Saturday, December 28, 2013

Eternal Security?

Does Ephesians 1:13 Affirm the Doctrine of
Eternal Security?

Eternal Security (ES) Defined

The term “eternal security” (which I will refer to as ES from here on) is the Biblical teaching that it is impossible for an individual, after having become a believer in Jesus Christ and having received the Holy Spirit, to ever be lost again for eternity.

Other terms for ES are:
-          “Once saved, always saved”
-          “Once in grace, always in grace”
-          “Perseverance of the saints” (which some argue is incorrectly applied to ES).[1]

In addition, there are two views taken by ES advocates:
-       The extreme: a true believer may commit grievous sins or even deny Christ, yet his salvation remains intact.
-     The moderate: a true believer will never become an unbeliever; he will never fall into committing grievous sin(s) to the point that he never repents or renders divine forgiveness impossible.[2]

Some scholars contend that the sealing with the Spirit was understood as being divinely accomplished normally at one’s baptism in water, although there may be exceptions.[3]

The Central Objection

My argument takes the position that the author of Ephesians assumes his readers are all genuine believers (1:1 – “the chosen ones…loyal to and in Christ”; 1:13 – “In Him you…believed, you were sealed”; also, “you listened to the good message of your salvation”[4]).  Accordingly, therefore, the contention that some may not be saved is unwarranted.  The apostle wrote Ephesians to those whom he believed were genuine believers.

The Texts

“In whom also you, having heard the word of the truth, the good message of the deliverance of you, in whom also having trusted you were sealed in the spirit of the promise of the holy.”[5]

The Meaning of "Seal"

It seems being “sealed” is a metaphor the apostle Paul used to convey to his readers one or more of the following ideas all associated with “in Christ” concerning God’s:
(a)  Ownership of them.
(b)  Authority entrusted to them.
(c)  Authentication of their standing.
(d)  Fulfillment of His word to them.

“The ‘seal of the Spirit’ is considered a stamp God has put on those who belong to him and are under his protection and a first installment of their inheritance.”  Furthermore, the “gentile addressees are to be assured that they have a full share in all of God’s blessings in Christ.”[6]

Personally, I think (d) is intended as the central thought on the basis of the next verse: “who is given as a pledge” (v.14, NASB), however, I will not argue to any of the above ideas being applicable.

In any case, notice that none of the conveyances above for being “sealed in Him” denote the idea, at least, necessarily, of ES.  The term “seal” is used as a metaphor.

As such, the question may be asked would it be correct to:
(a)   Go beyond the main thought of the metaphorical usage by including every facet of its literal meaning or application, and
(b)   Propose the text teach something, which is neither stated explicitly nor implicitly but rather pulled out of the metaphor.

If one arrives at a negative answer to both questions, it seems that ES is a doctrine foreign to a proper understanding of the word, “seal”, and, therefore, to hold such a view would further be an obstacle to a proper interpretation of the text.

Note how the NASB translates v.14[7] making the seal refer to what is pledged, that is, the inheritance.  Furthermore, this pledge is with respect to the final age: “with a view to the [final] redemption.”  It is a pledge of something for the future, not the present (“now but not yet”).  Furthermore, it is a pledge that is conditional, not on a one-time act of faith, but on a continual act of trusting (v.15) that had begun in the past when they first “heard the message” (Matthew 24:13; 2 Timothy 2:12a).  In v.15, on the part of the Ephesians, the apostle is confidently affirming the faith that had begun in them in the past as evidently continuing in the present moment and, therefore, prays for their continuing growth in grace and faith (v.16ff).  In v.14, on God’s part, one may suppose that the apostle speaks with the same confidence as though it was a “done deal.”

Although having reference to Philippians 1:6 on a different subject, nevertheless, Dr. Shank’s remarks are applicable to our present discussion: “Paul’s confidence for the Philippians…was not based on some inexorable divine law which must continue operative regardless of the conduct of the Philippians.  Quite the contrary, his confidence stemmed from his observation of the personal conduct of the Philippians themselves.”[8]  This also can be said for 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

Related Texts

Are there any other clues in the epistle to the Ephesians or any NT document that the seal of the Spirit cannot be interpreted as necessarily referring to the doctrine of ES?  I will mention just a few.

