Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Use and Abuse of the Gospel Message

Those who believe in a 'saving faith of maximum information" have yet to make a case and prove that the "gospel message" (viz. the information of 1 Cor 15:3ff) is the conscious and necessary object or added content of saving faith in addition to trusting Jesus for eternal life. This is a premise that they have presupposed and taken for granted. They should no longer be allowed this luxury.

As seen in a large segment of Christianity, the term "gospel" has been ossified into theological technical speak for "what needs to be believed for eternal life".

It is apparent to me and others that the gospel can be believed and one remain unsaved. Such has been the matter throughout Christian history.

How is this the case? One may believe that Jesus Christ "died for our sins according to the Scriptures" and "rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3-4) and still not believe that Jesus is the Guarantor of eternal life to the one who merely takes Him at His word in His promise to do so. That one believes that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again from the dead does not necessarily and inevitably lead to the conclusion that He guarantees one's eternal well-being by simple faith into Him through His promise.

I submit: the gospel message (as defined by most) is not the content or object of saving faith.

Paul and John are not competitive. Paul preached the same SINGLE content to saving faith as John did.

1 Timothy 1:16
16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

In other words, they preached faith alone into Jesus Christ for eternal life.

The context to which they couched this single requirement was also the same, viz., a gospel message.

What's the deal then?

The proclamation of a gospel message is what gives lost men and women the background to and support for the single term of receiving eternal life, believing Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, in other words, the Person who guarantees resurrection and eternal life to the believer in Him. It is the proclamation that shows Christ to be the authoratative and sufficient Guarantor of eternal life.

For instance, let me make an illustration:

Let us suppose that I said to you, "I have made you debt free."

I doubt that this statement alone would convince you that you were now debt free.

But let us say that I couched this assertion within this narrative:

"I am a multi-millionaire, and have become a philanthropist. I have made everyone in your church debt-free. Furthermore, here is the testimony of some members of your church who have become debt free by virtue of my dealings."

The narrative explaining the provision of your debt-free state is strong evidence given in order to convince you of the proposition, "I have made you debt free."

This narrative has served functionally the same purpose as the gospel message. The facts included in a gospel message are proclaimed so that one can be persuaded of Christ's promise and offer of eternal life to the believer in Him for it. It gives us the reasons why we can trust Christ.

Certainly much other evidence can help, too. Such as His miracles, His claims to deity, etc.

But we must not confuse the evidence (i.e. a gospel message) which supports and undergirds the promise of eternal life, with the content of saving faith itself. This would cloud the essential issue between God and men! When we ought to be pointing men and women to simple faith in Christ through His promise which unequivocally offers eternal life to the one who takes Him at His word for it, we have often made saving faith a step-by-step endeavor, leading people through the doctrines of hamartiology and Christology, subjecting them to a complexity that in the end can cause a failure to precisely present the terms of everlasting life to the lost sinner.

Our evangelism should be targeted. Anything that we say to the unsaved in the context of evangelism should be so tailored as to point to simple faith in Christ for the purpose of receiving eternal life. In the gospel of John, the author presents 7 miraculous signs that were performed by the Lord Jesus Christ to authenticate the claims of Jesus Christ, whereby He solemnly guarantees eternal life to any and all who merely trust in Him to do so. His supernatural works support His claims to be the unique dispenser of eternal life.

Let us herald far and wide Christ's divinity, His death for sins and the resurrection. Let us proclaim Jesus' miraculous wonders, sinless life, virgin birth, and absolute righteous teachings. Let us boldly declare His holiness, power, and authority.

But let these powerful and grand undercarriages perform their duty and not impose upon them that which their proclamation is not intended to do. The evidences given in our gospel messages are used in the hands of the Holy Spirit to convince the hearers of the claims of Christ in His gratuitous promise to impart eternal life to all who simply trust in Him to do so.

