Soteriology 040James 5:19-20 • Dr. Andy Woods • December 4, 2016 • Soteriology
Soteriology 40, James 5:19-20
December 4, 2016
Father, we’re grateful for this morning and grateful for Your grace that saves us and Your grace that keeps us and I pray, Father, that You’ll be with us this morning as we look once again in our Sunday School class into a difficult doctrine, the doctrine of eternal security, and is it really taught in the Bible or not. Help us as we work through some problem passages, and we’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory and we lift these things up in Jesus name, and God’s people said, Amen.
If we could take our Bibles and open them to the book of James, chapter 5, verses 19-20. We’re continuing to walk thru this outline on soteriology, which is the doctrine of salvation, spending a disproportionate amount of time on eternal security, given the importance of that issue. Eternal security, of course, being the idea that once saved always saved; you can’t lose your salvation in other words, if eternal security is true. And we’ve gone through, I think about 13 reasons why you can never lose your salvation. And the reason this study is taking longer than most is because there’s a lot of passages, they’re found all over the Bible really, that make it look like you can lose your salvation at first glance. Those are what we call problem passages, passages which seem to discredit the eternal security view.
So we have listed those problem passages in about eleven categories, and we have finished, believe it or not, finished talking about Paul. So we’ve gone through all of the challenges to the doctrine of eternal security in the 13 letters of Paul. So everything in the Old Testament we’ve gone through, everything in the gospel we’ve gone through, and then the 13 letters Paul wrote we’ve gone through all of the major passages that seem to deny eternal security.
So now what we’re moving into is what’s called the general letters; there are eight what are called general letters in the Bible, and basically they’re called general letters because they weren’t all written by the same guy. James wrote one, Peter wrote two, John wrote three, Jude wrote one, and unlike Paul’s letters the general letters aren’t really aimed at one church somewhere, like Paul wrote a letter to the church at Rome, a letter to the church at Corinth, a letter to the church at Ephesus. The general letters are more aimed at a broader audience. So that’s why they get this nickname, the general letters. And so we’re looking at the general letters and also the book of Revelation.
And those are all the verses we have left to cover so there’s an end in sight, believe it or not. We’ve covered a lot of ground already but as we get into the general letters and as we get into the book of Revelation are there passages that seem to deny the eternal security of the believer. At first glance the answer is yes. And can those passages be explained or harmonized with the clearer passages that teach you can never lose your salvation. The answer, of course, is yes.
So the first passage we looked at in the general letters is James 5:19-20, James of course being the Lord’s brother, half-brother, he wrote a whole epistle, and at the very end of his epistle he makes this statement that looks like oh my gosh, you can lose your salvation. And this is what he says at the end, “My brethren,” so is he talking there to believers or unbelievers? Believers! “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,  let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
So you look at that and he’s talking about saving the soul of a brother or a Christian from death; in other words, somebody is walking off into sin who’s a fellow Christian, they’re going to experience death, in fact, their soul could experience death and if you turn them away from that you save them from that predicament. So this business about saving a brother’s soul from death in the minds of many people opens up the door that oh my goodness, you can lose your salvation.
So how would eternal security people, like myself, handle that? Well, first is the acknowledgement that sin brings death. Remember Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is” what? “death.” And God told Adam and Eve at the very beginning the day you eat from the forbidden tree is the day you shall surely” what” die.” [Genesis 3:3, “but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”] And this is not the first time James has brought up the issue of death. When you go back to James 1 and look at verses 14-15 it says, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.”  “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth” what? “death.”
So it is very, very true that sin in the life of the Christian brings death; the problem is everybody thinks death is eternal death, meaning damnation in the lake of fire. And that is not the only way the Bible uses the word “death.” So one thing that can happen to a Christian is you can actually be disciplined to the point of death. In some cases the Christian goes so far in their rebellion against God that God actually cuts short their lifespan. And we’ve gone through these verses, we won’t go through them all again but there are four times in the New Testament where this happens: Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5; those that were drunk and disorderly at the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11; John talks about the sin that leads unto death, 1 John 5:16, and then in Thyatira Jesus talks about disciplining certain people in that church who were involved in very severe sin, to the point of death.
