Friday, June 4, 2010

Faith & The Gospel

(Romans 1:16–17) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

After my last post I received the Grace Evangelical Society mailing from Robert Wilkin & Zane Hodges and was stirred up even more about this topic.

According to these men repentance from sin is not a required part of saving faith. (Peter and Paul should have been more clear about this in Acts 2:38 and 26:20.) According to Wilkin and Hodges, a person who at anytime in their lives has made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ is eternally saved even if he subsequently turns back from that profession, denies Christ, disavows even a belief in God and lives out the rest of his days in immorality and blasphemy.

Wilkin and Hodges are at the extreme edge of Arminian theology. They have just released a two volume commentary on the New Testament to explain away the many difficult (to them) passages that seem to require perseverance and sanctification in genuinely saved people. The twist is that where historic Arminianism suggested you could lose your salvation by apostasy, these men say you cannot ever lose your salvation - no matter what you do.

They see faith as a human work that binds God in an unbreakable contract with an individual to assure his or her eternal salvation. From their perspective, salvation is an instantaneous onetime event that depends on the autonomous individual's belief being correct at that moment. Consequently, they may argue about the content of that faith at that moment but they cannot conceive of false professions of faith where that content and the person's sincerity are in place.

In biblical fact, however, salvation is not dependent on the autonomous individual but on the sovereign God. Salvation is truly by Grace - not of works - not even the "work" of having the right content of faith. Salvation is a new birth (John 3) - it involves a baby but is not brought about by the baby. Salvation is a new creation (2Cor. 5:17) - the new worlds exist, but they didn't bring themselves into existence.

What should we do? Preach the word of God and pray for the salvation of the lost!
(Romans 10:17) So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

How much of the Gospel do people need to be saved? We don't know exactly - it's a God thing. They are saved when God opens their blinded eyes to the light of the Gospel (2Cor. 4:3-6). They are saved when God raises them from their spiritual death and makes them spiritually alive (Eph. 2:1-10). The are saved when they are born again "who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13)

Some are saved with a very little information about the gospel. Some are saved with advanced theological degrees. Some are saved as small children. Some are saved in their old age. Some people with developmental disabilities are saved. Some people with massive intellect are saved.

But all of the saved people have faith in Jesus Christ.
(John 5:24) “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
(John 11:25–26) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Wilkin and Hodges are fond of these verses, but they are not exact in their interpretation of them. In these cases (and many like them) the word translated "believe" is a present tense participle in the Greek. The Greek present tense is used to indicate a continuing action - rather than a one time act. John 11:25-26 could correctly be translated as, "he who is believing in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and is believing in Me shall never die." But Wilkin and Hodges treat these as if they said, "he who once believed in me..."

Truly saved people come to faith and they keep on believing. They believe what they start with, and they keep on believing as they learn more. They believe when it is easy and they believe when it is hard. They start out by faith and they end up in faith. Their salvation is secure - not because God is bound by contract to save them, but because their salvation is God's sovereign work. The evidence of that work in them is their continuing perseverance in believing.

What about those who walk away from their past tense faith? The scripture says that "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." (1 John 2:19)

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