are created to have a relationship with the Lord. He is to love, glorify, serve, and obey the Lord, since that is the reason why they exist, and they have moral accountability to Him. Isaiah 43:7 states this theme perfectly, “Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”

One of the Lord’s commands involves loving and having a right relationship with my neighbors, which is a crucial part of reflecting God’s image to others. This is the command of loving your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:39; Mk 12:31).  In teaching the brethren, helping the poor, showing hospitality to our neighbors, evangelizing the lost, we live out an important aspect of God’s image. How we treat others and how we engage authority, service, and human institutions reflect how much we are reflecting God’s image.

Reflecting God’s image also involves being a proper steward of creation. We are called to rule over and subdue the world with proper care, according to God’s command in Gen 1:28. In doing so, we reflect God’s own nature of ruling over the heavens and the earth. In all of these relationships, love is at the center, since it is by love that God relates to and properly governs His creation.

We have a picture of God’s image as being mental, moral, and social. Humans have a rational and volitional capability which gives them the power and ability to choose, to relate to others, to be creative, and to have authority over creation. This is what it means to be created in God’s image. However, the image of God in man was affected when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve. Sin did not destroy or totally obliterate God’s image in man, but rather distorted and defaced it. We are still made in God’s image, but it is a flawed and broken image. God affirms this when He told Noah regarding the value of human life, “Whoever sheds man’s blood by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen 9:6). We still do have all the functions and traits that make us a reflection of God, but because of sin, we do not reflect them properly anymore. Sin has affected our relationship to God, to others, and to creation, in which we no longer relate to them as we were called to, but lord it over them and act with selfish motives.

Though the image of God was introduced as perfect in creation but twisted after the Fall of Man, Christ’s redemptive work on the cross was purposed to restore the perfect image of God in believers. Those who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit are given a new heart and new desires, which removes the believer’s love for sin. Because of this, believers have the ability to love God, seek Him, and obey His commandments. When this happens, the image of God is renewed in people (2 Cor 4:16). The sanctification process shows the Christian’s progressive renewal in the image of God as they become capable of once again reflecting and representing God the way that they were originally created to do. Because of the presence of sin, believers cannot reflect the image of God perfectly. When the Christian is glorified, he is forever removed from the presence of sin, and thus the image of God is fully restored to him. Afterwards, he will reflect God’s image perfectly forever on (1 John 3:2).

Having a right understanding of the image of God impacts how we obey God and how we respond to our neighbors and worldly issues. Because we are made in God’s image, we come to understand that Christ died for humans alone so that they can be saved from eternal punishment. This privilege is not extended to angels or animals. Understanding this also helps us to know our place in relationship to other created beings. We are not the same as animals and should not categorize ourselves as such. Evolutionary theory and animal rights activist may think that animals have as much dignity and worth that we do, but Scripture affirms that we are of higher worth and dignity than animals, and even over angels (Hebrews 1:4-14). We are called to subdue creation and to rule over animals, but not to do abusively. We must be responsible in how we relate to them.

Understanding the image of God also informs us about how we are to treat others and respond to social and political issues. We understand that taking a human life is serious because it is the murder of someone made in God’s likeness. This is why the Bible upholds capital punishment as a just retribution for murderers (Gen 9:6; Lev 24:17-22). Understanding God’s image in humans also makes practices like abortion wrong, since unborn infants are still created in God’s image. Babies should be protected from such acts of injustices. The image of God may be applied to other areas as well, such as our treatment of people of other races, which must never amount to racism. Even when we deal with people who are struggling with sin issues like drugs, alcohol, sexual immorality, and idolatry, we must not treat them with indignity, but rather how Scripture calls us to treat them with love and patience (while at the same time not condoning or encouraging their sinful behavior). Understanding God’s image also helps us to not abuse human institutions and to treat wives, children, employees, slaves, and laypeople as if they were not of the same essence as us, but to exercise our relationships and responsibilities to them in love and humility.

 

Recommended Reading Resource: Created in God’s Image by Anthony Hoekema

Ask Steve: The Importance of Doctrine

December 12, 2013 11:43 pm

 

Currently Reading:

Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship between the Old and New Testaments

Edited by John S. Feinberg

Category: Biblical Studies

Zondervan, 1988

 

 

 

Question:  Steve, I was talking to a guy today who said he doesn’t think doctrine is practical. It’s all just academic stuff. Please tell me why the doctrines of man and sin are so important to individuals and the church? Do these doctrines impact any social or ethical issues we face?

 

Response: Doctrine is beneficial to a Christian, both for right knowledge and right living in response to God and our fellow neighbor. Without theological understanding of core issues in the Christian faith, a believer lives in falsehood, develops a wrong worldview, pursues a wrong mission in life, and reacts incorrectly to such things as social and ethical issues. The things I speak about here are the doctrines of man and sin, which are absolutely vital to understand for Christian living. Without a proper view or acceptance of it, there is no salvation for the person, and can lead to a stunted sanctification process for the believer.

The doctrine of man informs us about a few things. First, a Christian doctrine of man tells us that it is Yahweh, who is three Persons but one God, who created man at a definite time in world history for a specific purpose: to bring glory to Him, according to the theme of Isaiah 43:7. We are human beings made in God’s image, thus we are the pinnacle of God’s creation on earth (Gen 1:26; 2:18). This is important to understand because there are many ancient myths (such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish) and about how man was created and for what purpose, which is to serve and appease false gods.