But in each case did these people that are disciplined to the point of death go to hell? NO! God can discipline a believer, God can actually cut short the lifespan of a believer because of perpetual sin but if they’re truly a believer, “absent from the body is to be” what? “present with the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 5:8, “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”] So when James talks about turning people away from sin and saving their soul from death he could be dealing with this subject of maximum church discipline. In other words, if you see a brother wandering off into sin turn him back from that way so that he doesn’t experience the same maximum divine discipline that Ananias and Sapphira experienced. So that’s the kind of death that James could very well be talking about. So we don’t have to leap to the conclusion that this is talking about eternal death, as in destruction in the lake of fire.
Beyond that the Bible reveals a concept called temporal death. Who is James writing to? Not just to believers but to who? Jewish believers. And how do we know that? We know that from James 1:1, it says, “To the twelve” what? “tribes who are dispersed abroad” that sounds kind of Jewish to me, doesn’t it? Does it sound Jewish to you, “the twelve tribes.” So who he’s writing to is a flock of individuals who are dispersed because the Jews, after Stephen’s speech were pushed out of the land of Israel by a wave of persecution, launched by then Saul of Tarsus. So James is writing to these dispersed Hebrew Christians in the books called the Diaspora, they’re in dispersion, they’re pushed out of the land of Israel, and there are several books in the New Testament, a lot of these are general letters that are written specifically to Hebrew Christians, James, of course, being one of them.
Who was the apostle to the Jews? Peter. So Peter is writing to Hebrew Christians, 1 Peter, 2 Peter. Does the book of Hebrews sound kind of Jewish to you? Writing to Hebrew Christians. And I would throw Jude into the mix because Jude is very similar to 2 Peter and it really looks to me like Jude is addressing the same audience that 2 Peter is addressing. And then of the four Gospels which is the one that sounds the most Jewish to you? Matthew! So most people believe Matthew also was written to Hebrew Christians.
So those books that I just mentioned, I hope I didn’t leave any out, are written to address issues that a Jewish Christian would wrestle with. And James, of course, is one of that group. And if the Jews understood anything they understood the reality of temporal death. Temporal death means you can go off into sin and it can wreck all kinds of things in your life but at the same time that doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian. And the reason the Jews understood this is because first of all, you have the life of David; is there any doubt David was a believer? There’s no doubt at all but when he sinned and committed, first adultery and then murder, and then he was confronted by Nathan, the prophet, remember what Nathan the prophet said? “The” what “will never depart from your house? The sword is an instrument of death. [2 Samuel 12:10, “’Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’”]
So David experienced temporal death all of his days; first of all, the son that was born out of that unholy union was taken and then there was warfare within his own family to the point where David was on the run a lot of times, being evicted from David’s throne. So there’s all kinds of death going on in David’s life but we all understand that when David died where did he go? Where did his soul go? Immediately to heaven. So there are things that you can, because of sin, completely destroy in your life but it’s not making a statement about your eternal destiny.
For example, you can go out this afternoon if you want to and max your credit cards out. Well, what have you done there? You haven’t sent yourself to hell, you’ve brought death to your future financial prosperity, is what you’ve done. You can go out today and you can get involved in all kinds of sexual sins; what have you brought into your life? Venereal diseases, unwanted pregnancy, guilt, these are all terrible things that sin brings into your life, they’re wrecking things in your life, they’re wrecking your marriage, wrecking your body, but if you’re in Christ you can die and go where? To heaven. So that’s what I mean by temporal death.
And so the Jews very clearly understood this concept of temporal death, the Jews that James is writing to. And they knew very well the concept of temporal death from the Mosaic Covenant because they had a covenant with God of blessings and cursings. The blessings are given in Deuteronomy 18:28-14; the cursings are given in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. And if you want some difficult reading some time read Deuteronomy 28:15-68. It’s talking about if you go into disobedience there’s going to be a curse placed on your crops, placed on your livestock, locusts are going to come and devour your produce, you’re going to be pushed out of your land. I mean, this is all the reality of temporal death.
