Can Christians Lose Their Salvation? A Brief Discussion on 1 John 2:19

Calvinism teaches that we cannot fall from grace once we have been saved by God. The Westminster Confession of Faith states the following in chapter 17, section 1:

They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

This teaching is known as “perseverance of the saints” or “once saved, always saved.” Calvinists believe that losing your salvation is evidence that you were not truly saved in the first place (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 788), and they cite 1 John 2:19 to support this claim:

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”

However, when we read this passage closely, we come to realize that it does not make reference to people who where seemingly saved and subsequently fell from grace, but rather it refers to antichrists who never believed and confessed Christ as the Son of the living God. Reading verses 18–23 reveals the true intent of John’s words:

18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

Notice that John says in verse 19 that the antichrists that were among the Christians were not of them. That is, they were deceiving the people by pretending they were Christians. However, eventually they would depart from the group, and thus, all would see that they truly were not followers of Christ. The antichrists were people who denied the Father and the Son (vv. 22–23). They did not believe in Jesus Christ and were infiltrating the church. John talks more about them in his second letter: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” John wrote to Christians to warn them of those who would bring a different doctrine than the one they had heard (2 Jn. 10).

Christians today can learn from John’s letters in regards to the beliefs of our present society. There are several groups that deny the deity of Christ or even his existence. We must guard ourselves against their claims and continue to spread the word that Jesus is the Son of the living God. Without his sacrifice, there can be no salvation. We must also beware of the false doctrines taught by Calvinists. The Scriptures are clear on matters of salvation and teach that if we practice sin, even as Christians, we can indeed fall from grace. In his letter to the church of Galatia, Paul explains that those who attempted to be justified by the Mosaic law had fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4). Additionally, the Hebrews writer exhorts Christians to be careful that they do not fall short of the grace of God by defiling themselves with bitterness (Heb. 12:15). Just with these two passages we learn that losing our salvation is possible and that we must be careful not to practice those things that would separate us from God.

 

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An Analysis of Titus 3:3–8

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

-Titus 3:3–8

 

In Titus 3, Paul instructs Titus to remind the congregations in Crete to obey rulers and authorities and to be ready for every good work. Furthermore, he commands them to live peaceably and to show humility to all men. Paul gives in verse 3 the reason why they should conduct themselves in this way. They needed to be humble because they too at one point were sinners; they were “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasure, passing their days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” However, God was merciful towards them. There are at least two things that we learn from this passage. First, we are expected to be merciful towards others (Matt. 12:7), just as God has been merciful towards us even when we were practicing sin (Rom. 5:8). No human being is perfect. There is not one righteous person on this earth (Rom. 3:10). We all fall short either unintentionally or willingly, but we have to learn to forgive one another because God forgave us.

Secondly, Paul teaches in this passage that God saved us (and continues to save people who believe the gospel) in a specific way. In verse 5, he says that God did not save us by works done by us in righteousness. That is, we are not saved by anything that we have done. There is nothing that we can do that would be good enough for our salvation. If so, there would not have been any need for Christ to die for us. Salvation is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8–10). God has saved us, according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38, 22:16), which refer to the rebirth that Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus (John 3:5). He told him that unless he had this experience, he could not enter the kingdom of God. Therefore, we see in Titus 3:5 that God has chosen baptism and the pouring out of his Spirit as the means to save us. As the verse says, these are not works of righteousness, but rather works of God according to his mercy, and it is by his works and our hope of eternal life that we are justified and made heirs.

A Review of “Misread Text: Isaiah 41:10”

The five-point Calvinist doctrine has permeated several denominations. According to Jonathan Merritt’s article “The troubling trends in America’s ‘Calvinist revival’”, there appears to be a resurgence of Calvinism in America, and the adherents to this doctrine have been called “neo-Calvinists.” The five points of Calvinism are represented with the mnemonic device TULIP: T –Total Hereditary Depravity, U – Unconditional Election, L – Limited Atonement, I – Irresistible Grace, and P – Perseverance of the Saints. I have been working on a series of posts in which I refute the Calvinist approach to the concepts of predestination and election, showing that the doctrine conflicts with basic truths found in the Bible concerning God’s righteousness and man’s free will. Reformed Baptist James Smetanin, an author at The Reformed Alliance, recently published an article titled “Misread Text: Isaiah 41:10.” It is part of a series in which the author explains the true interpretation of particular texts that are often pulled out of context in order to accommodate a personal experience or theological belief. I believe it’s a great idea because, as the author rightly points out, all too often Christians are not aware of the implications of a verse when the surrounding context is considered. However, the problem is that the conclusion of the essay is meaningless within the framework of Calvinism.

