Roman Catholic v. Reformed: How Do we Know We Have Saving Faith?

A Discourse on Knowledge in Christianity

Recently I’ve been in conversation with a Roman Catholic named Tony Fernandez, via Twitter (@phattonez). We have a good rapport, and our discourse has been free of rancor, thank the Lord. This allows for time and effort to speak directly to the definitions and reasoning we each employ, rather than having to waste time hashing out attitudes and tone, as often happens on Twitter when trying to discuss differences in religion, politics, and so forth.

Yet Twitter remains a challenging platform for extended debate and discussion. It works great for brief volleys of thoughts and ideas, jokes and updates, but when people begin to go deep into a subject, the limitations of the site come roaring forth. As my conversation with Tony began to stretch for days, I decided to take two steps off Twitter to attempt to strengthen the discourse. First, I published a podcast episode here, in which I laid out my foundational critique of the Roman Catholic authority problem. But second, I decided I would devote time to a series of essays here, which although tedious compared to the freewheeling format on Twitter, is necessary for men who wish to give and receive intellectual challenges that create more of an impact than a momentary emotional shift.

And in Tony, I see the obvious desire to create in me a lifelong change of beliefs. That’s the only kind of conversation partner I fully respect. I, too, wish to change Tony’s thinking through persuasive argument, and with him, the whole of the faithful Roman Catholic flock. If we are loving and honest with one another, we must admit that nothing short of a full conversion of our respective Church bodies to the other’s would be good and satisfying considering all that is at stake. But for today, I will settle for simply honoring the Lord Jesus Christ through communicating His truth adequately, as He gives me gift to do.

Thesis: God Grants Saving Knowledge Infallibly

So, in this essay I will address Tony’s misapprehensions of the Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace as it relates to our comprehension of truth and equally, our apprehending Christ for salvation. Or we might ask it as questions: How can we know that we, as individuals, have adequately understood and believed what is necessary to know and believe in order to have eternal life? How do you know you believe the right things, and believe them well enough? How do we know we are hearing and believing God’s revealed truth, whether in part or the whole? Could we be self-deluded when we recite our reasons for holding the Bible and/or Church as ultimate and final authority in matters of faith and practice? Could our eternal souls be in true danger even as faithful, devoted members of the Reformed or Roman Catholic communions? We need to know how to answer this issue with no doubt.

So then, the question is how God’s knowledge becomes ours, both as the corporate Church and as the individual. In my podcast episode I talked through this briefly. Here I will lay it out more carefully. My thesis is as follows: Jesus defines eternal life as “knowing” the Father, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [He] sent” (John 17:3 ESV), and therefore salvation, which is functionally synonymous with eternal life, is predicated on a fixed, certain knowledge of God; this knowledge of God is given by God infallibly to individual people, secured, and infallibly kept within those same people for eternity. The logical corollary to this is that because God is always ensuring His knowledge is alive and kept by a number of individuals (a remnant), the visible Church will never perish or fully defect from orthodoxy. This is not to say that any given local church or denomination cannot apostatize, or that the majority of the visible Church in any given age cannot fall away from the true gospel; in fact, these horrific realities are replete in the history of the Church.

And also, none of this is to say that every person who knows about God, is baptized, confesses to believe in Christ, or who partakes of the sacraments have received an infallible, saving knowledge of God. The Reformed recognize two types of calling, the external and the internal. Keep these categories in mind as you read this essay; the definitions will be filled in as I continue along. The nuances within my claims must be clearly communicated and understood for this discourse to succeed.

Definitions and Clarifications

Faith

To be clear, we (the Reformed) do not say that salvation is only predicated on a mental accumulation of knowledge, as if a mental assent to a set of propositions is equivalent to conversion, regeneration, and eternal life. In fact, we confess that salvation can be granted by God without the apprehension of propositional facts about God, as in the case of infants and the mentally disabled.

We confess three aspects of faith: notitia, assensus, and fiducia.

