Election, Salvation, Unbelief, and Eternal Security

Posted By on January 8, 2011

Here we go. You’ll note by the end that I really don’t care for (or feel the need) to frame these issues they way they are typically framed.

Election and Salvation

The major point of my previous post on election was that it was not to be understood as synonymous with salvation. Rather, the saved were a subset of the elect. I then drew these conclusions:

Everyone saved was in fact elect …
… but not all the elect are saved.
So, it is more accurate to say there was a remnant WITHIN the elect.
And so, the remnant is not synonymous with the elect.

It became clearer from other graphs and discussions that this particualr graph and my comments referred to Israelites. We found that among the non-elect (Gentiles) there were many who were in fact saved. We drew the conclusion from Paul’s language that Israel was set aside, that their unbelief was actually a key to Gentile salvation. The apostasy of the elect led to many Gentiles being saved and, in fact, replacing those elect Israelites as Yahweh’s people, the inheritor’s of the Abrahamic promises (Galatians 3). The result was one people of God (Jew and Gentile = the “Church”). This meant in turn that the one people of God was therefore ultimately composed of elect and non-elect. Paul, in prelude to his explanation of all this in Romans 9-11, gives us the famous “foreknowing, predestinating, justification, etc.” chain of concepts in Romans 8. There’s no indication that he was speaking only of Jews there, as what he says in Romans 8 is true of all believers. The wording of Paul is interesting for the position I am suggesting. He does not use the word “election” in the description. He does not speak of Jew only. He tells us more broadly that  God predestinated the salvation of … some … a remnant … the composition of which he will explain in the next three chapters (Romans 9-11):

Romans 8

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Salvation, Unbelief, and Eternal Security

We now move to the next set of issues. If the saved are composed of the elect and the non-elect, brought into the family by God’s choice via Israel’s apostasy, what about the eternal security of the saved?  I need to make a couple observations as a prelude to what I’ll say — and I urge you to think about whether you agree or not.  I also ask that you read carefully.

1. Apostasy is an evil act of rebellion (i.e., it’s wicked in God’s eyes).

2. Apostasy is a subset of general wickedness (i.e., other sins are wicked as well, showing disloyalty to God).

3. The OT gives us examples of people who really did believe in Yahweh but who committed evil acts (murder, adultery, etc.; think of David here).

4. Therefore, it seems that, of all acts of wickedness, the one that results in Yahweh’s rejection is unbelief — a forsaking of Him as one’s God in favor of another god or no god at all).

5. The person in number 4 could legitimately be called an unbeliever with respect to Yahweh as the true God.

It is interesting that Paul does in fact relate the forsaking of elect Israelites to their unbelief. This is perhaps most clearly articulate in Romans 11:20-23:

20 . . . They [the elect Israelites who were set aside] were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

What do we learn here?

1. That the Israelites, who were elect, forfeited salvation because of their unbelief (see Jude 5 here as well). As elect people, if they would have believed, they would have been (spiritually) saved and not condemned as unfaithful.

2. If God was able and willing to set aside these elect who did not believe, He will not spare “you”. Who is Paul addressing? Gentiles who were allowed entrance into the people of God through faith. Paul says God expects them to “continue in his kindness” — in my view, this refers to God’s offer of salvation to them — the non-elect.

3. Paul also curiously says that if the unbeliever (in contt, the failing Jew who was elect) *does not continue in their unbelief* they will be “grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.”

Did you catch all that? Paul appears to be clearly saying that, just as was the case with the elect of Israel, God can and will set aside those who don’t continue keep believing, and can graft in those who do believe (and, we presume, keep believing).

I ask you now to entertain this question:  “Is there, or will there be, anyone in heaven who does not believe?”  That is, are there any in heaven who do not follow Yahweh, or who have rejected Christ?  I would say, no.

I think this is the point of the passages in Hebrews I cited in earlier posts. the writer of Hebrews is genuinely concerned that those who professed to follow Christ would fail in there faith or belief.  Let’s juxtapose Romans 11 with Hebrews for some perspective:

Romans 11:20 – They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.

Romans 11:23 – And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.

Hebrews 3:12 – Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.

Hebrews 3:19 – So we see that they were unable to enter [i.e., Israelites in the exodus] because of unbelief.

Hebrews 3:12 is especially important since it links “falling away” (apostasia) with unbelief. They are mutually defining.