The text discussed is Isaiah 41:10 (ESV): “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Smetanin argues that, although one may find comfort in this passage in times of fear, the context reveals that the intent of the verse is not to console, but rather to warn all people of the judgment of God. A fear concerning one’s soul is what is of concern, not the fears of this world. The author gives an interpretation of the passage beginning at verse one and ending at verse nine. My intention is not to comment on his exegesis of the text. What I take issue with is the exhortation that follows. He points out that the verses deal with sin, redemption, and judgment, and that there is urgency for people to repent and to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. A person that believes in the five points of Calvinism have the understanding that God has predestined certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. There is nothing that one can do to change their condition, as it has been determined before the foundation of the world. The author affirms his belief in this doctrine in warning those who oppose God and his people: “They will have no chance of redemption, as God has already determined their fate.”

Smetanin (and any Calvinist for that matter) has no room to make an exhortation of repentance to any man, since they believe that their fate has been determined and sealed even before God created the earth. What is the sense, then, of calling people to repent if they have no chance of salvation? Aren’t they depraved to the point that God himself has to call them personally to turn from their wickedness? If an alien sinner studied the Bible from a Calvinist perspective and believed it, they would come to the conclusion that they have two options: repent or remain a sinner. However, the problem is that the decision really isn’t theirs, it’s God’s. If they realized this, then what exactly would they have to do? Nothing! They would just need to wait until God does the calling, and he may never call because it just probably wasn’t meant to be. Sorry.

That is not the plan of salvation that is taught in God’s word. Christ came to this earth as the Incarnate Word of God (John 1:14) to die for the sins of all mankind (John 3:16). His gift of eternal salvation is not limited to a select group of people; it is for all those who obey him (Heb. 5:8-10). You must hear the gospel of Christ (Rom. 10:17); that he was crucified, buried, and raised by God on the third day (Matt. 27:37 – 28:6). After you hear the gospel, you must believe it (Acts 16:30-31) and repent of your sins (Acts 2:38). Then you have to confess before men that Christ is the Son of the living God (Matt. 10:32; Matt. 16:16) and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). We are not the ones who work in baptism (Titus 3:5), but rather it is God who works to make us new creatures in Christ (Gal. 6:15; Col. 2:12). He forgives us of our sins, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and adds us to the church of Christ (Acts 2:38,47). Once you have come into a covenant relationship with God, you must continue to live faithfully, and at the end, you receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). There is no one aspect of this plan that is more important than the others. The sum of his words is truth (Ps. 119:160), not faith alone, not grace alone, not baptism alone. Every single part of God’s plan to save mankind is essential.

God bless you.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #3

Predestination and Salvation

The gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation to those who believe (Rom. 1:16). If we do not study God’s word to come to an understanding of it, we cannot believe the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:17), and therefore, there is no salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). That is why it is important to rightly divide the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). When studying God’s word, we must understand passages in terms of the immediate context, which are the verses before and after, the context of the chapter, the context of the book, and the overall context of the Bible. Additionally, we need to know the meaning of words and how they are used in the Scriptures. In this series of posts, I am dealing with the sovereignty of God and the will of man as they relate to God’s plan of salvation. I have discussed the importance of not allowing a particular interpretation of the Scriptures to contradict the basic principles of God’s character and man’s nature. The Calvinist view of concepts such as predestination and election is in opposition to the righteousness of God and the free will of man. It conflicts with the Scriptures due to an incorrect interpretation. One of the misinterpreted passages is Romans 9:20-24. These verses have been used to prove that certain individuals have been predestined to salvation, and others have been predestined to condemnation. The issue is that this belief is due to either not analyzing the verses within their context or completely misunderstanding the context. In this post, I will discuss Romans 9:20-24 and resolve the contradictions presented by Calvinist theology.

As I mentioned, it is important to understand the meaning of words used in the context of the Scriptures. The verb “to predestine” is used in several verses of the Bible (see Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5,11), but contextually, it has nothing to do with the Calvinist view of predestination. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it is a translation of the word proorizó, which is the combination of pró “before” and horízō “to establish boundaries”. That is, it means “to limit in advance” or “to determine beforehand”. Some synonyms found in different Bible translations are “to predetermine” or “to foreordain”. We could take 1 Corinthians 2:7 in three Bible translations as an example of the use of proorizó by Paul in discussing the plan of salvation that was determined by God before the beginning of time. These translations illustrate a clear meaning of the word – to determine before. No other definition can be derived.

