1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope & Love, Part 4 (Falling Away)

spiritual giftsAt this point, the way we lose our salvation should be obvious. If we enter by faith, we leave by giving up our faith.

As we covered in the last post, faith has three elements.

We even made up a cool chart (perfect for drawing on boards when teaching Bible class) —

Believe: Believe Jesus is the Son of God:      Jesus is Messiah:   Faith
Trust:    Trust Jesus to keep his promises:   Jesus is Savior:       Hope
Repent: Be faithful to Jesus:                           Jesus is Lord:          Love

So this what it means to become saved. Undo any of these three, and you fall away and lose your perfected state, free from condemnation. How does that happen? Well —

You can fail to believe in Jesus as Messiah —

(1Jo 4:2-3 ESV)  2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 

You can fail to submit to Jesus as Lord —

(Heb 10:26-27 ESV) For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,  27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 

Notice that it’s not mere sin that destroys and damns. It’s the sin of rebellion. The quoted passage is a conclusion drawn by the Hebrews writer from a discussion going back to Hebrews 3. For example,

(Heb 3:14-16 ESV)  14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.  15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 

The sin of rebellion, or going on sinning deliberately, happens when we no longer try to submit — but rather go our own way without regard to God’s will — not occasionally. We all rebel for a moment here and there. It’s about a change in the direction of one’s life.

(Heb 12:15 ESV)  15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

This is a reference to —

(Deu 29:18b-20 ESV) Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit,  19 one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.  20 The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.

And, this takes us full circle back to —

(Deu 10:16 ESV)  16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 

Finally, a failure to trust God’s promises damns. And for the Churches of Christ, this is our greatest weakness. The most prominent such warning is —

(Gal 5:4-6 ESV) 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Did you see it? Paul refers to faith, hope, and love (in that order!) in this key passage on falling away.

Positively, our faith (meaning primarily trust, in this instance) allows us to wait for our hope — through the Spirit, because the Spirit empowers us to trust.

But Paul warns them that they aren’t doing this. They’ve been separated from Jesus and fallen from grace because they seek to be justified by law. And it’s not that law is bad, but that law is not faith — and the only thing that counts (KJV: avails) is “faith working through love.” Law is not faith working through love, and therefore law does not save.

God’s promise, going back to Abraham, is to save by faith. Attempt anything else, and you lose the promise. Trust God’s promises, and you have God’s promises.

And so why does Paul so focus on faith, hope, and love? Because in them, by the power of Jesus’ sacrifice and by his authority as Messiah-King, we are saved.

Five Steps

Did you notice that went through all this material about how to be saved and didn’t mention the Five-Step Plan of Salvation? It’s not that I disagree all that much. Rather, I just think it helps to see salvation in terms of faith — which is how the New Testament teaches it — so that we aren’t constrained by tradition. It helps to sometimes see familiar things from a new perspective. It might even help us understand our traditions better.

For example, in the Five-Step Plan, we manage to get all the way through it and not mention Jesus: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized. Not a word about Jesus — not until we take the trouble to define our terms.

What do we hear? Well, “hear” comes from —

(Rom 10:14 ESV) How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Jesus. We hear Jesus. And yet our preaching often so focuses on “hear” that we forget what we hear. Why Jesus? Because hearing should lead to our believing “in him.” We believe in Jesus and so we must hear Jesus!

Indeed, this is one of the great weaknesses of Michael Shanks’ Muscle and a Shovel. He teaches the rules without teaching Jesus.

Hearing or reading. The Word of God must be preached (taught and heard) or it must be read by the individual. …

Believing. God’s Word must be believed with the entirety of the heart and mind.

(Kindle Locations 7817-7797). Shanks uses “Word” for the Bible, and so he quite literally replaces faith in Jesus with faith in the Bible. You see, when we rattle off “hear, believe, …” it’s easy to forget the texts on which the Five Steps are based. “Hear, believe …” is quite right but only if we mean those words in the sense in which Paul wrote them. When our slogans get too removed from the text of the Bible, we easily slip into very serious error.

