Question #1: Hello,
You say salvation is free? Could you please give the Scripture to me
that states this?
Response #1: Salvation is "free to you and me" in the sense that Jesus bought our release from sin through His blood (i.e., His work on the cross in expiating our sin). Nothing we can do could ever "pay" for sin. It took our sinless Savior to redeem us from the bondage of sin. That is the "free" I am referring to when I refer to salvation as "God's free gift", that is, free for us, because Jesus paid the price. That is why salvation is described as a "gift" (Eph.2:8-9), which is by definition "free" (or it wouldn't be a gift).
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
2nd Corinthians 9:15 (cf. Rom.11:33-36)
For more information on this topic please see the following links:
In Basics 3B: Hamartiology: "The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ"
God's Free Gift of Salvation
Christology: the Study of Jesus Christ (part 4A of Bible Basics)
Soteriology: the Study of Salvation (part 4B of Bible Basics)
I stumbled upon your
web site this morning while doing some Bible study of my own. I read
through several of your writings and came to
"Eternal Life" God's Free Gift
in Jesus Christ" where you state that "Salvation is the free gift of
God through Jesus Christ. Eternal life, deliverance from death and
condemnation, cannot be purchased for any earthly sum, but it is yours
for the taking, completely free of any charge." I understand what you
mean, but I would remind you that even though salvation is "free" to us,
it was paid for with the most precious blood that has ever been. It was
anything but free.
Second you state "Simply believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. As ambassadors of Christ, as though God were urging you through us, we beg you, be reconciled to God!" (2nd Corinthians 5:20). True this is what Paul tells the Church at Corinth, but by hanging a verse or two out on a limb, we can get ourselves into deep doctrinal issues. Who is Paul speaking to in his letter but believers? (2 Corinthians 1:1; also in Eph.2:8-9) Whereas at John 3:16 Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus the Pharisee. At Acts 4:12 I contend that this is speaking of "time" salvation. That is that Jesus saves us in this life every day from ourselves mostly. Example, when Jesus was walking on the water and Peter asked him to bid him come to Jesus, Jesus told him to come on. Peter stepped onto the water and was walking, but when he noticed the waves and the storm around (taking his eyes off Christ) he began to sink and cried Lord save me. Jesus "saved" him from drowning, but his eternal salvation was already in place. We need Jesus to save us every day. But in your example, Acts 16:31 "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved", I contend that Paul had done nothing to make this man "accept" and the man did not "accept" he had been quickened by the Holy Spirit and was saved already when he asked his question of Paul. The Bible states that Jesus said "It is Finished" What was finished? The work that Jesus had been sent to do. Matthew 1:21 The angel of the Lord speaking to Joseph "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shall call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." In John 6:38-40, it states that Jesus "should raise them (believers) up AGAIN, at the last day." "IF" Jesus finished the work that he was sent to do and that work was to save HIS people from their sins, did Jesus really finish His work? If the work is finished then salvation is secure. Also if we can "accept" and get ourselves "into" salvation, can we not reject later and get ourselves out of salvation?
The Bible was written to believers, not unbelievers. It is, simply put, a letter from home from our Father. If everyone is not a child of God then this letter from home means nothing to those that do not know God. There will be unbelievers with us until Jesus returns to take us home to live with him.
I want to emphasize again that I am not sending this as an attack or as a debate, but rather as a discussion. I would like to hear your views on my contentions and if we do not agree with one another at the end of our discussion then we will agree to disagree in Christian love.
May God richly bless you day to day,
Thank you for your
e-mail and your thoughtful comments. I accept them in the spirit of
Christian love in which they were written and I hope that you will do
the same with this response.
First let me explain the nature and the purpose of the very brief file "Eternal Life: God's Free Gift in Jesus Christ". In your e-mail you make a very large point of the difference in audience, namely, of whether a book or a story is addressed to believers or unbelievers, and that is surely an important consideration. This file, "Eternal Life: God's Free Gift in Jesus Christ", is the only file at Ichthys which is specifically addressed to unbelievers rather than to believers. The point here being that this short missile is not meant to delve deeply into theology but merely to introduce the unbeliever who may be so interested to the wonderful possibility and potential of salvation, and to make clear that such salvation does not require great effort on his or her part, since Jesus is the One who has done all of salvation's work (a point you make several times in the body of your e-mail).
