Is eternal salvation secure for believers?

I once had an encounter with an Amish man who told me he was shunned by the Amish Church for belief in assurance of salvation.

I learned that he opposed the teaching of eternal security of salvation but embraced a personal assurance of his standing with God. This was enough to cause him to be shunned.

I made a number of attempts to help him understand that personal assurance can only be based on God’s promises of security in Christ. It is very instructive to understand why the Amish oppose assurance of salvation.

Two factors hold the Amish back from speaking of a secure salvation.

  1. The individual is accountable to the community.

This is the belief that an individual must not make claims that remove him from the assessment and accountability of the community. Claiming certainty of one’s standing with God is viewed as presumptuously removing oneself from answering to the community — particularly to the authority of the elders.

One historian on Amish faith wrote,

“I realize that in an age of individualism, and an evangelicalism that stresses a private experience of salvation, Amish faith of communal solidarity in discipleship makes no sense, and the judgments you make about “works salvation” seem totally right to you.” The professor encouraged me to take “time to understand how an Anabaptist theology such as the Amish profess expresses a radically different way of claiming the grace of God as a community of the Spirit.”

“One of the virtues Amish prize, the professor wrote, “is humility–humility as a practice not as a nice attitude–and one aspect of that humility is to make no arrogant claims about their confidence of special status with God. An Amish bishop was visited by a new minister in the neighborhood who was quite fundamental and inquired repeatedly whether the bishop was saved. Finally he asked, ‘Are you truly born again? Do you know for certain that you are saved?’

The bishop answered, ‘You are asking the wrong person. I will give you the names of people who know me well, of persons with whom I have differed, of my sharpest critics and you can go ask them whether I am saved.’ That is Amish humility.”

  1. God is judge and we must not presume on His judgment.

God has appointed a time for His judgment and when we speak with confidence about our eternal destiny, the Amish believe we are wrongly assuming God’s role as Judge.

A man who lived among the Amish informed me that, “Their problem with evangelicals who profess eternal security comes from the belief that God has his appointed time to judge each person. Their belief is that God only saves through grace and mercy, but that it is not proper to make a judgment or proclamation of one’s salvation until that appointed Day of Judgment. In other words, God is offended when we assume his judgment.”

How should we think about these two issues?

  1. The individual is accountable to the community

There should be little doubt that we live in “an age of individualism, and an evangelicalism that stresses a private experience of salvation.” I also recognize that the evangelical Church is weak when it comes to the New Testament vision of a “faith of communal solidarity in discipleship” and “claiming the grace of God as a community of the Spirit.” On these matters, we have drifted from the Biblical vision for the life of the redeemed.

A few examples.

Philippians 1:6 is a verse often used to claim assurance of eternal salvation.

This verse, however, is about what God is doing and will continue to do in and through the community of believers in Philippi. The apostle wrote: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you (plural) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” The good work he refers to is their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” with the apostle Paul (1:5).

Philippians 2:12-13

Another example in the book of Philippians is the call to “continue to work out your (plural) salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you (plural) to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Certainly this is a call to cultivating stronger discipleship to Jesus. Did the original recipients hear this with the ears of Western individualism? No. They would have heard it as a work that happens in the context of community.

This doesn’t foreclose on personal applications but it does encourage us to see how far many of us have moved from the New Testament emphasis on community. This emphasis can be found in many places.

Body life imagery

“… in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”(Romans 12:5) “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 26-27)

I John 2:19

Another very strong focus on community is found in the writings of the apostle John. Continuing with the community of believers or rejecting it had defining implications.

“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (I John 2:19).

Three essentials to Christian community

Community life for believers was meant to involve mutual accountability, encouragement and leadership.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 3:12-14; 13:17).

Faith in community?

While community emphasis is badly needed in evangelicalism (particularly in the West), I do not trust any human community with final verdicts about individual salvation.

This is not to say that the community must never make judgments about the spiritual condition of others. The command “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (II Corinthians 6:14) and the contrasts that follow, imply a need to make judgments.

When warning about false prophets, Jesus said, “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). Sometimes we must be “fruit inspectors.”

To help us, we find many evidences of genuine salvation as well as indicators of non-kingdom lifestyles provided in Scripture (e.g. Galatians 5:19-22; I Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:3-8; I John).

