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Once in Grace, Always in Grace?
So-called orthodox churches have been engaged for centuries in "saving souls from hell" and guaranteeing them a place in heaven. The very possibility of such "saved souls" being subsequently lost finds no place in most theology. Many Christians labor under the belief that once they have allegedly been "saved," heaven is guaranteed. This argument is only possible because "saved" to them means "saved to heaven."
Such heavenly salvation is contingent upon continued faithfulness and growth in the graces of the Spirit, as we have seen. Hence, one may be "saved" from the judgment of sin and brought into a relationship with Christ and then lose that standing. Let us note what the Scriptures say in this regard.
Jude 5 tells us, "I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not."
Here is a case where a great number of people were saved out of Egypt, and again saved through the Red Sea, and then later destroyed. Twice the children of Israel experienced God's grace; but subsequently, because of their hardness of heart and refusal to believe, God decided to destroy the adults in the wilderness over a period of forty years. Only Joshua and Caleb were privileged to enter the Promised Land, whereas all the other adults that left Egypt were destroyed in the wilderness.
Here is proof that "saved" people could subsequently be destroyed. These Bible stories were given for our instruction. It is clear that most of the "Israelites" received the grace of the Lord in vain and, therefore, never set foot in the Promised Land. Paul uses this lesson to teach, "Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (Heb. 4:11).
Jude 23 says, "And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." In this text "save" embodies salvaging lives that are being overcome by fleshly sins so that their spiritual well-being is not harmed. Notice that it is not the "blood of Christ" that saves in this text. Rather, fellow-Christians are engaged in restoring those involved in activities that threaten their relationship with Christ. If those "saved" must all be received in heaven, then Jude's exhortation would seem unnecessary. Must God receive all to heaven unconditionally, no matter what they do or how far they wander from Christ? This teaching gives license to living a life devoid of spiritual reality. It is a very dangerous view.
Jude goes on to say, "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24). The danger of "falling" is real. Paul says, "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). When Christians in the early church tried to commend themselves to God by works, Paul said, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace [being justified by God's grace]"(Gal. 5:4).
Christians Who Violate God's Grace
Peter speaks of Christians who place themselves outside of God's grace. He says, "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Pet. 2: 20-22). Character can become seriously corrupted, making recovery difficult and, in some cases, impossible.
Paul says, "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" (Heb. 6:4-6).
We read in Hebrews 10:26, 29-30: "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, … Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, the Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
These verses are sufficient to show there are limits to God's grace just as there is a higher purpose being served when God extends grace. God's grace is not given so that we may continue in sin, but rather God calls his people to share his holiness. His grace enables the Christian who has weaknesses and frailties to strengthen his character and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. The same mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead will work in the hearts of those seeking to walk in the footsteps of their Master.
"Good Figs" and "Bad Figs"
Jeremiah was shown a vision of baskets with "good" and "bad" figs. When the Lord asked him to describe what he saw, he said, "Figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil" (Jer. 24:3).
God had already discarded the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel some one hundred fifty years earlier because of corruption. Those who had once been God's people were rejected and were taken captive into Assyria. Only those who filtered out of the ten-tribe kingdom and associated with Judah retained their relationship with God. The others lost their standing and became mixed with the heathen nations. They ceased their worship of God and their endeavors to keep the Law Covenant given them by Moses. Then the nation of Judah came under God's scrutiny. The Lord used Jeremiah to warn the Jews in and about Jerusalem to repent.
The Jews who went into captivity in Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar's first incursion were the "good figs." The Jews who went into captivity during the final reign of Zedekiah were the "bad figs." They "would not listen" and were rejected as the "basket of bad figs." The "bad figs" went into captivity and then lost contact with God altogether. Many died; the others merged with the heathen nations and ceased to have a relationship with God.
Notice how the Jews saved out of Egypt were later destroyed in the wilderness. Then the ten-tribe nation was discarded, and still later the "bad figs" were cast off. God rejected them from the position of favor that they enjoyed. He retained the "good figs" and continued to deal with them. When the "bad figs" ran out of virtue, God cast them off from his favor, at least until the "Times of Restitution" of all things. The idea of once in grace always in grace does not seem supported in these historical presentations.
