Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Perseverance of the Saints

There are a number of passages of Scripture that we refer to as "problem passages" or "difficult passages." There is good reason for this. Clearly, the Lord does not spoon-feed everything to us, but He expects us to give the time and effort necessary to come to an understanding of His Word.  "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV).

One of these passages is Hebrews 5:12-6:12. There has been much controversy and debate over what this passage is really saying, especially 6:4-6.  "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (NKJV).

This past Sunday, in the evening service, our pastor preached the most magnificent sermon on this passage that I have ever heard. All I could say was "Amen!" The sermon if found online here. It is not my purpose to try and repeat it all, but I do want to make a few points.

This passage is often used by those who reject "eternal security," "once saved, always saved," or the more accurate "perseverance of the saints" in order to "prove" that a person who is truly born again can lose his or her salvation and be eternally lost. Those who believe salvation is secure and permanent are often confused by Hebrews 6 and prefer to just ignore it and hope it will go away. This is not a good way to handle the Scriptures. It is interesting to note that those who believe salvation can be lost also teach that it can be regained innumerable times:  saved today, lost tomorrow, saved today... and on it goes. This passage of Scripture creates a tremendous problem for those who hold this view, because if it teaches salvation can be lost (which it doesn't), then it also teaches that salvation can never be regained. "For it is impossible...if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance..." They can't have it both ways. Regardless of what anyone thinks the passage is saying, it is obvious that it is NOT saying that salvation can be "on again, off again."

The real key to understanding this passage is found in 6:9-12, "But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (NKJV).

This passage makes it abundantly clear that one who is truly born again will have a changed life and will be diligent and faithful to the end. They will show in their lives "better things... things that accompany salvation." This is not saying we are saved by our works. Such an idea would conflict with many other Scriptures. Rather, it is saying, as the book of James makes so clear, that if we are saved, our works will show it. Hebrews warns us several times to be careful and diligent about our walk with the Lord, because that is the evidence of our salvation. 2 Peter 1:10 says, "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble" (NKJV). 2 Corinthians 13:5 reminds us to "examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith" (NKJV).

Many people find themselves in positions of great spiritual privilege. They grow up in a Christian home, attend a Bible-believing church, go to Sunday school, Awana Club, and perhaps even attend a Christian school. They make a profession of faith in Christ, but then they walk away from that faith at some point, usually shortly after graduation from high school. Such individuals cannot rely on a "decision" they made or a prayer they prayed as a child. Those things are not evidence of salvation. A Bible example of such a person is Judas Iscariot. He walked with Jesus, was taught by Him, and no doubt preached and did everything the rest of the twelve did. What greater privilege could anyone have? Yet he turned His back on the truth, finally and completely rejected Christ, and betrayed the Lord.

This Hebrews 6 passage concerning "falling away" becomes clear when read in the context of the entire passage and also of the whole of Scripture instead of being used as proof for a preconceived doctrine or as a way to balance off the Scriptures that clearly teach the eternal nature of true salvation. Scripture complements itself. It never contradicts itself. The important thing is to study it carefully, diligently, and prayerfully.

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