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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Monday, May 30, 2016
Good Intentions, Bad Theology
A lot of what I would call "Bad Theology" springs from sincerely good intentions.

I was speaking with a brother in the Lord after a service I had preached on Hebrews 3.  I noted that in verses 6 (but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope) and 14 (For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end), that the author of Hebrews was saying that these premises are true already (i.e. v.6 - you are of God's house, and v.14 you have already come to share in Christ) if something happens in your future (you hold your original confidence to the end).

What I wanted to draw out from the text was the sense within it that those who are saved, will persevere.  I showed that when the author speaks of falling away in verse 12 (Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God),  He is looking back (as shown by the quoting of Psalm 95 - which looks back to Numbers 14) at how Israel (having been delivered from Egypt by way of 10 miraculous plagues, and having passed through the parted Red Sea, and been delivered again from the armies of Egypt, who drowned in the Red Sea, etc.)  when she finally stood ready to enter into the land God had promised to give her, gave into an evil heart of unbelief, and desired to return instead to Egypt (and bondage) rather than attempting to go into Canaan and obtain the military victory that God was promising them.

I explained how the author of Hebrews was juxtaposing this illustration upon the converted Jews to whom he was writing, who were considering returning to Judaism after having been exposed to Christian teaching.  The author of Hebrews was exhorting these Jews to continue with Christ, and not to return to a Christ-less version of Judaism, for doing so would demonstrate the same evil, unbelieving hearts as condemned that generation of Israel to wander in the wilderness until the judgment of death finally met them over the course of forty years.

This falling away, was not a dipping in and out Canaan, any more than it described a dipping in and out of Christianity.  It was a denial of God's provision on the Borders of Canaan, just as it would be a denial of God's provision (Christ) to those Jews to whom the author was addressing himself.  A "once and for all" sort of very bad choice.

I asked the sort of question that I know we all must ask when we come to this text honestly - is this text describing or suggesting that someone can lose their salvation?

I explained that salvation and justification are the same thing - showing how Paul interchangeably speaks of being saved by faith and being justified by faith.  If the Apostle Paul believed that salvation and justification were the same thing - we should also.  I then showed from Paul's letter to the Romans, the famous verse that shows that as many as God predestined, He called, and as many as God called He justified, and as many as God justified He glorified.  I stressed that there was no broken link in the chain between justification and glorification - that everyone who is justified, will be glorified.

But not everyone who thinks they are saved is actually saved.

I pulled out those verses where our Lord shows that people will come to Him on that last day, believing themselves to be Christian, who will be turned away because Christ neither knew them.  I referred to those verses were we learn that those who really love Christ, actually obey Christ - and that obedience is not optional for the believer, but required for our salvation.  Not that our obedience saves us - but that where salvation is genuine, obedience is always produced in us.

I reminded my hearers that a great many people believe that Jesus is the one and only Christ - and consider themselves to be Christians - but noted that we do not truly come to Christ unless we exercise faith and repent (of our self rule,  submitting ourselves to pursuing the will of God).  It is not only possible to believe that Jesus will save you, without ever repenting - it is exactly what a great many people think makes them a Christian - and these will be (unless they submit themselves to the truth) condemned on that last day.

I put forth the thought that when we see someone who confesses faith in Christ give up on that faith - we shouldn't conclude that they didn't believe in Jesus.  I explained that we had to have categories in our understanding of truth, that line up with scripture and explain what we see in the real world.  There are all kinds of people in churches who believe themselves to be Christians who have never been born again.  Whether it is because they have never properly understood the gospel, or because they have embraced a truncated version of it (typically one that lacks the requirement of repentance),  the fact remains that people like this are falling out of (and falling back into) Christianity all the time.

We shouldn't be denying that people who believe in Jesus stop being Christians.  That happens all the time.  What we should be doing is putting those people into biblical categories - even as the Apostle John does in 1 John 2:19 - where he explains that the people who abandon Christianity were never Christians in the first place, they leave Christianity because they aren't actually Christians, if they really were Christians they wouldn't leave Christianity.  That's about as clear a verse as you'll find on the topic, but there are others, Philippians 1:6 is often quoted in this regard as well, (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.)

I made the point that the author of Hebrews wasn't describing the sort of now-I'm-saved/now-I'm-not-saved theology that some imagine is there when he was speaking about falling away from the living God - but rather a decisive decision to deny Christ once and forever.

The end takeaway was that people who are genuinely saved, stay saved.  But not everyone who claims to be a Christian is genuinely saved.  People who fall away have either never been saved in the first place (received a false or truncated gospel), or may simply be backslidden believers, who have become "faithless", but haven't denied Christ (i.e. become apostates).  I looked to 2 Timothy 2:11-13 to illustrate the thought, "The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself."

