Eternal Security ~ Part 12

Calvinistic Theology ~ Part 3

In my last post, we began to explore Five Points of Calvinism and the Doctrinal Affirmations of Calvinistic Theology.  In this post, we will continue to unpack the Five Points of Calvinism.   As a reminder, in order to ensure that I present the material on this topic and Arminian Theology without any preconceived bias, I have elected to utilize “The Moody Handbook of Theology” by Paul Enns as my source document.

Total Depravity

The word depravity means that because of sin’s corruption “there is nothing man can do to merit saving favor with God,” while total means that depravity “has extended to all aspects of man’s nature, to his entire being.” Calvin defined man’s depraved estate as follows: “All men are conceived in sin, and born the children of wrath, indisposed to all saving good propense [leaning or inclining toward, disposed] to evil, dead in sin, and the slaves of sin; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they neither are willing nor able to return to God, to correct their depraved nature, or to dispose themselves to the correction of it.”

The Scriptures emphasize the depravity of man by man’s continual sinning (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18). The reason is that man is born a fallen creature with the pollution of sin (Psalm 51:5). Depravity also affirms the inability of man to do good (Matthew 7:17-18; John 15:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:3). Depravity further affirms man’s inability to understand the good (Matthew 13:14; John 1:11; 8:43; Acts 16:14; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18; Ephesians 4:18). Depravity also indicates man cannot desire the good (Matthew 7:18; John 3:3; 6:44; 8:43; 15:4-5; Ephesians 2:1). Continue reading “Eternal Security ~ Part 12”

Eternal Security ~ Part 7

God’s Sovereignty and Free Will

In my last post, we dug deeper into Hebrews 6:4-6 with some experts that have a different take on what the author of Hebrews may have meant when he wrote this passage.  In this post, we will explore a different, but I think related issue ~ God’s Sovereignty and Free Will.

In our American culture, we are raised to value our individual freedoms.  The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as the “Bill of Rights,” literally scream freedom and free will.  As a matter of fact, the Tenth Amendment specifically states that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, or prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people (emphasis added).  In short, we are free to do whatever we want to do as long as we accept those consequences for doing something we are legally not entitled to do.  Clearly, I have the absolute right and free will to arm myself under the Second Amendment and the freedom to not exercise that right.

The concept of free will appears extensively in the writings of the Tanakh, but generally in relation to the “free will offerings” outlined in Leviticus 7:16;22:18, 21, 23; 23:38.  The concept is not as prevalent in the Brit Hadashah.  Yeshua stated, “No one takes it [His life] away from me; on the contrary, I lay it down of my own free will. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again. This is what my Father commanded me to do.” ~ John 10:18. Again, in relation to an offering, Sha’ul writes, I tell you they have not merely given according to their means, but of their own free will they have given beyond their means.” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:3. And in his letter to Philemon, Sha’ul writes,“but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.” ~ Philemon 1:14 (NASB)

In “Rightly Dividing the Word,” Rev. Clarence Larkin [1] wrote:

“There is no question but that the “Doctrine of Election” is taught in the Scriptures, and that it applies not only to “service,” but to “salvation.” It is equally true that the “Doctrine of the Freedom of the Will” under certain conditions is also taught. We may not be able to reconcile the “Sovereign Will of God,” with the “Free-will of Man,” but that is no proof that they are not reconcilable. They are the corresponding halves of the Doctrine of Salvation, “Election” is the Godward side, and “Free-will” the manward side.”

I take from this statement that we have the free will to accept God’s gracious gift of salvation through faith in Yeshua and the free will to reject that offer.

A.W. Tozer [2] has this to say on the topic of free will in “The Attributes of God – Volume 1: A Journey into the Father’s Heart:”

“God is good toward all who accept His goodness. And for those who reject His goodness, there’s nothing that even the Almighty God can do if He’s going to allow man his free will—and I believe in free will. Free will was given as a gift of God—He’s given us a little provisional sovereignty out of His absolute sovereignty. He has said, “I’ll allow you, within a little framework, to be your own boss and to choose to go to heaven or to hell.” If a man will not take God’s goodness, then he must have God’s severity toward all who continue in moral revolt against the throne of God and in rebellion against the virtuous laws of God.”

In “The Attributes of God – Volume 2: Deeper into the Father’s Heart,” Tozer expands on his doctrine of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will which in the interest of space, I only quote in part.

“The matter of man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty can be explained in this way: God’s sovereignty means that He is in control of everything, that He planned everything from the beginning.  Man’s free will means that he can, anytime he wants, make most any choice he pleases (within his human limitations, of course).  Man’s free will can apparently defy the purposes of God and will against the will of God.  Now how do we resolve this seeming contradiction?

Down through the years, two divisions of the church have attempted to resolve this dilemma in different ways. One division emphasizes the sovereignty of God, believing that God planned everything from the beginning, that God ordered that some would be saved and some lost, that Christ died for those who would be saved, but He didn’t die for the others who would not be saved. That is actually what followers of John Calvin believe.

On the other side, there are those who say that Christ died for all and that man is free to make his choice. But those who teach the sovereignty of God in this exclusive way say that if man is free to make a choice, then God isn’t sovereign.  Because if a man can make a choice that God doesn’t like, then God does not have His way.

