Scriptspot weaves together a tapestry of current issues, biblical thought, language, and images. I have based it on the firm belief that we each matter and can affect the world around us by paying humble attention to God, to our nation, to those whose lives touch ours.
The Corruption of a Concept – of Perseverance and Saints
Last week I signed off
before I got to the end of my discussion of the Calvinist acronym, TULIP. I
saved the best for last ---
The West is burning in forest fire hell. A large part of the eastern half of the country is being steamed like dumplings. Even the Constitution has taken a gut punch. This last week has been
enough to remind us that human beings have a serious security deficit. We’ve
trudged through all of history sadly lacking in that commodity. Ever since Adam
and Eve were thrown out of the Garden and death became a reality, we’ve
struggled; something innate in us wants to live and live forever, happily,
comfortably, surrounded by love and beauty, and we know that won’t happen here.
Instinctively we know there’s
something better – some place that doesn’t involve car crashes and cannibalism,
tornadoes and terrorists, adultery and atrocities. We know that. We also know
that Christ looked at the criminal beside him on the cross and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Hmm… how does that work? The guy was a thief; he wasn’t a good guy, he didn’t
have time to become a good guy, and yet Christ didn’t say that to the man on
His other side. So, what did Thief 1 have going for him?
recognized Christ as the Messiah -- “Lord,[k]
remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” (Luke 23: 39-43). Perhaps he had heard the Lord declare
earlier, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one
comes to the Father except through Me,” (John 14:6). Thief 1 didn’t seem to see
things from a Calvinist point of view – he had no reason to think he was one of
the elect, which brings us to what the Council of Dort in the early 17th
century called “Perseverance of the Saints.”
glance it sounds like the Saints have got a tough road ahead of them. Like endurance
is going to be required (not entirely untrue). Calvinist thinking went like
this: if God the Father has chosen you, God the Son has died for your sins, and
the Holy Spirit has regenerated you, then you are forever saved – whenever you
die, you will be with Him in Heaven (technically not the same as Paradise, but
that’s another discussion.).
totally scriptural that once saved always saved. It is totally logical – if we can’t
do anything to attain salvation, then logically neither can we do anything to ruin
salvation. This is one of the most important Christian doctrines. Salvation is
free; it’s not just on loan.
what happens in the light of the first four Calvinist doctrines:
Depravity: If we’re totally
depraved to the point where we can’t even believe on our own and have to have
God force us into it, then how do we know that we’ve ever been saved in the
first place? Maybe our depravity deceived us into believing we believed. I
know, my head is spinning, too, and we just got started.
Election: If God selects
those whom He will save, and does so without any true input from our volition,
then how do we know He picked us? One of the biggest questions throttling
Christianity today is, “How do I know I’ve been saved?” How indeed? By the same method the
Puritans used. They worked very, very hard to become very, very prosperous,
thereby proving to themselves that they were among the elect. God wouldn’t
prosper a sinner, would He? And now we’re back to works. Joseph Arminius, who
actually published his 5-point theology before Calvin did, took a wrong turn
too. He thought you could lose your salvation. The Calvinists had it right in that you can’t, but their
other points robbed them of ever knowing they were saved in the first place.
The end result is the same. Disabling insecurity.
Atonement: If Christ died on
the cross only for those whom God chose, then the salvation it provided becomes
a scarce commodity, and though the Calvinists rightly believe that you can’t
work to gain it, you jolly well better work if you ever want to believe that you
believe, and believe enough, and you better work harder than everyone else;
what’s scarce has to be competed for.
Grace: If God’s grace is
indeed irresistible and your will had nothing at all to do with your salvation,
then how can you ever know that you received His grace to begin with? Becoming
a Christian does not involve a trumpet salute, a decendance of angels, and a
signed decree. (“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”Acts
16:31) Living as a Christian is not just one blessed delight after another. It’s
tough going – ask Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor who has been sentenced to death for leaving
Islam. Being a Christian is, for him, a definite matter of his will; he would
be much better off, from a human standpoint, to back up and say, “Never mind –
Allah Akbar!” which he knows he can do – God isn’t stopping him.
we’re back to Perseverance of the Saints:
If all the above is true, then it makes no difference in a Christian’s
sense of eternal security whether he can lose his salvation or not, since he’s
never really known he had it in the first place. It would take perseverance
indeed to live one’s whole life dedicated to a God who won’t tell you where you’re
going until you get there. I wouldn’t get on a plane under those conditions,
The Christian church today
is infected with unwarranted insecurity. A friend said to me the other day, “But
shouldn’t there be evidence?” We had been discussing Calvinism and eternal
security. Shouldn’t there be evidence of a Christian’s belief? Evidence for
whom? It’s not really any of my business whether or not you are “truly saved.”
If you tell me you are, as far as I need to know, you are. That’s between you and God. The
evidence must be needed for the insecure Christian to assure himself of his
relationship with God.
This uncertainty has
produced some disturbing results. The Lordship movement – “If He’s not Lord of
all, He’s not Lord at all,” – is a tumor growing off of the Perseverance
doctrine. It has resulted in a massive amount of churchy activity and nothing
to show for it. We have astounding youth programs, but we still lose 70% of our
young people when they go off to college. We build giant compounds and pull in
thousands of people on Sundays, but 95% of those people are not out spreading
the gospel, 33% of those people end up in divorces. We’ve blended in with our deteriorating culture so well that
we’re hardly noticeable.
And we should be noticeable.
But didn’t I just say we didn’t need evidence? We shouldn’t, for ourselves. But
we are Christ’s ambassadors to an unsaved world. We can’t fulfill that mandate
by running an ice cream social.
If, however, we are, “taking
every thought into captivity for Christ,”(2nd Corinthians 10:5) if we are “rightly dividing the word
of truth,”(2nd Timothy 2:15) then we are likely to be recognizable in our communities. If we are
secure in our position with Him, we will become different people, able to look
calmly into a heavenly future regardless of the hell going on around us. That
will win people to the Lord better than all the Christmas pageants ever
produced, better than all the theologies ever written.
if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us (rewards). If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. 2nd Timothy 2:11-13