Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category
On a follow-up post from the previous post, I wanted to address the issue of false conversions. I first heard of this term when I first became familiar with Ray Comfort. Comfort preached hard about false converts and how so many people in the visible church were not truly saved. He said that false conversions are the result of a faulty gospel message. I looked around and I agreed. So many people in the Church seemed to have been through a ritual whether prayer or baptism or church membership but their lives were marked with sin and lack of faith in God. They showed no zeal for the Lord, no passion for God, no hunger in prayer or for God’s Word, and lived in rebellion against God. They said they loved Jesus but they showed through their lives that they really hated God (Titus 1:16).
I do believe there are many in the Church, whether Arminians or Calvinists, who do not know Christ as Lord. They believe they are saved. They would confess that they are saved but their lives show that they are lost (1 John 2:3-6). Their life of sin shows that they are still in rebellion against God (1 John 3:6-9).
The key difference I would have with Ray Comfort would be over apostasy. Brother Ray would say that a true child of God is saved forever and if a person falls away from the faith, they were never saved to begin with. His teaching is that true children of God will persevere in the faith. Those who do not prove they were not regenerated by the Spirit (1 John 2:19). He would point to people such as Judas as proof or the false disciples of John 6:60-71. Another example could be Simon in Acts 8:18-24.
The Arminian reply is that while there are false converts, this does not negate the fact that there are warning passages given to believers. The entire book of Hebrews would be a case in point. Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:6-19; 4:1-20; 5:8-9; 6:4-20; 10:19-39; 11:13-16; 12:1-29 – all these warn believers. One must stretch to prove that the writer is not writing to believers in Christ. Of course there are many more than the book of Hebrews but my point is that we must do something with the warning passages. I believe they are there to warn us of a real possibility of personal apostasy so that we might avoid this (1 Corinthians 10:1-12). 1 John 2:24-25 (NKJV) says:
24 Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.
Eternal life is found in Christ Jesus. None dispute this point. I would argue that the gift of eternal life is given to us in Christ Jesus and only in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23). To be outside of Christ is to be lost (John 15:1-11). Jesus is our salvation from beginning to end (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Our salvation and our security are found in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).
So the final verdict would be that yes there are certainly those among us Arminians who are not saved. I don’t doubt that. This is true of all Christendom. Yet I would also preach that true Christians must be on guard and must remain focused on Christ alone for our salvation. I would preach that our eyes must remain fixed on Christ alone to save us (Hebrews 12:1-2) and not our good works nor our own wisdom. Christ is our life (Colossians 3:1-4). Remain in Jesus by faith (1 Peter 1:5) and make your calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11). Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The issue of assurance has never been a major issue among any of the Arminians that I associate with nor with any of the Arminian churches that I have attended on a regular basis (and Arminian churches are all I have been to on a regular basis since the Lord saved me in 1992). I have heard a few teachings on it but very few Arminians that I know struggle with the assurance of our salvation.
And why is that? In fact, in the history of Calvinism there has even been an assurance controversy. Hyper-Calvinists have often said that one cannot know that one has assurance of their salvation. None can actually know they are the elect until the day of judgment. One can seek to have assurance and one should look for evidence of assurance but it is possible for a person to live their entire life believing they are the elect of God but then die and be cast aside because they were in fact non-elect (Matthew 7:21-23).
Arminianism has always placed great emphasis on the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our salvation and Arminianism has always stressed that the work of Christ alone accomplishes our salvation. Further, we maintain that a person is justified through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9) and that our salvation is found only in Jesus (John 14:6; 15:1-11). To be outside of Christ is to be lost. There is only one way to eternal life and that is in Jesus Christ, through loving Him and blessing Him and being faithful to Him (Colossians 1:21-23). The Arminian then takes the Word of God about salvation (that Jesus shed His blood for all) and applies that to all who place their total faith in Him (1 Timothy 4:10). Those who reject His blood are lost and condemned for their own sins (John 3:14-18). The believers hope lies not in their election but in the elected one, the Lord Jesus Christ who gave His life so that we might have life in Him. We recognize that eternal life is found only in Jesus and this life begins the moment of salvation and continues only in Christ (John 8:51).
This is why Arminians don’t struggle with our assurance. We know we are the elect of God through faith in Christ. We know that Jesus shed His blood for us. We don’t doubt for one minute that Jesus didn’t die for us (1 John 2:2). We trust the Word of God that says that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13). That would be me. I am saved not by my works but through the grace of God given to me in Christ Jesus. I have done the work of God for salvation (John 6:29; Romans 4:5). My hope, my assurance, my reward is Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)! I realize that apart from Him, I am lost (Romans 6:23). I know that I cannot overcome sin by my power but only in Christ Jesus (Galatians 5:16-17). I recognize that if I sow to my flesh, I will reap destruction (Galatians 6:7-9). My entire life is focused on the Lord Jesus alone. He only is my defense (1 John 2:1).
