When “All” Is Not “All” At All!

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When “All” Is Not “All” At All!

James R. Aist

“The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness. But He is patient with us, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Unfortunately, within evangelical Christianity, there have spring up over the years, several teachings that seem to be biblical and sound right and true at first glance, but, upon closer study and more thorough examination, are found to not really be biblical teachings at all. One such example is found in 2 Peter 3:9. Many have erroneously interpreted this verse to be saying that God does not want “any human beings” to perish but, rather, that He wants “all human beings” to come to repentance (and be saved). While these may be outcomes that God would prefer, that is not at all what this verse is saying, and here’s why:

  1. Any correct reading of this verse must provide an explanation of why Jesus has not already come again, as He promised He would (2 Peter 3:3-4);
  2. 2 Peter 1:1 makes it clear that this letter was written to all and only to Christian believers of his day. 1 Peter 1:2 reinforces this identification of Peter’s audience as “the elect” of God, which, by extension, would include those elect who were not yet saved;
  3. Throughout 2 Peter, Peter refers to his audience as “us”, “we”, “you” and “brothers” and consistently speaks of their heavenly inheritance;
  4. By contrast, unbelievers are referred to as “they” and “them” throughout, emphasizing their eternal punishment in hell;
  5. So, we can see that when 2 Peter 3:9 speaks of “us”, he is referring to only God’s elect, both the already-saved and the not-yet-saved, not all of mankind;
  6. Thus, a more explicit and scripturally harmonious rendering of this verse would read something like this, “But He is patient with the not-yet-saved elect, because He does not want any of His elect to perish, but all of His elect to come to repentance.”
  7. Further confirmation for this rendering can be gleaned from 2 Peter 3:15, where Peter makes reference to Paul’s explanation of why the Lord is tarrying; namely, so that all of God’s elect, in particular, the chosen Gentiles, will be someday included among the believers before Jesus comes again (Romans 11:25, and click HERE). That is what Peter means here, in verse 15, when he writes, “…the patience of our Lord means salvation”, meaning salvation for those elect who have yet to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

One could also point out that if it is not God’s will that “any human beings” perish but, rather, that “all human beings” come to repentance (and be saved), then He is not doing a very good job of saving sinners, because, as Jesus said, the majority of people do not take the narrow path that leads to life, preferring, instead to take the broad path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Finally, if you want to make a biblical case for God bringing “all human beings” to repentance and salvation, then you will have to look elsewhere. Such a doctrine is a heresy called “Universalism”, and that is not a biblical doctrine.

For a more comprehensive treatment of 2 Peter 3:9 “rightly divided”, click HERE.

(To read more of my articles with biblical themes, click HERE)

Faith, or Works, or Faith and Works?

Faith, or Works, or Faith and Works?

James R. Aist

“…while Paul emphasizes the importance of good works in the life of the believer, he sees them as something that we were saved to do, not something we are saved by doing. And that’s a very important distinction!”

Introduction

Perhaps the single most important doctrine of the Christian church is the doctrine of salvation, for it is what you believe (or, more precisely, in whom you believe!) about salvation that will ultimately determine your eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell. There are a number of Bible passages that speak about the relationship of both faith and works to salvation.  Prominent among these are the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James. A cursory reading of them can give the impression that the Bible contradicts itself in this regard. One can find passages that say that salvation comes through faith alone, while other passages seem to suggest that it may be a combination of faith and works that get it done. But, since all Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God — i.e., literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) – the Bible cannot contradict itself; God is not a liar and He doesn’t make mistakes (Numbers 23:19). So let’s take a closer look and see if we can make sense out of what may appear, at first glance, to be confusion.

Two Kinds of Faith

There are actually two different kinds of faith at work in the world. There is a “natural faith” that everyone is born with. It is part of our human nature, and it helps us to deal with the realities and necessities of the natural world.  We use this kind of faith in our everyday lives. By our natural faith, we believe that if we turn the ignition key, the car will start, and so we do it “on faith.” By our natural faith, we believe that the chair we are about to sit on will be strong enough to support our weight, and so, by faith, we “take a seat.” By our natural faith, we believe that if we put a dollar bill into a change machine, it will return four quarters, and in it goes. We are all very familiar with this natural faith. While natural faith is a necessary part of successful and productive living in this world, it is not perfect, as witnessed by the fact that the car doesn’t always start, the chair doesn’t always hold and the change machine doesn’t always return four quarters.

