Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Am I Eternally Secure?"

Some folk in Kevin’s fellowship group believe that Christians can lose their salvation if they fall away from God. Others there say that even if a Christian seems to have “backslidden” terribly, that God will still save them because they had believed in Christ before. What is the deal with “eternal security?”

Dear Kevin, what has divided Theologians since Arminius and Calvin in the early 1600s, I shall now set perfectly straight. Ha! Right!

What “eternal security” critics dub “once saved, always saved,” John Calvin called “The Preservation of the Saints.” Arminius taught that it is possible for a Christian to repudiate their faith, and thus be disqualified from the salvation they once had. This Calvin-Arminian difference shouldn’t hinder Christian fellowship. Both Calvinists and Arminians believe that nobody can be saved, without God’s making salvation possible. Both support that faith in Christ is essential for salvation.

Their differences seem more to do with a philosophical definition of man’s “free will.” Calvinists see free will as the freedom to choose according to one’s deepest desires. We choose what we really want most. The Calvinist would say that its absurd (impossible) to choose what one doesn’t want. Arminians see free will as the freedom to choose other than we chose.

Imagine a couple pieces of cake. At first glance, I might want the bigger piece. Choosing the smaller piece indicates a desire that’s deeper than my sweet tooth. Maybe I wanted you to have the bigger piece. So, while the Calvinist might say that my godly heart wanted you to have the bigger piece, the Arminian might say that though I really wanted the cake myself, I chose what I didn’t want, for your sake. If I gobbled down the cake, the Calvinist might then say that my fleshly desires outweighed what I knew was nobler. I chose according to my greatest desire: eating cake. The Arminian would counter that I chose it freely, though it wasn’t what I knew to be best, and now I would have to suffer the consequence of chubby cheeks. But it doesn’t matter what they think. Kevin didn’t ask Calvin or Arminius, he asked me, and Tom would say, “Hey Calvin and Arminius, if neither of you guys are gonna eat that cake…..”

Jacobus Arminius’ and John Calvin’s adherents, have been debating whether or not Christians could lose their salvation, since 1603. We still don’t know which of them is now saying, “toldjyaso!” If you want more on this argument, complete with tons of Bible verses that support and give struggle to both sides of the issue, you might start clicking around here:

or here is a nutshell version:

Kevin’s really saying, “I want to be sure that I’m going to heaven.” That is a very good thing to want to know! Scripture does not encourage us to look to other Christians for the answer to this important question. We are rather instructed to examine ourselves and to listen for God. First we are to look to our hearts:

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”
2 Corinthians 13:5

Examine your beliefs. Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who died for your sins, and that being sinless Himself, He was raised from the dead, and that upon belief and the confession of your faith, that He has sent you the Holy Spirit, as a deposit now, evidence that you are sealed by God for that day when you will leave your earthly body, and be present with Him? Theologians can’t settle this for you. You have to examine yourself honestly. Secondly then, turn to God, and listen.

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
Romans 8:14

“Yet to all who receive Him (Jesus), to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God."
John 1:12,13

Are you a child of God? Ask God to let you know. There is no shame in wanting assurance that you belong to God. We are to hear from Him.

Hymn writer Fanny Crosby wrote such hymns as, “Redeemed,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “I Am Thine O Lord,” and many more. For some time, she ached to have personal assurance from God, wanting to know if she were His.

We are not always going to feel the presence of God in this world. There will be times when thoughts of “Am I really His?” come in, and that can be hard. John Calvin and Jacob Arminius’ debate for sure is mentally stimulating. But the soul wants personal evidence, a testimony from God, that we are His.

At such times it’s good to reflect upon the things God has done to show you that He is your God. Like the Israelites were instructed to do, retelling acts of God’s faithfulness to us over the years helps. These dry times pass, and we find God is still with us.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Psalm 43:5

Miss Crosby was already famous for her poetry, and Christian lyrics. Yet she wanted to know for sure that she was saved. Then one week she attended some revival meetings in New York. Though she’d gone forward to pray the two previous nights, and was still unsure, when the congregation sang, “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed,” God broke through and spoke to her. She now knew that He was hers and she His. Miss Crosby wrote: “My very soul was flooded with celestial light. For the first time I realized that I had been trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in the other.” One of her most famous hymns that she later wrote, was, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine.” She'd known her scriptures, but she'd longed for that “blessed assurance” from God. There’s nothing wrong with that. Quoting the prophet Joel, Peter said:

“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Acts 2:21

We’ve gone from scripture-sighting theologians, to subjective songwriters. It takes more than just knowing verses to back up our personal beliefs. And it’s not about just having a good cry, and feeling better. Our security lies in knowing God, and being known by Him. Eternal security is being in Christ. Jesus said,

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”
John 17:3

Knowing Jesus Christ is eternal life! Do you know Jesus? Does He know you? How do we know? What do we do when we doubt? There is one passage of scripture that used to cause me concern this way. Jesus said,

“Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did not we prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Matthew 7:21-23

These verses scared me! I didn’t always do God’s will. Would I be among these? So I first examined myself to make sure that I was in the faith. I believed what the Bible says about Jesus. Check. And then I cried out to Jesus, expressing strongly how I did not want to be rejected by Him. “I’m Yours aren’t I, Lord?” In time, God’s Spirit spoke to my heart. And I was comforted.

In Matthew 7, Jesus is talking about false prophets; wolves in sheep’s clothing. He wasn’t talking about Christians who mess up. He is talking about people who call themselves His prophets, but who aren’t His. They are religious, and they are in the church. But they are not in Christ. He says, “I never knew you.” Earlier in Matthew, Jesus talks about there being both wheat and weeds (tares) all sown in the same field. (Matthew 13:24-29) Joining a church is good; but it doesn’t save your soul. You need to know, and to be known by God.

When the disciples went out to minister, they came back amazed at what they were able to do in Jesus’ name. While Jesus acknowledged that their work had indeed been powerful, He said:

“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:20

Does God know you? Do you know Him? If so, both Calvin and Arminius are your brothers in Christ. If you are concerned about your standing with God, first ask yourself what you believe. Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. Then talk to God, and wait for His Spirit to speak to your spirit. That will be your blessed assurance. Then please, let us hear the hymns that you write after that!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

“Is My Baptism Still Valid If the Minister Messed Up the Words?”

Vinnie’s fellowship group was visited and a discussion arose about baptism. According to the visitors, if you were not baptized “in the name of Jesus only,” then your baptism was not only invalid, but you aren’t yet saved. He wonders, “Where is this coming from?”

The visitors need a life. With billions of people not yet knowing Jesus as their Savior, some just spend their time going about other churches, casting doubt into the hearts of young believers. Scripture refers to such people as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them."

Matthew 7:15,16

We know them by their fruit. While billions have no church within reach, and hundreds of peoples do not yet have even one book of the Bible translated into their language, and while so many are still without Jesus in our neighborhoods, these religious wolves, consider it their calling to “correct” what others are doing for Jesus,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”
Luke 10:2,3

The wolves are here, ready to pounce on those whose lives you touch with God’s word. Beware! (See the parable of the sower in Luke 8:1-15) Vinnie’s faith is fine because he knows God’s word. It’s because he helps others come to know Jesus that these wolves come around. Wolves show up with “new revelations,” telling young believers new requirements to “really” be saved.

Here is a quick look at this particular “Jesus Only” thing. It doesn’t really deserve a separate category, but simply to be included in the many ugly dances with wolves. Jimmy Swaggart wrote a very gracious and interesting article explaining “Jesus Only”ism on To read it, you can click here.

Basically, back around 1914 some people left the Pentecostal church, claiming to have received new revelation concerning baptism. Apparently, Christians since Christ’s ascension have been doing it all wrong. (Aren’t wolves special?) The church baptizes as Jesus commissioned us to do:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19,20

This 1914 schism of church folk decided that there was no Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) but that the Godhead was only Jesus. They got this new revelation from reading something Peter announced in Acts 2:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2:38

Known as "Oneness Pentecostalism," (if I'm understanding this correctly) it is believed that Peter must have received a revelation that this was now how to baptize. But what at first just seems to be nitpicking, is really a denial of the Orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity; saying that Jesus was God entirely, and that there was no longer a Father or a Holy Spirit by name. They say God is “Jesus only.”

Though the Bible doesn’t tell us how to baptize people, church writings which date as early as 153 AD, do show that believers have since the start, baptized according to Matthew 28:19,20. In Acts 2, Peter was preaching Christ to people who had just witnessed a powerful move of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He wasn’t giving instruction on baptism. If Peter had some new revelation on how to baptize, he sure didn’t expound on it in his other writings!

Wolves aren’t big picture people. They come only with isolated verses and extra-biblical teaching. They come to devour, wherever God is bringing people to Himself.

