Sunday, July 30, 2017

Running the Race of Life

My apologies to Calvinists, but I must write how I understand scripture without regard to doctrines which came before me. From the early 1600s the Quinquarticular Controversy was debated between the followers of Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin. The controversy was never settled, and still exists. Time has proven that those two diverse doctrines separate true Christians on either side. Anger erupts when one is confronted by another. As for myself, since my belief is mine, I have no strong motive for others to accept my beliefs. Indeed Herrinism would be heresy because I know that I'm not right all the time. However, whether I am right or not, I shall present my case.

Others have done so better than I ever will, but dissension still exists. One may argue this, but I find that in general, Calvinists are more dogmatic about it than are Arminians. This is proven by the response of the Calvinists during the Controversy.

There is much more in the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. The doctrinal division on the issue of apostasy has much bearing on how one lives their life. Arminians generally believe that obedience to the will of God is imperative, and that daily reading and living the word grows faith. This side has the belief that faith is for the duration of life, and that obedience fortifies and grows faith. On the other hand, the other side believes it takes faith to believe, but faith is part of grace. It can never be relinquished. Those beliefs come from a different understanding of will. Arminians see life as a test of faith, that one cannot lose their safety, but can relinquish it. As such that belief is that "salvation" comes at the end of life, and until then converts into "safety".

Calvinists believe that with predestination, Christians were elected by God before they were ever born. This is coined as "deterministic" by Arminians who would fear having no decision in their own eternal life. Arminians believe that although they can't save themselves, they can and must accept Jesus's sacrifice. Calvinists see the exercise of free will as a human "work". You see, we are a long way from each other in doctrine. One is wrong!

Both groups insist that God's way is their way. I won't put God in Herrin's little box. My contention is that God can do as He wills in a different manner with each person. There is no formulae. It seems that most of us are not born-again in the same manner as was Paul. He was a special case. It looks as if Paul's purpose was part of God's plan, and it had to be that way! Paul was pre-destined to minister! We likely did not receive Christ as he did - blinded and led!

On the other hand,  those who had faith made a choice. It seems that choice is part of the picture. Even so, some believe in eternal security. With that free choice ends at the moment of being born-again. I see no place in scripture where choice is canceled. In fact, throughout life, with Satan chasing after us, each step is a choice. When we cease choosing God, and follow the Son of Perdition, we become Satan's servant. God tests our faith throughout life. Job is a story of testing the faith of a faithful follower. God only kept Job from harm (safety), not from death (saved). Job could have failed the test! It took effort on his part to remain faithful. Job is all about that long race to defy Satan.
Romans 13:11 "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed."


The graphic above is for those who are unclear about life itself. Conception is included because God knew you in the womb (Jer 1:5) and that you were a sinner before you were ever born (Isa 48:8). As such, you needed to be born again before you were ever born. That is profound!  Thus, during your own gestation, you were doomed to die because of original sin - mankind's nature since Adam.

Because God loved you even in the womb, His desire was that you would live eternally. By grace he provided the Way. The cross represents life. God gave His only Son that you should live. Therefore, even before you were born you were predestined, not that God elected you, but that His desire was that all should be saved. (The plan for your salvation from eternal death was in place before you were ever born).

Although you transgressed, even in the womb, you are innocent. You were called "transgressor" but you had yet to transgress. Because you were born in sin, as a result of animal passions, you were guilty merely because you are human. Jesus was born of a virgin for a reason. There could not be original sin, and apparently, it is passed on by human conception.

For a time, children are innocent even in their transgressions. Yes, even infants sin by deception, anger, and manipulation. They are born selfish because nourishment is all that they know. They rule the mother, and to some extent the father, to get their little gods appeased. Parents dutifully bow to the demanding little gods! However, they are not accountable. That happens as they develop and mentally grow. That time is different for all, but there is an innocence about infants. Jesus admonished adults to be as little children, accepting things without proof (Mat 19:4).

It is not marked on the graphic, but innocence is over early on. Children must have the mental capacity to understand the concept of sin, and that Jesus died to save them. The Holy Spirit calls them to that knowledge (John 6:44). Children learn by scripture. Parents have an obligation to teach them about salvation so that they can be saved. I use the word "saved" as an idea. Those who are certain that they will be saved in effect already accept their prize although it's not yet in hand. Their eye is on the prize at the end of life, and they are certain that is theirs! Satan's job is to test the hope of Christians and weaken their faith until they live entirely for themselves. Those who accept the cross are "safe" just as Job was safe with the hedge God put around him because of his faith.

It is noted here that the phrase "shall be saved" (Acts 2:21 and elsewhere) is sozo or "safe" in the Greek. On top of that "shall be", "should be", or even "will be" is not in the Greek. The translators do the best they can, but in all cases, it is sometimes in the future - from now until death. Having the "hope of salvation" as Paul put it (1 The 5:8) also puts salvation in the future. Paul elaborates on that in today's key scripture above (Rom 13:11): "now is our salvation nearer than when we believed". Salvation is nearer as life proceeds than it was at the time one first believed, thus indicating that salvation is something of which Christians get closer to with time. When is that? At death is when we are saved!

