Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from July 31st, 2011.
All of their lives, my two oldest children have had a huge fear of roller coasters and thrill rides. They like the idea of going to theme parks, but in reality they are not much fun. If you don’t get on the rides, there’s not much to do. No amount of encouragement or even bribery could ever coax one of my kids on a big ride. Now, I must admit, they got this fear from me. When I was their age, I was terrified by thrill rides. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I overcame my fear- and this I had to do because I was a youth minister who needed to save face with the students I had brought to the park! I discovered that I actually liked the rides and never knew what I was missing.
At the end of last school year, my son’s band took a field trip to Frontier City in OKC. To my amazement, he hopped on just about every one of the rides. It seems his peers had a power of coercion I did not! Like me, he found he enjoyed the rides. Last week we took a day to venture down to Six Flags where some of the really big thrill rides are located. Again, I was surprised this time at my daughter’s determination to conquer her fear. We started with some small roller coasters to get “warmed up” and then headed for our first big ride of the day- Batman. Batman is an exciting ride where your legs dangle down from the car and you experience several high speed loops and corkscrew turns.
We loaded the ride and I looked at the kids- they were nervous to say the least, but determined- this was their first truly “big” ride! I said to them, “Trust me. You’re going to love it!” As we went down the initial drop and into the first loop I heard both of my kids screaming- in enjoyment! I will never forget their excitement and vivid recollection of every detail of the ride as it ended and we slowly moved back to the loading area. Of course, they begged me, “Dad, can we ride it again!” We did ride it again and then moved on to the double-looped Shock Wave and many other rides. What a special moment for me as a father as I watched my children conquer a fear in their life. They were growing up before my very eyes that day.
Later that night as I reflected on the events of the day, I wondered if I had not experienced a vivid illustration of our relationship to the Heavenly Father. So many times we fail to go deeper in our faith because of fear. We’re afraid for God to completely transform our lives because the change will take us out of our comfort zones. It may lead to questions or ridicule from those who know us, or even result in the loss of friends. We’re afraid to go on a mission trip because of the many unknowns. We’re afraid to teach a class because we think we are unable. We’re afraid to talk to others about God for fear of their response. We’re afraid to give of ourselves and our resources to the Kingdom because we fear God won’t provide. We’re afraid of absolute commitment to Him because of the cost involved. When you think about it, fear cripples our maturity in Christ.
A Pharisee named Jairus once came to Jesus in faith that He could heal his sick daughter. On the way to Jairus’ house, news came that the girl had died. Jairus’ new found faith in Christ was being tested. Where he once had faith in Jesus for healing, he would now have to have faith for a resurrection. Jesus turned to Jairus and said, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe” (Mark 5:36). I wonder how many times Jesus would say those same words to us- do not be afraid, only believe. To grow to deeper levels in our walk with Christ will require risk and cost to us. However, we must not be afraid, but believe that God will provide and take care of the details. Conquering your fears is often and arduous and exacting experience. But once we have done it, what an amazing reward! My kids discovered theme parks are much more fun when you overcome your fear and ride the big rides. So it is in your relationship with the Lord. When you give up your fear and trust God in whatever He is calling you to obey, the experience of walking with Christ becomes fuller, deeper, and much more rewarding. How thrilled is the Father to see His children growing up before His very eyes!
What is God calling you to do? What is your fear that holds you back? Step forward in obedience and believe in God… trust me, you’re going to love it!
One frustration many people have about the game of baseball is the lack of instant replay to verify the calls of the umpires (except in the case of home runs). The calls are subject to human error and can have huge consequences, such as the recent case of a pitcher being denied a no hitter by the errant call of an umpire at first base. The often ambiguous nature of an umpire’s call can be a frustration to both player and fan alike. Was the runner really out? Or was he safe? Fortunately, in terms of salvation, we don’t have to deal with ambiguity on the part of our Heavenly Judge. Our salvation in Christ is secure and clearly “safe.”
