Friday, April 13, 1990

Letter 1 - March 24, 1990

Dear Greg,
.... Greetings; grace, mercy, and peace be unto you, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
..... Last week when we were having lunch, you asked me a doctrinal question. You asked me, whether I thought a Christian could lose their salvation? I answered that I didn't think that was a proper doctrine, but I think the answer may have misled you. I thought I'd better clarify, so that's what this letter is for.
.... It's true, I do not believe a Christian can lose their salvation. I think it's an improper doctrine, as I said. But having examined the other side of the argument (that a Christian cannot lose their salvation), I think that's an improper doctrine as well. I don't think either argument is proper in relation to salvation itself, and that some third thing must really be true on the subject. Please allow me to explain.
Two years ago, several friends of mine became involved in a doctrinal dispute on the subject of whether or not a Christian could lose their salvation. Some of them said "Yes," and others said "No." The arguing soon got out of hand. A lot of feelings were hurt, a lot of friendships were broken, and many people seemed confused. I decided to look into both sides of the argument for myself, to review both scriptural cases.
.... As I looked into those doctrines, I found that a lot of traditional understanding had crept into the subject – understanding that was not exactly Scriptural. This left room for presumption, and there was error enough to go around. Many of the terms involved in this subject were poorly defined or completely misunderstood.
.... As an example of a poorly defined scriptural term, we might choose the term "grace". Most people understand grace to be an attitude of unmerited favor towards us, proceeding from God (which I think is true, but there is more to it than that.) Others think that grace is a lenient attitude on the part of God toward our vices ("The grace of God will cover it"-- see Jude 4).
.... Grace is far more than an attitude God has toward us; grace is an actual empowerment, an ability God imparts to us that enables us to become servants to righteousness (See 2 Cor 9:8; 12:9; I Cor 15:10). In Titus 2:11,12 Paul tells us that this is the grace of God that brings salvation -- which casts an entirely new light on the meaning of "saved by grace".
.... Other scriptural terms, such as "predestination" or "foreknowledge", are understood to function in certain ways and to include certain aspects that are nowhere ascribed to them in Scripture. A good amount of presumption is involved in this.
.... There are other Scriptural terms that can only be understood properly in relation to Christ Himself: terms such as "elect" or "salvation" being the best examples of this (Eph 1:4; Col 3:11,12/Luke 2:30; Psalm 118:21,22). Without relating these directly to Jesus Himself, as a manifestation of Christ in you, those terms default to different meanings entirely.
.... To the average Christian, these charges are probably pretty alarming. But the only real question to ask is whether they are Scripturally true. Salvation itself is such a serious matter that any such questions must also be taken seriously.
.... But back to the basic question of the two doctrines: can a Christian lose his salvation? Or can he never lose his salvation?
.... I mentioned that I believe both of those doctrines to be improper. The way they are formed is just not the way you put together a good, sound doctrine. There are four fundamental reasons why I must fault them:

1) All Scriptures used as proof text, for either doctrine, are off-subject. "Falling from grace, Being estranged from Christ, Suffering shipwreck of the faith, Overthrowing their faith, Beware, lest you also be cut off"; or, "Knowing you have eternal life, Sealed by the Holy Spirit, No one is able to snatch them out of My hand", etc.
.... In actuality, none of those Scriptures have addressed salvation at all! They are addressing subjects that are peripheral to salvation, such as grace, faith, eternal life, redemption, perseverance, and abiding in Christ – everything except salvation itself. In those passages, the words ‘save', ‘saved', or ‘salvation' are not even being used (except in two cases, and in each case it is not the actual topic under discussion.)
.... In the concordance you'll find 110 verses, from the New Testament alone, that use the word ‘save', ‘saved', or ‘salvation'. So how can each side of the argument claim that they are addressing salvation, without quoting a single one of the verses that mention salvation? After all, there are only 110 of them! So my first reason for rejecting both doctrines is that their Scriptures are all off-subject.
2) My second reason for rejecting each doctrine is that they have no Scriptural premise. By this I mean, that each position lacks a basic Scripture that is able to set forth its belief in a doctrinal, creedal statement, upon which the rest of the belief may be founded.
.... For example: if there was a verse that said quite plainly, "You can lose your salvation" or, "Beware, lest you lose your salvation" or, "Oops! Sorry! Looks like you've lost your salvation!" Then there would be a reason for teaching such a doctrine. But without such a Scripture the belief has no foundation.
.... Again: if there was a verse that said quite plainly, "You cannot lose your salvation", then there would be a premise for teaching such a doctrine. But no such statement is ever made in Scripture.
.... In either doctrine the premise is simply presumed, and the rest of the doctrine is built upon the presumption. In Matthew 7 Jesus spoke of this very principle: when someone hears His word, he is building on a foundation; but others will build even without a foundation, even without a premise to build upon. And the fall of that house will be great.
.... Now this is another alarming thing to consider. Surely, God would not remain silent on a subject this important! If we could lose our salvation He would tells us so plainly; or if we couldn't lose it, He'd tell us that too. It could only mean that neither position is applicable to salvation, as salvation truly is; it means we've misunderstood something concerning salvation itself.
3) My third reason for rejecting each doctrine is that neither of them is answerable to the entirety of Scripture. Each argument seems fairly strong, if limited to the Scriptures they themselves have referenced; yet each position runs into Scriptural problems when it tries to take the other person's references into consideration. Neither can truly answer the other person's argument. As a result each have resorted, not to explaining the other's references, but to explaining them away.
.... Two tricks are used at this point. The first is a Sadducee trick that I refer to as "logical extensions." Jehovah Witnesses use it a lot, too. It goes something like this:
.... "Well, here is a Scripture so we know this point is true; so can't you see that this other point must also be true?" Or sometimes, they'll use a syllogism in a similar way.
.... The Sadducees used this approach in Matt 22:23-28. They used it, as Jehovah Witnesses use it, to explain away sound doctrine; but it can be used to teach unsound doctrine as well. But no matter how logical such points may seem, if they are not specifically outlined in Scripture then they may have taken an unqualified step. "Logical extensions" may be handled at more complex levels of the doctrine, but as the most basic levels they are a formula for disaster: especially if you're trying to use them for a premise!
.... Oh, yes, the second trick. The second trick is to declare, "We have the stronger argument". But there is no such thing as a ‘stronger argument' in sound doctrine; there are only sound, irrefutible arguments. If their ‘stronger argument' is refuted even once by the Scriptures, then by golly the word of God says it's wrong!
4) The fourth reason I reject both doctrines is because I don't see a true testimony of Jesus anywhere in them. I could take it by one doctrine that Jesus is not a good shepherd, and would not seek a sheep that is straying; I could take it by the other that carnal security is of God – even though they deny teaching this – but by their own logic there's no escaping that the conclusion could be true. This has perplexed the people who preach ‘assurance' for centuries.
.... Ephesians 4:13 tells us that in the knowledge of the Son of God there is unity of the faith: to see the true testimony of Christ in this subject is to see the truth of the matter. But each of these other two doctrines leave us with perplexing implications.
.... This letter is starting to get long, so I'll try to wind it up.
I am trying to be fair on this subject, and to really get to the bottom of it; and if I've been a little tough it has been justly so: I think there is complete integrity in the points I've made so far. Greg, I haven't geared this toward pleasing anybody but God. And for myself, I know I cannot be satisfied until I've found "sound doctrine that no man can condemn." There is a lot of research that must go into that, and a lot of honest question asking. But as long as I am following Scripture, I will follow it wherever it takes me.
.... In this letter I've mentioned Scriptural faults that I've found with those two doctrines. But in another sense those faults have become a criteria: a true doctrine would pass the test those other doctrines have failed. This is how you would go about finding the truth of the matter:

1) First go to the concordance and find those 110 verses, that use the word ‘save', ‘saved', or ‘salvation'. Those are the verses to begin your study with. If all your verses actually say ‘salvation', and it is truly the subject under discussion, then no one could accuse you of being off-subject, or of resorting to ‘logical extensions' in your doctrine.