Like the apostle Paul, we sometimes feel the need to say, “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.” (II Corinthians 13:5). There is clearly not enough emphasis on this in the evangelical Church!

Yet ultimately we must say, “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (II Timothy 2:19). Further, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:13).

  1. God is judge and we must not presume on His judgment

Agreed. If God has not spoken, we must not presume on His word or will. But if God has spoken, we must submit to His verdicts. It is the opposite of humility to act as if God has not spoken when He has. It is an act of refusal to submit to God’s judgment. For example, when God’s word says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), we dare not attribute condemnation to those in Christ.

Five verdicts of judgment God already made with reference to salvation.

To reject any one of these is to presume upon God’s judgment.

  1. I stand condemned before God as one guilty of sin and deserving of God’s judgment (Romans 3:10,23:6:23a; James 2:10)
  2. Apart from the mercy and grace of God, I remain forever under God’s just condemnation (Titus 3:5).
  3. I cannot by any effort of my own improve my standing before God (Romans 4:5; 5:6; Galatians 2:16, 21; Ephesians 2:8-9).
  4. What I cannot do, God did for me when Jesus Christ bore the just judgment my sin deserved (Romans 5:8; 8:3-4; II Corinthians 5:17,18,21; Galatians 3:13).
  5. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1, 32-39).

Conclusion

The Amish wrongly think that salvation is within their grasp. Even if they claim to believe that they cannot earn God’s favor with works, they believe that they can use their free will to choose God by faith. This implies that the will of man is not corrupted by evil.

But according to Scripture, the human will is bound to sin. “… every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9; cf. Romans 3:10-23).

  • According to the Bible, the human will is so corrupt that we need the Holy Spirit to remove our blindness to see what Christ has done for us and to believe in Him (See: II Corinthians 4:3-6).
  • Jesus said, “no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:65). We are enabled by the Holy Spirit to see our need for Christ (II Corinthians 1:21-22; 3:14-18).
  • “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29).
  • “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Steve Cornell

 

Posted in Amish, Assurance, Christianity, Eternal life, Eternal security, Salvation, Security of salvation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Our forgiving God

Remind yourself often of these truths

  • “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness.” (Psalm 131:3-4)
  • “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9).
  • “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
  • “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
  • “He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).
  • Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
  • “… through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).
  • “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

An unforgivable sin

I’ve been asked many times what Jesus meant when he spoke of an unforgivable sin.

“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31).

Those who ask me about the unpardonable sin focus so much on the second part of the verse that they miss the amazing promise Jesus gave in the first part. Think about it. “And so I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men.”

Amazing! – “EVERY sin and blasphemy…” This is a great promise!

There are many different sins and blasphemies and the only one that will not be forgiven is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

Many believe that this particular sin could only occur under the public ministry of Jesus. It’s viewed as a direct rejection of the ministry of Jesus by ascribing His work to Satan.

What we know

We can at least say that whatever else this involved, it included an ultimate hardening of one’s heart against the person and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, I assure people that a clear sign they have not committed this sin is a deep concern that they may have committed it.

This means that those who have come to me deeply troubled by a possibility of having blasphemed against the Holy Spirit are not the kind of people who blaspheme against the Spirit. Such people are not troubled but hardened against the Lord.

Return to the opening promise

“Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven…” Do you understand why the apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9)?

Celebrate God’s forgiveness today!

Steve Cornell

Posted in Forgiveness, God, God of Old Testament, God's Heart, God's Love, God's Protection, God's Will, Guidelines for living, Questioning God, Seeking God, Walking with God, Will of God, Wisdom | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

God’s heart toward a broken world

How does a sovereign, all-powerful God relate to a broken fallen world filled with so much evil, suffering and sadness?

God is sovereign

  • Psalm 115:2-3 – Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Ps. 115:2-3).
  • Psalm 135:6 – “The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”
  • Ephesians 1:11 – “God chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan” (NLT).

God’s heart is revealed

  • Ezekiel 33:11 – “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’”
  • I Timothy 2:3-4 – “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
  • II Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
  • Romans 2:4 – “Or, do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
  • James 1:13-14 – “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”

For deeper reflection

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (Westminster Confession).

