Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eternal Security Debate Vocab’s 5 Cross-Examination Answers

Eternal Security Debate 
Vocab’s 5 Cross-Examination Answers (Link)

1) To “persevere,” as I see it and based on how Scripture uses the term, means to endure various trials and sufferings without falling away (or get up when you fall) until you cross the "finish line." How can you believe in Perseverance when you believe the Christian is eternally Saved the moment they believe? In other words, if there is nothing that can harm the Christian in regards to the status of their salvation (the moment they first believe), how is the concept of Persevering logically valid?
In this whole question there is a fallacy of thinking that unless one can lose their salvation, then one cannot persevere. It’s akin to saying that unless a son can lose his sonship, then he is not a son in the first place. This makes it tough to answer this question from Nick when it comes pre-packaged with multiple layers of misunderstandings, primarily as a result of Nick holding to a Roman Catholic view on soteriology. 

I ask the audience to re-read the question and notice how God is absent from the equation – Nick’s focus is all on what the creature can and cannot do. It’s almost as if God is merely a helpless observer or perhaps a zealous cheerleader but the range of his power ends there when it comes to our perseverance. Inversely, the only reason any believer perseveres is only because God preserves them. He does this for his own glory because we were saved (in part) to do good works because this glorifies his name (Matthew 5:16). How do we know this? Because we are in a new and better covenant (Luke 22:20, Hebrews 8)! 

This was promised in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 32:40 “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” The promise is clear: this everlasting covenant is God’s doing (“I will make with them”). He will “not turn away from doing good” to us; like, say, taking away our eternal life we have been given via our adoption into his family. And lastly, he changes our hearts (“I will put the fear of me in their hearts”) so that we will not turn from Him (“that they may not turn from me”). What a fantastic love that has been demonstrated on our behalf

It seems so wonderful and “god-like” and yet Rome unwittingly downgrades salvation into cosmic marathon race to the finish where only the strong survive. Newsflash: there are no strong, save God himself and that is why we can endure various trials and sufferings without fully and finally falling away, for He is strong when we are weak.

The way the last part of this question is worded may cause some confusion: “if there is nothing that can harm the Christian in regards to the status of their salvation (the moment they first believe), how is the concept of Persevering logically valid?” I feel I should clarify there are things that can harm the Christian in a very real way and I agree with this excerpt from Bethlehem Baptist’s Affirmation of Faith on God’s Work and Sanctification:
We believe that this persevering, future-oriented, Christ-embracing, heart-satisfying faith is life-transforming, and therefore renders intelligible the teaching of the Scripture that final salvation in the age to come depends on the transformation of life, and yet does not contradict justification by faith alone. The faith which alone justifies, cannot remain alone, but works through love…
Although slavery to sin is broken, and sinful desires are progressively weakened by the power of a superior satisfaction in the glory of Christ, yet there remain remnants of corruption in every heart that give rise to irreconcilable war, and call for vigilance in the lifelong fight of faith.
In wrapping up my answer to this question I quote from John Piper’s TULIP Study Guide (Crossway, 2009, p 102):
Perseverance in faith is necessary for final salvation and is the necessary evidence that we have been born again. This is an important truth and one that is sorely lacking in many churches. However, the necessity of our perseverance is not the whole story; God also preserves and keeps us in the faith (See Jude 24 for a good cross reference). 

2) In your Opening Essay, you said: “The Gospels attest to the preserving work of God in several places.” Since you didn’t really focus upon Matthew, Mark, or Luke, please list one passage from each of these Gospels that you believe most stronglyteaches Eternal Security and explain why you believe those verses most strongly teach that. 
I think Matthew 7:22-23 is a good one from Matthew but since I included it in my rebuttal and my list of questions to Nick (meaning I have pointed it out already), I will list Matthew 13:24-30 as well: 

He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Take note of five things:  
  1. The weeds are weeds and the wheat is wheat – they are not switching back and forth.
  2. The weeds are placed there by the enemy. 
  3. The weeds were never part of the Master’s seed - even though they initially appear to be.
  4. The Master sowed good seed in his field and it came up and bore grain – exactly as it was designed to grow.
  5. The servants are confused but not the Master – he knows who is who and what is what all along.
One other good one in Matthew is Matthew 10:40-42 but I’ll move on now to the Gospel of Mark. For Mark, I’ll go with Mark 10:29-30: Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life."

