Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Joy of the Believer’s Security in Christ Jesus

There are some passages in the Bible that are very comforting to read. Some of these passages after studying them cause my heart to sing with gladness and praise over and above the initial comfort that I received upon reading them. I experienced both the immediate comfort and later exceeding joy and gladness when studying one of the most memorable (rightly so) and glorious passages in the first chapter of Philippians, verse six.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

I truly believe that this statement is one that, if it is understood properly, can be a catalyst for true and lasting joy in the hearts of all believers. The basic meaning of Paul’s message here is fairly plain; God will complete His work of salvation that He Himself began in the individual believer’s life. This truth, what is commonly called “eternal security,” “the perseverance of the saints,” or “once saved always saved” is something that is at the core of the very gospel of Jesus Christ itself. It is not part of the “core” message of salvation because true believers desire to immerse themselves in an ongoing life of sin and still go to heaven. It is part of the “core” simply because the same reason that my salvation began is the same reason that my salvation and sanctification will continue and not fail. The truth is that we are saved by God’s grace, and it is only by the gracious sustaining work of God that we are kept.

The gospel is the good news. It is a message of salvation and hope for the sinner who is broken by his sin. And at the very heart of the gospel is the truth that man cannot do anything in order to save himself from the wretched position that he is in.

The gospel message begins with God. Before time began, before creation, God had chosen to give the Son a bride. And in the whole course of divine history, it was before any temporal thing ever occurred that He chose all of us who would believe (c.f. Titus 1:2) in a promise made by God to God (i.e. inter-Trinitarian promise). It is these same people who were predestined in the foreknowledge of God who will ultimately be granted faith and repentance, be justified, and be glorified (c.f. Rom 8:29-31). We know, love, and affirm the truth that we are saved by His grace alone. And as believers, we can have fellowship around this common confession of our own desperate need to be saved. Ephesians 2:8,9, Titus 3:5, and other places tell us that it is God who saves us based upon His grace and not upon the deeds that we do. We understand that all things that we do that could ever be put forward as “good deeds” are nothing but trash in God’s eyes.

If that weren’t bad enough, not only are our actions worthless (and only serve to add to our guilt) but we are called dead in our sins before God (Ephesians 2:1). God’s system of salvation is based solely on grace and doesn’t count our good works. Even if He did credit us for good works, we couldn’t do any because we’re dead in our sins. Show me a dead man who can get out of his coffin, clean himself up, get a job, and earn a living and I will show you how someone who is dead in sin can work to attain his salvation, even if it is only “in cooperation” with God. However, let’s just say that we were not dead and good works did count in our favor, we still wouldn’t want to do any (Genesis 6:5). Furthermore, even if we could actually do any good work and we wanted to do them, they would still be rejected as worthless because God is holy and does not accept our “good” deeds (c.f. Isaiah 64:6 & Titus 3:5)! That is the desperate condition of all people because we all need to be reconciled with God in order to avoid His wrath, but we have no real ability or lasting desire to be made right with God.

If our condition before God and our inability to do anything to change it, whether by changing our actions or our desires, was not bad enough, we are expressly sinning against a command He has given to all humanity when we don’t!
"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,” (Acts 17:30)
“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)

But again, as we have seen, the natural man can’t do that because he’s dead and he doesn’t want to! And it is here where the beauty of Philippians 1:6 comes in. It was God that began a good work in you. The Bible states emphatically that faith (see Jeremiah 32:40; Matthew 16:17; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:24-26) and repentance (Jeremiah 13:23; 2 Timothy 2:25; Acts 11:18) are gifts from God to the believer for salvation. The Scriptures are also clear that man is justified, made right with God and at peace with Him, on the basis of faith alone and apart from works or works of the Law. (cf. Romans 5:1, Philippians 3:9)

In other words, only those people who are given faith and repentance from God are able to then obey God’s command to repent and believe in Christ and be at peace with God.

The salvation of the elect was assured before anything was ever created. He did this for us. And if God did this for us, and there is nothing at all that we have done to deserve it more than other men and women who don’t believe the gospel. There is also nothing that we can do to void this saving work, because Christ will perfect it, He will complete it in us.