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Notice that he says in verse 11 that such were some of you. The Corinthians once were these people. They once were living in sin but now through Christ Jesus, they had been saved (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) and the Lord was in the process of making them holy (Hebrews 10:14). If you read 1 Corinthians, this was by far a perfect church. They still had their struggles including one man have an adulterous relationship with his step-mother (1 Corinthians 5). The Corinthians were a divided church (1 Corinthians 1:11-13). The Corinthians were a church that even had drunkenness at their love feasts (1 Corinthians 11:21). This was by far a perfect church (1 Corinthians 3:1-3) and yet Paul called them saints in 1 Corinthians 1:2. They were being made holy.
Sanctification is not always an instant process. My father was a smoker before he was saved in 1952. He instantly stopped smoking. He stopped cursing. He became what 2 Corinthians 5:17 describes. Yet my father was far from perfect and I saw his imperfections up close as a boy and now as an adult. I praise God that my daddy is saved but he is not perfect. None of us are. Our aim, however, must be to become more like Christ. We should not become stagnate in our passion to be holy. My desire is to be just like Jesus (1 John 2:6). I want to be able to say, like Paul, imitate me as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
For others, sanctification is a hard road. Some struggle with smoking or drinking before salvation and after salvation are still (and sometimes more so) tempted to go back to those ways. Some just give in and claim this is how they are. Some fight with their own will power but they lose the battle. It is this way with many men I know over sexual sins. Before salvation, they gave into their sinful desires to please their sexual desires but after salvation, they now hate sin but still face daily temptation to sin.
Here is the key: temptation is not a sin. We must see this. If you struggle with sexual sins, drugs, lying, gossip, idolatry, etc., the temptation to do these things is not a sin. We all face temptations. 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises us:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Call me naive but I believe this verse. I believe that every sin can be avoided if we look to the promise here. God is faithful, He is able to deliver us. Ponder this for a moment: the last time you sinned, who made you sin? You did! We choose to sin. We choose to give in to our flesh. We are faced with temptation and we give in. God doesn’t make us and in fact, He often is convicting our conscience to not sin, to run from the sin (1 Corinthians 6:18). The Holy Spirit comes and He convicts us of sin (John 16:8) yet at times, we all have rebelled against His warning and sinned. What do we feel after sinning? Shame. Remorse. Failure. Weeping. Just like King David in Psalm 51, we hate our sins and we confess them to God. Amazingly, God is merciful and kind toward us and He does not send us to hell as we deserve the moment we rebel but instead He lovingly convicts and restores just as He did with David through Nathan the prophet (see 2 Samuel 12:1-14).
The pursuit of holiness is not always an easy road. I have been a disciple of Jesus for over 20 years. I still face temptation sometimes on a daily basis. Temptation is not sinful but when I give in to that sin, that is sinful. The hope for us all is that Jesus Christ is our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). Our salvation is focused entirely upon Him and He is more than able to deliver us from sin. 1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Notice what the command is here to being cleansed from sin: to walk in the light. We walk in the light by walking according to the teachings of Jesus, by focusing entirely upon what Jesus has done for our salvation. This is our hope for redemption both initially when we repent and all through our life as His disciple.
In closing, I don’t begin to try to say that I am a perfect man. Far from it. I am a fallen man like all of you are fallen humans as well. My wife can surely testify to my sins. Yet I pray that we all see that God can help us overcome. This is the miracle of salvation, that God actually does save us from sin and its power (Romans 6:1-12). Galatians 5:16-17 describes our battle with our flesh in terms of a war. This is just what it is. We are at war with Satan and with our flesh but we have a mighty God on our side (Romans 8:31). We can overcome! The grace of God is our strength (Titus 2:11-12 NIV). I pray that today this post will not condemn you in your sins but you’ll see that there is hope in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1-4). Jesus can deliver us from sin and He can help us to be the holy people of God that God calls for us to be (1 Peter 1:15-16). I pray that you’ll look evermore to Him for strength (2 Peter 3:17-18).
In the old days of the International Churches of Christ, the ICOC taught that one had to be a disciple, to have the heart of a disciple before being baptized. I use to say that they wanted to clean the fish before catching them. What they taught was that one had to have a heart of a disciple as Jesus taught about discipleship in places such as Luke 14:25-35 or in Matthew 10. They pointed to John 4:1-2, that Jesus Himself baptized disciples. They pointed to Matthew 28:19-20 and said that we had to go and make disciples first before baptizing them.