God’s sovereignty means absolute freedom, doesn’t it?  God is absolutely free to do anything He wants or wills to do—anywhere, anytime, forever.  And man’s free will means that man can make any choice he wants to make, even if he makes a choice against the will of God.  There is where the theologians lock horns like two deer out in the woods and wallow around until they die. I refuse to get caught on either horn of that dilemma!  Here is what I see: God Almighty is sovereign, free to do as He pleases. Among the things He is pleased to do is give me freedom to do what I please.  And when I do what I please, I am fulfilling the will of God, not controverting it, for God in His sovereignty has sovereignly given me freedom to make a free choice.

And when I make a choice, I’m fulfilling His sovereignty, in that He sovereignly wills that I should be free to make a choice. If I choose to go to hell, it’s not what His love would have chosen, but it does not controvert nor cancel out His sovereignty. Therefore, I can take John Calvin in one hand and Jacob Arminius in the other and walk down the street. (Neither of them would walk with me, I’m sure, because Calvin would say I was too Arminian and Arminius would say I was too Calvinistic!)

But I’m happy in the middle. I believe in the sovereignty of God and in the freedom of man. I believe that God is free to do as He pleases and I believe that, in a limited sense, He has made man free to do as he pleases—within a certain framework, but not a very big one. After all, you’re not free to do very many things. You’re free to make moral choices. You’re free to do a few things, but not that many. But the things you are free to do are gifts from the God who is utterly free. Therefore, anytime I make a choice, I’m fulfilling the freedom God gave me and therefore I’m fulfilling God’s sovereignty and carrying it out.

God has said that those who follow Jesus Christ and believe in Him shall be saved, and those who refuse shall be damned. That’s settled—eternally, sovereignly settled. But you and I have freedom in the meantime, to do anything we want to do. And though most people think very little about it, we’re going to answer for that someday, according to the sovereign will of God.

God has certain plans that He is going to carry out. “The LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3KJV). When God is carrying on His plans, He is moving in a certain direction. When the enemy comes along (exercising the little freedom God has given him to be an enemy of God) and intersects the will and purpose of God, then there’s trouble. As long as we move in the will of God, everything goes smoothly. But when we get out of the will of God, then we have trouble on our hands.”

It’ hard for me to argue with Tozer.  I’m beginning to think I might be a Calvi-minian.  In my next post or two or three, I will explore Calvinism followed by Arminianism.

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[1]  Rev. Clarence Larkin (1850–1924) was an American Baptist pastor, Bible teacher and author whose writings on Dispensationalism had a great impact on conservative Protestant visual culture in the 20th century. His intricate and influential charts provided readers with a visual strategy for mapping God’s action in history and for interpreting complex biblical prophecies.

[2] Aiden Wilson Tozer (April 21, 1897 – May 12, 1963) was an American Christian pastor, preacher, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor.  For his work, he received two honorary doctoral degrees.

Eternal Security ~ Part 6

Apostasy ~ Part 3

In my last post, we began to unpack Hebrews 6:4-6 by looking at two commentaries.  In this post, I want to dig a little deeper into Hebrews 6:4-6 with some experts that have a different take on what the author of Hebrews may have meant when he wrote this passage.

“For when people have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become sharers in the Ruach HaKodesh, and tasted the goodness of God’s Word and the powers of the ‘olam haba [this age] — and then have fallen away — it is impossible to renew them so that they turn from their sin, as long as for themselves they keep executing the Son of God on the stake all over again and keep holding him up to public contempt.” ~ Hebrews 6:4-6

 “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” ~ Hebrews 6:4-6 (NASB)

The authors of the Life Application Bible Commentary have this to say, in part, about Hebrews 6:4-6:

“There are four main interpretations of this passage.

  1. One interpretation states that this passage means Christians can lose their salvation. According to this interpretation, the four phrases describe Believers. … This salvation allows them to “taste the heavenly gift”; that is, they have come to know Christ, the one who came from heaven, so they experience salvation and the gifts that the Spirit gives … While we can agree that the phrases may describe Believers, we cannot accept this interpretation that Christians can lose their salvation. This idea is dismissed by other portions of Scripture (see John 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39).
  2. Some interpret this passage as hypothetical: “if it were possible.” This interpretation, however, is unnatural and does not fit into the greater context of 6:7-8.  If this passage were only hypothetical, then the warning would be unnecessary.  Because the warning is urgent and real, we dismiss this interpretation.
  3. Another interpretation is that the writer may have intended to illustrate someone who seemed to be a Christian but really never was a true follower of Christ. All of the descriptive phrases could describe someone who is not really in the faith. That person could be “enlightened,” for the word was used by the early church to describe Christians who had been baptized and had professed Christ.  The person could have “tasted the heavenly gift,” if this phrase refers to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The person could have been a “partaker of the Holy Spirit,” if that phrase means that they fellowshipped alongside true believers and witnessed the Spirit’s work. Non-believers (even Judas Iscariot) saw the Holy Spirit work, heard the “good word of God,” and saw the “powers of the age to come.” … This interpretation is acceptable when considered in the greater context.  Hebrews 3:16-19 reviews how each Jew living in the wilderness had seen God’s great power, had eaten manna, had accompanied God, and had looked like God’s people, yet they never entered the Promised Land.  The writer did not want the Christians to fall into the same category and experience the same fate.
  4. Another reasonable interpretation arises by linking this portion of Scripture with 10:25-31 (another severe warning). The writer of Hebrews was warning against a specific kind of apostasy: forsaking Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for sins and returning to animal sacrifices as a means of atoning for sins. Thus, the severe warning is for those Jewish Christians who had originally accepted Christ’s redemption through his shed blood and then reverted to offering up the blood of bulls and goats as a means of cleansing their sins.

