Editorial – Blessed insurance?
Does Jesus really save – or merely offer a ‘jump start’? Do we have joy set before us – or do we need to take out insurance…?
Listen to the warning – but not to the threat… Many Christians today still sing Blessed Assurance – but without the assurance. They’ve been told that they can lose their salvation. Often the warning voices are highly respected because, as a faith community, we still owe a huge debt to their faithful exposition of God’s Word. Their intentions also are caring, pastoral. RIGHTLY, they point to the apostles’ many warnings – to churches – that there must be fruit as well as faith; godly hope visible in godly evidence. But, to spur believers on to godly living, they warn against a ‘false’ hope expressed as “once saved, always saved” – and I wish they wouldn’t…
For obvious reasons, Jesus never sang Blessed Assurance – but He had it. Hebrews tells us that one thing enabled Him to ‘endure the cross, despising its shame’: “the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). The inference is unnerving… Jesus might not have found the strength to face Calvary without this hope. There was (and is) nothing fake about Jesus’s suffering – or His humanity. We need to understand that He had wilfully suspended all the powers and privileges of divinity in order that He might pay the price of sin as a man for men, in full humanity for all humanity. His anguished blood mingled with His sweat before He could find the words “Thy will, not mine”. Without His ‘blessed assurance’, might the Son of God have called for those twelve legions of angels to rewrite the future of the Roman Empire…? Seven centuries previously a single angel had destroyed 185,000 Assyrian troops in one night. What hope then for Caesar’s legions against Heaven’s? As the future held its breath, all our hope rested on the Saviour’s hope. Blessed assurance? How can we face the future without it?
Why then is it seemingly fashionable to question whether the person who is ‘once saved’ is ‘always saved’? Are we mere disciples capable of greater feats of heroic perseverance than the Lord Jesus – but without the assurance that strengthened Him?
The trouble with warning against the ‘once saved always saved’ position is that the criticism (and its intention) is warranted, but not the method of addressing the problem – because it answers the wrong question. In place of the question ‘can Christians lose their salvation?’ we need to ask a better one that contains its own answer and also answers the first, namely: ‘Does the Shepherd lose His sheep?’ “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12) Have the rules of the sheepfold been rescinded? Is it now the responsibility of the sheep to secure themselves? Do we now keep ourselves from stumbling and present ourselves spotless before His presence with great joy? Has there now emerged a new challenger who is able to pluck us from His hand or from the Father’s mighty grip? We know the answers to these questions…
Faith, frying pan or fire?
The issue is not cheap grace but cheap discipleship. Grace, by definition and at God’s expense, is gloriously, extravagantly and amazingly cheap to us. Discipleship – authentic that is – is always costly. But let’s be clear… The great salvation procured by His works is not thereafter secured by ours – rather, His salvation secures us for our good works. (Eph 2:8-10) If we remove the Christian’s assurance that he is ‘always saved’ we spoil the stunning finality of our great salvation and diminish the blood-bought child of God to a mere ‘religionist’ whose insecure hope is in his own moral performance – and that will always merit another rollicking ‘Galatians-style’ letter from the apostle who brought the Gospel (it is good news!) to our western shores.
We need to protect the Christian’s ‘Blessed Assurance’. The pejorative use of the phrase ‘once saved always saved’ runs the risk of falling out of the frying pan of lawlessness into the fire of legalism. If the false hope of heaven by self-effort is from the pit of hell, so too is the damaged assurance of the Christian who has forgotten that we are “kept by the power of God”. (1 Peter 1:5)
In his forthcoming 27th book, Steve Maltz insightfully laments: “This plain fact has sadly been overlooked or ignored by many in the Church, that law and grace are not at odds with each other, but, instead must work together.” This is ‘Christianity 101’, Yet much Christian thinking, and therefore practice, is divided messily by a wholly imagined conflict. In the matter of our salvation, Law shows the need and Grace meets it. In the business of sanctification, the Law gives us light for the walk (Psalm 119:105) and Grace keeps us free of condemnation throughout the walk (Romans 8:1). The Law of God was given by the Grace of God. Under the New Covenant the same Law given by Moses and extolled by Psalmists is written on the believer’s heart (Jeremiah 31:33) – agreement with God internalised by God’s own work (Romans 7:16). The Law is of grace and “grace teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness” (Titus 2:11-12). Where is the conflict? John Newton clearly understood this: “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear….” (that’s grace ‘upholding the law’) “…and grace my fears relieved” (that’s grace satisfying the law through Calvary).
If there is a conflict between law and grace there is a conflict within the God of Grace – the sort of theological nonsense finite minds are forced to consider when they forget they are finite!
That said, God will never populate His Promised Land with rebels – witness the entire unbelieving generation who perished over forty years in the wilderness. (1 Cor 10:5) The tragedy of the first generation out of Egypt’s slavery was written down as a warning and an example to us all. (1 Cor 10:6) But surely, some will say, this is a powerful argument that salvation can be lost? Not if we examine the tragedy more carefully – in another article… Let us simply note in passing that they did not lose something they had previously possessed, they failed to possess what would always be lost to them through unbelief.
Paul said that “the living God” is the “saviour of all people and especially of those who believe” (my emphasis). This he said in the context of a strong call to sanctification. The apostles taught sanctified behaviour as evidence of saving faith in God, not as a condition of eternal security. Indeed, when James warned that “faith without works is dead”, he was not threatening salvation but demanding evidence of it!
Salvation is not the terminus, it’s the embarkation point. The journey is sanctification, which is better understood as ‘salvation underway’. This does not mean that our goal is sinless perfection – far less that we have already achieved it. (Php 3:12)
So let’s be clear: Jesus has paid the fare (in full) and there is no more to pay to reach our destination. In fact, we have already crossed over from death to life, have already been cleared and freed from God’s judgment, are already at peace with God. (John 5:24; Romans 5:1) At Calvary “the chastisement that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5).
All condemnation has been lifted from us (John 3:17; Romans 8:1) and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39). “There is no more for heaven now to give.” 1 This means that we are disciples, not probationers. There is no question over our final status, but along the way we shall learn many hard lessons about obedience and perseverance…
We cannot safely teach sanctification by undermining the saints’ assurance of salvation. He is the One who began the good work in them. He is carrying it on and He will complete it when “in the twinkling of an eye we shall be changed” (Philippians 1:6; 1 Corinthians 15:52). Discipline and miracle come together – neither cancelling out the other. God works in us and we work out our salvation (in sanctification) while he works in us. Our blessed assurance – the “joy set before us” – helps us to embrace His discipline and persevere in holy living. He “disciplines those he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). He may bring us under deep conviction of sin, His hand may come heavily upon us if we are slow or unwilling to learn, but ‘none shall snatch us from His hand’. Sin breaks fellowship, but not relationship. In God’s Family, divine discipline never ends in divorce. At every point He treats us as sons (Hebrews 12:7) That was the whole point about the prodigal. Even at his lowest and most foolish, he remained THE FATHER’S SON, because the offended party never ceased to be the SON’S FATHER. If we suggest for a moment that disciples need to secure themselves by their works we reduce Calvary to nothing more than a ‘jump start’ and the rest of the journey – especially our safe arrival – depends on our own efforts.
Obedience is joyful!
Jesus did not succeed because He was under the cosh of His Father’s relentless scrutiny, but because He and the Father lived to glorify each other – they were and are each other’s joy. This is Our Saviour’s goal for His disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”. (John 15:9-11). Clearly, He expects us to be obedient – but did you notice that he also intends that we are joyful?
This means that the driving focus of sanctification is not our moral performance – far less the securing of our salvation. Our calling here is to live in Babylon as citizens of heaven whose God is – visibly – our highest joy. It is our joy to reveal His vastly superior glory to the tenant rulers of His world. Our Holy God wants holy offspring whose light will plunder the darkness of Satan’s domain – ‘loving the captive soul but raging against the captor.’ 2 This is a costly call. There is nothing remotely cheap about being ambassadors for Christ or making an appeal to a hostile and rebellious world on behalf of the Creator (2 Corinthians 5:20), but it’s a call we can rise to as He empowers… provided we can persevere with undying assurance that the end is not in doubt.
Once saved always saved? Let’s rephrase… ‘Once saved by Jesus…’
1 ‘Yet not I but through Christ in me’ – CityAlight
2 ‘O church arise and put your armour on’ – Getty/Townend