Monday, January 30, 2012

How Christ Limits the Atonement 2

Today we pick up where we left off yesterday and will consider two more titles by which the objects of redemption are known. We noted previously that they are called the many and secondly, they are called His sheep.

Thirdly, Christ calls the objects of the atonement His people. This argues that they were already Christ's in the divine purpose. At His birth it was said, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).  If Jesus saves His people, then they were already His by divine gift. This puts a bullet in the brain of the Arminian proposal that the atonement would have been equally complete even if no one would have been saved. That is completely incompatible with this text because it clearly says that He was the Savior of His people.

The two common objections to this interpretation are that (a) His people may refer to the Jews; and, (b) that this refers to the application of redemption, not its purchase. Both objections are easily refuted. To the first, we reply that God's people are two-fold, first the Jews as the people He foreknew (Romans 11:2), secondly, the true people of God, who belong to those given to the Son (John 6:37). As far as the second objection goes, both the purchase and the application of the redemption were in God's purpose and intention.


Fourthly, the objects of redemption are called the children of God scattered abroad (John 11:52). This phrase occurs in connection with Caiaphas' unwitting prophecy and is John's inspired commentary on it. John calls the objects of redemption “the children of God scattered abroad,” because they truly were so in God's purpose, though not yet actually ransomed. John intimates that they were fore-appointed children of God, and therefore, in some sense worthy of being called such before Christ's death. In other words, these “children of God scattered abroad” were the objects of the vicarious sacrifice, and the atonement carried with it the certain outcome of their being united to Christ. The special reference of the atonement and its particular extent is put beyond all question by this passage.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How Christ Limits the Atonement 1

When considering the question of the extent of the atonement, it is important to state that most theories regarding it are quite out of bounds because they fail to see that the extent is defined by its nature.(Which is why we refuted objections to the doctrine of the atonement, thus defining its nature, before we took on this topic.) So the real question is regarding the nature of the atonement. The nature circumscribes its extent. It extends as far as its nature intends it to extend. Discussions on this subject are almost always carried on as if the extent of the atonement can be decided without reference to the nature of the atonement. But when we ponder the issue of the extent of the atonement, in other words, for whom did Christ die, by  Christ's own words, if they carry any weight with us at all, the verdict is quite decisive. Christ uses several expressions in speaking of whom His death is efficacious for and for whom are its effects. Let us adduce five of them here and comment briefly on each.

First, he calls them the many (Matthew 26:28; 20:28). If we study across the scope of Jesus' teaching, we will find that this expression, the many, is used by Him exclusively to refer to those who are His own, a people given to Him. The word many would not be enough to prove the limited extent of the atonement were it not also for the fact that they are described by marks which cannot be applied universally.

In the 17th century, a dangerous theory was contrived (a fan favorite of the Arminians), which held that when Christ was said to have died for all, this was referring to what had been done to procure redemption, and when He was said to have died for many, or for the Church, it was describing the actual participation of redemption. That this theory is not only false, but also dangerous, can be seen by the fact that our Lord describes the actual offering of the ransom and not just its application.

Secondly, Christ calls the objects of His atonement, His sheep. (John 10:15) We could repeat many of the remarks made above here as well. They are referred to as His sheep already, because they were given to Him by divine decree, and are therefore known as His own. Without a connection between Christ and the objects of redemption, such as that which obtains between shepherd and sheep, or head and body, no atonement could have been made. The Covenant of Redemption demanded such a union.

The phrase my sheep implies two things:
  1. There was no uncertainty whether He would have a flock. His death already had in view special objects of redemption with whom He was already bound by a covenant necessary for His work of redemption.
  2. They are His purchased property; they are the fruit of His atonement. This truth negates the Arminian objection that our doctrine assumes that certain people were already Christ's sheep before He died. They were sheep in the Divine purpose, and in Christ's work, though not actually till the ransom was paid for them. Christ declares that He died for the sheep (John 10:26) and the context shows that this refers to the elect given to Him.