Two weeks ago I wrote a post on the doctrine of eternal security and attempted to positively defend the doctrine on the basis of the larger theological construct of justification by grace through faith. In this post, I want to explore some specific biblical passages that teach the salvation of all genuine believers is secure. First, a little background on eternal security:
In general, the initial articulation of the doctrine of eternal security, or perseverance of the saints, is credited to Calvinism. The “P” in the Calvinist acronym “TULIP” stands for perseverance of the saints (although it should be noted John Calvin did not create the “TULIP” acronym, adherents to his teachings did). Eternal security is a necessary part of the paradigm of Calvinism, as the doctrines of election and efficacious grace logically demand the necessity of it. Incidentally, in reference to eternal security, I am always intrigued at the number of people who are opponents of Calvinism that label themselves as Arminians. I gently ask, “Do you believe you can lose your salvation?” “Of course not!” is always the reply. “Then you are not Arminian!” Arminians believe that one can lose their salvation on the basis of biblical texts that supposedly teach apostasy and the historical evidence of the many who have abandoned the faith (more about this in next week’s post).
Despite the connection of eternal security to Calvinism, there is clear warrant for belief in eternal security based on biblical texts that emphatically and independently support the doctrine. I could list pages worth of passages, but here are just a few:
John 10:27-29- “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, 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.
There could not be a more emphatic and definite rejection of the notion that a believer could lose their salvation than this passage. The clause, “they will never perish,” employs the use of the double negative combined with the aorist subjunctive in Greek. This is the most definitive literary option John had at his disposal to state that there is no possibility of something happening in the future. There is absolutely no chance that a believer will be removed from the hand of Jesus- a metaphorical description of salvation. Furthermore, this passage reinforces the idea I shared in the previous post that a biblical understanding of salvation sees God holding on to us, not us holding on to God. The basis of salvation is all about what God has done, is doing, and will do for us- not what we do for ourselves (see 2 Tim. 1:12).
1 Peter 1:3-5- “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Peter uses three adjectives that powerfully describe the secure nature of one’s salvation. A Christian’s salvation cannot “perish”- a word that was used of something destroyed by an army in battle. Neither can it be “undefiled”- nothing impure can be introduced to salvation to corrupt or spoil it. And salvation cannot “fade”- nothing brought to bear on salvation can cause it to lose its efficacious nature.
There are a number of texts in the Bible that speak of God’s continued work in the life of a believer that brings salvation to its final completion:
Philippians 1:6- “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:38-39- “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Eternal security is also embedded in other biblical doctrines. Millard Erickson in Christian Theology lists a few of these doctrines that seem to demand the need for eternal security:
- Union with Christ (John 15:1-11). Believers have been made one with Christ with His life flowing through them. It seems inconceivable that the connection could be broken, thus frustrating the divine ideal.
- The impartation of the Holy Spirit and new life. 1 John 3:9- “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” If you could lose you salvation, could you be un-born again? Can spiritual death occur in someone who has already received the Holy Spirit? The answer to these questions is clearly “no.”
- Assurance of salvation (1 John 5:13). In this verse John says the purpose for his letter is to assure his readers they can have assurance of their salvation. How could you really be sure of your salvation if it were possible to lose it? In addition, there is nothing in the Bible that clearly describes or defines how and when a person has lost their salvation. With so much left to speculation about how a person has forfeited their salvation, one could never have full assurance of when they have, or do not have, their salvation intact.
Let me close this post by addressing a common criticism of eternal security: the issue of disobedience. If salvation cannot be lost and is secure, how do we account for the misdeeds of believers- especially ongoing, even defiant acts of sin? Surely sin of this degree, it is argued, is evidence that salvation has been lost.
