PERSEVERING IN FAITH: GLEANINGS FROM SERMON BY PASTOR BARRY HALL, JR.

We (Ekklesia Bible Fellowship) recently celebrated our fourth (4th) anniversary as a local assembly in Jamaica. Ours, have been a journey of F.A.I. T. H (Fantastic Adventures In Trusting Him). Our journey has not always been easy though. As a new church plant, we have had our teething pains – moments when we questioned ourselves and worried about what was going to happen next. Yet, we persevered because we know the God we serve is bigger than any of our circumstance and the vision that He had given us, He is able to make pro-vision for.

On the occasion marking our fourth anniversary, under the theme: “Persevering in Faith: Impacting the Future”, our senior pastor, Barry Hall Jr., challenged a filled to capacity hall to persevere and finish well.

Hebrews 12:1-2

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The context of the letter to the Hebrews is one where the Jewish Christians were facing intense persecution for having “abandoned’ Judaism and believing on the Gospel of Jesus. Many found themselves abandoned by their families, homeless and destitute and the temptation was to return to the comforts and privileges that Judaism afforded them. It is against this backdrop that the entire book of Hebrews is written – to help them to realize the superiority of (their faith in) Jesus and why this new covenant in Him was better than the former.

In chapter 11, the writer to the Hebrews spends the time outlining many stalwarts of the faith; some who held on to the promise, many who were sawn in two, martyred in coliseums – all dying, holding on to the promise. They never gave up. They kept running. They kept striving. They are the ones who make up the cloud of witnesses spoken of in verse one of chapter twelve.

Paul likens this faith walk as a race and he says as we prepare ourselves to run this race we must:

  1. Throw off everything that hinders and the sins that so easily entangle us. If we look at athletes running in a race, as they make their way to the tracks, they are in full track suits. But as they prepare to out under starters’ orders, they remove those suits, removing that which will hold them back and slow them down. Sin slows down the walk of the believer. The sad thing is that many believers find reasons to explain away their sin. “Oh, it is a struggle”, “The devil, made me do it.” The truth is, we sin because we want to. We have developed an appetite for it. But through Christ, we have been set free from sin’s power and penalty. We must now choose to walk in this liberty that we now have by fully submitting ourselves to God’s Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and walking in obedience to His Word. God has already given us the ability to walk in righteousness (2 Peter 1:3).
  2. Run this race with patience: sticking with the writer’s analogy of athletics. An athlete puts his body through rigorous training in order to compete and finish well. It is often, a painful experience. Interestingly, the Greek word used for race, ‘agon’, is the word from which we get ‘agony’. This walk of faith will sometimes be arduous but we cannot give up. That is why we must run it with patience. Those who are now witnesses, who are not simply spectators but persons who ran before us, ran right up to the end under real persecution but they never gave up. We must never give up either. It will be hard but keep running.
  3. Keep your eyes on Jesus as you run: Don’t be distracted by whatever is happening around you. Keep your eyes on Jesus. And when you consider what He, Himself, endured just for you and considered a joy to have endured such, it should motivate you to keep running. A cross was before Him but for Him it did not merely represent shame and torture. It represented purpose.

The advent of the prosperity and name-it-and claim it teachings have distracted believers from the understanding the value of suffering and the need for believers to endure it. Athletes endure whatever pain they must to win a reward that will fade. But we run and endure for one of far great value. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17 “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” So run the race that is set before. Run and finish well. Persevere in faith.

Once Saved, Always Saved? Seriously?

The issue of “Eternal Security” is often a vexing one. Depending on your church traditions you might not even have heard of the concept. Most Christians in Jamaica may have the belief that they can forfeit the GIFT of salvation and so they must live a morally upright life at all times to guarantee the reception and preservation of this gift.

Can a person who has been saved ever be lost? Is it possible for one to ever fall away from grace? Is the statement “Once saved, always saved,” true? Do I have to worry about whether I go to hell or heaven as a Believer? These are questions that often bombard the mind of many Christians. For many, there is the fear of losing their salvation at a moment of vulnerability, for others there is the arduous task of trying desperately to secure their places in heaven by ensuring that they have done everything to the letter. Why is it, however, that those who are supposed to have been set free by God’s grace; free to serve Him “out of gratitude for what he has done,” (Gromacki, 1973)rather than serve him out of apprehension or anxiety, live in so much uncertainty and bondage? If it is that we have been saved, then what is salvation and what have we been saved from? Is our anxiety caused because our salvation is not assured?

