Friday, January 25, 2013

Can I Lose Salvation: 2

Another passage that has often hit me is John 5:24:

"Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life." John 5:24 (NAB)

Notice, again, true faith changes something permanently. The believer “has eternal life,” “will not come to condemnation,” and, “has passed from death to life.” It’s interesting to note that in the Greek text (the original text John wrote this in), the verb “passed” is in the perfect tense. This tense refers to a completed state. It’s a done deal.

One other St. John discussion is worth noting: John 6:28-29:

"So they said to him, 'What can we do to accomplish the works of God?' 29Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." John 6:28-29 (NAB)

The main deal, the thing God looks at as the saving condition is belief--that is, life-altering faith.

One of the rules I use in interpreting the Bible is “Use clear passages to interpret confusing passages.” That is to say, some passages in Scripture are like the picture on the box and some are like jigsaw puzzle pieces in the box. Use the picture to figure out the puzzle pieces. Picture passages are clear. They’re very easy to understand without adding a lot of interpretation. If you never read the Bible and were an unbeliever and read these passages, you’d come away thinking, “The Bible teaches that eternal life is given to you when you believe.”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Can I Lose Salvation?

Years ago, I led a class on Catholicism and Evangelicalism at my church. I have many friends and family who are Catholic, so I read all of Vatican II plus a number of other official Roman Catholic documents. I also took a course on it in my doctoral program. I loved studying it and came away with a great appreciation for my brothers and sisters (or to use Vatican terminology, our separated brethren) in the Catholic Church. At any rate, when I did the class, a nice woman who was Roman Catholic actually came to my church to take the course. She was very engaging in the discussions and asked some excellent questions. Eventually, she wrote me a lengthy letter asking for clarification on the issue of salvation and works. Over the next several posts, I will be sharing my answers to her questions. I suspect that they are questions that most of us, in some form or another, have asked. I hope this blesses you as much as it did me in writing it.

Born Again

Let’s begin with the classic, “football game verse,” which is probably the most famous verse in the Bible: John 3:16:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." John 3:16 (NAB)
Notice, the passage begins with God’s love (“God so loved”), followed by grace (“that he gave his only Son”), followed by faith (“everyone who believes in him”), followed by eternal life (“not perish . . . eternal life”).
The requirement in the passage for eternal life is faith. Not a superficial profession, but a true faith, a life-altering trust in God, alone, for salvation. Now, what’s the context of the passage? It’s a theological discussion Jesus is having with Nicodemas, a Pharisee who knew his theology well and thought that people were saved by doing good works. And Jesus says something remarkable to him. Look at John 3:3:
Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." John 3:3 (NAB)
The NIV translates “born from above” as “born again.” Either way, the clear idea is that there is a new birth that happens. Something is radically changed. This person is re-created.
Nicodemas is stunned by this and asks the following:
Nicodemus said to him, "How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?" John 3:4 (NAB)
Then Jesus launches into his discussion about belief and how the Holy Spirit actually causes someone to be born again. So here’s the question. If salvation is given at the moment of belief as John 3:16 suggests, and the Spirit causes such a change in the heart of that person that he/she is described as “born again,” can a person become “unborn” by his/her bad works and undo what the Spirit has done in his/her heart?
I don’t think so. The text speaks in permanent images. It says that we receive “eternal” life at the point of belief. Not “temporary life that could turn into eternal life if you keep your nose clean.” The text also presents the state of salvation as a constitutional, permanent change: “born.” It’s permanent. Birth is not reversible.
However, it also suggests that this new state of salvation is more than just a mere profession accompanied by smells, bells, and sprinkles (or, in our case, dunks and saw dust trails). There’s a life-altering change. Once I’ve truly believed, my heart is changed. I’ve been born again and, while I will struggle with the temptations of sin and fall at times, I have been altered, at the soul level, to do good works.