Here, Jesus tells us that “there is no one who has left” … “who will not receive” … “eternal life”. Obviously, I truncated the verses to make it stand out more but note we see the phrase “no one” again next to “eternal life”, as in John. This means all will who have done this will receive eternal life. Is it not in essence saying that all true disciples do receive eternal life? How is this all done? We should look back to Mark 10:27  Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." Salvation is not possible with only man but only possible with God.

For Luke, I’ll just list Luke 6:47-49 and Luke 15:3-7. They are short enough that our readers can simply scroll their mouse over them and the text will pop up right on the screen of the actual blog post. I wish I had time to do a mini-exegesis but this is due tomorrow and this is the last time I will have to work on this today.

As for passages in John teaching that salvation can not be lost, the ones from John 6 and 10 (among others) in my opening statements should suffice. But as an added bonus, I’m going to bring in one thing from another place in the Johnanine corpus from 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.” This is a helpful commentary, especially for the passages from John’s gospel.
3) In my Opening Essay I quoted Jesus saying: “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” in Matthew 6:12-15 along with its parallel inMark 11:25. (Unfortunately, I misidentified the passage as Matthew 5 instead of Matthew 6, and Mark 10:25 instead of Mark11:25, but you seem to have realized that given what I was speaking on.) The context of the passage I was speaking within was the Lord’s Prayer, especially the petition “forgive us our trespasses”. The question is: do you believe the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that is part of the (post-conversion) Christian’s regular prayer life and thought? If No, then explain why the Lord’s Prayer (whether verbatim or simply it’s elements) has no place in Christian’s regular prayer life. If Yes, then explain why the Christian must regularly ask for forgiveness from God when they engage in this or similar prayer.
Yes, I think that the Lord’s Prayer is a great pattern of what a Christian’s regular prayer life should entail. The reason we must regularly ask for forgiveness is because we regularly sin. Furthermore, we are commanded to do this here and in other places. We would be wise to remember that our “personal fellowship with God is in view in these verses and not salvation from sin”. This makes sense because “God forgiveness of sin is not based on one’s forgiving others, a Christian’s forgiveness is based on realizing he has been forgiven.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary).

 This idea comports well with Ephesians 4:32. We should think about this for a minute: Ephesians 4:32 tells us we should forgive each other “just as God in Christ has also forgiven” us but Nick seems to be implying we should forgive others because if we don’t we will lose our salvation! One motivation focuses on God’s grace, the other on man’s fear. I think the former is undoubtedly the biblical model.

4)  In commenting on my use of “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses,” you said in your Rebuttal:
Nick says that “if the believer won’t forgive others, God won’t forgive them.” The best way I have seen this summed up is like this: “Unforgiving means unforgiven.” This means that if a person is unforgiving then they themselves have not known forgiveness. I would also like Nick to tell us if he thinks he himself has perfectly forgiven all those in his life who have harmed him. Is it even possible for him to remember this accurately? Yes, we should be forgiving if we have been forgiven but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can forgive others in a way that meets God’s standard.
One of the most explicit passages that someone can be forgiven and yet turn to sin and be damned is Matthew 18:21-35. I mentioned Matthew 18:21-35 in my Opening Essay, but you didn’t comment upon it in your rebuttal. In light of your comment that a person who wont forgive means they were never originally forgiven: how do you explain the teaching of Matthew 18:23-35 (particularly verse 35) as well as your own admission Christians don’t always forgive?
I am not sure I completely comprehend Nick’s question here but I will do what I can to answer. One important factor in interpreting this passage is that it is a parable. Most modern commentators understand that parables usually have one main point and some of the details may be incidental to the telling of the story. This is not literary hair splitting, for it appears that Nick may be interpreting this passage as an allegory, in which almost every detail of the story has a spiritual meaning.

To see what I mean, check out the end of the story in Matthew 18:34: “
And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.” The ESV has a footnote explaining that jailers mean “torturers” in Greek and most translations denote this. These are guards whose sole job was to torture prisoners. We know that hell is eternal torment, true, but If this is a one-to-one allegory, then who would the torturers be? Certainly not demons! This helps us see that every detail is not an exact parallel. Another example is the fact that he was thrown in jail until he could pay all his debt. But who could pay all that debt (especially in jail)? No one! Lastly, it does not seem likely that Jesus (whom Nick would see as the king, whereas I would be more inclined to just see a story proving a point) would call a true disciple of his a “wicked servant”.