Even now, we live in a society that teaches created fables disguised as “science,” such as the theory that man was not created by God, but evolved from some impersonal force that shaped everything over billions of years. According to evolutionary theory, which was developed by secular humanism, man is not created in God’s image, but is no more than an advanced form of evolved primitive beings. This means that men are not accountable to God, but can live anyway he wants to since, which is exactly what Romans 1 warns about as men’s motives for abandoning God and the subsequent lawlessness that results. Such false views seek to glorify and appease man, which negatively impacts our relationship to other people, to institutions like the church and government, and social issues like abortion and euthanasia.

Wrong views about man also lead to wrong views about the reality and effects of sin (1 John 1:8; 10). Denying that humans were created by a personal God also denies the fact that there is a moral Lawgiver. If there is no God, then there is no such thing as sin, or right and wrong. There is no God which we are accountable to or any eternal judgment that we will face when we die. This understanding causes us to respond incorrectly to issues in society that call for a definite moral stance (homosexual marriages, abortion, environmentalism, etc).

Even if one believes in God, he can still have an erroneous and heretical idea of sin. The professing believer can believe in the existence and damning effects of sin, but he can entertain unbiblical ideas about sin, such as the idea that there is no such thing as original sin. This, of course, contradicts what Scripture says concerning the sin nature that has been passed from Adam and Eve down to our current generation. King David affirms the truth of original sin in Psalm 51:5 when he states, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” The counter theory, Pelagianism, holds men are born good by nature, but stumble into sin from time to time. In essence, this theory holds that men are born sinless, but become sinful when they commit transgression for the first time, and have true free will.

This is a dangerous idea to hold onto because it nearly eliminates our need for a Savior to save us from sin, and thus downplays the need for God’s grace. It wrongly elevates human merit at the expense of God’s sovereignty and grace in the salvific process. This is why it is imperative to have a right understanding of the man and sin. The prophet Hosea rightly exclaims that people are destroyed from lack of knowledge of God’s word (Hosea 4:6), which is why correct doctrine is absolutely essential. Here, the teachings of total depravity become of immense help in informing us about the truth of original sin and how that has tainted our will, desire, and emotions to the point where we cannot ever save ourselves from sin and its consequences. Doctrine does not interpret Scripture, but a right understanding of Scripture leads to a well defined doctrine for the church, which is important for us to understand so that we can rightly examine ourselves in light of Scripture (sinners), what we need (Christ and salvation), and what our mission is in life (the Great Commission, being salt and light to society, etc).

There are many movements now that seek to distort the biblical doctrine of man and sin, denying the meaning of man’s existence, His accountability to God, and the reality and consequences of sin. Some of the erroneous modern views concerning men are existentialism and determinism. One form of existentialism is secular humanism, which entertains more of an optimistic view of humanity, declaring that men do not need God or religion, but can rely on scientific progress and technology to explain everything in life and to live well. A more pessimistic version of existentialism says that the world is a cruel and hopeless place, and that we cannot know anything about life, origins, or meaning with certainty. The best thing we can do is to have faith in something and live well by that, even though you can’t know for certain that the object of your faith is verifiable or meaningful.

The false view of determinism holds that humans are not free and autonomous, but are helpless victims of forces beyond their control. These forces are interpreted differently, with some claiming it be the impersonal force that guides evolution. Some other factors include environmental influence, economic influence, or psychological forces like family background and sexual drives. In these cases, the answer is certainly not the God of the Bible or His providence, but the human’s willpower and opportunity to counter the effects of determinism to make a better reality for our lives.

Christians must never compromise with these secular views or use them when evangelizing unbelievers or edifying believers. The first reason is that they are not biblically supported. They are empty deceptions and foolish speculations which must not take Christians capture, but must be countered (Col2:8; 2 Tim 2:23). They contradict Scripture and give sinners reason to deny God. The Bible does not teach that humans have total autonomy, since they are accountable to God and have a purpose for living, which is to love and serve Him (Mark 12:30). Humans have personal responsibility, such as in keeping God’s moral law and responding to His offer of salvation. However, the man’s autonomy is always limited by God’s greater sovereignty. However, this is not the same as determinism, which believes that men cannot be held responsible for their actions because of the determinative nature of life. This is also a wrong and unbiblical view, since Scripture always affirms in the responsibility of men (1 Cor 15:58; Jas 2:26;Col3:24). The secular view of determinism destroys morality and responsibility in life, and affects one’s view of the future, which can cause men to be passive or counterproductive in how they make decisions or act.

A Christian must be rightly informed about the doctrine of men and sin in order to exercise a correct and necessary Christian worldview for living. One’s understanding of these theological issues can affect his view about his own moral capabilities, those of others, the purpose of man’s existence, what the church should teach, what he is allowed to do and not do. This, in turn, affects evangelism, discipleship, responses to political and social issues, one’s relationship to another person, and other practical issues. 