The bottom line us that, regardless of what profession we make or have made in terms of faith in Christ, we must believe to have eternal life (John 3:16 – what else?). We are not eternally secure because of a prayer we prayed at some point in our past if we do not now believe. There is no assurance without belief. There is no security without belief. No one goes to heaven who does not believe the gospel (or whatever revelation God gave to them to elicit a faith response, as in the Old Testament, before the work of Christ). We must believe.

I think at this point it is important to point out that a person can sin — and very badly — and still be believing. There are plenty of scriptural examples. Unbelief should also not be equated with doubt. There are scriptural examples there, too — Thomas, the psalmist or prophet who asks where God is in time of trouble, etc. I would go further and also say that unbelief is also not the instance where a believer succumbs to fear or persecution. Unbelief is a decision of the heart that one no longer believes the gospel, that one no longer wishes to follow Christ / Yahweh.  It is spiritual apostasy — choosing another god or no god at all. No one is in heaven who does not believe — and that is the point any detractors of my position must show to be otherwise.

I think it noteworthy in light of this that, in the long list of what cannot separate us from God’s love, unbelief does not appear. Why? Because that can separate us from God’s love — in fact it keeps us from God’s love shown to us in Christ. No sins of the flesh can remove us from the family of God. The only thing that keeps us from God’s family is unbelief. Salvation is BY grace, THROUGH faith; God’s part and our part.  Both are essential, but one is primary (see below).

This is hard for us to swallow if one was raised Protestant because of an *exclusively* forensic view of justification: a decision to believe at one moment of time solves everything. I would say that we must believe, no matter what point in life we are at, once we are awakened by and to the gospel by God’s Spirit. We cannot believe and then not believe and still have eternal life (cf. John 3:36-37). No one is in heaven who does not believe.  It may be equally hard for non-Protestants, since the issue is not works, either. We cannot earn salvation through faith because salvation is extended by grace. Grace has the priority. Were the gospel not first extended to us, there would be nothing to believe. Rather than seeing saving faith as only a one-time decision, I would suggest that Paul saw a decision to accept Christ as the messiah and savior as the beginning point of saving faith / belief. He would not have said that after such a decision one could choose to not believe and still have eternal life. It is at this point that one could wonder if Paul would have said, “well, if they no longer believe, they never really believed in the first place.” I really don’t care about how anyone answers this, since what needs to be done with such a person is the same no matter what the answer is. The person needs to hear and believe the gospel. I don’t really care to parse them psychologically or spiritually beyond that issue. Only God knows the heart.

In light of all this, someone will surely ask, “Do you believe someone can lose their salvation?” or “Are believers eternally secure?” I really don’t like the way the question is framed since, for me, it does not capture what Scripture teaches. By way of response, I’d rather ask the asker which one of these propositions they would deny:

Everyone who believes the gospel will be saved, by grace and not by any merit of their own.
Everyone who believes the gospel will be eternally secure.
Everyone who does not believe the gospel (rejects it) will not be saved, regardless of works.
Everyone who does not believe the gospel will not be eternally secure.

Someone might ask, “Can someone who believed stop believing — and if they did, what would that mean?”

Same response: Which one of these propositions would they deny:

Everyone who believes the gospel will be saved, by grace and not by anyh merit of their own.
Everyone who believes the gospel will be eternally secure.
Everyone who does not believe the gospel (rejects it) will not be saved, regardless of works.
Everyone who does not believe the gospel will not be eternally secure.

The above means that I take Hebrews 6 as “a genuine concern but a hypthetical hyperbole.”  The writer truly fears people will turn from believing and, like the elect Israelites, suffer rejection by God (but we must add that Paul said in Romans 11 that the rejected can be brought back in if they believe). But the writer expresses what he has experienced: it is exceedingly rare, unto impossibility, that those who decide to not believe actually come back to faith. Why? Because they have to put their faith in precisely what they rejected – the crucifixion of the son of God for the sin of the world.

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32 Responses to “Election, Salvation, Unbelief, and Eternal Security”

  1. Nobunaga says:

    I agree with Augustine and you (Sola Fide) and without it, (Faith) it is impossible to please Him, pretty black and white stuff, unfortunately not all agree.

    I also see Hebrews as string of stark warning posts to professing believers in general, warning them not to forsake their faith, its scary to think about losing your faith and i’m glad you distinguished between that and doubt and despair, we all visit psalm 42 at some point and we have to take the psalmist’s advice and remember to “Hope in God”.

    i was expecting more controversy considering the topic.