But there is another kind of faith. This is  “supernatural faith.” No one is born with it, so not everyone has it; it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Supernatural faith enables the “born again” believer to understand spiritual things, qualify for heaven and do good works out of a pure motivation of love and compassion. Contrary to natural faith, supernatural faith, when properly understood and applied, never fails. For a more complete treatment of the meaning of “born again”, click HERE.

If we keep these two different kinds of faith in mind as we examine the relevant Bible passages about faith and works, we will see that the teachings of Jesus, James and Paul are really not contradictory at all, but are, instead, complementary. So, here we go…

Paul’s Teaching

Here are some of Paul’s teachings about faith and works:

  • “…know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
  • “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —  not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)
  • For we maintain that a person is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28)
  • You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)
  • For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:13-15)
  • “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5).

Based on the above passages, I believe that Paul’s teaching can be summarized accurately as follows: (supernatural) faith (in Jesus Christ and in His finished work on the cross) is what accomplishes salvation; our good works do not add anything to what (supernatural) faith does in this regard. Since we are saved by grace (i.e., the free gift of God), if we try to save ourselves by doing good works, we cancel God’s grace and have no hope of salvation. Paul emphasizes the exclusion of good works from the process of salvation.

But wait, didn’t Paul have something else to say about “good works” in relation to salvation? Indeed he did! Here are just a few examples:

  • “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
  • “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
  • “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18).

So we see that, while Paul emphasizes the importance of good works in the life of the believer, he sees them as something that we were saved to do, not something we are saved by doing. And that’s a very important distinction!

James’ Teaching

The teaching of James on faith and works is summarized in James 2:14-26 as follows:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Based on the above passage, I believe that James’ teaching can be summarized in this way: Mere mental agreement (natural faith) that Jesus is the Savior of the world will not save anyone; even the demons believe that. That kind of faith (natural faith) is dead faith. On the other hand, faith that saves (supernatural faith) is accompanied by good works. In fact, the good works are evidence that your faith is supernatural faith, not natural faith. In this way, your supernatural faith and your works are acting together to confirm that your faith is supernatural, genuine and effective. James brings good works into the picture, but not as a means unto salvation. Rather our good works are produced by (supernatural) saving faith and are evidence that our faith is the supernatural kind of faith, not dead and ineffective (natural) faith.

Jesus’ Teaching

Here are a couple of key Bible passages that represent the teachings of Jesus about faith and works:

  • “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:27-29)
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23)

You may be surprised that there are elements of both Paul’s and James’ teaching to be found here. In the first passage, Jesus states quite simply that the work of God that results in eternal life is to believe in (have supernatural faith in) the one he has sent (i.e., Jesus). This leaves no room for good works, in the usual sense of “works”, in meeting God’s requirement for salvation. That sounds a lot like what Paul was saying. On the other hand, in the second passage, Jesus says that only the one who does the will of my Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. So, here we have supernatural faith that saves and is authenticated by obedience (good works). Isn’t that essentially what James was saying? So, in effect, the teachings of both Paul and James about faith and works echo the teachings of Jesus.

Summary

I would summarize the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James on faith and works as they relate to salvation like this: A special kind of faith, supernatural faith, is required for salvation. It is a faith that is a gift of God and leads to good works. The good works are evidence that one has supernatural “saving faith”, but they do not help one to “earn” eternal life. God requires only that we have (supernatural) saving faith in Jesus Christ to qualify for heaven; the good works will follow naturally after one is saved. In short, both (supernatural) saving faith and good works are necessarily present and manifested in the lives of true believers, but it is the (supernatural) saving faith alone that qualifies them for heaven.

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

A Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

Catechism ClipsA Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

 James R. Aist

I was a Roman Catholic for 20 years of my adult life. There are a number of things about the Roman Catholic Church with which I agree, and admire and appreciate. And I know several Roman Catholics who, by all indications, are born-again Christians, as I am. But I do have one concern in particular that I feel compelled to share with you.

To the best of my knowledge, the most important single doctrine of the Christian church is the doctrine of salvation, for it is what you believe (or, more precisely, in whom you believe!) about salvation that will ultimately determine your eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell. I developed the case (click HERE) for the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), and not by either works alone or faith plus works. In the official Roman Catholic Catechism posted on the Vatican website, under the heading “Merit” (click HERE), the following paragraph speaks about the roles of “merit” (the particular term used in this Catechism to mean “good works” or “good deeds”) in the life and eternal destiny of the believer:

“2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” (italics mine).