Notitia refers to the head knowledge of Christian faith, or as I said above, the apprehension of propositional claims, for example, “Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life,” and so forth. As the Church has confessed forever, no one can be saved while consciously denying the revealed truths of who God is. These truths are communicated through the teaching of Scripture by the Church. Note, James (2:14-26) draws a dichotomy between two forms of faith, which we may call true and false faith, or perhaps saving faith and empty faith. It is critical in understanding Reformed theology to apprehend this distinction. The very demons of hell have mental faith in who God is, as James points out. Many who are Christians by birth, baptism, and profession are nevertheless possessing a merely empty, dead faith, having never truly bowed the knee to God, trusting His Word in the gospel. More on this below.

Assensus refers to the personal confession of one’s own conviction that these teachings are in fact historical and true. No one can be saved who understands what the Bible says about God, but who consciously denies these doctrines as being factually, historically true. One must agree with the Holy Spirit who breathed out the words of Scripture, that this is in fact the self-revelation of the only true God.

Fiducia refers to an individual’s personal embrace of these truths as being true “for me.” A man must see Christ incarnate, sinless, crucified, buried, and resurrected for him, personally, and trust that the work of Christ on behalf of the triune God has been accomplished for the forgiveness of the individual’s personal sin against that same God, and that through Christ, reconciliation with God is made real for everyone who believes according to this living, saving faith outlined here.

As far as this goes (regarding these three elements of saving faith), I believe all major branches of the Church agree, likely with minor qualifications.

We also agree that man, in his fallen and sinful state, can only hold the first two parts of faith on his own. Our minds are damaged, our reasoning is ultimately futile, but we can still use basic logic through reasoning to understand and assent to the propositional claims in Scripture. A man can say “yes, I understand that the Bible says ‘In the beginning, God created,’ and that in fact, that is the only logical premise that explains our universe as it is”—but that man, in his sin, cannot then say “and I choose to love and trust this God for His gospel, in what He did for humanity in Christ Jesus. I repent of my sin.” In fact, a sinful, unregenerate man may say something like that, as they do every day hypocritically without living faith, but unless God overcomes that man’s sinful, hard, resistant heart to make him capable and willing to love and trust Him, then that man will never truly have saving faith comprised of all three elements outlined above.

I’m not sure if I am speaking pure Reformed orthodoxy here, but I would add that infants and the mentally disabled are saved when God grants them simple fiducia, absent notitia and assensus. David himself said “you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts” (Ps 22:9). No two-hour old nursing baby who dies has a mental assent to anything, but nevertheless he or she has a real soul by which trust in the Lord may be miraculously granted.

And I may go further to say the Reformed and Lutherans alone can make a consistent case for this means of salvation, wherein God grants salvation through faith to the tiniest human beings. Physical and mental immaturity or absence is no barrier to our sovereign Lord calling His sheep to eternal life.

Irresistible Grace

The Reformed are always facing the task of disentangling misapprehensions of this most precious truth. Most people looking at our confessions from the outside immediately interpret the meaning of “irresistible” to be that God’s grace is never resistible. This inaccurate view of the Reformed teaching would have us saying that God never allows men to exercise their own free will unto ultimate damnation. Yet He does—God allows all men everywhere to resist Him unto their own damnation, until He decides to save a man. Irresistible grace simply means God kindly grants a new heart to a man so that that man will turn from his sin and believe the gospel, unto salvation and eternal life. In other words, that man would exercise his free will directly into eternal damnation, being that he is a “slave to sin” (John 8:34b) unless God does His work of granting saving knowledge and faith. During my Twitter conversation with Tony, multiple times I made the analogy to Lazarus, in that he was dead for four days, unable to respond to the external, audible call of Jesus to “come forth.” It took an internal, miraculous call of Jesus to actually grant life to Lazarus for him to be able and willing to respond, which he was then bound to do. There was literally no possibility that Lazarus would either remain dead, or that he would remain in the tomb freshly resurrected from the dead, simply unwilling to obey Jesus’ command to come forth from the tomb.

That is the Reformed—indeed apostolic—doctrine of grace. In His saving work, God does not allow His sheep to resist the internal call of the gospel unto regeneration and salvation. We may and do resist Him throughout our lives, but in His timing and by His mercy, He grants new life to us at the exact moment He purposes.

