Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On the Issue of Salvation in Christ

The following is a personal statement of how I deal with all persons that profess salvation from sin by belief in Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ. I do not claim to know the mind of God, or fully understand the grace He offers to mankind in the suffering and death of His Son for sin. However, I can read, study, and meditate on the Word of God and I have come to understand enough that I desire to know more and more as God’s Spirit leads me into more knowledge of His Word each day. I also read as much as I can of the writings on Church history, but prefer to absorb God’s Word primarily. As I write this I am acutely aware of my limitations, but I seek to be conformed into the image of Christ and I desire to learn to love all mankind as Christ does, and myself as little as possible. Please bear with me and my ramblings.

The subject of salvation through Jesus Christ, and its attending theology, is an endlessly discussed topic within our Christian circles. A commonly held view today is the Reformed Theology that is based on John Calvin’s interpretation of God's Word as to how salvation is accomplished and is published in his “Institutes.” Another major view is the Arminian view, authored by Jacob Arminius that disputes this interpretation of Calvin. Martin Luther was another reformer, one of the oldest reformers, along with Hulderich Zwingli and another movement that came out of Zwingli’s group called the Anabaptists, or Swiss Brethren. The Reformation churches broke from the Roman Catholic Church from which the Greek Orthodox Church was an earlier split within the original Catholic theology. These Catholic theologies stood between the first century church and the Reformation period in which the Calvinistic, Lutheran, and Arminian theologies had their birth. All of these varying systems of theology basically hold Jesus Christ, as the Son of God and Savior to lost mankind, to be central to their theologies. Beyond this, there is much disagreement. Many views over the years have been expressed, much discussion carried on, and unfortunately, much rejection of one another as Christians due to the different interpretations of God's Word.

Obviously I am not an expert on ancient Church history and the point to this simplistic and brief ramble into the subject is to acknowledge that since Jesus Christ left this world, after His Resurrection and Ascension, man has gone through much in order to interpret God’s Word over the centuries and form a Biblical theology. The Reformation period brought about the greatest changes and with them literally war and death between proponents of one theology or the other.

As the author of this blog, I would rather not become excessively mired in the discussion of which theology is right and which is wrong. That discussion has raged for over 450 years since the Reformation alone, and has not been settled. Even within each theological system adherents argue among themselves as much as they do with those who hold opposing views. I would rather seek to discuss the call of God to all of lost mankind and His offer of Grace by the witnessing of the good news of salvation to sinners through Jesus Christ, to repentance, confession, and obedience to the commands of God as contained in His Word, the Bible. Obviously there are many better trained and smarter individuals within Christendom than myself, which can methodically explain just how God thinks and then interpret God’s Word better than I can. My offering of this gospel is to simply reach a balance by comparing Scripture with Scripture in as literal an interpretation as possible; trusting in the Spirit of God to provide the wisdom and guidance.

In my belief, the greatest teaching of Jesus Christ is that we Christians, we who profess faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, are to be known by our love for all mankind and especially towards one another as fellow servants of Christ. However, we Christians are quick to condemn each other as un-Christian and heretics when our interpretations differ, and this is confusing to me in light of Christ’s command to love one another. See Mark 9:36-40, John 13:34-35, and I Corinthians 13. This lack of love towards one another ought not to be a part of the reality of Christianity.

My foremost view of the teachings of Christ is one of love and acceptance of all people that profess faith in Christ; allowing them to serve and live before their Lord and God as the Word of God speaks to them. I see the call of love in Christ as the ultimate form of obedience to all who embrace Christ and who live in faithful obedience to His teachings and those drawn from the New Testament epistles; this obedience, or its lack, will cause them stand or fall before their Master as proof of or lack of true faith. In any disagreement with other believers I am taught by God’s Word that I may not judge their position as to whether they are saved or not; it is not my job; that authority is God’s and by His direction through the ordained leaders of a particular fellowship or denomination. I do realize that fellowships or denominations must form a system of beliefs and practices for its members that are based on the Word of God, and the members should live and worship within that system or to seek one in which they can support the fellowship and worship of God. The correctness of their choice is also between them and God.