We hear, believe, and confess Jesus. We are baptized into Jesus. It’s all about Jesus, and people were saved by the name of Jesus long before there was a Bible. We are not saved by the Bible or believing in the Bible or hearing the Bible or confessing the Bible!

Repentance is taken from Acts 2:38 and refers to making a change in one’s life. In particular, it refers to a change in loyalty. Rather than being loyal to myself, I will be loyal to Jesus — submitting to him as Lord.

And so, hear, believe, and confess speak to the element of faith (pistis) I call belief. “Repent” speaks to the element of faith I call faithfulness. And so we have faith and we have love. What are we missing?

Hope. Trusting God’s promises. Relying on Jesus to save us by faith. It’s just not in the Five Steps. Even though faith as trust goes back to Abraham, we’ve left trust entirely out of our formula. Why?

Well, in part because trust is not explicitly in Acts 2:38 or Roman 10:9-11, which are the proof texts for the Five Steps. But it’s more because, well, we don’t really trust God to keep his promises. Despite God’s repeated assurances that we are saved by faith and not works, we keep insisting on being saved by our works. And so it’s not surprising that we haven’t noticed that we teach a faith that requires no trust — and hence a faith without much in the way of hope.

To go back a couple of posts, when we refuse to define when our sins are continuously forgiven and when our sins damn, we leave our members with precious little hope — and leave them miserable in their uncertainty. After all, how do we know that we’ve gotten every single solitary rule about worship and the use of the church treasury and church cooperation and fellowship halls and kitchens and on and on and on exactly right? And if we get one of the inferences from  silences wrong, how do we know it’s not one of those salvation issues? How do we know? It’s a religion without hope.

What’s the solution? Well, believe God’s promises.

(Rom 8:1 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

(Heb 4:16 ESV) 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

(Heb 10:21-22 ESV)  21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

(Heb 13:6 ESV) 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” 

(Joh 5:24 ESV) 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

(Joh 6:47 ESV)  47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.

(Joh 11:25-26 ESV)  25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

We should be able to read these and respond from deep within “Of course! Praise God!” But we’ve been trained to point out the exceptions, the limitations, the caveats, the howevers, so much so that we find those who actually believe these passages to be hopelessly ignorant. But we are the ones who are hopeless.

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Ray Vander Laan Regarding Christmas

RVL2Longtime readers will know that I’m a fan of the teaching ministry of Ray Vander Laan.

A reader has pointed out to me this audio recording of Ray speaking on Christmas.


PS — Additional audio mp3s from Ray Vander Laan may be found here.

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1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope & Love, Part 3 (Salvation)

spiritual giftsSo we are saved by grace, and so long as we’re saved at all, we’re entirely saved.

(Heb 10:14 NIV) For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

So how might I fall from this state? Having been saved, what would make me no longer saved?

I think the answer is as simple as this: We leave the kingdom by the same path by which we entered. If we surrender those things that brought us into right relationship with God, we lose our salvation. The way out is the same as the way in.

So that brings us to much more familiar ground. What is the way in? Well, faith in Jesus. The Greek word is pistis, and pistis carries three related, overlapping meanings. Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope & Love, Part 2 (Grace)

spiritual giftsSo in Part 1, we covered some of the reasons love is the greatest of all God’s gifts. We could go on, but we need to consider why faith and hope get added to the list. Why these two other gifts?

I see it in terms of atonement or, more technically, soteriology — the theology of how we’re saved.

Let’s discuss it in Church of Christ terms, and to do that, we need to dispense with certain false understandings. And because I’m writing on Championship Saturday (Dec 6, 2014) and therefore need to be finished in time to watch some football, I’ll repeat what I wrote in a recent comment (edited) — Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope & Love, Part 1

spiritual giftsChapter 13 famously concludes with —

(1Co 13:13 ESV) 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

What few notice is that this famous triad appears elsewhere in the New Testament —

(1Th 1:2-3 ESV) We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,  3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1Th 5:8 ESV)  8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

And less obviously in such passages as —

(Rom 5:1-5 ESV) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 

(Gal 5:5-6 ESV)  5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

(Eph 4:1-6 ESV)  I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  4 There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 

(Col 1:3-5b ESV)  We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,  4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,  5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. 