Tony replied to this that “many are called, few are chosen,” which he takes to mean that the call is broadly resisted, since not all the called are chosen. I never got the chance on Twitter to elaborate on the external/internal distinction, and how this solves the issue of a broad rejection of the gospel by many who hear. Simply put, the external call of the Church to the whole world is always resisted, unless it is accompanied by the mysterious, sovereign, internal call of God.

Free Will

We recognize four states of the will in man:

1) Pre-fall Adam and Eve had a truly free will, circumscribed only by creaturely limitation, (could not will to exist for eternity, to blink out of existence, or to change one’s fundamental nature). Could choose good or evil without internal inability.

2) Post-fall humanity is born dead in sin and trespass, and the will is enslaved to the moral nature. We are constitutionally unable to please God apart from His gracious intervention to restrain our evil desires so that we may tend toward and choose good, virtuous things. Our free will, in this regard, is free in potential, but in actuality, constrained by the power of evil such that we will never, and do never choose what is ultimately good unless God quite literally changes our nature from evil to good beforehand.

3) Post-regeneration, when the Holy Spirit has given us new life, we are enabled and made willing to choose the ultimate good, which is trust and faith in Christ. Our wills are freed will once the Spirit inhabits our bodies in salvation, sealing us for the day of redemption. Though by the nature of our flesh, which is unredeemed, we continue to do and desire evil, we have a renewed ability to fight that flesh and to choose good for good’s sake, for God’s sake.

4) Glorification, the utterly freed will when we are resurrected in new bodies, unable to choose to sin. Indeed, brother Tony, think of how our supposed “free will” is violated in eternal life wherein we cannot sin ever again. In fact, it is the most gracious and good thing God does for us to take away the “freedom” to do evil, which is in fact slavery.

There is so much more to say here, but I just needed to get a basic definition on the table. In the rest of this essay, I will explore the relationship between irresistible grace and an individual’s apprehension of God’s revelation in Scripture. This then extends to the question of authoritative tradition through creeds, confessions, and councils.

Church

For the distinction between visible and invisible Church, see here. I have nothing more to add to it than a couple of mentions herein.

How Do we Come to Know God’s Truth Savingly?

In the midst of our discussion, Tony said “If we have to wait for a perfect teacher, then we would have to wait for the second coming.” See our exchange here:Screenshot_2019-08-13 Tony Fernandez ✝️ on Twitter KaneTruth Fortfirefly He was wrong to do it, I'm not denying that I'm ju[...]

What we uncovered here was the foundational difference between us in regard to grace, and the rest of our conversation so far has born that out.

In case you need this simplified before we move on, the Roman Catholic position is roughly: “we cannot know for sure that we are hearing Jesus’ voice as the Shepherd of the sheep. It would violate our free will for God to make us know Him unto eternal life.”

The Reformed position is: “Because God determines to infallibly save His people, He also infallibly calls each one of us by name so that we know Him savingly, having eternal life, never falling away from Him into perdition.”

Again, Jesus defines “eternal life” as indicated by the state wherein a person “know[s] you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Our question is, how does one come to possess that saving knowledge by which he has eternal life? By what means and actions on God’s part and ours?

The answer is found by examining the foundation of all truth.

A Brief Warning to the Reader

Now keep in mind here, we must never allow a conclusion we do not wish to embrace to control the clear logic of a truth claim. For example, because I do not wish to believe that the Pope is the true successor of the Apostle Peter, I would be prone to subconsciously twisting my own reasoning so as to keep myself from being persuaded by a plausible argument. This is a danger to all of us, as I am reminded of Justin Martyr arguing with Trypho the Jew in second-century Ephesus, saying “[even] though one should speak ten thousand words well, if there happen to be one little word displeasing to you, because not sufficiently intelligible or accurate, you make no account of the many good words, but lay hold of the little word, and are very zealous in setting it up as something impious and guilty” (Dialogue chap. 115). I fear this for Tony because of the length to which I am going in this essay; because of the many words, there is the danger that some one or two things out of place would be the opportunity to forget any other points I secure. I urge you, reader, and myself, to be vulnerable to the most persuasive elements of a good opponent’s arguments, and to treat more lightly his missteps.