First, the Bible clearly affirms that no Christian will be perfect after coming to Christ for salvation. As inhabitants of this earth, believers still struggle under the curse of sin and the lingering effects of a sin nature (see Rom. 7:15-25). Christians will sin. The difference is that the great passion of their life is no longer focused on sin and self, but rather Christ and His kingdom. Even though Christians will make mistakes, their lives are “tracking” toward the things of God, not the world. The Bible is replete with examples of true followers of God asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness (Psalm 51) and being commanded to seek forgiveness (1 John 1:19)
Second, there is plenty of biblical evidence that the sin of believers does not lead to the loss of their salvation. Ken Keathley writes about this in A Theology for the Church where he recalls believers that have committed terrible acts of sin, such as Lot, Samson, David, and Peter, yet their faith in the end remained. A true believer is compelled to eventual repentance and restoration (see Matt 26:74-75). Keathley lists other evidence in the Scripture on the relationship of sin and eternal security:
- The Bible never presents eternal security as an excuse for sin (Rom. 6:1-2). This is a common complaint of those who oppose eternal security. The possibility of losing one’s salvation, they argue, is the motivation for holding Christian’s accountable. However, that construct cannot work in the paradigm of freedom (Gal. 5:1, etc.) that Christians enjoy.
- Sin does have consequences (Gal. 6:7-9) that can result in divine chastening (Heb. 12:5-7); being rendered unfit for service (1 Cor. 9:27), the loss of reward (1 Cor. 3:13-15), and even possibly premature death (1 Cor. 11:30).
- The Hoy Spirit guarantees that no backslider will be happy (Psalm 32:3-5).
- An indifference to spiritual matters and a lifestyle of sin can indicate that no true conversion ever took place (Heb. 12:7-8; 2 Pet. 2:22).
- God purges His own from whatever detracts them from His purpose and glory (John 15:1-3).
As you see from this list, believers are capable of committing sin and consequences do result. However, despite the failures of true believers, they will never fail finally. God will bring them to repentance and their salvation is secure
Next week we will examine some of the key biblical passages used by those who oppose eternal security and explore how they fit in to the larger framework of salvation and perseverance. Thanks for reading!
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from July 24th, 2011.
For years, I have been asked my opinion of the Harry Potter books and films, but always politely replied that I had not seen them. They were never really an option for my family in the first place since my oldest child was four when the first movie was released. I was also disinclined to read the books or watch the movies because of the witchcraft contained within them. However, with the huge build up in recent months about the last Harry Potter movie I have received more inquiries about a Christian perspective of the series. So, I decided to “inform” myself and over the course of some very late nights watched all seven movies available on DVD. I then watched the final movie in the theater. Since I went to this effort, I figured it would be prudent to write a post about my perspective (not to presume that my perspective is one to be coveted!).
I understand that this post has the potential to be very controversial. I have discovered people get emotionally intense over Harry Potter- both positively and negatively. Some will condemn my decision to be informed by watching the movies, saying that is the same as if I said I want to be informed about pornography so I better look at some. Of course, that is not in any way a fair comparison. Others will also scoff that my analysis of the Harry Potter movies is not to summarily condemn them pell mell. Many of you may be surprised and/or disappointed that I do not excoriate the series. In my estimation, a rational and objective analysis of these movies warrants a balanced, albeit cautious approach. I do admit, my thoughts in this post are my initial thoughts. Perhaps upon longer and deeper reflection, my conclusion may be altered somewhat. Also, my perspective on this issue may be hindered to some degree as I have not read any of the books.
The recent article in Relevant Magazine entitled “The Redemption of Harry Potter,” has caused something of a firestorm in the evangelical community about the Christian response to Harry Potter. In this article, author Ryan Hamm states that Harry Potter is one of the most Christian symbols in modern pop culture. In my opinion, I think that statement is overstated. The effort by some to label the Harry Potter series “Christian,” is also an error. Hamm infers that Harry Potter is a type of Jesus Christ, although is clear to state the sacrifice Harry makes for his friends is nothing to that of the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross. Many are uncomfortable with the comparisons Hamm makes of Harry Potter to Christianity- and rightly so. Many times the things we read in books or see in movies that seem to be comparative to Christianity are skewed. For example, the “heaven” scene in the last Harry Potter movie does have broad comparisons to Christianity, but the lesson portrayed is that you get to heaven based on the good deeds you do- clearly not what the Bible teaches.