Ephesians 4:30 - “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God [=of promise”, 1:13], by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” [=“with a view to the redemption”, 1:14] (NASB).

This verse is similar in thought to 1:13-14 regarding being sealed with the Holy Spirit.  However, a warning is attached to 4:30 not to grieve the Spirit.  In 1:14, Paul teaches the Ephesians what God has done for them – sealed them – in view of their placing trust in Him upon hearing “the message of truth”.  In chapter 4, Paul shares their moral obligation to God in view of all that he has done for them culminating in their having been sealed in the Spirit.  However, he warns that failure to walk in the “new self” rather than the “old self” would “grieve” (=insult) the Spirit.

This warning seems to imply something more than just causing sorrow to God’s Spirit.  To cause grief to the Spirit is the result of a serious offense with disastrous results against the offender.

Kittel states that “grieve” is used in the sense of to “wound”, “insult”, thereby causing pain, with reference to the warning against speaking evil in v.29.[9]

On what basis do I suggest there is more to the idea grieving the Spirit in Ephesians 4:30 than just an emotional response?

Isaiah 63:10 – “But they rebelled and grieved His holy spirit” [Tanakh, in one of only two OT texts to use the title, “holy spirit”].  The consequence of grieving the Spirit was that God “became their enemy, and Himself made war against them”.  God, being pained, acted against them.  Their grieving of the Spirit caused by their rebellion (i.e. apostasy) resulted in forfeiting entrance into the promised land.

Hebrews 3:15-4:5 affirms Israel’s forfeiture of what was promised because they had grieved his Spirit.  For having insulted God and causing him deep sorrow by their apostasy, what was promised was rescinded (2 Timothy 2:12b; Matthew 10:33: “to deny” = “to disown”).  The divine sorrow was not merely something emotional within God but resulted in a divine act that proved disastrous for people of Israel, at least, to the generation that fell into unbelief.

Colossians 3:24-25 (an epistle that some say was written and delivered to the church in Colossae at the same time as the Ephesian epistle), wherein the whole chapter seems similar to Ephesians 4 in many respects, ends with a word of encouragement and one of warning.  In v.24, they are assured of their reward – “the inheritance” (cf. “sealed in him…given as a pledge of our inheritance”, Eph 1:13-14) – on the condition (clearly implied) that they serve Christ, which sums up their moral obligation to God as listed in vs.1-23.  Failure to remain loyal to Christ is to “receive the consequences of the wrong, which he has done”.  Although the consequences are not explicitly stated, it contextually must be the forfeiture of “the inheritance” mentioned in v.24.  Furthermore, the inheritance is the same spoken of to the Ephesian community for which they were sealed with the Spirit as a “deposit” or “pledge” of obtaining it.

Anticipated Objections Briefly Answered

1.    A cultural understanding of what a seal means supports interpreting the text to teach ES.
My answer: There is no indication that, whatever the cultural significance of the seal, used to preserve and protect legal documents, that it denotes a security in salvation that is unconditional, that is, that requires no continued faithfulness on the part of the believer for its fulfillment.  “When Paul exhorted his readers not to ‘grieve’ the Spirit that sealed them for final salvation, “he did so because they were not being unconditionally preserved for eternal life.”[10]

2.    If we are not sealed, thus being “eternally secure”, then it would show:
(a)  God is unfaithful to his word.
My answer: This is the very objection Paul discusses in Romans.  Did the Jews reject Jesus as Messiah because God was unfaithful to his word (Romans 9:6)?  It was the fault of the Jewish people.  Their hearts were hardened from recognizing and receiving their Messiah and embracing the divine promises. 
(b)  God is not sovereign.
My answer: Is grace irresistible?  On the other hand, do believers no longer have the free will to spurn God and the ability to cease from following Christ?  That God could not gather the Jews under his protection, as he wished, was not because He is not sovereign but because the Jews refused to be gathered.   
(c)  There are sins greater than God’s willingness or ability to forgive. 
My answer: Yes, there is one sin God cannot forgive, and that is the refusal to have faith in Christ.  God decreed nothing would avail for its forgiveness, not even the blood of Christ.  As such, apostasy is necessarily fatal. 
(d)  If we have no assurance of salvation then no one can ever be certain they are saved.
My answer: ES grants no assurance that one is saved in the first place if it is possible for one to be deceived into thinking they are genuine believers.  What guarantee does one presently possess of their future salvation if he cannot differentiate the false believer from the true believer?  However, the promises of God provide a present assurance of being saved, which is the kind of assurance that is the most practical, relevant and meaningful kind of assurance one can possess.  To be assured of future salvation is irrelevant to one’s present standing in Christ.


