Thursday, October 1, 2015

Perseverance by Grace in the Ministry of Paul

We have all read of Paul's imprisonments. The first, house arrest in Rome for two years, is described at the end of Acts. The second ended with his martyrdom. It is during the first that he wrote what are commonly called his "prison epistles," Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Even before his second imprisonment, Paul was conscious of a time of martyrdom approaching (II Timothy 4:6-8): "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day."
Timothy as a child, learning the Scriptures.
Paul's attitude here is so contrary to the predominant theology of our day, which I label "neo-Pelagianism." According to that theology, there is no security for the believer; he can fall into unbelief at any time, if he ever stops having enough faith. My response is that such a belief turns the Christian life into the same terror against which Martin Luther revolted on October 31, 1517. And it certainly isn't an accurate portrayal of Paul's attitude in this passage.

According to the Arminian, Paul could fall from his faith before his death, and thus lose his salvation. Yet, Paul expresses his secure hope in a successfully-run race, for which he would soon receive the crown of righteousness in glory. Where is his insecurity? He shows none.

Further, a few verses later, Paul tells Reverend Timothy (II Tim. 4:18), "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom." Not "my strength," not "my faith," not "my holiness." In fact, not "my" anything! Rather, he looks to Jesus to carry him through, just as he described in Philippians 1:6: "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." That is why I dislike even the phrase "once saved, always saved," because it gives the misimpression that it is the strength of the individual that brings him safely through this life. Rather, I use the historical phrase "perseverance of the saints," because it is God Who carries the believer by means of faith and sanctification until the day of his glorification (Romans 8:30). That is why Paul is secure as he sees death approaching, because he knows he can trust his divine redeemer, Jesus Christ (Deut. 33:27, Psalm 145:20, II Tim. 1:12 NASB, John 10:28).

Since the earliest days of my Christian life, thirty-three years ago, I have never understood why people hate this doctrine. Why do they prefer the terror of believing that they may be saved today, just to lose it tomorrow? Even if it were true - and I thank God that it isn't - such a doctrine would be too horrific for me to hold. What does such a doctrine say about the efficacy of Christ's blood and the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

No comments: