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.

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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)

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)

Parable of the Sower

Q.  I have some questions about the Parable of the Sower. Your comments are greatly appreciated.

A. The inquirer put a lot of thought into this parable and asked multiple questions touching on many theological issues. I will therefore answer them in several installments. Here’s part 1:

1) If the parable is about the gospel and hence salvation, it would seem to mean that real saving faith is not determined at the moment of confessing faith, since temptations (v.13), worries (v.14) and perseverance (v.15) happen later on in life.

The parable itself is in Lk 8:5-8, which narrates a typical agricultural scene about a farmer sowing his seeds. When Jesus’ disciples questioned Him what it meant (v 9), He said it is about the mysteries of the kingdom of God (v 10). So the subject is kingdom of God, which encompasses the gospel and salvation, but involves more than both. Broadly speaking, the kingdom of God is God’s reign over His entire creation. More narrowly defined, it is God’s rule over the hearts of His subjects.

You are right in observing that temptations, worries and perseverance happen later on in life. But real saving faith is a “both-and“, not an “either/or”. It starts at the moment of confessing genuine faith, and is a process that continues and “endures to the end”:

  • 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 fact that it starts upon confession of genuine faith is observed elsewhere, e.g.:

  • Lk 19:9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.
  • Lk 23:43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

The Lord did not tell Zaccheus or the thief on the cross to wait and see whether they would persevere; He told them “today”.

2) In that case when people accept the gospel verbally, why do we congratulate them with Jn 1:12; 6:47 and declare that they are now born-again babies?

For Jesus it’s not a problem because He knew men’s thoughts and what’s in their hearts:

  • Mt 9:4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts
  • Lk 9:47 But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, …
  • Jn 2:25 … for He Himself knew what was in man.

But while God knows and the people themselves may know:

  • 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.

we’re human and don’t really know men’s hearts:

  • Jer 17:9 The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?

So we’re jumping the gun a bit when we congratulate them, as we really don’t know for sure that their faith is genuine. We compensate by asking clarification and diagnostic questions, as done in Evangelism Explosion, for example. By observing all the “signs” we can have a certain degree of confidence, but never 100% sure.

(To be continued)

Parable of the Vineyard

Last Sunday we heard a good message on the “Laborers in the Vineyard” in Mt 20:1-16, from a missionary who taught Hebrew and NT in the Philippines. She used the passage to challenge the congregation on responding to God’s call to active service, whether locally or in the mission field.

I touched on this passage 5 years ago, in:
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/the-last-will-be-first/
when I wrote about “the last will be first”, but the key point is worth repeating.

In the Parable of the Vineyard the landowner represents God, and the laborers represent us. Many Christians question the fairness of God in this parable. Why would He be so generous to those hired last, but strict, perhaps even mean, to those hired early? Actually this is a diagnostic parable, as it tells you more about yourself than you care to know. When you read it, note who do you identify with – those hired early in the morning, or those hired about the eleventh hour. Who you identify with tells you what type of person you really are. Many identify themselves with those who were hired first:

Mt 20:10-15 When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ 13 But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’

In what way? In that we:
1. View things from what we get out of it; we think we deserve more than the next guy (v 10);
2. Grumble when things don’t turn out as we expected, even though our expectations may be unrealistic and what we agreed to (v 11, 13);
3. See others as not equal to us, as we have contributed more (v 12);
4. Think we have been wronged, that others have short-changed us, when in fact they have not (v 13);
5. Are envious of others’ generosity (v 15).

In short, even though we hate to admit it, we operate more on the basis of works, not grace. We are self-centered. If others work for one hour and get paid one denarius, then surely we who worked 12 hours should be paid 12 denarii, otherwise it’s not fair. Reward is proportional to effort; equal pay for work of equal value. Since the landowner did not do that, he, and by implication God, is not fair. That’s perfect reasoning for a person governed by works. But not God, who is Love and operates by grace.

Have you ever wondered what would happen to the eleventh hour’s laborers’ family if the landowner pays them their due of 1/12 denarius? They would go hungry that day. The poor in those days lived a hand-to-mouth existence. The typical daily wage for an unskilled laborer is 1 denarius, just enough to feed a small family for 1 day. So no work means no pay and no food. The landowner is compassionate towards them, and pays the eleventh hour laborers not what they earned, but a full day’s wage so their families won’t go to bed with empty stomachs. God is gracious and generous but we are not. We are so unlike Him that we should be ashamed of ourselves. But better late than never that we learn to be like our Father.