In the first century, a pagan who investigated Christianity and then went back to paganism would make a clean break with the church. But for Jewish Christians who decided to return to Judaism, the break was less obvious. Their lifestyle remained relatively unchanged.  But by deliberately turning away from Christ, they were cutting themselves off from God’s forgiveness.  Those who truly believe are glorious saints; those who reject Christ are un-believers, no matter how well they behave—thus, this warning not to “fall away” (Hebrews 2:1; 3:12).

It is impossible for people who have professed to be Christians and have experienced all of the beautiful gifts described in these verses, then have turned away from Christ to turn around and repent again since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.  It is impossible because these people show contempt for Christ through their deliberate actions.  It would be like personally crucifying Christ again. Many have argued whether someone who turns away from Christ can be restored to Christ.  Some point to this passage to prove that a backslider cannot be restored.  But “backsliders” are not the subject here.  This passage refers to people who walk with Christ for a while and then deliberately turn around and walk the other direction, rejecting Christ.  Hebrews 10:26 says, “For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins (nrsv). These people can never be restored because they will not want to be restored. They have chosen to harden their hearts against Christ. It is not impossible for God to forgive them; rather, it is impossible for them to be forgiven because they won’t repent of their sins.”

Here is my favorite paragraph in their commentary on this passage (emphasis added):

“In the final analysis, having a debate about the meaning of these verses should not be a priority for churches today. What matters most is the warning against apostasy, and the warning must be taken seriously.  The passage describes people in our churches who act like and seem to be Christians, but who have not truly believed.  When those assumed to be believers turn away, the debate may take place afterward, ‘Were they originally believers or not?’ But people reading these words must heed the warning, not just debate the issue.”

The authors of another favorite commentary I check frequently, “Hard Sayings of the Bible,” have this to say, in part, about Hebrews 6:4-6:

“Most Christians know of individuals who for one reason or another have left the faith. They may not have actually denied the faith, but they are certainly not practicing the faith.  For such people this is a very troubling passage.  Is there anyone who cannot be brought to repentance?  Can a person have shared the Holy Spirit and then be lost?  And are these people really eternally lost? Is this really a description of a Christian?

First, this passage is not unique but rather is part of a group of passages concerning people who cannot be forgiven or brought to repentance.  Mark 3:28-29 refers to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. … In 1 John 5:16 the author speaks of a “sin unto death” (KJV) about which, the elder implies, prayer is useless.  Finally, the verse under consideration here refers to a class of people who cannot “be brought back to repentance.”  The issue is not whether God would forgive them if they repented, but whether there is any way to bring them to repent at all.  The answer is no.

Second, the people under discussion are fully initiated Christians. In the preceding passage, the author contemplates whether he should discuss Melchizedek, a difficult teaching, or return to the basic teachings of the faith. … But he will not return to these teachings, for he knows these readers. They are fully initiated Christians. There was nothing defective in how they were brought to Christ, so there is no use in going back over the basics.

Third, what is the author’s concern about these people? Hebrews 6 is an excursus [an appendix or digression that contains further exposition of some point or topic] the author inserted into the argument because he is afraid that when he gets to the difficult subject of Melchizedek the readers will “turn him off.” …  Throughout the book he is concerned that they will leave their Christian faith and return to Judaism. … The author is warning them before he brings the difficult teaching not to apostatize, because the consequence of such an action is damnation.

His warning comes as a description of what it would mean to apostatize. That he is talking about full-blown apostasy is clear, for he uses the phrase “they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:6). That is, they once confessed that Jesus was Lord and Messiah, which means they repented of the injustice of the crucifixion.  Now in rejecting the faith they are declaring that the crucifixion was correct after all – Jesus was a blasphemer and not Messiah.  Such a public recantation exposes Jesus to public disgrace.

What, then, is the author of Hebrews saying? … His arguments to keep them in the faith must come from deeper truth, not from a clarification of the foundational truth.  He then points out by way of warning that if fully initiated Christians turn their backs on Christ, they will so harden themselves that nothing anyone can do will bring them back to repentance.  Their end result will be eternal damnation. … They may be on the verge of apostasy, but they have not made the decision and crossed the line.”

Although we have spent three posts on this topic of Apostasy, and we will come back to it before the series is completed I’m sure, it is time to move on.  However, as much as I want to move into examining Calvinism and Arminianism, I want to delay until we examine a related topic to Apostasy ~ God’s Sovereignty and Free Will.

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Eternal Security ~ Part 5

Apostasy ~ Part 2

In my last post, we began to explore the issue of Apostasy and Backsliding.  In this post, I want to dig a little deeper on the issue of Apostasy by turning to Hebrews 6:4-6.

