Friday, December 04, 2009

Salvation: Use It or Lose It

Okay. Let me say before I start that I know that, after you finish reading this, some of you will not want to be my friends anymore. That is okay with me. At least you will know me a little better. I'd much rather you know the guy you're praying for than pretend to be something I'm not. I only ask that you finish reading it before you judge me. I expect to be judged. I only ask that you judge me with all the facts in hand.

Can you lose your salvation? First of all, why would I even bother with this topic? All I ever usually do is talk about life the way I live it.

It is because I live a life that continually confronts me with this question: What is the Gospel? I'm not going to argue the finer points of Calvinism vs. Arminianism, because I think that's a fruitless endeavor. I'm going to look at the Scriptures and see what examples God left for us in the Bible to explain the doctrinal concepts He presents to us in the letters He commanded His Apostles to write—in the Bible.

I haven't consulted any commentaries on this subject. I haven't read any books recently that particularly tackled this question. I was laying in my bed one night thinking about several things, and this subject came to mind, so I decided to tackle it on paper. There will be no references to theologians, no quotations from respected pastors, no deferences to “church fathers”—only a mild acknowledgment to Bill Perry for pointing out the importance of “story” in the Bible.

Now, he did not explicitly state this while he was teaching the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” class in the spring of 2009 at Calvary Chapel St Petersburg, but I did draw this inference: that God has detailed doctrine in the stories He has recorded for us in Scripture. The key to understanding doctrine, therefore, is to understand the stories that illustrate it. And not just the parables.

So what stories illustrate the dilemma I present in this article? Well, for sake of space, I can't touch on all of them, but I did think about Nadab and Abihu, Judas Iscariot, and Annanias and Sapphira. I also thought about saints who sinned egregiously, Aaron, David, and even Peter, yet still made it to Heaven. What separates the two groups of people?

Let's see:

Nadab and Abihu: These were the elder two sons of Aaron, the inaugural High Priest of God. In fact, they were inaugural priests themselves, being among the first group of people specifically set apart by God to minister to Him and to His people. They were among the seventy elders that met with God and ate a feast with Him upon the mountain while Moses was about to receive the Ten Commandments in tablet form and the instructions on how to build the tabernacle and all the instructions for the priestly services (Exodus 24).

And yet in Leviticus 10, we read that God consumed them both in a moment for offering “strange fire before Jehovah which He had not commanded them” (Jay Green's A Literal Translation of the Bible; I know of no English translation that substantially differs). In all my years of reading the Bible, I had never understood why God would be so harsh. The implication that they were drunk when they did it, inferred by most people who presented the case to me from verses 8 through 11, didn't seem to do it justice.

But then I started re-reading the Bible, starting in Genesis, and noticing all kinds of things that I had never read before, such as Exodus 30:9: “You shall not offer up strange incense on it, and burnt offering and food offering...” Upon what? Upon the altar that God was so painstakingly detailing for Moses, after displaying His might and power with thunderous display upon the Holy Mount! How could they forget?!

And yet they did. Aaron, their own father, was not allowed to mourn their deaths. Were they ever saved? Did they lose their salvation? Had they died before this happened, would they have gone to Heaven?

Judas Iscariot was a Christian's Christian. He was trustworthy, he came from a noble background, he was the treasurer for Jesus Himself. Jesus called him, “Friend,” and even displayed the closeness of their relationship by giving him the sop at the Passover meal (John 13). But Judas betrayed Jesus.

Even before this very night, Judas had “covenanted with the chief priests and Pharisees, saying, what will you give me that I should turn Him over to you?” And for the price of a slave, Judas betrayed the Lord of Glory. Funny, he didn't even get to enjoy the money he got by evil-minded schemes: he threw the money back to the enemies of God, and they turned it over to the potter, in fulfillment of prophecy.

But let's back up: What if Judas had died before all this happened, would he have gone to Heaven? Did Judas lose his salvation? Was Judas ever saved?

Annanias and Sapphira were well-known to the congregation at Jerusalem. They needed no introduction to Peter, and they were obviously of visible status if they felt the need to make such a public display of their giving. Funny how Jesus' commandment not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing got lost in all this “generosity,” but that's not what Peter rebuked them for. Peter didn't even rebuke them for not giving all the money—he said it was theirs to do with as they chose! What God was angry about was the fact that they lied about it. And God struck them dead on the spot.

Peter was shocked. Not at God's response, but at the folly of this couple. Their reputation obviously preceded them. The words of rebuke that Peter spoke to them were not words of, “Ah, I caught you now! I knew it all along, you treacherous wretches!”

No, his words were, “Why... Why...?” (Acts 5).

So, did they lose their salvation? Were they ever saved? If they had died before they got the chance to do this, would they have gone to Heaven?

I really think that's the wrong question to ask. This is why:

Those who will be rejected by Jesus on Judgment Day-- who make the appeal, “Didn't we work the same works of those who followed you?” are given the same description in Matthew 7—workers of iniquity or lawlessness—as those who are described as tares in Matthew 13. In other words, the real question isn't whether or not you can lose your salvation. The real question is whether or not you want to serve sin.

Let's look at the lives of those who did choose sin, and yet did not die the death of the ungodly: Aaron, David, and Peter.

Aaron, already designated to be the inaugural High Priest of the Most High God, decided to cave to the pressure from the people of Israel (now, I know with words only, you think, just by reading the narrative, “That wasn't that much pressure,” but do remember that this is the same group that had already repeatedly tried to stone Moses when God was stretching their faith) and make a golden calf to represent the false god that allows, encourages, and even demands all sorts of sin. Then, when Moses confronted him about it, he lied, saying that the calf had simply “appeared” out of the fire, when, in fact, he had carefully fashioned it himself. He didn't die on the spot.

But what happened? After this, his own older two sons were emboldened to disregard the commandment of the Lord. They ended up in Hell, and he could not mourn their deaths. Eventually, Aaron himself challenged God's call on Moses' life and, after more failures, was denied entrance to the Promised Land.

What about David? He didn't die the death for deliberately choosing to commit adultery with another man's wife and then plotting that man's death after repeated attempts to get the man to sleep with his own wife in order to cover it up. “But the thing which David did displeased the Lord,” and he lost his first son from Bathsheba, and several other sons to mischief and the work of the devil in their lives. And God said specifically that this was a direct result of his sin.

And then we have Peter. A man mightily used by God. He was chosen to pronounce the deaths in Judgment against Annanias and Sapphira. He was used to open the door of the Gospel both to the Jews and also to the Gentiles. And yet he compromised the Gospel under pressure (Galatians 2). The result?

He had to face the shocking embarrassment of the public rebuke from the Apostle Paul. Can you imagine being imminently successful in ministry and having an upstart little missionary guy set you straight in front of all these people that look up to you? Yet that is what God did to Peter. And this little upstart went on to write most of the New Testament, while Peter only contributed two short letters. And God didn't make Paul exclude this incident from his writings, which letters were in wide circulation during Peter's lifetime, because he didn't die until at least five years after Paul. Can you imagine that?

So what conclusion do I draw from all this? It's not safe to choose sin. Pick sin, and you'll pay for it. Don't rest in the comfort of your salvation and decide to just compromise. It isn't worth it. And you could very well find yourself on the wrong leg of the U-turn from Hell-bound sinner to Heaven-bound saint. Thank God for His grace and mercy, but let's not tempt the Lord.

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