Friday, February 22, 2013

Once saved?

Every once in awhile I'm asked what I think about the topic of "once saved, always saved."
If you've ever wondered about this, or have a loved one you are talking to about it, you may find this interesting.  

I've thought through this subject of "eternal security" several times and after searching through the Bible, I've found several passages that reveal people can lose their salvation through their own will:
II Pet 2:20-22 "20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

  • Notice, after escaping the world, Peter clearly says if people fall back into sin their last state is worse off.  Peter doesn't say "if it were possible" to fall away, he is indicating clearly the fate of those who do fall away.  He is not setting up a straw man.

Gal 5:2-5 "Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness."

  • Paul makes his point very clear: If you as a Christian depend on circumcision (that is the Old Testament law system of sacrifice and obeying the Law), for securing the forgiveness of sins, then you will fall from grace.  Look again at 5:4.

I Tim 1:18-20, "18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme."

  • Paul warns Timothy that people who don't hold to the faith, or faithful people who reject the truth, ruin their faith and end up separated.

Rom 11:20-24, "20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree."

  • Paul points out the Israelites who were the original recipients of God's covenant fell away because of their unbelief, namely this would be their rejection of Jesus as Savior.  Paul makes the point, if the original children of God were cast away, you who are not the original family of God can be cast away too.

I Cor 9:27, "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

  • Paul certainly felt he had to be consistent, lest he loose his salvation; Paul indicates he was open to the idea his faith could be jeopardized too.

Matt 6:15, "but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

  • Jesus clearly places conditional restrictions on our salvation here.  If you don't forgive others, God won't forgive you...


JN 15:1-6, "“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned."
  • Continued obedience and service is part of our obligation.  Jesus says an inactive faith is not possible...  If we decide to quit bearing fruit, we will be cut off.  
  • Notice, Grace is opposed to earning, not effort!  Compare to Eph 2:8-10.  Our good works can't save us, but we are created for good works!
Matt 10:32-33, "32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."

  • Who is Jesus warning here?  His followers.  He makes the point if we deny our allegiance to Him, perhaps to save our hide in times of persecution, He will deny us...

Luke 8:13, "And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away."  Mk 4:17 "And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away."

  • Jesus is clear in His parable on the four soils: those who received His word, believed, but then were pulled away, fell away from faith.  This is consistent with what Jesus says in the 2nd half of JN 8:31, "IF you abide/remain in My word, then you are truly My disciples."

The clearest of all Biblical passages on this topic, I think are in the book of Hebrews:
Heb 3:12, "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God."

  • If falling away isn't are real possibility, then the Hebrew author is deceiving us here!

Heb 6:4-6, "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."

  • The Hebrew author once again, would be deceiving us if falling away was impossible, look closely at 6:6 as he talks about believers falling away...

Heb 10:26-31 "26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

  • Here the Hebrew author warns that continual lifestyles of sin for Christians will be punished more severely than those who broke the Jewish laws...

We have the wonderful assurance that no one can ever snatch us from God, JN 10:28-29, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 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."  
And, if a Christian lapses in their faith, they can be restored, James 5:19-20, "19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."

But, that doesn't remove our free will to abandon Jesus, John 6:66, "After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ministry: It's not for everyone...?

                                 (Harding School of Biblical Studies, Class of '98)

I remember hearing chapel devos, when I was a preaching student, that seemed discouraging.
Sometimes, local ministers would speaker in chapel, and being well-intentioned I'm sure, several of them repeated a similar theme: If you can do anything else, do it.
In other words, if you can do anything else with you life other than preach, go now, run, don't wait, flee!

Well, there's some truth to the concept that ministry isn't for everyone enrolled in Bible college.
It's not for the weak of heart.
It's not for thin-skinned people.
It's not for people who can't deal with rejection.
It's not for conflict-avoidance type people.
It's not for people who aren't self-motivated.
The list goes on.

BTW: Each christian has a ministry to fulfill, and we are all a priesthood of believers.  But what I'm addressing here is the role of what we commonly call "full-time" ministry as in those who dedicate their career to serving with churches.

Today, for no reason, I tried to remember why I wanted to preach so bad.  After all, I grew up unchurched and within less than a year and a half of becoming a Christian, I was preaching regularly.  I wanted to recall my call to ministry, and after I thought it through, I felt like sharing these thoughts.  Not because today where I'm at I'm questioning my role in ministry or even remotely having problems with our current church, but I wanted to think "out loud" so I could capture it and share a few thoughts of encouragement with A: those thinking about full-time ministry or struggling with remaining in it and B: remind the Universal Body of a responsibility to those who dedicate their lives to ministry.
Stepping out in faith: I remember people in our home congregation nudging me out the door into smaller local congregations, to preach for churches who needed men to "fill" the pulpit.  Ted Mathews asked me to preach first.  He was the most powerful mentor I've ever had; his influence on me is still strong.  If he called today and said he needed my kidney or an eye, he wouldn't have to ask twice.