Preach the gospel? By all means! But use if for its intended purpose: to show the authority, ability, and sufficiency of Christ to impart irrevocable eternal life to the believer in Him for it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Difference between the Gospel Message and the Offer (or Promise) of Eternal Life

The historical story and evidentiary scriptural facts that lay behind the provision of eternal life by Jesus Christ is called the “gospel”, or good news. The gospel as articulated by Paul speaks of Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection, as well as His appearances to various disciples and others. Supplementary elements may be included within the telling of the gospel in order to customize the message to the recipients, such as developing the historical Person of Jesus to better understand Him. The Pauline gospel is expressed in this manner:

1 Corinthians 15:1-5
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

Here in 1 Corinthians we see that the gospel message is that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose again from the dead, and appeared alive from the dead to those who could give testimony to that fact. Contained within this message is the work of Christ that made provision for our eternal life. By virtue of His death and resurrection, He is the Guarantor of eternal life to the believer in Him for it.

The gospel message is the critical story, that gives among other things, a description of how our salvation was provided for, yet it is not the conscious and necessary object of saving faith that bestows eternal life. If you look carefully at the aforementioned passage in the Greek, you will find that ‘through’ (Greek: dia) the gospel you are saved and not by faith in the gospel (are you saved). A more correct translation would be “… I declare to you the gospel… through which also you are saved.” This is a critical distinction. It was through Christ’s work that is proclaimed in the gospel message, vis a vis the death and resurrection of Christ, that our salvation was secured, in other words, provided for. Believing the gospel has never saved anyone; faith in the gospel never imparts eternal life. It is Christ who imparts life to whom He wills (Jn. 5:21).

By virtue of the work of Christ that is heralded in the gospel message, the death and resurrection accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf, God is able to freely bestow eternal life to mankind. The vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross has freed God to unconditionally accept any human. The purpose of this atonement was to remove all barriers to God’s acceptance of the sinner. God’s justice is satisfied in the sense that He can now confer acceptance upon those sinners who accept the provision of the promise of eternal life through faith into Jesus Christ for it.

The offer of eternal life is the offer to receive an absolutely free gift (John 4:10; Rom. 5:15-18; 6:23; Eph. 2:8, 9). The gift of eternal life, and thus heaven, is a gift that only need be received by the sinner to be possessed. The avenue of receiving this gift is faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:16; 6:47). Jesus Christ is the Guarantor of eternal life to all who believe in Him for it (Jn. 11:25-27).

There is a distinction between the gospel message and the offer of eternal life which is based upon that message. The gospel message gives evidence on why Jesus Christ can be trusted for eternal life, including an articulation on how salvation was secured and provided for, among other evidences. The promise of eternal life offers the absolutely free gift of eternal life based solely on one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Guarantor of eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. It is simple… “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

There is dispute among scholars what exactly is to be believed in order to receive eternal life. It can be put into no simpler terms that the object of saving faith is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the content of that object, is that Christ guarantees eternal life based upon faith in Him. Faith that Christ will answer your prayers, that He will deliver you from your temporal problems, or that He exists/existed is not the correct content that will bring eternal life. It is believing in Jesus for the sole purpose of receiving eternal life that salvation is received.

Some claim that one must believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus in order to be saved as well as faith in Christ. That is not true. The gospel message articulates, among other things, how provision was made for the absolutely free gift of eternal life, but it is the Person of Jesus Christ who dispenses that gift based upon faith in Him for it. The only book written in the Bible with the express written purpose of being evangelistic is the Gospel of John (John 20:30, 31). Within the confines of the book, the one and only requirement given is faith and the one and only object of that faith is Christ. Thus the reformation mantra ‘Faith alone in Christ alone.’ Nowhere in this Gospel does it state that there is some other object or content to saving faith other than that of the Lord Jesus Christ in His promise. If John gives no other requirement to receive eternal life other than faith in Christ, why must we insist on adding more conditions?

One may ask why then preach the gospel? It proclaims the love and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. When one learns of the incredible payment Christ made in our behalf, it helps persuade us that Christ is faithful and worthy of our faith and reliance upon for our eternal destiny.

