Part II: The Crystallization of the
Theology of Grace
of the Saints
security for the believer! The greatest of all assurances ‹
or an invitation to moral laxity? A biblical doctrine plainly
rooted in Scripture and part and parcel of the revelation of
God along with the promise of forgiveness and cleansing ‹
or simply a logical deduction from the fact of Election? If a
promise of God, what of the many passages which seem to warn
of the danger of falling away unto perdition and being lost in
the end? And if it is up to the believer "to endure,"
do we not then shift the final responsibility for salvation to
the individual himself? Are we then to be kept by our own good
works after being saved by faith without them?
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if once saved means always saved, should we not then speak rather
of the Preservation of the Saints than of the Perseverance,
for must it not be that God preserves rather than that the believer
perseveres? Where does our responsibility to maintain good works
begin and where does it end? And does this maintenance of good
works have a bearing upon our relationship in the family of God
as sons of the Father, or only upon our continued fellowship
were the issues that revolved around the central fact of Predestination
and Election, issues which divided the Reformers into two factions
that found it increasingly difficult to resolve their differences
because Scripture seemed to be equivocal, supplying proof texts
for the advocates of both positions. In the end not merely two
but three streams of theology emerged: the Reformed, the Arminian,
and the Roman Catholic. And these three streams have tended only
to harden their differences even while all three point to the
same Scriptures as their authority. Meanwhile, of all the differences
between these three theological systems, the fundamental point
at issue might be said to be summed up in the basic question,
Does the believer preserve himself or is he kept solely by the
power of God?
issue has been considered of great importance because it seems
to be crucial for the maintenance of a godly life. If the believer
is kept solely by the power of God ‹ and what other view
of the matter could possibly guarantee real security ‹ then
it would seem that there is no vital incentive to
life. What need of learning even the rudiments of the doctrine
of the Faith, and what need of penitence, and what need of exhortation
to obedience? What need of separation from the world and its
contamination of spiritual life? What need of good works? Might
we not turn around a familiar saying to read, "Eat, drink
and be merry, for tomorrow we live?" Indeed what need of
anything, for are we not free to do exactly as we please without
fear of serious consequence in this world or of judgment in the
world to come? Does not liberty become license? Is not this what
Paul was inviting when four times he repeated the words, "All
things are lawful unto me" (1 Corinthians 6:12 twice and
1 Corinthians 10:23 twice)? Should we not logically all join
hands with the Antinomians who drew just such a conclusion as
this and repudiated all controls entirely, claiming the right
of each man to do precisely what he chose as he felt inclined,
by what he called the inner leading of the Holy Spirit? If such
lawlessness was not dangerous, could it possibly be wrong at
while the issue might seem to be merely a theological one, its
resolution had wide practical consequences for the Lord's people
and formed the basis of divisions between believers as well as
between branches of the institutional churches, divisions which
have confounded all attempts at healing and have so far rendered
futile every effort to reunite Christendom into a true organic
unity. So unlikely is it that the issue can be resolved that
it would almost appear to be a providential device whereby the
existence of active controversy keeps the issue vital and the
truth constantly under examination, and doctrine in a state of
we have noted already, William Cunningham in his Historical
Theology stressed the fact that the early Church Fathers
often presented contrary views on the same issues. (1)
As a result they have frequently been appealed to for support
by opposing parties of later centuries. These contradictory opinions
were not matters of grave concern to the Church at that time,
but later, when it came time to resolve them, their very existence
proved beneficial in some important ways. They had previously
received little notice because the issues were not sharply enough
defined. But sharper definition was achieved as a direct result
of the later controversy to which earlier imprecision had not
given rise. These controversies focused attention, clarifying
the issues and refining the answers. Conflict of opinion has
thus had the beneficial effect of deepening conviction and enlarging
understanding. While the Council of Trent directed Roman Catholic
theology along a false trail, Reformed theology honed and refined
the Calvinist position is grounded securely in Scripture, but
it is also logically defensible. It may not seem important that
it should be logical if it is
1. Cunningham, William, Historical
Theology, London, Banner of Truth Trust, 1969 reprint ,
biblical. But it is important, because a system of Faith that
will not bear logical analysis is a Faith that becomes indefensible
at certain critical points except by emotional reinforcement.
When faith is challenged at these points and we find we cannot
meet the challenge reasonably we become emotionally defensive,
and if the challenge persists long enough we may come to suspect
human reason altogether. But if it is then asked why we reject
reason, we inevitably find ourselves searching for reasonable
explanations for our rejection, and thus we fall back upon the
very thing we are seeking to repudiate. The Lutherans tended
to accuse Calvinists of basing the doctrine of Eternal Security
upon reason rather than upon Scripture, making it a logical consequence
of their faith in the fact of Election. The Lutherans had to
do this because while they accepted Election they rejected Eternal
Security in the Calvinistic sense of being a certainty. They
could not allow, therefore, that the doctrine of Eternal Security
was to be found in Scripture, and accordingly they insisted that
Calvinists discovered it only by a process of logic.