But let's be candid.  The reason people believe you can lose and regain your salvation isn't because we find that in the scriptures - it is because if "..he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ..." that means you cannot "lose" your salvation - even if you sin like the devil!.

That notion is the same notion that offended the Jews - if we are saved by grace and not by works of the law - then what is to stop us from sinning like the devil?  Paul writes in Romans 6:1, What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means  How can we who died to sin still live in it? - you don't write something like that unless you've heard the argument again and again that grace must mean that you can sin all you want.

The fact is, when you are saved, Christ comes to live in you, and you suddenly have a tension in you between your sinful flesh, and the sinless indwelling Christ.  Your flesh (which remains in bondage to sin) continues to compel you to sin - but alongside the flesh, the Spirit of Christ is not only compelling you to obey the will of God - but stands ready to empower you to do so also.  The genuine Christian is no longer free to sin all he or she wants - because the conviction of Christ within constrains him (or her).  The true believer experiences firsthand what Paul writes concerning the Lord to the church at Philippi - it is God who is at work in the believer causing the believer to desire to obey, and giving the believer the power in Christ to obey (c.f. Philippians 2:13).

If we cannot lose our salvation, what then is going to stop us from sinning?  The answer is that Jesus Himself will stop us from sinning.  We shouldn't be surprised by that answer - since his very name implies this (c.f. Matthew 1:21, She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.)

I know we tend to think of Jesus as saving us from God's wrath, and the condemnation and penalty for sin (hell/the second death/the lake of fire etc.) - but our Lord is called Jesus because He will save us from sin in the here and now also - providing a way of escape in every temptation (c.f. 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Notwithstanding, some want to protect God's honor.  If we cannot lose our salvation, and we are being provoked to righteousness by Christ - that smacks of determinism, and unless we have free will, that must mean (I speak as a fool) that God is creating people just to send them to hell - and "the God I believe in would never do that."

You've heard that sort of thing said if you've ever discussed the matter of free will.  The truth is that each of us is perfectly free to give into, or not give into, desires that we pretty much have no control over.  I don't get to decide if I find a person attractive.  I cannot instantly love someone I do not know, no matter how much I choose to do so. I like Italian cuisine (too much).  I cannot "choose" not to like it - but I can choose whether I eat it or not.  If I have an intense like or dislike someone, I cannot arbitrarily choose to "feel" the opposite - but I can choose to act contrary to or in accord with my own peculiar nature.

I have no ability to change my nature, but I can act in accord with it, or act against it.

When some talk about free will - they limit the scope of their understanding to their (obvious) ability to choose X or Y.  They ignore the fact that they are entirely enslaved to things they cannot change.  We all know this.  If we really had the ability to "choose" to never sin again, then Jesus wouldn't have had to come to save us - since we would have been perfectly able to save ourselves - by simply "choosing" not to sin again.

Make no mistake.  I don't get to decide who I find attractive, or who I find interesting, fun, or annoying.  Some combination of upbringing and personal make up have wired preferences in me that I have no control over. I like what I like, I dislike what I dislike - and the only freedom I have is to act (or not act) on impulses and desires that I am definitely not "free" to change.

The fact is that only God is righteous, and only God can be righteous.  The only way anyone can become righteous is described in Romans 6  - their sinful life must be united to the sinless life of Christ. This union obligates God to put Christ to death - since the sinner's life is now irrevocably united with the life of Christ - it follows that in order to punish the sinner's life in Christ, Christ (though innocent), must endure the punishment - death.  The sinner's life (my life, and your life if you are in Christ) is put to death - which is the just and full punishment for his or her sins.  That doesn't make the sinner righteous however - it just settles their sin debt. 

It is what happens next that makes the sinner righteous - for once the debt has been settled, God's justice acts a second time - this time to raise the life of Christ, which died along with the sinner, when God's wrath was poured out on the life of that sinner in Christ.  God is just, and for the sake of only one righteous man, God raised our Lord, and everyone who was joined to Him through faith and repentance - at that moment when Christ rose from the dead, we who were in Christ became partakers of His righteous life even as He had become a partaker of our sinful life.  

Like conjoined twins, one a sinner, the other a saint - sharing a life, in order to punish one, they both died, but because the one was innocent, he was revived, and in order to revive the innocent one, both were revived.  Jesus did this for us - this is the plan of our salvation.

I am still living out the life that was united with Christ in His death and resurrection - so I continue to experience sinful desires, but alongside these desires, I also experience desires that are truly righteous, because they originate in Christ who has become my life since the day I was saved.

