Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Hobbs, Taz, and Chloe.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

P is for Perseverence of the Saints

This is the last article on the 5 points of Calvinism (also called the Canons of Dort). In the next couple of days I have a few blogs posts I want to do on some peripheral issues surrounding Calvinistic beliefs. But this article will complete the group on the 5 points.

P stands for the Perseverence of the Saints, which means simply, that the work God begins in a person will remain until God brings the saint home to be with Him in glory. But let me explain why we believe this in a little more detail.

Before God created the world (before the foundation of the world) (Eph. 1:4) God knew us. He knew our weaknesses and He knew our sin. Romans 8:28 says that "Whom He did foreknow ..." Arminians believe God's foreknowledge is His foresight. They read this verse in this way, "Whom God foresaw would make a free will choice to believe in Jesus, He did predestinate..." But this is wrong. The word for "know" or "knowledge" in this verse refers to an experiential knowledge. God knew us intimately. One writer writes that we could read this verse "Whom He foreloved" without doing any violence whatsoever to the meaning of the passage. God knew us personally.

And God the Father made a covenant with the Son to be the blood payment for their sin. We call this the Covenant of Grace. When history was ripe, God the Son left behind His glory in heaven and took on the form of a human being and was born in the town of Bethlehem. Later, the Son, after having lived a sinless life, was taken by evil men and killed like a common criminal. But the Bible says this was according to the plan of God. Peter said on Pentecost day "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain..." (Acts 2:23). As Christ died on the cross God poured out His wrath against sin, our sin, on our Substitute, Jesus Christ. When Jesus cried from the cross "It is finished!" He meant the satisfaction had been made for sin. God's wrath has been turned away. His justice had been satisfied. The debt for our sin had been paid.

And when the Holy Spirit brings the lost sinner to faith in Jesus Christ, it is not the end of our salvation but it is only the beginning. At the moment we are saved, we are adopted into the family of God, and sealed by the Holy Spirit Himself, with the Holy Spirit Himself, until the day when we experience the full blessings of our inheritence in Christ. Paul says in Ephesians "In whom ye also [trusted], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Eph. 1:13, 14) Notice here that when we believe we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, which, Paul says, is the "earnest" of our inheritence. The word "earnest" means "down payment." We have this down payment given to us until the "redemption of the purchased possession." The purchased possession is us. Christ purchased us with his blood (1 Peter 1:18, 19). The redemption he speaks of is the day of his return when he will gather his people to himself and take them to be where he is (John 14:1-3).

Some Arminians believe that a believer can choose to forfeit the salvation God has given to them. Other Arminians hold to a more Calvinistic viewpoint on this. There is no consensus among Arminian believers on this point. Also, among Arminians, there is no complete agreement on what exactly makes a believer forfeit his salvation and become lost again. Some hold that any sin at all forfeits it. Others hold that a pattern of sin, a sinful lifestyle, forfeits salvation. Still others believe a Christian would have to make some sort of repudiation of Jesus to forfeit it. Calvinists and Amyraldians are in complete agreement on this point. But among Arminians, there is much debate about this. Jacob Arminius himself was ambivilent. He seemed undecided at the end of his life. He leaned towards believing that a believer can forfeit their salvation, but, as I said, he seemed undecided.

Returning to the Calvinistic viewpoint again. Until that day, God continues to do a work in us. We are being changed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, in both Romans and Ephesians, how we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. To do this, God gives us the Holy Spirit who I showed seals us into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) at the time of our conversion. We are changed little by little, always moving closer to the image of Jesus. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18). We are told to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." That means to live out our confession of faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Why with fear and trembling? "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13). Paul put it like this to the Galatian church "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20).

The Bible tells us that God will perform this work in us until the day when Jesus Christ returns. Paul says "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ tells us this about God's intent "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." (John 6:39). Notice that of all the ones the Father has given to Jesus, he will lose none of them and he will raise them up on the last day. In case anyone had missed his meaning, Jesus repeats the promise again in the very next verse. Jesus promised in John 10 that no one would be able to take his sheep away from him (John 10:29-30).

Paul writes in Romans 7 that he finds two laws at work in himself. One is a law of the Spirit meaning the Holy Spirit leads Paul in desiring to do the will of God. Yet, there is a second law, one of the flesh. This law works against the law of the Spirit and drags the Christian towards fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. Every Christian can testify about how weak they are and how they find themselves constantly needing God's forgiveness. The Puritan writer John Bunyan said "My sin is always before my eyes." The work of the Holy Spirit is not a one time act of grace at the time we get saved, it is a continual work of grace as God is constantly pouring his grace out on us. There is never a time when He is not working in us. As Christ promised "for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." (Heb. 13:5). Even though we may fall into sin, still God's promise stands. "Let God be true and every man a liar." (Rom. 3:4).

So God's work, which was begun before the foundation of the world, perseveres in the Christian till the end. When God has worked from before the universe was created, and provided the Son as the payment for our sin, and given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment of the inheritence which is ours as children of God, He will not let that work fail. Our confidence is not in our own works but again, in the work that God has done for us. Our confidence is in Christ alone. God will carry His children in His "everlasting arms" until the day when He brings us home to see Him face to face. Those whom God loved and chose, whom Christ died for effectually, whom the Holy Spirit finds, saves, and seals, will not ultimately be lost. God cannot deny Himself. And that is why the saints persevere in God.

I can think of no better conclusion to this series of articles than the doxology of Paul in Romans 11 ...

"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom [be] glory for ever. Amen." (Rom. 11:33-36).

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