Friday, February 18, 2011

Assurance or Arrogance?

We received the following email from Mary:

"I was listening to the show today, and want to ask about an answer to a question. If a believer sins, and dies in his sin, how could Heaven be their reward? Why then, are there so many warnings in the Bible, written to believers, about not sinning? Don't do it, don't do it! If you think you're standing firm, be careful. You will fall. So it is possible for a believer to sin. And the wages of sin is....?

"Until Jesus comes for us, we are still in this body of flesh. I can't find it at the moment, but I know there is a scripture that talks about how a person who has known and tasted the grace of God, lived in the Spirit, and then walked away, how it is impossible for them to be saved again. How it would have been better for them to have never known the truth. Also a scripture about being blotted out of the book of life. I think to believe 'once saved, always saved' would be a sort of arrogance. I've never understood that... I never want to take God's grace for granted.

"Love your show, love your sense of humor. :)

"Oh, one other question. When you go to Israel, are you going to open air preach there? (just askin'...)"

Great questions, Mary. I would like to first answer your last question. Because of the laws in Israel and the current very high tension and political unrest throughout the Middle East, we will have to be very strategic in all of our evangelism efforts, not just open-air. We're still working out the plan for communicating the gospel during the trip. So, your prayers are appreciated.

Now to your other questions. Let's take them one at a time.

You wrote: "If a believer sins, and dies in his sin, how could Heaven be their reward?"

Believers do sin. James, writing to the Jewish believers dispersed abroad because of the relentless persecution of the Roman government, wrote: "For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body" (James 3:2). The Greek word translated "stumble" can also be translated "err," "sin," and "transgress." James is clearly referring to sin, here, and not a literal, physical stumbling or falling.

When James writes that the person who does not stumble is "a perfect man," he is speaking hypothetically. He is not say that there are such people (aside from Jesus Christ). He is merely suggesting that if there could be found a person who never sins with their mouth, they would be a perfect person.

And if anyone, believer or unbeliever, asserts that they are without sin, then they are a liar. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us . . . If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8, 10).

There are many other verses throughout the New Testament that make it clear that Christians do sin.

That being said, while it is true that Christians sin, that does not mean the Christian "dies in his [or her] sin," as some use the phrase.
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:1-7).
The unbeliever is spiritually dead--spiritually dead because of their sins against God. Therefore, when they die a physical death and they stand before God to give an account for their lives (Revelation 20:11-15), God will see them as they are--clothed only in the filthy garments of their sin. They die both physically and spiritually in their sin and pay the eternal, just consequences for their sin--eternity in Hell.

The born-again follower of Christ, on the other hand, dies a physical death, but not a spiritual death. Paul, in the above passage, explains the reason for the hope that every Christian has--the hope of not dying in sin and facing God's wrathful punishment, but rather the hope of an eternal, heavenly reward. Paul wrote: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 2:4-6; emphasis added). It is God's grace, made manifest through the gifts of repentance and faith He gives to the Christian, and not our ability to repent of every known and forgotten sin, that saves the Christian.

The Christian can face physical death without fear. The Christian can face death without worrying about any sin in their lives, past or present, which they have not yet confessed or for which they have not yet repented. The Christian's heavenly hope, their assurance of salvation, is not based on any acts or works they perform, including the acts of confession and repentance. The Christian's heavenly hope--the hope of "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading" (1 Peter 1:4)--is placed squarely upon the finished work of Christ on the cross, and God's all-powerful, sovereign ability to guard and keep the Christian's salvation (1 Peter 1:5), which has been purchased and secured by Christ's sacrificial death on the cross (Romans 3:21-26).

Mary, you then ask: "Why then, are there so many warnings in the Bible, written to believers, about not sinning? 'Don't do it, don't do it! If you think you're standing firm, be careful. You will fall.' So it is possible for a believer to sin. And the wages of sin is....?"
"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:13-16).
While the penalty for the sins of the Christian has been completed paid for by the propitiation of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-26), that in no way gives the Christian a license to sin. And anyone who professes to be a Christian and thinks otherwise is likely a false convert--one who wantonly tramples underfoot the blood of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross (Hebrews 10:26-31). As the above passage makes clear, God has set apart His people and, therefore, commands them to live holy lives, pleasing to the Lord.

