“Lord, why have you allowed us to turn from your path? Why have you given us stubborn hearts so we no longer fear you? Return and help us, for we are your servants …. Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down! How the mountains would quake in your presence!” (Isaiah 63:16; 64:1 NLT)

If we are not free, why does Isaiah question the Lord about his allowing his people to stray?

If we are free, why does Isaiah attribute the people’s stubborn hearts to the Lord’s action?

Doing justice to the Text requires more than a simplistic either/or approach. Some people would rather argue for their own viewpoint than submit to the Scripture.


Andrew Wilson, teaching pastor at King’s Church, London, has written a very good piece on warnings and assurance in salvation for thegospelcoalition.org.

Three quotes:

Some people like the assurances (because they’re comforting), but don’t like the warnings (because they frighten believers). Some people like the warnings (because they take sin seriously), but don’t like the assurances (because they make people complacent).


The warnings are real: If believers fall away into sin and never repent, they won’t be saved. The assurances are real: God, in Christ, by the Spirit, will keep all believers to the end. And the former are a God-ordained means of ensuring the latter.


So there are practical benefits to grasping the warning-assurance relationship in 1 Corinthians, in Paul, and in Scripture. It can help our preaching, and it can help our pastoral ministry. There are also huge theological benefits, as we see the integrity and balance of biblical emphases, and remember both that we’re commanded to obey God, and also that even the ability to obey is itself a gift.

Personally, I wish he hadn’t maintained the “believer” vs. “true believer” dichotomy, but his writing represents important progress on a subject avoided by both Reformed and Traditional Baptists. He identifies four very significant ways preaching and ministry are affected by striking proper (biblical) balance on the subject.

I recommend both the article, which I have read, and the dissertation/book, which I intend to order.

Preach the warnings without grace, and you will raise up legalists who strive at good works as a means of salvation. Preach assurance without warnings, and you will create complacent consumers with no heart for the Kingdom of God or making disciples (and, not insignificantly, put earnest believers in danger of irretrievably falling away).

Preach both, and see what God will do.

Do you think Hebrews 10:26-29 addresses only those who have never been born again? Consider the context:

— v.19 speaks to “dear brothers and sisters” who can “boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.”

— v.23 calls on these fellow believers (“us”) to “hold tightly to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.”

— v.29 declares both the author and his audience (“us”) have been made holy by the blood of the covenant.

— v.30 asserts that God’s revenge on those who refuse to obey is promised for “his own people.”

— v.32 reminds these believers how they “remained faithful, even though it meant terrible suffering.”

— v.34 encourages them that “better things” are waiting for them, things that will “last forever.”

— v.35 warns them not to throw away their “confident trust in the Lord” because of the “great reward” it will bring them.

Where it begins

July 8, 2017

“As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.” (2 Corinthians 6:1 NLT)

“What makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation …?” (Hebrews 2:3a NLT)

“Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward. Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:8-9 NLT)

You cannot wander away from a teaching unless you were first in it. If you were in the teaching, you had a relationship with the Father and the Son. It is the wandering away that severs the relationship.

In Galatians 5, Paul is writing to Gentile believers who were running the race well (v.7) until a group of legalistic Jewish Christians began trying to convince the Gentile believers that they needed to be circumcised to truly be children of Abraham and heirs to the promise.

The Gentile believers were in danger of being persuaded, so Paul felt it necessary to explain to them (in ch.4) the difference between being enslaved by law and being set free by grace. He clearly declares the good news that Christ sets his followers free from any need to keep the law in order to please God.

Then he delivers this terrifying warning:

“Now make sure you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.”

“Christ will be of no benefit to you”? How can that be? Once we are saved, are we not always under grace?

Paul presses in: “I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.”

We receive righteousness from God by faith, not by by observing any external requirement. “When we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” (v.6)

Two lessons here, though many only focus on the first:

(1) Salvation is by grace through faith, not from works of law. All of us are sinners from our earliest days. No amount of effort on our part can ever earn the favor of Holy God. That’s why the sinless Son of God laid down his life as a sacrifice on our behalf.

(2) Once you have by faith accepted Christ’s blood as payment for your sin, you must not turn away from the life of faith. If you allow yourself to fall away from Christ’s grace, he no longer is of any benefit to you. You will have cut yourself off from Christ and once again exposed yourself to judgment under the law.

Once set free, we must turn our backs on sinful ways, because we are slaves of what we obey: either sin or righteous living — and the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:15ff) If we deliberately keep on sinning, there is no longer any sacrifice to cover them. (Hebrews 10:26ff) When we turn away from God again, we reject Christ and nail him once again to the cross. (Hebrews 6:4ff)

The warning is not the final word, thankfully. “What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” (v.6) “You have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. … Use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (v.13)

A text like 1 John 2:19 does not disprove the possibility of apostasy:

These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us. (NLT)

The text establishes a terrible truth in its own right: It is possible for unregenerate people to mix in a church with God’s people. I doubt there is now or has ever been a congregation for which that was not true.

Deniers refer to a text like this when they wave off the problem of apostasy with a trite dismissal: “Well, obviously they were never saved in the first place.”

Yet if the apostate is nothing more than a church member who was never saved, why does a neighboring text speak to genuine believers about the necessity of remaining faithful and carry an implicit warning about eternal life?

So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship (meno) we enjoy the eternal life he promised us. (1 John 2:24-25 NLT)

The text tells us we enjoy eternal life in fellowship with the Son and the Father, but it also makes remaining in fellowship contingent on whether we remain faithful. Deniers hate the question: What of those who were faithful but do not remain faithful?