Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hebrews Chapter 10 - The Perfecting Covenant

The new covenant provides perfection in obedience for all who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of the covenantal change — to bring about an atonement that accomplishes what the old covenant could not do, that is, bring about perfection.

Hebrews chapter ten is crucial for understanding this atonement. It begins with the statement of the inadequacy of the old covenant Law. It could not make people perfect:

"For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near."

The next verse explains what is meant by "perfect."

"Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?" (Hebrews 10:2)

If the sacrifices under the old covenant had made people perfect, they would no longer need to offer sacrifices. They would have stopped sinning.

The inadequacy of the Law was this - it could not make people perfect in obedience. It could not make them sinless. Why?

Verse 4 says, "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

Thus the problem is stated. The Law could not make people perfect (sinless), because the sacrifices were unable to bring about this state. Death occurs in an animal, a surrogate, not within the sinner himself. It cannot accomplish any permanent change.

The writer of Hebrews then explains the solution to the inadequacy:

Heb 10:5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
Heb 10:6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:7 "Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God.’”
Heb 10:8 After saying above, "Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have not desired, nor have you taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law),
Heb 10:9 then He said, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He takes away the first in order to establish the second.

The new covenant was established by the obedience of the one who came to do God's will. What does this will accomplish?

Verse 10 answers: "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

God's will brings about sanctification for believers. We are set apart for Him.

How does that happen? The next three verses answer:

Heb 10:11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;
Heb 10:12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God,
Heb 10:13 waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet.

Instead of multiple continual offerings that cannot take away sins, Jesus provided a single offering for all time. What did that one sacrifice do?

Verse 14 answers: "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." (Hebrews 10:14)

This takes us back to the first verse. The Law could not make people perfect (sinless), but the offering of Jesus does. Remember, verse 10 established that believers are sanctified, so this means that believers have been perfected in obedience, in sinlessness.

With this atonement, instead of a surrogate sacrifice, the believer himself dies with Christ, as explained in Romans 6:

“knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)

Such a death makes a permanent change in the believer. He is freed from sin.

Then the writer of Hebrews defines this as the new covenant:

Heb 10:15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,
Heb 10:16 "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them," He then says,
Heb 10:17 "And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more."
Heb 10:18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Now that we are forgiven, there is no longer an offering. Since we stopped sinning, there is no need of another offering, which takes us back to verse 2

"Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?" (Hebrews 10:2)

The sacrifice of Jesus is a one-time event. The worshipers who have once been cleansed no longer have consciousness of sins. Again, there is no reason for another offering.

Many claim that Christ’s sacrifice forgives of future sins, but there is no hint of that concept here. In fact, that idea is contradicted in this chapter. There was one sacrifice for the sins we committed in the past, and that sacrifice perfected us. It took away sins. There are no future sins.

Yet, if a believer did defy his new state of sinlessness, what would happen? The writer of Hebrews tells us:

Heb 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
Heb 10:27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
Heb 10:28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Heb 10:29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
Heb 10:30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.
Heb 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

That one sacrifice no longer applies to such a person (verse 26). He is not forgiven of "future sins." In fact, it states the opposite, that such a person will be judged more severely than someone who dies without mercy under the Law's (old covenant) judgment.

The new covenant atonement is a one-time cleansing from all sin, a process that makes us perfectly sinless. We have a new nature that abhors sin and would never commit it. Yet, the theoretical possibility of sin does exist, and if someone does actually sin, that person would be lost forever.

The hypothetical scenario the writer provides contains two parts: (1) If we sin willfully and (2) If we have received the knowledge of the truth. The result of this two-fold hypothetical is that there remains no more sacrifice for such a person.

Some have said that this lack of sacrifice refers to the old covenant, but that’s not what the writer is discussing. This is a person who has received the knowledge of the truth, which in context would be the new covenant, because the new covenant is the truth that the writer has taken great pains to describe in verses 15 through 18, quoted above.

Verse 18 is crucial – “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” Once there is forgiveness under the new covenant there is no more offering for sin, just as he stated in verse 26. In contrast, under the old covenant, sacrifices continued indefinitely for sinners who had knowledge of that covenant, so this kind of ongoing sacrifice is not in the writer’s mind in verse 26.

The point is therefore stated twice (verses 18 and 26): those who are forgiven under the new covenant and then sin have no sacrifice available to them.

Why? The writer tells us. Because he has trodden under foot the Son of God and counted unholy the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and because he has been spiteful to the spirit of grace. And this punishment’s severity is set in contrast to those who were under the old covenant, meaning that this elimination of a sacrifice for such a person is so severe because he intentionally rebelled even after being perfected (verse 14) under the new covenant, even after being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, two advantages those under the old covenant did not have.

In my view, nearly all people who claim to be Christians and still sin were never Christians to begin with. They never really repented. They never stopped sinning. They were never made perfect. So they don’t come under this severe punishment.

Those who are in this state cannot be saved, because, among other reasons, there is nothing more that can be done for them. They already had the Holy Spirit. They were already made perfect. What else can be done? They have been given everything. This insult to the Holy Spirit and rejection of an already-received perfection is a damning crime against God’s completed work.

Remember, these are people who have been completely cleansed of sin. The old man is dead. The flesh is crucified (Galatians 5:24) with its passions and desires and has been removed by spiritual circumcision (Colossians 2:11). They have been made new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). They don’t “stumble.” They don’t “fall.” They deliberately act against this new, glorious state and rebel against God. To do this even in such radiant light is contrary to all knowledge. It is spitting in God’s face with full understanding of his grace, mercy, and love.