God has elected man to be saved and if God is truly sovereign,
then man will be saved and cannot end up in any other way. The
logic seems unchallengeable. But we have to ask, Upon what grounds
does God elect? Calvinists say, "Solely upon the grounds
of his own good pleasure." But the Lutherans say, "Not
so. God elects men on the grounds of foreseen Perseverance."
This puts a new complexion on the matter. Because God can foresee
who will persevere to the end, He can safely elect those more
promising individuals to be conformed to the image of his Son.
Thus both parties agree to Election but upon different grounds,
and allowing these two different grounds permits a logical extension
to two different conclusions regarding the security of the believer.
To the Lutherans Election hinges upon foreseen Perseverance;
to the Calvinists Perseverance hinges upon Election.
the Lutherans were as convinced as the Calvinists that a man
is saved by the grace of God, but they differed as to how he
is kept. To say that he is also "kept by the power of God"
(1 Peter 1:5) was, if taken literally, to invite total indifference
on the part of the believer to what he did with his life thereafter.
And Lutherans felt that many Scriptures demand that the child
of God exercise himself continually towards godliness or he will
not be kept. Only he that endures to the end will be saved (Matthew
10:22). God's keeping of the believer is contingent upon the
believer's endurance. The believer is therefore called upon to
mortify the flesh (Colossians 3:5), to keep the body under control
lest by any means he should himself become a castaway (1 Corinthians
9:27). We are to strive to walk worthy of our calling (Ephesians
4:1), and to abide in the Lord lest we be cut off and thrown
into the fire and burned (John 15:6). The incentive to godly
life is the need to preserve the salvation which has been initiated
solely by the grace of God. Though this initiation was not a
co-operative effort but wholly a work
the preservation of it is man's work. Both Lutherans and Calvinists
agree that the grace of God in bringing salvation is effectively
sovereign. It might be resisted for a season by the elect but
it cannot be resisted forever. Once saved, however, a man might
indeed resist the grace of God. Calvinists believed that such
resistance would be to the hurt of a man's fellowship with God
but not his sonship: Lutherans believed that it might be to the
hurt both of a man's fellowship and his sonship. Thus the grace
of God is both irresistible and resistible, depending on whether
we are talking about the experience of regeneration or our walk
thereafter with the Lord. Issues which appear sometimes to be
very simple and straightforward prove upon closer examination
to have nuances which allow for great diversities of opinion.
The compulsiveness of the logic of
Calvinism which argues that if man must preserve himself he becomes
his own saviour was not lost on the Lutheran Reformers. Consequently,
they had to reject the use of logic and insist only upon an appeal
to Scripture. And Calvinists replied by underscoring the many
passages of Scripture which support the doctrine of Eternal Security.
For example, in John 10:28 the Lord said to his disciples: "I
give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither
shall any man pluck them out of my hand." But the Lutherans
countered by quoting many passages which seemed to state the
reverse, and they sought to take the force out of their opponents'
words by re-interpreting such proof texts as this. "True,"
they said, "no man can pluck us out of his hand. But we
by our own disobedience can escape from his hand and be lost."
They did not argue that Perseverance was impossible; they argued
only that it was up to the believer. It was not guaranteed merely
by the fact of Election, for Election itself was based on foreseen
the Calvinists believed that they need not depend upon logic,
though logic is certainly in their favour. They believed that
Scripture itself places the security of the believer not in himself
but in the Father's good pleasure; and then, having committed
themselves to this, they sought a better understanding of those
passages which their opponents pointed to as standing against
their doctrine. In this they were behaving no differently from
the Lutherans and Arminians who supported the contrary view,
except in so far as they have concerned themselves more intensively
with these apparently contradictory passages with the result
that, by sharpening their understanding, a great refinement of
doctrine has resulted. By and large Lutherans and Arminians have
not been able to refine their position to the same extent, partly
because every effort to do so has led to reasoning which is circular.
A study of the written works of Arminius shows this very clearly.
That it should be impossible, apparently, to break out of this
circularity and to reach a final conclusion suggests that the
system is basically at fault, not so much in its logical structure
but in its premises. By contrast, Calvinism does
in the same way; its logic is linear and it allows the extension
of understanding almost indefinitely ‹ one might say, to
the limits of human reason, provided that the premises accord
with Revelation. What Arminius, and what evangelicals of Arminian
persuasion, have consistently failed to produce is a logically
defensible theology that is not circular in its reasoning; for
what they seek to prove is introduced into the argument as part
of the proof.