I have always striven to make clear that faith in Christ is faith in who He is (God and man in One unique Person forever), and what He has done – that is, His saving work on the cross for us. This is made clear in "Eternal Life: God's Free Gift in Jesus Christ" from almost the very start, and I quote beginning with the second sentence:
"Eternal life, deliverance from death and condemnation, cannot be purchased for any earthly sum, but it is yours for the taking, completely free of any charge. This is because Jesus Christ has already paid for you, for all of us, by His death on the cross in our place. By His sacrifice, He ransomed us, paying the price for all the sins we would ever commit, and thus opening up the door to paradise. (emphasis added)"
Therefore, as far I can
see, in terms of the major point that seems to concern you in this
e-mail we are in fact in complete agreement: salvation is only free for
us because Christ paid the price of all prices. I believe that if you
look further into these writings, you will see that this principle is
always clearly set out in everything available at Ichthys (see, for
example, "Basics 3B: Hamartiology: the
Biblical Study of Sin").
As to the methodology of the quotations used in this study, principles of theology as they apply to salvation need to be taught in detail to believers as well, so that anything addressed to believers rather than unbelievers would only be out of bounds in its application to the theology of salvation generally only if scripture made such a distinction. But in fact, although one might certainly want to approach the subject of salvation differently in conversations with unbelievers as opposed to believers (since the objective in the former case is evangelism and in the latter is edification), the principles and teachings of salvation are the same in either case. In everything I have written directed to believers, I do indeed make it clear that faith and faithfulness are essentially inseparable. One cannot go down the road of unfaithfulness without compromising faith. Salvation is won through faith (by grace – the work is done by God: Eph.2:8-9), but it can also be lost: if we abandon faithfulness we will eventually lose faith and so salvation: believers are those who believe, not those who believed once upon a time (see the link: Apostasy):
And he who was sown on the rocky places, this is the one who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy. He has no roots [to his faith], however, but lasts only a short time. So when tribulation or persecution occurs on account of the Word, he is immediately tripped up (skandalizetai; i.e., he apostatizes).
So I agree with you on the issue of "salvation in time". Clearly, we are
saved, but we are also being saved (1Pet.1:9; 1Cor.15:2), and will be ultimately
saved (cf. Rom.10:13). Salvation is necessarily a process as well as a
fact because as long as we remain on earth we have the opportunity to
continue in faith (which of necessity also includes the opposite
possibility). Christ's work has been completed once and for all (tetelestai:
Jn.19:28-30), but the non-meritorious appropriation of it by us and
others who are willing to come to Him will continue as long as human
history continues, through the end of the Millennium. John 3:16 states
that God's love of the entire world prompted His sacrifice of His one
and only Son, and scripture is very clear that Jesus died for all
mankind (Jn.1:29; 12:47; 2Cor.5:14-15; 5:19; 1Tim.2:4-6; Heb.2:9; 7:27;
1Jn.2:2; 3:5). So while you are correct that there is certainly a sense
in which the love of God rests upon believers in a special way, it is
also true that God in love provided for everyone to have eternal life in
Jesus Christ (even if precious few in the history of the world have
deigned to take advantage of His indescribably wonderful Gift).
All this is by way of saying that my impression, for what it is worth, is that we seem to saying (and believing) the exact same things (or near enough), even if we are not necessarily expressing them in an identical way and with identical vocabulary. I would certainly be happy to continue this discussion and provide any additional clarification of the positions advanced here and at Ichthys or in respect to any questions you might have.
