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A COLLECTIVE WORK
Arm locked in arm, deep in concentration, united in purpose, and falling to earth at almost one hundred miles per hour, formation sky divers experience the exhilarating rewards not of luck but of hard work, preparation, and teamwork. The inherent dangers of formation skydiving require that each member work in harmony with the other members. Each individual must look out for the good of the group and not merely his or her own well-being. That kind of commitment enables the team to achieve graceful, awe-inspiring unity.
There's no greater illustration of such teamwork in the spiritual realm than the work of the Holy Trinity in securing our salvation. I believe Scripture makes that abundantly clear. In it we see no less than a collective work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on our behalf.
The Sovereign Decree of the Father
Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). That may be the most monumental statement ever made in the Bible relative to the security of salvation. The believer has received everlasting life and will not come under judgment. Jesus also explained why the Father had sent the Son: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.... He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already" (John 3:16, 18). In a positive way Jesus tells us we have everlasting life. In a negative way He tells us we will never come into judgment.
In addition, Jesus said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me" (John 6:37). All whom God sovereignly chooses will come to Christ. However, what the Bible teaches regarding divine election should not restrain anyone from coming to Christ, for our Lord went on to say in that verse, "The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."
Then Jesus said, "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day" (vv. 38–39). All who are chosen for salvation—all who come to Jesus Christ—will be raised up at the great resurrection preceding His return to earth. Not one will be lost.
In verse 40, Jesus' teaching on the divine plan of salvation is summed up in this way: "This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."
Whoever believes in Christ will be raised up to the fullness of eternal life. That is the will of the Father and the promise of God's Word.
Further on in John's gospel, Jesus said:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. (John 10:27–29)
Picture the believer resting securely in Christ's hands, which in turn are clasped tightly by the Father's hands. Now that's a secure position! Yet some suggest that while God holds tightly onto us, perhaps we can leap or fall out of that heavenly grasp. Not so. God made an oath toward that end.
In Hebrews 6:13, 16–18, we read that since God "could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.... For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that ... we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us."
It was common in New Testament times for a person to make an oath on something or someone greater than himself. A Jewish man would swear by the altar of the temple, the high priest, or even God Himself. Once such an oath was made, the argument was over. It was assumed that if someone was willing to make such a serious oath, he was fully determined to keep it.
God, of course, doesn't need to make such an oath. His word is every bit as good without an oath—as ours ought to be (cf. Matt. 5:33–37). But to accommodate the weak faith of mere men and women, God made an oath of His promise to provide His children with a future hope. Since there is nothing or no one greater than God, He swore by Himself (Heb. 6:13). That pledge did not make God's promise any more secure—the bare word of God is guarantee enough—but God gave an oath out of His kind consideration of us to affirm that He meant what He said.
His intent was to provide us with "strong encouragement" (Heb. 6:18). The Greek phrase so translated refers to a great source of consolation and confidence. "We who have taken refuge" alludes to the Old Testament cities God had provided for people who sought protection from avengers for an accidental killing (cf. Num. 35; Deut. 19; Josh. 20). The Greek word translated "refuge" is the same one used in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) in those passages. We will never know whether God can hold onto us until we run in desperation to Him for refuge.
In what practical way can we run to Him? By laying "hold of the hope set before us" (Heb. 6:18). What is that hope? Christ Himself (1 Tim. 1:1) and the gospel He brought (Col. 1:5). If you are ever going to have a strong confidence and a steadfast hope, you must seek refuge in God and embrace Jesus Christ, who is your only hope of salvation.
The High Priestly Work of Christ
Hebrews 6:19–20 concludes with a description of our hope in Christ:
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
As our High Priest, Jesus serves as the anchor of our souls, who forever keeps us from drifting away from God. As a believer, your relationship with Christ anchors you to God. You can be confident because it is "within the veil" (v. 19). The most sacred place in the Jewish temple was the Holy of Holies, which was veiled from the rest of the temple. Inside the Holy of Holies rested the ark of the covenant, which signified the glory of God. Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, could the high priest of Israel enter beyond the veil and make atonement (the payment or action to satisfy justice) for the sins of his people. But under the new covenant, Christ made atonement once for all time and for all people by His sacrifice on the cross. The believer's soul is, in God's mind, already secured within the veil—His eternal sanctuary.
Once Jesus entered the heavenly Holy of Holies, He did not leave, as did the Jewish high priests. Rather, "He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus remains there forever as the guardian of our souls. Such absolute security is almost incomprehensible. Not only are our souls anchored within the impregnable, inviolable heavenly sanctuary, but our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, stands guard over them as well!
How can the Christian's security be described as anything but eternal? Truly we can entrust our souls with God and the Savior He provided.
While Jesus was on earth anticipating His high-priestly work to come, He prayed for His disciples, saying, "I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name" (John 17:11). Jesus extended that prayer of protection beyond His apostles to us, who would come to believe in Christ through the apostles' teaching (v. 20). Since our Savior always prays in perfect harmony with the will of the Father, we can be assured that keeping our salvation secure is the will of God.
We are secured by the sovereign purpose of God and the continual, faithful intercession of our Great High Priest—the Lord Jesus Christ. Most appropriately does Jude praise Him "who is able to keep [us] from stumbling, and to make [us] stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy" (Jude v. 24).
The Seal of the Spirit
God's simple word about our security should be sufficient for us, but in His graciousness He makes His promises even more certain—if that were possible—by giving us His own special set of guarantees. In Ephesians 1:13–14, Paul told us we were sealed in Christ "with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession." The Lord is guaranteeing His promises with His seal and with His pledge. That is reminiscent of the passage we just examined in Hebrews 6, in which God gave His promise of blessing and then confirmed it with an oath to all who hope in Christ.