kind of reasoning was particularly true of Arminius, whose position
on this matter closely resembles the Lutheran. In his arguments
with his contemporaries he never seems able to escape from circularity
of reasoning. What he seeks to prove is first assumed to be true
and then forms an essential part of his proof. It should be recognized
that Arminius was a most worthy man and undoubtedly a very earnest
believer. He often remarks upon the fact that the object of all
his theological dissertation was only to lead men to Christ,
not to defeat his opponents. He was a man of genuine humility
and profound learning. His reputation was admitted equally by
friends and foes alike. Beza, one of his most persistent opponents,
highly respected his scholarship nevertheless. Arminius admired
Calvin and recommended to his students the reading of Calvin's
Institutes and Commentaries as essential to their
proper training. He was a gentle man, constantly seeking to avoid
raising controversial issues and anxious to find and explore
points of agreement rather than disagreement. His early life
was marked by tragedy when, in his absence from Amsterdam as
a youth, his whole remaining family ‹ mother, brothers, and
sisters ‹ was massacred by Spanish forces bent on stamping
out the Protestant Reformation Movement in Holland. And the last
decade of his comparatively short life was plagued by increasingly
incapacitating illness (probably tuberculosis) and constant attacks
by strong Calvinist proponents who doubted not only his orthodoxy
but also his integrity.
must be admitted that his persecutors had some grounds for their
concern. Arminius occupied a sensitive position as a prominent
member of the Dutch Reformed Church and even more as a Professor
of Theology at Leiden University where many Reformed students
received their basic training. The situation was acerbated by
the fact that Arminius hedged regarding his own position in the
crucial matters of the capabilities of the natural man, the extent
of free will, and the question of the eternal security of the
believer. When he was asked to state his opinion plainly regarding
such questions as the part which man plays in his own conversion,
whether natural man can co-operate with or resist the overture
of God, whether man is capable of exercising saving faith on
his own initiative, his answer tended always to be equivocal.
Sometimes his equivocation may have been unintentional, resulting
from circular reasoning from which he could not escape because
his doctrine of the total spiritual ineptitude of man was unclear.
freely that it was sometimes expedient [his word] to remain silent
as to his position rather than to utter a falsehood about it.
(2) But he seems not to have recognized that while silence
may be proper in the absence of a request for a clear statement,
it is not proper in the presence of such a request. In the latter
situation, silence is tantamount to a declaration of error by
held that man had free will for the initiation of repentance
and faith. Yet when asked why some men exercised this freedom
by responding and others by refusing the overtures of God, he
replied in effect,
is the grace of God working in them that makes them respond."
why does not the grace of God act to make all men respond?"
the grace of God is directed only towards those who God sees
so we end up with the conclusion that the grace of God which
brings a response is exercised to bring a response, and that
it brings a response because this is why it is exercised. All
men can respond, but only some do. Why only some?
God enables them to by his grace."
does He not then enable all men to respond?"
"Because He extends his grace only to those He knows
will do so."
what makes the difference between men?"
difference is in their responsiveness."
does this difference come about?"
comes about because God's grace enables those who do respond
what is God's selective enabling based?"
foreseen responsiveness in the objects of his grace."
discussion becomes never-ending and there is no way to break
out of it. Calvin's answer to this same problem obviates this
circularity by preventing it in the first place and thus allows
forward linear progression with very fruitful consequence. Admittedly
his answer is irrational in the sense that it is beyond human
reason to understand what predetermines God's good pleasure.
The rationale of this good pleasure is secret (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Yet the fact of his good pleasure is revealed in the New Testament
(Ephesians 1:5), and if we in faith start with this as the reason
why some men are chosen, instead of seeking to base God's choice
on some good quality resident in man himself, we break the circle
which plagues Arminians and Lutherans and open the way for progress
by extension of logical argument. Thereafter discussion becomes
generative of entirely new understanding, and theological refinement
2. Carl Bangs, Arminius:
A Study of the Dutch Reformation, New York, Abingdon Press,
For one thing we can now begin with
the knowledge that all men are equally sinful and hopelessly
lost. From this we move forward to a number of related doctrines,
not the least important of which is that Saving Faith is not
something that man contributes himself but must be an integral
part of the atoning benefit of Christ's sacrifice. Like Salvation,
Repentance and Faith are gifts of God. We do not need to argue
this logically; we need only to read Scripture with our eyes
open. The logic is apparent once we have accepted Revelation.
Similarly it follows that if a man is not saved by exercising
his own faith he cannot be lost by ceasing to exercise it. Again
this is not merely a logical extension without Scripture to support
it, for Scripture tells us plainly that Election means God's
choice of the individual and not the individual's choice of God
(John 15:16); and God is not a man that He should change his
mind (Numbers 23:19).
we have already noted, Arminians have evaded the question of
Eternal Security by a process of deception in the use of words.
