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Thursday, August 21, 2008

“Eternal Security” part 2 (intermingled with Roman Catholicism part 2)

The reason I entitled this post thusly is because I was dialoguing with a Roman Catholic following my first post on Roman Catholicism, and he mentioned a text that I cover in this post. I hope that he reads this; and I hope to have some good interaction on this; and I hope this is helpful and edifying to those who can be delighted by it. And so I continue…

Some point out the warning passages as evidence that someone can actually walk away from the faith and ultimately end up in hell, but this is simply not so. An examination of the contexts of these passages will once again vindicate my claim. The only thing that you can gather from the warning passages is that if someone walks away from the faith then they were never actually saved to begin with.

Take I John 2:19: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us."

The warning passages were written to those whom the authors were actually quite hopeful about. They were warning their recipients, but they were sure that those reading were not of the sort who would "fall away." The writer to the Hebrews made sure to mention the fact that he didn't expect his readers to "fall away." He said, "Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things--things that belong to salvation. (Heb. 6:9)" So, the writer apparently didn't believe that "falling away" was something that "belonged to salvation." In other words, if you had true salvation that was brought about by God, you wouldn't "fall away."

Another passage that is frequently twisted by Roman Catholics is Philippians chapter 2, verse 12:

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," (Php 2:12 ESV)

A Roman Catholic will attempt to utilize this verse in teaching to have a fear of losing your salvation, but by simply reading and contemplating the very next verse, this erroneous perspective falls apart:

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Php 2:13 ESV)

I actually commented on this passage once before elsewhere, so I'll just post it here instead of writing it all over again:

"Paul tells believers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Why? According to the RC understanding, it is because we need to be worried about maintaining our standing in God's favor. This seems like a feasible understanding of the text, too. Never mind if Paul informs believers in verses such as Romans 5:1 or Philippians 1:6 that we are at peace with God and that He will bring us through this life in a good standing with Him. That is, it seems feasible unless Paul indicates another meaning behind it.
So what does Paul say within the context of Philippians 2:12? Well, how bout we read it with the next verse?

Php 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (13) for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

So, it seems as if Paul is telling believers to "work out [their] salvation" in this way "FOR (or because, or for this reason) it is GOD" doing these things in them-- not themselves. God forbid we should get the false assumption that we have anything to do with our salvation. GOD has done, is doing, and WILL DO all of it. We are simply recipients of His grace who have the privilege of being used by Him to bring Himself glory and praise. How sweet the sound of that grace!"

And here's something for further reflection: Paul points out the fact that God gives the will AND the work in verse 13. First of all, what do you think this means? It seems to me that Paul is saying that God is actually performing the works through us that bring Him pleasure. In other words, believers are instruments in God's hands that are used to accomplish the things that He likes to see. I realize that others have a slightly different understanding of this, but I think that this is the most legitimate reading. The main point, though, is that if God is the one performing the actual works that believers do, how can we fall short of the promised reward? This is the point of Paul's warning; if we don't have the desire or the works, we should be very afraid to the point of following the exhortation in II Corinthians 13:5--Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

Each of us should reflect upon both of these passages and respond to the Spirit's leading, whether that means falling on our faces before God in humble repentance or singing to God the praise in our hearts for the great work of salvation He has, is and will perform in us. He is worthy of all our praise!


Xarisumin said...

Check out this book. It may help.

Michael.Gabriel said...

Thanks for the link...but what say YE?

xarisumin said...

I'm still struggling over the idea of salvation by works verses salvation in accordance with works. I'm not sure that I see a difference between them. Are works necessary? As a means - no. As a by-product? Perhaps.

Here is the difficult question - how do you quantify works? How soon after conversion are they to come? How fast should growth be? What do you expect from the new believer?

Michael.Gabriel said...

I guess that depends on whether you you would qualify works as a change in behavior/desires/attitudes. If yes, then I would expect that right away. If you mean more substantial things like love for others and performing things that the Bible would qualify as "good works" then I would say maybe yes maybe not right away. Probably yes, though, I would consider someonw who is not being discipled or saturated by the word to be a little slower to get off and running.

I'll think about this and try to add to it later. Thanks for the contribution, Xaris.

SBC said...


These are questions we can't answer. We know that someone is converted by the granting of a new heart...and trees always bear their fruit...

But this is abstract. What does it look like? We can't answer for sure.

This is one of those things that is best answered in the extreme negative.
IOW, there may be times when we can say, "That person is NOT converted."

Does that mean that we can ALWAYS tell if someone is unregenerate? No. Does that mean that we can always tell if someone IS converted? No.

But there are extreme cases that make it obvious.

For instance, if someone has lived in unrepentant adultery for 20 years, and never shown a pang of conscience, and tells me he's saved, I'll say,
No you're not.

If he then says, "Well, if I messed up just once, would you say as dogmatically that I'm not saved? Where do you draw the line? How do you know how long a true Christian could be in sin?"

I'll say,
"I don't know how long a true Christian could be in sin, but it's less than 20 years!"

xarisumin said...


Think about your pastoral ministry. One of the deacons in our church has been reading alot of puritanism (especially the books on conversion) and has been speaking to church members (i.e. baptized and given testimony of salvation) about their need for conversion. I took him aside and explained to him the danger of what he was doing. He can tell the people to examine themselves - but he cannot tell them that they need to be converted. Otherwise, if he thinks they need to be converted, he needs to enact church discipline to remove the non-converted member.

Michael.Gabriel said...

So, are we all agreed on that one? I hope so. That deacon is bordering on arrogance. I guess he is getting pretty zealous (as I have been plenty of times), but he is certainly not acting wisely. I hope that he is not so short-sighted as to ignore your counsel, Xaris.

I can contribute something to this convo from my limited experience of confronting others on this very topic...

I am a product of the easy-believism gospel. I went through most of my life thinking I was saved while living one of the most despicable lifestyle that can be conceived. When I came to true faith, however, I was extremely zealous to inform everyone that I was suspicious of having fallen into this horrificly perilous condition. I have spoken to my brother, my mom and a friend at church. There are clear indications of their non-conversion, and I think that the most loving thing to do is to confront them about this. I find it very saddening that I'm merely one of innumerable others that I'm certain have been duped in this way.

One example of a confrontation that I had is with the friend I mentioned while working with my brother at a body shop. This guy came to visit and was talking with one of the other workers in the shop. They were going back and forth in casual conversation while smoking cigarettes and cussin up a storm. I was also aware of the fact that this guy has been out partying regularly and sleeping with different girls while his wife is back home with the kids. Of course, this is an extreme case; but upon my asking him when he was gonna get saved he shot me a glare that convinced me that he would've liked to sock me.

I hope we can all agree that this guy needed confronted, but do you think that my approach was out of line? I know him quite well, and when he told me that he was saved I pointed out the obvious reasons for my question. The sad thing is that I really believe that he thought he was saved, though I don't think he had any clue what it really meant to be saved.

In most cases, that guy would have need of being under church discipline. I am not there, however, to follow up with him; and sadly no one else seems to want to confront him about it. They think that he's doing better or something. I hope this is true. I doubt it, but I haven't talked to the right people lately.

In any case, I probably wouldn't handle most situations like this. Most situations aren't this extreme. I would, however, (Lord willing) confront the situation. I think anything less would be hateful.

By the way, are things that bad at your church, Xaris, that the deacon needs to be confronting that many people? Or is he just over analyzing these things?

Dramatized Exegesis