I remember Gary, who baptized me, and his influence on my life.  He was magnetic and charismatic, he mesmerized me with his sermons.  He made all kinds of time for me.  He helped me to study my Bible, and helped me to be a better family man.

And, the people we ministered to on the weekends were very receptive.  It's not that I was a well-polished communicator, it's more so that their love and patience with a young stumbling minister was undeniable.  Being a new christian, simply filling the pulpit, I stayed in a perpetual honeymoon phase with people, it was almost utopia...

All in all, my drive to be a preacher was in a vacuum though.
It was outside the real mechanics of church-life. I was sheltered from and unexposed to the real inner workings of the nature of church-dynamics.  When I hit a few bumps in the road and had run-ins with less than cooperative people, I was clueless.  I was, disenchanted.  Years ago, when I hit that wall where I thought, if there's anything else I can do, I want to do it NOW -- God brought us through that.  But I learned a lot along the way.  Some of the guys in the picture up top, my classmates, they hit that wall and chose different paths for different reasons.  I don't blame them nor am I critical.  It is, what it is.
We've all read at one time or another essays on how our churches are massively hemorrhaging -- major numbers of young people are leaving the fold.  We also have seen good articles about preachers leaving the ministry too.  As someone who has come from the "outside" and sees the inner workings of church life, I think I can see what's going on.  I think we haven't done the best job preparing our young people for the transition into adulthood, and, I think we've devalued the role of a lifelong pursuit of ministry.

Only one example of what I mean by how we've devalued the ministry: Just because you can swing a hammer, that doesn't make you a carpenter.  Most congregations have a lot of talented people in our churches who can put a sermon together, and deliver an excellent message... This could create an illusion that "preaching" is not all that hard.  Preaching isn't all sleeping on a bed of nails, by any means, and it's very rewarding, but please think about your guy who is preaching week in, week out, month after month, year after year.  He's trying to write sermons in the midst of all the other responsibilities we've placed on the minister too.  I'm not whining, I love this life, and I know your world has its challenges too, but if you've not given this notion of "value" some consideration, you might find yourself being inconsiderate...

Most churches want to nurture and cultivate their ministers, but sometimes, simply don't how to.  Consider, then, providing sabbaticals and retreats for your ministers; not to pamper them, but to allow them to recharge.  We also need to warn people better how rough ministry can be too, there are "clergy killers" out there who make your job hard, so be realistic...  We share this Not to scare them off or away from ministry, but to prepare them so they are never blindsided.  The reason we are losing ministers, and I think young people along the way (yes I see a correlation here) is that we as churches are not taking care of those who take care of us, and in the process, we all suffer.  Too simplistic?  I'm open to hearing your thoughts, always.
Let me finish off with some good news.
The church I'm in isn't perfect, but we are doing a lot of things right.  If you are floundering in ministry, there's real hope, know that there are great churches that care for their ministers.  Your ministry might not feel rewarding at the moment, not right now, but number one it can be one day, and secondly, God can lead you into the "right" fit.  And you should know, like us, there are churches who are concerned about helping our young people transition into adulthood too.

I know our congregation cares about our family and they want me to succeed in ministry.
And how do I know?
They tell me this.
And, I believe them.

What message are you sending to your preacher?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bouncing back from blunders:

When, not if, but when you make a mistake the best thing you can do is..., the best thing to do is bounce back and learn from the mistake.

We usually know when we blow it, but, we don't really feel the sting until someone else points out our mistake.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  Now what?

I'm not saying I do this well, or I always do this every time, but this is the direction I'm trying to take:
#1. When someone cares enough to point out my mistake, I try to listen, not just hear them out, but really listen to what they are saying.

#2. Then, I thank them.  I'll say, "Thanks for caring," or "Thank you for pointing that out, I needed to hear that."

#3. I ask them what I can do better in the future, how can I avoid that mistake next time, or simply do whatever it is right?  People love to share their opinion and many people have good ideas, if we'll listen.

To really grow and mature, we have to be open to people speaking truth into our lives.
It's embarrassing,  it's painful, it's even awkward.  It hurts to think we aren't perfect, but we have to give people permission to untie our personal blindfolds & unveil our flaws to us.

I don't know anyone who likes to have their shortcomings pointed out, but I know plenty of people who appreciate personal growth.  Well, I'm learning in life, you can't have one without the other.