Ephesians 1:13 shows that being in Christ provides security in the faithfulness and power of God to save but in no way does it provide an automatic or unconditional salvation as if there is nothing more one needs to do to maintain salvation because it will never be rescinded.  It is “in Christ” and only ”in Christ” that assurance of having eternal life, salvation, is obtained; however, should one turn away from faith in Christ through apostasy, he is no longer “in Christ” and, therefore, no longer under his saving care in possession of salvation.[11]

[1] Daniel D. Corner, The Believer’s Conditional Security (Washington: Evangelical Outreach, 1997), 20.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Harper’s Bible Dictionary, James L. Mays, ed. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 1214.
[4] My paraphrases
[5] Paul R. McReynolds, Word Study Greek-English  New Testament (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1999), 691.
[6] Harper’s, 1214.
[7] “…who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
[8] Robert Shanks, Life in the Son, 2nd edit. (Springfield: Wescott Publishers, 1982), 46.
[9] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol.4, Gerhard Kittel, ed., Geodffrey W. Bromily, tsl. (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1967), 322.
[10] Beacon Bible Dictionary, “Sealing of the Spirit”, J. Kenneth Grider and Willard H. Taylor, eds. (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1983), 474.
[11] Frederick W. Claybrook, Jr., Once Saved, Always Saved? (Lanham: University Press, 2003], 345:  “Truly, the Holy Spirit is a seal of, or deposit on, the believer’s ultimate redemption.  It is only the down payment, though, not the full consummation of the sale…the down payment guarantees the believer a place in heaven and gives him assurance that his faith is well founded, but it does not complete the transaction in and of itself.  The believer is required to hold the faith until the end.”

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How Deep and Wide is God's Love?

All for Love, God Loves All

In a blog, we read,

If this love in John 3:16 is “so” great as to be towards the whole world, this would cause the love of God to the whole world to be greater than the love He has for His elect. But the Savior states,“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) If this is true, then the love which is spoken of in John 3:16 is the greatest love. Thus, if this is true, and no greater love can be exemplified than this love which causes one to lay one’s life down for his friends, then the “world,” of necessity, is universally saved since God “so loves” it. This is certainly not true. It is true, though, that the love which is stated here is the greatest love God ever had, but it is for His elect.


How one necessarily follows the other, that is, how if God loves the world to such great depths then all men would necessarily be saved, is not explained by McMahon who wrote the blog. However, his assumption may be based not on Biblical revelation but on some erroneous theological presuppositions.
It does not necessarily follow that because God loves someone deeply they are automatically saved. If McMahon would not do what on his blog he accuses others of doing – taking a verse out of context – and lay aside any theological presuppositions, that is, let the Bible speak for itself, he may find enlightenment.

A person is saved not merely because God loves him but because he believes: For God so loved…that whosoever believes…has eternal life.” This is how God, not men, determined to grant salvation.  Salvation is not by faith; it is by grace, yet through faith.  Sinners experience God's love when they turn to God in faith in Jesus Christ.

Admittedly, there will come a day when God’s love will be exhausted, His mercy will cease for those who persist in rebellion to God’s rule and resist the grace to believe in Christ.  However, until then, the anointed proclaim the Gospel message of the “favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19), the era when God’s love abounds to men as sinners with a “kindness that leads to repentance”  (Romans 2:4-5).