But even in the midst of those curses did the nation of Israel ever stop being God’s firstborn son? That never stopped, did it? So their position is intact, although they experience temporal death. And I think that’s really what James is talking about, saving his soul from death, people look at that and immediately think it’s talking about hell but the Jewish mind, from the example of David, from the example of the Mosaic Covenant, understood very well the concept of temporal death. In fact, if you want to read a good book on temporal death the book of Proverbs is filled with this idea.
For example, in Proverbs 2:18, just to give you a flavor of temporal death, it’s talking about the man that goes and visits the harlot, it says: “For her house sinks down to death” see the word “death there, “And her tracks lead to the dead.” It’s not saying if you’re involved with a harlot you go to hell; what it’s saying is what her lifestyle and sinful consequence are going to introduce into your life is nothing good. Anything that’s good in your life, whether it be your marriage, your health, is going to be destroyed if you get involved with this prostitute.
Proverbs 5:5 again talks about this prostitute, it says, “Her feet go down to death, Her steps take hold of Sheol.” See, not every reference to death in the Bible is necessarily hell. Proverbs 14:12, this is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, it says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end thereof is” what? “death.” It’s not saying you’d better obey God so you don’t go to hell; that would be works salvation, wouldn’t it. What it’s saying is if you get involved in these kind of sins they’re going to just wreak havoc on your life and introduce temporal death the way David experienced it. But they’re not necessarily making a statement about your eternal salvation. And you could jot down Proverbs 21:16, it says basically the same thing. So when James here talks about a brother wandering off into sin and what you need to do is you can turn him back and you save his soul from death, you don’t have to jump to the conclusion that that’s hell. There’s other options on the table, and that’s really the option you want to pick, you want to pick the option that harmonizes with the Scripture. So it could be maximum divine discipline like what the Corinthians experienced or it could be this very Jewish reality of temporal death. So that’s how I handle James 5:19-20.
Let me take you to another one, let’s go to Hebrews, which is actually one book to the left from James. Hebrews 3:6, and verse 14 of the same chapter and this is what it says: “but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house— whose house we are,” now notice this, “if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” And then down in verse 14 it says, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” So people see that “if” clause and they say oh-oh, maybe there’s a chance we won’t hold fast to Christ, and if I’m not holding fast to Christ until the end maybe somehow I’m not going to be saved, maybe my soul is going to somehow slip out of the grace of God and go into the lake of fire.
So this becomes really a key verse that people use to deny the reality of eternal security. And let me give you sort of a response to that. The response is Hebrews 3:6 and verse 14 is not an admonition to stay saved or to prove one is saved to begin with. A lot of theologians will read that into the passage: prove you were saved to begin with or prove you haven’t lost your salvation. But what you’ll discover is first of all, the book of Hebrews, and I’ll talk more about this probably next time, the book of Hebrews was written to a believing audience. That’s the key to understanding Hebrews. How do I know that? Because there are certain clues given in the passage or in the book.
For example, Hebrews 3:1 says, “Therefore” what? “holy brethren,” does it sound like these people are saved, first they’re brethren and (b) they’re holy positionally. “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling,” does that sound like they’re saved? It sounds like they’re saved to me; “partakers of a heavenly calling consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” Would you say that the author of the book of Hebrews was saved? I would hope so or else you’ve got an unsaved person writing New Testament books. That wouldn’t make any sense. And so when he says “our” he is identifying (the author of Hebrews is and we’re not exactly sure who the author of Hebrews is) whoever he was he was identifying with the spiritual state of his audience.
So therefore how do we interpret these “if” clauses? Well, these are exhortations not to drift back into Judaism and that’s the whole point of the book of Hebrews. You’ve got Hebrew Christians, they’re actually, as I’ll probably be showing you next week, second generation Christians so they are a little weaker than the first generation. They’re in the diaspora and they’re literally being worn down by unbelieving Jews through persecution. You go through the book of Acts and who is (in almost every case) bringing the persecution against the church? The unbelieving Jews. I mean, Paul got along great with the Gentiles, it’s only when he got into the synagogue that he got thrown out over and over again.
So these unbelieving Jews hate the new church, they hate Christianity, they hate the idea of a Jew getting saved and coming out of that perverse generation which is under judgment. And they hated Peter’s message because Peter preached in Acts 2 and 3,000 Hebrew Christians got saved. So what is happening to these Hebrew Christians is no matter what happens to them, no matter where they go, they’re always being persecuted and the persecution is if you’d just come back to the institutions of Judaism then the persecution will stop. Now think of yourself in that condition; what would you be tempted to do? Well, okay, I’m really getting tired of having rocks thrown at me wherever I go, if it’ll get everybody off my case then I’ll just go back to a few feast days, I’ll show up at temple once in a while. And the temple was still functioning and standing at the time the book of Hebrews was written so there’s always this draw to go backwards. And so the whole book of Hebrews was written to address that problem, teaching people not to go backwards, not to regress back into Judaism. Why? Because what you have in Christ is the full revelation. Why would you go back to something that God always intended as a shadow? So the feast days, the temple, the sacrificial system are wonderful things but they were never intended to be the permanent reality, just shadows, if you will, pointing to Christ.
So the book of Hebrews is really written… it’s a beautiful treatment on human logic and how to argue a case because the author, whoever he was, is laying out a case systematically: major premise, minor premise, conclusion, is used beautifully all the way through this letter to show these Hebrew Christians not to go back to the institutions of Judaism because what you have now “in Christ” is the full revelation.
So therefore when you look at a verse like Hebrews 3:6 where it says, “if we hold fast our confidence….” Hebrews 3:14, “if we hold fast … the beginning of our assurance” it’s talking about the blessings you’re going to have in your life if you stay with the full revelation of Christ and don’t retrogress backwards into the institutions of Judaism, which were still functioning right up until which year? A.D. 70. [Hebrews 3:6, “but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house– whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” Hebrews 3:14, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,”]
And the author in this book starts to outline the consequences of retrogression. The consequences have nothing to do with hell as I’ll show you more next week. The consequences have to do with temporal consequences you experience in your life as a Christian, one of which is outlined very, very clearly in Hebrews 5:11-14, which is immaturity. [Hebrews 5:11-14, “Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”]
Every minute you spend in the institutions of Judaism without paying attention to the new full revelation that has come in Christ, as you go back to the Law you’re stuck in a state of immaturity because you’re shutting yourself off from New Testament doctrine and New Testament teaching. So if you retrogress the Law of God, as wonderful as it is, can never bring you to maturity. It can condemn you and tell you that you need maturity but it can’t usher you into maturity; you need New Testament revelation for that. So one consequence of retrogression is living in immaturity.
Another consequence of retrogression is loss of rewards at the Bema Seat which we’ve already talked about in this class at several junctures.
Another consequence of retrogression is outlined in Hebrews 12:5-11, divine discipline because “whom the Lord loves” the Lord what? “chastens. [Hebrews 12:5-11, “and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; “OR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”  It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”]
So when Hebrews 3 is saying “if we hold fast” (twice) it’s not saying if you don’t hold fast you’ve lost your salvation. What it’s saying is if you don’t hold fast the full revelation of Christ you are going to experience a lot of problems in your life, not the least of which is loss of rewards, not the least of which is a lack of growth spiritually. And not the least of which is divine discipline from the Lord because “whom the LORD loves the LORD” what? “chastens.” Now that’s what he’s getting at in Hebrews 3.
It’s interesting, as you go through Hebrews 3 do you find the word hell or any reference to hell at all? It’s not there. So people read hell into that passage but that’s not what this passage is talking about. It’s talking about retrogression leads to temporal consequences. It’s like somebody who comes to Christ out of a bad religious system, like a cult for example. They hear the gospel, they get saved and what all the former cult members trying to get them to do? Come back, and a lot of times they can put all kinds of pressure on you, financially or for your family, to get you to come back and the problem is, as much as you’re tempted to go back just to shut everybody up, right, every second you spend back under that bad doctrine is a second you can’t grow. You’re going back to something that can’t produce growth in you and so really I think that’s what the author of Hebrews is getting at; it’s not saying if you retrogress you’ve lost your salvation.
So once again all I’m doing with these verses is I’m picking options that are viable that harmonize with the very, very clear passages which teach once saved always saved.
