Friendship and Eternal Security

A certain theologian advocates eternal security, declaring, “those who have been genuinely saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. shall not be in danger of God’s condemnation or loss of salvation, for God’s grace keeps them forever saved and secure.”

I see merit in his statement, but have some questions. (1) Who of us dare say whom are saved and who is not saved? Isn’t that God’s domain? (2) Since friendship with Christ is a covenant–an agreement between two parties–what is our part in the covenant?  (Calvin is dead wrong to exclude believers from the covenant, teaching it exists only among the trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. That notion has no support in Scripture.)

 Friendship with Christ: Jesus tells us that true friendship includes sacrifice, i.e. “laying down one’s life.” (John 15:13). Life (Gr: psyche) implies dying to self or laying down one’s ego for his friends. Jesus adds,  You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Our friendship with God is a great gift, but not one based just on a past decision made to trust him.  It rests foremost on God’s steadfast love, but includes obeying his command.  What command?–the mandate he gave at His table which he repeats twice in this discourse: (15. 12, 17). “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus laid down his life for us. If I am his friend, I will obey him by loving my fellow believers which includes  laying down my life, i.e. my soul, my ego, for them.

My best friend and I became pals years ago. We continue to enjoy that bond, but it means calling and meeting each other; helping when and if needed. But what if I make no effort to nurture our friendship? Would we remain friends? Clearly not, since Jesus defines friendship as a two way street. Friendship in his covenant is with Jesus on the vertical plane but includes loving others. This what we mean by “the horizontal church.”

 ”If you abide in Me…”Three things I see in this phrase, (a) Abide is a remaining or continuing in Jesus; (b) The little word “if” means I must do my part. (c) Abide is in the present tense. We remain in Him today not  just yesterday or 40 years ago at conversion. Salvation is past, present and future. Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2) andToday. if you do not harden your hearts…” (Heb. 3:16)

Jesus’ Prime Directive is his order for a new order: “Love one another as I have loved you. -–John 13: 34. Many professed believers are apparently in for a shock.  ”Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy… cast out demons…and perform wonders in your name?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.” Matt. 7.21, 22” Again, in his parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus rejects professed believers he terms “goats.” In shock, they ask, “Lord when did we see you…. and not help you?” He answers, “when you refused to help the least of these my brethren, you were refusing to help me.”  Their sin? Disobeying Christ’s prime directive.

Don’t get me wrong. I have full confidence in God’s ability to  ”work in me to will and do his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12). Without his daily grace, I am lost. But I shun the arrogance that says, “It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, I’m going to heaven.” I’m  a sinner whom God has reconciled himself to by Christs death and am “being saved by his life (within me). (Romans 5:10) And so I …work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.”–Phil 2:11. I also try to be “diligent to make my call and election sure.” (2 Peter 1:10). So,

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P.S. From Genesis to Revelation, we God’s relationship with his people is reflected in  marriage. I would hazard then, what is true for friendship, may go double for marriage. I’m just saying.

The Ambiguities of our Faith

It’s a strange but true fact that we are often held captive by our culture. For example, in the West, we believe truth is usually black or white.

I was sitting in a lecture hall at Yale University, scratching my head, trying to decipher Dr. “Freddy” Wang’s accent. “Chinese is wery ahm-big-oo-us.”  Forty of us were there to learn Mandarin, courtesy of the Air Force. NSA would then train us to spy on the Chinese mainland. Anyway, after his lecture, we were laughing at Freddy’s repeated attempts to say, “Very ambiguous.”

Years later it dawned on me. In that phrase, our professor was sharing with us the wisdom of his ancient culture. We johnny-come-lately westerners are clueless about the oriental insight into the dynamics of ambiguities such as yin and yang.  Webster’s defines ambiguous as” having two or more possible meanings. In the West, we keep trying to force reality into “‘either…or,” a rather static view of the world and the Word.

English has many synonyms for ambiguous. Paradox is one. Dialectic is another. The dialectic method holds that two contrasting ideas (dualities) may be in tension with each other, to reconcile the two into one new meaning, called synthesis.  In simple terms it means life is not always “either… or.” Sometimes it is “both…and. Our Christian faith has such ambiguities. Not convinced? How do you answer these questions?

  • Is Jesus man or God?
  • Is God one or three?
  • Are we saved by God’s grace or by our faith?
  • Are we going to be judged by our faith or our works?
  • Is salvation a present or future reality?
  • Which testament portrays God’s true nature, the Old or the New?
  • Does God judge us in our sins or extend forgiveness?