Therefore, at this present age, God’s love extends even to the point of and in spite of rejection. He loves because it is in his nature to love. Christ dies for all men in the hopes of winning all men.

John 3:16 tells us that God loves the world – men as sinners, enemies, even to those who refused to have recognized and received him as Messiah (John 1:10-11) – deeply, in a great, wonderful way. Romans 5:8-12 reveals to us in just what way was that love so deep and wonderful. It does not say God demonstrated his when we were the elect but when we were ungodly, while we were sinners; it is not when we were elect that God sought our reconciliation to him but when we were his enemies. God demonstrated the greatness of that love on the Cross, and through means of the Cross He sought reconciliation of the sinner to himself. The same Greek word for “love”, agape, dentifies the love spoken of in both John and Romans as being of the same kind (I John 2:2).

How much greater, deeper can one’s love be then to sacrifice his life for the object of his affection? Since this love was for all men as sinners, no one can rightly claim that God loves him more than another; to me, it is just plain silly to say that. True believers will experience a greater depth of how deep that love has gone, nevertheless, they will not get more love out of God than the love he has for all men as sinners demonstrated at the Cross.

The Gospel message is not God loves me enough to save me but He does not love you enough to save you. The message of the Cross is this: For God loved the world, all men while they were yet ungodly and sinners, while they were still his enemies, hostile to Him, and fighting Him off; God loved all men enough to sacrifice His Son in order that they may by faith be saved. As a husband's love for a wayward wife is no guarantee that she will ever return to him regardless of the sacrifices he makes to win her back, so God’s love – as great and deep as it is – in and of itself will not secure one’s salvation because men are called to respond to that love in faith.
And the wonder of it all is this, no amount of rejection will lessen that love, neither will any amount of acceptance make it greater. For God has sacrificed all that he possesses, all that He is, all that He lives for to gain men. He can do no more.
All for love of sinners, God loves all sinners.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Jonah: the Runaway Prophet

Here's a short paper that got published on a website awhile back.  Thought it might be good to bring it here as it has what I think is a rare understanding of the book of Jonah.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Sick Feeling of a Calvinist

My most beautiful Daughters, Amy Joy and Sarah Anne
I just read a blog where a Calvinist parent seeks an answer to a question regarding the implications of Reformed/Calvinist theology that seems to torment him.  The question, which this Calvinist parent admitted sickens him, is..."What if my kids aren’t elect?"
As you read the posting on the Parchment and Pen blog, it seems that Tim Kimberly does not give a direct answer to the parent's question.  I'm amazed that after over 15 comments, no one yet seems to pick up on this.
I just want to post here my comment (#131) to Kimberly's reply (please read his reply to the Calvinist before reading my comment), as follows:

My handsomely silly Grandson, Josiah Steven Ortiz 
An honest question deserves and ought to receive a straightforward answer.

First, Kimberly's "step back" is not only irrelevant but also deflects from the real issue, which the question evokes, and is misleading.

Although it is true that both Calvinist and Arminians agree that "each individual must come to Jesus
on their own", Kimberly fails to mention the Calvinist view portrays the individual as responding due solely to the divine predetermination regarding how this or that particular person will respond to the Gospel; that is, in reality, no response -- positive or negative -- is ultimately an act of one's own free will but God's predetermined act to effect the desired response from each individual based on nothing but God's unrevealed will. This view is in stark contrast to Arminian soteriology and renders the similarity as Kimberly suggests merely superficial.
Second, when "getting back to the issue at hand", there remains an (unconscious? conscious?) attempt to evade the real answer which the inquirer seeks.  The question was not, "What if my kids do not love Jesus?" but "What if my kids aren't elect?" There is a big difference between the two questions and, as such, his answer does not at all deal directly to the query.

The more accurate answer, logically following Calvinist teaching, is simply: if your child is not elect, there is nothing at all you can do about it. The only comfort that one may afford is that at present you do not know whether or not your child is elect. Praying will not change God's mind if your child is not elect. As a Calvinist, all that seems left to do is cross your fingers and hope for the best; and, yes, the idea that one's child is not of the elect should cause a parent to be sick and have "a hard time" -- a very hard time -- seeing it as conducive to God's glory. 

