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.

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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)

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.

Apostasy Part 2 of 2

(Continued from yesterday)

Are apostates true or false Christians? My opinion is the latter, based on:
• Jn 6:39 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.
• 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.

Jesus did not lose any true Christian. In context 1 Jn 2:19 refers to the many antichrists in the last hour or end times, but the description fits well to those who fall away and deny Christ.

Can a person be justified and glorified without being sanctified? The answer is NO, based on Rom 8:29-30:

For those whom He (1) foreknew, He also (2) predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also (3) called; and these whom He called, He also (4) justified; and these whom He justified, He also (5) glorified.

Here we see the “golden chain of salvation“, beginning with God foreknowing those He would elect, then predestined them, calling them, justifying them, and finally glorifying them. The chain is unbroken, based on Rom 11:29:
for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

In between justification and glorification is sanctification. God does not glorify a person whom He did not first set apart and make holy i.e. sanctify. And He does not sanctify a person without first declaring him righteous in Christ i.e. justify. So a person cannot skip sanctification and jump from justification to glorification. Salvation is not just a point action at a moment in time when he trusted in Christ as his Savior and is declared righteous (justification, past tense), but also a process whereby he is progressively conformed to the image of Christ (sanctification, present tense), following Him as Lord. It is both, without which he will not be glorified (future tense). In theology we call this Lordship Salvation.

In conclusion, there is apostasy and my view is that apostates have never been true Christians. They have made a profession of faith, may have been baptized, gone to church and acted like Christians, but have never been regenerated and born from above. They are tares, not wheat; goats, not sheep. They resemble Christians, but eventually show their true color by turning away, so be warned.

Apostasy Part 1 of 2

Q. Is there such a thing as Christian apostasy? Or these people have never been true Christians? Can one have justification and glorification without sanctification?

A. Yes there is. Depending on which version you use, the word “apostasy” appears several times in the Bible. I use the NASB myself:
Jer 8:5 “Why then has this people, Jerusalem, Turned away in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return.
• Hos 14:4 I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from them.
• 2 Thes 2:3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,

The ESV has it in:
Jer 2:19 Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of me is not in you, declares the Lord GOD of hosts.
in addition to Hos 14:4.

In the OT the noun “apostasy” translates the Hebrew word meshuwbah, which appears 12 times in 12 verses, including Jer 2:19, 8:5 and Hos 14:4 cited above. Literally it means “turning away, turning back, backsliding“.

“Apostasy” also translates the Greek noun apostasia, which means “a falling away, defection“. It appears twice in the NT, in 2 Thes 2:3, as well as in Acts 21:21, where the it is translated “forsake”.

The verb apostacize has a synonym aphistemi which occurs 20 times in 14 verses. Those translated “fall away” include:
Lk 8:13 Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.
• 1 Tim 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,
• Heb 3:12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.

You can easily see from the English versions that apostasy means turning or falling away, forsaking. Are apostates genuine Christians, or are they those who are close to but have never been truly born-again? On the one hand, Arminian theology which do not subscribe to eternal security believes these folks to be true Christians who have lost their salvation. They feel to turn away implies you must have believed in the first place. On the other hand, Reformed theology which subscribes to perseverance of faith, or Dispensation theology which subscribes to “once saved always saved (OSAS)” believe these folks to be counterfeit Christians. They feel they have only tasted of the heavenly gift, but have never really committed themselves to it. Who is correct?

(To be continued)