Yet, I maintain that for nearly everyone who sins as a “Christian,” there is much hope. They likely never were perfected. They never came to true salvation.

Other Scripture refers to this never-saved condition in those who possess a pretend salvation:

Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Jesus never knew them. They were never saved. And it is their sin (iniquity) that is the proof of their condition. Their verbal confessions hold no sway.

John expressed a similar idea: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)

When we evangelize sinning “Christians,” we should assume that they never were saved, and we should believe that they can be converted. This stands to reason, because they never forsook their sins in the first place. They never heard the true gospel. They were never perfected. So they don’t come under this category of unredeemable rebels in Hebrews 10:26 and the following verses.

If true Christians can forfeit salvation, then return to it by having the sacrifice reapplied to them, there would be practically no difference between the old and new covenants. These Christians would be repeating the old covenant cycle of sinning and sacrificing, thereby destroying the force of the passage.

The entire purpose of the new covenant was to make people perfect and put an end to the old covenant cycle or sinning, repentance, and the provision of a sacrifice. In the new covenant, we are made perfect by a single sacrifice, so there is no forgiveness for future sin. Why should there be? God in His amazing grace has provided a way for us to be perfect, and someone who sins after that has to turn away from a perfect heart. It would be madness and pure evil to do so.

What, then, is the status of those who profess to believe, are still in sin, and have a repentant heart? The Hebrews 10:26 warning does not apply to them. They were never saved. Since they did not sin while in a perfected state, they are not in an incurably reprobate condition.

The writer of Hebrews provides a hypothetical situation describing what would happen if this event were to occur, and he later states that this reprobate condition isn’t true for the people to whom he is writing. “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (10:39)
 
Since the scenario is presented in a hypothetical manner, and since John tells us that those who are born of God do not sin (1 John 3:9 and 5:18), perhaps it has never happened. It makes no sense for anyone who is born of God to actually sin. We should view professing Christians who do sin as unregenerate and never saved. They need to hear and believe the real gospel, the new covenant truth that Jesus cleanses us from all sin and perfects us for all time.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. (Romans 6:22 NASB)

Although the true gospel is clearly presented in the Bible, many teachers have perverted it to the point that even honest seekers of truth, in order to find the life-giving fruit, have to unravel knotted falsehoods that these teachers have foisted upon the unwitting.

I am confident that many teachers have quoted the above verse without carefully noting the progression within its structure. First comes freedom from sin and servitude to God. From this freedom, people derive a benefit (“fruit” in the Greek). That benefit begins with sanctification. The outcome of sanctification is eternal life. The order is thereby provided:

1. Freedom from sin and servitude to God.
2. Sanctification.
3. Eternal life.

The verse makes this order clear. For something to be derived, the thing from which it is derived must exist first. That thing is a prerequisite. Therefore, being freed from sin and enslaved to God comes before the benefit can be derived. As mentioned before, the Greek word for “benefit” is fruit. You cannot have fruit without first having a source for the fruit, and that source is freedom from sin.

The same is true regarding an outcome. If eternal life is the outcome of sanctification, then sanctification is a prerequisite for eternal life. Sanctification exists before the granting of eternal life.

Most Christian theologians believe that God grants eternal life first, and then a slow sanctification process occurs afterward. This is true in some sense, depending on the definition of sanctification. If sanctification is defined as growing in wisdom, knowledge, and experience, then sanctification does take place during our years as faithful followers of Christ.

In this context, however, sanctification is not progressive growth. It is the benefit derived from being freed from sin and enslaved to God. Sanctification involves behavior associated with someone who has been released from the chains of sin. Therefore, sanctification means to be obedient to God. It means ceasing from sin.

The outcome of this kind of sanctification is eternal life. This leads me to state the bedrock foundation of the true gospel. Sin-free sanctification is required in order to gain eternal life. In other words, sanctification precedes justification, and justification is the scriptural equivalent of gaining eternal life.

Most professing Christians will balk at such a statement. Many will call it heresy. Yet, Paul states it plainly. The outcome of freedom from sin and sanctification is eternal life. Freedom from sin comes first. This is the heart of the gospel and the means by which we are saved, the pathway to the peace and joy of being forever with God in heaven.

For God to be just, he must punish a sinner for the sins he commits. As the verse that follows says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” A sinner must die for justice to be served, so in order to be forgiven, a person must no longer be a sinner.

Many teach that Jesus died to take the penalty for sin that we deserved. “He paid the debt,” some sing in their choruses. Yet the Bible makes no such statement. In fact, it is clear that Jesus did not pay the penalty that sinners deserve. The penalty is eternity in hell, and Jesus is not suffering in hell. He ascended to the right hand of the Father. Therefore, Jesus did not suffer the penalty.

Also, Jesus did not pay our debt. Again, nothing in the Bible says that Jesus paid the debt for our sin. In fact, the Bible says that God canceled our debt.

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14 NASB)

Since the debt was canceled, it was not paid. If someone paid the debt, then it was not canceled. This is a simple maxim. A paid debt is not canceled, and a canceled debt is not paid.

Why did God cancel the debt for a Christian? Because the sinner that he was has died. The person who sinned passed away. Paul stated this fact during his explanation leading up to the foundational statement of the gospel.

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:5-7 NASB)

It is unfortunate how the NASB and the KJV translate the last verse here. The Greek says, “for he who has died is justified from sin.” The ASV gets it right, “for he that hath died is justified from sin.” It is the same Greek word translated as justified in many other places, such as: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:9)

The distinction is crucial in verse 7. Those who have died are justified—saved, forgiven of sin. Death is the reason God grants this justification and forgiveness.