As I was contemplating and praying about this topic of Eternal Security, my daily reading plan through the Brit Hadashah, Psalms and Proverbs from YouVersion lead me to the Letter to the Hebrews.  This passage hit me up alongside the head:

 “For when people have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become sharers in the Ruach HaKodesh, and tasted the goodness of God’s Word and the powers of the ‘olam haba [this age] — and then have fallen away — it is impossible to renew them so that they turn from their sin, as long as for themselves they keep executing the Son of God on the stake all over again and keep holding him up to public contempt.” ~ Hebrews 6:4-6

 This passage appeared to confirm my understanding that a born-again, spirit-filled Believer could indeed apostatize.  So, off to my electric library I went.  One of the resources I read was “Understanding Assurance and Salvation” by Robert E. Picirilli. [1]  I will be quoting from this book frequently as we continue in this series.  Reverencing this passage, Mr. Picirilli states:

“For those who believe in the possibility of personal apostasy, the book of Hebrews as a whole and Hebrews 6:4-6 in particular is one of the most important passages involved in providing a biblical basis for the view. The greater part of this chapter, therefore, is devoted to a thorough exegesis of this key passage in the context of the book and to treat questions about how it relates to the possibility that a truly regenerate person may ‘fall from grace.’”

For those who may not be familiar with the term exegesis it essentially means an “explanation or critical interpretation of a text.”  You may have heard the phrase, “you should never take a text out of context.”  He goes on to state:

“One of the requirements of good exegesis is to understand how a given passage fits into its context. In this case we should consider the general thrust of Hebrews as a whole.  These three verses come in the midst of a book that has perseverance for its major theme…an exhortation to preserve is at the heart of every major section of the book (Letter to the Hebrews).

Hebrews frequently encourages the audience to endure and warns against leaving the faith (see Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:1-29).  The warning passages exhort the kehilah to remain faithful to the teachings of Yeshua.  The author of Hebrews was exhorting the readers to remain faithful to the Messianic movement and not return to the Temple sacrifices and Judaism.

Does the Passage Describe Genuine Believers?

The people that the writer of Hebrews describes are said to have experienced four positive things. The question, then, depends on the meaning of these four clauses.

  1. They once been enlightened. This seems to refer to the spiritual enlightenment we associate with salvation. The Greek verb phōtizō means to give one light or bring him into light. The very same description appears again in 10:32, where also there is no reason to doubt that the writer consciously uses it to mean conversion.
  2. They tasted the heavenly gift. The people being described, “experienced” the heavenly gift.  Interpreters are not unanimous in identifying this heavenly gift, but the disagreement is more technical than substantial. The various interpreters suggest salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins, the Ruach HaKodesh, or Yeshua Himself.  Probably the best conclusion is that it means salvation and what goes with it: justification and eternal life in Messiah.
  3. They become sharers in the Ruach HaKodesh. The word sharers in the Greek is metochos which means “to have together with,” is apparently used by the writer of Hebrews exclusively to refer to Believer’s common participation in things related to their salvation.  In Hebrews 3:1 we are sharers of the heavenly calling; in Hebrews 3:14 sharers in the Messiah; and in 12:8 sharers of the discipline that distinguishes between true sons and bastards. Either of these three, or the one here, will by itself should be adequate to identify such a sharer as a Believer.  To have the Ruach, in common with other Believers, is certainly to be a Messianic Believer.  Receiving the gift of the Rauch is a regular way of stating what it means to become a Believer. (See Acts 2:38-39 and Galatians 3:14).
  4. They tasted the goodness of God’s Word and the powers of the ‘olam haba. We meet tasted again; see above on the second clause. Those described have tasted God’s Word. This means that they have experienced the goodness that God has spoken of.  God has spoken good to those who put faith in Him, and these have experienced that good.  The same sentiment is captured by Kefa: “For you have tasted that Adonai is good.” ~ 1 Peter 2:3.Furthermore, they have tasted the powers of the ‘olam haba. Powers, in the Greek is dynamis, which can often means miracles (as in Hebrews 2:4).  In its broadest sense, supernatural workings. Believers, though still living in the present age, have already begun to experience the supernatural workings characteristic of the age to come. This includes more than we need to discuss here, but regeneration and the gift of the Spirit are the initial powerful works of the age to come that all Believers have in common.

Of these four clauses as a whole, then, we conclude that one would be hard put to find a better description of genuine regeneration and conversion.  Either of them will stand by itself in this respect.  The four together provide one of the finest statements about salvation, from its experiential side, that appears anywhere in the Scriptures.

Does the Passage Describe Apostasy from Salvation?

The answer to this question resides in the meaning of the clause and then have fallen away.  There is not much dispute about the meaning of the words, most interpreters readily accept that to have fallen away as used here leaves a person outside a saving relationship with Yeshua.  That is what apostasy means. In light of the contents of the entire book of Hebrews, fallen away is obviously synonymous with drift away (Hebrews 2:1), apostatize from the living God (Hebrews 3:12), shrinks back (10:38), and turn away from Him when He warns from heaven. (Hebrews 12:25).

According to Mr. Picirilli, the NASB provides an especially clear and accurate translation of this passage.  “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” ~ Hebrews 6:4-6 (NASB)

It seems clear that the Apostasy of these verses is a final and irreversible.  Picirilli concludes:

“This apostasy is therefore much more serious than what most people mean by Backsliding.  Since salvation is first and always by faith, this apostasy involves a willful defection from the saving knowledge of Christ, a final retraction of faith from Him in whom alone is provision for forgiveness of sins. The apostate forsakes the cross where he found redemption: ‘By renouncing Christ they put themselves in the position of those who, deliberately refusing His claim to be the Son of God, had Him crucified and exposed to public shame.’”