They agree that believers never lose their salvation. But when
asked, "Why not?" they reply, "Because a man loses
his salvation only when his faith fails." He thus becomes
de facto an unbeliever and satisfies the condition of
the statement that a man who is actually a believer is one who
by definition still enjoys his salvation.
it came about that there developed two factions within the Reformed
Movement, one of which tended to be rigidly correct and sound
in doctrine but accusatory and lacking in charity, while the
other became illogical and unorthodox, yielding to the ever-present
humanistic tendencies of a non-Christian world, but broader-minded,
more conciliatory, more humane ‹ and in many ways more successful
in terms of evangelism and missionary effort. To wed the two
theologies seems the most desirable thing in order to preserve
the truth without destroying charitableness, brotherly love,
and missionary zeal. But human nature being what it is, common
sense and humanism inevitably overweigh strict faithfulness to
Pauline theology. The tension between these two streams of developing
doctrine may in the end prove to be essential for the preservation
of both truth and charity.
the history of the Arminian conflict demonstrates is that while
the broader-minded, less precise, and more open-ended interpretation
of the elective purposes and methods of God may soften the stark
realities of man's need and his relationship to God as a sinner
under judgment, the Calvinist position retains a certain clarity
of formulation which in the long run is far more fruitful as
a guide to thought and action not only in spiritual matters but
in almost all areas of man's cultural and social life as well.
The inner conflicts inherent in Arminianism which invite debilitating
uncertainty are replaced by a redeeming measure of integration
and assurance of both mind and heart which is liberating
the Roman Catholics also struggled with the question of the security
of the believer and came to a conclusion which is quite different
from either the Arminian or the Calvinistic position. Their starting
point was different in one very important respect. They believed
that baptism is a divinely ordained yet magical rite, efficacious
in its effect whether performed by a believer or an unbeliever.
In some mystical way a change is wrought in the spiritual status
of the baptized individual, a change which is essential for the
operation of divine grace. This change is permanent and proof
against all subsequent sin, even against those which are mortal
in nature. Baptism does not in itself constitute salvation but
it opens the way. Once performed it need not and indeed cannot
ever be repeated. Venial sins do not undo this fundamental change,
and penitence (for lesser sins) and penance (for grosser offenses)
are sufficient to restore the baptized individual to God's favour
even after a life of almost total indifference. (3)
Venial sins leave the individual in the position of being able
of his own free will to recover himself into a state of favour
with God; mortal sin destroys this possibility, requiring that
God Himself must then act sovereignly on the individual's behalf
to effect restoration. Penance is required, measured by the extent
of the offense. Then the sufferings of Christ act by way of compensation.
is difficult to describe precisely what baptism accomplishes,
but it comes near to establishing a kind of "security,"
since its effect is not destroyed by venial sins. The relationship
which it guarantees between the soul and God is a kind of sealing
such as Paul speaks of in Ephesians 1:13, 14 and 4:30. Or to
use another simile, it is a divinely implanted seed which retains
an unerasable character (1 John 3:9). As a rite administered
at the very beginning, a divine imprint is set upon the soul
so that it preserves throughout life the possibility of salvation
at the last. Venial sins do not erase this imprint though they
can make the individual very sick. Mortal sins render the individual
dead, the imprint being no longer of any effect, so that he cannot
recover himself by any means. He has lost all "principle
of vitality." (4) But God can raise the dead, and therefore
there is hope. This principle of vitality seems to be somewhat
analogous to the capacity for believing which, Arminius held,
has by the grace of God been preserved in every man despite the
Fall. It does not represent the actual exercise of faith but
only the capacity to exercise faith which the grace of God can
is difficult to define in terms of conventional Protestant dogmatic
theology what the nature of this permanent change in the soul
of the baptized individual really is. It may in fact be dangerous
to attempt a definition in such terms. Though we are fully aware
of these dangers, it may still be
3. See G. C. Berkouwer, Studies
in Dogmatics:Faith and Perseverance, translated by Robert
Knudson, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1975 reprint , pp. 48
4. Sin: in A Catholic
Dictionary, William Addis and Thomas Arnold, London, Virtue
& Co., revised with additions by T. B. Scannell, 11th edition,
1928 , under "Concupiscence", p. 777.
to view this change as somewhat analogous to opening up the windows
of the conscience towards God. Without this magical rite, the
conscience is dead towards God and the individual is unable to
respond to his grace. Once the window is opened, however, the
individual thereafter is always aware of, or can of himself respond
to, the grace of God in spite of the venial sins which he commits
daily. Penitence is quite within his power and is normally all
that is required to keep his soul open to the grace of God. Mortal
sins, however, have the effect of closing the window so that
while the conscience remains as a faculty, the soul has lost
the power of exercising it towards God. Nevertheless God may
still by his grace re-open the window so that the mortal sinner
may yet recover himself by penitence and penance. If he should
refuse to respond to God's overtures, the window remains closed
permanently and he can look forward only to eternal punishment
in the world to come.
man whose sins are only venial will reach the end of his life
secure in the hope of heaven but not yet entirely prepared to
enter without embarrassment into the presence of God. For this
man, purgatory is designed to perfect in the next world that
which was begun in this. Purgatory is not reprobation or punishment,
but joyful preparation. It will be joyful because the sinner
who has experienced the grace of God will desire earnestly to
be freed of all his unwanted failings and made fit to stand unashamed
in the presence of God.