And yet, we must admit that a number of the themes Hamm lists from the Harry Potter series do, in fact, reflect principle themes of the Christian faith: championing the cause of the poor and oppressed, sacrificial love, and the obvious triumph of good vs. evil. The loyalty, courage, and strength to resist evil are all character traits of Harry Potter we would like to see in our own children. In other words, it seems difficult to deny that there are positive elements in the series.
Despite the good things about Harry Potter, there are negative things as well. Parents should be wary about letting small children see the movies. In each subsequent film the scary images, intensity of violence, and “darkness” increases. The latter movies have a rating of PG-13. The most troubling elements about the books/movies are obviously magic and witchcraft. To me, the greatest problem in regard to this issue with the Potter series is not necessarily what we find in the books/movies themselves (Rowling never, at least from what I can tell, states the source of the magic), but in the spin offs generated by the series. Evidence reveals that every time a book/movie was released, there was a spike in interest in magic, witchcraft, Wicca, and the occult. These are very dangerous and most definitely anti-Christian. The Bible clearly condemns the practice of witchcraft (Lev. 19:26, 31; Deut. 18:10-11; 2 Chron. 33:6). Additionally, you can peruse Amazon and discover a host of books full of spells and other topics related to witchcraft that are connected with Harry Potter in effort to increase sales. As Christians, and especially Christian parents, we must exercise extreme caution in ensuring that we our children or ourselves never get involved in the practice of witchcraft. My advice to families would be that if they do choose to allow their children to read the books/watch the movies, they need to do so with their children and talk with them along the way. If a family decides to pass on the Harry Potter series simply on the potential danger of witchcraft, I think they are rightfully justified to do so.
That said, we need to be careful of falling into the trap of a double standard when it comes to Harry Potter. I have heard some condemn the Potter series, yet laud the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yes, I understand the two series are not perfect comparisons, but we must be honest to the fact that the Lord of the Rings series does contain magic and witchcraft- and quite a bit of it. Yes, the allegorical elements of the Lord of the Rings appear to be overtly Christian (although Tolkien always denied the books were Christian allegory), but that does not lessen the presence of magic/witchcraft in the series. I was glad for my teenage son to see the Lord of the Rings because I wanted him to see the bravery, courage, loyalty, and sacrifice of the characters- not to mention good triumphing over evil. Oddly enough, many of the characters in the Potter series share these same characteristics- as well as good winning over evil. In addition, it seems that we could include the Star Wars series in the debate. “The Force” certainly connotes elements resembling magic, yet people love this series for the very same reason they love the Lord of the Rings and consequently, Harry Potter. Finally, I find it interesting that the same amount of concern and even uproar over Harry Potter is not also aimed at books/movies such as the Twilight series, the Vampire Diaries, and even Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place- all of which are centered on elements of the occult.
My point in all of this is that we should look at Harry Potter with balance. There are potentially dangerous and insidious things that can result from fascination with the Harry Potter series. Yet, there are good things that can be drawn out as well. Thus, it seems that Christians need to follow their conscience on the decision they make to read the books/watch the movies and whether they will allow their children to do the same. In doing so, we need to be careful not to pass judgment on our fellow Christians in how they respond to Harry Potter. Paul’s words to the Corinthians about food offered to idols (1 Cor. 8 ) and to the Colossians about observing festivals (Col. 2:16-23) seems to be the guideline we should follow in this debate. These were emotionally charged topics that, in Paul’s estimation, both sides of the controversy had a place of acceptance in the Christian faith.
For example, in our church we have families that home school and families that attend public school. We have families that observe certain traditions at Christmas that other families believe strongly against. Yet, the biblical admonition is that we are not to judge others who disagree with us in matters of conscience. To the Corinthians and the Colossians, Paul said we are free to embrace the beliefs dictated by our conscience so long as those dictates do not violate the truth of Scripture and holy living. It is interesting to note in both the Corinthians and Colossians passages, Paul makes reference to being “puffed up” in our handling of such disputes. In other words, home school families are never to think they are better, holier, or more in tune with truth than public school families. And the reverse is true. Public school families must never disdain those who choose to home school. This is how the body of Christ is supposed work. It seems this is a wise approach to Harry Potter. There will be families who enjoy the series and others who think it dangerous. Both sides appear to have merit to their arguments. Thus, each one must follow their conscience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from July 17th, 2011.