King James Version: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory”

New American Standard Bible: “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory”

English Standard Version: “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory”.

The letter that Paul wrote to the Romans is rich with doctrinal topics that are outside the scope of this essay. However, it is important to keep in mind that one of the main issues that the early church dealt with was the fact that Jewish Christians were binding the Law of Moses on newly converted Gentiles. They taught that, in order to be saved, the Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses (see Acts 15). Paul responds to this false teaching in his letters to the Christians in Rome and Galatia by revealing to them the great mystery of the gospel (Rom. 11:25). He explains in Romans 1 – 3 that both Jews and Gentiles were under sin (Rom 3:9), and that they could not be freed from sin by works of the Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision. The only means by which a man could be justified was through the death of Jesus Christ, which was offered by God as a gift and appropriated by man through faith (Rom. 3:21-26). Justification is attained by faith apart from works of the law because God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles (vv. 28-30). For this reason, there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1). As Paul continues his discussion, he focuses on the role of his kinsmen, the Jews, in the salvation of the Gentiles (Rom. 9:1-5 ESV):

1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

The Jews had rejected Christ and demanded his crucifixion (cf. John 19:6). Although Paul felt great sorrow for his race, the rejection of Christ and of the gospel by the Jews was part of God’s plan, which was spoken forth by the Prophets (cf. Isa. 53). God knew that the Jews would not accept the good news of Jesus Christ, and he used that rejection to offer salvation to the Gentiles (Isa. 56:8; cf. Jn. 10:16). The book of Acts reveals the fulfillment of God’s promise in the salvation of several Gentiles, such as Cornelius in chapters 10 and 11 and Lydia and the Philippian jailor in chapter 16, just to name a few. Paul then says in Romans 9:20-241:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

The Calvinists use this passage to prove their view of predestination. Based on verse 22, they claim that God has prepared certain people for destruction and others for mercy, which is false according to the context. This passage refers to the fact that God used the rejection of the Jews in order to save the Gentiles. Verse 22 says that God “endured with much patience”. That is, he abstained from punishing the Jews (cf. Rom. 3:25), who were steeped in sin. Paul referred to them as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”. The word “prepared” is used in the original Greek text as a verb that is expressed with the meaning of doing something to oneself (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Therefore, we understand verse 22 to mean that the Jews prepared themselves for destruction by hardening their own hearts. They stored up wrath for themselves (Rom. 2:5) by not submitting to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:1-4). In doing this, they served as God’s vessels in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which were not only the Gentiles but also the Jews who believed. Reading chapters 10 and 11 helps to further comprehend God’s plan.

The Jews were God’s chosen people. He always intended to save them, and he secured that promise by making covenants with their forefathers (e.g., Gen. 6:18, 15:18). However, he incited jealousy in them by turning to other nations, and he was justified in doing so because Israel was a disobedient people (Rom. 10:18-21). Paul then explains that, although they stumbled, it was not so that they would fall. That is, God did not predestine them to be completely destroyed or lost. These same vessels of wrath would still have the opportunity to be saved (Rom. 11:11-15):

11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

It is clear in this text that Israel’s trespass brought salvation to the Gentiles, which in turn, would make Israel jealous in order that they also would seek salvation. In this way, God grants salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, that is, the whole world (11:25):

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved…

God was loyal to the covenant that he made with Israel’s forefathers (11:28-29): “28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” These verses teach us that God keeps his promise. He has not revoked the gift of salvation. All you need to do is accept it by being obedient (Rom. 16:26).

These chapters most certainly reveal the everlasting wisdom, love, and mercy of God (Rom. 11:30-36). They also show that he does not show partiality towards men and would never predestine specific individuals to be saved or lost. What he predestined, or determined beforehand, was a plan. His plan involves an election, which I will discuss in the fourth part of this series. I will argue that God’s election as taught in the Bible is different from the type of election taught in Calvinist theology.

Footnotes

1. Since it deals with election, Romans 9:6-19 will be discussed further in part 4 of this series. Predestination and election are closely related.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #2

The Dilemmas and Contradictions of Calvinism

In this post, I continue to explore the role that man plays in God’s plan of salvation. Particularly, I will focus on the doctrine of Calvinism in order to highlight the dilemmas and contradictions that emerge in its interpretation of predestination and election. I do not intend to review fully this theology, as it would require a much longer essay. However, I will present some points that give us an idea of its falsity. As I mentioned in my first post, there are five main points that summarize God’s plan of salvation within the Calvinistic doctrine, which are represented by the mnemonic device TULIP: T- Total Hereditary Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, and P- Perseverance of the Saints. These points are so intimately related that if you can see the fallacy in one or two of them, the whole system falls. Therefore, I will discuss specifically the concepts of predestination and election.

