by Mike Ratliff
On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:17-21 ESV)
I have known many through my many years who professed to be Christians, but who held to doctrines that placed the burden and veracity of their salvation on themselves. For the first 20 or so years of my walk with the Lord, I was a Southern Baptist. The SBC is not a denomination of churches that are consistent across the board on doctrine. There are Reformed and Arminian Churches in the convention along with everything in between. In fact, until God woke me up and drew me into the light in 2004 I really had no idea what the difference was. I had never heard of Arminianism. I had only heard of Calvinism in World History classes. However, as I studied doctrine I found to my great surprise that my own personal doctrine of salvation was a mishmash of Calvinism and Arminianism. Most non-Reformed Southern Baptists believe in a ‘doctrine’ of ‘Once Saved, Always Saved.’ It is not the same thing as the Reformed doctrine of ‘The Perseverance of the Saints.’ The former appears to be a holdover from the old days of the Baptist churches that were predominately Reformed in the doctrine.
When encountering people I have known whose Arminian conformity was more precise; they seemed to always zero in on the lack of substance of the ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’ stance of the SBC. They would point out their belief that Christians can lose their salvation if they are unrepentant of their sins. They believed that OSAS was a teaching of license to sin. Now that I have learned much about Reformed Theology, I see their point and I too condemn OSAS as a doctrine of demons. Those who counsel people to not worry about their sins because, “Hey dude, you can always repent later, ” are actually leading people to take their sin lightly and God’s grace for granted.
The Reformed doctrine of The Perseverance of the Saints does not teach license to sin. It teaches that God’s grace works in the lives of believers through their sanctification to mortify their sins and keep them from falling away. In fact, it teaches that perseverance is the indicator of Christian genuineness. Those who persevere to the end are the ones who are truly saved. Those who do not were never saved to begin with. There is no being saved, then unsaved, then saved, then unsaved… No, the Word of God teaches us that our sins are forgiven and those sins are cast as far as the East is from the West.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalms 103:10-12 ESV)
Another difference between Reformed Theology and Arminianism is in the doctrine of Regeneration. We believe that our race fell into Total Depravity at the fall (Genesis 3) and that means we are totally unable to relate to God in any way. We do not love Him. We do not desire what He wants for us. We may indeed love our own creation of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, but when we are confronted with the Biblical Jesus and His Father, we flee and become resentful. This is the reaction of all unregenerate people when confronted with the Gospel and God’s Law. So, how can any one be saved? The Arminians teach that we choose it by our Free Will. God rewards this choice with regeneration and salvation. However, that is not what the Bible teaches.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)
If we are saved because we exercise our faith first then are granted salvation we could boast. However, this passage makes it clear that we are unable to do that. Until God by His grace makes our faith alive, we remain dead in our trespasses and sins. Oh, we can do religious things, but that is not the same thing as being regenerated by God, which is the effectual call of God to come to the Son. All who are called by God this way do come to the Son.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:35-44 ESV)
All given to the Son by the Father believe, repent, and are saved. They will be raised up on the last day. Our gracious God forgives their sins. Let us look at an example from our Lord’s ministry.
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” (Luke 7:36-40 ESV)
Our Lord was invited to dine at a Pharisee’s home. Jesus went and dined with him. However, as the men reclined around a table on low couches, which is the Roman style of eating, their feet would be facing away from the food. A certain woman learned Jesus would be there. She came into the feast, but she is called here a sinner. This culture referred to prostitutes as sinners. When she arrived at the feast, she was carrying an alabaster flask of ointment. She was weeping as she washed his feet with her tears, wiping them dry with her hair. She kissed his feet then anointed them with the ointment. The host of this feast, Simon, knew that this woman was a prostitute and noted in his heart that if Jesus was a true prophet then He would know that this woman was unworthy to even touch Him. Then our Lord, knowing Simon’s thoughts, interjected a comment.
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:41-50 ESV)
Our Lord begins with a short parable. The parable is about two debtors who cannot repay the same moneylender. One owes 100 times more than the other. Both debts are cancelled because they cannot repay. Our Lord asks Simon which one will love the moneylender more. Simon rightly judges that the one whose debt was larger would love him more. Then our Lord cuts right into Simon’s own behavior towards Him since He came to the feast. Simon did not offer water for His feet. Simon did not greet our Lord with a kiss. Simon did not offer oil for anointing. He did not honor our Lord at all. However, the prostitute washed our Lord’s feet with her tears. She wiped them dry with her hair. She anointed His feet with costly ointment. She expressed her love for Her Lord. It was not this expression of that love or the love itself that caused our Lord to tell her that her sins were forgiven. What was it? Our Lord tells her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Where does this saving faith come from my brethren? It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
I understand her weeping. This morning in church, we sang many songs about our wonderful, awesome, and forgiving God. We sang about our forgiveness and that our sins are cast from us as far as the East is from the West. I wept. I could not stop. Like this prostitute, I am not worthy to even come into my Lord’s presence. I wonder at times at the fact that my sins are forgiven. I do not deserve that. I deserve to be cast into Hell. I also know that I did not come to my Lord to be saved, I was drawn. I was called. I was changed forever. When I contemplate that I am amazed. Why did He put up with me as long as He did? His patience is amazing. I deeply desire to be through this time in this body of death. I want so much to be with my Lord. I cannot change how long that will be, but in the mean time, I must obey my Lord. I express my deep love for Him and my gratitude by being obedient and working with the Holy Spirit in mortifying my sin.
You see we cannot take our sin lightly. We must not take our Lord’s grace for granted and believe that we can repent whenever we are ready. No, it does not work that way. God grants repentance and His desire is that we live holy and righteously being conformed unto the image of the Son. However, we must also not walk in fear of losing our salvation. Instead, we must come to understand that our purpose in this life is to obey God, walk in repentance, glorify God, and enjoy Him forever. If we are walking according to the flesh then we are not doing any of that. Instead, all we are doing is walking in idolatry and self-focus, which always causes spiritual blindness. If this describes you then come to the throne of Grace, humble yourself before our Lord, and confess your sins. Get into your Bible. Immerse yourself in His Word, and learn to walk in the Spirit.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:1-21 ESV)
We are spirit-filled when we are not self-focused and are focused on God and His will and how we interact with those around us as our Lord would. Read the book of Ephesians as many times as you can in a week. Ask God to show you the truth each time. Ask God to clear up for you what you do not understand. Obey what He shows you. Forgive everyone as you have been forgiven.
Soli Deo Gloria!