Arminian and Calvinists would argue against and for eternal security (http://www.epm.org/articles/arminian_calvinist.html). But which view does the Bible support? Does it support both? For certainty, the Bible cannot present two contradictory claims on the issue of salvation and thus one’s eternal security, having come into salvation that the Bible teaches. So where is the supposed evidence that supports the loss of salvation or security of same coming from? Furthermore is there any truth in either claim?

In a quest to answer these questions put forward, critical analyses will be made of the two existing views on eternal security, citing scriptural references (from Romans mainly) that support each view, while at the same time highlighting and establishing the stronger of the two arguments. Further, the researcher will seek to employ hermeneutical principles and establish grounds that God’s character is harmonious with His revelation. Thus the Bible teaches in Romans and other books one doctrine on eternal security, which is a person who is born into the family of God, cannot at any point lose his or her position. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son, that he might be the first born among many brothers. And those He predestined, he also called; those He called, He also justified; those he justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30, NIV)

The position on eternal security is, believed by John R. Church, D.D., to be, unsound and a dangerous teaching. Church uses as his premise 1 John 4:4, which assures the believer of the ability to endure to the end without falling into Satan’s hand (Church, Pg 7). However, this security in the scripture mentioned, according to Church, cannot be construed as unconditional security. He calls such teaching “the first deception that the devil ever put over the human race.” He draws his argument from the scenario in the Garden of Eden when the Lord told the couple in the day they shall eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they shall surely die. Then, comes the devil and he says to them that they will not surely die. He further claims that the Bible teaches in Ezekiel 18:20 that the soul that sins shall surely die. In light of this scripture, Church, like other Arminians, believes that anyone who dies in sin whether Christian or not will be eternally lost.

In addition, those who support the idea that one, after having been saved, can lose one’s salvation, argue that Jesus himself teaches in Luke 8: 11-14 (in the parable of the farmer and the seeds), particularly verse thirteen and in John 15:1-2 (husbandman and vine and branches), that a person who had once been saved could fall away and be lost. Church, adamantly puts forward that is only he that endures in righteousness shall be saved. If what Church says obtains, then we cannot, in this life, know that we are saved or it is impossible to be saved in this life. The best we can know is that we are working towards being saved.

He, further, argues that Matthew 24:12-13 teaches “But he that endures to the end shall be saved. According to him the conditions for eternal life are: constantly abiding in Christ, fruit bearing, and enduring unto the end. “There is no promise of eternal life to any others” (Pg. 11).

Furthermore, Church cites Exodus 32:33; Ezekiel 18:24, 33:12-13; Luke 9: 62; John 6:66; Galatians 5:4; and 1Timothy 4:1 as verses in scripture that support his argument against eternal security. He says that man can take himself out of God’s hands because he is a free moral agent. If these scriptural references are used appropriately by Church and are interpreted based on sound hermeneutical principles then, it stands to reason that what he has posited and what those of Arminian persuasion believe has credence based on scripture.

Church uses Luke 8:11-14 and John 15:1-2 to argue that a person can lose his or her salvation after having believed. Romans 5: 9 & 10 tells us that when we have been justified by his blood, we will be saved from wrath through him (Christ). It must be understood that the death of Christ and His shed blood effect salvation, but the life of Christ sustains it. This verse underscores the lasting effect of the blood he shed, and that it is Christ who keeps us. In other words, Christ never gets weary of keeping us. John 10:26-30 tells us that His sheep know His voice and follow Him and in verse 28 makes the promise that He gives them eternal life and they will never perish; no one will snatch them out of His hand. In other words he or she cannot lose his or her salvation. Such person is eternally saved and will go to heaven when he or she dies. It is not possible for him to be lost.

Moreover, in that passage of scripture are some fundamental truths. Firstly, those who believe are His sheep (children). The flip side of that is those who do not believe are not his. Therefore, according to Romans 8:29-30, those who believe are the ones who he had predestined to believe in Him. Secondly, those who believe in Him, listen to Him. This speaks to obedience. Therefore, we must answer the question, can one who has put on the righteousness of Christ (justified) resist God constantly and continually as one who never believed? Scripture teaches us of newness that is found in Christ in Romans 6:6-7. Thirdly, there is the promise of eternal life. Then, the second part to that promise is that his sheep (those who believe) will never perish. Fifthly, Jesus assures those who believe that no one can snatch them out of his hand because his Father, who is greater than all, had given them to Him.

Romans 8: 34 – 39 assures of this promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, because Christ himself is making intercession for us. No matter what happens, we cannot be separated because his grace is sufficient to those who are the elect. These scriptures mentioned in Romans and also John stand in direct contradiction to Church’s Claim that those who believe or who have experienced Salvation can lose it or can even reject Christ and consequently eternal life.