Thus baptism, which is in Roman Catholicism equated
with regeneration, is not unlike a kind of potential security
for the believer. Without this mystical change in the soul brought
about by baptism, the destiny of the individual is dark and hopeless
indeed; with it, the destiny of the believer holds promise of
fulfillment so long as he continues throughout life to co-operate
with the grace of God.
never held to this kind of continuance, though when Luther spoke
of man's passive aptitude for saving faith he seems to have been
approaching the same idea. Roman Catholic doctrine taught that
while baptized man has no assured security, he does have a stamp
of God upon him that can never be eradicated entirely though
it can be rendered ineffective. It cannot be re-imprinted. The
stamp is in fact indelible.
Roman Catholic doctrine therefore views baptism as a divinely
appointed rite by which a permanent change is effected that can
never be undone. Even the baptized individual who dies in mortal
sin is still in a relationship to God which is different from
that of the unbaptized. He does not simply revert to the position
of the unbaptized individual, but he placed himself in far greater
jeopardy by having once tasted but cast away the grace of God.
However one defines the term security in this context,
this much at least can be said: the baptismal imprint cannot
be undone. It may therefore be a great gain ‹ but it may
be an even greater penalty.
By contrast the Lutherans held that
a believer could fall away totally to such an extent as to have
need of being regenerated all over again, thus experiencing a
second justification. (5) But the Lutherans did accept the
distinction between venial and mortal sins and quoted 1 John
5:16: "[There is] a sin not unto death . . . [and] there
is a sin unto death." Of the sin unto death John wrote:
"I do not say that he shall pray for it." Such a passage
is believed quite sufficient to support the distinction between
what is venial and what is mortal sin.
Lutherans saw Saving Faith as a gracious gift from God, not something
which springs out of the heart of natural man. They therefore
distinguished between the capacity to exercise saving faith and
actually doing so. A baby has a capacity for language but due
to circumstances (deafness caused by disease, for example) the
child may never actually employ it: similarly the individual
though retaining a capacity for the exercise of faith may, due
to the disease of sin, never actually do so.
contrast, Arminius saw Saving Faith as something which man must
always be able by nature to exercise, for otherwise God could
not fairly demand it of him. He argued that God would not command
man to do what he has not ability to perform. Thus, since it
is the individual's own exercise of faith that secures his salvation,
it is clear that subsequent loss of this faith must result in
the forfeit of salvation. Yet Arminius seems to have felt that
this must be a rare occurrence. While by a certain "sleight
of hand" he was able to commit himself in writing to the
statement that the believer is eternally secure, he really meant
only that mortal sin and saving faith cannot co-exist.
dealt with venial and mortal sin in the life of the believer
in his usual decisive way. He said of believers that all their
sins must be counted as venial because there is now no condemnation
to them that are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Thus the believer
cannot commit mortal sin and lose his salvation. Nevertheless,
he said, in the sight of God all sins are mortal for "the
soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4). For the
believer mortal sins are now venial only, because the Lord Jesus
Christ has already suffered the fatal consequences of them in
the believer's place.
thus emerged three distinct theologies out of the debate surrounding
the question of Eternal Security. Today, the final Point of Calvinism
might better be re-stated as the Preservation of the Saints
rather than Perseverance, for this is really what is involved.
we have noted that Calvin was accused of depending upon logic
rather than upon Scripture to establish his position on Eternal
Security. In a sense the accusation was just. He applied his
logic directly to Scripture
5. Berkouwer, G. C., Studies
in Dogmatics: Faith and Perseverance, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans,
translated by Robert Knudson, 1975 reprint , p. 64.
He presented the clear statements of the Word of God on the subject
and drew the conclusion that if a particular individual was thus
elected to salvation for no reason other than that it was God's
good pleasure, the salvation of that individual could not possibly
fail to be realized. The essential ingredient of the believer's
security lay not in his own power to persevere but in the intention
of the Father to present to the Son as gifts all those for whom
the Son had paid the full purchase price. Calvin's argument was
therefore logical but the premises were not arrived at philosophically.
The premises were matters entirely of Revelation.
statement of the Lord Himself, "My Father who gave them
to Me," (John 10:29) is the starting point. The fact that
we are the gift of the Father to the Son, a circumstance that
implies we are in some special way God's possession even before
we come to the Son, is constantly re-affirmed by the Lord Himself.
It seems to be the starting point of his special concern in what
is truly the "Lord's Prayer" in John 17 (especially
verse 6). And that we are gifts of the Father to the Son is repeated
again and again in John's Gospel (6:37, 44, 65; 10:28, 29; 17:2,
6, 9, 11, 12, 24); and in many other places. No giver can make
a gift of that which is not already his to give. And is it conceivable
that God can give to the Son such a present unless it is given
in perpetuity? Jesus said: "This is the Father's will [the
Greek here is the strong word thelema, meaning intention]
who has sent Me, that of all whom He has given Me, I should lose
nothing but should raise it up again at the last day" (John
is important to observe the care which Paul takes to underscore the fact
that we are not saved by our faith but by Christ's faithfulness.