Biblical Epistemology

How does an individual come into possession of saving knowledge? We must first ask what is the fountain of all wisdom and knowledge in general–a fountain without which no human being can give a rational account for his ability to reason. I defer to Paul, who said “Christ” is Hein whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3), for it was “by him” that “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:16). Make the connection here–Jesus is the source of all things in creation, and He is the hidden treasury of all wisdom and knowledge.” Put negatively, if a man attempts to explain anything in the world, including his own sapience, without acknowledging the Son of God as the beginning and source and telos of that principle, whatever it may be, then that man will stumble into contradiction, error, and foolishness. The Hebrew sages of antiquity knew this without having ever met the Incarnate Son, having written “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7), and “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord” (21:30). These are epistemological claims; these are deductive premises laid out in the wisdom literature breathed out by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, to seek any form of truth or understanding without holding the Word of God, the Son, at the center and source, is to become a fool. The Psalmist joins in the fray, saying “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (36:9). That latter clause is an all-encompassing principle of wisdom, in that God’s “light,” metaphorical for His Being, His own wisdom, and His shared nature within us, His image bearers, indicates the beginning and rational explanation for man’s sapience. It is by God’s eternal Being reflected within each of our rational minds that anything at all external or internal becomes intelligible. The wise Christian must acknowledge the preeminent place of the Son of God in his own claims to any sort of knowledge, including how and why saving, eternal-life-giving knowledge of God enters into our minds and souls. Conversely, we know nothing by ourselves–without God, knowledge is impossible, certainty is gibberish, and the very concept of sapience is thrown into absurdity and scorn.

Look now at how the sovereign Lordship of the Son relates to our certainty of saving knowledge.

The Son of God who was to be born of the virgin had lived for eternity past as God with the Father and the Spirit, but it is in this Son of God, and by Him, that the creation of all things began, and to this day “hold[s] together” (Col 1:17). Jesus the God-Man is ruling the cosmos by sovereign power, as He claimed before His ascension: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18), and which Daniel saw from over five centuries before in a vision:

I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:13-14).

 

So we see the clear reality that Jesus has total authority over the cosmos, He is the treasure house of all wisdom and knowledge, and all things were created by and for Him. Simply put, the universe, the earth, and human beings are created for Jesus, who defined eternal life as knowing the true God.

He also prayed in thanksgiving to the Father, who gave Jesus “authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given [Jesus]” (John 17:2). Jesus was grateful to the Father that His (Jesus’) authority as King of the universe was adequate for the grand goal of giving “eternal life to all whom you have given” to the Son. This speaks to the mission of the Son in His Incarnation. The Father gave His sinless Son authority over all flesh, “to” give eternal life–the “to” is the Greek ἵνα (hina), which indicates the subjunctive mood (which normally indicates a possibility with unknown outcome), but in the hina clause, with a certain outcome, as for example in 1 John 3:8 “εἰς τοῦτο ἐφανερώθη ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἵνα λύσῃ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ διαβόλου”–“for this reason the Son of God appeared, SO AS TO destroy the works of the devil” (author’s translation). We recognize this common form of grammar, and I rest my case regarding the appearance of hina in John 17:2, so we understand Jesus has been given sovereign authority over the entire world of human beings to the end that His elect people would each receive eternal life, infallibly, which in the next verse is defined as knowledge of the triune God. This is not to say this is the sole purpose for Christ having been given this Kingdom and authority, but it is featured prominently throughout the apostolic writings as being in the forefront of God’s purposes for the Incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession of the divine Son.

And so, my argument might be diagrammed like so:

Major premise: eternal life is granted to the individual by means of specific saving knowledge of God

Premise: God ensures that that knowledge is received by each individual He has given to His Son

Conclusion: every individual given to the Son by the Father is then granted saving knowledge of God by the action and initiative of the Son, and thus infallibly brought to the state of eternal life

How Jesus Taught This

Jesus’ discourse of the good shepherd in John 10 is entirely purposed around this teaching. Without opening a full-blown exegesis of the first 30 verses, Jesus is explaining here how, in contrast to false and selfish shepherds, He is the selfless Shepherd of His sheep who will never fail us or let us be lost.