In addition, Church makes the assumption that a person who has come into salvation can go on sinning as one who has not or can revert to the position of never knowing God. Hence, he alludes to the scripture in Ezekiel 18:20, which says that the soul that sins shall surely die. Romans 6:1 tells us that if we sin more grace is abounding, this however doesn’t mean that we must continue sinning, because grace is not a license to sin. 1John 3:9 also says that one who is born of God will not continue sinning because God’s seed; (His word and His Spirit, who is the guarantee of salvation) remains in him.

In fact chapter one of 1John and the eighth verse says if one claims to be without sin then one deceives oneself and does not tell the truth. So with such sin being in us and the inevitable death of the soul, who sins, how is eternal life ever possible? The answer lies in Romans 8:30. “….those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” We are justified or made to be in right relationship with God because of Jesus’ work on Calvary alone. That is why if we confess our sins he is faithful and just (because the debt was already satisfied) to forgive us our sins and forgive us all unrighteousness.

Once a person comes to Christ, he cannot lose his salvation (Romans 8: 34 – 39,John 10:26-30). He is eternally saved, he cannot be separated once he has been elected and will go to heaven when he dies. It is not possible for him to be lost. This is a big problem for the Arminian view of freedom. If it is not possible for a person to lose his salvation, they contend, then there are two options: firstly, It is possible for the believer to later on reject Christ and reject eternal life, but God will still take him to heaven when he dies even though he has rejected it and secondly, it is not possible for a believer to ever reject Christ and eternal life once he is saved (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/8449/ armin.html).

Under option one; clearly the person’s will is violated, for the person would be rejecting Christ but God would be taking him to heaven anyway. He would be saving the person against his will. This would obviously be inconsistent with the Bible. The Biblical teaching of eternal security clearly teaches that a person cannot reject eternal life once they are saved because they do not want to reject eternal life. God causes us to continue wanting to believe in Him once we are saved. If it Christ who sustains us, it is He who will continue to give us the desire for Him – Romans 5: 9 & 10.

Moreover, the Bible teaches that the grace of God actually stimulates believers to serve God with a thankful heart Romans 2:4. God cannot act outside of his nature. His nature is good and though perfectly just, He is perfectly merciful and thus, He acts in those manners. His Justice was satisfied when He, as Christ took up our sins and paid the price while His mercy is expressed in his forgiveness extended. God is able to determine who will be saved without violating our wills or forcing us to believe. If a person is elect, God does not force him to believe neither does He leave open the possibility that he will use his will to reject Him and overthrow His plan. For if God prepares his heart and gives him a desire for Christ that is greater than his desire to remain in sin, the person will most certainly come–and will come freely. This presupposition is supported by the scripture in Romans 8:29-30. We must remember that the faith that comes to those who believe is given by God in the first instance. For, in Romans 12:3 we are told that God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

Furthermore, we must be cognizant that man has no basis of appeal before God; he is simply guilty according to Romans 3:10 -20 (Gromacki, 1973). What then is man’s hope before God since he is already guilty before even starting out? Belief in Christ! “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life…,” John 3:36.  Man’s only hope is belief in Christ, which assures him of salvation from the penalty of sin – death. God foreknew us because he chose to save us, in spite of our future sins and failures which he knew since eternity. All are eternally certain (Gromacki, 1973. Pgs 36-37). Not only that but even while in sin, as enemies of God, He reconciled us unto Himself (Romans 5:10) how much more of His mercy will we experience having been reconciled.

The fact that we are predestined means that there is a guaranteed future destiny of the child of God and not that a person is determined to go to hell or heaven. Our predestination and subsequent election are based on God’s Foreknowledge (Romans 8: 29). Our election to salvation is based on the same principle as God’s choice of Jacob through whom the blessing of Abraham would come to the world, according to Romans 9:10-13 (Gromacki, 1973). Romans 9 reveals that out of God’s own Sovereignty, He has determined that though all are condemned to death (separation from Himself) because of Sin that He was going to save or rescue some for eternal life.

Does God guarantee our salvation? According to the Calvinists and particularly Gromacki, He does. Gromacki argues that salvation must be seen as the work of God. “Salvation,” he says, “is Theo centric, not anthropocentric. That is, salvation originates with God and not man. He (God) has done the work, and He has done it for His eternal glory.” Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as the author (originator/beginner) and finisher (perfecter) of our faith. Our eternal salvation rests in Christ’s ability to perfect that which he has begun 1Thessalonians 5:23-24.

