Friday, April 13, 1990

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,