Locusts and Wild Honey

Matthew 3:4 And John himself was clothed in camel s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Q.  What is the significance of John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey?

A. I can think of two things. John’s food is described in two verses:

  • Mt 3:4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
  • Mk 1:6 John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.

Winged insects that walk on all fours are detestable to Israelites, except those with jointed legs with which to jump on the earth:

  • Lev 11:22  These of them you may eat: the locust in its kinds, and the devastating locust in its kinds, and the cricket in its kinds, and the grasshopper in its kinds.

Wild honey is honey that is not farmed, found in tree trunks or rock crevices:

  • 1 Sam 14:12 All the people of the land entered the forest, and there was honey on the ground.

Both foods are found in nature and cost nothing, and were eaten by the poorest people. So point one may be John’s simple lifestyle, depending on what God provides for his sustenance.

The second thing relates to his dress, a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt. This was what Elijah wore:

  • 2 Kings 1:8 (NIV) They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”

When the angel announced to Zechariah that God will give him a son called John, he said:

  • Lk 1:17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

So point two is that John is the fulfillment of Elijah who was to come even in minute details:

  • Mt 11:14 And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.

Hope this helps.

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Endure to the End

Q.  If perseverance is like good works in that they do not produce eternal life, why are there so many bible passages that say “he who endures to the end will be saved”.  No where in the bible says “he who do good works to the end will be saved”.  If a person is a true believer, even if he fails to endure to the very end, he would be saved because He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Isn’t that true?

A. The phrase actually appears 3 times in the Bible:

  • Mt 10:22 You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.
  • Mt 24:13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
  • Mk 13:13 You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

The context of Mt 10:22 is Jesus sending out His 12 disciples to preach the kingdom of heaven, warning them a hard road will be before them, where they will be hauled to court, scourged, and persecuted. It will be perilous times as even family members will betray each other.

Both Mt 24:13 and Mk 13:13 refer to Jesus’ disciples asking Him what will be the sign of His (second) coming, and of the end of the age. Again, the end times will be times of deception, wars, famines, earthquakes, tribulation, apostasy, and betrayal. There will be severe trials and suffering for the disciples, no wonder the Lord encouraged them to endure.

Good deeds are the fruit expected under ordinary times. Under trials and tribulations, the focus switches to survival. Disciples still bless those who persecute them (Rom 12:14), but the emphasis is endurance; hence you don’t find “do good to the end and you will be saved” in the Bible.

Yes Php 1:6 is true:

  • 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.

As I have argued, ultimately perseverance does not depend on how tough the true believer is, it depends on the Lord promising to see him through. So he may be weak and fail, but he will still be saved because He always keeps His promise.

False Conversion

(Continued from previous post)

This argument seems to set the decisive moment about whether and when someone is saved at the time they confess faith. They either pass or fail at that moment, with no second chance at growing after a less-than-stellar moment of conversion. According to the argument, those who lack the “real saving faith” at that moment are not saved, period. (Because if they are still saved but later do not demonstrate the necessary deeds during trials, then they will lose their salvation which is the possibility that this argument tries to preclude.) In that case they are doomed without recourse, since if they are not saved at that moment of opportunity when they think they are — with everybody congratulating them while the Holy Spirit flunks them quietly — they really don’t have the sense of urgency to do what they can to turn the situation around. Besides, justification is by faith, not works, so they are still doomed regardless of what they do. This argument seems to imply that if someone is not “up to standard” at the moment of conversion then nothing can help them make up for it. In that case all the encouragement about attending church, reading the Bible etc. appear moot in terms of salvation, because if they do have the “real saving faith” then nothing can knock salvation off them (once-saved-always-saved), whereas if they don’t then no amount of efforts can save them.

What you described is a case of false conversion, someone who thinks he/she is saved, but who really lacked saving faith. What happens to them? If the church is doing her job, she would follow up the individual, visiting him to see whether he has assurance of salvation, encourage him to attend worship, and teach him to pray, read the Bible and join fellowship or a cell group. They would monitor his progress to see if there is any change in his behavior, as evidence that he has been “born again”. People progress at different pace, but if after a period of time there is still no sign of life they would doubt whether his “conversion” was genuine in the first place.

What next? His Christian friends, assuming they are concerned about his spiritual well-being, would question his “faith” and witness to him as if he were an unbeliever, since his conduct leads them to such a conclusion. Is he doomed without recourse? Not necessarily, because although “once (genuinely) saved, always saved” is true, the converse “once lost, always lost” is not true. That person may not have any sense of urgency to repent, but neither has any non-believer until the Holy Spirit convicts his heart.

