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By Charles Stanley
Nelson BooksCopyright © 1990 Charles Stanley
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Chapter OneWhat Is at Stake?
Through the years I have enjoyed a unique privilege as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. Every time I deliver a message I know the truth is going out not only to my home congregation but to hundreds of other people as well. Through our "In Touch" television and radio ministry, am able to reach out beyond the four walls of our sanctuary into living rooms, bedrooms, dens, hotel rooms, prisons, and many other places across America and into some foreign countries.
Along with this great privilege comes an awesome responsibility to ensure that every time someone turns to "In Touch," the truth is being offered. I learned a long time ago that people are not interested in my opinion. Neither are they interested in listening to sermonettes, short speeches on how good everything and everybody is. Least of all, people do not want a rehash of the latest news.
People are starving for God's truth to be made applicable to their situations. People want to know how to live, how to take the Bible and apply it to their daily lives. So every Monday morning I begin my week on my knees praying, "O Lord, what do You have for me this week?" And second, "Father, how do I make this clear toothers?"
One of the most encouraging things about our television ministry has been its interdenominational appeal. Every week we receive letters from members of many denominations, protestant and non-protestant alike.
This kind of response says two things to me. First, people do not feel threatened by the fact that our ministry is that of a Baptist church. I am obviously not trying to make Baptists out of everyone. Second, our viewers trust that we have no hidden agenda. That is, we do not have a creed or specialized doctrinal stance that we are trying to sneak in under the guise of biblical preaching. People know that when they watch "In Touch," they are going to receive a practical lesson right out of the Scriptures.
However, as much as I enjoy the trust and acceptance of so many believers from such diverse denominational backgrounds, I never want to be guilty of soft-pedaling any particular biblical doctrine for the sake of maintaining people's approval. I have seen other ministries make that mistake. Their financial obligations grow to such magnitude that they literally cannot afford to lose any of their listening audience. This is one of the reasons we have chosen to grow slowly. Finances may determine the number of people we reach but never the message with which we reach them.
All of that is to say, I knew from the outset of this project that printing what I believe the Bible says about eternal security could possibly alienate some dear brothers and sisters in Christ. That is certainly not my intention. People who have listened to "In Touch" for any length of time know this is not something new to me. My testimony bears witness that I have held this view since my seminary days. Yet I reject the notion that eternal security is just a Baptist doctrine. As you read, I believe it will become apparent that this doctrine is first and foremost a biblical one. It is Baptist only in the sense that Baptists have included it in their doctrinal beliefs.
In spite of the negative feedback I anticipate receiving, I am going to forge ahead. Why? Because there is a great deal at stake here. The question of whether or not salvation is forever is not an isolated one. One's answer to this question affects every facet of one's theology. But this question goes beyond the realm of theology alone. It invades our Monday mornings. It creeps into our prayers. It shows up in our responses to success and failure. It will hang over the deathbeds of our loved ones. Yes, there is a great deal at stake here.
If this issue were simply a theological hobbyhorse, I would leave it for a more capable theologian to ride. And certainly there are more complete works on the subject available. But this book is not intended as a theological discourse. This book is about love-love that found its most complete expression in Christ. This book is about grace-grace that knows no limits. This book is about God's insatiable desire to restore once and for all His broken relationship with His prize creation-you and me.
Several things are at stake. First of all, our assurance. If our salvation hinges on anything but the finished work of Christ on the cross, we are in trouble. Or, at best, we run the risk of being in trouble. If you and I have any part in maintaining our salvation, it will be difficult to live with much assurance. Hope, yes; assurance, no.
Yet John wrote an entire epistle to assure a group of people, people he was not even around to observe, that they were in fact saved:
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13, emphasis mine)
Where there is no assurance of God's acceptance, there is no peace. Where there is no peace, there is no joy. Where there is no joy, there is a limitation on one's ability to love unconditionally. Why? Because a person with no assurance is by definition partially motivated by fear. Fear and love do not mingle well. One will always dilute the other.
Furthermore, fear spills over into worry. Let's be realistic for a moment. If my salvation is not a settled issue, how can I be anxious for nothing (see Phil. 4:6)?