Steve Cornell

Posted in Evil in the world, God, God's control, God's Heart, God's Love, God's power, God's Will, Questioning God, Study of God, Suffering, Will of God, Wisdom | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Prayer

  • “I pray to restore the truth of the universe, to gain a glimpse of the world, and of me, through the eyes of God.”
  • “In prayer, I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. …. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.” 
  • “Prayer has become for me much more than a shopping list of requests to present to God. It has become a realignment of everything.”(Philip Yancey)
Posted in Wisdom | 2 Comments

Don’t be a pain…

Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.

Pain that is transformed is recycled for the good of others.

Don’t be a pain; let God transform your pain.

Then you’ll become a transformer of pain for others.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).

Steve Cornell

 

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Orlando terror act exploited

It is shameful for Anderson Cooper (CNN) to question whether Christians who support gay marriage can express genuine sadness for those who died in the Islamic act of terrorism in Orlando.

If 50 Christians were killed could gays authentically express grief for them when they consistently oppose and protest the right of Christians to follow their beliefs about traditional marriage?

Christians who disagree do not wish death on gays. Extremists Muslims do wish death on gays.

There is a very dangerous agenda being attached to the horrific terrorist attack in Orlando. It is disgraceful to see this tragedy exploited to bash Christianity.

The agenda says,

“If you oppose same-sex marriage or mixed-gender bathrooms, then you not only can’t legitimately grieve the loss of gay lives, you’re partially responsible for the massacre in Orlando. Conservative efforts to protect religious freedom and freedom of association from unprecedented infringement will kill people. Never mind that all the actual evidence in the case points to Islamic motivations extrapolated from well-known and widely shared interpretations of Shariah law, somehow those darn Baptists are to blame.

The result is bigotry running two ways — an unreasoning, irrational hatred of American Christians and a comprehensive denial of Muslim moral agency. American Christians are responsible for things they don’t believe. Sharia-observant Muslims, by contrast, aren’t responsible for the things they do believe.

And make no mistake, said Muslims don’t care a whit what the New York Times, Anderson Cooper, Jen Hatmaker, or any other anti-Evangelical terror apologist has to say. To them, one American life taken is as good as any other. They will attack again, maybe at another gay bar, or another office Christmas party, or a coffee house, or a sporting event, or a church. And when they do, there will surely be some Americans who excuse their actions out of eagerness to blame other Americans, instead.” (David French)

Let’s not play into the fallacy that says difference on morality and lifestyle with another person equals rejection of the person. Of course, this notion itself plays off a false comparison that equates the kind of sex people desire with unalterable realities like racial identity. This is simply wrong. Just ask those who have left a homosexual lifestyle.

Here’s the real problem

Intolerance from militant gay activists is dangerous to both liberty and civility. It encourages resentment and even hostility. This is America. You can’t say, “Agree with us, or else!” on lifestyle issues with out starting a fight. How foolish! Race and chosen lifestyles are not the same and never will be.

Steve Cornell

Posted in Christian worldview, Christianity, CNN, Equal Rights, Equality, Gay, Gay Marriage?, Homosexual lifestyle, Homosexuality, Same-sex, Terrorism, Tolerance, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Your feelings are rejected

Why are we told by the transgender activists that we cannot question a man’s motives when he says he feels that he is a woman, but we are to be suspicious of a woman’s motives if she feels unsafe when a man enters a ladies bathroom or locker room?

Whatever happened to women’s rights?

Can a man (whom we were told was born gay) now decide to be a woman? Are we forbidden to question these self-proclaimed identities?

If a person feels unsafe in the state of California and requests a permit to carry a gun, officials will quickly question and dismiss his feelings as invalid.

Whose feelings are beyond scrutiny and evaluation? 

This kind of double standard has become so typical of radical activists who demand that society conforms to their sexual and political agenda.

Do you see something wrong with this?

Make your voice heard loudly and clearly to every government official and business that foolishly panders to this radical agenda being forced on our nation.

Steve Cornell

Posted in Equal Rights, Equality, Gay Marriage?, Gender, Homosexual lifestyle, Sex, Sexual orientation, Sexual Preference, Sexuality, Wisdom | Tagged , , | Leave a comment