Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Monday, October 22, 2012

Legal Security vs. Conditional Security- a biblical analysis

Did the early apostolic church believe in the “once saved, always saved” teaching of the contemporary church?

The short answer is NO! The early church believed and taught that a person must be humble and faithful in order to stay on the long path of salvation. 

Why did the early church reject this teaching? Because “once saved, always saved” presupposes that salvation is a once and for all completed “event” that happens at a particular time, simply by a legal transaction.  It is this reduction of salvation to a legal pronunciation that the church rejected.  In fact, that legal framework for theology is of pagan Roman origins and not of apostolic origins.  

Roman paganism that believed that if a religious rite was done properly, the gods were bound by law to deliver what the rite sought (The Nature of the God’s – Cicero).  This legal binding of the gods made its way into Christianity through Origen, Augustine  and Anselm.  Once this foreign legalism made its way to Christianity, some concluded that  if "baptism" (or any other legal act, such as a one time repentance and profession of faith) was carried out rightly, then God would legally bound to save that person. it is from this legal framework that the teaching of "once saved, always saved" finds it origins!

However, the early Church, and consequently today’s Orthodox Church, has always rejected 
the legal framework.  The apostolic church has never believed that God is bound by the rubrics of a courtroom.  The early church affirms that salvation indeed includes forgiveness, but justification is the consequence and outcome of  love in a royal family, not in a courtroom.

According to the apostles, salvation is in itself  "a two-way living relationship of love between a person and God." Therefore, if salvation is to occur, this relationship must endure to the end. For this reason, salvation in its fullness cannot be said to be complete until the person is fully transformed into the image and likeness of God. That transformation will not occur until the resurrection takes place, only then will Christ will be all in all. 

The Scriptures affirm that God has freely made us in his image, and as His image we are given with the ability to choose.  If  God were to override our free choice, especially when it comes to co-operating with his grace, then this would be a violation of His image. Moreover, this human love towards God would be the result of a reprogramming by God. This reprogramming would cause a coerced relationship. Imagine if one could reprogram another person to love them, would that be genuine love? As that the only way God can be loved, by reprogramming persons? No!

We have the have been given capability to love or reject God while we exist in the flesh. This is not to say that our wills are not corrupt, they truly are. Yet, we can receive grace, and by that grace we can be healed and freely love God.  If we simply take the witness scripture at face value, and set aside a preconceived systematic theology it is easy to see this voluntary nature of our relationship God.  

Consider the words of St. Paul:

26 Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:26-27).
St. Paul makes it clear that he sees the need to work at his salvation in order to attain that for which he has hoped for. And yet, he also knew that he was not working under his own power, but in the power of God. this is what is called synergy. Thus he urged the Philippians:

12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Phil. 2:12-13)
The apostles did not doubt the power of God, and neither do we doubt that God is able to keep all that come to Him. But, we acknowledged that He will not keep them against their will, or to say it another way, if God will not override the rejection of those who choose not to co-operate with His grace. Salvation must be a free and willing relationship, or it is no relationship at all. 

Therefore the Christian remains ever vigilant lest he fall. In the Orthodox Study Bible we find these comments: 

“And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. Mar 13:13 NKJV
“There is security of salvation of him who endures to the end, but it is not ours to say when the race is over. The modern innovative doctrine of “eternal security”—once saved, always saved—is not the teaching of Jesus; rather, He teaches the endurance of the faithful through God’s strength and grace.”
The point that must be understood here is that the Lord knows who will and who not endure to the end. He foreknows all things, and exists outside of temporal time.  Yet, as part of His eternal plan he pre-ordained that "all who will be saved do something." WHAT?  They must receive His grace, and through that grace: 
1] Repent,
2] Believe in Him, 
3] & endure in love towards Him until the end of their lives.  
God does not repent, believe, or endure in love for us, that is ours to do!
This need for us to freely choose to cling to God's grace in order to do these things is the overwhelming witness of scripture, as well as that of the apostolic church.  Consider the following verses:
12 Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. 16 In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Php 3:12-16 HCSB 
According to St. Paul we are to be zealous to press on (v. 12) toward the completion of our salvation, the prize of the upward call of God (v. 14)—the resurrection to eternal life.

The possibility of an evil heart overturning our love is a present reality.
Heb 3:12-15 NKJV Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; (13) but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (14) For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, (15) while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

According to this passage those in Christ are not immune from turning away from God. We know for certain that there is a temporary attractiveness in sin, which leads to a hardened heart and ultimately to apostasy. Therefore, constant care must be taken not to be deceived and thus fall away (see Mark 4:4, 6, 16, 17). According to these words, union with Christ belongs to those who persevere in their faith to the end, not to those who stop with a one-time profession of faith. Faith (3:19) and obedience are inseparable. Lack of one is lack of the other. Lack of either bars entrance into rest. 

Therefore the author of Hebrews writes:

Heb 6:4-6 NKJV For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, (5) and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) 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.
This clearly refers to those who once believed but now have apostatized—that is those who, after being baptized, have rejected Christ and His saving power.

Consider St. Peter’s words:

2 Pe 1:9-11 NKJV For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. (10) Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; (11) for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In his critique of the Gnostics who claimed to know God without becoming godlike St. Peter makes it plain that this framework is not Christian. Why? Because we reach participation with God though the increase of spiritual virtues, not the absence of them. 

As with all eschatological warnings in the New Testament, admittance to God’s kingdom is conditional upon a faith which exhibits perseverance and holiness. However, some Christians are so romanced by the world (2:15-17) that they stand in danger of falling away from God (5:21). John exhorts us to detach ourselves from the world in order to serve the living God.

1 Jn 5:13 NKJV These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
When we know we have been given the gift of eternal life, we are to continue to believe and follow the Son of God.

Rev 2:10-11 NKJV “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (11) “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”‘
Christ encourages faithfulness to the end. The crown of life is an allusion to the wreath awarded to a victor in an arena (Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:5; 1 Pet. 5:4), is the reward of eternal life granted to those who conquer in Christ. The second death (v. 11) indicates eternal damnation, the “lake of fire,” wherein sinners will receive their reward of final and lasting estrangement from God (20:6, 14, 15; 21:8).

Rev 21:6-8 NKJV And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. (7) “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. (8) “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Repeating the concluding exhortation in each of the seven letters (chapters 2; 3), only he who overcomes (v. 7), and who persists in his allegiance to God, will inherit, becoming a permanent son of God. Those who fall away through cowardice or unbelief face instead the lake of fire (v. 8). They lose God’s inheritance, receiving instead the damning recompense of sin and death (see 20:15; 22:15), in company with the Beast, the False Prophet, Death, and Hades.

In summary, the view of the apostles, the early church, and of the Orthodox Church is that of “Conditional Perseverance.” He who overcomes to the end shall inherit all things.

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