I would be remiss if I didn’t include David Stern’s notes on this passage for his Jewish New Testament Commentary.  I have kept his formatting intact in this quote.  My only change is to modify the names of the books of Scripture he references.

“These verses (4-6) have been commandeered into service of the most amazing variety of theological positions.  Arminians (named after their supposed founder, Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609)) take them as proof that it is possible for someone who has once been a believer to fall away from faith irretrievably.  Calvinists (after John Calvin (1509-1564)) interpret them in such a way as to make that a practical impossibility.  The dispute between them has fueled many fires, but often forgotten is the author’s purpose, which is not to deal abstractly with the “eternal security of the believer,” but specifically with his readers’ concern that unless the Levitical sacrifices required by the Five Books of Moses are offered their sins remain unforgiven.  Whether they had in fact reintroduced sacrifices on their own cannot be determined from the evidence of this book. But it is obvious that they were fixated on the sacrificial system; and it becomes the author’s task to show them that Yeshua’s atoning death and his elevation to the office of cohen gadol has brought about “a transformation of Torah” (7:12) which alters the sacrificial system and priesthood.

Here is a review of the author’s argument in these verses. He speaks of people who have:

  1. once been enlightened, so that they know who Yeshua is and what he has done;
  2. tasted the heavenly gift of God’s forgiveness;
  3. become sharers in the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit whom God gives only through his Son Yeshua (this terminology makes it impossible that the author is referring to pseudo-believers, because only true believers become sharers in the Ruach HaKodesh);
  4. tasted the goodness (compare Psalm 34:8) of God’s Word and tasted the powers of the ʿolam haba, which is interesting terminology for the gifts of the Holy Spirit as enumerated in 1C 12:8-10

When people who have experienced salvation in such a deep way and then have fallen away from faith by trusting not in Yeshua’s own sacrificial death and high-priestly office but in animal sacrifices and the system of cohanim which the Torah set up to administer them—then it is impossible to renew them so that they turn from their sin, as long as for themselves they keep on executing the Son of God on the stake all over again. The reason is that they ignore what his death on the stake means, as proved by their trusting in animal sacrifices instead of His sacrifice. Thus they keep holding him up to public contempt by not glorifying his death as an atoning death but seeing it as having no special significance, so that his execution as a criminal becomes the dominant fact about it.

I am indebted to Jerome Fleischer, a Messianic Jew with a ministry in the San Francisco area, for pointing out to me that the author’s purpose in these verses was not to provide fuel for the Calvinist-Arminian controversy of 1500 years later, but to turn his readers’ concern away from animal sacrifices and toward the significance of Yeshua’s final sacrifice (my emphasis added). This is clear from the context of the following four chapters, which deal with precisely this question and which constitute the heart of the book.

However, it is possible to make a midrash on these verses which does deal with the Calvinist-Arminian controversy. Calvinism teaches the eternal security of the believer. It is possible to define “believer” tautologically [superfluously] in such a way that no one so defined ever falls away; but then no one could be certain he is a “believer” until his life had ended. For it is manifestly possible for a person to trust the Messiah as fully as he knows how, by any imaginable subjective or objective measure of his ability to trust, and to experience subjectively all the benefits of faith, and still at some point later to fall away. If that happens, it is impossible, so long as he remains in such a state, to renew him again so that he turns from his sin. Why? Because God has given him everything he can give, yet he now refuses to accept his status as righteous with God, along with the implied responsibility of living a holy life. In vv. 7-8 these good gifts of God are compared to rain, intended to make a good crop grow; but if an evil crop comes, it is in due course burned—a reminder of the fate of the wicked on the Day of Judgment. But the New Testament’s way of dealing with the security of the believer is different. Yochanan articulates it well: “The way we can be sure we know him is if we are obeying his commands” (1 Yochanan 2:3-6).

Some, insisting on the eternal security of one who has confessed the Messiah, understand this passage to say that carnal believers will be deprived of rewards (1C 3:8-15&N), or that they will spend the Millennial Age (Revelation 20:2-7) in Outer Darkness (see Matthew 22:13-14) instead of ruling with the Messiah.”

In my next post, we will continue to unpack the topic of Apostasy by examining other expert’s thoughts on Hebrews 6:4-6.  My goal is to try to provide a balanced approach between the two main positions (which I will present soon) to this issue of Eternal Security.

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[1] Robert E. Picirilli, former academic dean and professor of Greek and New Testament studies at Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, Tennessee, has been teaching, preaching and writing Arminian theology for more than 45 years. Since 1983, he has served as the General Editor of The Randall House Bible Commentary and, in that series, contributed the volumes on 1, 2 Corinthians; Ephesians; Philippians; and 1, 2 Thessalonians. His other published works include the books Paul the Apostle, Book of Galatians, Romans, and A Survey of the Pauline Epistles, as well as numerous booklets and articles in denominational publications and theological journals.

Eternal Security ~ Part 4

Apostasy ~ Part 1

In my last post, we began to look at the concept of Eternal Security.  We will be coming back to that topic throughout this series as we discuss other aspects of it.  In this post, we will explore the issue of Apostasy in more detail.  We will, also touch on the issue of Backsliding.

 In Part 2 of this series, I provided a brief definition of Apostasy.  The Greek word is aphistēmi which means to “depart, draw (fall) away, refrain, withdraw self or falling away.”

