Jeopardy and Assurance
Now, of course, human nature and our relationship with God is bit more complex than contra-positives and logic. After all, even if I have the Spirit within me, I have a choice. I can follow his lead or I can refuse it.
Refusing may eventually cause the Spirit to leave me, placing me outside the camp, alone in the desert, but until then, I remain saved and must make a choice every day whether to follow.
Hence, I may have days when I do no works and bear no fruit, but the Spirit still strives with me. That’s okay. God, like any loving parent, will judge my life, not my day. Of course, one bad day can easily turn into a bad week, a bad month, and even a ruined life. But until that happens, I’m judged on the whole, indeed, by whether the Spirit has yet given up on me.
Therefore, due to my immaturity or due to a time of struggle, I may not be worth much to God and yet still be saved. God is patient like that. But ultimately, in the long run, at some point, I have to turn it around.
I find it helpful to think in the same terms as Peter — not that he contradicts Paul at all. I just like how he says it.
(2Pe 1:3-4 ESV) 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
“Partakers in the divine nature” sure sounds like a reference to the indwelling Spirit to me. But the language also speaks to the idea of being transformed into the image of God.
Peter says, therefore, that God has given us all we need so that we may possess the Spirit — that is, to be transformed into God’s image — and thereby escape the corruption that is in the world.
We see Paul using “corruption” in Romans 8:21 to refer to the Fall of Man. (Compare 1 Cor 15:42, 50). Peter’s language differs from Paul, but it’s the same theology.
(2Pe 1:5-7 ESV) 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
“For this very reason” — to assure that you truly escape the corruption — make every effort to acquire Christian virtues or (Paul would say) fruit of the Spirit.
(2Pe 1:8 ESV) 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter wisely counsels that the goal isn’t perfect love or perfect self-control but to continually grow in love and self-control. So long as we are growing, our knowledge of Jesus (that is, the gospel which saves) will be effective (to keep us saved) and fruitful.
(2Pe 1:9 ESV) 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
We don’t have to have these qualities in their fullness, but if we aren’t on our way toward gaining them, we’ve lost our first love and our gratitude.
(2Pe 1:10 ESV) 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
“Confirm” in the KJV is “make sure.” How do we make sure we “never fall”? We grow in the fruits of the Spirit. The more we follow Jesus, the more we grow in his attributes, the farther away from sin we will be. Indeed, the more powerfully the Spirit glows within us and transforms us, the more sure we are of our election!
But if we get lazy, our election becomes unsure. We are at risk of sin’s deception and hardening — and we can fall away all the while being so deadened to guilt that we just don’t care.
Therefore, there is no safe place between growing in the Spirit and damnation. There are places in between, but they are deadly dangerous, scary, fearsome places — which dull the senses and hide the consequences. Safety is found only in letting God transform our minds. Romans 12:1-2 is thus the key to an assured salvation.
Do works save? No. But they discipline the heart and mind. They shape us so that the Spirit can work more powerfully within us. They evidence the heart of Jesus.
It’s a peculiarity of human nature that our hearts sometimes follow our behavior. Sometimes we have to do right before we feel the urge to do right. But it’s ultimately the heart that God judges, and our works both shape our hearts and are shaped by our hearts.
By now, James is surely obvious. Does James contradict Paul? Explain away Paul? No. True faith is — in the normal case — evidenced by works. Paul says the same thing. No works means — in the normal case — a weak faith or no faith at all.
Therefore, it’s entirely proper to urge Christians to do good works. Paul does. Why shouldn’t James?
Those who wish to argue with Paul using James are wasting their time.