All of us start out rebellious – it’s in our fallen nature. The false convert has an extra hurdle of self-delusion, thinking he’s saved when he’s not, but it’s not insurmountable. With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Mt 19:26) He may send other Christians besides his friends, even total strangers e.g. a short-term mission team, to witness to him. I take “the Lord does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9) at face value. “Any” would include “false converts”, so it is not hopeless as you’ve described.

Once Saved, Always Saved

(Continued from previous post)

7) Some people explain the situation this way: There are those who believe with real saving faith at the moment of accepting the gospel. They are justified by their real faith which will be reflected in their deeds going forward. They are saved once and for all. Nothing can knock them out of salvation. On the other hand, there are those who say they believe but actually don’t really have the faith required. This will be reflected in their deeds going forward. They were never saved to begin with, presumably because the Holy Spirit knows their heart, so they did not lose the salvation which they never obtained. So then the once-saved-always-saved assurance applies to the first group only. This is the only group that has ever been saved. Do you agree with this?

Properly understood, yes. But let me clarify. When I was a young Christian I attended a church that taught Dispensationalism and “once-saved, always saved (OSAS)”. The moderate form proposed that a believer is eternally secure, because he is in the Lord’s hands:

  • Jn 10:27-29 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 

I held this doctrine to be true, and still do. As I learned more from the Bible, I found my views on eternal security to be most closely aligned with the Reformed doctrine of “perseverance of the saints”:

  • Jn 6:37, 39-40 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.  39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.

The saints are preserved by our Lord, and therefore will persevere.

The ultra form of OSAS, however, proposed that once a person “confessed Christ as his personal Savior”, he is saved forever, even if later on he backslides, drifts away, and lives in unrepentant sin. According to them, “once a son, always a son”.  I reject this as contrary to what Scripture teaches:

  • 1 Jn 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

The above summarizes my current position on eternal security, so a “qualified yes” to your question.

It seems that this argument uses real saving faith to defend the once-saved-always-saved assurance, but does not offer any insight about what is real saving faith. So then the question still remains: How does anyone know whether they have “made it”?

You can know “real saving faith” by its “fruit”:

  • Mt 7:16, 20 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? … So then, you will know them by their fruits.
  • Mt 12:33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.
  • Lk 6:44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush.

There are many passages indicating what type of fruit genuine saving faith will bear, but one book in particular is written so that we may know we have “made it” – 1 John:

  • 1 Jn 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

What are the signs given in 1 John? Commentators have different views. I summarize my observations into the following groups:

1. In relation to God – Keep His commandments; does His will

  • 2:3-5 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandmentsThe 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;but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.
  • 2:17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
  • 2:29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.
  • 3:24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
  • 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

2 In relation to others – Love the brethren

  • 2:10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
  • 3:10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
  • 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
  • 3:18-19 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him.
  • 3:23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
  • 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
  • 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
  • 4:16-17 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
  • 4:20-21 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

3. In relation to the world – Overcome; do not love

  • 2:15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
  • 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

4. In relation to self – Purity; clear conscience

  • 3:3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
  • 3:6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
  • 3:21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God

I hasten to add that the above indicators are a matter of degree. None of us is perfect; we are sinners saved by grace, in the process of sanctification. Some of us do better than others, but no one is blameless. All of us fall short many times at different points in our lives, but the overall pattern should be upwards, striving towards the goals God has for us, growing more like Him as time progresses. But notwithstanding our stumbling, by His grace we press on.

(To be continued)

Follow-up & Discipleship

(Continued from previous post)

6) We do encourage people to attend church, read the Bible, pray etc. when they accept Jesus verbally. However, we don’t say what implications there will be in terms of salvation if they don’t do any of that. The way these things are presented, they sound like something good to do rather than absolutely important or critical. These things help to prepare new converts for the trials that they are going to face in v.13-15. Yet this part of the gospel presentation is so brief and almost kind of “after the fact”, as everyone basks in the euphoria of a soul being saved already. And if you are saved once, you are saved forever, right? No matter what happens tomorrow. That’s our assurance.