In 1982 I took some friends to a Billy Graham Crusade in Boston. Volunteering there, I'd found the BGEA staffs’ love and concern for people to know Jesus and to have their lives transformed by His Spirit and His word, wonderful! They worked beautifully, linking new believers up with local churches. A dear friend of mine went forward (with thousands of others) to express her faith in Christ, and I saw at a distance, an old classmate from high school going forward as well. I was thrilled! God was moving hearts in Boston that summer. Elated we left the stadium!

Then about 20 yards just outside the gates, a rather tense person “God blessed” me, and slapped a pamphlet in my hand. It was a pamphlet denouncing Billy Graham as a false teacher, because he wasn’t using the King James translation of the Bible. You know, the same English translation that Paul and Timothy used? Honestly!

I was stunned! Didn’t this person experience what just happened? Did they miss all those people coming to Christ, the worship music, and the prayer? You could see on their face, no peace, no love, no joy; nothing that anyone would want. What they had was a lot of zeal and a huge pile of denunciation tracts. And they were going right for those who had just received God’s word!

Driving home, I slid the pamphlet into my pocket, glad that my friend hadn’t received one. I saw it as God’s protection upon her. She probably would have just rolled her eyes at the pamphlet’s illogic, but I think God wanted her joy to just continue.

Where people come to Jesus, wolves close in. Unable to minister themselves, their message lacking any “good news,” wolves prey on new believers who others have led to Christ. They’re trained to sniff out believers who have newfound freedom in Christ.

Overseas, some so-called “missionaries” came into our fellowship, never mentioning their particular disagreements with our beliefs. Nice to our faces, they befriended those we'd helped to find Christ. Then they started pulling some new believers aside, and began privately teaching them their “deeper truths.”

Soon, we weren’t even seeing our local brothers and sisters. When we did, they were distant. They criticized us for eating meat and for worshiping on Fridays and Sundays, insisting that the Sabbath was only Saturday. They no longer considered us Christians at all! And then true to cult form, even when shown scripture concerning the freedom we have in Christ (see Romans 14:1-6), they held to their “deeper truths,” quoting extra-biblical writers. The wolves had got them; their joy devoured!

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
Romans 14:1-6

Jesus commissioned the church to go out and make disciples of all nations. Wolves ignore that commission, and go after disciples already made, trying to exchange their Christ-given freedom for religious bondage. Those wolves tricked us, and led our friends into a religious wall, that has taken some years to bounce back from.

I got to sit in on a baptism class once, where the Pastor was asked by a rather young believer, with a shaky voice: “Last night a friend told me that if someone sins after baptism, that they can’t be forgiven for that sin, and so we had better make sure we’re done sinning before we get baptized. Is that true?” And the pastor, having heard this wolf drivel before, and with a completely sincere face, looked at the young man and said, “If I thought that were true, I’d just hold you all under until the bubbles stopped.”

Thank God for this wise and funny pastor! But see the pattern there? You have a new believer. He wants to obey God and be baptized. So in come the wolves.

Vinnie understands that what happens during baptism happens between God and the person being baptized. He knows our thoughts. He sees our faith. And God baptizes us into Himself, and into the church. God baptizes! The minister gets you wet, and hopefully praises God over you while declaring to onlookers what is happening. But if he didn’t say things just the way everyone likes, don’t let the wolves rob you of the joy of your baptism. God was right there with you. And He still is.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Is It Okay for Christians to Eat Pork?"

Kay was talking with a friend and a question came up regarding pork. Some say that Christians should abstain from it as the Old Testament commands. What should Kay say to religious friends who tell her that eating pork is wrong?

Before getting started, I ask my Jewish friends who follow Christ and my friends who grew up under Islam but who now follow Christ, to please just go with your conscience on this one. That will please God.

Paul wrote:

“. . . food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”
1 Corinthians 8:8

Here Paul is discussing meat that has been offered to idols. Some believers felt that the gods behind these idols had powers. Paul believed that there being only one true God, that if a person had faith in the Lord Jesus, then they needn't fret. Yet Paul gives room for those who cannot confidently eat such meat, and reminds mature believers to consider other believers’ consciences. People need to be confident in their actions; that they are pleasing to God.

If a brother wasn’t sure and, seeing me eating “forbidden” meat (according to his understanding) himself ate anyway, maybe to avoid a scene, his conscience would suffer,

“…because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
Romans 14:23

Paul advises we simply not discuss or publicly eat such meats that are questionable for the sake of your brother or sister who has the “weaker conscience.”