Jesus did not die to suffer the penalty for our sin. He did not die to pay a debt. He died so that we could die with Him and be raised to new life.

Such a realization has huge implications on a proper view of the atonement. Death is the reason we are justified. The person who sinned has died, and a new person has been born. It would be unjust for God to punish a person who is not the same person who sinned. And now he can justify this new person, because, in a very real way, that person has not sinned. There is no reason to punish him.

Therefore, the progression of salvation proceeds as follows:

1. Death with Jesus (the old self is killed)
2. Resurrection to new life with Jesus (a new creature is born)
3. Freedom from sin, servitude to God, and sanctification.
4. Justification (forgiveness) and eternal life

This explanation of the atonement is also provided in Hebrews chapter ten. It begins with the statement of the inadequacy of the Law: “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.”

The Law’s sacrifices were unable to make people perfect. The next verse provides what the text means by “perfect.” Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? (Hebrews 10:2 NASB)

If the sacrifices had made people perfect, they would no longer need to offer sacrifices. They would no longer have consciousness of sins because they would have stopped sinning. 

Therefore, the inadequacy of the Law is explained—it was unable to make people perfect in obedience. It could not make them sinless. Why? Verse 4 says, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” In other words, it is not possible for anyone to die to self through the death of an animal.

Thus the problem is stated. The Law couldn’t make people perfect (sinless), because the sacrifices were inadequate to do so. Then the writer of Hebrews provides the solution:

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God.’ ” 

After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have not desired, nor have you taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law),  then He said, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:5-9 NASB)

The new covenant was established by the obedience of the one who came to do God’s will. So what does this will accomplish? Verse 10 answers: “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

God’s will brings about sanctification for all believers. We are set apart for Him.

How does that happen? The next three verses answer:

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. (Hebrews 10:11-13 NASB)

Instead of multiple offerings that cannot take away sins, Jesus provided a single offering for all time. And what did that one sacrifice do? Verse 14 answers: “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 NASB)

This takes us back to the first verse. The Law could not make people perfect (sinless), but the offering of Jesus does. Remember, verse 10 established that all believers are sanctified, so verse 14 indicates that all believers have been perfected in righteousness. They have all ceased from sin.

The writer of Hebrews defines this as the new covenant:

And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:15-18 NASB)

Now that we are forgiven, there is no longer an offering. Since we stopped sinning, there is no need of one.

Many theologians claim that Jesus’ sacrifice provides forgiveness of sins that a person commits after salvation, but there is no hint of that concept here. In fact, the text contradicts such an idea. There was one sacrifice for the sins we committed in the past, and that sacrifice brought perfection. It took away sins. True believers do not commit sins after the sanctifying work that perfects them and places them under the new covenant.

The new covenant, sealed by the blood of a one-time, perfect sacrifice, cleanses completely, perfects forever, and provides forgiveness.

How does someone enter this new covenant? How does a sinner die to self and become perfected by the one sacrifice, Jesus Christ? By taking on an obedient heart and being committed to our faith’s teaching, as Paul explains in Romans 6: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18)

The explanation continues: “For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” (Romans 6:19)

Presenting yourself to God as slaves to righteousness results in the sanctification that leads to justification and eternal life. In other words, you have to repent of and forsake sin, then turn to God with an obedient heart that commits to Him in all things.

There can be no holding back of any sin, any evil heart attitude, any shadow of unrighteous behavior. Sin is a choice. Obedience is a choice. A sinner must choose by faith to no longer be a sinner.

Some will cry that this is salvation by works, but their cry is a false one. Sinners are slaves of sin, so when they repent and turn to God, they do so by faith, realizing that only God can unlock their chains. This surrender is a turning of the heart that reaches out to the one who can set sinners free from sin. They do no works to earn salvation, but they must turn their hearts from sin to obedience and ask God to perform the sanctifying work of killing the old self and raising a new creature to life.

This is the true gospel, and it honors God by telling the truth about His power to set sinners free, by telling the world that He loves people enough to break the chains of those who reach out to Him by faith.

Let us reject the counterfeit gospel that cripples God’s power, denies that he can cleanse from all sin, and reduces the new covenant to nothing more than a different label on old-covenant futility—a never-ending cycle of sin and repentance that produces unfaithful followers who rely on an impotent savior, a false Jesus who cannot save from sin.

The true gospel is far better than this weak excuse for atonement. The blood of Jesus does perfect His followers, thereby enabling them to be faithful forever. Let us march under this banner—a proclamation that honors God by telling of His power to make His people righteous in reality, that they are free indeed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Christians Do Not Sin - 1 John 3:9



Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)

This verse is straightforward, clear, and easy to understand. People who are born of God do not commit sin. And who is born of God? The same epistle answers the question:

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. (1 John 5:1)

Therefore, all believers in Christ do not commit sin. That should settle the matter. Christians don’t sin. Yet, the vast majority of the church today flatly rejects this biblical truth. In fact, most say almost exactly the opposite, that all Christians will sin until they die. Some go so far as to say that all Christians will sin every single day in thought, word, and deed.

How did so many come to reject a biblical truth that is so clearly stated by the apostle John? Perhaps some want to hang on to their sins and still feel secure about going to heaven. Others have simply been blinded by the teachings of others, and since they have never been told about this truth and have seen it denied time and again, they just accept the teachings that contradict John’s clear declaration.

Since those who deny holiness in believers still claim to believe what the Bible says, they have to somehow answer what this verse says. The most common method is to alter the text. This altering has become so ingrained in the church culture that modern Bible translations have incorporated the additions, even though the original language cannot support the alterations.

