by Mike Ratliff
17 One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. 18 And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him. 19 But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. 20 Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” Luke 5:17-21 (NASB)
I have known many people over the 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 member in 5 different Southern Baptist churches in two states. 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 their 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.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us. Psalms 103:10-12 (NASB)
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 the lost are totally unable to relate to God in any way. They do not love Him. They do not desire what He wants for them. They may indeed love their own creation of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, but when they are confronted with the Biblical Jesus and His Father, they 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 each person is capable of choosing to be saved by exercising their Free Will. God rewards this choice with regeneration and salvation. However, that is not what the Bible teaches.
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 (NASB)
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.
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 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 (NASB)
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.
36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”
40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” Luke 7:36-40 (NASB)
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.
41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 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. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:41-50 (NASB)
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. 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.
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9 (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:1-21 (NASB)
We are spirit-filled when we are not self-focused and are, instead, 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!