by Dale Brown
by Dale Brown
Most Bible scholars will agree that there is little doubt what the Bible actually says. What it means however opens many doors for debate. Each side interprets the text, to some degree, on various rules of interpretation, life experience, personal and denominational prejudice. We tend to ignore all that does not fall into our previous conceptions. There are some principles however that are so clearly defined that only the most defiant can reject. The nature of sin, as Isaiah the prophet pointed out, clearly separates man from God. "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear"(Isa. 59:2). King David who had watched God remove the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s power from King Saul’s life wrote "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me"(Psm. 51:10&11). Some "New Testament" folks suggest that the New Testament God has a different nature, yet, the Bible clearly tells us that God does not change.
When a man who had been a ghost writer for Jerry Falwell came out of the closet as a homosexual one is quickly challenged with a number of questions. Is he saved? Was he ever saved? It is unlikely that Falwell would have allowed someone to be placed in such a position if that person had not displayed the fruit of being a Christian and had passed the doctrinal requirements for ministry. "We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him (1 Jn. 5:18). "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the Devil are obvious"(1 Jn. 3:9&10). Apparently it was not so obvious to Falwell for some time. Without the balance of other verses the apostles words leave us in a precarious situation. It is for this reason John wrote earlier in the epistle the need to confess ones sins when and if they do happen. The context and spirit of John’s epistle suggests that it is those who continue to practice sin who are those that are "obvious."
Jesus gave us some words of comfort when He said, "My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow Me; I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand"(Jn. 10:27&28). Paul however wrote that, "the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons"(1 Tim. 4:1). It seems rather odd that someone could fall away from something they were never in to start with.
The BIG BOOK and God’s Eraser
The Old Testament writers held a view of God’s salvation as something not to be taken for granted. God spoke to Moses that "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book"(Ex. 32:33). In one imprecatory Psalm David wrote regarding his enemies, "May they be blotted out of the book of life, and may they not be recorded with the righteous"(Psm. 69:28). Reading these from an old covenant perspective are one thing, but when similar verses appear in the New Testament we often scramble to give them a softer interpretation as though we are dealing with a different God.
The Book of Life is a common reference in biblical literature to a record of the righteous in the heavenly kingdom. Jesus told his disciples to rejoice that their names were recorded in heaven. Those not found in the book of life are to be thrown into the lake of fire. The apostle John picks up the Old Testament illustration of this book in his letter to Sardis. "He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels"(Rev. 3:5). This makes for a very uncomfortable picture in light of Jesus words when He said, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out"(Jn. 6:37). How can one get into the "book of life of the Lamb who was slain" without first coming to Jesus? The reference to what John called a "sin leading to death" which got the person removed from the book seems to imply the "eraser." "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this"(1 Jn. 5:16) The implication is most likely spiritual death rather than physical death, however there are those who would argue otherwise, based on the death of Ananias and Sapphira who were struck dead for lying to God. If this were the case however we would probably all be dead.
Of those at Sardis He said they had a name that they were alive, (they were Christians) but they were dead. That is simple enough. Then He said, "Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God." This assumes they were alive like a green tree, but with no fruit.
A so-called brother in the church of Corinth who was having an affair with "his father’s wife," Paul, through the power of the Spirit, decided to deliver "to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus"(1 Cor. 5:1-5). This seems a rather strange way to get someone saved. If the man was not a Christian he was already under the power of Satan and dead in his sins. What good would it do to turn him over to Satan?
THE POWER OF "IF"
In the epistle to the Hebrews we "brethren" are confronted with the question of falling away. "Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end." The writer then goes further, "Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end"(Heb. 3:6,12-14). The danger, as it was under Moses, is sin. The writer goes on to illustrate with the history of Moses in the wilderness that there were those who started out in faith but when trials came they quickly doubted and rebelled. Jude uses a similar illustration. "Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe." These were people who believed for a time, at least long enough to get out of Egypt. They had applied the blood of the Passover Lamb to their door post and they had crossed the Red Sea (a type of baptism) in faith. Paul expressed his concerns over those at Thessalonica when he wrote, "For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain." There is no doubt that Christ’s work is sufficient. It is our application by faith that is in question. Is it not possible to start out in faith and change our mind along the way?
We often hear sermons with regards to salvation which state that Jesus stands at the door of our heart knocking. The point is well taken. However, the passage out of the letter to Laodicea in the Book of the Revelation where this illustration is taken was written to church folks. Rather strange that Jesus is standing on the outside of the door of those who are supposedly already saved. The admonition to those in that church who are lukewarm is that they are about to be puked out of His mouth.
Some are quick to quote, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you" as a proof text for eternal security, failing to acknowledge that the context of the verse has to do with concern for God’s provision, not salvation. The verse starts with "Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have"(Heb. 13:5). An equally dishonest application is to quote "Hence, also He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them"(Heb. 7:25). The previous verse makes the case for the context, which is that Jesus lives forever as a perpetual priest on our behalf. His intercession is for those who "come to him" and continue in faith. As Paul wrote to the Colossians, "if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard"(Col. 1:23). It is continuing faith that is in question not Christ’s perpetual ability to save.
Paul writes to remind Timothy of some encouraging prophetic words spoken to him, "that by them you may fight the good faith, keeping the faith and a good conscience" but then points out that some among their number, namely Hymenaeus and Alexander, "have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith." Paul’s classic solution is to "deliver them over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme."
The reward is to those "who overcome." Overcoming is not by works of righteousness, but by the application of faith in submitting to the authority and grace of Christ whose work is indeed finished.