End of comment.
A really good critique of Tim Kimberly's answer to the Calvinist parent's question is found in William Birch's blog, Classical Arminian.
My youngest Grandson, already of vast intellect, Brantley Connor, also known to his peers as "Mr. B".  
It is sad to note that Reformed theology of the Calvinist persuasion, for all practical intents and purposes and when  you read many of the comments from Calvinists under this subject on the P&P board, is wholly untenable as a bulwark of hope for a child's salvation for parents to embrace wholeheartedly.  One Calvinist seems to continually comment that, basically, God is God and he does what he wants to do; and if he chooses to send your child to an eternal torment because it pleases him to obtain glory through the damnation of your child, there is nothing - not fervent praying, not loud crying with tears, not "standing on the promises of God, my Savior" - you can do about it; and it is precisely in this, if one is to faithfully espouse Calvinist theology and the clear implications that arise from it, that the Calvinist commentator is correct: there is simply and absolutely nothing you can do about it. 
No wonder some go as far as saying that the god of Reformed/Calvinistic theology is a monster rather than the God of the Bible.  And it is no surprise why this Calvinist parent who asked the question should have a sick feeling.
My study of the Bible shows me that the Reformed/Calvinism understanding of election is inimical to divine grace and the character of God as revealed in no uncertain terms; it is altogether a distorted interpretation of a right understanding of the divine love that prompts election and the saving work that springs from that love demonstrated on the Cross of Christ.
The electing God of Calvinism is enough to make any thinking and loving parent sick.  On the contrary, if a parent, believing that their own heart is desperately wicked, nevertheless, desires and seeks the salvation of their children, how much more does the Father in Heaven.
My Granddaughter, Ella Claire, "My Little Girl".  Now, how adorabe can one get?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Romans 7: The Experience of a Christ Follower?

The Big Question:

Is Paul discussing his experience as a disciple
of Christ in Romans 7?

On the heels of using divorce as an illustration of the believer’s freedom from sin, the apostle seeks to show the implications of being under the dominion of sin. In effect, he shows the impossibility of one, who is under sin, to be simultaneously under grace and, by a clear implication, vice-versa. Here he effectively elaborates on statements made in 6:16, 21.

There are no gray areas in Paul’s discussion here; it is either this or that, and if it is this, then it is certainly not that; and if it is that, then it is certainly not this. The apostle does not appeal to either looseness or moderation – there is no “mean way” – but it is to the extreme that he makes his argument. However, that does not mean the point he wishes to make is not factual but rather reinforces it.

Paul first wants it understood that the problem is not the Law but our sinful, unregenerate condition (vss.7,13). In addition, since the problem resides in sin, freedom from sin can only be found through Christ (vss. 24-25a).

With divorce as an illustration (7:1-6), in Rom 7:7-25 Paul elaborates on a point he left off on in 6:25, that sin certainly and inevitably results in death, and recalls his assertion in 6:16, that whomever we obey, that is the one to whom we are enslaved, “either sin resulting in death or obedience resulting in righteousness,” each at the exclusion of the other. Rom 7 obviously speaks of one whose end is death (v.13).

As the consummate pastor, the apostle presents not only the objective implications of his teaching, but the subjective as well (7:7; cf. 6:1; Paul’s theology is always practical, not abstract or esoteric). In ch.7, the apostle Paul is depicting is what clearly one’s experience ought not to be if he has been “baptized into Christ” and “baptized into his death” (6:4).

The thrust of his argument in Rom 7 is this: if one is sinning, such a one is not “under grace,” that is, he is not saved (Rom 6:14).