In the Name of the One who died for us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I have read your
articles on this subject with great and very personal interest because I
feel that I am one who may have indeed lost salvation. I was once quite
active within a Christian church and felt moved by the spirit to do
works, not for myself, but in service. I was an active member in the
youth ministry, I witnessed openly, was active in my high school's Youth
For Christ organization, traveled with the youth ministry to witness to
underprivileged children, sang in a youth ensemble, dedicated hours upon
hours of my life to study and witnessing. I was baptized early in life
before, it was my contention, I really understood the gravity of the
act. Once I rededicated my life as a teenager, I was baptized once again
with the full weight of the act understood intellectually and
spiritually. The bottom line, I feel, was that when I accepted Christ as
my Lord and Savior in my teens, it was a genuine, heart-felt act of
faith. My life after salvation was, as I outlined, one of service
without expectation of any worth of the service beyond that which it
gave to those receiving it. But, as water eventually finds its level
through persistent seepage, so too did evil and doubt erode my faith.
Suffice it to summarize my reversal of faith by saying that the deeds of
the elders of the church always countered their words, with no
exceptions. To expect perfection is unrealistic, that's true. But I felt
I had every right to expect leadership by example and faith without
judgment. I changed churches and denominations several times over the
years and, now these nearly thirty years later, I am a member of no
church body and practice no ritualistic worship of any kind. I still
pray and hope on Christ for my salvation, but believe it to be wholly
lost. Even when witnessing to my children when they ask about faith as
precursors to their own self-inclusion into a church, I convey the facts
but feel little if any conviction. I am able to direct them to the
scripture which supports their questions and answer some philosophical
questions based on my previous experiences and knowledge, but the
answers I provide are, as I said, passonless. In short, I have little or
no depth of faith, if any, left in my heart. I hope that I'm leading
them in the right direction by answering their questions, but the truth
is that the leadership by example I expected of my elders is absent from
my role as their father and spiritual leader; completely absent. Perhaps
it's the way of things since I had less than my kids now have by way of
examples in my own childhood and 'found' Jesus and the church all on my
own. Perhaps it was the amount of faith, sweat and hope I placed in my
Christianity and salvation that led to such bitter disappointment and
eventual spiritual distance I would experience. Whatever the results and
for whatever the reasons, I am where I am. I see no hope of regaining
any of the former zeal and warmth I once had. I chalk that up to the
passion of youth, especially after having found something that so
completely filled a void in my life and heart at that time. The older
get, the less I see that convinces me that anything I formerly believed
had even the slightest kernel of truth to it. I see no evidence of a
loving, forgiving God in our world. While I still hold onto the last
shred of hope I have that I am wrong, I have no reason to think that
anything will ever prove me wrong and that what I believed was, if not a
lie, a fable-based framework which was a good guide to living fairly,
but little else. I answer my children's questions and guide them to the
Bible, I think, out of a vestigial belief that to deny them that small
guidance would indeed condemn me. Which brings me to my question. Why
would I feel or be in any jeopardy of condemnation if my spiritual
conversion was wholly genuine (as I believe it was) at the time that I
experienced it? Why would my salvation, a gift unearned, be taken back
or even be subject to nullification, regardless of my current beliefs
and doubts? For the record, I loved my life as a Christian. I never
doubted my own commitment until that commitment was eroded by the
examples, or lack thereof, put forward by those charged with the
education and nurturing of my soul. Once the doubt was planted, I admit,
it could only be sowed by me. Regardless, I live in fear that I'm lost
and I have no belief or philosophical underpinning to ever mount a
counteroffensive. I remember how difficult it was as a teenager to stand
firm in my belief, especially when it rendered me vulnerable to ridicule
and taunting among fellow athletes, friends, etc. I have no strength of
faith to ever attempt that again. And so, you see, I think I'm the very
example of the fact that salvation, regardless of what anyone may or may
not believe, is not an irrevocable gift. Distance yourself too far from
it, apply too much logic, tweak it too many times, and faith becomes an
empty, mocking, past-tense emotion.
No person can really
know the heart of another. As it says in Proverbs, "Every heart knows
its own bitterness, and no one else can share in its joy" (Prov.14:10).