We need to examine "the hope of salvation". Hope is the anticipation that something we desire will be fulfilled. Hope is that we shall have eternal life, and its flip-side, not die eternally. One cannot forgo eternal death until the time they die, hence salvation must be when we're saved from eternal death. A better way to look at eternal death - or hell, is that it's not an instantaneous death, but dying forever. Eternal death starts at physical death, but the process never ends. On the other hand, eternal life actually starts at the time one first believed, but becomes reality at the time of death. Until there, hope suffices because of God's hedge of safety.

Faith is that hedge. It is a free gift of God (Eph 2:8), but like any hedge, it takes work to make it grown (1 Thes 1:3). Hope is proportional to faith. Doubt is less than perfect faith. We all have some doubt. Satan puts it in our heads. We must disbelief him when he says: "You surely will not die!" He reinforces that all the time at the expense of faith. Hope is less when doubt is great. "Do not doubt" is our calling by God. (Luk 24:38). Doubt does arise even in the hearts of the faithful.  Christians are troubled by it. That's Satan's way. One can say, I know without a shadow of  a doubt, but they profess their faith to be greater than even the apostles!

We don't hope that we're saved, but we have faith that at death, when the race is over, that we shall be saved.(Heb 12:11). If we look forward with hope, that prize is ours if we keep our eyes on it (1 Cor 9:24). The "hope of salvation" is that we expect to obtain the prize, but to obtain one must run. Running the faith race begins at the time we first believed. That is when we Christians are born-again.

Since all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) as soon as they are accountable, then they are not saved. This is the status of all people from birth to the second birth. At the second birth which Philip called "born-again", a new person is created.
John 3:3 "Jesus answered and said unto him (Nicodemus), Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."
To be born-again one must "cometh to the light" (Joh 3:21). What is that enlightenment? That no one can save themselves, but Jesus can. Then whosoever accepts that truth, "believeth on him", shall be saved. As such, being born again is having a revelation: God and only God has the power to save, and I trust Him to do that! Being born-again is when God's Light is accepted as divine truth. At that time, if the faith is real, a new creature is made from the old, and that is testified to by baptism!

Safety and faith is of the same duration. Faith can waver as can doubt, but in the end as long as one has faith that person is safe. The faith can be so great that the born-again person is so sure that with "safety" the hope is so real that it is certain! Don't be so certain of salvation when you are born-again, because only then does the test of faith begin.

Imagine, if you will, being placed on a block with your head under a guillotine. It is demanded that you denounce Jesus Christ. Is your faith great enough that you will die for Jesus? That may happen someday. It has happened to Christians before! Peter denied Christ thrice. We may not be that blessed. Your self-proclaimed "great faith" may not be as great as one thinks.  We have hope that in the end we will be saved, but we can't be certain until we die and are taken into paradise by God. Paradise with its eternal life is the prize. We must keep our eyes on the prize to maintain hope. Hope is an outcome of faith. Finishing the race is accepting persecution as one looks at the great prize ahead. Satan can buy one's soul by an offer of another prize - pleasure, and right now! That is our test.

Dying is the easy part of living! Keeping the faith in the face of the adversary is the difficult part. Faith is a variable. It takes only a little faith to be born-again, but much faith to persevere under temptation. Satan offers so much pleasure, knowledge, and wealth that we can be bought. Jesus will never sell us out - "leave or forsake" (Heb 13:5)., but we will always have the freedom to leave Him. If that is done, we are reprobate - damned. That too is everlasting, but it is death.

Finally, after we die, then we're saved. God will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Mat 25:21), as he takes us to a secure place - our room in His mansion in the kingdom of God (Joh 14:2). In that room, we are finally saved! Death takes us from safety to saved because we have run the race - persevered until the end (Mat 24:13). Our standing firm is until death, and then the race is over!

Obedience takes on new meaning with Arminianism. That's the way Christians demonstrate to God their love! (Joh 14:15). If Christians obey, that is our assurance that we shall be saved. Our hope is based on whether our faith is real. That is known by obedience. Faith without works is dead. (Jam 2:20). Those who expect salvation are expected to be grateful enough to obey the will of the Savior. Hope is less when obedience is lacking. If one wants more hope, then that person should obey more willingly. It is that willingness to obey which is the hallmark of a Christian, not the "have to". If a Christian is willing to obey, the heart is right with God. That s steadfast faith. It can waver but it's always there!

It is time to speak on pride. I believe my own belief is scriptural because I have cited much scripture to support it! On the other hand, there is scripture which seems to support the other doctrine. One set of readers are right and the other wrong, or could it be that God can do what he wants to whom he wants? If we cling to the absolute value of our own doctrine without any thought that we may be mistaken, that's pride. I don't take pride in what I believe, but I believe it is the truth. It's not for my sake that I proclaim it truthful but because I believe it is God's truth.

My position is the safe position. It never hurts to obey God as if your very eternal existence depends on it! It can hurt if you believe that doing good things earns heaven. It doesn't. Being willing to obey is all that God asks. Are you willing to be faithful to God until you die? It may get difficult! That is steadfast faith and is what God expects! Did I mention love? If we are truly grateful for our hope of salvation, then we are commanded to love God and others, even our enemies. How's your love today?

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