If it is insisted that Rom 7 explains Paul’s experience as a believer, one would be hard-pressed to explain how this experience is consistent with what the Bible affirms is the true state of one who is “born again”.  For example:, in Rom 7, Paul claims that:
  1. “…sin…produced in me all kinds of wrong desires.”
  2. “…sin became alive and I died…”
  3. “…sin…deceived me and through it I died.”
  4. “…sin…produced death in me…”
  5. “…I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin.”
  6. “…sin lives in me…”
  7. “...nothing good live in me.”
  8. “…I want to do good, but I cannot…”
  9. “…I do the very evil I do not want!”
  10. "…sin…lives in me.”
  11. “…evil is present with me.”
  12. “…captive to the law of sin…” Note that in this verse, if it is understood as the apostle’s experience as a believer, Paul admits he is in a struggle with sin but also admits he losses that struggle because sin consistently and always (the only way to understand it in view of the whole context) overcomes him.
  13. “…I serve the law of sin.”
Gromacki claims that Paul here admitted he was "sold under sin,"and that "sin owned and controlled him; he was its slave." MacArthur agrees saying, "Romans 7 is the classic text describing the believer's struggle with his sinful flesh" and, further, that "Paul acknowledges his own disobedience."  In addition, Lightner affirms that the apostle "often did what he didn't want to do," which is another way of saying that Paul was in the habit of committing sinful acts.

Note that all the verses cited above describe the apostle as not only being in a struggle with sin but it is emphasized as a struggle he loses all the time!  Are we to understand that this is the expected and normal experience of believers, to be “unspiritual and sold into slavery to sin”? Is this what it  means to be under grace?  Is Rom 7, interpreted as a constantly losing struggle against sin, what is means to be a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:21)?

Is this how the apostle Paul views his Christian life, as one sold under sin, often disobeying God?

If one claims that Rom 7 is how Paul describes the experience of one who is  “born again”, how can the apostle sustain his thesis that “just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness” if, while at the same time he lives in the "flesh, sold into bondage to sin"?  Are there other places in the New Testament where the apostle Paul describes his Christian experience as being "owned and controlled" by sin?

On the contrary, Paul makes numerous self-affirmations of his blameless and righteous moral character and conduct.  The apostle claims:
  1. Pursuing a clear conscience, Acts 24:16, cp. 1 Timothy 1:5,19; 3:9.
  2. Maintaining a clear conscience, Acts 23:1; 1 Corinthians 4:4, cp. 1 Timothy 1:5.
  3. Confidence in possessing a conscience that is clear before others, 2 Corinthians 1:12.
  4. He has no fear of being judged by his peers of any wrongdoing because he knows his conscience is clear, 2 Corinthians 4:2.
  5. His conduct before his peers is "pure, right, and without fault," 1 Thessalonians 2:10.
  6. Serving God with a clear conscience, 1 Timothy 1:3.
  7. Others ought to imitate his life, 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1-2; Philippians 3:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:7,9 (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14; Hebrews 6:12.
  8. He imitates Christ, 1 Corinthians 11:1; "just as I" (NET).  The Greek verb, "imitate", is "always used in exhortation, and always in a continuous tense suggesting constant habit or practice" to teach that "what we have become at conversion we must diligently continue to be thereafter (Vine's Expository Dictionary, p.248-249).

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a church leader or member challenging Paul's self-estimation of his moral character.

As such, in contrast to the commonly held interpretation that Romans 7 depicts Paul as a "sinning believer", in other places of the New Testament we find Paul asserts his behavior in morally positive terms and, as an authoritative example, boldly commands others in no uncertain terms to imitate him.

What would you think today of a preacher of the Gospel who was always falling into sin standing before the pulpit commanding his congregation, "Imitate me"?

If Romans 7, interpreted as Paul always losing the struggle against sin and often falling into sin, is placed side by side to his claims of having a clear conscience, has he deluded himself into actually believing he is a follower of Messiah when it is sin who is really his master?  Is he then a hypocrite, teaching one thing but living another, to urge others to follow him, expecting others to do what is right while he often falls into sin?

"Recently a leading Calvinistic exponent, Anthony Hoekema, Calvin Seminary professor emeritus, reversed himself and declared that he no longer believes Romans 7 describes a regenerate person. He stated: ‘The mood of frustration and defeat that permeates this section does not comport with the mood of victory in terms of which Paul usually describes the Christian life. The person pictured is still a captive of the law of sin (7:23), whereas the believer described in 6:17-18 is no longer a slave to sin’"

For some of us, it just may be time for us to rethink what it means to be a Christ-follower.