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)

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How God Judges

Q. I’ve known “Christians” whose behaviors do not measure up to what I expect of true believers. Are they saved? How will God judge?

A. I have written on related topics before, and refer you to previous posts:
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/principles-of-judgment/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/seed-on-rocky-ground/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/lazy-wicked-servant-2-of-2/

I believe the key test of whether a person is truly saved is fruitfulness. The Lord expected fruit from the Jews:
Lk 13:6-7 And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’

And He expected it of His servants:
Mt 25:26-27 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.

However, unlike those who hold to “once saved always saved“, I do not believe one act of obedience once in a person’s life guarantees his/her salvation. Nor do I believe one act of disobedience cuts a person off from God’s grace, as the God of the Bible is:
Ex 34:6 The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth;
God is a God of second chances, proven time and again throughout the Bible, but there is a limit and we should not presume on His forbearance.

As I explained in the article on “Principles of Judgment“, I believe God’s judgment is cumulative and based on obedience. That is, God looks at everything in the individual’s lifetime to determine whether he/she is truly obedient. Everything will be taken into account. Nothing will be overlooked. That’s why only God can judge whether your friend is a true believer or not, because only He knows all the thoughts, circumstances, considerations the person went through in acting the way he/she did. We see only the surface, like the tip of the iceberg, and are in no position to judge our fellow-men.

What if a wicked man repents or a righteous man turns bad? Then the principles in Ezekiel 18 apply:
Ezk 18:21-22 But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.
• Ezk 18:24 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die.

That’s why I believe it is the whole pattern of one’s life, not just single acts, that determine whether he lives or dies. God assesses all at the end, taking the beginning, the end, and everything in between into consideration. He bases everything on truth, according to what was done, and does not play favorites. That’s why He is fair and every mouth will be stopped.

One last thing. According to Jesus, our concern should be whether we are following Jesus, not what will happen to others, as all of us will have to give an account of ourselves to God.
Jn 21:21-22 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!
• Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
• Rom 14:12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

So focus on your own discipleship. Don’t to nosy about what happens to others except to help them.

Cost-Effectiveness of Churches (2 of 2)

1 Sam 15 22 e

(Continued from yesterday)

Lk 13:6-9 And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”

I know this parable probably refers to the Jewish nation since it follows Lk 12:1-5 where Jesus taught the Jews to repent. However, it clearly shows the owner’s expectation of fruit may also apply to individuals as well. Make no mistake about it, God expects more fruit:

Jn 15:2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.

Nor is this an isolated incident, as both the parable of the Talents and the Ten Minas showed that God expects us to put what He entrusted to us to work and have fruit to show for it:
Mt 25:27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
• Lk 19:23 Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’

What am I saying? That it is neither “results alone” nor “faithful regardless of results” for all times, but being obedient to what God called you to do for that specific time. I believe I am not in a position to “judge” that senior and renowned pastor. Only he and God knew what God had called him to do, and whether he is obedient. I do not know what’s in the heart to say what he should have done. Does cost-effectiveness come into play at all? As stewards we are always accountable to God as to how we use the limited resources He entrusted to us, but pay attention to His call or special assignment which overrides the general call.

Philip the evangelist had a highly successful campaign in Samaria:

Acts 8:6 The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.

But an angel of the Lord pulled him out in the midst of his campaign to speak to one Ethiopian eunuch (Act 8:26-27). Not preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans (Acts 8:25), just one man. Was it cost-effective, not from our MBA mentality, but Philip was obedient and that is what counts.

If I have to make a choice, I would choose obedience over cost-effectiveness.:

1 Sam 15:22 Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.

God knows better. We can use the best of our knowledge to serve Him, but be prepared for His changing our plans at any time. He’s the Lord, we are only unworthy servants. He sometimes asks us to leave the 99 to find the one going astray. Just listen carefully, as He may speak in a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12).

Cost-Effectiveness for Churches (1 of 2)

cost benefit 1

Q. A very senior and renowned pastor took up a pastoral job in a small church. When asked why he did so because with his fame and charisma, serving in a mega church should reap more souls and in return the mega church would give him a more generous pay, so it would be a win-win situation. Even setting the remuneration aside, shouldn’t reaping more souls be the primary concern of a pastor? His reply was that a mega church could afford to hire many powerful ministers and evangelists while this small church was one deprived of resources. It was in great need for revival but lacking a powerful minister to help them out on this. Whose statement is more valid, and should the “cost-effectiveness” principle be applied in reaping souls? It seems that the Lord teaches us that He is willing to leave the 99 sheep to find the lost one.

A. Just last week a relative asked me a related question – whether a church should review her programs’ performance. He said they are the largest church in the city. Whenever a Christian celebrity is in town, they would be asked to host a concert, drama, or evangelistic meeting as outreach. This consumed a lot of resources, and those who are results-driven questioned whether it is worthwhile. However, others answered that “God asks us to be faithful, not successful; so we shouldn’t count too much.” Who is correct?

On the one hand, many church leaders now are people in management or professionals in their secular career. They are successful in their jobs and used to management by objectives, strategic planning, performance appraisals etc. When they see the low effectiveness/efficiency in the church, they want to run the church like a business to improve her performance as an organization. On the other hand, there are “old school” leaders who believe that a church is a big family and relationships are most important. They feel so long as they are doing God’s work faithfully, God will take care of the results and they need not worry too much. Who’s right? I believe the answer is somewhere in between, not either/or, but both-and.

If early missionaries and mission boards counted short-term quarterly results like contemporary businesses, Africa would never have opened to the gospel. Hundreds and thousands of missionaries went to the “dark continent”, some with coffins as trunks carrying their earthly belongings, knowing that they may never come home again. Many died from tropical diseases within a few months after arrival, never seeing a single convert. Yet they were faithful and kept going, often with little results to show for their sacrifice. They persevered knowing that God called them and they need to be obedient. The same is true now for missionaries to restricted countries. You can’t measure pioneer work by standards for large organizations.

1 Co 4:2 says “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Stewards must be faithful. That’s a minimum requirement, but when circumstances change from pioneer work through development phase to growth, does God look for anything else? Is that still the only requirement? I believe He does, as illustrated in His parable of the fig tree.

(To be continued)