Therefore, if a person finds the Catholic confession, a Protestant confession, or any other variation of Christian confession their choice of worship and fellowship, I will not condemn them. However, when brought into a discussion I may not agree with their choice and may discuss any differences in certain practices and interpretations on occasion, but I will not condemn the other person in their belief, they are God’s servant and they stand or fall before Him. And while we may not fully commune or worship together in harmony of belief, we do worship the same Father and Saviour and stand or fall before Him. (Mk. 9:38-40; Ro. 14:4 )

I do realize that issues of what may be considered right and wrong in the practice of daily living by various Christian belief systems will cause disagreements in our individual or corporate Christian stances, but again I leave these issues of disagreement to ultimately be between the holder of such and Christ, their Lord, along with my prayers concerning their involvements and choices in life that I cannot support. While we are called to rebuke sin, it is to be done primarily within our own life first, then within our particular fellowships, and always done in Christian love considering our own weaknesses. In like manner we also deal with those we witness to while sharing the Gospel.

This blog is open to all that seek to know or who already serve our Lord Jesus Christ and desire to discuss God’s Word and its call to repentance from sin, confession of faith in the existence of God and His gift of the atoning work of Christ on the cross of Calvary, and obedience to the Lordship of Christ and God’s Word. Issues of the day are also on the table for discussion; however, earthly, nationalistic governmental politics are quite low in priority in my opinion. All I ask for is respectful and courteous discussion, along with Christian forbearance, when agreement is not possible. The theology of Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ by the Grace of Almighty God is offered to “whosoever believeth in Him (Jesus Christ) should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Belief in Jesus Christ is demonstrated by a renewed mind, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit unto obedience to the whole counsel of God’s Word, which indicates the reality of true faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the redeemed sinner. (Ro. 12:1-2) (James 2:14-36) (Eph. 2:10)

In full disclosure to all readers, I believe in, serve, and worship Almighty God through the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, with the aid and strength of the Holy Spirit, within the Conservative Mennonite Church, Southeastern Mennonite Conference. I support our Statement of Faith and our Rules and Discipline as they have been drawn from God’s Word to aid me in practical Christian living before God. I am prepared to share a copy of this Statement of Faith and Rules and Discipline to anyone interested, and can do this by e-mail. May God grant to each believer His ever constant mercy, love, and grace as we faithfully, in full obedience, serve Him each day that He graciously grants to each of us.

Monday, September 05, 2005

God’s Remedy for Apostasy

I am posting an article that I wrote a few years ago for a evening program at our church that was eventually published in our conference publication, "LIFE LINES." Apostasy is not a pleasant subject, but one that can overcome the believer due to certain conditions that develop within our lives. The New Testament is replete with warnings to all believers to stay focused on God's Word and its application in life. I acknowledge that there are many that do not believe that a believer can fail of the grace of God, but the Word plainly shows that this is a real possibility. Not to say that God fails, but we allow ourselves to fail in our lack of due diligence. Our Lord Jesus Christ spent many of His morning hours and late nights in communion with the Father, and since He is our example, we must also give heed to our prayer life and daily meditation on God's Word. I offer this considering myself and my own weaknesses of the flesh and I daily need the reminder to take up my cross and follow my Lord. May He receive all the glory.

God’s Remedy for Apostasy
“Surely it couldn’t happen to me. I’ll never turn away from God, never return to the world, never grow cold in my love for the Lord, and never leave the fellowship of the church.” That is most likely what most people who have fallen from grace have thought. God’s Word highlights the subtleness of apostasy when it says, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). It confirms the reality of apostasy in passages such as I Timothy 4:13; Matthew 24:11-12; II Timothy 3:1-5 and 4:3-4; and the Book of Jude.

The threat of apostasy is evidenced in the church when we see a lack of concern for using the Bible in decision making; using human logic as authority for making changes in our life and not the authority of God’s Word; the lack of desire on the part of professing Christians for fellowship with the saints, for the things of God, for study in His Word, and for outreach to the world of lost souls around us. Also evident is the carelessness on the part of leaders, both in families and in the church, in teaching doctrine and giving the living example to those around them that Christ demands.

Spiritual blindness produces apostasy that leads to living selfish, fleshly, lives and doing evil deeds with a carnal mentality in rejection of God’s commands in His Word. This leads to eventual rejection by God and loss of salvation.

