Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Sermon: Continuous Christianity

Hebrews 6:4-8

Today we want to touch on several matters pertaining to perseverance. We will answer the questions of what is apostasy, can you lose your salvation, what is eternal security or once saved always saved, what is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and have I done it, how can I have an assurance of salvation, and how can I weather the storms of life without wilting? This sermon is going to start out tough, but it will bring great hope, joy, faith, and power as we come to a greater understanding about God and His plan for us. These are important items that are woven into our sermon today, and they all spring from an understanding of the biblical doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

Looking at our first text, who is this passage is talking about? We have three basic choices.

1. Genuine Christians who began sincerely but fell away and lost their salvation. If that is true then according to this passage those losing it can’t get it back, which creates a problem because those that teach that you can lose your salvation also teach that you can get it back. John 10:28-29 – some say you cannot be snatched out but you can jump out, but think about that, because God is preventing us from being snatched out, and we are not strong enough to jump out when God is determined to hold us in. And how would you jump back in since His fist is tight around those who are already in? They shall never perish comes before no one can pluck them out. It’s not about us holding on to Him, but Him holding on to us, and He won’t let us go.

2. Genuine Christians confronted with hypothetical warning (if they fall away). It is true that God ordains the end and the means – and so this view is possible, and it does fit with some of what this passage is about, but the last view makes the most sense because it accomplishes this and also speaks to apostasy, which is the most relevant point of the text.

3. Influenced by gospel with outward signs but in fact are not Christians (Judas Iscariot / 1 John 2:19 / Luke 6:16 the two Judas’). They taste of the heavenly gifts but they don’t swallow them on down, they eventually and inevitably fall away to stay. In Hebrews 6 they are not just drifting away their apostasy is deliberate, ongoing, and persistent, public, renouncing Christ and His work and joining the enemies of Christ. Matthew 24:10 – many turn away but those who will hold firmly to the end will be saved.

These warnings are not given to cause those that are sensitive of their own sin to despair (vs.9), but to produce caution in the complacent, and to cause the careless to take stock of where they are (1 Corinthians 10:12 / 2 Corinthians 13:5). 2 Timothy 2:19 – The Holy Spirit within someone does not lead them to a morally careless life, but to an increasing holiness and fruitful walk with God through love for Christ. If they are stuck in infancy, it says something to those who want the Christian reality, but without the reality of a Christian walk.

The doctrine of perseverance is not intended to cause discomfort but assurance and comfort for those who are both believing and showing it by living the life. A saint acting like a sinner cannot draw assurance from this doctrine. That is why it is the doctrine of perseverance, not once saved always saved. Eternally secure from God’s standpoint, yes, but it plays out in our lives through persevering to the end in faith (2 Peter 1:10). When someone has no interest in the gospel, they won’t attend church, they never share their faith, they have no interest in worship, well, what kind of eternal security is that? It isn’t what the Bible pictures. We are preserved to persevere (Jude 1:1 / Philippians 1:6).

God keeps us, not in a vacuum irrespective of our lives, but He keeps us through faith (1 Peter 1:5). His power doesn’t work to keep us without us at all; it works through faith (Philippians 2:12-13). We are either shielded by God’s power (Ephesians 6:16 / 1 John 5:4), or we become a casualty. Faith produces persistence (1 Corinthians 15:10 / Colossians 1:29). We don’t retain our salvation on the basis of our persistence, but we give evidence of it by our persistence. The persevering faith is part of the preserving faith, the saving faith that God gives us. It is being done to us; it is not the power itself. But the evidence of this will come out.

We can follow Him on that gospel road by faith. We will not walk it perfectly, but His walk not our walk is what saves us. That is the gospel and out of gratitude for it and love for Him we attempt to walk that same path, knowing that our walk will be imperfect and that we will stumble and fall, but that God will pick us up and if we will get up and want to walk again He will empower us to do so. In holding on to the end we show that we are being held on to.

To the backslider: get back on repentance road, which leads down submission street, which you will find on your knees. Just because you know the truth doesn’t mean you are trusting in it. Those that do not walk the path at all are saying that they have no faith. If you are a believer, I want you to work out what God has worked in by walking in that, in the fullness of God.