  2. haibane13 says:

    Is there an example in the Bible of someone who is in the faith rejecting it and being brought back ?

    • MSH says:

      Hymenaeus and Alexander come readily to mind. Paul names them as two who “shipwrecked” their faith and the faith of others. But we are just presuming they never came back (1 Tim 1:19-20). 1 John seems to allude to this, like Hebrews.

  3. Great post, your logic seems clear and accounts for all the data, IMHO. Two questions though:

    1. What is your definition/explanation of salvation?

    2. How does your theory account for the reception of the Spirit?

    My second question may need a little explanation. In Paul, the Spirit seems to be the beginning of salvation for the ‘believer’ or ‘participant.’ It is a physical thing that has come into the believer that is changing them in many ways (i.e. cognitively, morally, ect.) can this spirit go away? I am not disagreeing with you. This is a genuine question that has confused/stumped my for a year now. So much so that I am doing an independent study on it this semester.

    Your input is appreciated.

    • MSH says:

      Answers:

      1. Putting one’s exclusive trust (i.e., believing) in the work of Christ on the cross without any trust in one’s own merit.
      2. This is tied (one can dispute how much) to the issue of election applied to salvation (i.e., the saved are a subset, and can be spoken of as elect as well). The Spirit is described in various ways and as playing various roles. He is the “down payment” of salvation and “seals” the believer. he is the one who inclines the believer toward “working out one’s salvation” and bears witness to the Father. Yet his influence can be quenched and he can be resisted, and according to Hebrew 6, those who have “shared in the Holy Spirit” can fall away (not believe). For me, it seems the “down payment” and “sealing” language sort of works like OT election – the language identifies people who have believed, and the Spirit is now at work in them. As long as they believe, the Spirit will indeed keep conforming them to the image of the Son without fail. But will the Spirit do that for someone who does not believe? Hebrews (to me) clearly says people who believe can fall away into unbelief. The work of the Spirit is then quenched and resisted. For me it is not a question of having and losing salvation. It is believing vs. not believing. I realize that passages can be construed to make unbelief something that happens to people who “didn’t really believe” (better, the terms are defined in that way). That could be — but it would have been nice for someone in the NT to just say that, as opposed to the talk about apostasy (can someone who is actually an UNbeliever really apostasize from the truth? How so if they never actually believed it?) For me, I don’t think I’d say the Spirit “leaves” someone who believed and turns to unbelief. I see the Spirit as actively seeking their return. My issue is that they must believe. If they turn to unbelief and never return, no one is in heaven who doesn’t believe. If we marry all this to individual election “New Testament style,” then there will inevitably be a happy ending — they will return. Short of that marriage, there may not be a happy ending. If we apply my OT election picture to the NT, then we create another subset situation. We can say all those things that Paul says in Romans 8 about those who actually and finally are in heaven — they were indeed elect. But the elect (now defined not as Israel, who received the truth of Yahweh), defined now as those to whom the gospel comes (and people who hear it must believe it to be saved), then what Paul says in Romans 11 about the Gentile being set aside and the Jew brought back in if there is unbelief is a real threat.

  4. Donnie Rose says:

    I just wanted to pose a thought experiment that gets to the point of unbelief (post legitimate confession of belief) being the basis for not having salvation. I assume that the passages I am referring to (but not quoting) will be familiar to all readers. I know you will address these Dr. Heiser, so forgive me for being lazy:

    1) Satan asked to “sift” Peter’s soul.
    2) Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail him.
    3) Peter lapsed into unbelief. (leaving aside for the moment that Peter did not remain apostate)
    4) If Peter died before returning to faith in Christ, would he have had salvation in the end?

    Points to consider:

    1) If I understand your position correctly, then his faith did fail in this thought experiment.

    2) If Peter did not have salvation, then Jesus’ prayer that his faith would not fail would have been negatively answered. Juxtapose that with Jesus’ statement that “all that the Father has given Me I have kept, except for the son of Perdition…”

    3) Given all the external evidence that Peter had (feeding of the thousands, raising of the dead, etc) yet he was able to be brought to unbelief by the Adversary (Satan).

    4) If Satan turns his attention to any of us with the same intensity that he turned it towards Peter at the arrest of Jesus, then how can any of us have salvation? All that would be necessary would be for Satan to make me or you the object of his attention. While he is not omnipresent, would the Father allow Satan to do that to any of us given that we would certainly crack under the pressure.