Congratulations if you answered “both” to all seven. Paradoxes like these have sadly been the cause for dividing Christians for centuries. Often it’s because the western mind fails to grasp what the eastern mind does–reality is not always a one-edged thing. Sometimes it has two-edges, as we see in this passage, “God’s word is living and active, as sharp as a two-edged sword, dividing asunder soul and spirit, where joints and marrow join, for God’s word judges a person’s thoughts and intentions.” –Heb. 4:12.

Did you notice the five underlined pairs? They are dualities. I believe the inspired writer put them there purposely, to help us see truth often has two edges—two contrasting ideas in harmony with each other.  This insight helps us resolve so-called discrepancies found in Scripture. It also may help us reconcile doctrinal controversies.

Consider two passages, quoted by opposing sides of one such controversy. “I have written these things that you may know you have eternal life – 1 John 5: 13. “How can those who abandon their faith be brought back to repent?”-Heb. 6:4. It’s tempting for one who is zealous for his doctrinal position, to twist a text to make it agree with his view, or to manipulate one to disprove the other. But why not let God’s Word be His Word? ”Let God be true and every man a liar– Romans 3.4. We can solve the dilemma when we hold these two truths in tension with each other. We are not forced to choose one over the other.

Once on a long car trip, I sat between two pastors. Each of them was as dogmatic as the other, heatedly arguing Calvinism vs. Arminianism, proof texting their positions from Scripture. After many miles of this, I finally spoke up. “You know, I believe you are actually both right. But is it “right” to let your doctrinal views come between you as brothers?”

Many church splits have been caused by these kinds of disputes. How sad, when the inspired Word clearly states,  “Be in harmony; show love for one another; be united in spirit and agree with one mind”– Phil, 2.2.  Brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah,[o] I urge all of you to be in agreement[p] and not to have divisions among you, so that you may be perfectly united in your understanding and opinions. –I Cor. 1.10

Paul is just following Jesus when he made this fervent prayer before his passion. ”Father, may they all be one, as you and I are one…may they have such perfect unity that the world will know you sent me.”–John 17.21-23.

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We are the church, the bride of Christ

Years ago I received a mission from the Lord to pray for his church, his bride, his body–to pray for her unity and mutual love. This morning in prayer, God’s Spirit reminded me of a passage from Paul:

Ephesians 5: 35-37 (Paraphrase) Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, just as Christ did for us, his church. May your love be a matter of sacrifice and giving to her, not out of your need to receive.

Just as Christ’s love makes His church whole, your love will bring out the best in your wife. Everything he does and says is designed to bring out the best in his bride, whom he dresses in a dazzling white gown, radiant with holiness and without fault. That is how you Christian husbands must love your wives. Love and cherish them as you do your own flesh. For a man who loves his wife actually loves himself, since “you are “one flesh.” When you do this, you both will benefit and God will be glorified.

The first thing about this text  is the Apostle uses the feminine pronoun “she.”(Greek: autei). The church is not an  “it.”  The church is the family of God’, a living entity, not an institution. We are Christ’s bride, his living, breathing body on earth. We are the church.

The second is the joy and mystery of the profound unity of man and woman–husband and wife– in the  sacred bond of marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and  mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2: 24)

My third response is perplexity. How can God Almighty transform this deeply flawed church of his so that she becomes his glorious bride, one without spot or wrinkle or any fault?  It stretches my faith to the limit.  Yet His Word is clear that he does do this and at his appearing will perform this great miracle of transformation. Or, perhaps the transformation will continue even beyond that. The Bible doesn’t say.

But for me, now, and for many men I know, the main point of this passage is, while, like me, my wife is deeply flawed, I am to love her unconditionally, as Christ loves his own bride. I can do this if I choose to do it AND if I trust Him to give me His agape Spirit to accomplish it.

Recently, I’ve been finding God’s grace to take a few faltering steps in this direction, answering her negatives with soft positives, not feisty arguments. Funny thing is, when I do, she changes and answers me with a softer, kinder spirit.

As a result, we have been having much fewer conflicts. But that’s not the best part. As  I overlook her flaws  to focus on her good qualities, our relationship blossoms. When she receives from me the positive attention and love she craves, I find pleasure just being with her.  Yes, it’s great! Little by little we are helping each other become better than we were.  And through all this, God is glorified.

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