Book Review: All You Want to Know About Hell by Steve Gregg

December 12, 2013 6:47 pm

 

To learn more about Christian author and speaker STEVE CHA and his book Hollywood Mission: Possible, watch the YouTube video – See more at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EgDR4i1_EI

 

All You Want to Know About Hell is a comparative theological study about the doctrine of hell. It compares three views about hell: the eternal view, the annihilational view, and the restoration (universalist) view. The first six chapters are devoted to exploring various issues like why the author choose to explore this issue, biblical passages like Lazarus and the Rich Man, exploring hell in its original Greek text (lexical analysis), the views of the early church. The next few parts of the book then go into the exploration of the three views, with the respective cases and the cross-examination for each case with each scholar giving their take using reasoning and whatever biblical verses to support their argument

This book is a very good introductory book into this subject. It’s easy to read and engaging. It’s also a very important theological subject, one that cannot be easily dismissed, since it is a very important part of the gospel. Although I do laud Steve Gregg for desiring to do a comparative analysis of the various views of hell, I do not think that it is entirely profitable for him to just leave three views up in the air and leave it up to the audience to decide which view is “correct.” This is not a peripheral issue like trying to figure out which millennial view or baptism view is correct. This is a foundational, core salvific issue that has only one correct answer and has been firmly established by the apostles and even by church fathers throughout history, and to err on this subject would make one simply a heretic. I have no problem at all with Gregg doing the comparative analysis thing. I just think as a Christian who needs to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3), that Gregg should’ve taken the approach to defend the eternal view of hell somewhere in the book, since that is the orthodox, historic view that was clearly taught by Jesus and the apostles and affirmed by the church fathers and Reformers, and only denied by the Watch Tower, false religions, and other false teachers.

In conclusion, I do think that this is a fascinating and profitable book for study. It’s not the best and most in depth book on the study of hell. But it is certainly a good intro into the subject, and may even be a good apologetics as to the defense of the faith against those who want to defend an erroneous position.

Book Review: Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

December 12, 2013 6:17 pm

To learn more about Steve Cha and his book Hollywood Mission: Possible, visit the YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EgDR4i1_EI

 

Timothy Keller’s thoughtful and engaging approach is always seen in just about every book that he writes, which speaks to both Christians and skeptics. This time, the author delves into the subject of pain and suffering, a topic that is difficult to swallow yet one that is timeless and can always be addressed to people who are looking for biblical answers. Keller does so in his new book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.

 

The book is one of Keller’s longest yet, which is divided in three main sections: Understanding the Furnace (1), Facing the Furnace (2), and Walking with God in the Furnace (3). In all, there are 16 chapters and an epilogue. The author appropriately begins with an engaging introduction that speaks of the universality of suffering in the world, as well as how Christ answers the problem of pain and suffering in His work on the cross (Ch 2). Chapters 6 and 7 elaborate more on this concept when it speaks about the purpose of suffering in God’s plan and the reason for suffering in the world. Finally, the last section talks about how we can respond to the suffering that we encounter everything, which must be grounded in our response of repentance and faith in Christ, without which we will never be saved from the eternal effects of sin and suffering. We are then equipped to face the sufferings of this life through empowerment from the Holy Spirit, as God guides our lives and empowers us to trust in His sovereign plan, and guides us with meaning and purpose.

As a whole, this book is entertaining, well written, and engaging. It is insightful and speaks well of the meaning of suffering and the hope that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no real easy explanation as to the reason behind all personal suffering. However, the real key is how one responds to the suffering, which is what the book seems to encourage.

Overall, I would give this a good recommendation. It’s another noteworthy entry into Christian literature of pain and suffering genre, along with Randy Alcorn’s If God is Good and Philip Yancey’s Where is God When It Hurts? 

What is Saving Faith?

December 10, 2013 1:46 am

 

Currently Reading:

Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation

by Michael J. Vlach

Category: Biblical Studies

B&H Publishing Group, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS SAVING FAITH?

 

INTRODUCTION

The theme of Jesus’ ministry and the central mission of the church are to reconcile lost sinners onto God by evangelizing the lost and making disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). The message that God uses to bring unbelievers to eternal salvation is the gospel. Many passages in the New Testament present the application of the gospel as “believing” or “having faith” in Jesus. However, this seemingly simplistic command has come under much confusion, debate, and misapplication over the centuries. Just what is saving faith? How do I know if I am saved? Does it matter what form of faith I have or how I live my life after my profession to Jesus? It is the goal of this essay to answer these significant questions, because the course of one’s eternal destiny is at stake in this important theological issue. This paper will set out to define what true biblical faith is, the objections proposed by skeptics to such a definition of salvation, a thorough defense and explanation of saving faith, the results of saving faith, and will conclude with brief observations of what implications this lesson has for Christian living and evangelism.  

 

DEFINING FAITH IN THE BIBLE

Before we begin to analyze the mechanics of saving faith, let us first define what a Christian is. What exactly is a Christian? Is he a moralist? A mere admirer of Christ? A distant friend? The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology defines a Christian as one “who believes in Jesus and seeks to live according to His teachings.”[1] Similarly, the Holman Bible Dictionary presents a Christian as a follower of Christ, or one committed to Christ.[2] We see that in these definitions, the common themes are belief and living for Christ. The relationship between faith and obedience will become more important and apparent as this essay progresses, but for now I would like to concentrate on simply laying out faith according to both the Old and New Testament teachings so we can have an understanding of what it looks like.