The other day I received an anonymous letter in the mail titled, “There Is No Once Saved Always Saved!” What followed was a list of Bible passages that, in reality, do not support the author’s position. My hunch is that I am not the only pastor who received this letter. I find it interesting that some people are so passionate about “disproving” the doctrine of eternal security. They go to great lengths and expense to make their voice heard. The letter reminded me of the time I heard a preacher on TBN enthusiastically shout, “The greatest heresy in the church today is once saved always saved!” So, I thought a post (or posts) on the doctrine of eternal security, a.k.a. “perseverance of the saints”; a.k.a. “once saved always saved” would be fitting for Tough to Tackle Tuesdays.
To begin, the doctrine of eternal security simply makes theological and logical sense. In the larger framework of salvation on the basis of God’s grace, and not on the works of man (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), the possibility of someone losing their salvation is not feasible. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is a gift from God given to a person on the basis of His grace and the merits of Christ at the cross and resurrection. Salvation is something we absolutely cannot earn and do not deserve (Rom. 6:23). The problem with the possibility of losing one’s salvation is that it leads to the question, “How do you get it back again?” Herein lies the problem: the assumption on which every opponent of eternal security I have interacted with is that salvation can be received again (and again and again and so on). But is that true?
Almost anything you read by someone who denies the doctrine of eternal security will include a reference to Heb. 6:1-8- the often misunderstood passage where a person “tastes the heavenly gift” (v.4) and becomes guilty of having “fallen away” (v.6). What is especially interesting is that these proponents seldom discuss the rest of verse 6, which states that for any person who falls away “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” If we are to interpret this passage as teaching the possibility of losing one’s salvation, it is emphatically stated that once salvation is lost, it can never be regained. I have never heard any opponent of eternal security teach anything but the ability to be “saved again.” Yet, Heb. 6:6 denies this possibility.
The notion of being able to lose one’s salvation belies the very principle of salvation by grace through faith. In other words, if my bad deeds (or lack of good deeds) are enough to merit the forfeiture of my salvation, then the only possible conclusion is that I must be able to do something to earn it back again. But if this were true, it stands against the linchpin of New Testament theology: salvation, not by human effort, but by God’s grace.
One of my favorite amusement park rides is the Batman ride at Six Flags Over Texas. This inverted roller coaster features loops, corkscrews, and thrilling turns at high speeds in a train/car where your legs freely dangle below the seat. I am relieved when I get on this ride that there is a safety bar and latch which securely affixes my body to the seat. How grateful I am that the operator doesn’t shout out, in the absence of any restraining device, “Y’all hold on!” Given the wild path of the ride, if it were up to me and my strength to hold on to my seat, I would certainly fall off. But my safety is not up to me on the ride- it is in the engineering and strength of the restraints. As a result, I can enjoy the ride and not be scared to death that I will fall. This illustration, though possibly construed as trite or childish, seems to capture the essence of the Scripture’s teaching about salvation. Salvation is not up to me: it is not earned by me, it is not maintained by me, and will not be consummated at the end of the age by me. Salvation is completely the work of God. Thus, salvation is depicted in the Bible, not by me holding on to God in whatever strength I can muster through deeds the Bible says are already tainted by sin (Isa. 64:6), but by Christ and His perfect work holding on to me. If getting salvation and keeping it were up to me, I certainly would lose it. But receiving and keeping salvation is up to God and He will never lose His grasp on me (John 10:28-29).
