No coincidence

August 13, 2015

No coincidence: Christians who have no teaching about the role of obedience in salvation also offer no warning about the danger of apostasy.

The Lord guided the Israelites through the wilderness by a cloud that moved ahead of them. They walked to freedom through the sea — on dry ground. In the desert, God gave them food to eat and water to drink. Yet the people grumbled and put Christ to the test. They worshiped idols and engaged in pagan revelry and sexual immorality. They dishonored the God who redeemed them from captivity, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness as a result.

The Bible says: “These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did …. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:6-13 NLT)

Do not discount the grave danger that looms when God’s people continually dishonor their Lord. Do not think that redemption means you are exempt from the same judgment experienced by those whose rebellion left their bodies scattered in the wilderness. But rejoice that God is faithful and always offers his people a path to endurance and salvation, if they will but be faithful to him in return.

You think it is impossible for a genuine Christian to ultimately be lost in eternity? You think a person who ends badly was never really saved in the first place?

Why, then, does Paul tell the “dear brothers and sisters” in Rome that “if you keep on following [what your sinful nature urges you to do], you will perish”?(Romans 8:13a NLT)

The Greek word translated ‘perish’ refers not only to natural death but also to eternal death, being subjected to eternal misery in hell. It speaks of a tree that dries up and dies, of a seed that is planted but rots in the ground.

Let there be no doubt Paul is speaking to genuine believers. He clearly says his friends have Christ living in them (v.10) and that because they have been set free by Christ, they have “no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.” (v.12)

The wonderful news is that because they have access to the power of the Holy Spirit living within them, through the Spirit they are able to turn from the sinful nature and its evil deeds and live! (v.13b)

Let us not make our tradition’s teaching lord over the Scripture. The perseverance of the saints is a wonderful truth, but it is not a foregone conclusion. Celebrate the fact there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus! (v.1) Be strengthened by the knowledge that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ! (v.35) But do not think for a moment that you can willfully indulge your sinful nature and escape the consequences due those who trample under foot the Son of God, regard as unclean the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and insult the Spirit of grace. (Hebrews 10:29)

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NLT)

Let there be no mistake: James is speaking to Christians when he warns his listeners about the danger of making themselves enemies of God. Up to this point in his letter, he has called his readers “dear brothers and sisters” seven times.

In the immediate context (vv.1-3), James is exposing problems still common among Christians today: quarrels and fights in the body, jealousy, wanting what we don’t have, resorting to ungodly means to get what we want, only wanting what will give us pleasure. You can easily make your own list of the ways Christians today are trying to be friends of the world. (If you go back to chapter 1 and read from there, you’ll wind up with an even longer list.)

The point here is to recognize that James uses the word ‘adulterers’ to describe these Christians. If you had any question whether James is warning Christians about the danger of making themselves God’s enemies, that word ought to lay that doubt to rest.

A person cannot commit adultery unless she is married already. Think “bride of Christ.”

Now the question: What consequences do you suppose a believer will experience who makes himself an enemy of God? Do you know what the Bible says?

“The wonderful inheritance I have reserved for you will slip out of your hands, and I will send you away as captives to a foreign land. For you have kindled my anger into a roaring fire that will burn forever.”

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans and turn their hearts away from the LORD.

They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, on the salty flats where no one lives.”

… O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who turn away from you will be disgraced and shamed. They will be buried in a dry and dusty grave, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.

(Jeremiah 17:4-6,13 NLT)

What an awful destiny: Thrown into a lake that burns forever with fire and brimstone. To die a second time and suffer eternal destruction.

Revelation 21:8 lists some of those who will suffer that doom: unbelievers who do not trust God, corrupt people (the word means you can’t stand the stench), murderers, immoral people (pornos), those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers (which includes greedy and covetous people), and all liars (fakes).

Pretty much what you expect, right?

But there’s one more on that list. It even begins the roll call: “cowards who turn away from me.”

The Greek word translated ‘coward’ is deilos. It means “timid, fearful.” It’s the word used in Matthew 8:26 of the disciples — “men of little faith” — who were afraid when their boat was about to be swamped by stormy waves.

Does that get as close to home for you as it does for me?

It brings to mind Matthew 10:33, when Jesus warns that whoever denies him before men, he will deny before the Father.

It brings to mind Hebrews 10:39, which draws a frightening contrast between those whose faith assures their salvation and those “who shrink back to destruction.” (NAS)

I think of courageous hearts — Syrian, Iraqi, Ethiopian, Egyptian — forced to kneel before evil men who demand they renounce Christ, yet they refuse … and their throats are slit because of it. I think of “Christians” in the West who cave to cultural pressure and approve as normal what God calls an abomination.

You may not face a knife to your throat, but you may be deprived of your livelihood if you insist on standing faithfully with Christ. If I join the cowards and turn away from Jesus, I face something far, far worse.

“Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid of them! The LORD your God will go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NLT)

We proclaim it as a word of warning and promise from God’s lips to the ears of those who have not opened their hearts to Christ — and that it is.

But don’t miss the fact that the author actually is speaking to Christians — those who God’s grace has set free from the law (v.15), whose old sinful selves were crucified with Christ (v.6), who have been set free from the power of sin and will share his new life (vv.7-8).

Why does a Christian need to be reminded that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”?

Because “whatever you choose to obey becomes your master.” Paul is explaining to Jesus-followers that “you can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval.” (v.16)

Paul says this is easy to understand: “Before, you let yourselves be slaves of impurity and lawlessness. Now you must choose to be slaves of righteousness so that you will become holy.”

And he is saying that to people who already are “free from the power of sin” and “do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life.” (v.22) He is warning them that they must not allow themselves to once again become slaves of impurity and lawlessness (v.19) and do the things that end in eternal doom (v.21)

Salvation is a gift that Jesus has given you, keeps giving you, and will one day give you. Your part at first was to choose to accept that gift, and now your part is to keep choosing to accept it.

You are free from the power of sin! As slaves of God, do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. (v.22) Consider yourself dead to sin and live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus! (v.11)

Because the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.


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