In this way the ICOC separated itself from even the traditional (0r mainline in ICOC teaching) Church of Christ teaching on baptism. The traditional view held by most Restoration movement teachers was that one had to be baptized to be saved or to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The Restoration movement taught that water baptism was essential to salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 10:48) and that one is baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27). However, the Restoration movement had always taught that one is not saved until baptized and then you become a disciple of Jesus. The ICOC said no to this and taught that one was a disciple first before baptism and then after demonstrating a heart of a disciple, they were baptized into Christ and become a Christian (Acts 11:26). In this way, the ICOC would tell even those in other Restoration movement churches that they were lost since they had not been baptized as a disciple of Jesus.
Now let’s discuss for a minute what the old ICOC meant by a disciple of Jesus. First, a disciple was defined by Kip McKean as “one who has a heart to do anything and go anywhere for Jesus without question.” In the ICC (International Christian Churches) a disciple is one who meets the standard of the ICC. Those standards would be:
- Attend every event at their local ICC or as much as possible.
- Be involved in a Bible talk (an evangelistic Bible study designed to evangelize non-members).
- Have a quiet time of prayer and Bible study each day.
- Be active in inviting others to a Bible talk or to a church service.
- Be submissive to a Christian (already baptized member of the ICC).
- Confession of sins to your discipler.
All of this would be required to be a true disciple of Jesus. You’ll notice that little is actually said about Jesus here. It is all focused on works that the person does. Little is said here about grace. In fact, in the entire First Principles series, grace is mentioned only a few times and a couple of those in a negative light. Little is said about the cross, about the saving work of Jesus, about the glorious truth of Jesus being our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
So to be a disciple of Jesus in the ICC (and the old ICOC) was based completely upon the teachings of the ICC and not the Bible. Yes the Bible is sometimes referenced but sound exegesis of relevant passages are not given. The focus is not upon the work of Christ and the cross but instead the focus is on your works, your obedience, your sacrifices. Where is the grace of God? Where is the emphasis on justification by faith? Where is the teaching that we are saved by God’s grace through faith and not by works? Where is the emphasis on sound exegesis on the doctrine of salvation?
The refutation of ICC position on discipleship is very easy to do. First, the Bible never teaches that we are to have one-over-one relationships. 2 Timothy 2:2 is the closest passage on this subject and was often used by the ICOC to justify this concept. Yet the text doesn’t say that we are to teach this one-over-one but rather people to people. Notice the plural forms in 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV):
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
Where is one-over-one in this text?
Secondly, where in the New Testament do we have even one example of Jesus or the Apostles telling someone that they had to be a disciple first before becoming a Christian? The term disciple is used in the four Gospels and Acts but in the epistles we find the Apostles used the word “slave” or “saints” to describe the believers. The Bible uses many other terms for disciples in the New Testament such as: saints, slaves, brothers, believers. We also know that there are also false disciples in John 6:60-71 including Judas Iscariot. Simply because someone claims to be a disciple of Jesus does not make them a disciple of Jesus. God knows their hearts.
Thirdly, if a disciple is a Christian (Acts 11:26) then we should baptize Christians according to Matthew 28:19. From there we are to teach in Matthew 28:20 to obey all that Jesus taught us through the Apostles. The Apostles obeyed this in Acts 2:42.
Fourth, where do we find the Apostles instructing anyone in the book of Acts or even in the Epistles to do what the ICC says about discipleship? Where do we find that the Apostles required people to have the heart of a disciple before baptism? The only thing I see on this issue is that the Apostles required faith in Jesus and repentance in order to be baptized (Acts 2:37-38, 41; 3:19; 4:12; 8:12, 36-38; 9:17-18; 10:44-48; 11:15; 16:14-15, 30-34; 18:8; 19:1-7; 22:16; 26:20). They never said anything about being sanctified in order to be justified. Justification, according to Romans 5:1, is by faith.
Lastly, Romans 8:8 says:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
How can someone in the flesh begin to please God? How can someone without the Spirit honor the Lord as His disciple through faithfulness in prayer, evangelism, etc.? The Spirit of God comes when one repents of their sins by the grace of God through the work of the Spirit. Notice in Galatians 3:1-5 how we receive the Holy Spirit:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.
Notice that we receive the Spirit by the hearing of faith and not by what we do. We cannot earn the forgiveness of God. We cannot earn the righteousness of God (Titus 3:5-7). In fact, Isaiah 64:6 says:
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Our sinfulness taints our good works (Romans 3:10-18). Our sinfulness keeps us from pleasing God. We are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) apart from the work of the Spirit of God to open our eyes and to bring us to salvation (1 Peter 1:3). We cannot, in our flesh, ever earn the perfect righteousness of God (Romans 3:23). We cannot be saved by our own good works or obedience to the law (James 2:10). We are only justified before God when we trust totally in the completed work of Christ alone to save us (Acts 13:38-39). Our salvation is based on Jesus Christ and Him alone and not our church membership, our works, our prayer lives, our evangelism, our obedience to the law, etc. Nothing saves us but Christ alone (Philippians 3:8-12).