The special reference of the atonement to the elect as well as the natural implication that this vicarious sacrifice secures the conversion of those for whom it was offered is incontrovertibly asserted by the words, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring” (John 10:16). First they are called His sheep, then they are described as the objects of redemption, for whom He laid down His life, that is, for whom atonement was actually made, and lastly, they must be led - as sheep led by their shepherd.

Our next post will pick up this theme and look at the next two titles by which Christ refers to the objects of redemption.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Answering Objections to The Atonement 5

V.   Finally, it is objected that the atonement of Christ was unnecessary. It is supposed that God could have maintained His Honor equally in acquitting sinners with or without a satisfaction.

Of course, we have already addressed this ridiculous assumption in part when we refuted the 3rd objection. But we will take it head on now as a separate issue.

The problems with this objection:
A. It is presumptuous. It is not for us, on the ground of mere abstract reasoning, to say what is necessary or not necessary for Almighty God. We step way beyond our limits when we venture to say what would or would not be honorable for God to do. It is setting up our weak, erring, finite understandings as judges over the infinite mind of Jehovah.

B. For the sake of argument, let us assume that the necessity of the atonement could not be shown, it would not follow, even then, that we are at liberty to pronounce it unnecessary. There may be reasons for it which we have never discovered, or which we are not qualified to comprehend. We are not justified in assuming we know as much as God about the situation.

C. This objection works on a horridly imperfect and restricted view of the nature of man's sin against God. Inadequate views of sin are at the bottom of almost all doctrinal and practical errors in the world. Men are ready to regard it as something altogether different from what it is regarded by God. It is our natural bent to downplay the sinfulness of sin.

D. Further, this objection proceeds on an imperfect view of human salvation. Even assuming for argument's sake that God might honorably forgive sin without a satisfaction, it should be remembered that remission of sins is not the whole of salvation. In other words, salvation entails more than mere pardon of sins. Supposing that God could forgive sins without a satisfaction, this leaves completely untouched all the other areas of salvation.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Answering Objections to The Atonement 4

IV. It is further objected that the innocent suffering for the guilty is inconsistent with reason and with the goodness and justice of God. How, so goes the objection, can it be imaginable that an innocent victim should suffer for the guilty?

Problems with this objection:
A. It must simply be admitted by all that, under the moral government of God, sometimes the innocent do suffer for the guilty.

B. This objection weighs against opponents of the doctrine of the atonement. They claim that Christ suffered for the benefit of mankind. They will admit that, at least as far as the alleged grounds of his sufferings, He was innocent. No objector has ever claimed that Christ was anything but perfectly upright and immaculately pure. Well, what is this but the innocent suffering for the guilty? We say He suffered in our stead; they say He suffered for our benefit. But at the end of the day, it is still the innocent suffering for the guilty.

C. The objectors overlook that, although Christ was personally innocent, He was viewed as legally guilty. In Himself, He could boldly defy His accusers: “Which one of you convinceth me of sin?” (John 8:46) But as the Surety and substitute of elect sinners, “the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” “He made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.” “He bore the sins of the many.” (2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:6, 12)
D. Christ's sufferings, being of a voluntary nature, deflate this objection. An innocent person being compelled to suffer for the guilty would be the height of injustice. But this is not the case with the atonement. The Father did not put a gun to Christ’s head and force Him, against His will to die for the elect sinners. Christ voluntarily gave up His life for the elect sinners. Regarding His life, He Himself said, “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). Romans chapter 5 shoots this objection right between the eyes.

E. This objection appear even more futile when we note that in this arrangement (the innocent suffering for the guilty), the ends served by punishment are more fully attained by the innocent’s suffering than by the suffering of the guilty themselves. At the same time, no injury is done either to the Law or to the sufferer. The Law is neither harmed nor violated, and no ultimate harm comes to the Surety. The integrity of the Law is upheld and the retribution prescribed is meted out. The Surety fulfills the Law perfectly, pays the penalty for its violation, yet because He is God, He is able to bear the infinite wrath of God in the brief span of time He spent on earth. When He cried out, “It is finished;” it truly was finished. Christ no longer suffers for sin.