    I changed my position on unbelief after apostasy when I did the above thought experiment (about 15 years ago). Divine foreknowledge of an individual’s life would have to be considered when a person is “saved”, at least that is the conclusion I came to. I however am not a 5 point Calvinist!

    • MSH says:

      Your reconstruction would depend on whether Peter’s failure was truly unbelief, as opposed to a failure due to fear. If we presume that Jesus’ prayer (Luke 22:32) was answered by the Father (and John 8:29; 11:42 seem to suggest it always was), then one could argue that Peter’s *faith in Jesus* never failed — but he failed morally or in terms of poor character, out of fear, not a turning from belief in who Jesus was. Right now I’d have to say I don’t think Peter ever lost his faith that Jesus was the messiah and savior (though he and the other disciples seem to have really missed the point of some OT passages and some things Jesus said to him/them directly).

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks for your reply Dr. Heiser. I need to say that I really don’t have a qualm with parsing those saved as a subset of the elect. However the term “election” brings to mind the question of “Elected to do what?” Election in my mind and as I understand it used in Scripture has a purpose behind it.

        I know that parsing someone’s psychology is not part of the original discussion, but my thought experiment would require it to be resolved the way you did. However, the point is: What is in the mind of someone who is at the point of deciding to place faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ? Once faith has been placed in Christ, what happens in the here and now and what happens in the hereafter?

        I think that what happens in the here and now in this discussion is we start to “front load” or ” back load” the Gospel to be something more than what is intended. I whoheartedly agree with your position that sin in a believer’s life is not a proof of salvation lost. This is usually what happens when we “back load” the Gospel with maintaining a “sanctified” life of “holiness” as opposed to seeing the acceptance of Christ as a first step in progressive sanctification, but positionally secure. Those who backload the Gospel rely upon the outward appearances of the believer for proof, not thier profession of faith in Christ. An example of “front loading” would be to promise the Father you would change your ways as a condition before accepting salvation.

        I come back to the point in my original post of the Adversary making us the object of his intention. We are promised that we would not be tempted above what we can bear, but our experience and the history of Christianity literally shows that we fail in this point: we sin and willfully at times, in spite of the help we have from the Holy Spirit. Objective proof of Christ’s power alone is not enough for us to stave off sinfull acts (again look at the objective proof Peter had). External faith alone did not keep Peter from temporarily denying Christ or from falling into fear for his life and professing unbelief (denying Christ).

        Unless we become positionally secure in Christ at the moment we trust in Him by placing our faith in the finished work He did at the Cross I think we should certainly want to die soon after that. All manner of sinful behavior could lead to the hardening of our hearts and thus drive us to the conclusion that there was no point in having faith in Christ and thus lapse into unbelief. This could be temporary or permanent unbelief. As my monologue revelas you can tell I too have struggled with this tension between works and faith and the part each plays in the believer’s life. Running the thought experiment against the Scripture and seeing it played out in anecdotal examples of believers has led me to this conclusion: The Adversay has a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan A is: keep unbelievers from hearing the Gospel by whatever means necessary. Plan B is: if Plan A fails, then turn believers (those who would spread the Gospel) into messengers that unbelievers will not listen to ie. morally reprobate believers, self-righteous, holier than thou believers, or make them shipwreck their faith. The reason for this is once positionally secure, a believer becomes the most dangerous weapon the Adversary faces… a believer who knows that death has no power over them any longer. What stronger motivation can we have in the face of daily failure to live up to the standards the Scriptures lay down for us? How well we run this race will lead to reward we can’t imagine, but recieving the reward is not the right motive… thankfulness for mercy and grace is our proper motivation. Being a “Partaker” in the inheritance is what the Holy Spirit is preparing us for.

    • Nobunaga says:

      Dont be embarrassed Donnie, i might be one also ? my friends and family say all the warning signs are there but i’m still in denial. sometimes i wake myself up with this shout.. “My names Jason and i’m a Calvanist !”

      ether that or a molinist i cant choose ! if it was up to me i would be an Arminian lol.

      I’ve almost got a stand up routine here, how well will it go down in the comedy clubs ?

  5. David Medici says:

    Dr. Heiser,

    To reiterate things I have already stated in prior posts, I think there is a very salient weakness that runs through your posts: imprecision.