Let me take you to another one; let’s go over to Hebrews 5:9-10. This is one people use often to teach that you can be saved and lose your salvation. In fact, I’ve had well-meaning people, even at Sugar Land Bible Church kind of pull this one out on me a couple of times. So I’ve had to think about this. And it says this, Hebrews 5:9, “And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of” what? “eternal salvation,” now we’ve got a problem because that says I access the source of my salvation not through faith but through what? Obedience. That’s a problem because that goes against everything we teach here, that you’re saved NOT by your obedience but by your trust in Christ. And then verse 10 goes on and it says, “being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” It’s talking there in verse 10 about how Christ’s priesthood is higher than Aarons.
And this, just as a side note, is one of the arguments that the author of Hebrews uses to show that what they have under Christ is a full revelation; why would you go back to an inferior revelation because after all the priesthood that you want to go back to comes from which line? Aaron’s line. Jesus is not just an ordinary Aaronic priest; He’s a higher priest after the order of who? A strange sounding name, Melchizedek. And so the author of Hebrews uses a historical figure, Melchizedek, to explain the fact that Christ’s priesthood is higher and better than Aarons as an argument so that they wouldn’t retrogress.
But anyway, verse 9 is troubling because it says God is the source of salvation to those who obey Him. So somebody that thinks you can lose your salvation interprets the verse this way: If I don’t obey Christ then I have lost my what? Salvation. So how do we handle a passage like that? And let me give you two possibilities. First of all, there’s a very strong argument as I mentioned before that the Hebrew Christians are believers, they’re called “holy brethren,” Hebrews 3:1. Now what do we know about this word “salvation”? Does it always refer to the same thing everywhere it’s used? No, it can refer to justification. What else? Sanctification. And what else? Glorification.
So we believe in the three tenses of salvation. Justification, as you probably know by now is the past tense of my salvation where I am saved from sin’s penalty at the point of personal faith in Christ. Sanctification is the present tense of salvation where I’m being gradually delivered from sin’s power as I learn to appropriate the divine resources God has given me moment by moment. And glorification is the future tense of my salvation where I’ll be delivered from sins very presence and all I have to do there is die. So justification takes place in an instant. Glorification takes place in an instant. But what about progressive sanctification? Does that take place in an instant? No, that’s a process of growth that we’re all in now as God’s people. So people, when they look at this word “salvation” it gets a little tricky because what they think is salvation always refers to justification. And that simply is not the case. It could be referring to justification; it could also be referring to sanctification. How do I know if it’s referring to justification or sanctification? What helps me? Context helps me.
So therefore, going back to Hebrews 5:9-10, when he says eternal salvation is available to those who obey Him it could be, it’s possible that this is talking about the middle tense of salvation because it is true that you are not justified before God through obedience, in other words, doing a work, but to experience progressive sanctification does that not require some form of obedience on your part? The only command given to the unbeliever to be justified is what? Believe! Now how many commands are there to the believer to experience growth? Lots, I don’t even know how many there are. Think how many there, don’t pray without ceasing, don’t forsake yourself, assemble yourselves together as is the habit of some, study and show yourself approved, do not let the sun go down on your anger, put on the full armor of God. So those require constant volition on my part and I’m not white-knuckling it doing it through human strength, I’m learning to obey God under the resources of power that He’s already given me. So when Hebrews 5:9-10 connects salvation to obedience it doesn’t have to be first tense salvation, it could be a statement about second tense salvation. That’s a possibility, isn’t it?
Now let me show you what I think is a slightly better way of handling this; to obey in some contexts is a synonym to believe. A synonym is a different word, same meaning. In some contexts obedience is used as a synonym for faith. Why is that? Because God has conditioned my salvation on me fulfilling a condition which is to do what? To believe, so that when I’ve actually obeyed Christ and believed on Him I have fulfilled the condition and thus I’ve obeyed God’s plan. See that? You say well, that’s a really weird interpretation. Does anybody else hold to that? Warren Wiersbe, a pretty well-known Bible commentator, look at what he says here on Hebrews 5:9-10.