F. It ought also to be taken into consideration that, in respect of the substitutionary sufferings of the Son of God, the rewards of the Mediator for His suffering far outweigh the suffering itself. In other words, it is of such a compensative arrangement that it prevents all ultimate injury to the party concerned. (cf. Philippians 2:1-10). We rejoice in the cross of Christ as the source of our pardon. Our satisfaction is heightened by beholding it succeeded by the crown. He was for a only little while made lower than the angels for the suffering of death. But now He is crowned with glory and honor and now sits at the right hand of the Father while His enemies are made His footstool. His humiliation was followed by His exaltation.

G. Finally, it must be borne in mind that the substitution of Christ is a case which is absolutely peculiar. The substitutionary atonement of Christ is exactly of the nature required. It is an event that is unique, in the fullest sense of that word. We have no reason to imagine that anything like it ever existed before, or will ever exist again. It is a singular event in the divine administration. Christ has once suffered for sin. Christ was once offered to bear the sins of the many. Once in the end of the world did He appear to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Isaiah 53:12; Hebrews 9:28)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Answering Objections to The Atonement 3


III.  It is further objected that the doctrine of the atonement is not compatible with the gracious nature of pardon.

Those who hold this objection assert that forgiveness of sins is always ascribed by the Scriptures to grace. It is an act of free favor, of sovereign goodness. But, they claim that it is no longer grace but an act of justice when it hinges on the supposition that Jesus made satisfaction for sin. Instead of it being merciful of God to pardon sin, it would be unjust of Him to withhold forgiveness. Simply put: grace and justice are so opposed to each other that if something is done in deference to justice, it cannot be of grace.

Problems with this objection:
A. This objection supposes justice and grace to be opposed to one another, not only in their nature but also in their exercise, so that both cannot have respect to the same object. We need only recall what we have already said about the perfect harmony of these perfections in the divine nature to dispel this objection. This is a nonsensical objection unless we are willing to argue that God suspends one of His attributes when He acts according to another. In short, this objection cannot be made unless you are willing to posit a God with multiple personalities.

B. This objection overlooks the origin of Christ's satisfaction. Man did not find a Surety for himself. If someone besides God had provided the ground on which pardon rests, there might be room to deny the graciousness of the act. But it is God who provides the Mediator and the work of the Surety. God manifests His grace in determining to pardon man and further demonstrates it by providing a legal ground on which pardon may proceed in a way that is completely consistent with justice.

C. This objection also overlooks an obvious fact: Although the satisfaction of Christ may be regarded as a legal purchase of forgiveness, the bestowing of forgiveness is completely act of grace as the recipient is concerned. It is free pardon to men. They have no claim to it. No satisfaction was made by them. They do nothing to procure forgiveness for themselves. If pardon is an act of justice at all, it is only so to Christ. To the sinner it is pure sovereign goodness.

D. It is also falsely assumed that God could have given a display of His grace by pardoning sin without satisfaction. In layman’s terms: If God wanted to, He could just forgive sins, because He’s a nice guy, and because that’s what nice guys do. There is actually no need to punish His Son so that He could forgive us. Couldn’t He just overlooked or sins and shown how loving He really is? This would be a display of His grace.

It seems to me that the opposite would be much truer. This would display no grace at all. Imagine for a minute that God had pardoned sin without an atonement, and pardoned not only some people, but all the family of man. What inference would intelligent and moral beings have been disposed to draw from this? That God is gracious, and that His grace is without limits? I think not. Wouldn't it be far more reasonable to infer that sin, the violation of His law, was no big deal, at least not as big a deal as had been imagined, considering it could be so easily passed over by a Being of such absolute moral perfection?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Answering Objections to The Atonement 2


II.   It has also been argued that the doctrine of the atonement is inconsistent with divine immutability. The atonement is supposed to effect a change in the mind of God: that He is reconciled, on account of the atonement, to those with whom He was formerly displeased, and compelled to love what He formerly hated.

The problems with this objection are:

A. Much of what we said above regarding the first objection could equally be applied to this one, because at heart it resolves into the same objection. But it should also be noted that whenever orthodox theologians have used language which seems to imply a change in God, this is nothing more than what is done by the inspired authors themselves. Scripture frequently uses that we call anthropopathism.