Furthermore, Jesus himself testifies to eternal security in belief in Him. Could Jesus have testified of two opposing views? The Bible is whole and presents one doctrine. In John 5:24 Jesus said, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” However one may attempt to argue that one can stop believing because of what, they perceive, is said in 1Timothy 4:1. In that passage, the issue addressed is not a believer turning away from truth but the refusal of many to accept the truth and thus turn to deceitful teachings. To agree with the former suggestion is to argue with God’s nature to Give faith to cause one to continue in His ways as is clearly demonstrated in Ezekiel 36:27 and Jeremiah 32:40.

In summary, we know that the blessings of salvation cannot be lost because of the nature of salvation. Scripture reveal to us that salvation is eternal. John. 3:16, 36 attest to this claim. The former tells us that those who believe (a) will never perish and (b) will have everlasting life. Secondly, salvation is a present possession as is lucidly stated in Romans. 5:1 and 1 Peter 2:24-25. Thirdly, salvation is by imputation and substitution (2 Co. 5:17; Ga. 2:20; He. 9:10; Ro. 3:24). Salvation is positional. We are told so in Ephesians. 1:3 that salvation is “in Christ”; Romans 6:7; Colossians. 2:10; 3:1-4, 12. Salvation is not of human merit; it is a free gift of grace which cannot be mixed with works Ephesians. 2:8-9; Titus. 3:3-7; Romans 3:19-28; 4:4-5; 9:16; 11:6. Not only are we assured of eternal security because of the nature of salvation but also of the results of salvation as scripture teaches. The results of Salvation are: eternal life John 3:16; Justification Romans 5:1; 3:19-28;  Peace with God Romans 5:1; Sure possession of future glory Romans 5:2, Col. 3:1-4; Salvation from future wrath Romans 5:9; Raised up with Christ Romans 6;  Blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Ephesians 1:3; Sealed with the Holy Spirit Ephesians. 4:30; Passed from darkness to light Colossians. 1:12-14 (http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/eternalsecurity.htm).

We cannot and should not construe that because salvation is eternal, it necessarily gives way to licentious behavior or supports that behviour. On the contrary, though eternal security recognizes the grace of God that leads to full and free salvation, it does not support the view that grace has abolished the responsibility of the believer to live rightly or morally. For certainly, Paul does not agree with the notion that grace is the antithesis of good works. In chapter 6 of Romans, He anticipates that said notion and emphatically said may it never be that one thinks that in light of God’s abundant grace, one should go on sinning. Furthermore, in Romans 12 verse 1, Paul implores his readers that after having considered God’s grace, they must present their bodies to Him as living sacrifices. The idea Paul picks up on is that the life of the believer must be given over entirely to God; much as the sacrifice was in Jewish culture as well as yielding their members to God rather than to the dictates of the evil desires of man (Romans 6:13).

The refusal of many, to accept the doctrine of eternal security stems from a belief that the doctrine of eternal security gives persons a license to sin or live carelessly. Paul, the apostle addressed this misconception in the church at Ephesus in Romans 6:1 “…shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” His answer to that rhetorical question comes in the early part of verse two “By no means…!” In fact, the opposite is true. The Bible teaches that the grace of God actually stimulates believers to serve God with a thankful heart Romans 2:4; Ephesians. 3:14-19; Titus. 2:11-14. The more a believer understands the unfathomable love God has for him in Christ, the more he wants to please God. A believer ought not to live in constant fear of one day falling away, or missing the mark or ultimately going to hell because his or her destiny is sealed in Christ’s redemptive work at Calvary. All efforts must be in fulfilling his purpose which is to serve and worship God. Our salvation (rescue from the penalty of sin) remain a gift; an act of grace _ something we neither work to receive nor can we work to keep. In the words of our Christ, “It is finished!”

REFERENCE LIST

Church, John R. Security In Christ: Or Kept By The Indwelling Christ. Pentecostalk Publishing Co., Louisville, Kentucky.

Gromacki, Robert G. 1973. Is Salvation Forever. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago: Moody Press, Chicago.

Randy Alcorn. 2006. Some Thoughts on Eternal Security and the Arminian and Calvinist Positions. Internet Source:http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/8449/armin.%20html Eternal Perspective Ministries. Last Updated: October 21, 2008.

Way of Life Literature’s Fundamental Baptist Information Service. 2001. Eternal Security And Problem Passages. Internet Source:http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns%20/eternalsecurity.htm. Last Updated: October 21, 2008.

Internet Source: http://www.epm.org/articles/arminian_calvinist.html. Last Updated:October 31, 2006.