Because we do not directly and immediately receive the fullness of all God's promises when we first believe—since it is "reserved in heaven" for us according to 1 Peter 1:4—we may sometimes be tempted to doubt our salvation and wonder about the ultimate blessings that are supposed to accompany it. The work of salvation in our lives remains incomplete—we still await the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23), which will occur when Christ returns for us. Because we have not yet received full possession of our inheritance, we may question its reality or at least its greatness.
As one means of guaranteeing His promises, God seals us with the presence of the third person of the Trinity. We receive the indwelling Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation, "for by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body"—the body or church of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). In fact, "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him" (Rom. 8:9). Incredibly, the body of every true Christian is actually "a temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 6:19).
When a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his or her life. He remains within to empower us, equip us for ministry, and function through the gifts He has given us. The Holy Spirit is our Helper and Advocate. He protects and encourages us. He also assures us of our inheritance in Jesus Christ: "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:16–17). The Spirit of God is our security, our special guarantee from God.
He has been given to us "as a pledge [Gk., arrabøn (arrabon)] of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:14). Arrabøn (arrabon) originally referred to a down payment or earnest money given to secure a purchase. Later it came to represent any sort of pledge. A form of the word even came to be used for an engagement ring.
As believers, we have the Holy Spirit as the divine pledge of our inheritance, God's first installment of His guarantee that the fullness of His promises will one day be completely fulfilled. We are assured with an absolute certainty only God can provide. The Holy Spirit is the church's irrevocable pledge, her divine engagement ring signifying that as Christ's bride, she will never be neglected or forsaken.
The Father's sovereign decree, the Son's intercessory ministry, and the Spirit's seal—they all work together magnificently in providing a secure salvation. Augustine well concluded that being assured of our salvation is no arrogant stoutness. It is faith. It is not presumption. Rather it is confidence in God's promise.CHAPTER 2
THOSE TROUBLING VERSES
No Christian can deny that the promises in Ephesians, John, and Hebrews regarding our secure salvation at the hands of our triune God are indeed encouraging. Perhaps, however, you have been troubled by other sections of Scripture that seem to undermine those promises. What about Paul's statement to the Galatian church that some had fallen from grace? What about a less encouraging passage in Hebrews that speaks of those once enlightened who cannot be renewed to repentance? What about Jesus' frightening statement in John 15 that those who don't abide in Him are thrown away as dead branches, gathered up, and burned? What about perhaps His most frightening statement of all, in Matthew 12, where Jesus says there's such a thing as an unpardonable sin? Let's examine each passage in its context to determine what it's actually saying and how each relates to the security of our salvation.
Galatians 5 and Falling from Grace
The text begins:
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. (vv. 1–5)
Who is being addressed, and in what sense had they fallen from grace?
All the people to whom Paul was writing had made a profession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, or they would not have been part of the churches of Galatia. Many had come from a Jewish background that emphasized legalistic self-effort to please God. Some were unable to set aside that background, even though at first they responded positively to the gospel message of justification before God through faith in Christ alone.
Some of those individuals, known as Judaizers, created problems within churches by claiming that faith in Jesus Christ, although important, was not sufficient for complete salvation. They taught that what Moses began in the old covenant and Christ added in the new covenant had to be finished and perfected by one's own efforts (circumcision being the centerpiece as a symbol of spiritual merit).
Paul combated that heretical notion by pointing out four of its tragic consequences. In Galatians 5, he declared that regardless of people's association with the church, if they, by their lives or words, reject the sufficiency of faith in Christ, they forfeit Christ's work on their behalf, place themselves under obligation to keep the whole Mosaic law, fall from God's grace, and exclude themselves from God's righteousness.
We as Christians believe salvation is by grace through faith. The Judaizers at first seemed to acknowledge that concept but then fell away from it by emphasizing the Mosaic law as the means to salvation. That's what it means to have fallen from grace. To attempt to be justified by law is to reject the way of grace.
In Galatians 5:4, Paul was not referring to the security of the believer but to the contrasting ways of grace and law, faith and works, as means of salvation. He certainly wasn't teaching that people who have once been justified can lose their righteous standings before God and become lost again by being legalistic. The Bible knows nothing of becoming unjustified.
Applied to one who was really an unbeliever, the principle of falling from grace speaks of being exposed to the gracious truth of the gospel and then turning one's back on Christ. Such a person is an apostate.
During the time of the early church, many unbelievers—both Jews and Gentiles—not only heard the gospel but also witnessed the miraculous confirming signs performed by the apostles. They often couldn't help becoming attracted to Christ and making some profession of faith in Him. Many became involved in a local church and vicariously experienced the blessings of Christian love and fellowship. They were exposed firsthand to every truth and blessing of the gospel of grace, but then turned away. According to a passage we will soon examine, they had "been enlightened," had "tasted of the heavenly gift," and had even "been made partakers of the Holy Spirit" by witnessing His divine ministry in the lives of believers (Heb. 6:4). But they refused to trust in Christ alone, so they fell away, losing all prospect of repentance and therefore of salvation, since "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven ... by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). They came to the very doorway of grace and then fell away, back into their works-oriented religion.
Hebrews 6 and Those Once Enlightened
It is possible for people to go to church for years, hear the gospel over and over again, and even be faithful church members, but never commit their lives to Jesus Christ. We meet such people in Hebrews 6. The writer was specifically talking to Jewish people similar to the legalistic Galatians, but the warning applies to anyone.
Excerpted from SAVED WITHOUT A DOUBT by JOHN MACARTHUR. Copyright © 2011 John MacArthur Jr.. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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