Preventing Apostasy
Knowing these things, what can we do to prevent apostasy in our lives?

A believer must make the fundamental beginning to determine within his heart that he will seek and develop a deep love for God and His Word.

This love must include a strong desire to know the Scriptures. “Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it” (Psalm 119:140) “My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times” (Psalm 119:20). “I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments” (Psalm 119:131).

Do you long for an opportunity to spend time with God’s Word? Or are you engrossed in other pursuits or interests in life? Although there is nothing wrong with hobbies, jobs, or other aspects of family life, but our individual desires must be restrained in these areas so that we may learn to allow the Spirit to guide us into a greater love of God’s Word.

Along with this we must allow time daily to pursue our love of God’s Word. In Joshua 1:8 we read, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night.” Psalm 1:2 says, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”

Can we be any less diligent than Joshua or David? Joshua heeded God’s instruction in his life, and God was with him in the conquest of Canaan.

David suffered when he sinned, but found wonderful forgiveness from God when he returned to God’s Law. His failure brought much suffering to his family. Yet David was a “man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).

We are no stronger in our own strength than David. David sinned, even thought he loved God’s Word, when he let his lustful nature lead him astray. We can also allow our lives to be overcome by sin if we are not diligent in our study and practice of God’s Word.

Joseph is another example of one who honored his God even when he was a slave, a prisoner, and the ruler of Egypt.

Daniel expressed his love for God when he “purposed in his heart” to follow God’s Law. Daniel’s favor with God is shown in his position as a leading advisor to Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus; some of the world’s greatest kings.

As Paul admonished Timothy, so we must give attention to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

Secondly, we must acknowledge the presence and purpose of Satan and his followers. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1). “Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them” (Proverbs 24:1). “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers....” (II Corinthians 6:14). “Enter thou not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men” (Proverbs 4:14).

These verses stand as a warning to us about Satan’s servants. We need to be aware that Satan goes about as a lion to devour those he can, and that he is the very enemy of God. Satan’s desire is to crush as many souls as he can; especially those who profess to follow Christ.

To combat this we must put on the armor of God. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand....having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness,...your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,....taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked,...take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:11-17). Paul realized the importance of being prepared to resist the devil to prevent apostasy. The unprepared will be unable to cope with Satan and his followers.

Without truth, righteousness, a prepared Gospel of Peace, and a ready shield of faith, we are not ready to meet the enemy. Without Biblical understanding we cannot wield the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God!

Thirdly, we must readily confess our sins. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Do we harbor sins in our lives? Making room in our lives for sinful living will lead us into apostasy. Sin exacts a horrible price. “For the wages of sin is death....” (Romans 6:23). This is apostasy in its final form.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). These verses answer our problem of sin with God. God has prepared everything for us; all we need to do is to confess and forsake our sins (Proverbs 28: 13).

Fourthly, we must willingly accept the help and direction of the brotherhood. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” “Obey them that have rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17) We are further encouraged, “And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation...” (Hebrews 13:22).

We cannot live unto ourselves. Each one of us is important to God and fills a valuable place as a member in Christ’s church. We ought to have our brother’s and sister’s best interest ahead of our own. We are a church of servants, serving Christ and one another.

Fifthly, we must “ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established” (Proverbs 4:26). Where are we going in life? What are our plans? Have we sought the counsel of God’s Word and of our brethren in Christ? Is our pattern the Lord, His Word, and His example of life?

To avoid apostasy, we must be established in Christ and His way before our way is right. This is an ongoing, life-long exercise that takes our constant awareness. We must seek, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to grow in grace daily. Our goal, then, is to be more and more like the Master.

Moses told the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 30:19-20, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days.....”

Let us say as the psalmist, Order my steps in thy word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me. In doing this, we can prevent the error of apostasy from encroaching into our lives. Each individual is responsible in this, that our collective body may be the pure and spotless bride of Christ.

May the Father help us as we look unto Him for strength, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

(This article was published in the “Life Lines” of the Southeastern Mennonite and South Atlantic Conferences at Christian Light Publishing, 1066 Chicago Ave. Harrisonburg, Va. 22810 in the Sept.-Oct. 1993 issue.)