John 8:31 – At what point does the spiritual condition reveal that a profession is not actually real? Been enlightened, been made partakers, but not sealed. John 16:8-11 – they were convicted but not converted. They experienced temporary provisions and blessings, they professed Christ but they did not possess Christ, and He did not possess them. They may have rejected the materialism, humanism, or other religions and embraced Christianity intellectually because its precepts seemed appealing. They may have experienced some of its power, but since they were never really taken by Christ they finally and totally fall away. They placed themselves under Christian influence and perhaps even made Christian profession. They had a taste of the gospel, the medicine was in their mouth but they didn’t swallow it all. You can have somewhat of a taste without truly experiencing something in its fullness (Luke 8:13). A true taste gives spiritual hunger for more (1 Peter 2:2-3). They are not getting full from the gospel; they feed on themselves and on other things.

They might have even been convinced as to truth as far as the demons are, they believe (James 2:19) but they don’t trust. They have been through this and done all that but they haven’t been converted, that is why they have no interest in spiritual things. They bear no real lasting fruit; there is no radical change, not radical attitude but radical transformation. We won’t be as fruitful as we want to be but as real Christians we will be thankful for any growth we get, the apostate doesn’t even look for fruit at all.

Despite initial appearances they were never saved to begin with. But if they were to be wakened up to flee from wrath like the prodigal son, if they did not continue in the apostasy but turned to Christ again as their only hope, then they could be saved. Apostates are not damned because they sought the Lord for mercy in vain, but because they continue in their apostasy.

Now, we must go even farther, because some would claim Christ but not actually be of Christ, as we see in Matthew 7:21-23. 1 John 2:19, 22-23 are important verses to understanding apostasy, as is Galatians 1:6-9. So apostasy would include denial of the faith, denial of Christ, denial of the Gospel of justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. Any of these would put a man or woman in the 1 John 2:19 category.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 – more and more we need to focus on this real issue that will not simply go away, and one that is not best served by just letting it go and playing nice. Recently, the president of the ETS stepped down, left the ETS altogether, and ventured back to the RCC. We must explore this question of defection. It is not about an individual, isolated incident, but the larger question, "How much is too much, how long is too long, how far is too far?"

Perhaps we may not be able to answer that question definitively per person, it’s not our judgment to make, but we know what it looks like, and can call the scriptures to witness on this. The warnings are real, God ordains the end and the means, and some, in denying these things, are living examples of 1 John 2:19. It is not about being out from the evangelical camp itself, but out from the fold, and the question is answered by determining what the scope of that "fold" is. If we have determined the extent prior, and someone leaves that, then the person in question, to our knowledge, is out from among us. This is what the writer to the Hebrews was saying to those who went back into Judaism, when the going got tough they went back, and were damned.

The real question is, for those that would still say they cling to Christ; “Is where they are within the pale of orthodoxy or not?” Regardless of individuals or our affinity for them, THAT is the standard, based on the Word of God, not our feelings or ideas. We must defend the faith (Jude 1:3), which is one reason we are preserved to persevere in that fight. If we don't value the truth, God may take it from us. The lines certainly are not easy to draw, and we don’t want to draw the circle so tight that only us four and no more fit in. But some lines MUST be drawn, and they MUST NOT be re-drawn, simply because someone we really like steps over them.

If you are hearing this word today and it is pricking your heart, you cannot presume upon convicting power of the Spirit of God. His goodness is leading you to repentance (Romans 2:4), to trusting in Him instead of trusting in yourself. Today is the day (2 Corinthians 6:2); don’t wait till you think you are ready. To become a Christian, no man makes himself ready for God, but God makes man ready for Himself. God does not rescue people because they love Him; He rescues people because He loves them, and so that they will love Him. The Holy Spirit reveals that God loved me not because I was lovable, but because it was His nature to do so.

We don’t work for our justification we work from it and the doctrine of perseverance gives us hope. Perhaps it should be called the doctrine of preservation but once saved always saved only confuses the issue and only focuses on the end result not on the power to be had in this life. Now we are going to apply this truth, we are going to talk about real spiritual power the power of perseverance and how this doctrine can give us great comfort in the most troubling of trials.