2) Next, review those verses, seeking for their testimony of Jesus. The perspective you see of Him must agree with all Scriptures, being refuted by none; it vindicates them all, rather than explaining them away. It must vindicate Christ Himself in His very character.

3) When you've found their common testimony, and you're sure of it's integrity, look for one of those verses that will encapsulate the basic belief itself: it states the basic belief in doctrinal, creedal form. This will serve as the premise, and the rest of the doctrine can be built on this premise.

.... In my opinion, that is the way a proper doctrine should be put together. If you could really do that, it's inconceivable that anyone could ever fault it: it would be ‘sound doctrine that no man could condemn'. This would be true of any doctrine you might put together in such a fashion.
.... Of course, I have already done the things that I've just suggested to you here. Since last fall I have been looking at a third teaching on this subject. It is immense, but so far it seems very promising. I have shown it to a minister friend with a Baptist background, and he has completely accepted it (in fact, he wants to research it further.) I have another friend who believes Christians can lose their salvation (and he has pushed the point pretty hard in plenty of arguments) but when I showed him this doctrine he had to admit that he couldn't answer it.
.... I have a third friend, a pastor, who is a Greek scholar. He looked it over and accepted some of the points, without refuting any of them, and cautiously sent it back. A fourth friend, who is also a pastor, has not been able to Scripturally fault it at all, but has rejected it anyway. He is Calvinistic. That's where this doctrine stands so far, in terms of its acceptability.
I would like to share on this doctrine with you further, if you are curious about it and you think you'd like to hear it; but first I'd really appreciate it if you'd walk a mile in my shoes. I wish you'd look up those verses from the concordance and see what you come up with on your own.
.... If you do give this a try, as I've suggested, you'll quickly see the problem of ill-defined terminology that I mentioned earlier. It will lead you into a string of six apparent antinomies, one right after the other, so that answering one problem leads you smack into the next. One of these is the question of "Man's Free Will vs. God's Omnipotence", which I think we already agree on; another is the question of whether a Christian can or cannot lose his salvation, which we've talked about here. But there are others, each one leading to the next. Anyway, we can discuss it later if your curiosity has been aroused.
Greg, if you feel you need to show this letter to any of the leaders, I would not be offended for you to do so. I realize that any good shepherd has to take precautions in protecting his flock. But let me offer you one word of assurance as to my intentions:
.... Often, when you find someone who is ‘coming up with bright new ideas' in doctrine, they are nothing but a non-conformist. Their doctrines are different simply for the sake of being different, because they feel it distinguishes them -- which is actually pretty bad (I Cor 11:19). Heresies start that way! But my goals are nobler than that.
.... In all of my doctrines, I am looking for the clearest testimony of Jesus that I can find. According to Ephesians 4:13-14 this is the key to doctrinal accord, and among my friends these doctrines have usually been pretty well received (for Christ's sake, not just for mine).
.... Christ-centered teachings are a little like Christ Himself, in that they are always a little different from the standard beliefs of the day. But like Jesus again, those differences are spirit, and they are life. If my doctrines are different from standard, traditional doctrines, then those differences are well-considered, and may always be traced to some clearer perspective of Christ that I can see. If I am thus minded, and somehow commit an error anyway, God will reveal even this to me (Phil 3:10,15).
.... Oh well, this letter is already much longer than I'd intended, and I have other work to do! See you later. Take care.
Yours in Christ,