God's mandate for the Christian to live a holy life, pleasing to the Lord, is not a prescription for salvation, but rather a description of a saved life--a life that has been changed by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. A Christian will want to live a holy life, not in order to earn salvation, but because he or she is so grateful for the gift of salvation given to them by God.

For Christians, the many warnings in the Bible to believers to which you refer, Mary, should not be seen as the angry pronouncements of Judge communicating to criminals, but the loving counsel of a loving Father given to His beloved children.

Yes, for the unsaved, the "wages of sin is death" (Romans 3:23). But for the saved, "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 3:23).

Mary, you wrote: "Until Jesus comes for us, we are still in this body of flesh. I can't find it at the moment, but I know there is a scripture that talks about how a person who has known and tasted the grace of God, lived in the Spirit, and then walked away, how it is impossible for them to be saved again. How it would have been better for them to have never known the truth."

This is the passage of Scripture to which you are referring:
"For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned" (Hebrews 6:4-8).
The people to whom the writer of Hebrews is referring are unbelievers who may have made a profession of faith in Christ, but were not saved. They had been exposed to the truths of God's Word regarding the gospel and salvation, but made little more than an intellectual assent to the truths they heard. When the writer of Hebrews says that these folks "...tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit..." he is referring to unbelievers who partook in fellowship and corporate worship with real Christians. They tasted and shared in what true Christians experienced, but never themselves truly experienced the blessings of God. Theirs may have been an emotional experience as they were in close proximity to Christians worshiping God, but not a relational one as experienced by those who have been saved by God.

So, again, the people to whom the writer refers in the above passage are not born-again Christians who have lost their salvation, but false converts who never truly received salvation. And, sadly, as is so often the case, false converts who turn away from Christ thinking they had "given Jesus a try," only to become disappointed and disgruntle with harder hearts toward the things of God, rarely come to genuine repentance and faith.

Mary, you also wrote: "Also a scripture about being blotted out of the book of life."

The other verse you referenced is either Exodus 32:33 ("But the Lord said to Moses, 'Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.") or Psalm 69:28 where David prays to God about his enemies ("Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous").

I will defer to the wisdom and discernment of Charles Spurgeon regarding his interpretation of Psalm 69:28.
"Though in their conceit they wrote themselves among the people of God, and induced others to regard them under that character, they shall be unmasked and their names removed from the register. Enrolled with honour, they shall be erased with shame. Death shall obliterate all recollection of them; they shall be held no longer in esteem, even by those who paid them homage. Judas first, and Pilate, and Herod, and Caiaphas, all in due time, were speedily wiped out of existence; their names only remain as by-words, but among the honoured men who live after their departure they are not recorded. 'And not be written with the righteous.' This clause is parallel with the former, and shows that the inner meaning of being blotted out from the book of life is to have it made evident that the name was never written there at all. Man in his imperfect copy of God's book of life will have to make many emendations, both of insertion and erasure; but, as before the Lord, the record is for ever fixed and unalterable. Beware, O man, of despising Christ and his people, lest thy soul should never partake in the righteousness of God, without which men are condemned already" (Spurgeon, Charles. "The Treasury of David," Volume 1; Book 3, p. 184).
Lastly, Mary, you wrote: "I think to believe 'once saved, always saved' would be a sort of arrogance. I've never understood that... I never want to take God's grace for granted."
I appreciate that you do not want to take God's grace for granted. No one should. And anyone who does should examine themselves to see if they are even in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). But it is not arrogant for the Christian to have assurance of his or her salvation--so long as that assurance is built solely upon the grace of God and the finished work of Jesus Christ, on the cross. If any person, whether or not they profess faith in Jesus Christ, places any assurance upon their own goodness, merit, or some perceived innate ability to please God, then the only assurance they should have is that they are lost and bound for Hell.

But again, the Christian's hope of salvation, the Christian's assurance is built upon the Rock of our salvation--Jesus Christ.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
The apostle Paul placed his assurance nowhere else but upon Christ alone.
"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
And let us not forget the assuring words of Jesus.
"So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.' Jesus answered them, 'I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand" (John 10:24-29).
Mary, I hope I've answered your questions. And thank you for watching "On the Box."