    With regard to “election,” as I have said in prior posts, the question is always, “Elect as to what?” Your entire series of posts presumes/assumes that election is always election to salvation. That is simply not the case. As I suggested, election is merely the selection from a set of possibilities for the execution of some purpose. It may or may not have anything to do with spiritual salvation. The lack of nuance in your conception of election then leads to further errors, among them the idea that the Gentile Christians were not elect and that Israel has been rejected. This is explictly contrary to the words of Jesus in John 6:44, 65, which make it plain that every Christian individual is elected (or other such equivalent terminology), Gentile or Jewish. Moreover the idea that Israel has been rejected and supplanted by the Church is explicitly contrary to Paul who asserts in Rom 11:29 that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (this spoken of Israel) and in Rom 11:26 that all Israel shall be saved. Again, the purpose of Israel’s election must be ascertained, for it may not have anything to do with spiritual salvation being offered to them at that time, and for that purpose (at least in part) we may look to Deut 4:1-8, Deut 26:19 and Isa 43:21.

    This lack of precision also leads to the idea that Israelites were cut off from salvation. But this is ludicrous when one simply observes that salvation, according to Jesus and Paul, comes only through Christ (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). How can any Israelite born prior to Christ come to the Father through one whom he never knew? The cutting off is not from salvation but some other purpose the nature of which must be ascertained from a careful examination of other scriptures.

    I have no qualms with your assertion that faith must accompany grace to be effective. I have often thought it almost amusing that some can hold the idea of a grace effect that somehow “locks in” an individual’s salvation regardless of faith and conduct afterwards. There are very plain New Testament scriptures to the contrary and which are subject to the most violent contortions in support of an eternal security, once-saved-always-saved notion.

    • MSH says:

      Methinks you assume too much. I am speaking of election and salvation because that’s where the discussion always is — hence the juxtaposing of the ideas. If I say that many elect are not saved (which I did quite clearly) then I cannot be charged (as you do) with the idea that “election is always to salvation.” No idea how you got that from my post.

      • David Medici says:

        My difficulty with the discussion is simply that the elect-saved discussion almost always presumes election is to salvation and either one is elect to salvation or not. But as I have stated repeatedly there are different kinds of election in Scripture, only one of which is to salvation. This thread never clearly made that distinction. Hence my query: elect as to what.

        No doubt this imprecision in the notion of election is due to a very heavy New Testament salvation-oriented election, but, as I also pointed out, I do not believe Paul is speaking of salavation election exclusively in Rom 9-11. He does get to it, but I believe the tension which he was addressing has to be seen in terms of what Israel was elect to in the Old Testament and to what that election is moving. I think that the situation Paul was addressing in Romans is one in which the congregation(s)/synagogue(s) in Rome were having difficulty understanding how Israel and the Church are related and that some Gentile Christians were advocating a replacement supercessionism. Paul, I believe, denies this.

        • MSH says:

          I define election as “chosen to special status for a variety of things” — namely revelation about Yahweh and the covenant relationship he has with certain humans.

  6. Donnie Rose says:

    Thank you Dr. Heiser for your reply. I wanted to see your reply to my thought experiment before I “tipped my hand” :-)

    I have a problem with parsing the elect into those saved and those not saved. In the NT era I personally would parse humanity into just those saved and those not saved, thus elect = saved. Since my study of the Scriptures leads me to conclude that the
    Cross applies to all who accept Christ. The Great Commision given in Matt 25 says “go into all the world” (why bother if the Gospel doesn’t apply).

    Election, when used in the NT, doesn’t seem to me to apply to all humanity. Thus making the disctinction between “once saved but then apostate” to apply to those elect but not saved (in the end) not the classification I would use for the apostate group. The term “election” in my mind automatically implies “what’s the purpose for the election?” Why is a group considered to be “elect” by God? I think in the case of the descendants of Abraham the point is clear. God chose them as His people to be set apart from the Nations given to the 70 Sons of God (a subset of all elohim). Two reasons off the top of my head are: (1) God’s oracles (the written word) and (2) God’s Son (which also is God’s logos, the visible YHWH) were delivered to them from which all of humanity can now more readily benefit. Now that the NT era is in force, what purpose does election have in the mind of God for all humanity, as opposed to Abraham’s descendants (if it applies to them at all)? Or is it for the individual person? If the group is Church only, then “apostate believers” have to be counted as “elect”, but no longer deserving the title. If only the individual is in view (when taken as a whole make up the Church), then those apostate never really were elect, but externally we could not know until they “demonstrated” their unbelief. If in the case that it applies to a non-homogeneous group, ie. humanity (saved and not saved), what is the purpose of calling them “apostate elect”? Why call them “elect” at all? It seems a more consistent use of the term to me if it applies to individuals and thus only saved = elect.