Here is one example from the New American Standard Bible:

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.

The Greek word for “practices” is prasso, but that word in not in this verse. The word here is poieo, which means “do” or “commit.” Therefore, the verse is not saying that believers don’t practice sin. It says that they don’t commit sin.

The New International Version says:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.

This version adds “will continue to” and uses sin as a verb instead of a noun, both of which are violations of the Greek text.

Since John’s intent is to make a statement about the absence of sin in a believer, what good would it do to talk about “practicing” sin or “continuing” to sin? What frequency of sin does it take to “practice” sin? What does it mean to continue to sin? If we try to employ these alterations, what has John said that provides us any useful information? Does he mean that Christians don’t sin more than three times each day? Five times each week? Without a clear delineation of what constitutes practice or continuing, he has communicated no information at all. Everyone would draw a different line.

Some people claim that the present tense verb “poieo” indicates ongoing action. It is true that the Greek present indicative can have an ongoing aspect. Some call it “present durative.” The present indicative can have this aspect but certainly not in all cases. There are other possible aspects for this tense: iterative, gnomic, historic, futuristic, among others. In order to determine the proper aspect, we have to examine the context. It is wrong to assign the present durative as a default.

Let's look at the logic to see this. If someone claims that verse nine allows for some sin in a Christian, then we lose the purpose of the passage. In context John uses this statement to give us a way to determine who the children of God are. Here is the verse with it's immediate context:

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)

If any sin is allowed in a believer, how is it manifest who the children of God and the children of the devil are? If Christians sin until they die, how are we to tell them from the children of the devil? Do children of the devil sin more often? How often is that? Do some children of the devil sin less often than brand new Christians? How many sins are allowed in a child of God and with what frequency? With any sin allowed in a child of God, how can their identity possibly be manifest?

The only way the identification is manifest is when we apply the only clearly defined line. Children of God don't sin at all while children of the devil do sin.

That's why poieo in verse nine must be “gnomic” rather than durative, because it creates a postulate by which we can make judgments. That's what a gnomic present tense does. Therefore, we must translate and understand verse nine as the King James version has rendered it – “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”

Some alter the meaning of the verse to say something like, “Christians don’t sin without feeling guilty about it” or some other qualification. Yet, there is nothing in the Greek whatsoever that says anything about "without feeling guilty." Such alterations are pure fabrications.

Even if we were to allow such alterations, the passage would make no sense, because many unbelievers feel an immense sense of guilt after committing a sin, so John wouldn’t be saying anything. We could say, “So what if believers don’t sin without feeling guilt? The same is true of many unbelievers.”

And even if one were to deny that unbelievers feel guilty when they sin, such an idea runs again into the same problem with verse ten. If both groups, children of God and children of the devil, commit sin and the only difference is that the children of God feel guilty, then how is it manifest which group is which? How can you tell which group is feeling guilty? The test John provides would be worthless.

John indicates in other parts of his epistle that Christians have no sin at all, thereby proving that verse nine ought to be interpreted as allowing for no sin. Verse seven is an example:

“Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.”

How righteous? As righteous as Jesus is. That would mean no sin at all.

Look at 1 John 4:17:

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

We are as Jesus is in this world. Does that allow for any sin? It cannot.

The righteousness that John teaches for believers is complete. If any sin at all is allowed, then we would not be "as he is righteous." We would not be "as he is."

Summary:



1 John 3:9 sets up a principle: Believers in Christ do not sin. Some claim that since John used the present tense, he had in mind “continuing sin” or some other practice of sin that persists in a durative manner. Actually, the verb “commit” must carry a gnomic aspect and cannot be translated or interpreted with an understanding that any sin is allowed. This principle is used as a test in verse ten to judge who is and who is not a child of God. If any sin is allowed, then the test is worthless. No one would be able to tell who is and who is not a child of God.

John stated that Christians do not sin in a straightforward and clear manner. He used the present tense because that is the only tense he could employ to state the principle as being true in a present sense.

Because of this, and because of the fact that John confirms in other parts of the epistle the idea that Christians don’t sin at all, we must conclude that 1 John 3:9 should be translated and interpreted to mean the same - that Christians don’t sin at all.

(Some claim that this idea contradicts 1 John 1:8 and 10. I have refuted that claim in the following essay - http://oraclesoffire.blogspot.com/2009/02/cleansed-from-all-sin.html)



Misuse of Romans Chapter Three - Part Two



Many people use Romans chapter three to prove that humans are totally depraved and can do nothing good, appealing to verses like "There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10) and “All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one." (3:12)

As is always the case, we need to examine the context of verses to determine their meaning. The chapter starts out with a question, "Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?"

This is Paul's theme question for this section, so he answers the question in the following verses. Yet, to understand the purpose for the question, you have to go a bit further back:

Rom 2:9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek,
Rom 2:10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Rom 2:11 For there is no partiality with God.
Rom 2:12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law;
Rom 2:13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
Rom 2:14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves,
Rom 2:15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,
Rom 2:16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
Rom 2:17 But if you bear the name "Jew" and rely upon the Law and boast in God,
Rom 2:18 and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law,
Rom 2:19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
Rom 2:20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,
Rom 2:21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?
Rom 2:22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
Rom 2:23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?
Rom 2:24 For "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," just as it is written.
Rom 2:25 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
Rom 2:26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
Rom 2:27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?
Rom 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.
Rom 2:29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

This larger section is about following the Law and/or being a transgressor of it, and Paul teaches that it makes no difference whether you are a Jew or a Gentile. Following God in obedience is a matter of the heart.