He says, “‘Does the phrase “them that obey Him” (Heb. 5:9) suggest that, if we do not obey Him, we may lose that eternal salvation?” That’s what Arminians argue constantly from this verse. Weirsbe goes on and he says, “To ‘obey ‘God is the same as “to trust God,” as “them that obey Him” is a description of those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ.” So what has happened in your life when you placed your faith in Christ you have obeyed the condition that God has outlined for justification. So in that sense you’ve obeyed and done what you’re supposed to do by placing your faith in Christ, so obedience is therefore a synonym for faith in some contexts. That’s what Wiersbe is arguing. And you have to sort of at some point be sensitive to this because there are many, many verses in the New Testament that teach the obedience of the faith. You say “the obedience of the faith,” I thought faith was receiving something as a free gift and not obeying in terms of a work. That’s generally good thinking but not always; sometimes it talks about the obedience of the faith, in other words, when I place my faith in Christ I have obeyed His gospel, I have satisfied His condition and therefore I can experience justification.
Now notice Wiersbe quotes all these verses that speak of the obedience of the faith. Acts 6:7 says, “A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” What does that mean? Does that mean all of these priests did works of obedience and that made them justified before God? No, they obeyed God’s condition which was to do what? Believe. So that’s how the expression “obedience of the faith” is used. Romans 10:16 says, “But they have not all obeyed the Gospel.” Wait a minute, I don’t have to obey the gospel in terms of doing a work, I receive the gospel as a free gift. So “they have not all obeyed the Gospel,” does that mean I have to do works X, Y and Z to receive the gospel? No, I put my faith in the provision of God and I’ve obeyed His condition. So there “obedience” in some context is used as a synonym for faith.
1 Peter 1:22, I guess Wiersbe likes to quote from the King James Version, “Ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth.” Well, what do you mean, “obeying the truth”? I didn’t realize that my personal works purified my soul. Well, that’s not what Peter is talking about. What Peter is talking about is you have obeyed God by putting your faith in Christ; you have obeyed His one condition. So Wiersbe concludes and he says, “ Once we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, and thus have obeyed His call, we experience His eternal salvation.” [Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Vol. 2, p. 294). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books]
So Hebrews 5:9-10 is not saying I’ve got to do works A, B, and C to get saved, nor is it saying I’ve got to keep doing works A, B and C after I’m saved to keep my salvation. It’s simply using obedience as a synonym for faith which many times in the New Testament does. And maybe you don’t like Warren Wiersbe, okay, here’s somebody else.
Bob Gromacki, longtime professor of Greek and New Testament at Cedarville College, as a matter of fact I’m going to get a chance to see him this week, he’s one of the speakers at the Pre-trib study group. He’s been around for a long time and written a lot of books and he’s fairly well respected. He writes in something he wrote, this quote concerning Hebrews 5:9-10. “The provision of salvation was achieved through the obedience of the Son to the Father at the cross,” so we have salvation because Jesus obeyed the Father, “and the appropriation of salvation is accomplished through the obedience of the repentant sinner toward Christ. In this passage,” what passage? Hebrews 5:9. “In this passage obedience is synonymous with faith” and you’ll notice he quotes some of the ones Wiersbe quoted, Acts 6:7; Romans 6:17; 10:16). [Gromacki, Robert. (2001). Bold in Grace: An Exposition of Hebrews (p. 96). Reprint, The Woodlands, TX: Kress Christian Publications]
So you’re going to see in the New Testament this expression a lot, “obedience of the faith” and if you’re not rooted and grounded in what that means you’re going to think that that involves some kind of work on the front end, or on the back end, either to get salvation or to keep salvation. And that’s not the way the New Testament writers are using the expression “obedience of the faith.” It’s simply talking about when I trust in Christ I satisfy the condition, which is faith alone and as a result of that I’ve obeyed God’s calling. The “obedience of the faith” is not talking about works on the front end or works on the back end. That’s what I’m getting at, and that’s the confusion.
Do you want some other verses that do it this way? You probably don’t but I’ll give them to you anyway. Romans 1:5, right out of the gate it says, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles” there’s “obedience of faith,” you look at that and you say well, is Paul teaching works salvation? He could not be teaching works salvation because if you go down to verses 16-17 he says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who” what? “believes,” so Paul never taught do X, Y and Z to get saved. What he taught was God has offered a condition to the human race that must be satisfied, which is trust, and as you do that you have obeyed what God has said. It’s not talking about works on the front end or the back end.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-10, you have to get familiar with this concept or it’ll throw you as it did me when I first saw this. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10, it’s talking about unbelievers, it says, “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” And people look at that and say well obedience, that’s got to mean a work on the front end. No, not if you understand that obedience, as I’ve been trying to explain, can be used synonymously for faith.