You pointed out a deficiency in how many churches conduct their discipleship, but assumed that everything needs to be presented upfront or else the gospel presentation is defective. As I indicated in my citing the gospel messages in Acts, the apostles and early church evangelists did not lean heavy on perseverance when presenting the gospel. Instead, they major in proving that Jesus is the Christ, primarily because of the audience’s Jewish background, and repentance.

It’s not that they did not emphasize attending church, reading Scripture, prayer etc. They did:

  • Acts 2:42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

It’s just that these were part of the discipleship training, the follow-up, not loaded into part of the gospel presentation.

As Paul pointed out, the essence of the gospel is:

  • 1 Co 15:1-4 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

Perseverance and follow-up are important, but not of first importance. For Paul, it’s first things first, and that means believing in Jesus as the Christ, trusting Him as our Lord and Savior. Discipleship comes next, or else the good news won’t get preached to the end of the earth.

Having said that, nowadays many churches are failing in making disciples of all nations. We emphasize converts, building bigger churches, not making disciples who make disciples. No wonder we are not fulfilling the Great Commission as we should.

(To be continued)

Perseverance

(Continued from previous post)

5) How much perseverance (v.15) would reflect real faith? In other words, how does anyone know whether they have “made it”?

I think you are asking the wrong question. Salvation is not a matter of how much we have worked to earn it, or how much we have persevered to maintain it, it’s a matter of what God has done to save us and promises to do to keep us there:

  • Rom 8:30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
  • Rom 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rom 8:30 is an unbreakable chain from being predestined to being glorified, and Rom 8:38-39 assures us that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God.

  • 1 Co 1:8-9  who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • Php 1:6 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.
  • 1 Thes 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
  • 1 Pet 1:5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

These 4 verses all tell us that what God has started in our lives, He is faithful to bring to completion. We are not dependent on our strength to persevere, but on God’s power to preserve us.

Then what about all those verses that seem to tell us that salvation is dependent on our endurance or perseverance e.g.

  • Mt 10:22 You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.
  • Lk 21:19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
  • Rom 2:7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life;
  • 1 Tim 4:16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
  • Heb 3:6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

What is the relationship between perseverance and faith? Perseverance bears a parallel relationship to faith as works – both perseverance and works are the evidence of faith. Real faith will produce good works and perseverance. They go together. Just as you can say “faith without works is dead”, you might say “faith without perseverance is dead”, that kind of faith is useless. An analogy in human physiology is that of life and brain waves. Life always produces brain waves. No brain waves means the life is gone, dead. The brain waves do not produce life, but are the evidence that the person is still alive. Similarly perseverance does not produce eternal life, but shows that the faith is real and the life everlasting.

(To be continued)

Gospel Presentation

(Continued from previous post)

3) Why do we preach belief only but not perseverance (v.15) as part of the gospel?

We preach belief because that’s the model in the NT e.g. in Acts:

  • Acts 2:38, 40 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. … And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”
  • Acts 3:16, 19 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. … Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;
  • Acts 8:35-37 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 
  • Acts 10:42-43 And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
  • Acts 13:38-39 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,39 and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.
  • Acts 16:30-31 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
  • Acts 17:3-4 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.
  • Acts 17:30-31 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

In all 8 evangelistic sermons to non-believers, whether by Peter, Phillip, or Paul, the focus is always on believe in Jesus, not perseverance. Do they preach perseverance at all? Yes, but to disciples, not to non-believers:

  • Acts 14:22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

The sequence is therefore first faith in Christ to be saved, then strengthen their faith to persevere. We do it not to sugarcoat the gospel, but to follow the natural order of first new birth, then nurture.

4) While justification is by faith, faith by itself without deeds is dead, but we don’t mention it as part of the gospel presentation. Why?

Faith is “proven” by works to show that it is “saving faith”:

  • Jas 2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
  • Jas 2:17-18 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
  • Jas 2:20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
  • Jas 2:22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
  • Jas 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
  • Jas 2:26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

It’s not that we don’t mention deeds as part of the gospel. We do, but we are careful to point out that “works” is a result of faith, not a cause for our salvation. We emphasize this because the teaching of world religions, as well as the prevalent secular worldview, is that you save yourself by doing good deeds, which is wrong.

We know the value of good works:

  • Mt 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
  • Eph 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
  • 1 Tim 2:10 [adorn themselves] … but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.
  • 1 Tim 5:10 having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.
  • 1 Tim 6:18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,

We just don’t want non-believers to confuse “works” as a means to salvation. It isn’t. It is an “end”, not a “means”.

(To be continued)