B. This may seem like we are shifting the difficulty from our shoulders to that of the authors of Scripture. But look at it this way: Are we to suppose, on the authority of Scripture, no less, that the atonement does effect a change on the immutable God? This would be blasphemy. What we affirm is that the texts of Scripture which do use anthropopathism only seem to imply a change in God. We do not say that they really imply such a thing.

Well, what then do they imply? To speak of a change in the nature, or attributes, or will of God is blasphemous and absurd. But it is neither blasphemous nor absurd to speak of a change in the mode of the divine administration. Anger, wrath and displeasure are not the same passions in God that they in man when we use those words. They are terms which denote the binding opposition of God’s rectitude to those who have violated the righteous law of the Lord who loves righteousness. They describe the relation into which iniquity brings transgressors to the Lawgiver and Judge of the universe. It is the language of government not the language of passion. Hence what the atonement effects is, not a change in God the Lawgiver, but a change in the administration of His government: a change in the relation that subsists between His creatures and Him. 

C. This objection is an explicit denial of the doctrine of Election. It works on the supposition that God’s love for His elect is no different than for the non-elect, or that God has the same love for those He has reprobated as He has for the elect. God has set His chesed love upon the elect from before the foundations of the world, and therefore He was not compelled by the atonement to love elect sinners for whom He had previously had no chesed.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Answering Objections to The Atonement 1

The term atonement is thrown around in Christian circles from time to time. We often hear about various theories and objections. In this series, we will define Atonement in the biblical sense and then handle the five most common objections to the doctrine.

I have had great difficulty in assigning a name to this definition because, although it is certainly fits the bill of Reformed, calling it “Reformed” would be selling it short because it is a definition that is represented in the writings of the Church Fathers and the best of the Church’s theologians prior to the Reformation. It might be best to call it a catholic definition of the Atonement, to signify its veracity universally and historically.

The Atonement means: That perfect satisfaction given to the Law and justice of God, by the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, on behalf of elect sinners of mankind, on account of which they are delivered from condemnation.


I.     Objection is made to the doctrine of the atonement that it represents God in a less than favorable light. Emphasizing as it does, the fact that God demands satisfaction for sin, as a just Judge, is said to destroy the attribute of mercy and resolve God’s whole character into strict, inexorable justice.

The Atonement is presented as if the death of Christ procures the mercy or love of God for sinners; as if Christ’s death is that which makes God willing to forgive the sins of his creatures – as if without it, He would not be willing. The atonement is thus portrayed as a motivator, or some kind of inducement which effects a change in God’s mind from wrath to compassion.

Problems with this objection:
A. The objection has a mistaken view of what the atonement is understood to produce. Let’s clear the decks: No one who understands this subject ever imagines that the work of Christ is, in any sense the cause of God’s love, mercy or grace; but the medium through which these perfections of God find expression to guilty creatures. The atonement is never regarded as necessary to produce love in God toward men, rather as necessary for His love to be manifested. Christ’s satisfaction for sin does not make God love the elect; it demonstrates the love He bore toward them in His heart from eternity past.

B. The objection proceeds on the mistaken assumption that God is ready to pardon sin without satisfaction, and, that retributive justice is not part of God's character. Our objectors therefore, falsely view forgiveness as the result of a purely arbitrary resolve of God’s will, which has nothing to do with law and government.

We must remind our objector that God is just as well as merciful. Rectitude is as essential a feature of the divine Being as is love. If the Scriptures represent God as a loving Father 'in whom compassions flow,' (Psalm 86:13) they no less conspicuously reveal Him as a Lawgiver 'who will by no means clear the guilty' (Exodus 34:7). These two things must never be set in opposition to each other. Rather they must be considered as equally essential, coexistent, cooperative, and congruent. It is a huge mistake to think of God as acting sometimes from the one attribute and at other times acting from the other. In other words, we must not imagine God at one time acting according to mercy, and at another according to justice. He acts in harmony with both at all times. Exercising the one never entails suspending the other. When God punishes the guilty, it is not at the expense of mercy. When God forgives the sinner, it is not at the expense of justice. Mercy operates on a principle that agrees with justice. So while mercy inclines God to forgive, justice must receive satisfaction in order for forgiveness to be given. Deny this, and you place in clashing opposition two essential attributes of God’s nature. But admit this, and the objection we are considering falls dead to the ground. The satisfaction which the doctrine of atonement supposes to be made by Christ is necessary, not to awaken the feeling of mercy in God’s heart, but to reconcile the merciful forgiveness of sin with the impartial demands of justice.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Certainty of Heaven For The Elect

