Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Cor. 15:2)
my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6a)
Another key way in which the false doctrine “once saved, always saved” gains a foothold is by people not apprehending what eternal life actually is. In our opening Scripture, our Lord defines eternal life as knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent to us. The Greek word used here and in many other key Scriptures for “know” is γινώσκω (Strong’s G1907, transliteration ginōskō), and it conveys absolute knowledge as via experience.
That is NOT head knowledge of God’s word, like religious persons have (e.g. Pharisees, see prior post). Eternal life is knowledge of God that comes via abiding in the living Word, living by faith in accordance with God’s Spirit. This is far more profound than “going to heaven to be with Jesus when we die,” as eternal life is most commonly defined within the false teaching “once saved, always saved” (abbreviated OSAS herein).
Now, let’s apply this understanding of eternal life and of knowing God by experience to another key word of Jesus misunderstood by persons teaching OSAS, John 10:27-28: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Substituting “have absolute knowledge of” for “know,” and substituting “absolute knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ” for “eternal life,” Jesus’ meaning is unfolded: My sheep listen to my voice; I [have absolute knowledge of] them, and they follow me. I give them [absolute knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ], and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. Now that’s indeed supported throughout the entire NT, without exception!
Note also the condition Jesus gives herein: My sheep listen to my voice… and they follow me. We must listen to Jesus’ voice AND follow Him in self-denial all the way to the cross (see Luke 9:22-26 Gal. 2:20) in order to have absolute knowledge of the Father and Christ. THIS brings the power of His resurrection and the resurrected Lord Himself – the assurance that we will never perish!
Those persons who use this Scripture to teach the false doctrine of OSAS miss this internal condition: just as the cross preceded resurrection life for the Savior, it must also precede resurrection life for His followers. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor. 4:11 emphasis added). THIS is the Way! Our old Adam must always be given over to death so that the resurrected Lord may be revealed within our mortal flesh: THIS is salvation – it cannot be past tense!
As addressed in Part 1, valuing love at a premium, God grants us free will. If we choose NOT to listen to Jesus’ voice, if we choose NOT to follow Him in self-denial, then we will lack experiential knowledge of God, and we WILL perish. Using the metaphorical language of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower studied in Part 2, if a believer doesn’t KNOW and RECEIVE the Word, he’ll wither under the scorching heat of trouble or persecution (which WILL come because of the word), and he quickly falls away (Matt. 13:5-6; 20-21; see also John 16:33).
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Falling away from God once one has been in covenant relationship with Him brings the wretched spiritual state of apostasy (read through to the end, please; this IS Scriptural). Of course the greatest example of apostasy in all of Scripture is the nation of Israel: despite its covenant relationship with God, Israel became a harlot through idolatry, eventually fell into apostasy despite God’s mercy and grace, and crucified her long-awaited Messiah.
Israel as a whole failed to receive her Messiah and enter into God’s rest because, except for the early members of the Body of Christ, her people had unbelieving hardened hearts (see Heb. 3:7-4:13). Using a vegetation metaphor just as Jesus does in both His Parable of the Sower and His “Vine and the branches” teaching, Paul explains in Romans 9-11 that this lack of faith caused Israel to be cut off from the olive tree of God. Because she rejected Him, Israel must therefore suffer judgment (other Scriptures indicate this will be during the Great Tribulation, the time of Jacob’s trouble; only a remnant will be restored back to God…)
Towards the end of this key Romans 9-11 teaching, Paul explains that Israel’s unbelief (apostasy) allowed for the Church to be grafted into God like wild branches in a cultivated olive tree…(Ro.11:24).* Now, behold the dire warning Paul gives the Church against apostasy immediately preceding that verse:
…they [the people of Israel] were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And IF they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Ro. 11:20-23, emphasis added)
The point is, it is incumbent upon us (1) to understand the very dangerous possibility of apostasy for Christians, and (2) to disciple and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Way while there still is time to repent.** I encourage you to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and delve into the Word, asking the Holy Spirit to teach you this important topic Himself before I address it in forthcoming articles; I have provided links to many Scriptures addressing apostate Christians midway though Part 2 to help you do so. May God grant you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation therein. Amen.
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[to be continued…] God-willing, in Part 4 we will continue studying God’s word regarding Christians falling away into apostasy.
Keeping His commands and enduring patiently with you by His grace through faith in Christ Jesus, your sister deanna
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*Israel’s rejection of her Messiah caused God to usher in the Church age and put Daniel’s 70th week, THE week of judgment against her, “on hold” until some undisclosed time after He ends the Church Age by rapturing His Bride (see Part 5: The Overcomers onwards of the series Our Exalted Position).
**Our Lord prophesied key characteristics of the entire the Church Age in his seven letters addressed to (actual) first century churches existing in Asia in Rev. ch. 2 & 3. Three of the first four churches, and populations within two of the last three churches are admonished to repent of their ways in order to overcome and receive their inheritance of heavenly rewards. Christ indicates in Rev. 3:1-6 that the majority of the church of Sardis needs to repent – they have soiled their clothes. He implies that those do not repent and overcome will NOT be dressed in white, and that He will blot out their names from the book of life (see v. 5). These are members of the Church! These people have been born again, but do not have saving present-tense active faith in the living Word of God. These are the foolish virgins of Matt. 25:1-13: they are professing believers (virgins with lamps), but, lacking present-tense active faith, they have insufficient oil (Holy Spirit) with which to fuel their lamps; they are shut out of the wedding banquet, and the Bridegroom tells them, “I don’t know you.” They must endure Daniel’s 70th week with Israel and the Gentiles; so long as they refuse the mark of the beast they will be saved, but then it will cost them their literal lives, for the beast will be given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them (Rev. 13:7).
Now, many believers who diligently study the Scriptures like the Bereans and heed Jesus’ warning to keep watch know that the day and the hour of His rapture of His Bride to be with Him in His Father’s house is extremely close at hand: the Body of Christ MUST wake up and BE ready! We must speak boldly all the Lord gives us to speak, and do everything He commands us to do regardless of the resistance our old selves in these critical last days, for the time is near (Rev. 1:3b), and foolish virgins and unbelievers abound…