1 Peter 1:22 I think we’ve already read, that was one of the verses that Warren Wiersbe cited. And if you don’t have this in your thinking the only thing you’re left with is a contradiction because Paul is very clear, is he not, in the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8-9, verses you probably have memorized. It says, “For by grace you have been saved through” what? “faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the” what? “gift of God;” look at verse 9, “not as a result of” what? “works,” Paul says as crystal clear as it could be said if you didn’t get in the door by works… and by the way, good works are going to help you grow in Christ as you do them under God’s power but those good works are not going keep you in the door either. Good works are important, God wants to do good work in our lives but good works didn’t get me in the door; good works don’t keep me in the door. Any hallelujah’s on that one? Praise the Lord, I am saved and kept totally by His grace. That’s the doctrine of eternal security.
So if you start interpreting passage like obedience of the faith as some kind of work in addition to faith to be justified you’ve got a contradiction right there in the Bible. And as I explained to you many, many weeks ago the Bible cannot contradict itself; it’s impossible. If I think the Bible is contradicting itself then probably the problem is not the Bible but it’s my interpretation of it. So I am picking an interpretation of obedience to the faith that doesn’t put one passage in contradiction to another. That’s all I’m doing with all of these so-called problem passages related to eternal security.
Now we’re going to skip Hebrews 6 and we’re going to skip Hebrews 10. Why are you skipping those? Because those are very strong verses that really look like you can lose your salvation and those passages are so important we’re going to spend a whole session, probably next week just on verse 6. So I can’t do Hebrews 6 in a soundbite. It’s something that requires in depth explanation because that’s the one set of verses everybody goes to to prove you can lose your salvation. So we will be returning to that. I can’t cover it next, I don’t’ have time.
But before I let you go let me just give you one more verse; go to Hebrews 12:14, this is a favorite of people that think you can lose your salvation. Look at what this says as the author of Hebrews signs off here at the end of this letter. He says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness,” now holiness is not there talking about positional holiness which you already have, it’s talking about what? Practical holiness, let your lifestyle catch up with your position is what he’s saying. In other words, holiness should be a characteristic of the growing Christian, not that we’re sinless but hopefully we’re sinning less. And that’s how we can ascertain our walk in Christ, not our position in Christ but our growth in Christ.
And then he says very troubling thing in verse 14, after he mentions holiness, “without which no one will see the LORD,” whoooo! What in the world does that mean? Does that mean I’ve got to have faith and a personal walk of holiness and if I don’t have both I won’t see God? That’s how people use that verse constantly. People say well, if you’re coming from the Arminian perspective they basically say this: faith plus holiness is necessary so you don’t lose your salvation, Arminianism. The Reformed camp often comes along and says this: faith, unless it is accompanied by holiness demonstrates the reality of that faith. So if you don’t have personal holiness in your life maybe you don’t have authentic what? Faith! And that is a troubling verse when you look at that so people interpret this always, not always but most interpretations you read interpret the verse this way: a holy life plus faith gets me to heaven. So faith plus a holy life proves that I have authentic faith—Calvinism. Faith plus a holy life is necessary so I don’t forfeit salvation—Arminianism, because after all, it says there without practical holiness no one is going to see God.
This is just an example of how people quote this and this is typically what they do; they make some theological statement in a book somewhere or in a sermon and then they grab Hebrews 12:14 and they just roll it out on you. They don’t give you any background of the book, they don’t give you any context, they just make a statement that if there’s not holiness in your life maybe you’re not saved or if there’s not holiness in your life maybe you never had salvation and they just kind of toss Hebrews 12:14 out to make their point.