It’s clear that this is no mere rhetorical flourish! These three words stand at the very heart of Paul’s theology, coursing from his earliest to his later epistles. In fact, many commentators conclude that the three words were the core of Paul’s preaching (and I agree). Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 13-14 (On Prophecy and Tongues, Part 2)

spiritual giftsTongues in Acts

I take the gift of tongues in Acts 2 to have been the miraculous ability to hear in one’s own tongue — and I don’t know whether the apostles spoke in multiple languages or that’s how God allowed them to be heard, but it must have sounded odd or else why accuse the men of drunkenness?

But the tongues spoken by new converts in Acts — or “tongues and prophesying” — was surely ecstatic speech as in Numbers 11. For example,

(Act 19:6 ESV)  6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

Notice that the laying on of hands was used to commission for a task of office. Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 13-14 (On Prophecy and Tongues, Part 1)

spiritual giftsOne of great difficulties of interpreting chapters 11 – 14, is we really just aren’t that certain about what “prophecy” and “tongues” were. And the first step to a deeper understanding is admitting our lack of certainty.

It’s been traditionally taught (not just just in the Churches of Christ) that the New Testament prophets were given to fill the gap created by the New Testament not being yet complete. Congregations were equipped with prophets who taught doctrine and such until the canon was completed, and then the gift of prophecy was no longer needed.

Nice theory. Zero scripture to support it. In fact, the scriptures plainly contradict it! After all, no congregation had more prophecy that the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians is likely the oldest book in the New Testament. But the Corinthian church was filled with prophecy — even the women prophesied in church (chapter 11!) — and the assemblies were evidently filled with so many prophecies that the problem was they kept interrupting each other! — so why did they need Paul to begin writing the New Testament by sending them his first epistle? If the prophets filled in for the missing New Testament, why did Paul have to write them two letters? Continue reading

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Leadership: Why Do Visitors Hate the Meet-and-Greet Time?

meet-and-greetThom Rainer is best-selling author and church growth consultant. Recently, he published some results of his research that shocked the evangelical world–it seems that church visitors hate — hate – the meet and greet.

In an admittedly unscientific Twitter poll, Rainer asked what a church does (or doesn’t do) that drives off first time visitors. By far, the number one answer was the meet and greet.

This response was my greatest surprise for two reasons. First, I was surprised how much guests are really uncomfortable during this time. Second, I was really surprised that it was the most frequent response.

So he followed up with a poll asking why. Here are the results — Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (that which is perfect), Part 5 (“maturity”)

spiritual giftsAnother possible reading of “that which is perfect” or teleios is “maturity.” However, the more general definition is —

In the NT “perfect” is usually the tr[anslation] of teleios, primarily, “having reached the end” …

L. Walker, “Perfect, Perfection,” ed. James Orr et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 2321. And so “perfect” very well fits the “end of the age” sense I’ve argued for.

Nonetheless, Paul often uses teleios to mean mature, and 1 Cor 13:10 says,

(1Co 13:11 ESV) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (that which is perfect), Part 4 (“abides”)

spiritual giftsFaith after Jesus returns

The argument that faith ends at the Second Coming is usually based on —

(Heb 11:1 ESV) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The idea is that if faith and hope expire at the Second Coming, then love lasts longer (making it greater?), but since faith and hope must “abide” beyond the duration of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, these lesser gifts must have passed away at some time before Jesus’ return.

But Paul does not say that love lasts longer than faith or hope, and he is specific that tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will be destroyed at the Second Coming. Nonetheless, to be all-the-more certain of the conclusion, let’s see whether the traditional argument correctly interprets Heb 11:1. Continue reading

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