In the Brit Hadashah its usual meaning is that of a religious defection.  The Spirit expressly states that in the acharit-hayamim [End Times] some people will apostatize from the faith by paying attention to deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” ~ 1 Timothy 4:1. Watch out, brothers, so that there will not be in any one of you an evil heart lacking trust, which could lead you to apostatize from the living God! ~ Hebrews 3:12.   This is called “apostasy from the faith:” a secession from the kehilah and a disowning of the name of Messiah. The grave nature of Apostasy is shown by such passages as:

 “For if we deliberately continue to sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but only the terrifying prospect of Judgment, of raging fire that will consume the enemies. Someone who disregards the Torah of Moshe is put to death without mercy on the word of two or three witnesses. Think how much worse will be the punishment deserved by someone who has trampled underfoot the Son of God; who has treated as something common the blood of the covenant which made him holy; and who has insulted the Spirit, giver of God’s grace!” ~ Hebrews 10:26-29 Continue reading “Eternal Security ~ Part 4”

Eternal Security ~ Part 3

Eternal Security

In my last post, I provided a basic glossary of terms that will be discussed in more detail in this series, but may not be widely understood.  In this post, we will begin to look at the concept of Eternal Security.

It’s time we dig into the Word of God, so let’s look at a couple of passages from the Gospel of Yochanan (John).

37 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will certainly not turn away.  38 For I have come down from heaven to do not My own will but the will of the One who sent me.  39 And this is the will of the One who sent me: that I should not lose any of all those He has given Me but should raise them up on the Last Day.  40 Yes, this is the will of My Father: that all who see the Son and trust in Him should have eternal life, and that I should raise them up on the Last Day” ~ John 6:37-40 (emphasis added).

From My perspective, eternal life is an integral component of Eternal Security.  According to Mark Moore, [1] “this text raises the difficult and sensitive issue of Eternal Security.  However, this passage is not a theological dissertation but a heated debate where Yeshua speaks in perplexing terms.” This does not mean that He cannot be understood, but that He frames up His message in provocative language that causes His audience to meditate on what He says.  Besides, Yeshua will make a clearer declaration of Eternal Security in John 10:28 which we will look at below. Continue reading “Eternal Security ~ Part 3”

Eternal Security ~ Part 2

Glossary of Terms

In my last post, I introduced this new series and began to answer the question of … Can Salvation Be Lost?   I stated: The reason I want to tackle this topic is simply because I want to know in my knower and heart what it is I really believe about eternal security.”   So, let’s get started.

In this post, I thought it might be helpful to start with a basic glossary of terms that will be discussed in more detail in this series, but may not be widely understood.  Unless otherwise stated, all definitions are from the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary by Merrill F. Unger.  I’ve taken the liberty of editing some of the definitions for brevity.  As most of my readers know, my default Bible is the Complete Jewish Bible translated by David H. Stern.

Apostasy A “falling away.” The common classical use of the word has to do with a political defection (see Genesis 14:4, 2 Chronicles 13:6, Acts 5:37). In the NT its more usual meaning is that of a religious defection (see Acts 21:21; 1 Tim. 4:1; Hebrews 3:12). This is called “apostasy from the faith:” a secession from the church, and a disowning of the name of Christ. The grave nature of apostasy is shown by such passages as Hebrews 10:26-29, 2 Peter 2:15-21, and John 15:22. Apostasy as the act of a professed Christian, who knowingly and deliberately rejects revealed truth regarding the deity of Christ (1 John 4:1-3) and redemption through His atoning sacrifice (Phil. 3:18; 2 Peter 2:1) is different from error, which may be the result of ignorance (Acts 19:1-6), or heresy, which may be the result of falling into the snare of Satan (2 Tim. 2:25-26). Both error and heresy may accordingly be consistent with true faith. On the other hand, apostasy departs from the faith but not from the outward profession of it (2 Tim. 3:5). Apostasy, whether among the angels (Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:15; Jude 1:6), in Israel (Isaiah 1:1-6; Isaiah 5:5-7), or in the church (Revelation 3:14-16) is irremediable and awaits judgment. Mankind’s apostasy in Adam (Genesis 3:6-7) is curable only through the sacrifice of Christ. Apostates apparently can only be professors and not actual possessors of true salvation, otherwise their defection would incur severe chastening or, if this failed to restore them, untimely (physical) death (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Cor. 11:32; 1 John 5:16).
Assurance A term brought into theology from the Scriptures, sometimes used broadly by theologians as referring to certitude respecting the validity of Christian revelation; most commonly employed to denote the firm persuasion of one’s own salvation. The latter must of course include the former. In experience the two are closely connected. In both senses assurance is a product of the Holy Spirit (Colossians 2:2; Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:22).

As to the assurance of personal salvation it must be emphasized that this must not be confused with the eternal security of a genuine Believer. The latter is a fact due to God’s faithfulness whether it is realized by the Believer or not, whereas the former is that which one believes is true respecting himself at any given moment.