It is well known to Greek scholars that the word pistis ()
has a dual meaning: faith or faithfulness.* The point is an important
one. If we are saved by our faith it is obvious that we might lose that
faith and with it our salvation. But Scripture does not say we are saved
by our faith even though we constantly presume this to be so. The Word
of God is remarkably explicit on the matter, though the fact has tended
to be blurred by most of our translations.
example, note Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ:
nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and
the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of
the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
It is necessary to look at this passage with care in order to
* Bultmann has this to say about the
word: In accordance with the Greek feeling for language,
can denote not only the confidence one has but also the confidence one
enjoys. i.e., trustworthiness. . . . Concretely
means the guarantee which creates the possibility of trust, that which
may be relied on, or the assurance of reliability. . . . This leads
on the one side to the sense of certainty, trustworthiness; on the other
to that of "means of proof". . . . In particular
denotes the reliability of persons, faithfulness. [Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel, 1936, translated &
edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1964, vol.VI,
the point we are making so that it may be recognized in many
other parts of Scripture. The words that need close scrutiny
are, "I live by the faith of the Son of God." The reason
we need to pause in reading these words is that habit of thought
prompts us to read them as though Scripture were really saying,
"I live by faith in the Son of God." In point
of fact Paul is saying that we do not live by faith in the Son
of God but by the faith of the Son of God. And if we remember
that the word rendered "faith" may just as properly
be translated "faithfulness," then we see that our
life is not dependent upon our faith in Christ but upon Christ's
This particular truth is underscored
by Paul in many places. Thus in Galatians 2:16 he wrote: "Knowing
that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but through
[Greek dia, followed by the genitive] the faithfulness
of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that
we might be justified by means of [Greek ek, followed
by the genitive] the faithfulness of Christ." And again
in Galatians 3:22: "The Scripture hath concluded all under
sin, that the promise through [Greek ek, followed by the
genitive] the faithfulness of Jesus Christ might be given to
them that believe." In each case it is the faithfulness
of Jesus Christ and not the perseverance of the believer which
is the basis of his Eternal Security.
New Testament is full of this principle. Note that in Romans
3:22 the righteousness of God which is imputed to us is not described
as being the result of our faith in Jesus Christ. Rather, the
correct rendering is: "The righteousness of God which is
through [dia] the faithfulness of Him. . ." that
is, through his faithfulness. And then again in Philippians 3:8,
9: "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the
excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord . . . [that
I may] be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which
is of the law, but that which is through [dia] the faithfulness
of Christ, the righteousness which is of God founded upon faith."
We have customarily read these familiar passages as though they
were speaking about our faith in Jesus Christ.
Although many translations have not followed the lead provided
by the King James Version and have interpreted the words as "in
Jesus Christ," a number of modern versions have
* The Greek at this point is as follows: .
By way of comment it may be said that
followed by what is called an instrumental dative is to be rendered
"by means of." The rest of the phrase is correctly rendered,
"the faithfulness of the Son of God." On this matter see Dana
and Mantey, A Manual of Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto,
Macmillan, 1955, section 122). Any Greek grammar will serve to elucidate
the matter. An excellent New Testament example is to be found m Revelation
6:8: "And power was given unto them . . . to kill by means of the
sword and hunger and death and the beasts of the earth."
faithful to the original, especially those which set out to be
as literal as possible. *
translation which is unfamiliar may seem contrived at first,
but it is surely comforting to know that even when our faith
does fail us, his faithfulness stands firm, As Paul wrote to
Timothy (2 Timothy 2:13): "If we believe not, yet He abides
faithful: He cannot deny Himself." Thus we are kept by the
power of God through his faithfulness unto salvation (1 Peter
1:5), for He is able to save to the very end (eis to panteles)
them that come unto God by Him (Hebrews 7:25).
Christ is in fact both the author and the finisher
of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). The anointing which we have
received abides in us (1 John 2:27), for we are sanctified by
the offering of the body of Christ once for all (Hebrews
10:10) and in the sight of God perfected forever (Hebrews 10:14).
When Paul says that nothing can separate us from the love of
God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38, 39), he exhausts
the English language to make this security comprehensive: nothing
on earth or in heaven, nothing in life or in death, nothing past,
or present, or future. Thus he could say with absolute assurance,
"He whot has begun a good work in you will perform it [i.e.,
carry it through] until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philipppians
1:6). The same assurance inspired the Lord's people in the Old
Testament also: "I know that, whatsoever God does, it shall
be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from
it: and God does it, that men should fear before Him" (Ecclesiastes
one of these assurances depends in any way upon the constancy
of man, or upon his own inner resources of obedience or courage
or loyalty or anything that is his. Our security lies outside
of ourselves, solely in the faithfulness of the Lord our Saviour
and in the unchangeableness of God's purposes in numbering us
among his elect. We were his choice (John 15:16), not He ours.