Even before Jesus’ first coming, salvation was available to people by God’s grace through faith. This truth is illustrated by the author of Hebrews 11 when outlining the saving faith of such saints as Abel, Enoch, and Noah. The Hebrew terminology most frequently used to describe OT saving faith was amen, which means “believe” or “trust.”[3] This type of belief is a kind that goes beyond intellectual acknowledgement of facts or a general sense of trust that exists between humans. It is an obedient submission to divine revelation and ultimately submission of the will to God. This attitude constitutes the essence of saving faith, which is demonstrated in Genesis 15:6 when Abraham was reckoned as righteous because of His trust in God and His promises. The rest of Genesis goes on to illustrate the living faith of Abraham, one that consistently evidenced itself in his heartfelt obedience to God.

The New Testament also defines the nature of belief and faith in a similar fashion as the Hebrew word amen. The Greek word pisteuo means “to have faith (in)” or “believe,” expressing personal trust and reliance which is distinct from mere credence or intellectual belief.[4] The Apostle John uses the verb in the famous salvific passage John 3:16 to describe how a sinner is suppose to respond to Christ’s finished work onCalvary in order to be saved. The verb also appears in other passages which speak of soteriological themes, such as Matthew 21:25, Acts 8:37, Romans 4:18, and Galatians 3:6. All of these salvific passages, especially those written by the Apostle Paul, emphasize the unchanging reality that a person is never made innocent before God by his own works or merit. Rather, the sinner is justified by faith (Eph 2:8-9), which is harmonious with Abraham’s justification in Genesis 15:6. Scripture provides additional details surrounding the nature of this faith by describing a repentance that guides a sinner away from his sins and onto God (Matt 3:2; Acts 20:21), a repentance and faith that is granted by the Lord Himself (2 Tim 2:25; Rom 12:3), a faith that leads one into a life of sanctification (Rom 8:30; Jn 17:17), and finally a faith that allows the Lord to bring the sinner to glorification at the rapture of the church (Rom 8:30; Tit 2:13).

 

THE OBJECTIONS TO FAITH

Although the description of saving faith may look comprehensible and sound biblical, this proposed examination has not always been widely accepted by those in the church and those outside of it. In fact, even within Christian circles and evangelical academia, there is controversy regarding the matter of what “faith” really is and how that should impact, or not impact, a professed believer’s life.

The first and most obvious group is the one who believes that salvation is achieved by a combination of faith and works. These adherents do not believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient enough to cover all of their sins, and that their own works or righteousness plays a part in earning God’s forgiveness. These works-based systems include religions of the world such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others, but for the sake of this essay, those who profess Christ or adhere to the teachings of the Bible will be discussed. Roman Catholicism is a prime example of this faith plus works paradigm. It holds to the fact that “grace” needs to be increased or earned by good works. No one can be certain of saving faith, therefore one must continue to maintain a high moral order, good conscience, and good works throughout his life as his merit.[5] Catholicism does not declare justification as happening before and apart from sanctification, but as one and nearly the same process as sanctification.[6] In other words, man achieves his own justification at the end of his life after an endless process of faith and works, relying upon his own righteous qualifications to find acceptance before God on Judgment Day.

There is also the more subtle but prevalent group of evangelicals who claim to believe in “salvation by faith alone.” This category is a little trickier, and will be a major focus for this essay because of its ill-informed teaching which, in extreme cases, leads to antinominanism and stunted discipleship. The Christians in this camp, categorized in the evangelical world as the Free Grace Theology adherents, believe that sinners can believe, or “accept Jesus Christ,” but not necessary have to live for Him. In other words, Free Grace adherents believe that sinners are not required to surrender their lives to Jesus’ rule and thus follow Him, because if that was the case, then such commitment of one’s life to Christ would corrupt the gospel message into a works-based religion.[7] In the world of the Free Grace theology, there can be such thing as the carnal Christian, and possibly even a complete backslider such as an atheist, who still ends up being saved from eternal hell because he professed Jesus at one point in his life.[8]

Since Free Grace theologians say that a person is not required to submit to the authority of Christ upon conversion, they imply that a sanctification process does not necessarily need to follow in a believer’s life as well. This means that a person, once truly saved, might possibly never grow in holiness and Christlikeness throughout his life. He can even live like a rebellious pagan if things turned out so. The last point to mention regarding the belief of Free Grace theologians is the fact that there are some who do not believe that repentance is necessary for saving faith. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer listed repentance as one of “the more common features of human responsibility which are too often erroneously added to the one requirement of faith or belief.”[9] Because of certain passages that do not mention repentance when describing saving faith, Chafer concludes that there is not enough evidence to prove that the NT imposes “repentance upon the unsaved as a condition of salvation.”[10]

In recapitulation, religionists believe that saving grace is essentially heightened or maintained by appropriate works, while Free Grace theologians believe in a “faith” that is valid with cognitive assent and no need of repentance or desire to actually be Jesus’ disciple. Now the question is: Do any of these exemplify saving faith according to Scripture? The following section will present a biblical case of and defense for the true saving faith as characterized by a more comprehensive understanding of Jesus and the Apostle’s soteriological instructions.