Letter 2 - April 13, 1990

Dear Greg,
.... Greetings; grace, mercy and peace be unto you, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
.... After I wrote you the last letter, pertaining to assurance, I decided to send a copy of it to [one of the pastors]. I felt it best to be straightforward in the matter if there was a chance that anyone would be offended, and to present it to those in a position of leadership.
.... Even though I left you hanging with my letter, I hope you will allow it with understanding. The letter itself was pretty complicated, and was already five pages long, so I thought it best to finish the discussion later. Also, I wanted you to walk a mile in my shoes.
.... You see Greg, when I reached a conclusion that those two doctrines were improper, it left me with criteria but still no answer. But I was never daunted. I knew if I looked for Jesus in the doctrine then all would work out, and it eventually did. In this letter I’d like to share some of my conclusions with you. I will probably send a copy of this letter to [the pastor] also, and he already intends to discuss it with me at a later time.
.... As you proceed with this letter, please read with all readiness of mind, and search the Scriptures to see whether these things are so. That is a noble thing to do. Only Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, and traditional understandings can never be allowed to vie with this claim. Might as well get started.
Some people believe a Christian can lose their salvation. Others believe they cannot. In my letter, I gave reasons for faulting both doctrines, suggesting that they were both improper. Those faults, in turn, produce a criteria: for a proper doctrine would pass the test these other two doctrines have failed. I mentioned that I was considering a third such doctrine, based on that criteria, but did not take the time to describe it.
.... I also mentioned that a Calvinistic preacher had listened to this doctrine and had already rejected it. Scripturally he could find no fault with it, but he rejected it anyway because of what he considered an error in logic. "Regardless of whether these doctrines are proper, one or the other has still got to be true. Either you can lose your salvation or you can’t."
.... By his understanding of salvation, he could conceive no other. But in my letter, I made a ponderous suggestion: that maybe we’ve misunderstood salvation itself, and its terms. If that is true and our understanding of salvation is presumptuous, it would change things for the arguments that follow. Let me center on the point itself. In order to keep or lose one’s salvation, one must first ask the question, "At what point can a person say he is saved?"
.... You see Greg, if there is a point of presumption in the first two doctrines, it could only be in this place. It is the only point that they have in common. You are saved, but you can lose your salvation; or, you are saved, and you can never lose it. Both proceed on the premise that the person is first of all saved. So that is the first point we would have to establish.
.... If you ask the average Christian, "At what point can a person say he is saved?" he would no doubt answer, "We are saved as soon as we believe the gospel, and receive Christ." Probably, he would quote some Scripture also, in order to prove this point. Let me say at once that I completely accept the truth of this position – that we are saved immediately, just as soon as we have believed. For the Scriptures tells us:

.... "‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."

(2 Cor 6:2)

.... Many other passages could be sited to verify this. Jesus told Zacchaeus, "Today salvation has come to this house," and in several other instances He told someone ‘their faith had saved them,’ and that they could go in peace. This is the traditional understanding as to when we are saved, and it is taught in Scripture, and must therefore be accepted as true.
Although I’ve accepted this teaching as true, I also mentioned that a string of antinomies exists on the subject. At this point I ran into a pretty considerable one. I found this particular one as I looked up references on ‘save’, ‘saved’, and ‘salvation’, as I suggested you also do, in my previous letter.
.... I began to notice that two occasions were being set forth in Scripture as marking the point of salvation. The first, that we are saved as soon as we believe; but other Scriptures described salvation as an event yet to come -- as something that will not occur until the day Jesus returns to the earth. (Rom 13:11,12; Phil 1:19; I Thess 5:8; Heb 9:28; I Pet 1:9).

.... "who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

(I Peter 1:5)

.... As I considered this antinomy, I decided to divide those Scriptures into two categories: those that spoke of salvation immediate, and those that spoke of salvation futuristic. I was surprised to find that they enjoyed an equal number of Scriptural quotations – and that, in fact, the Scriptures for futuristic salvation were the more pointedly taught. But in church, I’d never heard anybody address the subject at all.
.... I concluded that a Scriptural truth was being obscured through this omission; and in a subject as important as salvation, I dared not discount such counsel. It seemed that the only honest approach was to accept both positions as true, and from there find a way of reconciling them. The only alternative, a dishonest one, would be to choose one and attempt to explain away the other.
.... First, I considered that there is only one salvation (for Scripture speaks nothing of a second) and therefore these two, though separate in time, must be regarded as one and the same. Perhaps including a graduation.
.... Consider a truth about salvation itself, and this will become more evident. Salvation comes, not through Jesus’ death on the cross, but through His resurrection (Rom 5:10). In one sense we are joined with Christ now, both in His death and resurrection, through baptism; but in a much fuller sense we will be joined with Him at His coming. Corruption will put on incorruption, and mortality will be swallowed up by life: for Christ, who is our life, will appear.
.... Resurrection itself will come to a greater, absolute manifestation in our lives, on the day of Jesus’ revelation. Perhaps that is true of salvation as well, since it derives from His resurrection. Romans 13:11 is a good Scripture for this concept, and of course this timing fits the antinomy perfectly:

.... "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed."

(Rom 13:11)

.... Because of the question of the time line, I began to look at salvation in light of a progression: something that begins when we believe, but is consummated upon the return of Christ to the earth. Nevertheless, it is still one and the same salvation. I began looking for a Scripture that would bridge the gap, portraying both as one.
.... As a premise for this belief I chose Philippians 2:12, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Please notice that Salvation is worked ‘out,’ showing that it has begun, but also that it continues and requires our continued obedience. It portrays salvation in the progressive light I’d surmised. It bridged the time line and, as I studied it out, I found that it answered all other aspects of the question, too.
.... Consider whether Philippians itself bears out a progressive concept, based upon the premise I’ve quoted. The bits and pieces given below are found in Philippians 1 & 2, but I’ve taken the liberty of arranging them chronologically, to cast them in a progressive light:

.... "I thank my God . . . for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,

.... "I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith . . .

.... "He who begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ . . .

.... "that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ . . .

.... "you are all partakers with me of grace . . . [and] I know this will turn out for my salvation.

.... "Therefore . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling..."

.... If you’ll skip ahead to Philippians 3:11-15, Paul assumes this train of thought again. He describes himself as one who has not yet attained; instead, his mature attitude is one of always pressing onward.
.... Here is something else to consider. This passage is found in the second-to-last epistle that Paul wrote to us, and even at such a late time in his life he does not consider himself to have attained to the resurrection. It is not until his last epistle, 2 Timothy, that he could honestly say,

.... "there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing."

(2 Timothy 4:8)

.... Why could Paul say that in his last epistle, but not in any other, not even his second-to-last? Because in that last epistle the time of his departure was at hand, and he knew he’d finished the race and kept the faith. It was based on this very understanding that Paul made the statement we’ve just quoted (see 2 Tim 4:6-8).
.... As Peter would say, "the end of your faith is the salvation of your souls" (I Peter 1:9); or as Jesus Himself would put it, "He who endures until the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). In Philippians again, Paul’s confidence was that these things would ‘turn out for his salvation’ (Phil 1:19,10). These quotations are direct statements on the subject and must be accepted as true; yet bear in mind that there is only one salvation – it must be the very same salvation that they started with.
.... This bears out the progressive concept, ending in a consummation, that I’ve been describing. Salvation is received in an initial sense, worked out with fear and trembling during our lifetime, and reaches a consummation upon the return of Christ to the earth (the resurrection).
As another Scriptural example of this concept, consider the anointing of Saul or David. Both were anointed king by Samuel; yet a coronation only followed long afterward, in consummation of what was entrusted to them much earlier. Here they truly began to reign, although they’d been anointed long before this.
.... Another familiar example is the election of an American president. A president is elected in November, but not inaugurated until the following January. How is he referred to in the mean time? He is called ‘the president elect.’ Recall at this point that we are constantly referred to in Scripture as ‘the elect.’ Well, it is the same principle. And in the consummation, at the return of Christ, we are deemed to be: "called, chosen and faithful." (Rev 17:14).
I’ll take an opportunity at this point to answer the question we began with. Can a Christian lose his salvation? Or can he never lose it? Here is why both arguments are improper. In the sense of salvation that is yet to come, salvation at it’s consummation, none of us have yet attained to it. In that sense we cannot lose or keep it because we have nothing yet to lose or to keep. When Jesus is revealed from heaven and salvation is consummated, I daresay we cannot lose that salvation.
.... But what of salvation in the initial sense? Losing it or not losing it are never mentioned in Scripture. The only arguments relational to it are arguments of working it out or of neglecting it (Phil 2:12; Hebrews 2:3). The question is whether we will endure till the end and receive it’s consummation. You are welcome to check me out on this conclusion, but so far I am pleased with it because it answers all Scriptural eventualities (e.g. Hebrews 10:35-39). But back to my train of thought:
Now, the troubling thing with the doctrine I’ve given is in the wording of the premise. "Work out your own salvation" (Phil 2:12). This Scripture makes it very clear that salvation is progressive; yet it’s troubling because it includes a very, very perplexing antinomy involving grace and works. (I told you, that one antinomy leads to another!)
.... The Scriptures teach quite plainly that we are saved by grace apart from works (Eph 2:8,9); yet the wording here is to work out your own salvation. We must first of all consider, that this is a direct statement on the subject itself and must be accepted as true – even if we are uncomfortable with it! In fact, both positions are true.
.... Although this may appear to contradict, it really does not. We have only to understand in what sense we are working it out, and in what sense the statement is being offered. In my last letter, I suggested that we’d misunderstood the meaning of grace (and thus, salvation by grace), and that is the key for unraveling this antinomy.
.... In our traditional understanding, we’ve understood grace to be devoid of work. In fact, grace itself is a work, but it is the working of God, and not of man. In my last letter I tried to explain something of grace itself, and I will refer you to that for a fuller definition.
.... For now though, please consider whether this is true in two important passages. Look for the train of thought, and you will see this conclusion born out: that grace is the working of God in man’s life apart from man’s own efforts, specifically, in relation to salvation:

.... "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
(Ephesians 2:8-10)
.... "Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."
(Philippians 2:12,13)
.... Think for a moment about a doctrine of salvation by works. That doctrine is obviously false. Yet salvation by works is a much truer concept if we consider God Himself to be the worker, and not man: they are His works, and we ourselves are only worked upon -- the workmanship. That is the sense in which Philippians offers it. Recall that we quoted earlier, "He who began a good work in you will complete it till the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil 1:6).
.... In the perspective of ‘God the worker’ the only thing required of man is obedience (Phil 2:12). Jesus told us to say, in Luke 17:10, "We are unprofitable servants, for we have done what was our duty to do."
.... A good example of this principle is the fruit of the spirit known as ‘self control’‘ (Gal 5:23). Self control is self control; we exercise it; nevertheless ‘self’ control is a fruit of the Spirit (vs 22).
.... God empowers us and instructs us in righteousness, by His grace, but He requires our faithfulness in exercising it. This is the grace of God that brings salvation (Titus 2:11-14). Ultimately then, both the works and the fruits are entirely His own doing, and we have nothing of which to boast. We ourselves were only worked upon (Eph 2:8-10). ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in [trust in, cling to,] Him who He has sent’ (Jn 6:28,29).
.... It would be misleading to leave the matter at such a basic level, and would miss the true intent, so please allow a further word. God is the worker, but His true work is upon our character. He is at work in us to conform us to the image of His Son. Through this effective working God will be glorified increasingly, in His Son, as the life of Jesus Christ is manifested through each of us. Paul travailed, that Christ may be formed in us (Gal 4:19).
.... Our walk is more than a matter of deeds, whether good or evil, but includes an element that is interpersonal with Christ: "Is Jesus being exemplified in your life, and thus glorified, or are you a son who causes shame?" As it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’. It is in that sense that we work out our salvation reverently.
.... That is also the premise for our judgment, since God alone is exalted on that day (Isaiah 2). Paul says that the counsels and motives of the heart play a large part in the judgment. A heart set on glorifying Jesus, as He is manifest through our lives, is an attitude that will bring praise from God (I Cor 4:5).
I mentioned once before that I’ve built an entire soteriology upon the perspective of Christ, and it is difficult to explain the Christ-centered portion of this study without going into the underlying subjects such as election, predestination, and the like. I don’t have time for that here, but I’ve given what can stand alone.
.... I trust you will look at the things I’ve already shared, in the light of glorifying Jesus – not just once, at our conversion, but increasingly throughout our lives as we grow in Him. I trust also that you will search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.
In summary, please consider these things: The Scriptures I’ve quoted address salvation itself, not peripherals; The doctrine itself has a true premise, based on a direct Scriptural statement and sustained by a series of others; The doctrine takes all Scriptures into consideration, agreeing with them all, and bears a true testimony of Jesus Christ.
I am so busy these days, that I really shouldn’t have taken so much time with this letter. And even now there is much more to cover! "Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full."
.... I’m running out of paper too. I’ll have to talk to you later.
Yours in Christ,

