Can We Lose Our Salvation?

The notion that we could lose our salvation is not a popular one among Christians. It is far more comfortable to believe that God will welcome us back with open arms no matter what we do. And yes, we do see that God rejoices over repentant sinners (Luke 15:4-7) and welcomes back prodigal children (Luke 15:11-32). We have all sinned and we’ve all been “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Rom. 5:20-6:2)

Though we are not suddenly incapable of sin once we receive grace, the direction of our lives must be moving away from sin. God’s love covers a multitude of slips and stumbles on our walk with Him, but our hearts must change so we can learn to practice righteousness instead of sinfulness. We could talk about this in theory indefinitely, but let’s go to an example instead.

A Lost Kingdom

We all know about King David, the “man after God’s own heart” who was so faithful that God promised to establish his kingdom forever (1 Kings 9:5), even including him in the genealogy of Messiah (Matt. 1:1). David is an example to a man who sinned, sincerely repented, and received grace so he could continue to walk with God. He was even forgiven for what we think of as Really Big Sins, like committing adultery and then murdering the woman’s husband.

But before David, there was a king who did not measure up. Saul was offered the same promise made to David — that his kingdom would be established forever. He could have been in the line of Messiah. He could have been David, but he lost that opportunity.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Sam. 13:13-14)

This happened after Saul’s first sin at Gilgal, when he stepped out of line by offering a sacrifice that could only be offered by a priest. On the surface, that doesn’t look as serious as David’s sins, but at it’s core there was a much bigger issue. Saul’s heart was not obedient, and he didn’t change. In fact, he just kept getting worse.

Can We Lose Our Salvation? | marissabaker.wordpress.comSaul’s second sin at Gilgal was also one of direct disobedience. He was ordered to “utterly destroy” Amalek, but he thought it would be a good idea to spare the king of Amalek’s life and save some of the best livestock. Compounding sin upon sin, Saul insisted that he had “performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:13). When he was confronted about his disobedience, he kept back-peddling and blaming everyone but himself, insisting he was actually doing what was right because he intended to sacrifice the livestock to God. This is in stark contrast with David’s attitude after being confronted with his sins (2 Sam. 12:7-14; Ps. 51:1-19).

So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”

So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” (1 Sam. 15:17-23)

Saul was rejected because he thought he had a better idea for how to conduct himself than God did. He rejected the leadership of God, and so God said, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” (1 Sam. 15:11).

Could that happen to us? could we do something that would make God “regret” choosing us? Are there things we read about in the Bible and rebel against, thinking we could come up with something better than what God commands? How about some of these (just as an example to give us something to think about):

“I Never Knew You”

Jesus told us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). The love comes first — what God is chiefly concerned with is having a relationship with us, like He had with David. But obedience is also essential, and that is something Saul lacked.

 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:23-25)

This is one reason why fellowship and friendship with other believers is so important. We help keep each other on-track and encourage each other to never give up. God gives us these people to help save us.

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)

Brethren, these are scary scriptures. It’s talking about turning our backs on and actually despising what God has offered us. This is doubly scary when we read Matthew 7:21-23, where Christ says that there will be people who thought they were being faithful but were really “practicing lawlessness.” To them, He will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me.”

Never Let Go

The good news is that this doesn’t have to happen. God is committed to pursuing a real, life-giving relationship with each one of us. He doesn’t just sit around twiddling His thumbs waiting for people to wander towards Him. He is constantly working to develop real relationships that save lives.

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)

God gives us every opportunity to come to Him. We are precious in His sight, and He is pursuing our hearts in the greatest romance ever told (Is. 43:1-7). If we do lose our salvation, it will be because we turned away from Him and walked away, not because He gave up on us.

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. (Heb. 10:35-39)

Can We Lose Our Salvation? | marissabaker.wordpress.comThese are the verses which follow the warning in Hebrews about rejecting Christ’s sacrifice. It’s like the writer is telling us, “Look, you need to know how serious it is to turn away from God. Let that scare you — it should. Now that you know how bad it is to reject the Lord, don’t do it! We’re not that kind of people. We are the ones who can and will continue in the faith with God. Take courage, because the Creator of the whole universe is on your side and He wants you to succeed.”