So, the question arises, if being a Jew or a Gentile makes no difference, what benefit is there of being a Jew? The answer is that they were entrusted with the oracles of God (3:2).

But that immediately raises another question in Paul's mind: "What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?" (Romans 3:3)

In other words, although God entrusted the Law to the Jews, if some of the Jews don't believe, does that mean that something is wrong with God's faithfulness? Should He not have entrusted the Law to them?

To which Paul answers, "May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar."

So God is right in what He did. The unbelief is man's problem. They choose to disbelieve. It isn't God's fault.

In verse five Paul raises another question, "But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.)"

How does our unrighteousness demonstrate God's righteousness? Because even though people were unfaithful, God remained faithful. Man's sin shows the stark contrast between man and God, between unrighteousness and righteousness. Righteousness is more clearly seen when compared to unrighteousness. So someone might ask, if man's unrighteousness actually demonstrates and clarifies the righteousness of God, then why would He inflict wrath? Is that unrighteous?

Paul's answer:

May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?

In other words, if we say that God can't judge, because man makes His light look so bright in comparison with man's darkness, then God wouldn't be able to judge the world, which to Paul is an absurdity.

Then he raises a similar question.

But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come"? Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:7-8)

So, if a liar makes it clear that God is truthful by comparison, why would God judge the liar? Wouldn't it be good to continue sinning so that God would continue to be shown to be better? No. Paul says that condemning such a thought is just.

Then Paul gets back to his original question and into the meat of the matter:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; (Romans 3:9)

If the Jews received the oracles of God, then are Jews better than Gentiles? No, as Paul noted in chapter 2, both groups are under sin. Then Paul goes about proving this through Scripture.

Here is where many people stumble in understanding the purpose of this quoted Scripture. Calvinists use the following verses to "prove" that all people for all time are evil and don't seek God. Such an interpretation is so far from the purpose of this text that it is frustrating even to try to untwist the mess.

Here is the text:

Rom 3:10 as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one;
Rom 3:11 There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;
Rom 3:12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. "
Rom 3:13 "Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips";
Rom 3:14 "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness ";
Rom 3:15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Rom 3:16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
Rom 3:17 And the path of peace they have not known."
Rom 3:18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Why is Paul quoting this? To show that Jews have sinned. He has asked the question, "Are we better than they?" Are Jews better than Gentiles regarding sin? Since the answer is no, Paul sets out to prove it by quoting an example showing where Jews have sinned.

He doesn't need to prove to his readers that Gentiles have sinned. That is well known. So his goal is to prove that Jews, too, have sinned. Note the next verse:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

Paul is saying that this passage he just quoted is from the Law, so it is speaking to people under the Law. Who is that? The Jews. So, by this example, Paul has proven that Jews have sinned.

Paul did not intend to say that all people for all time are like this, as the Calvinists so strangely interpret it. It's just an example of Jews sinning, thereby proving that Jews have sinned, which was Paul's aim in order to prove that both groups are under sin. He wasn't trying to prove that all people everywhere sin. If he were trying to do that, he wouldn't have used this passage from Psalm 14. The passage is describing what fools are like, not all people. But that's fine for Paul's purpose. He merely needed to show that there has been sin among the Jews, and since this Psalm was written to Jews, there are Jews who have been guilty of sin.

And, as verse 20 says, works of the Law aren't going to justify people, for the Law is what exposed them as sinful in the first place.

Moving on to the next part:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; (Romans 3:21-22)

As Paul noted earlier, the righteousness of God was manifested by the unrighteousness of man who were exposed by the Law, but now the righteousness of God has been manifested in another way, apart from the Law. What way is that? By the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Who demonstrates that righteousness? Those who believe, not those who are under the Law.

At this point, Paul narrows his focus to a specific group, “all who believe” and then talks about their progression, first that they all believers have sinned:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

The "all have sinned" must be "all who believe have sinned," a fact that I prove in another essay (http://oraclesoffire.blogspot.com/2013/02/misuse-of-romans-chapter-three-part-one.html). He is not saying that every single individual has sinned, but rather that all believers (both Jews and Gentiles) have sinned.

It is also important to note the second portion, "and fall short of the glory of God." This hearkens back to the earlier part of the chapter where he said, "But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?" In other words, the sin of mankind demonstrates the righteousness of God. By sinning, mankind has demonstrated the contrast between man's darkness and God's glory. Sinners have fallen short of that glory.

Yet now all who believe have been justified through the second way of manifestation of God's glory, as the passage explains in the next verse:

Rom 3:24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
Rom 3:25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
Rom 3:26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Rom 3:27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.
Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Paul's ultimate purpose was to show that righteousness comes through faith, not through works of the law, so it's true for both Jews and Gentiles, as he reiterates:

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. (Romans 3:29-30)

In conclusion, this entire section is a treatise on how both Jews and Gentiles must be saved through faith in Christ. Why? Both groups are under sin, and following the Law isn't going to get them saved. This section cannot be used to prove the total depravity of man or that all humans are currently in a sinful state, especially believers who have been delivered from sin and its power.

Misuse of Romans Chapter Three - Part One



For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Many have used this verse as proof that everyone who has ever lived has sinned at some time during their lives. Most people assume the meaning of “all” as being “all people without exception,” yet Paul does not provide such clarification in this verse. If we were to examine the context, we could find what he means by “all,” which we will see in a moment.

One glaring problem with the foregoing assumption (“all” means “all people without exception”) is that carrying this meaning through the rest of the thought creates doctrine that violates other Scripture.