"Angels Which Kept Not Their First Estate"
Jude tells us, "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6).
Heavenly angels had been recipients of God's favor and grace. They were in existence long before man was created. Jude makes it clear that God's grace did not extend to such as "kept not their first estate." This bit of information is given to enable us to view God's dealings on a very broad scale.
There are no exceptions to God's rule. Whether men or angels, when they chose a course of sin, they were alienated from God.
This may refer to Genesis 6:2, which says, "That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose." Some have demurred at this conclusion, but the arguments raised against this view seem strained and weak.
Jude makes the point that "angels who kept not their first estate" were restrained until the "judgment of the great day." This account suggests that evil spirits-fallen angels-have been contained in "chains of darkness."
Just as the pre-flood world suffered a double tragedy of having both men and angels spread violence and wickedness, so the present evil world is plagued with evil men and evil angels that spread iniquity in the world at an accelerated pace. Much of the evil in this world originates with evil spirits and their leader Satan.
How Much Personal Responsibility Does Each Person Bear?
If anyone tries to use God's grace as a cloak to cover a lack of personal effort to attain character development, they are looking in the wrong place for comfort in the Bible. True, there is forgiveness with God, but even that is extended on the basis of our own willingness to forgive others their trespasses against us (Matt. 6:12).
God's favor to our first parents was conditional on their obeying his instructions. They were clearly instructed as to what was permissible and what was not. They were told what the penalty would be for disobedience and found that sentence executed with dispatch. Their life was conditional upon perfect obedience. When they violated God's law, his immediate favor abruptly ceased. True, God found a way to redeem the whole human race through the sacrifice of his Son. This was made possible by God's grace as we have noted, and not without great cost both to the Father and the Son.
Did God make such an extravagant sacrifice of his very own Son, and then somehow fail to make all benefit from it? This is not likely. The fact that all men do not believe on Jesus today does not mean they never will. Only erroneous theology has misread God's plan and concluded there is only one day of salvation.
From Jesus' day until now God has been selecting those who love Jesus more than husband or wife or children, more than the world and its allurements, more than houses or lands. These will become the bride of Christ to live and reign with him.
Then the invitation will go to the world, "the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17).
When God's Kingdom is established on earth, the event for which we all earnestly pray, it will be the time in which God "will pour out" his "Spirit upon all flesh" (Joel 2:28). God's grace will reach all not visited with his grace in this age.
No one can justly claim they merit this favor, so in this sense it comes from God's unconditional love. He extends this grace to all men in his coming earthly Kingdom. This is unmerited favor. It is not extended without purpose. It is provided through Christ to recover mankind from inherited sin and the effects of sin in their hearts and lives.
We are told, "And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people" (Acts 3:23). Moses was a mediator between God and Israel. He failed in his mission because he could not bring the people up to God's standard. Hence it was prophesied, "The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken" (Deut. 18:15). Christ will succeed where Moses failed.
Revelation 21:24 speaks of salvation that will reach nations. "And the nations of them which are saved [Greek., sozo] shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of earth do bring their glory and honor into it." Nations "are saved," but it is unthinkable they will be carried to heaven. Rather, these nations are granted entrance into the city of God on earth-the New Jerusalem. Man who was created in glory and honor shall again have glory and honor. Those saved in this text shall enter into "eternal life" in the paradise of earth. Eden, that was lost, will be regained on a worldwide basis.
Then Matthew 25:34 will be fulfilled: "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Even in the Kingdom of God on earth there will be a separation of "sheep" from the "goats."
God closed down the first kingdom when Adam sinned. However, God never intended that man should live in heaven. That again is faulty theology. Man is of the earth, earthy. Earth is the only place that is suitable for human beings. If God wanted man to be in heaven he would have given him a spirit nature.
Sin triggered another stage in God's plan. He originally intended for man to live on the earth, to multiply and fill it as the Garden of Eden spread over our planet. Sin did not change God's purpose. Sin caused a seven-thousand-year intermission in God's plan, after which his purpose will be fulfilled. This is what God willed for earth, and God's will always prevails.
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