Unchanging Laws

Tallitot (prayer shawls) by  Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY via Flickr
Tallitot (prayer shawls) by Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY via Flickr

Last week we started a study about whether or not the commands and instructions given to Biblical Israel apply to us as Christians today. I answered with a qualified “yes” — we are spiritual Israel, which is not so much separate from physical Israel as it was the next step in God’s plan for His chosen nation. Now, the question becomes, “How many of the laws given to Israel apply under the New Covenant?”

I’ve grown up believing that the Ten Commandments, including Sabbath keeping, carry over into the New Covenant, along with the Lev. 23 Holy Days and the clean and unclean meats laws. I still believe that, but now I’m starting to wonder why we keep those things and not others like the command to put tassels on our garments (Num. 15:37-41) or blow shofars on Holy Days (Ps. 81:3-4). When I ask this question, I’m usually told that not everything from the Old Covenant applies, and when I ask how they know which ones to keep they say, “It’s our tradition.” In my mind, that’s not a good enough answer, so it’s time for some Bible Study.

A New Priesthood

If you read through the laws of the Old Testament, you find quite a lot about the Levitical priesthood. Some of these are described as “a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel” (Ex. 27:21), yet it is evident that Christ’s priesthood supersedes that system. If the switch to the New Covenant changed that, how much else was changed?

 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. (Heb. 7:12)

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. (Heb. 8:6)

When it talks about a change of the law, I think we often imagine quite a disconnect between the Old and New Testament. We think of change as in something old being replaced by something completely new, but I think perhaps the change is more in how God’s laws apply.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Heb. 8:10)

The Old Covenant was replaced with the New (Heb. 8:13), but God’s laws were not done away with. Even before the Old Covenant was instituted at Mount Sianai, God had laws in place. We can see this in Genesis 26:5, where God says, “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Since God is unchanging, His standards for what He expects from us do not change either.

Jesus said, “till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18) In the Greek, this means “filled to the fullest extent.” The laws were brought to a spiritual plane, much as physical Israel became spiritual Israel. You still keep the physical laws, but there is a spiritual aspect as well, and we are held accountable for what goes on inside us as much as for what we actually do (Matt. 5:17-30).

Updating The Law

The laws governing the Levitical priesthood are examples of parts of the Old Covenant that have already been filled to the fullest extent by Jesus Christ. We don’t have a physical priesthood any more because He is our High Priest forever. We don’t sacrifice animals any more because Christ’s sacrifice completely fulfilled all the Old Testament commands for blood sacrifices.

For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another — He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:24-26)

Without a physical priesthood or temple, many of the ceremonial laws no longer apply to spiritual Israel. Though we as the New Testament church can examine and learn from them and how they foreshadowed Christ’s role as priest and sacrifice, people in the church no longer serve as priests and we no longer sacrifice animals.

Similarly, there were civil laws given to govern the nation of Israel that are not in effect now because the church is scattered through other physical nations with their own laws. Many of the civil laws had a moral aspect, though, and this is updated for us to follow under the New Covenant. Take, for example, the law that said a man and woman who commit adultery must both be put to death (Lev. 20:10). The Pharisees brought Jesus just such a case, and Jesus told them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). When all her accusers left, Jesus told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Jesus didn’t say that she hadn’t committed a sin. He said that there was room for mercy and forgiveness even of sins that had formerly incurred a physical death penalty. For judicial matters, Christians are now under the laws of the countries we live in. For moral matters, God’s laws are applied to spirit and in truth with an emphasis on mercy. Is there a guy in your church shaking up with his step-mother? We don’t stone them as was the case in ancient Israel (Lev. 20:11), but we do make it clear that behavior like this is morally wrong and won’t be tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13). If he repents, you have to welcome him back just like God welcomes us back into relationship with Him when we repent of our sins (2 Cor. 2:3-11).

