Random Blog Clay Feet: November 17, 2008
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Hopelessly Saved

There are some thoughts that are starting to come together in my mind that I want to explore a little further. I recently heard some discussion about the doctrine of once-saved-always-saved that is quite popular among many Christians today. Apart from the fact that a careful study of Scriptures will not support such a theory, I pondered the significance of what this teaching portrays about how God relates to us and how He feels about us.

This doctrine claims that once a person has given their heart to Jesus and has been “saved” (according to a unique interpretation of this word), then nothing can ever change that immutable decision and they are locked into a guaranteed place in paradise. Nothing they choose from that time on for the rest of their life can reverse their situation with God or prevent them from entering heaven.

When it comes to people who have gotten “saved” but later turn away from God and live a life of open sin, the stress that such an example puts on the credibility of this doctrine is easily brushed aside by claiming that obviously the person was not sincere when they accepted Jesus the first time. It is claimed that they were just probably faking it and that they were not really saved at all but were just pretending to be Christian.

But instead of producing the effect of confidence and assurance in people's hearts as the intention of this doctrine seems to be, this kind of logic can actually produce even more doubt and fear about our salvation. For if it is true, as religious leaders claim, that people who wander off into deep sin after claiming to be saved were never sincere in the first place, then how do I know if my own encounter with salvation was sincere enough to stick? This teaching places much of the responsibility for salvation on our own shoulders by asserting that the level of our sincerity is the determining factor in whether we are really saved or not.

Because all of us have different feelings and moods at different times in our lives, we can never be completely sure how to measure our own level of sincerity about anything, much less try to second-guess someone else's depth of sincerity. Instead of producing boldness and peace in the heart to overcome sin in our life, we are too often subtly led down the path of judging – both ourselves and others. We are trying to live in an illusory world that is arbitrary and irrevocable and that actually robs us of much of our freedom of choice.

I am very sympathetic to our need for assurance and peace about our salvation. I grew up in a religious culture that was just the opposite as that described above and that itself has been the motivation for many to embrace this doctrine. I lived for many years in constant fear and uneasiness about whether or not I would ever make it to heaven and the religion in which I grew up seemed to intentionally like it that way. Insecurity about salvation was seen as something of an asset for promoting our desire to put more energy into striving for a perfect life to please God and get to heaven. And though it is seldom stated openly, the insinuation was always very present that only those who achieved complete perfection (whatever that meant) would ever enter the kingdom of heaven.

In reaction to this tendency toward legalism by people like us, those who embraced the opposite theology gravitated more and more toward the other direction and emphatically taught that it is impossible for humans to be perfect. I hear many Christians today who quickly insist that they will never be perfect because that is an impossibility – only Christ was perfect and all we can do is trust in His perfection as a substitute for us. This kind of logic seems to get us off the hook so that we don't have to take sin or righteousness too seriously; it allows us to remain comfortable with hanging on to whatever vices we think are just too difficult to give up.

This tension between opposing views of salvation has created endless arguments, heated debates and deep schisms among Christians for centuries. And instead of honestly seeking to know what God thinks about this or caring how our views reflect on God's reputation, we more often simply align ourselves with the teachings of whomever promotes what makes us feel the best and that most accurately corresponds to our preconceptions.

But I think one of the best tests for any doctrine or belief is to carefully consider how it causes us to view God and whether those ideas cause us to see Him as more consistent and loving or whether they paint Him as arbitrary and unpredictable. Does what we believe about God tend to project onto Him the characteristics that reflect what we are like or do they, by contrast cause us see our own faults and our disharmony with His perfect character? Do we find ourselves having to twist the plain truths about His unconditional and never-ending love to fit our own paradigms?

What I have seen over the years is that both sides of this debate are forced to use very twisted rationalizations and convoluted reasoning to substantiate their positions. They sometimes become very defensive when challenged about the logic and truthfulness of their respective positions and often resort to demanding that you must just believe and have faith that their teachings are true without understanding the reasons behind them. This is really resorting to force when the weaknesses of a theory begin to undermine its credibility. But the human heart is so aligned with the ways of selfishness and the logic of sinful thinking that sooner or later it seems we have to go back to fear and force and shame in our interactions with others who differ from us in order to try to maintain the kind of unity that we insist must be present in the body of Christ.

So what does it say about God if it is impossible for us to be lost after getting “saved”?

We often use the analogy of marriage to describe our relationship with God after becoming a Christian. I believe in many respects this is very accurate. But if we go with this illustration of our connection with God, does that mean that we are locked into marriage with Him no matter how miserable we become, no matter how much adultery and abuse we commit against our Husband? Does God force us to remain married to Him no matter how disconnected we become from Him or how much we want to be married to more exciting partners?