Election Unger divides his definition based upon the subject:  Biblical Meaning, The Calvinistic View and the Armenian view.  Here is the Biblical Meaning:  This word in the Scriptures has three distinct applications.
1.    To the divine choice of nations or communities for the possession of special privileges with reference to the performance of special services. Thus the Jews were “a chosen nation,” “the elect.” Thus also in the NT, bodies of Christian people, or churches, are called “the elect.”
2.    To the divine choice of individuals to a particular office or work. Thus Cyrus was elected of God to bring about the rebuilding of the Temple, and thus the twelve were chosen to be apostles and Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
3.    To the divine choice of individuals to be the children of God, and therefore heirs of heaven.
We will look at The Calvinistic View and the Armenian view when we examine each doctrine.
Security The doctrine that maintains the continuation of salvation for those who are saved. It must be distinguished from the doctrine of assurance. It must also be clearly remembered that it concerns only the regenerate (saved). The doctrine of security is based upon twelve undertakings of God for His people, four related to the Father, four to the Son, and four to the Holy Spirit.  I will unpack these undertakings in my next post.
Unpardonable Sin This was a specific sin possible only during the earthly life of our Lord, when He was ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit. Under those unique conditions a person who attributed to Satan the power of the Holy Spirit, so visibly and openly manifested, was guilty of this peculiar sin. For this reason, there could be no forgiveness in the age then present or in the age immediately following (Matthew 12:22-32; Mark 3:22-30). Since no such conditions exist in this age, the unpardonable sin is now impossible. An unpardonable sin and the gospel of “whosoever will” cannot coexist. Were such a sin possible today, every gospel invitation would specifically shut out those who had committed such a trespass.  My Note: This is not the same as grieving the Holy Spirt found in Ephesians 4:30.

The following are only brief definitions which I will spend whole posts unpacking.
Both definitions are from The Moody Handbook on Theology by Paul Enns

Arminianism A doctrinal system formed by Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) as a reaction to Calvinism in the Netherlands. These beliefs were later affirmed in the five points of the Remonstrance:

1.    Conditional election based on God’s foreknowledge.
2.    Unlimited atonement.
3.    Although man has a free will he cannot save himself.
4.    Prevenient grace, which enables man to cooperate with God in salvation.
5.    Conditional perseverance – Believers can be lost.

Calvinism A doctrinal system expressed in the following five points formulated by John Calvin, frequently referred to with the acronym ~ TULIP.

1.    Total depravity of man.
2.    Unconditional election.
3.    Limited atonement.
4.    Irresistible grace.
5.    Perseverance of the saints.

The sovereignty of God is central in Calvinism.

In my next post, we will start to unpack the topic of Eternal Security.

Click here for PDF version.

Eternal Security ~ Part 1

In my last post, we wrapped-up our series on the Christian Torah.  However, in What Does Yeshua Say About the End Times – Part 11, we left one topic hanging ~ Can Salvation Be Lost?  We were looking at the Parable of the Talents.  I stated that:

This is a topic I hope to cover in more depth in future posts.  But suffice it to say that this parable, seems to imply that a servant on the inside is thrown outside when judgment falls.  Christian churches are divided on whether a person saved by faith in Yeshua can lose his or her salvation.

Here’s what we can know from the Bible:

  • There is no security apart from Yeshua. He saves us, keeps us, and promises heavenly happiness after a life of faith and service. Only Yeshua can do that. Rest only on him.
  • The security we enjoy in God’s promises should not make us presumptuous. Don’t become cocky with God. Don’t assume that God must let you in, that you can demand entrance, that you have a right!
  • Live each day in faith, believing in God’s great promises, dedicating your time and talent to God’s work, loving your Messianic brothers and sisters, being generous with the weak and poor. Your life is secure in Yeshua, but what you do with your day is often your own choice. Make choices that please God.

In this new series, I want to answer the question for myself … Can Salvation Be Lost?

You may be wondering why this question is important to me.  Do I doubt my salvation?  I can categorically respond: “NO!”  Do I have some sick need to start a debate between the followers of this blog?  Again, the answer is: “NO!”  Am I afraid that I might have committed an unpardonable sin?  “NO!”  So why am I writing about this?  The simple answer is because elephant’s have flat feet.  Oh, wait a minute, that’s what I used to tell my kids when they asked a “why” question.  Sorry about that, old habits die hard.

The reason I want to tackle this topic is simply because I want to know in my knower and heart what it is I really believe about eternal security.

To me, I have traveled an interesting path in my walk with Yeshua.  I was raised in the Episcopal Church with all its creeds, catechisms and traditions.  All I knew from what I was taught was that if I believed that Jesus was the Son of God and that He was crucified and rose on the third day, my sins were forgiven and I would go to heaven.  I thought that was easy enough, so I bought into that belief.  I became quite religious as a result.  The problem was that I didn’t even know that I could have a personal relationship with the Lord of Lord and the King of Kings.  I don’t recall one sermon or Sunday School class on the issue of eternal security.  It wasn’t until I went through my own mid-life crisis at the age of 32 that I learned from some fellow lay Episcopalians that I could have such a personal relationship.  (See my About the Author page for more details.)

As I began to grow in my faith, I was exposed to the topic of the unpardonable sin.  It was at this time that I was exposed to the teachings of Jacobus Arminius who maintained that salvation could be lost.  It made sense to me given my understanding of man’s free will to accept or reject the teachings of the Bible.