Following Craig Blomberg, we can boil the parable down to this: “God eternally and unconditionally forgives those who repent of so immense a debt against him that it is unconscionable for believers to refuse to grant forgiveness to each other for sins that remain trivial in comparison.” (New American Commentary, Broadman, 1992, p. 282). Nick’s assessment that Matthew 18:21-35 is “o
ne of the most explicit passages that someone can be forgiven and yet turn to sin and be damned” is certainly not well founded.

I encourage the audience to go back and read Nick’s opening statement, you will note that he never provides a solid exegetical basis for the claim but rather assumes his brief description of the passage is equivalent to its true meaning. His commentary runs a mere 50 words, only 19 of which is interpretation; the other 31 are just his description of the parable. I respect Nick and appreciate his zeal but this sort of exegesis simply will not wash.

5) Two important passages I quoted but didn’t see you comment upon were Luke 8:13 (“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.”) and Matthew 24:12-13 (“Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”) I want you to exegete these two passages (since the passages are similar enough), making sure to touch upon “believe for a while,” falling away, love growing cold, and “will be saved.”
In looking at Luke 8:13, it may help to look at the flow of the whole chapter. One interesting passage from Luke is Luke 8:18: “for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away." It is very telling the text says that “even what he thinks he has,” implying this person does not possess what he thinks he does! The preceding verse is Luke 8:17, which says, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” In judgment, it will made known those who are truly his own.

Before I end this section of my responses, I should make mention of the context of Luke 8, in that Luke 8:4-15 contain the Parable of the Sower. There are some related points to make here. For  example, verse 12 says the devil takes away the word “so that they may not believe and be saved.” Note that one is saved by believing and that these folks have not yet believed – they are not true believers. The next group receives it with joy (v. 13) but fall away in a time of testing. This group displays a nominal, superficial, emotional, and non-saving faith. It’s important to pick up on the fact that they have no root. It’s obvious they were never saved. The next group (v. 14) are epitomized by the rich young ruler (Luke 8:18-30), who was never a follower of Jesus. Key to understanding all this is that only the last group is called “good soil” (v. 15).

On Matthew 24:12-13 ... those of us who understand the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints to be biblically-based do not believe that every professing Christian remains a professing Christian but rather that every one who is truly Christ’s will be upheld by the power of his sure hand and therefore persevere. In Matthew 24, Jesus is speaking on persecution that will cause many professing believers to fall away. This means they will stop professing and stop associating with true believers – their love will grow cold. The threat of physical violence against them reveals their true colors; we see a similar scenario described in the book of Hebrews.

The phrase “fall away” is from skandalizo and means to stumble or to take offense; it doesn’t necessarily mean “to lose your salvation.” This makes sense in the context of the passage. We should also note the presence of false prophets in the mix. The false prophets are false believers and other false believers will follow them. All of this language makes perfect sense to describe a great shaking up in the visible church due to an increase in persecution. How else could Jesus have said it? 

One does not have to read this discourse as describing true believers losing their salvation – for the text does not demand it. If one already assumes that true believers can and do lose their salvation, then I suppose they would be so inclined to read it that way but that does not mean the text actually warrants such a reading. One other consideration is that the logic of Matthew 7:23: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” should factor in as we interpret what Jesus was saying here (incidentally – or not – both texts include the word ‘lawlessness’).

Some Dispensational commentators think the “saved” of Matthew 24:13 does not refer to eternal life but rather physical deliverance. While I do not think that is likely (at all), it is often to helpful to consider rival interpretations before one selects one as the best. In saying this, I know that Nick as a Roman Catholic can not do this because any rival interpretations on this chapter and these few verses do not line up with Roman Catholic teaching. I ask the reader to then consider what is a more legit handling of all the Scriptural data.

By way of illustration, as a Protestant, I could accept as possibly valid a number of views on these verses. An Arminian (as I once was) would actually agree with Nick’s/Rome’s view and so it is not “off limits” for a Protestant to consider that this verse is actually designed to teach us that true believers will lose their actual salvation. Of course, I do not think this view is accurate, but I don’t think those who think this are unbelievers per se. These are just some thoughts I hope folks honestly consider as they examine both of our arguments on these passages.

As a final remark, please keep in mind that Scripture does teach that those who are saved must necessarily persevere; meaning that if they are saved they will and if they are not, then they won’t. So, from both angles one could say perseverance is necessary. If one does not persevere then they will not be saved no matter what they professed because they were never saved anyway. Perseverance is a requirement in a sense but God equips those who are truly saved with a sovereign and sustaining grace that enables them to keep said requirement. Once again, we persevere only because he preserves – shame on us if we dare think we can do it any other way!