For me, the point at which I entered into that deeper understanding was when 1) I studied the historical aspect of what was culturally happening during the time of the writing of the biblical books and 2) studied scripture phrase by phrase, word by word in its original written language. I can’t tell you how many times I was shocked to find that the words I was reading in our modern English translations were very different from the original intent of their meaning when they were written. Because of this perhaps naïve ignorance, many have grasped onto a more shallow understanding of doctrine simply because they never venture beyond what they read and not what they have deeply studied.
Which brings me to this series of blogs. I will be writing about perseverance of the saints. I will be particularly pointing out how God requires us to work with Him through His Holy Spirit in order for His perfect will to come to pass in our lives. I trust you have prayed for discernment while reading what I have written. If it an earnest prayer, you can be sure God will answer it.
There are many scriptures and biblical passages that promote the idea of eternal security for a Christian. The first chapter of Ephesians is a hallmark of such doctrine, as is parts of the first epistle of John. In Ephesians, we find some very potent arguments for the doctrine of eternal security:
* 1:13 and 14, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” NIV (Also read 2nd Corinthians 1:22.)
* Philippians 1:6, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” NLT
* 1st John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. NIV
* John 10:29, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. NIV
* Romans 8:35-39, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…. nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. NAS
These and many more scriptures cannot be argued with. It is not my purpose to do so. But I must say, it’s hard to have respect for a person who holds onto a doctrine and believes in it strongly without also studying scripture that that explains our part in our salvation. The Bible must be studied in its entirety.
Let us begin with Philippians 2:12 and 13. Most translations read very closely to this: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” The writer, Paul, had good words to say about those at this church, but there is a hint that he felt they could attain an even higher level of godly unity through seeking to be like Christ in His humility to become, even as God, a lowly servant to humankind. Now, let’s get to the language. (I’m not going to get too deep into this aspect in these blogs.) “…work out…” here in verse 12 means “complete”. To work out our own salvation is a command of the writer. It is a duty to fulfill our part of the covenant of grace. However, it is a very small part, because that “working out” absolutely requires our total surrender to the strength and power of God to be able to work out our salvation through obedience and faith. Yet, it is a command for us to partner with God (His Holy Spirit) by exercising our free will to do so.
The interpretation of the words “fear and trembling” in our modern Bibles do not do the phrase justice. That is why many Christians are consistently under the impression that these words simply mean having an awe and reverence toward our sovereign God. However, the primary definition of “fear” here is actually the word phobos – “(to be put in fear) alarm or fright”. The word “trembling” is tromos – “quaking with fear”.
It’s interesting that Paul would use such strong words to a church he so highly praised. Paul also uses this phrase to define reverence and anxiety in 2nd Corinthians 7:15. So I conclude that the “fear and “trembling” is a healthy fear of offending God through disobedience and an awe and respect for His majesty and holiness.
But wait… 1st John 4:17 and 18 reads, “And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His perfect love.” NLT Is the Bible contradicting itself here? Absolutely not. The two passages actually agree with each other. Philippians simply tells us to work out our own salvation, while 1st John tells us specifically what is required of us to work it out – living an exemplary life of Jesus’ love while we’re in this world “…So we will not be afraid (will have assurance) on the day of judgment.”
John gets down to where the rubber meets the road in 4:15, “All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.” NLT Obviously, he’s speaking of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. However, in this passage lies a condition placed upon us, “And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.” The following verses make it clear that “living in God” is not a divine power of the Spirit that overrides our own free will, but rather proactive choices we must make in allowing God’s Spirit to be active within us. Understand, Paul and John were writing to true believers. The Trinity cannot force anyone beyond their own free will to be obedient and grow in the fruit of the Spirit. This brings us to verse 13.
“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” The word “works” here is a different Greek word and it refers to the contribution God makes to our salvation. God provides every single thing we need to be saved if we will only accept and abide by it. Unfortunately, almost all of our modern Bibles use the word “will” in this verse. We must go to the original language again. In the Koine (or common) Greek. We find four definitions of our noun “will”. We will concern ourselves with two. Thelo –“To wish or desire, an emotional element which leads to a consequential action”. And boulemai – the result of thelo; the deliberate determination of the original wish or desire.” In verse 13, thelo is used, thus, the best rendering of this scripture I have found is in the New Living Translation, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.”
The question is: Does this desire and power God gives believers override their free-will choices? Obviously not, because we all know we displease God all the time! It is only when we surrender to God’s power that He is pleased. To be clear, I’ve actually heard this verse used to prove that God wills, or absolutely determines that we will act (obey) to fulfill His good pleasure. There’s nothing we can do to the contrary! Remember, Jesus told his disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” Those are acts of obedience to God we decide to do to fulfill His good pleasure.
Let’s now go to another scripture found in 2nd Peter 3:9, where a version of the word “will” is used. We’ll use the good old King James version. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Many Christians claim this verse to prove their doctrinal stance that it is God’s determined will that no true believer (…“patient toward us believers”…) will be condemned and perish. It is quite true that the word for “willing” here is boulemai, “the deliberate determination of a wish or desire”. This, of course, makes it sound like all believers are not only desired, but absolutely determined by God to never perish. But look closely at this verse. it says “…not willing that any should perish…” Suddenly. the “willing” shifts its emphasis from only believers to anyone and everyone. So a “determined” divine willing cannot be meant here, because that would be the same as saying God has absolutely determined that none should perish, when I hope you know otherwise. It is saying that God has determined that it is His desire that none should perish. It is expressed emphatically to show us how strongly God feels about all coming to live a holy, Christ-filled life deserving of eternity with Him.
With the literally hundreds of admonitions and warnings in the gospels and epistles to strive to live a holy life, do you see how our lives as true Christians is a cooperative effort with the Trinity? I’ve told this to most people I know: The Holy Spirit that abides within a believer is called by many names…”The Comforter”, “The Advocate”, “The Helper”, etc. He is God’s and Christ’s Spirit within us to provide us with anything and everything we need to “complete” our salvation. But nowhere in the Bible will you read that He is called the “Do-It-All-For-You’er” God does not expect us to just sit back in our easy chairs knowing we’re saved. I personally do not believe our salvation is just the particular instant in time when we accept Christ as our savior. I believe salvation is a life-long process in which the final phase is when we receive our incorruptible bodies. Of course, only almighty God has foreknown who will have run the race to the finish line so He could predestine them to eternal life. We continue with this subject next month.
I write this in Christ’s love and guidance, without judgment. For Almighty God is the only true judge. Amen.