The details of Calvinist theology are laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The following is stated concerning predestination and election:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death”.

“These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished”.

Calvinism teaches that God, in his sovereign counsel, determined before the foundation of the world certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. That is, each person in this world and those to be born have been predestined for either salvation or condemnation, and there is nothing that can be done to change it because their design and God’s decision are immutable. God’s election of the saved is independent of any works that man could do, and therefore, it is unconditional (Chap. III, Secs. III-IV). Calvinism also teaches that, if you are elected for eternal life, God personally calls you in such a way that you are irresistibly drawn to Christ (Chap. X, Sec. I). Once you have been called according to God’s grace, it is impossible to willfully fall away. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “[t]his perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election” (Chap. XVII, Sec. II). Although this summary is not exhaustive, the basic ideas of this theology present a dilemma because it contradicts basic truths concerning the righteousness of God and the free will of man. Calvinists claim to accept these truths; however, their teachings on these matters are conflictive and are based on an incorrect interpretation of the Scriptures. Note also that the implication of this doctrine is that once you are saved, you can never fall from grace, which does not align with what we observe in the Bible as it relates to the practice of sin.

One of the passages cited within Calvinism to support predestination is Romans 9:20-24:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

When these verses are taken out of context, and we do not consider the author’s original intent, they would indeed lead us to believe that God has predestined specific individuals to be saved or lost. However, this interpretation presents a serious conflict with verses concerning the righteousness of God (See Post #1). Even in the same chapter of the above passage, Paul asked the question, “[w]hat shall we say then? Is the unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14). His answer was clear, “certainly not!”

Calvinists support their interpretation of election with 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9 and Ephesians 2:8-10:

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied (New King James Version)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

These verses also have been taken out of their context, which has distorted the true message of the author’s writing. This abuse of the Scriptures lends to misunderstandings and false teachings. The idea that God elected certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost and that those who are saved cannot at any time fall from grace does not align with the word of God. If God’s decrees are unchangeable, and he has decreed that some will be saved and others will be lost, then we have to conclude the following: 1) God creates evil people who are designed this way from birth, 2) man does not have free will in making a decision to do good or evil, 3) even if a person wanted to be saved and actually lived a Christian life, it would be impossible because God has already decided that they would be lost, and 4) there is no way of knowing that you are saved or lost.

The Calvinistic view of salvation does not, in fact, teach anyone how to be saved. This doctrine contradicts fundamental principles concerning the Creator and his creation. It compromises the integrity of God, takes away our free will, and does not give us any assurance of salvation. The Scriptures teach that we should be confident in the fact that we are saved and are to have assurance in the faith (Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11, 10:22, 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:13). The only way to have that assurance is to trust God’s plan and to choose to submit to whatever his plan entails; that is, we must be obedient just like Christ was (Rom. 16:26; Phil 2:8). This is not to say that we have the opportunity to boast because even when we are obedient, we continue to be unprofitable servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).

In my third post, I will attempt to resolve the contradictions that emerge in the Calvinist doctrine by defining predestination according to the Scriptures and by correctly interpreting Romans 9:20-24. We will see that, although God’s plan of salvation does involve predestination, it is not the type that is taught in Calvinism. The passage in Romans does not demonstrate that specific individuals are headed towards salvation or condemnation independent of their own free will and by an immutable decree made by God.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #1

The Character of God and the Nature of Man

This post is the first of a series on the importance of man’s role in God’s plan of salvation. My interest in this topic was sparked by various conversations and bible studies that I have had with people that agree and disagree with the notion that each individual has a role to play in his salvation. Man’s primary goal in this life should be to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13). If we expect to be where the Father is when we part from this world, we must rightly divide his word in order to know what we must do to be saved (2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17). There are several doctrines on salvation that do not align with God’s word. One of the most prevalent is Calvinism. Calvinistic theology is summarized in five main points that are represented with the mnemonic device, TULIP: T- Total Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, P- Perseverance of the Saints. The basic idea that underlies this doctrine is that man has no role to play in his salvation, and that God does all the work. This theology involves the concepts of predestination and election, which are found in the Scriptures. However, the Calvinistic approach to the interpretation of these concepts produces false doctrine because it contradicts basic principles about the character of God and the nature of man. I believe that in order to understand the topic of salvation, we must know who and how God is and how he has created mankind. Therefore, in this first post, I will explore passages from the Scriptures that reveal this information to us.