A final point to make in this post is the issue of the perceived expediency and necessity of denying the doctrine of eternal security. Simply put, opponents believe that eternal security doesn’t keep people on the straight and narrow. A requirement of good deeds is necessary to “hold people’s feet to the fire,” so to speak, in living righteously. Failure to do these deeds, so it is claimed, is the basis for losing salvation. However, Paul gives eloquent defenses against this position in his letters to the Romans and Galatians. Here, Paul argues that the basis of salvation is not works, but grace, and that grace is a sufficient motive for a life of holiness. In Rom. 7 Paul describes that Christians are set free from obedience to the law as the necessary requirement for salvation. This is good news since none of us can perfectly keep God’s law. Rom. 8 is then his treatise on life in the Spirit and the resulting freedom under grace. Correspondingly, Paul makes the same argument to the Galatians in chapters 5 and 6 of that letter. Again, he appeals to the imagery of freedom from bondage to the law- “for freedom, Christ has set us free… do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). For the genuine believer, the grace and mercy of God is sufficient reason to live for Him.
In the next few posts for Tough to Tackle Tuesdays, I will address some of the key Bible passages that defend the doctrine of eternal security as well as look at those passages often used in its denial.
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from July 10th, 2011
The other morning I arrived in my office and was greeted by the church’s maintenance man. He said, “Pastor, can I talk to you.” I said, “Sure, what’s going on?” It was at this moment I noticed he was carrying a bucket of water and a towel. He asked me to sit down. I did so, thinking the reason for the bucket was due to his having been working on something. However, he knelt down in front of me and began taking off my shoes! I have to admit that took me off guard. I naturally asked, “What are you doing?” His simple response- “I’m just doing what I’ve been told to do.” He then proceeded to wash my feet. I have only had my feet washed a few times in my life (in the sense of an act of servanthood that is) and I’ve always felt uncomfortable each time.
First of all, (and let’s face it) feet are gross. Also, it’s just strange to have someone washing your feet- what if they stink, what if I have a hole in my sock, etc.? But washing feet in the time of Jesus was a common occurrence. There were no asphalt or concrete paved roadways in that day and place. The streets were dusty and sandals were the common footwear. The custom was to wash the feet of a guest before they entered your home. This was a sign of basic hospitality. Recall that while Jesus was dining in the home of a Pharisee, a woman came up to Jesus with costly ointment and anointed his feet as well as washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair. The Pharisee was appalled that Jesus would allow a woman with a sinful reputation to do this. However, Jesus gently reprimanded the Pharisee for not offering Him water to have His feet washed.
Washing the feet of another in Jesus day was clearly an act of humility and servanthood. According to John’s Gospel, during the Last Supper, Jesus rose, took a basin of water and a towel, and began washing the feet of His disciples. When He came to Peter, he refused saying, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” (John 13:6). Peter thought it was beneath the dignity of Jesus to wash the feet of others. After all, washing feet was the job of servants, not teachers. But that was exactly the point. Jesus served His disciples through a humble act as an example that they should do the same for others. Matt. 20:28- “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our maintenance man’s act of humble service got me thinking about the way I serve others. Life for me is lived at a fairly frenetic pace. Family and church keep me very busy. In fact, most days simply do not have enough hours in them for me to get everything done. And I know many of you reading this have similar schedules. Yet, we cannot allow busy lifestyles to keep us from serving others. Acts of service keep us humble and grounded in the truth that a life pleasing to God cannot be led in self-absorption. Jesus’ life models for us the life of a servant and is certainly His expectation of us all. As my friend said who washed my feet, “I’m just doing what I’ve been told to do.” Jesus tells all of us to think and do for others, not just ourselves.
I want to challenge you this week to look for opportunities to serve others. Do something that breaks you away from your busyness or routine. Do something for someone you haven’t done in a long time. Do something that conventional thinking might say is “beneath” you. I once read the story of someone who visited a replica of the Upper Room where Jesus and His disciples ate the Last Supper. Everything was put together in great detail to reflect what the first century room would have looked like. Upon close examination, however, there was one thing missing: the towel. Each of us must be intentional to ensure that the towel, the item used to humbly serve the disciples in that room, is not missing from our lives.
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma from July 3rd, 2011.