Man has something in him that tends to complicate simple things. Throughout the Christian era we have seen added provisos and conditions heaped on to the simple condition of “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The offer of eternal life is simple and free, yet, as is abundantly clear in theological circles today, that just doesn’t sit well with many!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Failure to Profit from Lordship Salvation's Interpretation of the Parables

Dear readers, I wish to finish up with James. Life is busy! In the meantime I hope that this article which is the introduction of a paper I am doing on parables will be of benefit to you.

Much confusion arises from the interpretation of parables. Error and bad doctrine are expounded from them. The presuppositions of deductionistic theology are inserted into the parables in the form of secondary assumptions in order to twist the meaning of these stories to fit one’s doctrine.

Parables contain a simple message, yet it is granted there may need to be much study to arrive at it. Careful attention to the words of the parable in conjunction with an analogy of faith that has been constructed from the simple affirmations and passages of the Scriptures will net good results.

Lordship Salvation Reformed soteriologists interpret the parables in light of their false doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. It is presupposed that all true Christians will persevere in faith and good works until the end of their lives. This doctrine they bring to the text of the parables. For instance, in the parables of the talents and the minas (Mt 25:14ff; Lu 19:12ff, respectively) the last of the servants is considered unsaved because they failed to persevere, even though Jesus calls them the master’s “own servants” (doesn’t Jesus know who His true servants are? See 2 Tim 2:19), and even though the master imparts unto them gifts (which has correspondence to the spiritual gifts that the Son and the Spirit impart to believers; does Jesus impart unto false professors spiritual gifts?). In the parable of the faithful and evil servant (Mt 24:45-51) the evil servant who says within himself that his master delays his coming is considered unsaved because he wasn’t ready when his master came, in other words, he didn’t persevere until the end. Yet the text is clear that the servant is the same servant considered in the first portion of the parable. The parable reads “but if that self-same [ekeinos: a demonstrative pronoun used with a reference previously mentioned] servant says in his heart…” (Author’s translation of Lu 12:45a). Also, he is a servant of the master, and as we have pointed out, he is no spurious servant merely pretending; the master knew him! More can be said about this from the parables of the wise and foolish builder (Mt 7:24ff), the marriage feast (Mt 22:2ff), and the ten virgins (Mt 25:1ff), etc.

What these Lordship Salvationist interpreters have done is import into these parables their own doctrine with disastrous results. Assurance is robbed from those who are weak in the faith or need encouragement because their works do not meet with the subjective criterion laid out to them by these Reformed advocates. Furthermore, there is a failure to profit from these parables. Much of the teaching in these parables are for warning the regenerate from backsliding, cautioning them to be vigilant in waiting for the Lord and being about the duties of investing in His business. Reformed people believe that perseverance is inevitable for the elect, therefore it is impossible that they should fail to persevere. The warnings are therefore not directed to the elect, but to the spurious saint whose works betray an unregenerate state. The bottom line is that there is no remedy for any case. The elect will persevere, undoubtedly and inevitably, therefore any warning is superfluous and erroneous. But the spurious reprobate has no recourse whatsoever. He can try to work and endure to the end, but he has been chosen for hell and any form of godliness that he has will prove in the end to be merely evanescent. The real irony of the matter is that no one can tell for certain if they are elect, for he 1) does not know if Christ died for him personally, and 2) he has not reached the end of his life, therefore there is still an opportunity for him to “fall away,” proving that he had never been regenerated; that he was only a spurious saint who had a “temporary faith”. It truly is a no-win situation. What, therefore, is gleaned from such an understanding of the parables? Exactly this:

One must strive with all endurance to persevere until the end in faith and works or he will wind up in hell.

In other words, the effect is, “bear fruit and endure in it or burn.” But this is nothing but works-salvation, a works-righteousness! A failure to truly profit from these parables is evident. The fear and caution of these parables ought not to be that if one does not persevere in one’s confession and good works he will go to hell, but if one does not persevere to the end, that he will suffer shame and eternal loss at Christ’s glorious appearance.