 

A DEFENSE OF SAVING FAITH

The objections documented represent two very opposite views of salvation. One tends to rely more on the works and the other more on the belief. Neither one is correct according to Scripture. The true teachings of Scripture on saving faith is that it involves a turning (repentance) from the practice of former sins to Christ for salvation. Christ transforms the individual by regenerating him (giving him new spiritual life), which enables him, irreversibly, to come to Jesus in repentant faith, to remain in faith throughout his life, and to bear good fruit.[11] It is important to note that the fruit of salvation is the demonstrable proof of one’s justification before God, and not the means of it. The fruits that appear during the sanctification phase are not to be confused with salvific works-righteousness, which is, at most times, empty externalism or visible moralism that is guided by the person’s flawed motive of trying to find justification before God. This is not the kind of “works” spoken of in passages like James 2:26. The works spoken of in James is the divinely fostered fruit that blossoms in a Christian’s life after he has been reborn by the Holy Spirit and justified by faith. Essentially, saving faith is repentant trust in Christ, yet such faith is always accompanied by fruits (“works”) that testify of one’s eternal salvation.

The essence of saving faith may still be difficult to comprehend and may need clarification based on some points of contention raised by skeptics. This is why the remainder of the essay will provide a biblically based explanation of what constitutes saving faith (the components) and what saving faith entails in the life a true believer (the expected results).

 

The Sovereignty of God in Saving Faith

A preliminary understanding of saving faith, which would help us comprehend the necessity of such factors as repentance and sanctification, must first begin with understanding God’s role in this whole process of human salvation. The NT writers constantly speak of God as initiating (taking the first step of) the salvation process when He elects the saints. Election is the simple truth that God determined and planned for certain people to be saved from before the beginning of creation, in which He took the full initiative, executed the agenda, provided the grace, and deserves all the credit for the final outcome.[12] This means that if God elects someone from eternity past to be saved, that person will undoubtedly become Christian and live in obedience to Christ until glorification.

It is important to remember that even though God elects people to be saved, this does not absolve sinners from the personal responsibility to act. Sinners are not to be passive and think that they will be saved regardless of whether they exercise saving faith or not. They are commanded to have faith, and when they do respond in such a manner, they receive the benefits of eternal salvation, which God had already planned and grants to them in His sovereign will. This mysterious relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is called compatibilism, which means that human choice is somehow compatible with divine sovereignty and determinism.[13] It is not entirely comprehensible, but passages like Philippians 2:12 teaches that this concept is real. So we must humbly accept the reality that God’s role and man’s role in the process of salvation is mutually inclusive.

The process that begins with election ends with glorification in an ordered list that various theologians call the order of salvation, from the Latin phrase ordo salutis, and is roughly based on the theological content of Romans 8:29-30. Though the list varies amongst individual, the standard list is as follows:[14] 1). Election (God’s predestination of His saints), 2). The gospel call (God calls sinner to faith with the gospel), 3). Regeneration (the person is born again), 4). Conversion (the person exercises repentance and faith), 5). Justification (the person has a right legal standing), 6). Adoption (the person gains membership into God’s family), 7). Sanctification (the person is empowered for righteous living), 8). Perseverance (the person remains a Christian forever), 9). Death (the person goes to be with the Lord), 10). Glorification (the person receives his resurrection body).

If this list is an accurate indication of the divine process involved in someone’s redemption, then it tells us much about what a Christian will experience and what he will not. It tells us that a sinner cannot turn to God in sincere repentance and have enduring faith unless he is spiritually reborn from God (John 3:3). It tells us that repentance and faith work hand-in-hand in conversion (Acts 20:21). It tells us that a converted sinner is once and for all justified in God’s sight, never to be condemned again (Romans 8:1). It tells us that those who are justified are officially opted into God’s family and are given the promise of the kingdom (Romans 8:17). It tells us that God’s children will undergo sanctification and not live in carnality (Hebrews 12:14). It tells us that believers will remain in the faith and never fall away despite trials, tribulations, and temptations (Jude 24). It tells us that believers will go to be with the Lord upon death, and after the rapture of the church, will receive their glorified bodies (1 Cor 15:52).

Therefore, if a professing believer refuses to repent, does not care for a life of sanctification, or falls away from the faith, then he is one that evidently breaks the mold of Romans 8:29-30 and may never have experienced God’s saving grace to begin with. This does not mean that he is not elect or that he could never get saved later on in life. This just implies that the person never got saved to begin with. This is why it is imperative to gain a good understanding of what constitutes saving faith and to respond to it the way it commands us.

 

Gospel Knowledge

From the side of human responsibility, it is important to know that saving faith must always start with an accurate understanding of the gospel message. Without a true acceptance of the nature of Christ, sin, and the remedy of the gospel, there can be no salvation (1 John 2:22-25; Gal 1:6-9). Since God is truth, saving faith must also be grounded both in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), especially in regards to the One (Jesus) whom it points to.