Here is the (italicized) excerpt to which I want to draw your attention: “…we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces neededfor the attainment of eternal life.” Now, with the understanding that “merit” is taken to mean “good works” or “good deeds” in this Catechism, what this paragraph is saying is that, once we are saved, our good works will earn for us the grace needed for eternal life.  Thus, it appears that the Roman Catholic Church clearly teaches a salvation doctrine of faith (in Jesus Christ) plus good works (merit), rather than the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, and not by works.

Now, you may have the impression that this is probably a trivial and meaningless distinction, but let me bring to your attention the following words of the apostle Paul in this regard:

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28);

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3);

and now, the clinchers…

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4). In other words, if you are trying to justify yourself by your good works, then you are alienated from Christ and have fallen away from the very grace that is necessary to attain eternal life, rather than having earned that grace by your good works!

AND

For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:13-15). That is to say, if you depend on your good works to qualify you for heaven, then your faith (in Jesus) is nullified and the promise (of eternal life) through that faith is worthless.

AND

“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5). In other words, if your salvation is wages for your good works, then it is not by grace (a free gift) that you are saved. But if your salvation is a result of your faith in Jesus, then you are saved by grace, not by works.

AND, in Jesus’ own words…

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29). No “works” at all are required, in the usual sense of the word, for one to be saved; only faith is required (belief).

How, then can we understand James 2:14-26, which seems to imply that works play a necessary role in our salvation? When one takes this passage in its entirety, it becomes evident that James is talking about two kinds of “faith” here. One kind is the same as the demons have, is dead, does not lead to salvation and does not produce good works. It is merely “mental ascent” to certain facts about the things of God.  The other kind of faith is alive, leads to salvation (i.e., it is “saving faith”) and produces good works. The good works are a result of, and evidence of, the kind of faith that saves, but they are not what brings about salvation; only saving faith does that.

One might reasonably summarize the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James on faith and works as they relate to salvation with this paraphrase: “A special kind of faith is required for salvation. It is a faith that leads to good works. The good works are evidence that one has “saving faith”, but they do not help one earn a place in heaven. God requires only that we have saving faith in Jesus Christ to qualify for heaven; the good works will follow naturally after one is saved.”

It would seem to me that the distinction I am making here is neither trivial nor meaningless; rather, it is vital and necessary for the attainment of eternal life, according the Bible, that is. For this reason, I sincerely hope that you will weigh my concern carefully, and then make any necessary adjustments, if any, to your professed doctrinal belief regarding salvation. After all, this is the doctrinal belief upon which your very eternal destiny hinges!

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

Am I Good Enough for Heaven?

One Good DeedAm I Good Enough for Heaven?

 James R. Aist

“I will not work my soul to save, for that my Lord alone has done; but I will work like any slave, because I’m loved by God’s dear Son!”

— William Henry Griffith Thomas

Introduction

I suppose that if we could live a sinless life, then no one would need a savior; we could, in effect, save ourselves. But the sad truth is, we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). So, is it even possible to somehow qualify for heaven, and if so, how can we do that? There is a popular belief in today’s world that, in order to qualify for heaven when you die, you must live a sufficiently “good” life here on earth. To be clear, let me state this commonly held belief in a different way: we will spend our eternity in heaven only if our “good deeds” sufficiently outweigh our “bad deeds.” According to this way of thinking, heaven is a reward, or payment, that we earn for ourselves by doing good works. All major world religions, with one exception, teach this doctrine of “salvation by works” in one form or another. The exception is Christianity. But, unfortunately, many people even in Christian churches believe in salvation by works. Because what we believe about “salvation” will determine where we will spend our eternity – whether in heaven with God or in hell with the devil and his angels — let’s take a good look at why “salvation by works” is a false doctrine and how it is that you can, nevertheless, become “good enough for heaven.”

I Want to Be Judged by My Works; It’s Only Fair, Isn’t It?

Oh, really? Are you sure about that? Do you realize that God, who is himself perfect, requires you to be righteous (i.e., morally perfect) in order to qualify for heaven (Matthew 7:21)? Therefore, if God were to judge you by your works, then you would be found unqualified, because He would be judging you by both your good and your bad deeds, not just your good deeds; your bad deeds would disqualify you from heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). That would be fair alright, but you would not spend your eternity in heaven! This is what we often refer to as “the sin problem.” Maybe “fair” is not what you want after all. But if not “fair”, what then?