Letter 3 - April 13, 1990

Dear Greg,

.... Greetings; grace, mercy and peace be unto you, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope this is the last letter! In this letter, I’ll try to answer the things I didn’t have time for in the second letter.

.... To begin with, I had set forth the position that we are saved, in an initial sense, as soon as we have believed the gospel. Through God’s work in our lives, this salvation is worked out with fear and trembling, and progresses throughout our lifetime. Upon our death or the return of Christ to the earth, there is a consummation of this salvation.
.... Therefore, it is not a question of whether we can or cannot lose our salvation. That is because, in relation to its consummation, we have not yet even attained to it. In that sense, we do not yet have it to lose or to keep.
.... This returns us to the true situation in relation to salvation. The real question is whether we are going to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (which on our part requires simple obedience,) or whether we will fail to do so.
.... Throughout our lives, that standing may go back and forth. Like the prodigal son, we may treacherously depart and backslide (God forbid!) But, like the prodigal son again, we may repent and return to the Lord before the end. All three of our doctrines – assurance, Armenianism, and this third doctrine – are in perfect accord if one is walking with the Lord steadfastly, but problems arise when we account for the standing of the backslider.
.... In Ezekiel 33, God describes His judgment in such matters. If one is righteous, and he turns to sin, his righteousness will not be remembered; he will die in his sins. But if one is sinning, and repents, and turns from his wickedness, his sins will be forgotten. He will live: his sins will not be mentioned against him. Israel answers, "Your ways are not fair!" God responds, "My way is fair, your ways are not fair; I will judge each one of you according to his own ways."
.... Jesus told us that "he who endures till the end shall be saved." Therefore, in relation to the backslider, I would say it comes down to this: on the day of his death (or the day of the Lord, which ever comes first,) is he ‘found in Him . . . that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead’? (Phil 3:9,10).

.... Recall that Jesus spoke of wicked servants, who had departed from righteousness. In their hearts they said, ‘My master delays His coming,’ and began to backslide. If their master came and found them that way, they were cut in two and appointed a portion with the hypocrites. The point of it all? You do not know when your Master is coming: be ready to open to Him when He comes. Be watchful. Be found in Him. Now let’s relate this to the state of the backslider:
.... Galatians 6 tells us that he who sows to the flesh will of the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. Eternal life belongs to those who, through patient continuance in doing good, seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but indignation, wrath, tribulation and anguish to every soul that does not obey the truth (Romans 2:7,8,11)

.... Now let me compare this to the two doctrines we started with, that we can or cannot lose our salvation:
.... A doctrine that a Christian could lose his salvation is hopeless for one good reason. It overlooks the part of repentance and forgiveness. If I can lose my salvation, at what point do I lose it? And if I’ve lost it, then it’s gone forever– unless Christ is re-crucified for me, and that will never be (Hebrews 6:4-6). If you tell someone they’ve lost their salvation, you are telling them that repenting will no longer avail them. If salvation is lost, it’s gone forever!
.... Contrast this to the doctrine I’ve set forth. They may be saved in the initial sense, but afterward really blow it. They may backslide for some period of time. Have they lost their salvation? No, but they have ceased working it out in obedience. It has fallen into a probationary sort of state, so they are reprobate. During this period, God has no pleasure in them (Hebrews 10:38).
.... But if that person sincerely repents and begins working it out again, renewing his obedience, he will be standing again in the very same salvation as before: ‘Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ had made us free’ (Gal 5:1); but if not, and the Lord returns, He will find that evil servant engaged in excess, cut him in two, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:45-51).