Heaven is the great hope of Christians. However, hope with no certainty is no hope at all. No matter how excellent heaven may be, if there is no certainty of getting there, belief in it is of but little comfort.  This is a look again at the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. Those who are elect and have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, will undoubtedly be preserved by God and will certainly enter that blessed place. In the words of George Swinnock, “Know, to the joy of thine heart, that as heaven is a place of unspeakable excellency, so thy enjoyment of it, new-born creature, is of unquestionable certainty.”  (Works, Volume 3)

Rather than fight against such a truth, we should rather show our gratitude to God for condescending to our frail capacities and affirming this certainty to us again and again. In His compassion, God confirms to us the certainty of our entrance into heaven when we die.

1.    By explicit promise:
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32;

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. 2 Corinthians 1:20;

“And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.” Joshua 23:14;

In hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began... Titus 1:2;

We should also note the passages which also imply the certainty of the elect's obtaining heaven. This would include passages such as 1 Peter 1:3-5, which reads: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” What is the sense of God keeping our inheritance in heaven for us if there is no guarantee that we will get there to obtain it? That is why the passage also informs us that not only is our inheritance  kept safe for us in heaven, but we also are guarded by God's power.

2.    By a Divine oath:
As if it were not enough for God to simply promise something, He has also bound Himself to the fulfillment of this promise by making an oath to boot

For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable nature of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 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.  Hebrews 6:16-18

The two unchangeable things are God's promise and God's oath. By confirming His promise with an oath, God demonstrated that the promise was indeed His eternal purpose. It is the Father's  good pleasure to give us the kingdom. Not only has Christ explicitly promised us this, but God further confirmed it with an oath, as if there were any reason to doubt God's promise in the first place!

3.    By His seals:
The Old Testament form of the New Testament sacrament of baptism was circumcision. On this point all Reformed have always been agreed. Colossians 2:11-12 confirms this. What are sacraments, but signs and seals of God's covenant promises. So in reference to the sacrament of circumcision, Paul writes: “He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Romans 4:11

Without going into a long exegesis of this passage, helpful as that may be, it is enough to note that righteousness was imputed to Abraham and that God swore to bear the punishment of being “cut off” (which circumcision signified), if the covenant were violated. Christ was, of course, “cut off” for sin, in fulfillment of this promise, when He was crucified. But circumcision was more than simply a sign. It also served as a seal of God's promise to Abraham. And this is the significance for us of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Table. They not only signify to us the promise of God's forgiveness of our sins and His promise to forever be our God, they also seal these promises to us. The sacraments are God's promise to us, not our promise to God. To make the sacraments signify our promise to God is like saying that the rainbow is our promise to God not to drown.

Ephesians 4:30 informs us that the Holy Spirit seals us to the day of redemption. So we are assured that if the hand and seal of God does it, heaven is guaranteed to all that are sanctified. Moreover, all who God regenerates, He unquestionably intends to sanctify and ultimately glorify (Romans 8:30).

4.    By an earnest:
Not only has God sealed His promise to us in the sacraments, He has given us the Holy Spirit as an earnest, that is, a down payment, as a further guarantee of His promise to us of eternal life. When you make a down payment on a car or house, that is your promise and guarantee that you will not default on the transaction, but will faithfully and honestly pay it off completely. An earnest makes the transaction certain. Hence Scripture says: “And who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22). The King James renders this last word “earnest” The Greek word means “deposit” or “down payment.” It serves as a guarantee that the whole payment will be made.