    I know you don’t want to parse the psychology of the issue, but I don’t see how you can keep from it (given the famous example of Peter). Evangelism is where all of our “theological knowledge meets the road”. I have had these discussions with individuals on many occasions, expecially those who have never believed. I am in total agreement with you concerning sin in a believer’s life. If we are brutally honest with ourselves we know that we “miss the mark” daily and many times willfully.
    History also teaches us that Christianity as a whole has had many stains upon it. Equating elect with saved is about the only way you are able to consistently use the term without on some level indicting God for electing the bad element of the Church
    also (through divine foreknowledge God knew who the apostates were). We answer for ourselves individually; believers at the Judgement Seat of Christ, unbelievers at the Great White Throne judgement (Unless they are both describing the same event, which I don’t think so, but I don’t know your position on that).

    The tension between works and faith you leave with your position is one of when can I know that I have eternal life and when am I sure I no longer have it? Is the life offered here and now to believers contingent eternal life? Contingent on not falling
    into unbelief is your position. So we cannot “know” with any certainty that we have eternal life because the possibility exists that we could lose it by becoming apostate. Parsing the psycology of it: a person who believed that both heaven and hell existed, claimed to have wanted to go to heaven and confessed faith in Christ and then at some point decides to chose hell, another paradise, or non-existence after death seems crazy (in the case of hell) or a big gamble in the case of another paradise or non-existence (ala Pascal). Seems quite possible and there are examples of it, but it smacks of really not buying into the whole “believing thing” in the first place, or of course a lapse into mental incompetence.

    I lean toward the pre-millenial, pre-trib direction so I will bring this example up to get it on the table as a counter point. Since the mark of the beast is a requirement, if I take it out of fear for my life, instead of unbelief, can I still go to heaven? Personally I think not, but if lack of character is all that is required to fall into a state of “self preservative unbelief” does that give me a pass? BTW, these questions are rhetorical. I think I already know your answer. I needed to liven things up a bit ;-)

  7. haibane13 says:

    Ephesians 2
    8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    Is Paul saying here that faith is a gift of God (and thus beleif ?) or that the works of faith are the gift (which are from God) ?

    • MSH says:

      grammatically, neither — the grammar actually refers back to the entirety of the “process” (it’s all a gift, not just the pieces).

  8. This is a great series, and I appreciate your effort and clarity.

    There is one part of the presentation that I don’t understand: early on, you write that;

    “4. Therefore, it seems that, of all acts of wickedness, the one that results in Yahweh’s rejection is unbelief — a forsaking of Him as one’s God in favor of another god or no god at all).”

    You restate this towards the end as being faith in the gospel. But given your expertise on the Divine Council etc., I was wondering if you would be willing at some point to contrast “faith in the gospel” with idolatry (no, this isn’t just a chance to bait you into sharing your research on the Divine Council in the New Testament :-) ).

    Here’s what I’m getting at: in exegesis, the condemnation of the worship of other gods is often used to condemn pretty much any sinful act, not just apostasy, syncretism, polytheism, etc. (e.g. we turn ourselves and other things into gods/idols, so even certain pleasures become signs of idolatry). But you distinguish between sin and the kind of unbelief that separates us from God. So in your analysis, what sort/level of idolatry qualifies as unbelief/rejection of the gospel?

    Thanks again for your wonderful ministry!

    PS Like others, I especially appreciate how you point out the distinction between sin, fear, and unbelief. Well done.

    • MSH says:

      See my note below – I will have to take more time to go through these. Good question. I’ll get back to them over the next few days.

  9. Branethen says:

    ON the elect: I may have misunderstood but it seemed that the idea was that “the elect” are the jews. if this is so, then when Christ speaks of gathering his ‘elect” to him immediately after the tribulation of those days, is he just talking about the jews then? (No, I myself am not a rapture believers?

    On Salvation: it seems true that loss of belief would lead to loss of God, but can Loss of belief ever be the end of the story as God promises to finish the good work?

    • MSH says:

      Yes; in the OT the “elect” are Abraham and his descendants. Those saved within that group were of course elect, but not all the elect were saved. If we take the same verbiage to the NT, the “elect” are those to whom the gospel comes; some of them will be saved. All of those who are saved were of course “elect”; but not all the elect will be saved. And so, the elect Jesus refers to do not have to be only Jews.