It is often difficult for each of us to know our own minds completely,
our feelings definitively –
how much more is that not so in the case of
others? I sense in your words, however, a desire to have and to
anticipate eternal life, to have a deep and powerful relationship with
the Lord now in anticipation of an inexpressibly wonderful one beyond
this life. And so I ask myself the question which in one form or another
you have posed in one form or another in your own words: "Can a person
so disposed be completely and irreversibly distanced from God?"
I will make a few points here which I believe are important to make – and you have my apology ahead of time if any of this may seem insensitive – but it seems to me that such situations call for frank talk. The first point is this: whether you are still a child of God or not is a fact, one way or another. Your true status is an objective reality with no subjective element in it at all. Somewhere deep inside yourself is the answer to this question. It can be determined, if you truly do care to know. Your e-mail speaks to me of a desire to know, and I cannot help but suspect that this in turn suggests that rather than having turned your back on God irrevocably and eternally you have instead become estranged from Him. Please do not mistake my words. Both situations are bad from a spiritual point of view, but while the former is hopeless the latter is not without hope or promise. The prodigal son went on a far journey, so far in fact that he considered himself dead to his father to such a complete degree that only the most dire necessity caused him to even dream of approaching his father again. And when he did, it was with no expectation of restoration – and yet his father received him with open arms and an outpouring of love. Jesus tells us this story to make it crystal clear to us that no matter how far we may stray, we should not lose hope but have confidence that God is eagerly desirous of seeing us restored to His loving embrace once more. That being the case (and it is most certainly the case), our alienation from Him and from our heavenly Father is most definitely not God's fault but ours. He is willing to have us back even if we may falsely assume that such is not the case. The goodness and mercy of God are incalculable and unfathomable.
This brings me to my second point. Your experience and your reaction are far from unique. It is an all too familiar story both in Christian and secular contexts how that a person is completely "gung ho" for another person or organization until such time as he or she feels him or herself betrayed. Most of us have had such episodes. Indeed, it is hard to navigate a life through the devil's world without at least one such disillusioning experience. In the case of other individuals or organizations or causes or what have you, our reaction may not only be entirely justified but also salutary (and this may definitely include churches and church people where the truth of God is not present). In the case of God Himself, however, such reactions only hurt us – and we have to be very careful to separate the two. God is perfect (even if those who claim to be His agents are not), and everything He does is by definition perfect. God is love (even if those who claim to represent Him are not), and everything He has ever done for us or has caused or has let happen to us is all part of His perfect plan of love for us. God is just (even if those who freely invoke His Name are anything but), and He has never and could never do anything to us which was unjust. But imperfection is the rule in life, hatred, bitterness and envy hold sway, and injustice reigns. "Where is God?" "How could God let this happen?" These are questions to which even the Psalmists give vent (cf. Ps.10:1ff.), but to which every godly person will ultimately find a comforting answer (cf. Ps.10:14ff.). If we were part of an army involved in a long and difficult campaign, we would certainly experience many emotional ups and downs along the path to victory, but in every successful army the lion's share of its members never lose faith in the essential rightness of their cause or the ultimate victory. We too are part of an army. We too find ourselves on a battlefield, and the shot and shell of this unseen conflict are far more real and potentially devastating than what the eye can see, for the consequences are eternal. If we question our human generals and fleshly political leaders in times of war, we may possibly do so with some justification. But God's victory is assured, and our participation in it and the rewards that will flow from the judgment seat of Christ on that day of days are not to be compared with the comparably light and short-lived trials and tribulations we are now experiencing. We need to remember always who we are – members of the body of Jesus Christ, and whom we serve – our dear Lord and Savior who died for us that we might live forever with Him. And we need to exercise extreme caution about equating Him and His actions with what God's people may do (or those who claim to be such) or with what may happen in this evil world (much of which is caused by the forces of evil in their opposition to our Lord). On this last point I can only commend to you the series "The Satanic Rebellion: Background to the Tribulation" (see especially part 4: "Satan's World System, Past, Present and Future"). For no matter how difficult life is at present, things are destined to become far worse, and only those who have systematically prepared themselves with the truth of the Word of God will be ready when it does.