While working at the City of Jacksonville, Florida, I began attending a Men’s Morning Bible Study hosted by First Baptist Church of Jacksonville on my way into the office.  “First B” was huge!  It covered seven (7) blocks in downtown Jacksonville.  When I went to work for the City I was told that the best parking available was in one of their three multi-story parking garages.  The study was held in one of their buildings between my parking garage and City Hall.  Needless to say, I was exposed to some of the teachings of John Calvin ~ “once saved, always saved.”   I wasn’t buying it, but it wasn’t an issue that I felt strong enough over to break fellowship.  After all, we were just doing a Bible study, the issue only came up infrequently and they readily accepted this kippah wearing Messianic Believer.

Fast forward several years to 2014 when I was asked to assist my present church develop the curriculum for a basic discipleship training program.  Rather than using some of the material readily available on the market, we wanted to develop our own to reflect the culture of our congregants.  At the time there were three of us writing on various topics.  One of mine was Assurance of Salvation.  [I’ll be using that material in a latter post.]  Big Valley Grace Community Church is currently non-denominational but has a rich history of evolving from a Brethren background and still have many Brethren in attendance.

I pointed out that getting into the topic of Assurance of Salvation would naturally lead to questions on the issue of Eternal Security, so I asked what the church’s position on that was.  Apparently, it’s a mixed bag.  So, I suggested that we present a brief description of the two main doctrinal positions on the subject and inserted the following note in the Leader Guide:

SPECIAL NOTE:  Ensure they do not confuse assurance of salvation with eternal security.  Although information is contained in the section on Eternal Security, it should only be discussed if the issue is raised by the student(s).  Remember, the topic of Eternal Security has divided many believers over the years.  As the students mature in their faith, they need to carefully meditate on God’s Word and come to their own conclusions on this issue.

I was then confronted with the issue in the Christian Torah series mentioned above.  My good friend, Wally Fry, over at Truth in Palmyra wrote on the subject recently taking a position different than my thinking.  And, just this last weekend my Pastor preached a message on Eternal Security as he was taking us through Romans.  Ok, Lord, I get the picture.  You want me to come to an understanding of what it is I personally believe on this topic.  So here we are.

Over the course of the next several posts, we will be examining the topics of election, free-will, assurance, apostasy, eternal security, Calvinism, Arminianism, Universalism, grieving the Holy Spirit, unpardonable sin, backsliding, and any other topic that seems germane to what we are discussing.  And, I hope that we will discuss this topic in the comments section.

I am not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination.  I’m just one beggar on the road of salvation willing to share a morsel of bread with my fellow travelers.  My goal is not to convince you of any particular position of this topic, but to share with you my journey as I discover what I believe and why.  I’m fortunate to have an extensive electronic library of commentaries and books on theology which I will be drawing from in addition to the most important resource, God’s Word.

May God richly bless us on our travel together.

Click here for PDF version.

The Christian Torah in A Nutshell ~ A Wrap-up

Since December 9, 2015, other than during the Jewish feasts and festivals, most of my teachings have concentrated on sitting at the feet of Yeshua and listening to Him as He taught His talmidim.  Our source document has been the Gospel of Matthew (Mattityahu).  The “Word in Life Study Bible” calls the Gospel of Matthew the Christian Torah.”

It’s time for us to move on from here and dive deeper into God’s Word.  However, since we have several new followers who haven’t been here from the beginning of this study and for those of us who may have forgotten what we learned, I want to take this opportunity to summarize where we’ve been.

Needless to say, this post will be rather lengthy given that I will be summarizing almost 80 posts.  So, here is the link to the PDF version.

I started my defining what a Biblical talmid is:

  1. One who is following the Messiah – has made Yeshua the Lord of their life. (Luke 9:3; John 8:31)
  2. One who is being changed by the Messiah – is becoming like the Messiah in attitude and action. (John 15:8; Romans 8:29, Galatians 4:19; 5:22-23; John 13:35)
  3. One who is committed to the Mission of the Messiah.  (Messiah’s mission is to save a lost world by installing a ministry of reconciliation and service to others.) (John 15:8; Matthew 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

Continue reading “The Christian Torah in A Nutshell ~ A Wrap-up”

What Does Yeshua Say About the End Times – Part 13

In my last post, we begin to conclude our exploration of what Yeshua has to say about the End Times in the Christian Torah. In this post, we will conclude that exploration.

The judgment described here in Matthew 25:37-46 is different from the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20:11-15.  Perhaps some time in the future we will look at that judgment more closely.

The Final Judgment ~ Part 2

 Final Judgment

“Then the people who have done what God wants will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and make you our guest, or needing clothes and provide them?  When did we see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’  The King will say to them, ‘Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!’  Then He will also speak to those on his left, saying, ‘Get away from me, you who are cursed! Go off into the fire prepared for the Adversary and his angels!  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, a stranger and you did not welcome me, needing clothes and you did not give them to me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they too will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, needing clothes, sick or in prison, and not take care of you?’  And he will answer them, ‘Yes! I tell you that whenever you refused to do it for the least important of these people, you refused to do it for me!’  They will go off to eternal punishment, but those who have done what God wants will go to eternal life.” ~ Matthew 25:37-46

We left off in my last post by examining Matthew 25:36-36.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me your guest, I needed clothes and you provided them, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’  ~ Matthew 25:31-36.  The righteous are surprised at the King’s words.  He commends them for their acts of kindness to Him, but they realize that they did not have opportunity to do such kindnesses to Him directly, but to His people. [1] Continue reading “What Does Yeshua Say About the End Times – Part 13”