5.    By the first-fruits
In Romans 8:23, Paul call the gift of the Spirit to us a “first-fruits.” This is an allusion to the Old Testament feast of First-fruits. At the commencement of the harvest, the very first samples of the crops, ergo the cream of the crop, were given to God. This was done in gratitude to God and demonstrated as thankful certainty of the harvest. In similar fashion, the Spirit is given to us, switching the metaphor, as a first-fruit guaranteeing the promise harvest of eternal life in heaven.

6.    By the death of Christ:
Heaven is given to the elect by virtue of a testament, or will. So Christ prays in John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me before the foundation of the world.” Here we find Christ, upon completing His part of the Covenant of Redemption, claiming His right to the promised reward (Isaiah 53:10 – “He shall see His offspring”). No doubt there is a tip of the hat here as well to Psalm 2:8.

Further, we find Scripture telling us: “For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will take effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive” (Hebrews 9:16-17). Here we see that Christ's death not only atoned for our sins, but it also established the “will,” so to speak. Because Christ, who made the will, died, the inheritance is guaranteed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Perseverance of the Saints 5

In our final (for the time being, anyway) look at the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, we will prove it by looking at the immutability of the Covenant of Grace.

Again, we should define our terms. By Covenant of Grace, we mean that covenant which God made with Abraham, wherein God swore that He would be cut off for the sins of His people. This is what was signified when, in the ratification of the covenant, God passed through the severed carcasses of the animals in Genesis 15. The significance of this event can never be overestimated. By passing through the animal body parts, God was as much as saying that if His people violated His covenant, God would be “cut off” as payment for such sin. Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a cutting off, as a seal of this promise.

God frequently mentions this covenant in Scripture, and whenever He does, the eternal nature and immutability of this covenant is always reiterated or implied. In the following passages I have underlined references to the eternal and immutable nature of the Covenant of grace in order to demonstrate what I have just stated.

“This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:9-10 ESV)
           
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33 ESV)

I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. (Jeremiah 32:40 ESV)

For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, (Hebrews 8:8 ESV)

All of the above passages refer to the Covenant of Grace. It is said to be an “everlasting” covenant which God Himself has established. He swears that that He will be our God and that this covenant will not be removed.

Although I have treated this subject over the course of five posts, it could easily be expanded into a treatment a hundred times larger. This is a subject that appears everywhere in Scripture.

No doubt, those who reject the Perseverance of the Saints do so for the supposedly noble intention of protecting God’s honor and emphasizing the need for holy living. But as we stated back in our first post, Perseverance of the Saints does not lend itself to antinomianism. The fact that my salvation cannot be lost should fill me with unspeakable gratitude to God for the magnitude of my deliverance for my manifold sins and miseries. Whenever we become legalistic or self-righteous it because we have forgotten how great our deliverance from sin is, or we have forgotten how great our sins and miseries are.

1 Corinthians 1:30 assures us that Christ is not only our redemption, but he is also our sanctification. The Arminian belief in a losable salvation is a denial of the connected nature of regeneration and sanctification. God regenerates no one He does not intend to glorify. Therefore, if God has regenerated a man, He will undoubtedly sanctify this man. To say that Perseverance of the Saints is a license to sin with impunity is anathema. In fact, Jude says the person who reasons in this manner does so because he is predestinated to perdition (Jude 4). Harsh words, perhaps, but nevertheless true.

To deny the Perseverance of the Saints is to affirm that God is not immutable, that His decrees are fallible, that Christ’s mediatorial work is insufficient and not satisfactory, that the Spirit’s seal is revocable, and that the Covenant of Grace can and in fact, does fail. These assertions all fall far outside the boundaries of the Christian faith.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Perseverance of the Saints 4

This time our line of reasoning derives from the Spirit’s work in the life of believers. In Christ’s promise to the disciples that He would send the Spirit, He specifically states that the Spirit would abide with them forever (John 14:16). This is surely a significant statement.

Paul assured the Ephesian believers that the Spirit in us is a guarantee that we will in actual fact attain our inheritance. Here is how he put it:      In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV) He further states that the Spirit is the seal of our redemption (Ephesians 4:30).