Take note of verse 24—“being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

Who is the subject of verse 24? In other words, who is justified as a gift by His grace and who is redeemed? We have to look back in the context to find the subject. It is the very same “all” as in verse 23. Paul does not pause to alter the subject. The “all” in verse 23 is the same group that is considered justified and redeemed in verse 24. If all people without exception have sinned, then all people without exception are justified by His grace.

We know, however, that some people are not justified. "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8) And the Bible includes many other verses that prove the same.

Yet, in reality, there is no contradiction between Paul’s declaration in these two verses and the rest of Scripture. The simple fact is that Paul did not mean “all people without exception” in verse 23. The preceding verses tell us exactly what he meant by “all.”

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” (Romans 3:21-22)

Paul was talking about “all who believe” throughout this context. He was saying the following: all who believe (verse 22) have sinned (verse 23) and have been justified (verse 24). This meaning of “all” is in mind through all three verses.

To summarize the point, if someone insists that “all” in verse 23 means “all people without exception,” then he must accept this “all” as the subject of verse 24 and accept universalism, that all people without exception are justified in Christ.

Understanding “all” as “all who believe,” removes the problem. Since all who believe are justified, there is no need to believe in universal salvation, as would be the case if “all” really meant “all people without exception.”

Why does this distinction matter?

First, the popular notion that “all” refers to “all people without exception” has led to problems in some theological circles. Some people have used Romans 3:23 to say that since all people sin, and since babies are people, then even babies sin, thereby using the verse as proof of original sin.

Whether or not you believe in original sin, this verse cannot be used in this way. Since “all” actually means “all who believe,” we exclude babies from Paul’s charge, because they are not of age to believe.

In other words, we should conclude from the passage that if someone is of age to believe the gospel, then he is of age to have sinned. Since babies do not yet have the capacity to believe, they are not included in the “all” in verse 23.

Second, Romans 3:23 is used by nearly all evangelical churches and groups as the foundation of the gospel, the famous “Romans Road to Salvation” being a prime example of such use. Evangelicals quote the verse to prove that their target for evangelism has sinned and is in need of salvation.

Yet, Paul is not talking about unbelievers here, so it is inaccurate to use this verse as proof that all unbelievers have sinned. Any sinner could point to verse 24 and claim forgiveness, which would be counterproductive in the evangelistic effort. There are other passages evangelists can use to prove sin in unbelievers, but not this one.

Another common misuse of Romans 3:23 occurs when applying the verse as proof that Christians still sin. Some say that “all have sinned” somehow means “all are still sinning.” This is not the case. The tense of the verb indicates that all believers have sinned sometime in the past, and Paul’s focus on past sins is reiterated in the latter part of verse 25: “because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” In no way does verse 23 indicate that sin continues beyond the point of salvation.

Some might claim that “fall short of the glory of God” indicates present sin, but this is also not the case. Past sin is one reason for presently being short of God’s glory, because God never sinned, either in the past or in the present. There is no way to use this verse to prove present sin.

My hope is that this short essay will help people see the following:

(1)  Romans 3:23 is nearly universally misunderstood and misused in the church today.
(2)  This verse cannot be used to prove original sin.
(3)  This verse cannot be used to prove present sin in anyone.
(4)  It is risky to build doctrine on an out-of-context verse. Always be careful to examine the context.
(5)  Some interpretations that are ingrained and nearly universal in the church are not true.

As Christians we are called to believe and communicate truth, even when most people around us disagree. Let us shine the light so that we can be effective for God and His kingdom.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Perseverance of the Saints - The P in the TULIP

Perseverance of the Saints:

Perseverance of the saints simply means that if anyone comes to faith in Christ, he will always be in a saved position, no matter what he does.

Much of the debate comes from the basic difference between the beliefs of the majority of those who approve and those who object to this doctrine, especially from the extreme poles of the camps. Calvinists hold to a phrase that says, “once saved, always saved,” that is, once you become a Christian, you cannot lose your salvation.

This belief is expressed in a range of ways. Some say that a true Christian will become more and more holy as time progresses, and he will not depart from the road toward holiness, though he will never become completely righteous until he goes to heaven (I have not yet met a Calvinist who believe in the ability to live a sinless life while alive on the earth). Some Calvinists believe that a person who once makes a profession of faith and then falls into a pattern of sin likely was never saved at all. It is difficult, if not impossible, for these Calvinists to draw a line to say how much sin is required before they would claim that such a person was never saved.

Other Calvinists believe that even the vilest sinners are saved simply because they once made a profession of faith. They believe that sin and righteousness are not to be used at all as a sign of salvation.

On the anti-Calvinist side, most believe that a person can “lose” or perhaps forfeit his salvation if he turns from his faith and returns to his former manner of life, that is, a life of sin, though some hold to a hybrid position I will explain soon.

On the anti-Calvinist side, we have a similar range of opinion. Some use the “once saved, always saved” phrase and its acronym (OSAS) as a symbol of heresy, almost as a litmus test to determine a person’s standing in theology. To them, if you believe this doctrine, you are heretical. There is no other option. And it seems to them, when shown any example of a person who once professed faith and then fell into sin, whether in the Bible or in modern times, that person must have lost their salvation. The idea that such a person might not have ever been saved is often foreign.

Other anti-Calvinists allow for the idea that perseverance can be a viable option, believing that real Christians simply won’t fall into sin and that those who once professed faith and fell into sin weren’t ever real Christians, that is, they were never saved. They believe in the theoretical possibility that a real Christian could sin and forfeit salvation, but in practice, they would identify a falling-away person as one who was never saved. This is the hybrid position, a belief in once saved always saved that is lived out in holiness.