So this comes from an interpreter or a theologian named Michael Horton, who’s a fairly big name in Christian circles. This guy is about as Reformed as the day is long; I wouldn’t even call this guy a five point Calvinist, I’d call him a six point Calvinist if that were possible. And beyond that he is totally Reformed in his eschatology, he’s amillennial, he doesn’t believe in a future kingdom, you know, the way we teach it here. And they used to have this show in Southern California called The White Horse Inn and it was three of them and they would get on for an hour and they would just, on this sort of dialogue format just promote Reformed theology all the time. And I enjoyed listening to them, I actually bought into some of it early on as a Christian because I didn’t really know any better. And all of them are very smart, all of them have all of these academic degrees after their name. And this is how a lot of the Reformed people are, they think that they’re kind of at a higher intellectual level than the rest of us so there’s sort of a disdain for the free grace view which is what I represent, dispensationalism which is a viewpoint I represent.
So notice what Michael Horton says in his book Introducing Covenant Theology, page 182. “The New Testament lays before us a vast array of conditions” plural “for final salvation.” Now that should bother you because we’ve spent three years in the Gospel of John in this church where I’ve shown you over and over again that there’s one condition for salvation. He’s saying there’s multiple conditions. And this second sentence should bother you. “Not only initial repentance and faith, but” when someone says well I believe in faith alone but… you immediately have a problem; there’s no “but” there, there’s no conjunction there, you’re saved by faith alone, end of discussion! So when someone is saying “faith but” and they use the word multiple conditions, that immediately you spiritual antenna should go up. He says, “The New Testament lays before us a vast array of conditions for final salvation. Not only initial repentance and faith but perseverance demonstrated in both in love towards God and neighbor are part of that holiness,” and notice the verse he quotes, because after all the Bible says without holiness without which no one will see the Lord. So what he’s saying here to his Reformed listeners is if your life doesn’t have holiness in it you may never have had initial faith to begin with.
The Arminian interpreter would come along and use that passage and say if there’s no holiness in your life yeah you had salvation but you what? lost it. And they love Hebrews 12:14. Here’s the catch; there’s a totally different way of reading Hebrews 12:14. Hebrews 12:14 I think is not talking about our arrival in heaven, no one will see God, it’s talking about others seeing the Lord through the believer’s life and witness. It’s not talking about seeing the Lord in heaven; that’s how this verse is used, seeing the Lord in heaven. But what is the context here? A personal relationship with who? With others. Look at the context; context resolves most of these problems. Verse 14, “Pursue peace with” who? “all” people, that’s not talking about my arrival in heaven one day, that’s talking about my one on one interaction with people. “Purse peace with all” people, and then it says without holiness no one will see God. And then it talks in verse 15 about “lest any root of bitterness spring up and cause trouble. [Hebrews 12:15, “observing lest any be failing of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up should trouble you and by this, the many might be defiled,”]
So what happens when I’m not pursuing peace with all people? What happens if a root of bitterness develops within me? Then the people that I’m interacting with won’t see the Lord through my life. That’s what he’s talking about. Do you see that? I’m not giving God an opportunity to showcase Him as I meander around with bitterness and I am mistreating people. If I’m mistreating people as a Christian basically what’s happening is people that you are mistreating are not given an opportunity to see what a Christ-like spirit is. It’s not talking here about the one day arrival in heaven, that’s how everybody quotes the verse but that’s not what it’s speaking of.
So it’s not requiring faith plus a holy life to get to heaven. What it is talking about is, as a Christian I’m saved, I’m eternally secure and I’m to walk with the Lord, I’m to grow as a Christian, I’m to allow the Lord to produce good fruit in me and through me and what happens to my family and my friends and my church members and my relatives and my relationship? They can now look at me and say oh, that’s what Jesus is like, because as the saying goes you may be the only Bible a person ever reads. Right! Your unbeliever is not just going to randomly pick up and read the Bible so if that’s true how does God reveal Himself to these unbelievers? His plan is to do it through your life, so when you’re offended or told off or mistreated and you don’t immediately react emotionally and retaliate, you have Spirit-filled control, people say oh, that’s what that Jesus stuff is like. So you’re showcasing Christ in daily relationships; it’s not talking about arrival in heaven. Are you with me on this?
And you can see this clearly just by looking at the context of it because he says “pursue peace with” what? “all people,” that’s the context. James 5, Hebrews 3, Hebrews 5, Hebrews 12, so I’ll stop talking. Any thoughts, questions, comments.