For any person to come to saving faith, he must have a basic but well-informed understanding of the following concepts: 1). God’s Righteous Expectations. This fact not only presupposes the existence of the God of the Bible, but also acknowledges that He is the rightful ruler and owner of all things, and has a standard of holiness that people are called to abide by, 2). Man’s Hopeless Condition. This is the realization that man has broken God’s Law, is a sinner by nature and by conduct, and cannot earn salvation by his own merits, 3). The Certainty of Judgment. Man’s transgression calls for God to execute His justice against unrighteousness, and those who are guilty will be condemned and end up in the lake of fire for all eternity as punishment for their sin, 4). Jesus’ Perfect Sacrifice. This is the solution to the problem, in which Jesus fulfilled God’s Law, satisfied God’s justice by dying on the cross in place of the guilty so sinners can be forgiven of their trespasses, and 5). The Sinner’s Necessary Response. The sinner must repent of all sin and place his entire trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

Step 5 is the necessary application of the facts that preceded it. There are three elements involved in successfully applying the gospel to one’s life and exercising genuine saving faith: 1). The intellectual element (positive recognition of the truth), 2). The emotional element (a deep conviction of the truth), 3). The volitional element (surrender of the soul, as guilty and defiled, to Christ’s governance).[15] It seems as if the commonality between Free Grace theologians and Lordship Salvation adherents ends at Element Two, or even One. However, we have stated before that biblically defined faith (both in the OT and NT) is not just intellectual acknowledge and conviction, but a purposed commitment to God and His promises. This truth is best illustrated in James 2:19, which states, “You believe that God is one…the demons also believe, and shudder.” The author James comments that demons, like professing believers, know the facts about God. They agree with orthodox doctrine (intellectual element) and tremble at its implications (emotional element), yet such knowledge is no proof of saving faith because demons are entirely hostile to God. Their volitional will is set entirely against the facts presented in God’s truth, which demonstrates that knowledge without action is futile for salvation. This is not to say that demons can be saved, because they were never purposed for such an end. However, humans can be redeemed, which is why people must pay attention to the lesson of James 2:19 if they desire to benefit from the offer of forgiveness that God offers them. 

 

The Need for Repentance

One of the hotly contested elements of saving faith is the inclusion of repentance. The Ryrie Study Bible lists it as “a false addition to faith” when made a condition for salvation.[16] Many verses speak contrary to the statement made by such scholars as Ryrie (Acts 20:21; Matt 3:2; Isaiah 1:16-17). However, some scholars do believe that repentance is part of faith, but they define it as only a change of mind and not necessarily a change of action.[17] Whenever the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, is used in the NT, it always speaks of a change of purpose and turning from sin.[18] It moves beyond the intellectual, and emotional stages and into the volitional stage, which is the observable fruit of repentance.

At this point, some may claim that repentance is a form of works that is added onto the gospel message. When we analyze the elements that make up repentance in Scripture, we see that it should not be categorized as human works. It is actually an attitude of the heart as much as faith is. Both involve the intellectual, emotional, and volitional assent of the sinner. Both are also sovereignly granted by God to the sinner as part of the divine calling and regeneration process. This principle is illuminated in verses such as Acts 11:18, which states that “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” In describing the relationship between faith and repentance, Grudem states that the two are “simply two different sides of the same coin…” in which “the person who genuinely turns to Christ for salvation must at the same time release the sin to which he or she has been clinging and turn away form that sin in order to turn to Christ. Thus, neither repentance nor faith comes first; they come together.”[19]

A faith without repentance is an incomplete faith and a water-downed version of the gospel. Since faith involves a wholehearted commitment to Christ, repentance must logically be the step that leads a sinner there, because one cannot be committed to Christ unless he has first turned away from his former idols and enslavements. The sinner must not only be convicted of the errors of his former life, but must also empty his hands of all sins, self-righteousness, and whatever he is trusting in for justification before he can accept the gift of God’s mercy and imputed righteousness which comes by faith. The true believer is one who has turned away from the love of material and self to the service and supreme authority of God.[20]

This is not to say that a Christian is expected to be sinless during his life or never make mistakes. Nowhere does Scripture teach that anyone can reach moral perfection in this life, for this would contradict what the Bible says concerning the sinful nature of humanity, even for those who have been regenerated. Soundly saved Christians will stumble into sin because of their fallen nature (1 John 1:8, 10). Christian living is not about absolute perfection, but general direction, which the Holy Spirit graciously provides to the Christian in his daily walk with the Lord. God’s grace allows us to be constantly forgiven and cleansed. The life long pattern of forgiveness and cleansing from sin is an expected part of the sanctification stage, which is why Jesus highlights this theme as part of Christian living in the Disciple’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12: “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

 

Counting the Cost

A topic that is highly related to repentance is the counting of the cost of being a Christian. Some label this as the cost of discipleship, which is essentially the change that one must expect if he were to become Christian. This cost involves not only an abandonment of the old sinful lifestyle, but also the willingness to enthrone Jesus Christ as the highest priority of one’s life. It is the willingness to follow Jesus and to treat Him as the one and only Master over one’s own life. It is essentially the desire to become a disciple.

The Parable of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-30) perfectly illustrates the axiom of this principle. In this account, the young man asks Jesus how to attain eternal life. Jesus takes him through the perfect law of God, and the man surprisingly admits to having kept all of them. Then Jesus asks the young man to do something astounding: “sell your possessions and give to the poor…and come, follow Me” (v. 21). The ruler does not obey this commandment. Instead, he walks away from the Lord in grief, because he “owned much property” (v. 22b). Christ was getting to the heart of the young ruler’s major sin, which was blocking him from coming to the Lord. It was the ruler’s resolute love for his wealth. The young man was not willing to repent of that idol. The intention of this passage is not to teach salvation by philanthropy, but to highlight the detriment of the seeker’s resolute refusal to give Jesus first place in his life, which constitutes the call to faith.[21] Anything less of Jesus’ set terms manifests as unbelief.