The striking, relevant language He uses begins in verse 3: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Anyone who denies the individual, infallible election unto salvation that we confess must seriously reckon with these words. Jesus does not say something like “Everyone hears his voice, and those who come to him become his sheep,” or “some of his sheep hear his voice, while some reject it,” but rather, Jesus’ voice calls to His own sheep by name, and not to be downplayed, He “leads them out.” In what way could these words be more clear, that the Son of God literally gathers His individual sheep one by one by means of an irresistible call?

Look, He strengthens the point further: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (4). He does not leave one behind, for it is only “when he has brought out all his own” that He proceeds onto the next thing. There is most literally no room within these words for the possibility of a sheep of His hearing and rejecting His voice, for He brings out all His sheep whom the Father gave Him, and He does it by the power of His sovereign glory as ruler of the universe.

It is actually a mark of deep impiety to artificially introduce man’s will here as the force by which God is eternally stymied in His plan, as if God somehow chose a person to hear the voice of His Son, goes through all the trouble of bringing the world to the moment when that person hears the call, and then by an act of sheer free will, the Son is denied His sheep whom He called by name, He who has omnipotent glory and authority to gather His people out of the world. This impious and sub-Christian doctrine is framed as God not wishing to violate our free will, but without even needing to drive this logic to its absurd ends, we need only return to Jesus’ own words as the Shepherd to be denied such a folly. Look, and open your eyes:

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 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. 30 I and the Father are one” (24-30).

The Jews present before Him as still unbelieving, in spite of all the evidence of His Messiahship that they have seen. Jesus here gives us the direct, from the mouth of God Himself reason for unbelief–“you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.”

Notice, it’s not “you are not among my sheep because you do not believe.”

It is condition: unbelief followed by explanation of condition: not belonging to the group of people whom Jesus has come to save.

2,000 years of Church history is replete with men furiously wearing down their quills trying to explain away these types of stark revelations, but the Word of God will never pass away, and Jesus’ words are absolute and final.

We can know that whom He saves, that one can definitively hear His voice, for He promised it would be so.

We can know that because He is the source and foundation for reality, including the rational bedrock of human knowledge and wisdom, that any claim or argument butting up against His words will fail. In this case, Tony’s argument that God does not grant saving knowledge to a man unless that man first allows it to happen by free will is to invert the universe, to enthrone fallen man, and to privilege our sense of fairness and rightness above the clear, unambiguous teachings of Christ and His Apostles.

To conclude, Jesus has been given all authority over the universe in order that He might grant saving, eternal-life-giving knowledge of God to every person whom the Father gave to Him. He claims that He calls His sheep by name, and that “no one may snatch them out of my hand.”

There are hard questions that flow from this truth, such as why throughout the New Testament there are warning passages about falling from grace and shipwrecking one’s faith, but we must not leap to those arguments while leaving this starting point incomplete. Deal with, reckon fully with the words of Jesus here presented, and do it exegetically, or else yield your claims as inferior to this mighty truth we confess in the Reformed churches.

God bless the reader,

Adam

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But Can’t we Still Fall Away from Christ?

Am I Really His?

I have seen this question consume people, and I’ll bet you have too. Am I really saved? Do I believe enough in the Lord Jesus Christ, or is my belief just an illusion? Why is there still sin in my life if I am a Christian? Does my baptism really count if I walk away from the church? How much repentance do I have to have to know I’ve really repented? Am I really an adopted, regenerated, justified child of God, or am I a deluded enemy of Christ, being fattened for the slaughter? The Word of God has answers for you and me – we do not have to live in fear. Let’s dive into this question with confidence.

Blind Eyes in a Sunny Field

Picture the Christian life as a literal walk through a big field. The goal of reaching the presence of Jesus is on the far end of the field, and we begin many miles from it.sunny field Only now imagine if our eyes did not work, and yet we were to be led by the shining of the sun (Son) out in front of us. This is the walk of faith – it is our walk through this life, this world of shadows. We do not yet see Him – our eyes are closed! Yet He calls us to walk towards Him in repentance. As baby Christians we begin to totter and feel our way through the field, eyes closed but smiling – we know our Lord and best friend is shining on us from the other end of the field. We feel the warmth of the sun on our faces as we are facing Him, walking towards Him in repentant faith.