And, as in the Calvinist camp, there are people who believe ideas that fall somewhere within the wide range.

There are Scripture passages that might lead a person to believe either one, and we could examine every one of them in detail and still not settle the issue to everyone’s satisfaction. We see several examples of people who claim to have faith and then abandon it, making us think they might have lost salvation, and we also see passages that teach us that perhaps this kind of person never had true faith at all.

This is often the crux of the issue for anti-Calvinists. Was a formerly faith-professing sinner ever saved? We see Jesus saying to those who claim faith, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness. (Matthew 7:23). And John says, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

At the same time, we see examples in which the text speaks plainly of a fallen believer, and I will give an example in a moment.

I think, therefore, our goal should not be to prove the past spiritual condition of any particular sinner who once professed faith. It simply isn’t important. The important fact is that a sinning person is not currently saved, whether they ever were saved or not. And it is this proposition we will explore, because the Calvinist system has spread more danger through their perseverance tenet than through any other, guaranteeing eternal security to people who have no good reason to possess such assurance.

Why is this issue important? People want to have assurance of salvation, evidence that what is invisible is real. We can’t see our internal salvation with our eyes, so it gives us comfort to have some kind of knowledge that our faith has substance, that God has indeed responded to our cry of faith.

How does a person know he is saved? Is having assurance of salvation important? What does the Bible say?

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you (2 Peter 1:10).

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13)

And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments (1 John 2:3).

These verses give us reason to believe that knowledge of our salvation (or of our choosing, which isn’t necessarily the same thing) is important. Many Calvinists agree that it’s important to know, as Dr. Sproul says:

Such a person might say, “I don’t know if I am elect or not and I am not the least bit concerned about it.” There can hardly be any greater folly. If you do not yet know if you are elect, I can think of no more urgent question to answer.[1]

Dr. Sproul gives three ways to have assurance, and we’ll discuss each one.

True assurance is grounded in the promises of God for our salvation. Our assurance comes first of all from our trust in the God who makes these promises.[2]

The problem with this point is that it lends nothing to gaining personal assurance. Yes, God’s promises are sure; they never fail. But His promise to save someone doesn’t apply to someone who is not truly in the state of salvation. You can’t say to someone, “You can be sure you’re saved, because God’s promises to save never fail.” The person you’re speaking with may not be truly saved. Therefore, this is not a valid way to gain assurance.

Secondly, our assurance is enhanced by the inward evidence of our own faith. We know that we could never have any true affection for Christ if we were not reborn. We know that we could not be reborn if we were not elect. … I know inwardly that I do not love Christ totally. But at the same time I do know that I love him. I rejoice inwardly at the thought of his triumph. I rejoice inwardly at the thought of his coming. I will his exultation. I know that none of these sentiments that I find in myself could possibly be there if it were not fore grace.[3]

Is that so? Can someone have internal good feelings about Christ without being saved? What does the Bible say?

“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness. (Matthew 7:18-23)

These whom Jesus commands to depart seem to have an internal attachment to Christ, yet they are rejected because they don’t obey. We’ll come back to this passage in a moment.

Jesus also says something else about loving Him, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15). Having an emotional response to Christ is not a way to gain assurance of salvation, for feelings are fleeting; they change every day. It is only obedience that proves love, or in Sproul’s words, “affection for Christ.”

Dr. Sproul continues, now giving a hint of the true way to gain assurance:

In addition to the inward evidence of grace there is also outward evidence. We should be able to see visible fruit of our conversion. The outward evidence, however, may also cause our lack of assurance. We can see the abiding sin in our lives. Such sin does not do much for our assurance. We see ourselves sinning and we ask ourselves, “How can I do these things if I really love Christ?”[4]

Good question, but Dr. Sproul doesn’t give an adequate answer.

We must ask ourselves if we see any real change in our behavior, any real outward evidence of grace. This is a precarious process because we can lie to ourselves. It is a difficult task to perform, but by no means impossible.[5]

Does the Bible say that we are to be assured by a change in our behavior? Yes, but how much change? Dr. Sproul wishes to allow the possibility of daily, ongoing sin, but how much sin is allowed before our assurance is dashed? With his system, Dr. Sproul can give no answer. There is no definitive line that can be drawn. If we change somewhat, yet go back and forth between sin and obedience, is that real change? How much change is necessary? If I used to sin twenty times a day before salvation and reduce it to nine times, does that mean I am saved? What if I mess up and go back to eleven times for a few days and then back to six the next? Is that evidence of change?

A change in behavior that allows for sin draws a wavy, jumping line. It is useless.

But the Bible does draw an absolute, definitive line.

And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:9-10)

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 John 5:18)

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:14)

Notice in the 1 John 3 passage, the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest. Allowance for any sin makes the decision “not manifest,” for who can draw an adequate line that says how much sin is too much. And John, in the verse immediately preceding verse 10, says that a true Christian does not commit sin at all, as we saw in the Matthew 7 passage that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit.

Simply put, the Bible leaves no room for the commission of sin in a true Christian. In fact, it gives a foreboding warning about what happens if a person who knows the truth should ever sin.

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted 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 terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

This takes us to our next question, “Can a person “lose” his salvation? We have said that a true Christian does not commit sin, and some theologians have agreed. “A Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin. This is the glorious privilege of every Christian, yes, though he be but a babe in Christ.”[6]

But the question remains, can a person have true salvation and then lose it? The Hebrews passage seems to say so, at the very least providing the theoretical possibility. The writer of Hebrews somewhat hedges on the practicality for his particular audience in verse 39, “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” The same writer repeats the message back in chapter 6.