Those familiar with Old Testament history will know that throughout many times of Israel’s history there was very little true worship. At one point Elijah thought he was the only true worshiper of God left. Because the Spirit abides in God’s people, it is impossible that there should cease to be a “remnant.” In fact, Paul says as much: So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Romans 11:5 ESV)

In the very context of Election, Paul asserts that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29 ESV). This is an extremely profound statement. It means that once God has called someone to Himself and granted them the Holy Spirit, He will never revoke it. Bear in mind that election is not coextensive with covenant. Just because someone was in the covenant community of Israel, it was not an iron-clad guarantee that this person was also elect unto salvation. This is why Paul mentions the “remnant.” 

In short, the Spirit’s abiding work in the lives of believers is a proof of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. The Spirit abides eternally in those He has sealed. His work is irrevocable and permanent. Therefore those who are sealed cannot apostatize and will most certainly be saved.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Perseverance of the Saints 3

Today, we return to our subject of the Perseverance of the Saints. But this time we will prove our point from the efficacy or virtue of Christ’s work as Mediator, which is comprised of three parts: His satisfaction for our sin, His intercession for His elect, and His preservation of those for whom He has made satisfaction.

Let us first consider Christ’s mediatorial work of satisfaction. When Christ cried out “Τετέλεσται,” (It is finished), He declared that He had both fulfilled God’s law perfectly and had fully borne in His body God’s infinite wrath against sin. Nothing more remains to be done about sin. All the sins of God’s elect have been atoned for and Christ’s perfectly obedient righteousness is imputed to them. To say that future sins can cause one to lose his salvation is tantamount to saying: (a) Christ did not make full atonement for the sins of the elect; (b) Men can commit sins that God was not aware of when Christ died; (c) Christ’s death for sin only counts against the specific sins which the sinner must acknowledge individually.

When God raised Christ from the dead He was vindicating Christ’s perfect righteousness and acceptable sacrifice of Himself as a complete satisfaction for sin. If there were even one sin left to be atoned for, Christ would not have offered a complete satisfaction for sin. Hence His resurrection from the dead assures the Perseverance of the Saints. If one of the elect could actually perish if would have to be because of sin. No one perishes for any other reason than sin. This would mean that Christ would not have died as an atonement for all of that person’s sins.

Let’s look at a few relevant Scriptures:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 ESV)

Notice that John claims we are cleansed from ALL sin.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10 ESV)

and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:10 ESV)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)

The second part of Christ’s mediatorial work is His intercession for those for whom He has made atonement. Here again we have an unbreakable chain. For one of God’s elect to actually perish it would require either Christ not making a full satisfaction for sin (which we have already refuted) or worse yet, having made a satisfaction, He cannot make effectual intercession for them. In other words, Christ can pray to the Father and have His prayer denied. If this is not blasphemy, nothing is.

When Christ stood at Lazarus’ graveside, He thanked the Father for hearing Him, and with the utmost confidence affirmed that He knew that the Father always hears Him (John 11:41, 42). Let that sink in. Christ intercedes only for those for whom He has made atonement. If one for whom He intercedes can finally fall away and perish, then Christ can intercede in vain, i.e., the Father does not always hear Him. This is not rocket science. In His high-priestly prayer in John 17, Christ explicitly states that He prays only for those whom the Father has given Him.

We present several relevant passages:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1 ESV)

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
(Psalm 2:8 ESV)

And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
(John 17:11 ESV)

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
(John 17:24 ESV)

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
(Hebrews 7:25 ESV)

Finally, let’s look at Christ’s mediatorial work of preserving those for whom He made satisfaction and for whom He intercedes. For one of His elect sheep to finally fall away and perish, would mean that Christ is impotent to protect and preserve His own. Can anyone say that?