I picked up an old book that I have on baptism written by a guy from the old International Churches of Christ (ICOC) back in when the ICOC really was cultic. This book focuses on water baptism and makes the case that if one is not baptized in water by immersion with the heart of a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:25-35) then they are not saved. He builds his case from Matthew 28:19 and a host of other baptism passages mainly from the book of Acts to reach his final conclusion that baptism in water by immersion is essential to salvation.
Now anyone would know that this teaching comes from the Restoration movement and I have many friends within this movement. One of my favorite theologians is Dr. Jack Cottrell and he identifies with the restoration movement. I enjoy the teaching of Dr. Douglas Jacoby and he too is with the restoration movement along with other theologians such as F. Lagard Smith. The Restoration movement finds its roots in the life and teachings of three main men: Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. Sometimes the movement is called “the Stone-Campbell movement.” I have read many of the works of Alexander Campbell and he was a deep thinker and a debater. He once debated the famous 19th century infidel, Robert Owen. Campbell also took on others who were willing to debate him over many issues.
I think there is much good that came out of the Restoration movement. Their adoption of the creed “the Bible only” was a good step. They also sought to return to the form of the New Testament Church in both practice and theology. Yet I see in the restoration movement what I see in many other movements, an overreaction to the church around them. For instance, I agree with the Restoration movement that the evangelical church has made too little of baptism. Pardon the pun but the evangelical church has watered down the issue of baptism. On the one hand is the practice of infant baptism which I believe is not taught at all in the New Testament but then the evangelical church has placed so much emphasis on “faith alone” to save that we ignore the New Testament commands to obey Jesus. Jesus taught baptism for disciples (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16) so just obey Him and be baptized. The New Testament knows nothing of unbaptized disciples. All disciples of Jesus were to be baptized. How can we declare someone saved then who would not be willing to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38)?
Yet I think that too much stress can be given to baptism as well. Baptism, alone, does not save. Water does not save. Only Jesus saves. Even my restorationist brethren would (or should) applaud me there. We should make much about Jesus. We should tell people to be baptized but we should be careful to make much about Jesus and His work on the cross as the basis for our salvation and not water baptism or church membership or anything that we do. Even faith can be stressed too much when we are not saved by faith in faith but by faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus is our salvation. Who He is. What He has done. His intercession at the right hand of the Father on high (Hebrews 7:25). All of salvation is focused on Christ and His shed blood. We should sing, praise God, rejoice in, and celebrate our salvation in Jesus. We are not saved in our faith, in our works, in our obedience to God, etc. but we are saved in Christ Jesus alone. From beginning to end, Jesus is our Savior and He is the One that we look to always for our salvation (2 Peter 1:10-11). We persevere in faith in Him and this ensures our eternal salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23; Hebrews 6:4-20).
Baptism points to Jesus. Baptism doesn’t point to the power of the water. Baptism in water points directly to the work of Christ. Baptism confesses before all the people that we are disciples of Jesus Christ and our passion is to live for Him alone. The book of Acts records no debates over baptism. They just did it. They just obeyed Jesus. So should we. Rather than debating what baptism does, let us focus on preaching Christ and then baptizing people who repent of their sins (Acts 3:19). Baptism is truly the place of celebration as we praise God that a sinner is confessing Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10) but let the focus always be on Jesus above all else.
In closing, we tend to react to others teachings. When the evangelicals of Alexander Campbell’s day rejected their movement, the movement began to teach that their view of baptism alone was the only true teaching and many of them began to teach that unless you were baptized by a restorationist, you were not saved. This brought comfort to those in the movement and anger from those outside. It was a reactionary theology in my opinion. Much the same as the early Pentecostals and their emphasis on speaking in tongues as the initial, physical evidence of the baptism in the Spirit.
I pray that we are balanced in our teaching on baptism. Make much about baptism but make more about Jesus our Lord. We get so easily sidetracked with debates over end times, baptism, church government, etc. but we should make Jesus the focus first and from our love for Him and one another, debate these issues.
By the way, if disciple = Christian (Acts 11:26) then Jesus commanded Christians to be baptized in Matthew 28:19. Therefore, the teaching of the old ICOC that one had to be a disciple of Jesus before baptism and thus became a Christian is false. This teaching leads only to works-righteousness and brings guilt and shame. Christians are disciples but not all disciples are Christians (John 6:66-71; Acts 8:9-24).