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

But he again states that he believes better of his readers and real salvation, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way (Hebrews 6:9). This hedging can make a reader wonder if this forfeiture of salvation is merely hypothetical.

Again, I propose that making the distinction of whether or not a sinner was ever saved is unimportant, practically speaking. If obedience is our only way to gain assurance, then it is our divining rod by which we determine whether a person is or is not saved currently, not whether a person has ever been saved. Our concern is with present condition and not in wrangling over a previous position in Christ. We should deal with the current problem at hand.

The “once saved, always saved” doctrine of the Calvinist is offensive, but not because it gives assurance of salvation; it is offensive because it has been used to give license to sin. In other words, as I indicated earlier, many people stretch it to say that if a person is saved, he is always saved, no matter how much he sins. This gives false security, providing people with a reason to believe they can do anything they want and still enjoy the assurance of going to heaven. This false assurance is surely leading a host of millions into eternal condemnation, and they will say with those in Matthew 7, “Lord! Lord!” And Jesus will say, “Depart from me!” They will be shocked at His response, but it will too late to repent.

We have security as real Christians because we obey God, because we follow in the footsteps of Christ. But this is a conditional security. If we ever begin sinning, then we no longer have assurance, for no one who is born of God sins. At this point, knowing whether salvation is lost or never held is of no practical value.

But what about Hebrews 6:4-6 where it says that it’s impossible for them to be renewed to repentance? Doesn’t that make it important? Not really. It doesn’t change the fact that we will still call such people to repent; we will still call them to be reconciled to God. Since we can’t know their true previous position, we will not fail to beseech them. Therefore, in practicality, it still makes no difference.

Calvinists use several passages in an attempt to prove their views. For example, the following is a passage I hear most often with regard to this topic:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

This is certainly true, but it in no way proves perseverance. It proves that we cannot be separated from God's love, but it doesn't say that we cannot be separated from salvation. Salvation isn't the topic.

Then there is this passage:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:37-40)

Yet, later, Jesus gives an exception:

I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:11-12)

Jesus says that one of the disciples God gave was ultimately lost. Why? Because he turned his back on Jesus and betrayed Him.

The solution is simple. It is the Father's will that none would be lost, but the Father's will is not always done. God's will is thwarted here on earth on a daily basis. God doesn't want anyone to fall away, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

Of course, Calvinists can't bear the thought that God's will might not be done. Few can even think in those terms.

Here is another:

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, 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 10:27-29)

Supposedly, since no one is able to take a sheep from the hand of Jesus or out of the Father's hand, a saved person can never be lost. Yet, this passage is referring to someone on the outside taking a sheep away, that is, an enemy forcefully removing a sheep from God. This, of course, could never happen. But the passage says nothing about the sheep leaving voluntarily or about God sending the sheep away because of rebellion. Therefore, this passage provides no evidence that a Christian cannot lose salvation.

Here is another:

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

According to the Calvinist, this proves that God can keep us from the stumbling that would cause loss of salvation.

Well, of course God can do that, but that doesn't mean that everyone will follow the course God sets to prevent that stumbling.

And finally:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

This passage says that the inheritance is imperishable and won't fade away. Of course it won't perish. Heaven and its blessings will always be there, but it doesn't say that an individual's ability to partake in it will always be guaranteed. Still, it does say that the reservation is protected by the power of God, but by what? By faith. If our faith continues, then the reservation is secure. What happens if the faith doesn't continue? We can assume only that the reservation no longer is protected.

I write these rebuttals to show that the Calvinists look at these passages through their Calvinist filters. They come to the Bible with presumptions that make the verses say things they don't actually say.

My own view is the hybrid one I mentioned earlier. I believe that true Christians will persevere and that they won't sin. If I see someone who claims Christianity and still sins, I first assume that he or she was never actually saved and did not lose salvation. I think God's cleansing power and the presence of His Spirit are overwhelming factors in making us and keeping us holy. I can't see how someone could be truly crucified with Christ, have his flesh crucified and removed, be cleansed of all sin, be raised to new life and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and still turn to sin. It makes much more sense to me that anyone in sin was likely never saved, regardless of their history. I don't doubt the theoretical possibility, just the practical application.

In any case, we should be able to agree, as I stated before, that no one who is in sin can have assurance of salvation. The Calvinistic form of perseverance is not true, and it endangers people's souls.

In Conclusion:

God’s sovereignty is not damaged by the free will of man. God is not rendered powerless by the fact that man can operate outside of His absolute control. Yes, God can step in and prevent an act by erecting insurmountable obstacles or guide someone into an act by creating desirable or alluring incentives. If God, however, were to force people to worship Him by infusing faith into those He chooses unconditionally, He has created false adoration, for only true free will can induce true worship.

If God drags people to their knees by an irresistible call, He has merely designed robots, programmed to bow at the push of a button. In this there is no glory. Are these true praises, the voices of those who have been forced to sing hymns of worship? Or is this Calvinist God more eloquently described by those consigned to hell who were condemned simply for being born sons of Adam?

Let us who understand this great gift of free will respond according to its awesome responsibility. We speak to the lost as though God Himself were beseeching through us. “Come! Be reconciled to God! He has given you a choice. Which will you choose? Life, or death? I beg you to choose life!”


[1] Ibid, P. 169.

[2] Ibid. P. 169-170.

[3] Ibid, P. 170.

[4] Ibid, P. 170.

[5] Ibid. P. 171.

[6] John Wesley, "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection", The Works of John Wesley, 11:376.