This awesome promise of God to save the believer, perfectly and finally, begs one to ask one simple, yet profoundly important, question of application: How do I know that I am saved? I don’t know a single Christian who hasn’t struggled with this issue at one time in their lives. Don’t be deceived, the Bible itself tells us to take spiritual inventory of our own lives to make certain that we are not lost.
Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; (2 Peter 1:10)
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

How? How do we do that? The first epistle of John lays out several scenarios that we can look at and see how we measure up. There is a clear distinction given between those who claim (falsely) to be believers and those who truly are born again. A really good place to start, although there are other good places too, is in the first few chapters of the book of 1 John.
5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

"4 The one who says, " I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 1:5-7; 2:4-6)

I think that these passages from John’s epistle are so clear so that we can have some sort of a tangible and heart-level guide by which to examine ourselves. One of the keys in understanding these passages clearly is contained in the verb “walk”. In verse six of chapter one, this verb is applied to both the one who has fellowship with God and the one who does not; one walks in the light and the other in darkness. John is not saying that if person claiming to be a Christian sins at all, then you are not a Christian, and he expressly states that at the end of chapter one, but what he is getting at is the overall and true life that is being lived. I would say that someone who puts on the “Christian” appearance to some degree but revels in their sin and shame when they are not around believers is a sign of someone who may be walking in the darkness. That is contrasted to someone who loves the Lord and sins daily. One of the differences between a sinning pretender and a sinning Christian, I would say, is the difference of Peter and Paul’s response to sin as opposed to Judas’ and the rich young ruler’s response.

After Peter repeatedly denied Christ, he heard the cock crow fulfilling Christ’s prophecy to him on the same night. But, after hearing the cock crow, Peter seemingly realizes the depths of his sin and went out to weep bitterly (cf. Matthew 26:75). His sorrow over his sin was not a momentary guilt that subsided when he went back to his old fishing ways, it was the sign of true repentance and sorrow over sin. Later when he perceived the risen Jesus on the shore, he didn’t wait for the boat to float in, he dove into the water in a rush to get to Christ to be reconciled (cf. John 21). Similarly, when Paul lays out his inner thoughts concerning his own sin, he confesses that he longs to do right, but instead he sins. His conclusion is the one of someone who truly hates the sin in their life, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) Both Peter and Paul sinned, and sinned grievously, either in the site of their human peers or in God’s sight, but they both had this inner longing to be restored that manifested itself in repentance and restoration.

Contrasting that, the rich young ruler felt the weight of the Savior’s pointing out his own sin, and although he wanted eternal life, he had no repentance and instead chose to leave and live in his sin away from the Savior. Judas had sorrow over some of what he’d done to Christ, but his sorrow was not one that brought him back to God. His sorrow turned his actions away from Christ and he sought to soothe his conscience through a scheme trying to make up for his error. His scheme was to pay back the blood money to the conspirators, but when he was rejected by them, his unrighteous remorse drove him to commit suicide. And so Judas’ eternal fate was at hand, and he fulfilled the words of Christ when He said, “but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)

The goal of this self-examination is not to find yourself to be sinless, because if we say that we have no sin, we make Christ a liar (1 John 1:10). The goal is also not simply to find that we have a degree of sorrow over our own personal sin and its consequences, because sorrow of sin could manifest itself into either something similar to Peter and Paul’s sorrow over sin, or the sorrow of Judas. Instead, I think a goal of this examination is to see our wretchedness as a personal affront to God and His holiness that births a sorrow over the offense that we have caused Him leading us to long for restoration to Christ and cause a change of actions in the repentance of the sin that caused God to be offended.

Both the reprobate and the Christian will sin until their dying day, both will have degrees of sorrow over the wrongs that they have done and the pain and damage they have caused, and both will attempt some sort of personal reform in order to avoid the pain and problems of the past. The difference doesn’t lie as much in the presence of sin, sorrow, or repentance, but the difference lies in the hating of sin, the cause for the sorrow, and the reason for the repentant heart.

The Christian sins but hates the sin and desires to have it killed in his very flesh. The reprobate sins and thoroughly enjoys the sin that is destroying him. The Christian has sorrow over the sin that he commits primarily because he understands that it is a supreme offense against God and that it necessitated the death of his Lord. The reprobate has sorrow over his sin insofar as he is inconvenienced or dissatisfied with some (or all) of the consequences. The Christian displays a growing repentance form his sin in order to honor Christ in his life and to be “living by that same standard to which we have attained” (Philippians 3:16). That is, Christians understand the transformation that has occurred based upon the grace of God and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer and we seek to have our life be conformed more and more to the standard set by our Lord. The reprobate simply changes his actions and, if he does change his actions, it is in order to avoid the negative repercussions that he has received before. This may not mean that the sins are ever actually given up, but it may lead to more extravagant attempts to cover up the presence of the ongoing sin.

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