I understand therefore that when I surrender myself to the will of Christ, what He works through me is truly righteous insofar as it is not a work that originates with me, but originates with Him.  When I overcome some temptation by it is not the life of Christ that gives in to the temptation, but my old sinful life that grieves the Holy Spirit by my disobedience.

Without Christ, however - I could do nothing.  Nothing righteous that is.  I mean I could eat and sleep, and sin - but I could never do anything that was righteous. If I was a faithful husband - I would be faithful only because at some point I reasoned that being faithful would be more beneficial to me that being unfaithful.  If I was a man of integrity - it would only be because I reasoned at some point that I would prefer the life (and accolades) of a man of integrity.  Every act of kindness, every act of generosity, every "good" work, would find in it's origin, something of benefit to me or my personal glory.  It is as the prophet Isaiah said, even the things that I do that seem righteous are as a filthy rag to God (c.f. Isaiah 64:6)

Why does it matter that a sinner cannot do anything righteous at all?  Because that means that a sinner cannot repent, because repentance requires righteousness, and the sinner has been cut off from all righteousness.  The sinner cannot repent because the sinner is not righteous - he needs to be saved in order to repent.

Here is where our free will falls apart.  No sinner is "free" to do anything righteous, because no sinner is capable of doing anything righteous.  Not everyone who hears the gospel and understands it gets saved.  Judas understood the gospel but unlike the other Apostles, Judas did not humble himself before God (repent).  He only pretended to be a godly man, while remaining a sinner amongst the twelve.  

The notion that God decides who is going to be saved offends people because they reason that if God chooses to saves anyone, He must choose to save everyone, or he isn't being "fair."

It is this notion of fairness that causes people to think God would never choose to save some people from the punishment they have earned, while letting the rest received that same punishment which they have likewise earned.

The concept of fairness here isn't biblical - it is worldly.  To be precise it is founded upon the notion of equal value for equal commerce.  If two people sit at the same restaurant, and each pay a dollar for a plate of spaghetti, and the same cook prepares a small plate for the first customer (having in it a dollar's worth of spaghetti) and for whatever reason prepares a much larger plate for the second customer (say $5 worth) - when the first customer receives his plate, he is satisfied because he is getting what he paid for - right up until the second customer receives five times the meal for the same price.  Now the first customer suddenly feels that he deserves five times as much as what was previously a fair deal - because in seeing someone else get more for their money, he felt that he likewise deserved more, even though he actually received his money's worth and was formerly satisfied.

This sort of fairness justifies a greedy person in their greed.

In Matthew 20, we read the parable of the vineyard workers.  The owner of a vineyard hired several men throughout the day, agreeing to give them their wage, and when it came time to pay, he was generous to those who had only worked part of the day - paying them a full day's wage.  Seeing this generosity, those who worked the full day felt a sudden unwarranted sense of entitlement to the owner's generosity, and actually felt they now deserved more money than they had earned, on the grounds that the owner generous to those who hadn't earned the full wage.

Christians whose sense of righteousness is informed by the world tend to not like (or even not understand) the owner's response - that he is not being unrighteous by being kind to some and not to all.  It is his money, and he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.  He isn't obligated to be generous to one person, simply because he was generous to another - even if a worldly minded person thinks doing so would be more "fair".

Once a person is able to see clearly that their concept of fairness is skewed by worldly notions of what is right - they will see that God is not obligated to show mercy to anyone - even if He shows mercy to some.

That is to say, the notion that it is "wrong" for God to save some people, while allowing others to face the consequences of their sin, depends upon a deceitful, worldly counterfeit "wisdom" that paints what is "good" as evil.  The truth is that God doesn't have to save anyone, and He would be perfectly just sending everyone who has earned hell, to go there.

In order to protect God's honor from the charge of being "unfair" (a charge that rests upon a convoluted, worldly sense of fairness - which itself is actually evil), people prefer to have a God that gives everyone a "fair" chance to be saved.  To have that fair chance, they need a "free will" - one that is already capable of righteousness.  We know this model as the Pelagian heresy - the idea that we have just enough righteousness in us to make a choice to be saved.  People prefer that heresy to orthodox theology because they believe that if God chooses some, and not all, that makes him evil - and they want to protect God's honor.

They forget (or ignore) the fact that God's choice is not a choice that sends innocent people to hell - but a choice about how God will pour His wrath out upon sinners.  Those whose lives are united with Christ receive God's wrath in Christ, those who are not in Christ, receive God's wrath without Christ.  His wrath is poured out on all people, but those whom He showed mercy upon are in Christ when they receive that wrath.  His righteousness does not obligate Him to save everyone in this way - but it does obligate Him to punish everyone who is guilty.

