Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hebrews 11: Faith’s Hall of Shame

     The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is widely recognized as one of the Bible’s most informative discourses about faith. It recounts numerous examples of men and women through history whose lives exemplify the kind of faith the Lord expects us all to have. Nevertheless, not everyone mentioned in this chapter is a person of notable faith or worthy of emulation. A number of individuals are included who would necessarily be placed on the opposite end of the spectrum. Who are they and what can we learn from them?

A Faithless Worshiper

     The second person named in this biblical hall of faith is Cain (v. 4), and not in a favorable way. He is mentioned in contrast to his brother Abel, who “offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice” (ESV). Seeing that Abel’s offering was “by faith,” and faith is fostered by listening to and heeding God’s word (Rom. 10:17), the implication is that Cain either blatantly or carelessly disregarded the revealed will of God. An offering of mere convenience, innovation, or outright rebellion is unacceptable. We learn from Cain that worship must never be dictated by human preference and ingenuity. Acceptable worship is by faith, and true faith can only be established on what the Lord has communicated through his word.

A Faithless Majority

     The general populace of Noah’s day is alluded to in Hebrews 11:7, condemned because of their failure to exhibit the kind of faith and righteousness that characterized the lives of Noah and his family. Noah’s contemporaries, alienated from God due to their wickedness, were afforded ample opportunity to heed the preaching of Noah (2 Peter 2:5). Sadly, all but eight persistently rejected the invitation to get on board the divine plan until it was too late. We learn from these foolish souls that God’s longsuffering has its limits, and refusing or postponing submissive faith is disastrous.

A Faithless Temperament

     In verse 20 of Hebrews 11 Esau is named in conjunction with his father Isaac and twin brother Jacob. While neither Isaac nor Jacob were faultless, their priority of faith afforded them a special place in God’s redemptive scheme. Esau, on the other hand, was an “unholy” (ESV) or “profane” (NKJV) person because his spiritual apathy made immediate and temporal gratification his priority (Heb. 12:16; cf. Gen. 25:34). We learn from Esau that to live with little regard for heavenly things is to lead a disappointing and wasted life.

A Faithless Resolve

     Pharaoh and the worldly Egyptians are alluded to in Hebrews 11:23-29, opposing the divine will and oppressing the people of God. When the LORD made demands of Pharaoh that he didn’t like, Pharaoh reacted with stubbornness and pride. While God’s words and actions softened the hearts of Moses and the Israelites, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. One was stimulated to faith, while the other retorted with anger and rebellion. We learn from Pharaoh and his cohorts that you can’t fight against God with a realistic expectation of victory. Resisting the Lord always ends in defeat.

A Faithless Response

     In verse 31 of Hebrews 11 we read of the ancient inhabitants of Jericho. Rahab is portrayed as a heroine of faith, whereas her neighbors are described as “disobedient.” In contrast to Rahab’s receptivity and compliance, her fellow-citizens were resistant and defiant. By faith Rahab and her family were spared and added to God’s family, while all others in the city were destroyed. We learn from the Jericho residents that obedient faith is the necessary response to God, without which sure destruction awaits.

Conclusion

     There are many lessons to learn from Hebrews 11 about faith, including negative ones. Since we cannot please God without it (v. 6), let us be motivated by both the good and bad examples to be counted among the faithful, “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38).

--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Parents of Faith 


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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

What About the Calvinistic Doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints”?

The Doctrine Concisely Stated:1

“You cannot lose your salvation. Because the Father has elected, the Son has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit has applied salvation, those thus saved are eternally secure. They are eternally secure in Christ. Some of the verses for this position are John 10:27-28 where Jesus said His sheep will never perish; John 6:47 where salvation is described as everlasting life; Romans 8:1 where it is said we have passed out of judgment; 1 Cor. 10:13 where God promises to never let us be tempted beyond what we can handle; and Phil. 1:6 where God is the one being faithful to perfect us until the day of Jesus' return” (Matt Slick, “What is Calvinism?,” The Calvinist Corner [2012], <https://carm.org/calvinism>).

A Biblical Response:

     Jesus’ “sheep” are those who listen to him and follow him (John 10:3, 4, 16, 27) = obedience. As long as this condition is met, “they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (v. 28; cf. 8:12, 31, 51).2 However, sheep can and do go astray (Matt. 18:12; 26:31; 1 Pet. 2:25), and when sheep stop listening to and following the Shepherd, they are vulnerable and lost (John 6:66, 70-71). See also 1 Thess. 3:5; Jas. 5:19-20. While the Lord provides adequate assistance (1 Cor. 10:13; Phil. 1:6; 4:19; Heb. 4:16; et al.), maintaining salvation also requires endurance and continued faithfulness (Matt. 24:13, 42, 44-51; cf. 1 Cor. 9:27; Heb. 3:14; 4:11; 6:11; 10:23, 36; 12:1-7).
     Among those “sanctified in Christ Jesus” at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2) was a wayward Christian needing to be disciplined by the church, “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (5:1-5, 11). Paul’s admonitions were to be heeded lest “the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died” (1 Cor. 8:11; cf. 2 Cor. 2:15). These Christians were saved by the gospel conditionally: “if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2; cf. 2 Cor. 6:1).
     The addressees of Paul’s letter to the Galatians are reminded: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). Nevertheless, having been influenced by false teachers regarded as anathema [accursed of God], these “sons of God” were in the process of “turning away … from Him who called you in the grace of Christ” (1:6-9). In fact, the situation was so dire that if they continued on their current path, Paul contends: “you have become estranged [severed] from Christ … you have fallen from grace” (5:4). See also 1 Tim. 1:19; 4:1.
     Peter’s epistles are addressed to the “elect” of God (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Pet. 3:1), wherein warnings are issued of “destructive heresies” leading to “destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1-3), involving those who “have forsaken the right way and gone astray” (v. 15). False teachers “allure … the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error” (v. 18). “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (vv. 20-21).
     Perhaps more than any other writing in the New Testament, Hebrews affirms and warns against the possibility of apostasy (2:1-3; 3:12-13; 4:1; 6:4-8; 10:26-38; 12:15, 25). These warnings are directed to those in the process of drifting away from Christ and heading toward complete separation from God. Conversely, for those sincerely striving to live in accordance with the Lord’s directives, perhaps more than any other New Testament document Hebrews offers great reassurance (3:6, 14; 4:16; 6:11, 17-20; 7:19; 10:19-22, 39; 11:1; 12:1-3; 13:5-6).
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 True Calvinists prefer the descriptive expression “perseverance of the saints” rather than commonly misappropriated terminology like “eternal security” or “once saved always saved.” See Dewayne Bryant, The Perseverance of the Saints, in Gospel Advocate 151:6 (June 2009): 24-25. Wayne Grudem states the Calvinist perspective as follows: “all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and … only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again” (Systematic Theology 788).
     2 Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.


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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

What About the Calvinistic Doctrine of "Irresistible Grace"?


The Doctrine Concisely Stated:

“When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call, and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God. Some of the verses used in support of this teaching are Rom. 9:16 where it says that 'it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy'; Phil. 2:12-13 where God is said to be the one working salvation in the individual; John 6:28-29 where faith is declared to be the work of God; Acts 13:48 where God appoints people to eternal life; and John 1:12-13 where being born again is not by man's will but by God's” (Matt Slick, “What is Calvinism?,” The Calvinist Corner [2012], <https://carm.org/calvinism>).

A Biblical Response:

     In John 6:44 Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (NKJV). Does this teach unconditional election and irresistible grace? By reading the passage in its context, it is clear how a person is drawn to Christ by the Father. One comes to the Lord when he/she is taught and hears and learns divine instruction (v. 45) and then responds in faith (vv. 29, 35, 40, 47). When Jesus goes on to say in v. 65, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father,” this must be understood in light of the foregoing. The Father permits only those who listen and learn and respond in faith to come to Jesus, though not everyone is willing to listen and learn and respond in faith (vv. 36, 64, 66).
     In Acts 13:48 the Gentiles who favorably responded to the word of the Lord “had been appointed [tassō] to eternal life.” Contextually they are contrasted with the Jews who had just rejected the word of God, thereby judging themselves “unworthy of everlasting life” (v. 46). Note the dismissive temperament of the unreceptive Jews compared to the eager receptivity of these Gentiles. Accordingly, the word tassō does not necessarily imply that their free will was overridden but rather they were “disposed” or “inclined” to eternal life. In fact, the next time this word is employed in the Acts narrative, it refers to a willful decision: the Antioch brethren “determined [tassō] that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem …” (15:2). The same word is also used in 1 Cor. 16:15 with reference to the household of Stephanus who voluntarily “devoted [tassō] themselves to the ministry of the saints.”
     The directive in Phil. 2:12-13 is written to people who are already saved (1:1) and is descriptive of a cooperative endeavor with both divine and human contributions. In John 6:29 Jesus affirms faith as “the work of God” because faith is something required by God (v. 40), answering the question, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (v. 28). In John 1:12-13, while the “will of man” is not the innovator or instigator or standard in being born of God, neither is the human will totally discounted in the process (cf. v. 12; 3:3-5, 22-23; Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:22-23). Rom. 9:16 has nothing to do with someone who might desire to be saved but is disallowed, or one who is incapable of seeking salvation; it is all about the unfolding of God’s purpose (v. 11). The divine scheme is not determined, improved, or thwarted by human ingenuity and fallibility.
     Seeing that God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11), his grace is available to everyone (Titus 2:11) because he desires all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) and is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). At the same time, a voluntary, free-will response (obedient faith) to the Lord’s gracious offer is required (cf. Matt. 7:21; 23:37; Acts 7:51; Rom. 6:16-18; etc.).
--Kevin L. Moore


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