Yummy Remembrances of the Death we are Escaping

Sin is a lot like a distraction in this analogy. We are sidetracked by the smell of something tasty off to our left or right, so we deviate from the path that Christ calls us to walk. We sniff our way over into the bushes and begin to eat poison berries because they just taste so good. We know they are poison, but we figure we’ll have some anyways, because we’re hungry. While we’re in the berry bush, we fall asleep under the effects of the poison, and lie down in the shrubs and grass. What happens when we awaken? We’re disoriented, we feel around in the grass, and we immediately think of the sun – where is He? He is yet still in the same place He was when we went off course – shining down His warmth and love on us, but in our nap time we lost track of which direction we were going. Sin disorients us, and messes with our faith in Christ. Yet we get back up by His grace, feel the heat of the sun, and begin walking toward Him again. Many Christians begin to doubt they are in the field (the church) at this point. “How could I be so blind as to eat the berries?” How could I truly be facing the correct end of the field if I’m off the path eating poison? In His love for us, our Father allows us to make our sinful mistakes, to taste the bitterness when we have not trusted Him – and to feel the disorientation of being off of His path. All of the consequences of sin are used by the Father to discipline His children (Heb. 12:5-11), and to keep us from ultimate, eternal destruction. His promises given to us in our baptism are extended forever – there is nothing but grace for those who are His (Rom. 8:28-39)

We Cannot be Lost if we Are in His Field

This is the bottom line of the Christian gospel given to us in Christ Jesus. This is the sure foundation underneath all of our experience – that we receive warnings such as Hebrews 3:12-13 “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” as a part of the means that God uses to confirm His elect people in their salvation, as the next verse assures us “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:14 NKJV). May we not force a rationalistic reading of these texts wherein we negate the clear promises of God to preserve infallibly each of His regenerate, justified people. Allow the tension to stand: God gives dire warnings to His people who cannot be lost that they ought to hold fast to Christ so as not to be lost. Thank You, Father, for Your wisdom and love for us.

So Abide in Him

We’re in His field, walking toward the sun. We’re His beloved, chosen people. And right there in Hebrews 3:14, we see the completion of our analogy: We have truly begun walking toward the sun/Son if we continue walking toward Him. By converse, if one does not continue holding fast the confidence in Christ, he has not begun to trust Christ in the first place. So then, abide in Him my dear friends.

The Field of Salvation is a Globe

It turns out that from God’s perspective (in our analogy) – no matter what direction we are walking in His field, the sun will shine on our faces, drawing us to His warmth and love. The blessed mystery of the faith is that our Father in heaven has set us in a path which cannot but lead to eternal life. All of our stumbling and unbelief will have been part of the gracious means God uses to preserve His people, for Jesus promises “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:37). By. No. Means. All who fall from grace, therefore, are falling away from a relationship to Christ that was never true, never really begun in the first place, though it would appear so to us (think wheat and tares). So as you walk, dear Christian, through this world of sorrows and darkness, know you are in a field that is a globe. You may walk 10,000 miles in a direction that is not perfect, but you have only circled the world of Christ’s keeping power – He is still right there in front of you. You cannot be lost. Meditate on this – Jesus will not lose even one of His weakest sheep. This is the joy-producing, love-emboldening, endurance-creating, and selflessness-promoting grace of God in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection for you. He has set you in a broad path, one from which you cannot be lost and destroyed. Believe it, and rest assured in Him. Thanks for reading, -Adam

Perseverance of the Saints from the Mouth of Jesus

Continuing the theme I’ve picked up in the past week, it only seemed right to speak in more detail of the doctrines of grace, and the ever-comforting doctrine of the Preservation of the Saints.

It seems there are a million sources I could quote to deal with this profound truth, yet the actual words of Jesus Himself trump them all. Please look at what He prays here in John 17, just moments before He was arrested, carried off, and by the next day murdered by the Jewish leaders.