Until a person understands that the worldly notion of fairness is false, they will never really understand that God is not being evil by saving some people.

I didn't have time in my sermon to flesh all that out mind you, but I include it because I want the reader to understand my mindset when I spoke with one brother after the service.  He had received parts of the sermon more readily than other parts - those parts in particular whose understanding requires an appreciation for the sovereignty of God.

In particular, he didn't like the notion that God chooses individuals for salvation.  The fellow is a gentle and from all accounts, a godly saint, not given to arguments, or theological debates, so we discussed the matter briefly after the service - my impression/assumption being that this man loved the Lord, and held his opinions mixed with a desire for God's honor that demanded God be fair in all ways, according to, what I recognize, as an unbiblical worldview on this one point (explained above).

When he let me know that it was his understanding that God gave everyone the opportunity[sic] to be saved, I asked if he believed the scripture that tells us that no man can come to the father except through Jesus Christ?

He affirmed that he believed that.

So I asked him if (as Luke records Paul explaining in Acts:.26-28) God determines where and when each of us are born, and if the only way to come to God is through Jesus - what sort of opportunity would he say the North American Aboriginal people had in those many years prior to Columbus discovering America?

Now, I don't get into a discussion like this to argue theology.  As a pastor, I am looking for two things:
  1. Can you defend what you believe from the scriptures, and 
  2. Does what you believe agree with the scriptures in context
It may be, as convinced as I am of what I understand from the scriptures, that I am missing something, and asking someone to explain their position may be the means of grace the Lord will use to correct me if I am in err, and open to correction.  So I approach these sorts of conversations ... conversationally, and not as an argument.  What I am hoping for is the opportunity to either sharpen or be sharpened like iron.

The answer given was that some things we simply cannot know, and how God could give everyone the same opportunities while purposely causing whole nations to (seemingly) not have that opportunity was just one of those paradoxes that we simply cannot understand.

Rather than argue, I encouraged the brother to meditate on the answer he gave me, to see if that really satisfied him as much as he hoped it would satisfy me.  I agree that there are a great many things God does not reveal to us - but I don't think that this particular umbrella can cover the point.  If a person insists that God always does X and that person is shown from scripture and history that this isn't always so, I prefer to see that person consider again the merit (if not the source) of such convictions.

Now, my brother was being hastened away as this conversation was upon us, and I expect his answer would have been far more thoughtful and satisfying had he had the liberty to remain longer to discuss it.  But it did make me think about how the best intentions can lead some people into bad theology.

posted by Daniel @ 12:38 PM  
  • At 1:54 PM, July 17, 2016, Blogger Unknown said…

    I used to believe that one could lose his salvation - in fact, I used to believe that if one sinned, he would fall from justification until he repented of that sin. Having said that, allow me to offer some insight.
    I have found, that, among people who believe thus, the notion of eternal security is equated with antinomianism. The first thing that pops into their head when eternal security is mentioned is something like "You mean you can sin all you want and stay saved?".
    Of course, in their view, there is nothing more antithetical to living a holy life than eternal security. If you do not have damnation to fear for sinning, why bother not sinning?
    I feel as if this misses the point. We are not saved just to avoid damnation, and we do not mortify sin just to avoid damnation. If damnation is your only motivation for not sinning, I would advise you to do some self-examination. We pursue sanctification because we love Christ and wish to be more like him - not because of a self-centered "I'd-better-do-this-or-else" mentality.
    Also - if just one sin is enough for God to un-justify us, cast us from His hand, withdraw His Spirit from us, and blot our name from the Book of life ... what kind of a heavenly Father is that? Would a loving earthly father kick a child from his family every time he did something wrong and only take his child back after he proved that he was sorry enough? Of course not. Neither would our Heavenly Father.
    That is not to say we should not take sin seriously - if one is viewing grace is a license to sin (contrary to Romans 6), he would do well to examine himself and see if he is indeed in the faith.
    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I really enjoy reading this blog - keep it up!

  • At 8:56 AM, July 18, 2016, Blogger Daniel said…

    Ezekiel, thank you for taking the time to give a thoughtful comment on the matter at hand.

    It's good to point out that the love that causes us to obey God isn't generated by ourselves, but by Christ who is in us. We experience His love for God as if it were our own - which (because we our forever joined to the life of Christ through our baptism into Christ - that Spiritual union described in Romans 6) truly can be said to be our own - but being entirely alien to those continuing sinful desires that mark our (as yet unredeemed) human nature.

    We are able to love him, because He acted in love when He joined His life to ours. Truly we love him, and are able to, because He first loved us.

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