The only way to know God is by reading his word. He has revealed to us his character traits so that we know how he deals with his creation. I believe that the most important trait to know about God is that he does not change who he is. We learn this from Malachi 3:6, “for I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (English Standard Version). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). There is no variation in him (Jas. 1:17). When we accept this, we know that whatever we learn about his character is just as true now as it was in former times.

The Scriptures teach that God is sovereign. The psalmist says in Psalm 115:3 and 135:6 that the Lord sits in heaven and does as he pleases. No one can direct the Spirit of the Lord. No one can teach him or make him understand (Isa. 40:13-14). He is the only Sovereign One, King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15-16). God is also righteous and just. He is a faithful God who does no wrong (Deut. 32:4; Rom. 2:11). He is also a jealous god, forbidding all other gods and idols (Deut. 4:23-24). The Scriptures also teach that God does not and cannot lie:

19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it (Num. 23:19 ESV)?

in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began (Titus 1:2 ESV).

17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (Heb. 6:17-18 ESV).

Additionally, we learn in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that God is not a god of confusion, but rather, a god of order. There is no division in him, and he does not teach conflicting ideas in his word. Some other important features of God’s character are that he is patient, merciful, loving, and gracious (Eph. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). However, he is also wrathful and vengeful against disobedience, ungodliness, and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18; Eph. 5:6; Heb. 10:29-31). God is light, and in him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5).

The other necessary part of understanding salvation is knowing how God has created human beings. The basic truth about mankind is that God has created us upright and perfect; however, we stray away and seek to do our own will (Eccl. 7:29). God has made us in his own image (Gen. 1:27, 5:2; 1 Cor. 11:7) and has given us the free will to choose our own paths. This concept is made clear in the words of Moses and Joshua. In Deuteronomy 30:19, when Moses pronounced the covenant that the Lord made with the people at Moab, he told them to choose between life and death. Joshua also told the people in the renewal of the covenant in Shechem to choose whom they would serve (Josh. 24:15). We are encouraged to choose God’s will. The whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13); however, our selfish ambitions lead us to do our own will. When we do our will and not the will of God, it alienates us from him because of our hardened hearts and evil actions (Eph. 2:12, 4:18; Col. 1:21). It makes us his enemy (Rom. 5:10). The only way to be saved is by being reconciled to him (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18), and the only way to be reconciled to him is through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6; Col. 1:20,22; cf. Acts 4:12).

All of our bible studies should be guided by these basic truths, but it is particularly important to keep these in mind when we study salvation. We need to be sure that we follow the Scriptures in this matter because the consequences are costly. In upcoming posts, I will refer back to these principles as I continue to explore man’s role in God’s plan of salvation. There will be various references to Calvinistic theology, particularly concerning predestination and election, as I believe the Calvinistic interpretation of these concepts conflict with the basic principles about the character of God and the nature of man.

A Brief Note on Romans 8:28-30

Romans 8:28-30

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The foreknowledge of God in Romans 8:29 simply means that God knew something before the beginning of time. This particular text shows that he knew before time those who would love him, which are those who keep his commandments (John 14:15-21; 2 John 1:6). He predestined those who love him to be conformed to the image of Christ. “Predestined” means that he has a destiny for all men to be like Christ, that is, to be Christians. This idea of predestination differs from that of Calvinistic thought in which the passage is interpreted as if there were a specific group of people elected to be saved and another group to be lost. The Bible clearly teaches that ALL men have been predestined. John 3:16 says, “[f]or God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The term “world” refers to the inhabitants of the earth, and not just some, but all. We know that God gave his only son for all of us because 2 Peter 3:9 says that he does not wish that any man should perish but that ALL come to repentance. God did not send his son to condemn the world, but that the world be saved through his son (John 3:17).

However, although he destined us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless like Christ (Eph. 1:4), only a few decide to go along with God’s plan. Many are called, but because of their unrighteousness, few are chosen (Matthew 20:16, 22:14). That is why it is important that we work out our soul salvation (Philippians 2:12). We are called to obey, and in that obedience, we are saved (2 Thess. 1:8). Think about it this way – the Israelites were God’s chosen people (Exodus 6:7; Deut. 4:20, 7:6, 14:2); however, they chose to live according to their own desires, not following the law that God had given them (Jeremiah 9:13ff):

13 And the Lord says: “Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, 14 but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink. 16 I will scatter them among the nations whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them.”