In this lies our security.
then do we do with those passages which seem to imply that we
may lose our salvation by falling from grace (Galatians 5:4),
having our names taken out of the Book of Life as a consequence
(Revelation 22:19)? Are we indeed called upon to work out our
own salvation in this sense (Philippians 2:12) and to endure
to the end if we can (Matthew 24:13) by not committing some unpardonable
sin (Hebrews 6:4-6) and thus becoming a castaway (1 Corinthians
* Among those versions which
have remained true to the original Greek may be listed: the Berkeley
Version, Wesley's version under the title Explanatory
Notes on the New Testament, Ferrar Fenton's The Holy Bible
in Modern English, the Concordant Version, which has
attempted a faithfulness to the original at the cost of some
smoothness in its composition, Young's Literal Translation
of the Bible, and an interlinear version published by the
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (an agency of the Jehovah's
What happens when a child of God does
disobey ‹ and who doesn't? Is there punishment for the disobedient?
If so, in what sense is there now therefore no condemnation to
them that are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), or does this apply
only to those who "walk not after the flesh but after the
qualifying statement has for centuries troubled those who believe
that the Lord once for all made a full, perfect, and sufficient
sacrifice for our sins. If He died for my sins, must I also pay
the penalty of disobedience whenever my life is displeasing in
his sight? Or am I truly forgiven already, wholly freed from
the penalty of all that I have done not in accordance with his
will, and of all that I do daily, and of all that I shall yet
do? Am I indeed covered by a blanket of pardon that is so comprehensive
that I am no longer regarded as a sinner before the Lord but
as righteous, not because of what I am in practice but because
of what He did on my behalf when He offered Himself in my place?
I am convinced that there is now no condemnation any more to
them that are in Christ Jesus, and that this declaration is unconditional.
As for the rest of this verse as it appears in the
King James Version ("to them . . . that walk not
after the flesh, but after the Spirit"), it is almost universally
agreed by scholars that it has been introduced into the text
by mistake. The following modern versions bear this out: New
English Bible, New Internationa1 Version, New American Standard
Version, Revised Standard Version, New American Bible, Jerusalem
Bible, Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, Williams' translation,
Smith and Goodspeed, Barclay, and the translation by Wuest. This
is a case where the eye of the copyist long ago was momentarily
distracted to the same sentence in Romans 8:4b and copied it
by mistake ‹ a process known as dittography. It almost certainly
does not belong in the original text. The assurance of no condemnation
is unqualified: "There is therefore now no condemnation
to them that are in Christ Jesus."
that case there cannot possibly be any penalty for disobedience.
What often seems to be the consequence of disobedience and therefore
is assumed to be penalty, coming as a painful or distressing
occasion for rebuke, is not punishment but chastening.
The Lord, in his graciousness, sometimes allows the expected
consequences of our disobedience to trouble us for our good in
order that we may be corrected thereby and more nearly conformed
to his will. "Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges
every son whom He receives" (Hebrews 12:6). But there is
no penal aspect in such a sequence of events; it is only an exhibition
of his concern for our well-being. Indeed very often there is
not even this much of a consequence, our own repentance being
quite sufficient for his purposes. In a true sense, the more
immediately the correction comes, the more concerned may we judge
our heavenly Father to be about us. He is anxious that we should
by our disobedience for we are his beloved children.
because our awareness of this loving concern is so often dimmed,
we need to keep reminding ourselves that judgment really is past.
We have already been forgiven all our trespasses (Ephesians 4:32).
Notice how forgiveness is spoken of here in the past tense: "As
God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." Or in Colossians
2:13: "Having forgiven you al1 trespasses."
it is sometimes argued that we are forgiven our offenses only
after we have committed them. But the truth of the matter is
that the Lord Jesus Christ took these offenses upon Himself long
before we were even born. "[He] bore our sins in his own
body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). The penalty of these offenses,
though they were not yet committed, was paid there and then.
That judgment is past. When troubles come our way and we feel
we can see their connection with our own disobedience, we should
remind ourselves that we are not being punished but being chastened
now in order that we not be condemned with the world later on.
As Paul says, "When we are judged, we are chastened of the
Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1
Corinthians 11:32). It is in this sense that judgment begins
at the House of God (1 Peter 4:17). The word translated "judged"
in 1 Corinthians 11:32 is the Greek krino, a word which means simply "to
assess" without any necessary connotation of whether such
assessment is favourable or unfavourable. The same applies to
the word translated "judgment" in 1 Peter 4:17. The
word translated "condemned" in 1 Corinthians is formed
from the same basic root but it is compounded with the prefix
kata-, which means down, thus fixing the sense
of condemnation upon the word. It is important to note these
different meanings, for many passages in which the word krino
occurs are used to support views which go far beyond the original
text. Such, for instance, is the common remark, "Oh, we
mustn't judge!" as though we ought never to evaluate the
work of anyone even when such an evaluation is essential before
considering him for some particular appointment. * Scripture
does not require us to be deliberately naive. We are called upon
to be charitable but not at the expense of surrendering good
judgment. Assessment in this sense is proper if we are to act
responsibly, but condemnation (kata-krino) is another
Human nature being what it is, it is all too easy for us to begin
with honest assessment only to slip into uncharitable condemnation.