      Your second question is the one I noted in my last post that requires me (and you) to be omniscient. Only God knows the heart and knows who will finally be saved. For those who are, yes, it was God who brought that person through to the end (no one does that on their own merit). But for me to predict that is beyond my ability (and place).

  10. Travis says:

    This really will just be a statement of beliefs in regard to the subject, and not really offer any support to my claims (for now). Now that I have scrolled through a huge list of comments, I feel my response will probably lost in the scuffle, but I truly enjoyed your posts about the topic and help fill in some blank spots in my beliefs about it.

    I too have “understood” that not all elected Israelites were “saved”; i.e. the wilderness. But your post helped at least see that I did not follow through with that belief when it came to the current elected. I guess the difference in our tactics when talking about this differs in that I always try and define “elected for what purposes”, “saved from what”, and then layout the greater time line. Then again I guess I am assuming you don’t plan to talk about this topic any further.

    My belief is that Israel and the now elected were chosen to be conformed, in order that they would be used in a future date. That Israel at its election time were not doing the sacrifices and following the six hundred some odd laws, so as to be that light to the world at THAT time, or just be saved from the nations but were doing those things as to submit to God’s will and using those things they were taught as means of learning how to be “better people”. Probably a bad way to put it but hopefully you get my drift. But what the law was unable to do (create in us a new heart), Christ makes the for in the now current elected. And again I don’t see our election as for only being saved from something, but as to conform ourselves to Christ now with His help.

    When talking about salvation, I believe there is two types but only from one thing; physical death. At this point I lean more towards an annihilation view of life. That the thing Jesus saved the world from was eternal death, but only temporarly; that is the first salvation. The other is more “eternal” in a sense that it is for those who continue to seek after the Lord and know their security in Him and by way of that faith, our salvation is eternal. Now that I have the “for what”, and “from what” I move to the “for when”.

    To me this is where the election and salvation stories kind of start to play together. It is my understanding that when Christ returns, that is when we begin to be that light to the nations in their time of temporary life during the Millennium (which imo is synonymous with the day of judgment). There are quite a few OT prophecies that point this to be the case. Like I said I know I have not made any supporting statements but just wanted to point out that there is a connection between with election and salvation apart from an “eternal security” discussion.

  11. Ashley says:

    Great post – this idea of election ? salvation is new to me, but it makes sense with your explanation of the OT texts. Am I understanding correctly that predestination is also not equivalent with election? In other words, since not all the elect are predestined to be saved, then predestination (while the antecedent of salvation) is somewhat orthogonal to election? Just to clarify, not all of the elect will be saved, but everyone who is predestined for salvation will be, so not all of the elect can be predestined.

    On a related note, would it be appropriate to think of election transferring from Jews to Gentiles as the gospel was opened up to everyone? I’m just a bit confused by the previous post you reference from December 29 (with the saved as a subset of the elect in diagram) that contains the statement that “There are also non-elect who will be saved.” Right now, my understanding is that you meant non-elect there to be simply “Gentiles,” but if even Gentiles who are predestined for salvation remain non-elect, then it seems incorrect to make salvation a strict subset of election. Is NT election simply exposure to the gospel message, or is there something else going on . . . or is there no such thing as election outside of Israel? Your final conclusions are pretty explicit that the saved are a subset of the elect (and so all who are saved must also be elect), but that line about “There are also non-elect who will be saved” has me confused. Maybe I’m just misunderstanding your use of subsets (i.e, the saved are a subset of the elect but not a strict one so that there are also those who are saved but are not part of the elect).

    I really appreciate your blog – you are giving me new understandings but everything is consistent with the fundamental beliefs I’ve held, which indicates (at least to me) that I’m on the right track with you.

  12. Jonnathan Molina says:

    Thank you for this post. This teaching is very clear and has helped strengthen my own faith (esp. your distinction of fear, doubt and unbelief/apostasy). I have a question about this section of the post:

    “in the long list of what cannot separate us from God’s love, unbelief does not appear. Why? Because that can separate us from God’s love — in fact it keeps us from God’s love shown to us in Christ. No sins of the flesh can remove us from the family of God. The only thing that keeps us from God’s family is unbelief.”