You say "I am a member of no church body and practice no ritualistic worship of any kind". To my mind, you may be closer to the truth than you have any idea. There has always been a gap between the church visible and the truth of the Word of God, and that gap has never yawned more widely and deeply than it does today. Membership does not convey salvation, and with more and more churches and denominations straying farther and farther from any serious consideration of the Bible (in anything other than lip service), that has never been more obvious. Ritual does not save, does not edify, and – apart from communion (the only biblically authorized ritual still in force) – does little good in any case. But when it comes to replace by design or by default the careful learning and applying of the truth of God's Word, then it is better to move on.
Whoever let you down, I want you to know that God did not betray you. It may very well be that He saved you from falsely relying upon some group and your efforts for it rather than upon Him. True Christianity is not about working for God – it is about letting the Lord work through you. By humbly getting out of God's way and giving in to the wonder of His mercy, the power of His truth, the astonishing beauty of His gift of life in Jesus Christ, we learn to follow Him on the path to glory by hearing, learning, believing, and living the truth, then helping others to do the same.
Your spirit and heart seem parched and deeply desirous of the water of truth. I earnestly entreat you to come to the waters of His Word and slake that thirst (Is.55:1; Rev.22:17). If you truly look, you'll find what you are looking for. If you truly do ask and knock, you will receive a blessed answer and the door of fellowship with Jesus Christ, powerful, dynamic, exquisite beyond imagination or expression, will be opened wide for you yet again. Do not despair, my brother, but rather open your heart wide again to Jesus Christ. If you did not find Him in a building, you will surely find Him in the Bible, and it would be my sublime pleasure to do what little I may be able to help you find your way back to the path that leads to Zion.
In the Name of the dear Lord who loved us so much He gave up everything He had that we might be delivered from this world of darkness into the kingdom of light, our Savior Jesus Christ.
Having been involved
with a number of different churches over the years, it has been a real
challenge finding a church I can consistently enthusiastically support.
I cannot cheerfully give my whole to any one local church, but prefer to
let the Spirit tug on my heartstrings and show me where the greatest
need is. I get more spiritual food out of writing to brothers like you
than going to a church where a message is preached and people turn
around, shake hands and go home. I can't stand pretending everything in
OK with me spiritually if it isn't nor being around other pretenders.
You said it yourself Bob...faith is hard work! I worry about so much
time and money being spent by local churches "preaching to the choir"
dealing with their own internal needs when there is so much need out
there in the surrounding communities! Of course a pastor deserves a
decent salary, but it is hard for me to support a church building
program when so many Hurricane Katrina evacuees and US combat veterans
are in tremendous need.
This is an issue and a
problem which I have thought about myself and struggled with myself for
most of my adult life, and one too which has, as you put it, "tugged at
the heartstrings" of many of my fellow soldiers in Christ who have tried
to start up their own churches over the years. I have written quite a
bit about this topic at various places in my corpus, major studies and
e-mails, but it always comes out the same way, much like the refrain I
hear you singing here. I think if most or more or even some churches
were really interested in digging deeply into the Word of God as their
number one priority, these issues would dissipate. Superficial
differences between Christian groups are magnified in my opinion when
the form becomes paramount over the function, namely the true purpose of
the local church: edifying the Body of Christ by feeding it. In such an
environment, the ancillary functions of mutual encouragement, praise and
worship, outreach and evangelism, are not only natural because they
proceed from genuine motivation, they are also scriptural because they
are founded upon a deep and true desire to understand the whole truth of
the Word of God and mold one's entire life, behavior, and applications
around it. This is the Laodicean era of the Church (see the link:
Laodicea: the era of degeneration), and lukewarmness is the order of
the day, not an absence of outward emotion, effort or obvious energy,
but an absence of true inner spirituality based upon the truth of the
Word of the God and the willingness to find it, believe it, and live it.
But if you have found some men and some ministries and some churches that you find to be fulfilling these essential needs, then that is truly blessed. A single such source is a relative rarity. Multiple good sources of this sort are to be prized above rubies.
In our Lord in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge reside.