I believe that this is what the Lord had in mind in Matthew 7:1
when He advised the Pharisees against making any kind of moral
assessment, warning them that they would receive the same kind
of unfavourable assessment if they made a practice of doing this
to others. Everyone has to make judgments; life requires it.
But our judgment must be righteous judgment (John 7:24), that
is, fair judgment. The making of fair judgments is commanded
here just as plainly as the command not to make unfair judgments
is given in Matthew 7:1. The two passages have to be taken together.
The Greek for the word judge (krino) is the same in both
cases. It was probably impossible for the Pharisees, by their
very training, to make any such fair assessment of the moral
behaviour of their fellow men.
In 1 Corinthians 11:31 we read: "If
we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." Here
the first word judge is dia-krino [not merely krino,
nor yet kata-krino, but dia-krino], which means
to examine critically, to keep a critical eye on our own behaviour.
Then if we take action to correct what we find undesirable in
ourselves we shall not need to be assessed by God and chastened.
We are in a position, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to correct
our own faults in a measure by mortifying the deeds of the body,
for example; and when we undertake to do this faithfully there
is no need for the Lord to impose his chastening upon us. But
whether we do anticipate his chastening or not, the end effect
is the same: what we experience is correction not condemnation.
short, for the child of God such correctives are not penalties
but remedies. We are no longer in a Court of Law before an outraged
Judge, but in a family circle before a disappointed Father. The
must of the law has become the should of the family.
Righteous anger is replaced by genuine disappointment. What is
being endangered is not relationship but fellowship.
Chastening is a privilege, not a penalty; a proof of concern,
not a demonstration of anger.
is not always possible to find exact "opposites" which
will show precisely the difference in the nature of the consequences
of disobedience in the life of the unbeliever and the believer.
But the following tabulation may help to make this clear, especially
if the words set in capitals are placed one against the other
in each instance.
|| a disappointed FATHER.
| A forbidding
|| a warm FAMILY CIRCLE.
|| sympathetic CHASTENING.
|| parental CONCERN.
|| SHOULD, because...
to God is now made real by FELLOWSHIP with God. X
recognize this shift is of profound importance to the child of
God, for what was once a cause of fear on legal grounds
has now become a cause of concern on familial grounds.
We seek the Father's forgiveness not because we fear his wrath
and the consequent severing of relationship as though we had
lost our membership in his family, but because we become aware
of his disappointment and the consequent loss of fellowship.
Confession ensures the restoration of this sense of fellowship.
It is forgiveness in this context that we are seeking, forgiveness
for having disappointed Him even as we seek forgiveness from
our friends when we disappoint them. Forgiveness in the legal
sense is not at issue here; that is already a fait accompli.
Yet although we are legally forgiven we may still grieve the
Lord and lose the sense of his presence and find ourselves out
of fellowship with our brothers
sisters in the Lord. For the child of God, unconfessed sin
is not the same as unforgiven sin, but unconfessed sin
is still offensive to God because it entails a breach of fellowship.
So we seek his forgiveness on this account. And when we nourish
an unforgiving spirit towards another brother we endanger our
fellowship at that level, too.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
is for this reason that Paul says in Colossians 3:13, "Even
as Christ forgave you, so also do you." He does not say
that we are forgiven because we forgive others but rather that
we forgive others because we have been forgiven. Then what are
we to do with Matthew 6:12, 14, 15 ("And forgive us our
debts, as we forgive our debtors. . . For if you forgive men
their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your
heavenly Father forgive your trerspasses")? Clearly
we have here a different kind of forgiveness, for we are not
in a position to exercise the right of judicial forgiveness;
only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7). What the Lord was calling
the disciples to do, and calls us to do, is to maintain fellowship
wherever possible by keeping the channels open. This is not a
question of legal satisfaction but of exhibiting a forgiving
spirit to maintain fellowship. When we pray, "Our Father
who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9), we are acknowledging for
ourselves the unquestionable fact (if we are born again) that
God is our Father. This relationship is the starting point. But
what happens when we are disobedient and show no repentance towards
God is that our fellowship with Him is sacrificed. And the same
thing applies with respect to our brothers and sisters in the
Lord. An unforgiving spirit towards them endangers the possibility
of fellowship with them and is reflected inevitably in a loss
of the sense of communion with our Father, for they are members
of the same family and the whole family circle is strained.
we nourish an unforgiving spirit towards another brother or sister
in the Lord, we endanger our fellowship vertically and horizontally.
We are called upon to forgive those that trespass against us
in order to preserve or restore fellowship at both levels, with
God and with his children. It is not legal forgiveness we need
now but family forgiveness. "If we walk in the light as
He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and
the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. .
. And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son
Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:7 and 1:3). Legal forgiveness is
essential for sonship, to establish relationship within the family
of God; familial forgiveness is essential to maintain fellowship.