    I agree 100% that unbelief is the gravest sin and hence excluded from the list in Romans 8:38-39, however, I always understood that sins of the flesh can separate you from the love of God for 2 reasons: A) The list doesn’t necessarily cover sins of the flesh (I defer to/and invoke your linguistic-grammatical expertise here, though, since I realize in English it’s a grand, sweeping statement (maybe hyperbolic) yet I don’t feel comfortable including immorality of that kind under any of the headings ‘the creation’, ‘things present’, ‘height’, ‘depth’ or ‘life’ as I don’t know what Paul was saying here in the original languages? B) The biggie, to me, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which I quote here from the NET:

    “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

    It seems that Paul is saying the exact opposite: sins of the flesh can and will separate you from God’s love (or is participation in ‘the kingdom of God’–what I assume to be synonymous with eternal life–not synonymous with ‘the love of God’ language in Rom 8?)

    Thank you in advance for any clarification you provide. Hope all is well, I’ve missed the blog! :)

    • MSH says:

      I think in the context of 1 Cor 5 that Paul is talking about regularity in those behaviors and unrepentance; I would also defer to John for the habitual sense. He says in one breath that every believer sins – and to deny it makes us liars — and then those who commit sin are not believers. The “commit” there (I’m sure you know) speaks of regular or habitual behavior. I still think that is part of what’s needed to parse the vice lists addressed to believers.

  13. Daniel says:

    Hi Mike,

    I appreciate your perspective on this and have learned a lot. I am having a hard time reconciling what you say about Peter’s denial and what Jesus says in Mt 10:33 “Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” The Greek for “disown” is the same here as it is when describing Peter’s situation. I tend to think what Jesus is saying is a persisting denial, but I also don’t think Jesus’ words can be read literally that way here.

    I am also having a difficult time reconciling the “election does not equal salvation” idea with Rm 9-11, specifically 11:26 where Paul asserts that “all Israel will be saved.” Earlier in the same chapter, Paul distinguishes between the two saying, “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened…” I have only gotten so far as to wonder if “Israel” in verse 26 is not referring explicitly to the tribe/bloodline of Abraham.

    I don’t readily accept election in the sense that the Lord chose save some of his creation over others. I am by no means a biblical scholar, only a student of the bible and a disciple of Jesus and his Holy Spirit. I would very much be interested in your thoughts on these two points. Thanks.

    Daniel

    • MSH says:

      Peter believed to / at the end. The saved are a subset of the elect, so all the saved must be elect (but not the other way around). I see no reason to deny a link between the saved and election because of the subset issue.

  14. Cognus says:

    I will assert that in the modern English-speaking world we have a deficient misguided view of “Belief” – it is for us an indistinct metaphysical concept if considered in isolation.
    Biblically, as some of the MSH passages in this study illustrate, “belief” is a rear-facing concept that can only be judged [and the church is to judge the believers within] in hindsight.

    I contend that the whole of scripture from corner to corner illustrates that:
    - the righteous find life, the unrighteous are doubly dead
    - the righteous is the believer
    - the righteous who finds life is shown to have obeyed.
    - righteousness, obedience, love, faith, belief are inseparable
    - And there is deliberate tension in the revealed Word in the nexus of Faith and Obedience – these are in a co-dependent gravitational relationship orbiting a common pole, not unlike Earth and its Moon.

    Bonhoeffer said it so succinctly: “only the believer is obedient, and only he who obeys is a believer”. That is the counsel of Scripture.

    The writer/s of Hebrews hammers this theme over and over: in hindsight Israel was shown to be unbelieving by their deeds. “Belief” is hidden in the heart, and is only manifested by Walk.
    Ephesians 5:6 &ff 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not become partners with them; 8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk

    I cannot rightly discern my own “belief”, but perhaps you could if you walked with me.
    Just as the Deceived man cannot easily discern his malady, the Believing man is rightly cautious in his contentment that he “Believes”

    “Examine yourself” is the stern exhortation of Paul. Why? Because one cannot adequately discern one’s own “Belief”.

    In Jesus’s words we find what is needed for “salvation”
    “behold I am coming quickly and my reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done”. Rev 22:12. Not what believing creed is found lurking somewhere in the inner hard drive, but “what he has done”

    “why do you call me Lord and do not DO what I say.” Matthew 7:21 says [esv[ “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
    Luke 6:46-48 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock

    The ante-nicene church understood clearly that the believer is the one who walks as Christ Himself walked, and they contended mightily over whether anyone who strayed after receiving baptism could possibly inherit life.

    Hebrews 11 is not just a rollcall of the faithful,it is a rollcall of those whose deeds manifested righteousness, which is the reward of ‘belief’ and is seen in arrears.

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