God Has Made a Way

Jesus doesn’t love us because we are good enough; He makes us good enough because He loves us.”

Being painfully aware of how our sinfulness disqualifies us for heaven, and determined to save us anyway because of His great love for us, God came up with a brilliant and clever way to qualify us for heaven, even though we cannot qualify ourselves by virtue of our works. He sent a Redeemer (His name is Jesus) to pay the penalty for our sins, which is death (Romans 6:23). This Redeemer was himself without sin (Hebrews 4:15), and, therefore, possessed, by virtue of his sinless nature, the righteousness (moral perfection) of God. And He made it easy for us to qualify for heaven along with Him. All we have to do is believe in Jesus; no works of any kind are required (John 6:29)! Our righteousness, then, is not self-righteousness, but it is the perfect righteousness of Jesus that is attributed to us when we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus doesn’t love us because we are good enough; He makes us good enough because He loves us. Now, from a purely human perspective, this plan may not seem to be fair, but it is merciful (i.e., we do not receive the condemnation that is our due because of our sins), it is gracious (we receive favor that we do not deserve) and it is effective (we have God’s word on it). And that is exactly what we do need to solve our “sin problem”!

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

We refer to this amazing plan of salvation as the Gospel (i.e., good news) of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God that brings salvation to all who will believe in Him (Romans 1:16; John 3:16), confess their sins and repent of them (I John 1:9; Matthew 4:17), and accept Him as their Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31), trusting in His finished work on the cross (1 Peter 2:24) to qualify them for heaven. This is God’s one and only plan to reconcile mankind to Himself — there is no other path to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) – and He is the only one who can establish the ground rules, because “Salvation belongs to our God…” (Revelation 7:10). You can find an excellent article that explains this Gospel in a different way by clicking HERE.

What Are You Waiting for?

God wants to save you (Matthew 18:14)! If you have not yet allowed God to save you, then right now would be a good time to do so. All you have to do is…

Repent (turn away from your sins): “The Lord … is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9);

Believe and Trust in Jesus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16);

Accept His Forgiveness: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1); and

Receive the Peace of Christ: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1).

What Just Happened?

If you went through these steps with genuine sincerity and conviction, then you have just been born-again and have become a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Congratulations! I recommend that you read through the following articles to help clarify some of the remaining questions that you may have. Just click on the links provided below:

Repentance: Confess, Turn, Persevere (click HERE)

What Does “Born Again” Mean? (click HERE)

What Now?

Becoming born-again is just the first step in your life in Christ. It is important that you begin now to actively live out your new life in at least the following ways:

1) Tell someone, perhaps a close friend or relative, that you have become a Christian, and share with them how it happened (Mark 5:19);

2) Get a Bible of your own and begin to read and study it daily. I prefer the New International Version. Begin with the Gospel of John, and then go to Hebrews and then to the Gospel of Matthew. Remember this: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17);

3) Begin to pray to God daily. Now that you are a born-again Christian, you have every right to “… approach God’s throne of grace with confidence…” (Hebrews 4:16). Thank Him for how He is blessing you, praise Him for His awesome nature and tell Him your concerns and needs. Take your time; you just may begin to find that He is speaking into your mind and spirit as you pause and pay attention; and

4) Find and begin to attend a conservative, bible-believing Protestant (not Roman Catholic) church weekly (Hebrews 10:25). Here are some general guidelines for finding a good Protestant church:

  • Get your hands on a written statement of what the church believes. This may be called a “Statement of Faith”, “What We Believe”, “Our Doctrines” or the like;
  • In that statement of faith, look for declarations that a) the Bible alone is the inerrant, inspired word of God, b) that salvation is by grace through faith alone, not by works (referred to as “merit” in the official Roman Catholic Catechism), and c) that the finished work of Jesus Christ is the all-sufficient payment of the penalty for our sins;
  • Find out if the church is pro-life and considers the practice of homosexuality to be sin, as the Bible says it is. If these tests are not met, find another church, because that church does not really believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God;
  • I recommend that you avoid liberal Christian denominations that no longer adhere fully to essential, historical biblical truth and practice, such as the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Church, the Anglican Church, Seventh Day Adventist and the Episcopal Church; and
  • By all means avoid cults that may appear to be Christian, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and Universalist Unitarian churches.

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)