The necessity of taking into account the authority of Christ when coming to salvation is clear even in Jesus’ kingdom teachings like The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23). In this account, Jesus depicts the four soil conditions, three representing useless soil (v. 3-7) and one representing the perfect soil (v. 8). The second and third soil condition, the rocky places and the thorn grounds respectively, represent seekers of the Christian faith who eventually fall away from the faith or are exposed as hypocrites on Judgment Day. They are false converts who did not exhibit the God-given repentance, perseverance, and fruit characteristic of true Christians. Though people in either soil conditions exhibit different conditions (one being shallow and the other thorny), they have one thing in common: they have never made a volitional commitment to be Jesus’ disciple. They have not calculated the sacrifices of being a Christian and have not placed kingdom interests above their own life priorities.[22]

 

The One and Only Savior

A final element that constitutes saving faith is the issue of trusting in Christ alone to save from sin and eternal judgment. The gospel message is about repenting and trusting in Jesus as not only Lord, but as the only Savior (John 3:16; Romans 10:9). This piece of information can easily get lost amongst religious people who trust more in their works, morality, and ancestral connection to save them rather than on Jesus and the gift of His righteousness. It can also be ignored by licentious people who only give intellectual and emotional assent to this fact, but never entrust their eternity to Christ. Their trust is entirely misplaced and is not adequate enough to be reckoned as righteous by the Lord. A willingness to submit to Christ as Lord but failing to trust in Him as Savior is akin to trusting in something else to save a sinner from the consequences of his sin, which does not constitute saving faith at all. If one lives his life trying to add to what God’s Son accomplished on the cross, then he foolishly believes that Christ’s sacrifice was not entirely sufficient to satisfy his eternal debt. Therefore, the professing believer is not trusting in Christ as Savior. Likewise, if one puts hope or priority in false religion, an idol, personal works and merit, then he is not truly trusting in Christ as Savior.

There are numerous passages in which Jesus urged audiences to follow this path to salvation. One of the most regarded verses that teach this principle is found in John 14:6. The Apostle Thomas asks Jesus, “…how do we know the way?” (6a), to which Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (6b). Jesus claims to be the only Savior of mankind. It is an exclusive and narrow path (Matt 7:13), but the only road that leads to eternal life. Without full and undivided trust in the Savior, there is no access to the Father and to eternal life. That is why a sinner cannot place his ultimate trust in other religious figures, religious systems, personal morality, or work ethics. One must not only trust in the intellectual details of the gospel message, but must willfully give his life to the Living Person of Christ for his redemption. The postmodern belief that there are many paths to religious truth is a satanic life, as F.F. Bruce comments:

He [Jesus] is, in fact, the only way by which men and women may come to the Father; there is no other way. If this seems offensively exclusive, let it be borne in mind that the one who makes this claim is the incarnate Word, the revealer of the Father. If God has no avenue of communication with mankind apart from his Word…mankind has no avenue of approach to God apart from that same Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to supply such an avenue of approach.[23]

Whether one is a religionist with the outward deeds but no external change wrought by trust in the Savior or the antinomianist who understands the facts of the gospel but does not commit himself to it, the message is the same: Christ is the only parachute that saves from eternal death. Therefore, the exclusivity of the one and only Savior is an inescapable reality.

 

THE RESULTS OF SAVING FAITH

This brief final section is not about what is involved in the process of coming to Christ for justification, but it is important to discuss because it reveals what a Christian’s life looks like after his salvation. We will focus on a couple of key aspects of sanctification, which reveal the genuineness of one’s professed faith. They are fruits of salvation and perseverance in faith. These elements are characteristic of a true Christian’s life and attests to the validity of his salvation. They can also be the grounds to question a believer’s profession of faith and the means to confidently declare that backsliders were never saved to begin with.

 

An Obedient Life

Those who have been regenerated and justified through saving faith will be sanctified. During this lifelong sanctification process, God causes Christians to bear fruit that evidences their salvation. This is why it is necessary for the Lord to regenerate people, because without it, people cannot seek God or obey Him (Rom 3:11). Truly saved Christians are those who bear fruit and are willing to obey Christ’s words. Fruits manifest in various forms, such as seeking God’s word, prayer, evangelism, holy living, discipleship, financial generosity, a fervent love for God and neighbor. However, the amount and type of fruit varies with each individual, as passages like Matthew 13:23 indicates. This means that some Christians will be stronger and more productive than others. But all Christians bear fruit to some degree (Matt 7:16; Jn 15:8).

This is the sobering lesson behind James 2:14-26. This passage teaches that all Christians produce some fruit in their lives, otherwise they would possess a dead, non-saving faith. James 2:26 states, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” Once again, we must bear in mind that this is not teaching salvation by works or showing that James’ teaching is incompatible with the Apostle Paul’s teaching about justification by faith in the book of Romans. The works described in James 2:26 are the divinely granted fruits that God bestows upon a believer upon regenerating and justifying him, not the type of self-willed, extra-biblical religious deeds that a sinner does to try to find pre-salvific acquittal before God. Commenting on James 2:14-26, John MacArthur states that God gives the believer a “new genetic structure for producing moral and spiritual good works… Just as a fruit tree has not fulfilled its goal until its bears fruit, so also has faith has not reached its end until it demonstrates itself in a righteous life.”[24] That is why it is appropriate to say, in regards to James 2:14-26, that “justification by faith pertains to a person’s standing before God, whereas justification by works that James speaks of in this verse pertains to a person’s standing before other men.”[25] It is the only conceivable way we can be confident of a person’s salvation in Christ.