God gave them the freedom to choose between him and other gods. Unfortunately, in many instances, they desired to worship other gods in spite of the fact that they were God’s chosen people. The same happens today in Christianity. God has chosen all of us, not just some of us, and he predestined a plan, which is the gospel. This plan of salvation was in the mind of God before the world began (Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9); it is the great mystery that has been revealed to us (1 Tim. 3:16). He manifested himself in the flesh as Jesus Christ and died for the sins of all mankind so that we could have the opportunity to be reconciled with him (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Rom. 5:10-11; Eph. 2:11-18). Now he has left it up to us to choose to obey him (Rom. 16:26). Unfortunately, many will turn away from God and decide to not.

Saved by Grace, but what about Works?

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

James 2:24
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

There is a lot of discussion on whether our salvation is based on grace through faith or on our works. The most prominent theme in the Bible is the grace and mercy of God. Grace is that God has given us what we do not deserve, and mercy is that He has withheld what we do deserve. He sacrificed His Son for our sins and withheld His wrath. His grace and mercy always have been taken for granted, which is evidenced in the Old and New Testaments and also in modern times. We should be thankful for the gift of grace, which was the atonement for our sins through the sacrifice of His Son. According to Ephesians 2:8-9, our salvation is based on this gift of grace, in which we believed (John 1:12-13; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:23, 4:4, 4:16, 11:6; Galatians 2:16). We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He came to die on the cross as a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2, 4:10). There was nothing that we could do on our own to cleanse ourselves of the sins we had committed before being saved. And even after receiving His grace, we still continue to sin against each other and against God. However, His grace is so sufficient that the blood of Christ cleanses us of our sins throughout our lives if we continue to walk in the light (cf., 1 John 1:7-10). It is clear that no one can boast of anything they do because we are all guilty of sin, and no matter how much we strive to be righteous, we will never be able to meet the standard (see Romans 7) because our righteousness is like filthy rags.

“as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God’” (Romans 3:10-11)

“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:27-28).

“You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (Romans 2:23).

“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6 New King James Version).

So those who believe that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works are correct. It is clearly stated in the Bible. However, in James 2:24 it is also clear that we are justified by works and not by faith alone. Also, there are several verses in the Scriptures that express the fact that we are to do good works as Christians.

“…so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

“…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13-14).

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

We know that God does not contradict himself, and I believe the reason why these verses appear to be contradictory is because we tend to look at passages without considering the historical context. Let’s start first with the texts that say that salvation is by grace through faith, and not by works. We see this idea emerging mainly in Paul’s letters to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and also when Paul addresses the Jews and Gentiles in Acts 13. The Jewish Christians were binding themselves to mosaic law (but not out of obligation), and were also trying to bind Gentile Christians to that law. They couldn’t accept the fact that Gentiles could be saved only by the gospel and not by adhering to the law also. They were requiring that the Gentile Christians be circumcised because that was part of their tradition. Paul had to explain to both Jews and Gentiles why their works of the law were no longer necessary (Ephesians 2:8-9): “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works…” The word “works” is referring to the different sacrifices and rituals of the law, such as sin-offerings and circumcision. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice that would take care of what the law couldn’t do, cleanse them of their sins.

The context of James’ letter to the Jewish Christians was different from that of Paul’s letters. James was addressing Christians that supposedly had faith but weren’t doing the good works that showed their faith. They were hearers of the word but not doers. We could think of them as lukewarm Christians like those in the church in Laodicea (cf., Revelations 3:14-21). James was basically saying to them that just because you believe, it doesn’t mean that you stop there because even the demons believe in God and shudder (cf., James 2:19). According to chapters 1 and 2, these Christians had several issues: favoritism, false wisdom/teaching, lack of humility, lack of mercy and patience with one another, etc. All these things showed that they lacked faith. Their faith was dead because they did not have good works (cf., James 2:20).

So what can we take from these verses that appear to contradict each other? We are indeed saved by grace through our belief that Christ did die for the sins of mankind, and because of that, we should have an active faith, doing what we have been created to – good works (Ephesians 2:10). We cannot say that we love God and have faith in Him if we do not keep His commandments. Many of us think that love and faith in God is a feeling, and I believe many live a life of distress when they don’t “feel” these things. The fact of the matter is love and faith is doing. Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (emphasis is mine). That is, faith is express through love, and love is action:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him…” (1 John 2:4)

“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it” (2 John 1:6).

“‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:21-23).