Also at stake here is the extent of God's forgiveness. When Christ died, which of your sins did He die for? Which sins were you forgiven of when you trusted Him as Savior? If the sins you commit after becoming a Christian can annul your relationship with the Savior, clearly those sins were not covered at Calvary. Forgiven is forgiven. To differentiate between forgiven and unforgiven sins is to make a distinction foreign to Scripture. The timing of your sins is irrelevant since they were all in the future from the perspective of the Cross. To disregard eternal security is to take away from what happened at Calvary.
Salvation by faith is at stake. Once good works are introduced into the salvation process, salvation is no longer by faith alone; it is by faith and works. To imply that salvation is maintained by good works (or not sinning) is to take the daily burden of our salvation upon ourselves. In that case, there will be room for boasting in heaven.
Saying that God's grace enables us to maintain good works will not solve this dilemma. For who is responsible for daily appropriating that grace? We are back where we began. If salvation is not forever, salvation cannot be through faith alone.
If abandoning the faith or falling into sin short-circuits salvation, I have the ability to demonstrate unconditional love to a greater extent than God. If there is a condition-even one-attached to God's willingness to maintain a relationship with His children, it is not unconditional. On the other hand, I know many people who have demonstrated pure unconditional love to family members who were incredibly undeserving.
One might argue, "But God's holiness demands certain things of those with whom He maintains a relationship. His nature will not allow Him to stay in a relationship with an individual who continually spurns His love."
That is beside the point. If His holiness demands something in return from those He loves, it is clear that His holiness makes God incapable of unconditional love! If holiness is a condition, His love is not unconditional. If His nature forces Him to disassociate from certain types of people, His nature stands in the way of His ability to love unconditionally.
Christians who are insecure about where they stand with God have a difficult time sharing the love of God with others. They often find it impossible to get beyond their own struggle with salvation. Not everyone who rejects the notion of "once saved, always saved" has this problem. But I have met many for whom this barrier is real.
Robert was a good example of this. He was consumed with the question of eternal security. Every time I spoke with Robert he somehow turned the conversation in that direction. I would see him coming and be tempted to run or to busy myself with something else. It was always the same thing. "Dr. Stanley, what about this verse in ..." I bring up Robert because he is a tragic illustration of something I see quite often: a person who becomes so absorbed with one issue that he gets out of balance. For some reason, eternal security seems to be one of those unbalancing issues. It is interesting as well as sad to see how often a person's evangelistic zeal suffers when this happens.
As long as I have an ongoing role in the salvation process, my natural tendency will be to focus on my behavior rather than on Christ. Yet we are commanded to make Christ our focus (see Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:2; Heb. 12:1-2). Certainly there is a place for self-examination in the Christian life. But we are certainly not to be the focus of our lives. We are never completely free to fasten our gaze on Him until we are sure our relationship with Him is secure.
My observation has been that the more a person focuses on himself, the less he is able to keep his life in order. On the other hand, the more an individual focuses on Christ, the easier it becomes to allow Him to control every area of life.
People who are constantly examining their spiritual condition tend to fall into the trap of legalism. Legalism is almost always accompanied by two sidekicks: self-deception (calling sins by some other name so as to lessen the guilt) and pride. These go together to accomplish in a life the very opposite of what Christ intended.
Self-deception, accompanied by layer upon layer of denial, ultimately leads to greater and greater sin. Pride in these cases results in a critical spirit. Show me a believer who is caught up in trying to maintain God's acceptance through good works, and I will show you a fragile saint. My experience has been that these are the people who on the surface appear to be completely sold out to personal holiness and purity but who suddenly disappear. It is not unusual for these well-meaning types to end up in a lifestyle completely opposite of what they once stood for. Such is the potential danger of a life lived without the assurance that salvation is forever.
In the Balance
These are just a few of the things affected by one's stance on the question of eternal security. This subject is not just something for theologians to bat about among themselves. This issue has a great deal to do with your life right now. Regardless of which view you are inclined to adopt, it will have a great impact on your perception of yourself, God, and others. For these reasons I feel compelled to write on this serious topic. For these same reasons I pray you will be compelled to read and reread until this issue is settled in your mind once and for all.
Do You Know?
1. Why is the doctrine of eternal security more than a theological issue?
2. How would you answer the author's question: "If my salvation is not a settled issue, how can I be anxious for nothing?"
3. Why is the timing of your sins irrelevant?
4. What two "sidekicks" almost always accompany legalism?
Excerpted from Eternal Security by Charles Stanley Copyright © 1990 by Charles Stanley. Excerpted by permission.
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