At the end of the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus talked about the implications of either doing or refusing His words (Mathew 7:25,27). Consider well the fact that both houses had a storm. Yet one served to destroy the house and the other pointed out how secure the foundation was. The truth is that the trials of life are bound to happen to all people, they are an irresistible event, in that they will come, no matter any of our plans. However, we can be like the immovable object, our being grounded in Christ gives Him glory when the inevitable storms of life come our way. It is about the power to withstand the storm, not the power to withdraw the storm. Christianity is less about being an irresistible force, and more about being an immovable object (1 Corinthians 15:58). Look at the immediate context, the word therefore, and the verses 21-23.

Now sitting there in God’s house doesn’t mean we just sit there and do nothing (2 Peter 1:8). If these qualities are increasing: think about that. In the kingdom of God we are either increasing or decreasing. We are either increasing in fruitfulness, and thereby decreasing in self and sin, or the opposite, we are increasing in self and sin, and thereby decreasing in fruitfulness. We are either moving forward or sliding back, there is no status quo in the process of sanctification. We must be about the business of increasing, growing in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). The alternative is spiritual blindness (2 Peter 1:9). We are all increasingly decreasing: either in sin, or in sight.

When you are increasing in spiritual sight it increases your eternal perspective; you learn to live prophetically and you can see beyond the here and now, and yet it helps you right here in the here and now. This is what we all want whether we recognize it or not, but I want to go from recognizing it to realizing it, cashing in on it, making it real in my life because I know the storms are real and I want to know the power of His resurrection, the power that can withstand any storm, even death. As we come to know something, in that we become aware of its reality, and its importance, we can be said to recognize it. When we go from a mere awareness to a more full understanding, or apprehension, what we are doing is realizing something. To recognize something is to spot it, to realize something is to capture it. Again, there is a difference between the two and it can be stated thus. Recognizing is about seeing it. Realizing is about being it.

Continuous Christianity is realizing the power of God by being a Christian in any and every circumstance you are in. We need to realize this doctrine of perseverance because we need Christians in difficult circumstances, because unbelievers are in difficult circumstances, and so they are both in a dark place, it would seem. But when people are in a dark place what do they look for, what do they need, someone with a light, and Christians have that Light, so don’t hide it let it shine, ESPECIALLY in those tough circumstances.

We are talking about the doctrine that leads to the demonstration. Philippians 1:6 – God started it He will finish it / Philippians 2:12-13 – so we act in accordance with that truth / Philippians 3:14 – we keep on keeping on / Philippians 4:13 – we get to the place where we can do, or endure all things because we realize Christ is strengthening us. We can be beaten on and beaten down but the light of Christ will always shine through (2 Corinthians 4:7-11: By His stripes we are healed, and by our stripes He is revealed). Romans 8:35-39 – His love for us cannot be lost, no matter the cost / Job 13:15 – because of perseverance, we can say though He slay me, or someone I love, I can still trust Him, we are not the only ones God has brought through storms / Psalm 23 – He leads me into these good times and also through those bad times and finally to the eternal time. Perseverance based on preservation. That is the power of God.


Susan said...

Hi Even so - I know it's just a typo but since this has just been posted I thought you might want to edit it and correct it.

"because of perseverance, we can say though He say me, or someone I love,"

slay not say

Great sermon by the way!

Even So... said...


Even So... said...

Whoops, caught another one (especially wasn't spelled correctly)...I was trying to rush to print this since I didn't want anyone to think I wasn't going to post a Saturday Sermon today, plus I had to go bail someone out of jail...

Matthew Celestine said...

You did not even think it worth mentioning Zane Hodges view that it refers to genuine Christians who fall away, but who are still go to heaven?

Even So... said...

Actually no, Matthew, but I am honored that you came over today...perhaps I will bring that up when I preach tomorrow, and I believe the rest of the post speaks to it anyway...

My one rule is gloves on...(he he, only Matthew will, get that)

Halfmom said...

Thanks for the sermon - good points to think on - deeply.

ann said...

Great thoughts, one more time convincing me in the doctrine.
Let us pray for those who are still unsure as of their dependency on God...

jazzycat said...

God's power is behind continuous Christianity. Good point. This is the grace we celebrate and give God praise.

Even So... said...

Thanks folks, I really appreciate the encouragement, and am glad this ministered to you...