High Priest on our Behalf

This chapter is often labeled as the “High Priestly Prayer of Jesus,” and such it is. This is where He goes before the Father on behalf of His people, and prays a prayer of intercession for us. If you cannot see the comfort intended here, that we cannot lose our salvation, then you must begin again in your system of doctrine. This text is a clear seat of doctrine, able to interpret less clear texts.

I will make a few sparse comments here (in blue), but the point is to focus on Jesus’ words. Keep asking questions of the text as you read, especially, “Can His prayers go unanswered?”

17 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.

Jesus assumes that there are people “given” to Him by the Father. It is to these people that Jesus gives eternal life.

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Click here to compare this to  John 6:37-40.

Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

Jesus is God.

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.

I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.

This High Priestly prayer is an intercession only for those who will be saved. Jesus is praying for HIS PEOPLE, and no one else.

11 I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your namethe name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.

Will the Father not answer this prayer? Will He not keep His people?

12 While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.

Judas was lost because he was not one of the people whom the Father had given Jesus, but everyone else is kept perfectly.

The Disciples in the World

13 But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

Their Future Glory

22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

Will this prayer fail? God forbid.

25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me;26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17 NASB).

Jesus’ prayers will not fail. He ever lives to make intercession for His people. Perhaps among the very clearest teachings in the Bible, the Calvinistic doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is the greatest comfort I have ever known.

It drives me homeward in joy.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

David Sings the Preservation of the Saints

J-O-Y

I will be writing on the doctrines of grace as much as possible in coming days and months. This post will deal with the Perseverance of the Saints, as it is known in Reformed theology. This post is simply one facet of this glorious doctrine, I am not trying here to speak comprehensively of all the Bible says about it.

Salvation is of Yahweh (Jonah 2:9)

If salvation is something you can attain or earn, then it is definitely something you can lose and fall away from.

But if it is not your salvation in the first place, then it is an entirely different situation. Consider the Christian doctrine of the Preservation of the saints, seen through the eyes of an Old Testament sinner.

Sung to the Key of Grace

King David raped Uriah’s wife and then had him murdered to cover it up when she was pregnant. After being confronted by the prophet Nathan, David was broken for his terrible sins, and sought repentance. Among other wonderful lines in Psalm 51, he prayed like this:

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. (NKJV)

Whose salvation did David have? The salvation of the God of Israel. Elsewhere, David praises God like this:

Psalm 65

Iniquities prevail against me;
As for our transgressions,
You will provide atonement for them.

Blessed is the man You choose,
And cause to approach You,
That he may dwell in Your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house,
Of Your holy temple.

Here we see a prophecy of the cross-work of Jesus (v. 3), a vocalization given to divine election (v. 4a), and the resultant preservation of the saints in fellowship with God (v. 4b).

And in another place, David rejoices in the nature of God’s forgiveness when he sings

Psalm 32

1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh does not impute iniquity

Notice the “Blessed”s like in Psalm 65 above? Connect the dots of grace here. Blessed people are chosen, atoned for, transgressions forgiven, sin covered, and their iniquity is not counted (imputed) to them! God removes all of the enmity between Him and us in order to bring us to Himself.

Do you really think He would then leave the perseverance up to us after all He has done to make us His children?

He Keeps us SO THAT We Remain in Him

God’s work in saving people from the penalty of their sins is God’s work. The worker in salvation gets the glory, and the preserver in salvation gets the glory. It’s all of Him!

Often the question from Christians is “can I lose my salvation,” or, “can those who are truly born again fall away and end up in hell?” I’ve asked the question, and so have you if you are a believer.

My Lutheran brothers and sisters maintain that a truly regenerated believer in Christ can lose his salvation if he stops believing in Christ.

Similarly (but not the same doctrine as the Lutherans), many Arminians of all denominations teach that a Christian can lose their salvation, but with the added pressure of having to make the decision to be born again in the first place.

Not So, Friends

For the sake of brevity, I just want to say this: the eternal covenant of God to save His elect, the atoning work of Christ to purchase those the Father had given Him, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption are bonds of love and power that only one Being is strong enough to break, and you ain’t Him.

I’ll leave off today with the reassuring words of Jesus concerning us, His people.

John 6

37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

I praise You, Jesus my Lord.

Christ and sheep

Thanks for reading,

-Justin