Ever notice how “Christians” who try to impose dietary restrictions, present it as if they have some deeper or fuller revelation of God? Yet the scriptures say that those who are not free to eat are the ones who are actually “weaker” in their faith.

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
Romans 14:1-6

People who nay-say Porky and friends, usually site Leviticus 11. Here Moses lists foods that are either "clean" or "unclean." Only “clean” animals could be sacrificed to God. People worshiping Israel’s God, had to abstain from eating the meat of unclean animals. What animals were edible?

"You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud."
verse 5

The pig has the split hoof, but with only one stomach, it doesn't chew the cud. It was an unclean animal. (I'm guessing incumbents don't have split hooves?) Leviticus 11 goes on to list what birds, sea animals, and insects are clean or unclean. Eating anything unclean disqualified one from participation in worship until certain ceremonial cleansing took place.

God says,

"I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground."
verse 44

God's not talking about diet and health issues. He created mankind to worship Him as God. His people were coming to a land filled with pagan practices that they were not to imitate. These Israelites were to be a people obviously peculiar, and set apart for their God (holy). Their entire identity was about worshiping the one true God. They were to be a beacon to the world. If foreigners wanted to leave their false gods to worship the one true God, they had to come to Jerusalem.

Jesus came to complete the law. (Including dietary laws.) With Christ’s suffering, Leviticus became the Old Covenant. In Christ, the New Covenant between God and man was not law, but grace. The blood of the Old was sheep and bulls and etc.; specific sacrifices for specific uncleanness. The blood for the New Testament sacrifice was to be the blood of Jesus, which cleanses completely, once and for all. Even before Jesus went to the cross, He declared "all foods clean."

Once after explaining what is "clean" or "unclean," Jesus’ disciples pulled Him aside, asking Him to clarify. Jesus explained:

"Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean?' For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")
Mark 7:19

This was radical! Jesus turned "clean" and "unclean" from matters of ritual and religion, into matters of the heart! Serving God was no longer a matter of rules to follow, but of a cleansed conscience (no longer defiled). Conscience became the deciding factor with diet.

People talk about bad or good consciences. We read more in scripture about “clear” or “weak," or “defiled” or “cleansed” consciences. The Holy Spirit is better heard with a clean conscience. Hebrews says of the Old Covenant:

“…the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.”
Hebrews 9:9

And of the New:

"The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"
Hebrews 9:13,14

Jesus brought eternal connection with God. Christ became the ultimate sacrifice. The old regulations were no longer the requirements to serve God. Christ’s blood applied to the believer is what's required.

"They (Old Testament dietary laws) are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings-external regulations applying until the time of the new order."
Hebrews 9:10

Before Christ people had to go to Jerusalem to worship God in His Temple. Now the Holy Spirit indwells believers, and we are sent out “into all the world.” People today meet God through Jesus, and perhaps study Leviticus later.

In Acts chapter 10, Peter has a vision. God was extending his Kingdom to the world. Peter envisioned a sheet lowered with all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds inside the sheet. God said in the vision, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." Peter objected, protesting that he never ate anything unclean. But God insisted, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Peter needed that to go to a gentile home. Cornelius, the gentile, and his household were subsequently baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God was extending beyond Jerusalem. Would Jews in Christ, who observed Leviticus, make room for these people? This was no small shift in thinking!

Later in chapter 15, the Jewish believers had to decide if they were going to accept as brothers and sisters in Christ, followers of Jesus who were not compelled to adopt Judaism, along with their new faith in God. Change doesn't come easily to any of us. How much harder must this have been to see non-Jews worshiping God; yet obviously not ritually clean according to Leviticus!

Thankfully, the Jerusalem believers recognized what God was doing, and understood that through faith in Christ, God was also imparting to non-Jewish believers, His Holy Spirit. After much discussion the Jewish believers wrote a welcoming letter to the new gentile believers, recognizing them as family in Christ. They only had this to say about food:

"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."
Acts 15:28,29

God loves His people. Leviticus was never meant to exclude, but to set up a city on a hill. Israel would help others find the one true God, amidst all the false gods of the world. Christ came fulfilling all the law. Thereby whosoever would enter God’s Gate (Jesus) can now do so. We now can worship God as we were created to do. It isn’t about the diet. It is about being right in our hearts with God. Then we can be free in our hearts to connect with Him always.

So Kay, as long as you aren’t chasing Arnold or Wilbur (or whatever your pig’s name is), around with a knotted rope, I think you are good to go. Maybe just don’t invite that particular friend to dinner today, (or my cardiologist).