Malachi 2:16 says that God hates divorce. Does this mean that it is completely out of the picture as an option in our relationship with Him? This certainly seems to be part of the foundation of much of the theology we see today in beliefs about Israel. Christians are embracing teachings that claim that Israel is hopelessly locked into the promises God made to their ancestors no matter how rebellious they may have become. Consequently all sorts of scenarios are being presented to explain prophecies from the Old Testament that revolve around physical wars in the mid-east and Jerusalem being the worldly capital of God's kingdom on earth.

But there are other places in the Old Testament that clearly quote God as saying He had written a divorce for His chosen people. But every time He talks about this it is with intense anguish and is always based on the unfaithfulness of those He had worked so long to draw close to Himself. And prophecy itself actually reveals that shortly after His people crucified the Son of God and rejected their marriage with God, God reluctantly accepted their final decision and allowed them to divorce themselves from being His chosen bride. The New Testament is very clear that now the chosen people of God are made up of people from every imaginable description of people groups on earth who choose to accept His invitation to be bonded in love with Him.

But if we insist that once we have become firmly attached to a relationship with God that it is impossible for us to ever be lost, we are denying many plain Scriptures that teach the contrary. But worse than that, we are distorting the picture of God in the hearts of others and even ourselves by presenting a God who will not respect your freedom of choice once you have chosen to follow Him. This kind of thinking is far from making Him more attractive – it actually makes Him out to be more of a despot locking us to Himself like the slavery that sin holds over our lives. God wants to deliver us from abusive bondage, not take away our freedom to choose.

The marriage-type relationship that God offers to enter into with us is not based on an irreversible, one-time decision that we are never allowed to escape. It is a relationship of real freedom that allows us to grow in maturity, to make mistakes without fear of being rejected, of having the opportunity and time to grow up into Christ while not living in fear of losing our place in God's heart by acts of ignorance or even lapses of loyalty. What is really at issue here is God's faithfulness that challenges the assumptions on both sides of this doctrine.

For the “conservatives” who imply that we must be perfect enough for God to save us in heaven, the truth challenges us to examine the real nature of God's heart toward us and His complete lack of fickleness. It challenges us to trust much more in the faithfulness of God's love that will never, ever end. It reminds us that God's patience is not something that snaps someday when His dark side erupts in anger to destroy those who are not good enough for Him. The truth about God and reality is actually far better than we have ever dared to dream.

For the “liberals” who believe that perfect obedience is never possible and that God refuses to let anyone leave Him after making a decision to follow Him, the truth challenges us to examine our dim view of His power to transform us and restore us completely into His perfect image. It is true that righteousness is never about our achievements in being “good”, but at the same time we must stop underestimating the power of God to accomplish in our lives just what He says He intends to do. Living a righteous life – which is crucial to being prepared to survive the rare atmosphere of heaven in His presence – is not something we are supposed to achieve by our own efforts but is something that we have to allow Him to accomplish in us if we ever want to see His face and live. This is accomplished when we change our pictures of God and seek to dwell on the real truth about Him. For as we focus on His perfection we will inevitably become transformed into that perfection, not by our own efforts but by the principle of beholding.

Let is not accuse God of robbing us of our freedom to choose whom we will serve. Our destiny does not hinge on just one choice in our life but on the direction of millions of daily choices. All throughout eternity we will continue to have complete freedom to choose whether or not to be obedient and loyal to God, for this kind of freedom is the only climate in which real love can flourish.

The last part of the verse from Malachi that where God says He hates divorce has one of the most important messages to each one of us who desire to truly know how to be saved. God says, So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously. It is never God's idea to initiate a divorce, but ultimately He will always respect the final choices that we make about our relationship with Him and His offer for us to spend eternity in close fellowship with Him.

What I want to experience more fully in my own life is a clearer view of God's true character, to even see the emotions reflected on His face, to be filled with the same passionate love that ever flows from His heart. I want to have such a clear view of God that my life will glow with His glory and sin will lose all its attraction and effects on me. I want to know the life of natural righteousness, not forced perfection. I love a God who values my freedom so deeply that He will not lock me in without options to a life in heaven with Him when my desire may be to live in selfishness. I like it that God respects me that much.

Father, show me Your face more clearly today. Fill me with the assurance that comes from Your faithfulness and Your compassion. Thank-you for the truth I find in Your Word about You and how You feel about me. Continue to draw me closer to Your heart and cause me to reflect Your beauty more accurately so that others will better see Your loveliness in my life.