"Shema Israel" by  Yaniv Ben-Arie, CC BY-SA, via Flickr
“Shema Israel” by Yaniv Ben-Arie, CC BY-SA, via Flickr

There are also aspects of the Old Testament laws that we are specifically commanded to continue observing. This includes the weekly Sabbath (Heb. 4:9) and Passover (Luke 22:19-20). We infer from these specific commands, and from the fact that Jesus and His disciples observed the other Holy Days, that all those days are still commanded observances. Even more obvious is the fact that we should be keeping the Ten Commandments, which are succinctly comprehended in the two greatest commandments.

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

God’s focus is on our hearts, and whether or not we choose to keep His commandments tells Him what our hearts are like. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The implication is that if we don’t keep His commandments, we are telling Jesus we don’t love Him. If our hearts are right, obedience to God naturally follows.

My feelings on the question, “What is applicable under the New Testament?” is that everything God didn’t specifically replace/update to a spiritual level (the priest hood, physical temples, civil laws) are probably still in effect. It’s up to us to seek out the spiritual reasons for these commands and find a way to physically keep them. There are still some I’m not sure about — like those tassels on the borders of our garments or what we’re supposed to do on New Moons — but I want to keep searching and learning. I want to worship God the way He tells me to, not the way I think sounds like a good idea.

Does The Physical Matter?

People in the churches can’t seem to make up their minds about whether or not physical things are important. Here are a few examples that came to mind. They’re all specific to the church I grew up in, but I’m sure the basic idea can apply to other groups.

  • We say it’s better to have a printed Bible than just read off an electronic device because holding a physical book connects you to scripture more, but we think kissing a Torah scroll at a Messianic congregation is borderline idolatry.
  • We teach physical things from the Old Testament/Judaism like tassels on our garments and prayer shawls are done away with under the New Covenant, but heaven forbid a man stand up to speak without wearing a suit and tie.
  • We say it’s important to preach the gospel and do good works in the world, but many groups refuse to purchase or rent church buildings that we can put a sign out in front of, or to have any sort of physical presence in our communities.

What’s going on here? If the spiritual is all that matters, why do we hang on to certain physical aspects of faith? If the spiritual and physical both matter, which I believe is the case, why are we so contradictory in how we approach that truth?

What Are We?

Jesus told us, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). That tells us, at least on a basic level, what God is. But what are we?

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thes 5:23)

In the Greek, the word translated “body” simply refers to our physical bodies, “soul” refers to the life-essence we have in common with animals, and “spirit” is the part of us that makes us human and which is able to communicate with God’s spirit.

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16)

Now, in this human life, we have a natural body that contains a spirit. After Christ’s return when we are resurrected or changed, we shall be like God and have a spiritual body with a spirit. We are “sown a natural body,” and “raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44).

The part of ourselves that is enduring is our spirits. When God “looks on the heart,” He is checking the state of our spirits. He is concerned most with the condition of the inner man. That does not, however, mean God doesn’t care about the part of us that’s physical.

Romans 7 Analysis

In Romans, Paul discusses how our spirits are related to keeping God’s law. He tells us that the law in the Old Testament was not enough by itself ot lead to eternal life. Rather, since everyone has sinned (Rom. 3:23) and the law gives knowledge of sin (Rom. 7:7), we end up dead as an indirect result of knowing the law.

But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. (Rom. 7:8-10)

Does The Physical Matter?  | marissabaker.wordpress.comIf we could keep the law perfectly, it would lead to life. But we can’t keep the law perfectly, and so we incur the death penalty for breaking God’s laws. That is how a law and commandment that is “holy and just and good” can result in our deaths (Rom. 7:12). That’s why we need Christ’s sacrifice to supply what was missing in the Old Covenant — a way for our sins to be removed and the penalty to be paid (Rom. 8:3-4).

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (Rom. 7:5-6)

Serving in the spirit doesn’t mean we ignore the law, though. Even when we’ve been cleansed by Jesus and our spirits are in communication with God’s Spirit, we are still human and still capable of sin. To be righteous in the spirit, we have to obey God by rejecting sin on both a spiritual and a physical level (Rom. 6:14-23).