 

Perseverance in Faith

Labeled in the Reformed tradition as the perseverance of the saints, perseverance is defined as the continuance of the justified in the grace of justification.[26] It basically means that a true Christian will remain in saving faith until death or glorification. He will never fall away, in one sense because of his steadfast obedience, but the primary cause is God’s sovereignty which acts to preserve the person’s faith from beginning (election) to end (glorification). Bruce DeMarest comments on the totality and certainty of God’s work in a Christian’s life by stating: “God elects believers not only to salvation but also to the personal holiness that leads to the heavenly goal.”[27] This doctrine gives believers hope in that their faith will bring them to the finish line because of God’s empowerment in their lives. It also rightly informs us that apostates and backsliders were never of true saving faith. They have never truly repented, counted the cost of following Jesus, or trusted in Christ as Savior.

The passage that best captures the truth of this doctrine is Jude 24, which states, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the glory of God our Savior…” The author ends the book of Jude with a doxology that inspires the congregants to a bright hope, informing them that their faith will last because of Him who protects them from apostasy. Various passages in the book of 1 Peter also speaks of this blessed hope. The Apostle Peter speaks of those “who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:5). J.N.D. Kelly comments that “God is continually using his power to guard his people by means of their faith,” a statement that implies that God’s power in fact energizes and continually sustains individual, personal faith.[28] Although many passages instruct saints to be responsible in continuing in the faith (Col 1:22-23; Matt 10:22; Heb 3:14), Scripture gives us assurance that it is entirely possible and inevitable for them to do so because of the Author who has planned it before history. Those who end up falling away from the faith do so by their personal choice, but it also testifies that they never responded in true saving faith to begin with, and may possibly not be among God’s elect. If they truly repented and received Christ as Lord and Savior, they would remain in faith to this day (1 John 2:19).

 

CONCLUSION 

Based on a comprehensive overview of Scriptural evidence, we are given a picture of salvation according to the OT and NT and have assurance of how true saving faith is applied. It is not a works-based system driven by the flesh in order to attain salvation, and it is also not a mere intellectual assent to beliefs without a volitional commitment to Christ. Saving faith is essentially a heart attitude that moves a person to turn from sin and convert to Christ, trusting Him alone to save and be the sole Shepherd of one’s life. The sinner responds in this way through his own will, yet it is a mysterious work of God in the person’s heart in which He transforms the character and allows the world to see that justification has taken place in the believer’s life. This is the essence of saving faith. A true understanding of saving faith is important for three reasons. The first is that it rightly informs us of the content and application of the gospel in a sinner’s life. This is practical for orthopraxy and a right interpretation of God’s word. The second is that it gives Christians confidence of their salvation during their moments of doubt. The third is that it awakens false converts and apostates to see their lost condition so that they can have the opportunity to respond and be saved while there is still opportunity. A solid understanding of the saving faith should be available to every Christian, not just for the sake of one’s personal assurance, but for the cause of properly equipping saints for evangelizing lost souls with the unadulterated message that is the power of God onto salvation.




[1] Millard J. Erickson, Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 30.

[2] Darren W. Robinson, “Christian,” in Holman Bible Dictionary, ed. Trent C. Butler (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 252.

[3] David J.A. Clines, ed., and John Elwolde, exec ed., The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew Vol 1 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 319.

[4] G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, NY: T&T Clark LTD, reprint of 1999 volume), 361.

[5] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, trans. Patrick Lynch (Rockford: Tan, 1960FNT#), 261-62.

[6] Ibid., 257.

[7] Alan Day, “The Lordship Salvation Controversy,” Theological Educator no 45 (Spring 1992): 24.

[8] R.B. Thieme, Apes and Peacocks or the Pursuit of Happiness (Houston, TX: Thieme, 1973), 23.

[9] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary, 1948), 372.

[10] Ibid., 376.

[11] Henry W. Holloman, Kregel Dictionary of the Bible and Theology: Over 500 Key Theological Words and Concepts Defined and Cross-Referenced (Grand Rapids,MI: Kregel Publications, 2005), 81.

[12] F.H. Klooster, “Elect, Election,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 201.

[13] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1238. Hereafter ST.

[14] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955), 79-87.

[15] Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia, PA: Judson, 1907), 837-38.

[16] Charles C. Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1976), 1950.

[17] Blauvelt Livingston Jr., “Does the Bible Teach Lordship Salvation?” Bibliotheca Sacra 143 no. 569 (Jan-Mar 1986): 42.

[18] W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1981), 280.

[19] Grudem, ST, 714.

[20] Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom of God and the Church (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972), 92-93.

[21] John MacArthur, ed., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Updated Edition (Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 1396-97.

[22] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, The NIV Application Commentary: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life (Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2004), 480.

[23] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 298.

[24] John MacArthur, James, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1998), 139.

[25] Ibid., 137.

[26] Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler, Dictionary of Theology (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, second edition, 1981), 378.

[27] Bruce DeMarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997), 141.

[28] J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude. Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: Black 1969), 52.