For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NASB)
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away… If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. (John 15:1-2, 6)
God’s Word, Jesus Christ, is Truth, and He does not contradict Himself. Of course, no single verse, chapter, or even book of Scripture reveals Truth in its entirety: each verse is to be known and applied both in context and in conjunction with the entire cannon of Scripture.
But the righteous shall live by his faith (Hab. 2:4b) is the divine principle that explains what might at first appear to be a contradiction regarding the nature of our salvation in our two opening Scriptures. By God’s design, we are to receive and continually respond to saving grace by faith, not simply accept it once for all. God clearly desires for us to love and glorify Him by acting of our new selves redeemed by the Blood of Christ. Nevertheless, the possibility of our refusing His grace and acting in unbelief/rebellion at any point in time throughout our earthly life must remain! God would be a tyrant if He did not provide us with free will.
This might surprise you, but the truth is that all men have been saved by God’s supreme act of mercy and grace accomplished at infinite price on our behalf 2,000 years ago via the righteous life, suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (hold on- the explanation is coming). That’s right – in God’s eyes, it’s past tense, as clearly stated in these Scriptures:
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. (Ro. 5:18)
and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men (Titus 2:11)
(I encourage you to make a habit of opening your Bible and taking the time to read all Scriptures provided to you in articles such as this in their context so as not to be unintentionally (or intentionally!) misled by any teacher. In the interest of space and time, teachers usually don’t/can’t provide the whole context of each Scripture they present.)
But clearly not all men are saved (as evidenced by the absence of the fruit of the Spirit); why so? This is because not all men RECEIVE Christ and continue to ABIDE in Him by faith, with His word abiding in them, producing fruit (see John 15:7-8). It is incumbent upon each person to KNOW God’s living word, BELIEVE it, and ACT upon it in order that Christ – the Word Himself – produce the fruit through their branch.
Furthermore, in Christ, God has likewise already procured our sanctification and our glorification (see 1 Cor. 6:11; Ro. 8:30)! It is incumbent upon us to likewise make them manifest via active faith in Christ our Righteousness as well. Thus, our initial salvation, our sanctification, and even our glorification are one continuous joint enterprise, requiring both His active present-tense grace AND our active present-tense faith in Jesus Christ. This should not surprise us, for God is Love, and love (Greek: agape) is relational. Oh, let’s worship Him now…
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Of course, God makes it quite clear that no part of this can ever be by works of our flesh – it must be via our anointing by the Holy Spirit:
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected [sancification and glorification] by the flesh? … So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Gal. 3:3, 5-6)
Notice that righteousness comes by believing God. Our Lord reveals yet more of the meaning of that same OT Scripture (Gen. 15:6) via His servant and genetic half-brother, James:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?…
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone…. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:14; 21-24, 26)
“Once saved, always saved” is unscriptural: the entire cannon of Scripture speaks that saving faith is active – it apprehends God’s word, lives by it, and is transformed by it. Is it any surprise that “I AM” designed things so that His children live via present-tense dependence upon Him?! I am the bread of life; I am the way, the truth, and the life; I am the resurrection and the life… (John 6:48; 14:6; 11:25)
Let us re-read Jesus’ words in John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (emphasis added). Do you see it? The verb “believes” is present-tense and, therefore, active in this Scripture which is commonly cited (falsely!) to support the “Once saved, always saved” false teaching. Here is another Scripture commonly cited to support it:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes [present tense and, therefore, active!] Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24, emphasis added)
Now, in our other opening Scripture, Jesus clearly explains that this passing from death into life by grace through faith in Christ is not irreversible: I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away… If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. (John 15:1-2, 6). Of course, we all know such fall from grace is NOT God’s doing; it is a consequence of our inaction (or action).
This is apostasy, which Jesus also speaks of in Matt. 7:18-23, Luke 6:46-49, Rev. 3:1-6, etc. This wretched spiritual state is one of four possibilities for us, explained in His Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23, specifically vv. 5-6, 20-21). We will delve into this next time in Part 2, God-willing. Meanwhile, I encourage you to do as the Bereans did in Acts 17:11 and study the blue linked passages above yourself; please do NOT take my word (or anyone else’s) on Biblical doctrine. Praise God, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. (1 John 2:27)
Before closing this first segment, I’ll draw your attention to the fact that a large portion of the NT is written specifically to encourage believers to remain firm in our faith so that we do not fall from this grace in which we stand. Consider two of Peter’s exhortations in his second epistle:
Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:10-11)
…be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:17b-18)
Multiple other examples will follow in subsequent articles.
Rejoicing with you that the Holy Spirit is faithful to lead us into all truth as we study His glorious Word, your sister deanna