Friday, April 13, 1990

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,