.... Now let me contrast this to assurance. Under the teachings of assurance, a person is saved and can never lose their salvation. But what happens if they start to backslide? There is no adequate answer. The standard response goes like this: "Well, my question is: ‘Were they ever really saved in the first place?’"
.... This, then, is the logical destruction of the doctrine itself. Under one set of circumstances, you’d tell them they had salvation and could never lose it; but under different circumstances, you’d say they never even had it in the first place! How assuring is that supposed to be?
.... If, on the other hand, you assure them of salvation while in their sins, "He who says to the wicked, ‘you are righteous,’ him the people will curse." Under this doctrine, in a practical sense, salvation comes and goes with their circumstances. That is anything but assuring!
.... Contrast this with the doctrine which I’ve set forth. In an initial sense, are they ever going to lose their salvation? No, never. And it they persevere to the end they will do well.
.... If, on the other hand, they know the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ but do not obey it, they will not endure until the end. It would not be true to say they lost their salvation; but rather, that they failed to work it out with fear and trembling. They neglected so great a salvation, so how shall they escape? (Hebrews 2:3). In the sense of the consummation of salvation, at the end of the ages, they will suffer destruction because of their disobedience (Rom 2:8; 2 Thess 1:8,9).

.... Now this is what those three doctrines have in common. Each doctrine ties true assurance to an aspect of bearing fruit in your life. It is only by abiding in Christ that assurance can truly be given. If, on the other hand, they are not living the life, none of these doctrines would offer them any sort of assurance in their sins.
.... In terms of practicality, all three of those doctrines teach this. The only difference is in the method by which they reach this conclusion, and which method is truest to Scripture itself. Only the third doctrine can recognize all realities, both in life and in Scripture, taking all perspectives into account, and agree with all of them.

.... Now here is the chief difference between them. The first two doctrines, in a practical sense, have salvation coming and going. But the third doctrine escapes this conclusion. It always remains.
.... In the first doctrine, Aremenianism, Christ is crucified for man, but salvation is lost at a later time. Is Christ re-crucified with repentance? What if they backslide again? Is salvation lost again, and Christ re-crucified a third time, etc.?
.... But ‘assurance’ is no better on this account. Christ was crucified for man. Well no, for him, He really wasn’t crucified after all: the man backslides, so Christ is crucified again (?) And now he backslides again – well, we’ll have to see if His crucifixion ‘took’ on the third attempt . . .
.... Only the doctrine I’ve set forth maintains this standard, that:

.... "Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation."

(Hebrews 9:28)

.... Now here is the greatest advantage to the doctrine I’ve set forth. I mentioned in my previous letter that Jesus Himself is the salvation of God. The assurance of salvation I’ve described rests upon their clinging to Christ: and that is as true to the heart of the New Testament as one can possibly get:

.... "’What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in [trust in, cling to] Him whom He sent."

(John 6:28,29)

And again,

.... "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."

(John 6:27)

.... Although I’ve not had time to discuss this fully, progress is relational to one thing: being conformed to the image of Christ, because God has set His seal on Him (above). God will gather together all things in one in Christ, and be glorified in His Son on that Day. He who glories will glory in the Lord (I Cor 1:31).
.... For a brief letter, this has taken much longer than I anticipated. I regret that I haven’t been able to go into the Christ-centered aspect of this teaching as closely as I’d like; but there is an entire soteriology behind that, and I certainly didn’t have time to dig into all of that.
.... I know this is complicated, but in an honest appraisal I think it can answer any Scriptural questions you might have for it. (If you do think of a question, I’ll be happy to give it a try. Remember, I only shared the basics here, there was a lot more that I never got around to sharing: mostly pertaining to election, predestination, calling, and that sort of thing).

Yours in Christ,


Thursday, April 12, 1990


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