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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 5 "God's Purpose of Grace" Part 2

"All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."

Appropriately following a paragraph on election, this brief statement of "eternal security" or the "perseverance of the saints" is wholly and demonstrably biblical, and a crucial objective element of Christian assurance. Believers need to have biblical reasons why they will not wake up an unbeliever the next morning.

Some observations:

"All true believers" rightly presupposes that there are professing believers--possibly even self-deceived about their own condition (cf. Matt. 7)--who will not stand in the Last Judgment.

"...but shall persevere to the end" points up the fact that eternal security is, in the words of John Piper, less like a vaccination and more like therapy. The point of that analogy is not that our cooperation with God's keeping and sanctifying grace is the decisive factor (it is not), but simply that it is necessary. Sanctification and perseverance unto the end is not an auto-pilot reality. It is a process of discipleship and growth in the knowledge and grace of Christ which by nature involves our own willing, our struggle to delight in God above all else, our lives of prayer and obedience.

One of the most prominent features of the New Covenant itself, besides the fulfillment of all sacrifice as provision for forgiveness of sins in Christ's death, is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the writing of the Law on human hearts. Our existence is one of union with the risen Christ, in the inaugurated realm of the Spirit and New Creation. This ensures two things: 1) we are eternally secure in this new sphere of Spirit-dominated resurrection life, and 2) these realities by nature change and move the hearts of true believers to faith, repentance, and Spirit-empowered obedience and covenant faithfulness (imperfect in this life).

"Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation" acknowledges the reality that I mentioned was so important to understand in the section on sanctification, namely, that it is an incomplete process in this life. Even the most seasoned saint retains indwelling sin in this life. Only in the presence of the Lord, absent the body, and later more visibly on the Last Day of resurrection, will sin be eradicated from redeemed man forever. Nevertheless, the BF&M does well to go on and describe the still very serious consequences of sin believers may have to endure (grieving the Spirit, hurting the mission of the church, wrecking assuring graces and comforts, other possible temporal judgments).

The only thing I can imagine being useful to add to this whole section would be an explicit mention of the theology of professing believers who fall away (which theology is here implied, to be sure). Namely, according to a straightforward reading of the grammar of Heb. 3:14 and 1 Jn. 2:19, those who fall away from the faith were never true believers to begin with. I think stating this side of the coin even more explicitly would be useful because this is such a common experience in the visible church, especially in the increasingly secular culture of North America. And it can be an upsetting experience to believers who witness it taking place among friends and family, or children who go off to college and abandon the faith, if they do not have a robust, clear theology of conversion and perseverance.

Finally, "...kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" is perhaps the most important phrase in this section. The language is straight from 1st Peter 1 and emphasizes the fact, of course, that it is because of God's grace and power in keeping us for final salvation, and not through our own inherent faithfulness or ability to persevere, that all of us who truly hope in Christ will make it to the end.

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