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 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. (John 10:27-29 ESV)

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6:39 ESV)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Perseverance of the Saints 2

A couple of days ago, we looked at the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints as demonstrated in two beautiful passages. Today we will approach the subject from another angle: the immutability of Election

though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— (Romans 9:11 ESV)

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30 ESV)

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, (Hebrews 6:17 ESV)

But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19 ESV)

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6 ESV)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV)

For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? (Isaiah 14:27 ESV)

These verses need very little explanation for our present purpose. Election is an eternal decree. Because it was done by God, who never changes, it is an immutable decree. To suppose election to be mutable is to make God less than an idol. The only possible reason election could be mutable is if God could be mistaken. Since this is a blasphemous assumption, we can rule it out.

This is also why election cannot be along the lines of the cart-before-the-horse Arminian version of election based on foreseen faith. This travesty of reason makes the actions of a finite being the cause of the knowledge of the infinite God. Stupidity!

Here’s the gist of the argument: God has chosen a certain number of people to salvation. This choice was made without any reference to works, good or bad. This is an eternal and immutable decree because God is not a man that he should change His mind, either by miscalculation or false assumptions. He is sovereign over all things – and that says everything. If God has immutably elected someone to salvation, then there is no way in heaven or on earth that this person can fail to be saved. If he could, God would be either mutable or less than perfect and almighty. Case closed.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Perseverance of the Saints 1

We are going to look at the Reformed doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. First of we, we should define our terms. Perseverance of the Saints is not equal to the once-saved-always-saved (OSAS) doctrine held in certain evangelical circles. The latter lends itself to antinomian, that is, lawless behavior. The former does not. Let me explain. Both teach the impossibility of one’s salvation being lost, but the emphases are different. OSAS is easily perverted into a license for sin because the basic assumption underlying it is this: No matter what I do, I am and always will be saved. Once I have accepted Christ, that’s it. My salvation does not hinge on my actions, thus they don’t matter. So OSAS seems to frequently look at ‘me’ and discount my life altogether. Perseverance of the Saints, on the other hand, strives to emphasize God’s preserving power over the salvation of His elect. Perseverance of the Saints also strives to emphasize the doctrine of sanctification. God does not save anyone He does not intend to sanctify. Therefore with the Reformed presentation of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints there is no question of antinomianism. We believe that behavior matters, but we also believe that God sovereignly brings trials into our lives to mold our character. Hence what matters is that our character is being molded into the image of His Son. Salvation depends on what Christ has done, not on what we do.

Having said that, let’s look at the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. We will assess it from five different angles.

The first line of reasoning or form of argumentation for the Perseverance of the Saints is the express teaching of scripture. Although we will present numerous passages demonstrating this doctrine, we will first look at two main foundational passages.

I. The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. Psalm 37:24

This Scripture speaks of a righteous man both walking and falling. The only presumable reason God casts anyone away is because of sin. Yet this verse explicitly tells of a man who God does not cast away because of his sins.

Much that passes for Christian teaching overlooks the basic underpinning of this passage of Scripture. Salvation from sin and regeneration do not guarantee a life of sinless perfection. This is not to say that we do not strive against sin. But we are not to expect sinless perfection in this life. God does not expect it either. He did not save us because of our moral uprightness. Many Christians profess to believe that salvation is by grace, that is the initial accepting of Christ and repentance of sins, but after that, you’re on your own. Salvation is not earned by works, they will profess. But they live as if they believed that salvation is maintained by works.

A second relevant passage is:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35, 38-39

I have heard raving Arminians claim that this passage does not say the word “sin,” hence this is not a statement proving the Perseverance of the Saints. Of course, this is idiotic exegesis. The point of the passage is that there is NOTHING anyone can possibly imagine that can separate God’s people from his chesed love. Either sin is a thing or it does not exist. If it is a thing, then it cannot separate us from God’s love.

Moreover, Arminians always fail to take into account the extent of the atonement. I know that sounds like a crazy thing to say since they are the purveyors of the so-called universal atonement. But what I mean is this: Christ’s death paid for all of the sins of the elect. If all my sins: past, present and future are covered by the death of Christ, then of course my sins cannot separate me from the love of God!

Often an appeal is made to Matthew 24:24 as if this verse undermines the clear-cut teaching of the whole of Scripture. What is obvious to any impartial reader is this: It is impossible for the elect to be deceived or led away. To read it any other way is to contravene the gist of the passage.