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (Rom. 7:14-17)

This isn’t Paul shirking responsibility for his actions. He’s telling us that, while his spirit recognizes and agrees with the law, his fleshly human nature is still slipping away from perfection. There’s a war going on between our spirits and our sinful desires.

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. (Rom. 7:22-8:2)

The only way we can win the war between our two natures is through Christ. His sacrifice removes our death penalty, His strength makes it possible for us to keep the law, and His grace covers us when we make mistakes. With His help, we can serve the law of God with our minds and spirits, and also keep the laws God gave us as a guide for how to behave as a physical being.

Some Concluding Thoughts

Does The Physical Matter?  | marissabaker.wordpress.comThe New Covenant doesn’t take away from the laws and commandments — it adds an additional spiritual dimension (Matt. 5:17-30). What we choose to do physically is not less important now. We could say it’s actually more important, because it is indicative of the state of our hearts. We are already in trouble if we intend to sin in our minds — actually going through with it adds the sin of hurting others on top of the damage sin does to us on the inside. We will be judged by how well we keep the law, and we must take this seriously (James 2:8-13).

I don’t think we can separate the physical and the spiritual, nor should we. It is true that God is chiefly concerned with the state of our inner man, but if the inside is right then it will show on the outside. We need to support our spiritual lives with our physical selves by actively doing good and keeping the commandments. As humans, we still have physical bodies and even inside us we have human nature struggling with God’s spirit. Keeping God’s laws is a physical reminder of how important the spiritual is.

In the churches of God that I’ve grown up in, we teach that one of the reasons God still expects us to keep His annual Holy Days and weekly Sabbath is because humans tend to forget things without something to physically remind them on a regular basis. This general idea is also related to my praise and worship series, since I think that if we take physical expressions of praise out of our church services we’re refusing to involve part of who we are in our woship of God. To keep on track with God, we need something to do as well as something to think about.

 

 

 

Purpose of the Law

Once again, I’m going to pull a topic from my Bible study on covenants. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul begins by commending his readers for their faith, which is “spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8). He goes on to talk about the importance of belief. Lest any think he is going to present a “one saved, always saved” doctrine, they are immediately refuted.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:16-18)

He goes on to list a number of sins and concludes “those who practice such things are deserving of death” (Rom. 1:32). Obviously, the emphasis on faith does not exclude commandment keeping. With this foundation, we move into the second chapter.

Judged According To Our Deeds

God expects us to live by faith, keeping the law and worshiping Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” Jesus said. “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill,” or fill to the fullest extent (Matt. 5:17). Under the New Covenant, we are still expected to keep the commandments and will be judged by a righteous God,

who will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil (Rom. 2:6-9)

How we conduct ourselves in obedience to God is the basis for how we will be judged. However, this does not simply refer to a rigid obedience to the letter of the law. Physical adherence to the law means nothing if you are not keeping the law from the heart (Rom. 2:25-29). To illustrate this point, Paul writes,

(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Rom 2:13-16).

In essence, this is repeating a statement made in 1 Samuel: “the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). Outward appearance means nothing if our hearts are not right with God.

Knowledge of Sin

Romans 3:27-28, 31In chapter 3, we read that human beings “are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9). No one is inherently righteousness, not matter how closely they have adhered to the letter of the law. The law lets us know that we have sinned, but does not give justification from that sin.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Rom. 3:19-20).

It is only through Christ’s sacrifice that we can be cleansed of our sins. Human being cannot earn eternal life by keeping the law because the law was missing a vital aspect. Rather than replacing the law, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice supplied that missing piece.

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:19-24)

Faith does not negate the importance of the law. It adds to the law, giving it new meaning and layers. Because we have been redeemed from sin by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice (1 Cor. 6:19-20), we have an obligation to obey His commandments. These commandments include the updated law, followed in spirit and in truth. Distilled to it’s most basic level, this means we must love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:8-10)