1 Thessalonians: 2:17-20

1-thessalonians

The next few verses fascinate me —

(1 Thess. 2:17-18 ESV) 17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again– but Satan hindered us. 

Paul apologizes, in effect, for not being able to return in person to Thessaloniki to meet face to face. Cryptically, he says that “Satan hindered us.” His language is very strong: “I, Paul” — nearly an oath affirming the truth of the matter. “Again and again.” Paul repeatedly tried to return but was hindered by Satan each time.

“Hindered” is a military term used when an enemy tears up a road to prevent travel. We might translate “Satan detained us” or “Satan interdicted us” (I know, too obscure) or “Satan did to us what Sherman did to the Confederacy.” (Around here, this would be very clear. Maybe not up North.)

In truth, we do not know how Satan frustrated their plans to return before the writing of this letter. All we can say is that the opposition was formidable enough to put a halt to their best efforts.

Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 153.

This brings us to —

(1 Thess. 2:19-20 ESV)  19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?  20 For you are our glory and joy. 

Paul seems to be speaking of salvation predicated somehow on works. Paul’s “hope” before “Lord Jesus” is the church at Thessaloniki. He credits them with being his ticket into heaven.

Doubt me? (Well, I doubt me, so let’s be sure) —

But for the moment we note that when Paul looks forward to that day, as he does eagerly, the thing that he regards as his reason for confidence, his ‘boasting’, in the presence of the Lord is the Christians who have become established and mature through his work. They are his ‘hope, joy and crown’, his ‘glory and joy’.

This is remarkable for several reasons, and should be an encouragement and stimulus both to pastors and to congregations. But it might, at first glance, seem to be odd. Surely for Paul the single hope for the future, the thing that will stand him in good stead on the last day, is simply the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ? ‘God forbid’, he writes in Galatians 6:14, ‘that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.’ Has he changed his mind?

Of course not. Jesus’ death and resurrection remain foundational for who Paul is and what he does (see, e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4:14). But the ‘boasting’ he there refers to relates to his present status, his standing before God in faith; this is what rules out, as Galatians makes clear, all present standing based on the marks of belonging to a particular race or tribe, or on any human achievement or effort. What Paul is now talking about is his hope for the future, for the last day when, as he says in Galatians 5:6, what will count is ‘faith at work through love’. For Paul, the work of love has meant the founding and nurturing of churches, as the substantial sign that the living God has indeed been at work through him.

Of course, there are thousands of different Christian callings, most of them not nearly so spectacular and obvious as Paul’s. Each of us has our own work of love to perform, whether it be quiet and secret or well known and public. Each pastor and teacher should look to the future, and see those in their charge as their potential joy, hope and crown. And each congregation should recognize that this is how they will appear on the last day. Both should be challenged and encouraged, by this forward look, to learn and live the faith, to celebrate the hope, to consolidate and practise the love revealed in the gospel.

Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 106–107.

In other words, we are saved by grace through faith, but genuine faith produces Christian love, and Christian love bears fruit. It may not be the founding of a new church, but it touches others and reshapes the world in the image of Jesus. In Acts and the Gospels, we’re repeatedly told to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. It’s not the fruit that saves, but saved people (absent health or other impediments) bear fruit.

The point then, laid out in Romans 8:1–11, is this: the verdict already issued over Christian faith in Romans 3 does indeed genuinely anticipate the verdict to be issued over the entirety of the life led, because the Spirit now at work in you, the Spirit because of whose presence you are beginning to walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh, is the Spirit of the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and hence the Spirit through whom God will raise all those who belong to the Messiah. This is why, when Paul looks ahead to the future and asks, as well one might, what God will say on the last day, he holds up as his joy and crown, not the merits and death of Jesus, but the churches he has planted who remain faithful to the gospel. The path from initial faith to final resurrection (and resurrection, we must remind ourselves, constitutes rescue, that is, salvation, from death itself) lies through holy and faithful Spirit-led service, including suffering.

N. T. Wright, Paul: Fresh Perspectives, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2005), 148.

If you’ve read the Gospels, you know that Jesus expected his followers to live radically changed lives. They weren’t called to hide in monasteries and just “believe” without actually following Jesus in living a changed life. To become a Christian has always been about much more than a change in worldview or intellectual assent to Jesus as the second member of the Trinity living in hypostatic union with God the Father. I mean, “hypostatic union” doesn’t even sound like NT language or thought — although I believe it to be true. It’s not the core of what Jesus expected from his followers.

In fact, we see his followers suffering persecution, fleeing their homes, selling their belongings, suffering exclusion from their countrymen, participating in mission works, funding charitable gifts to the Jerusalem church …

We grossly abuse the scriptures when we turn “faith” into “mindset” or “belief system.” It is that, but it is much more than that.

In Gal 5:6, Paul says that faith must express itself through love. The word itself (in the Greek) includes faithfulness and loyalty — and that is much more than what we believe to be true. It’s also how we live.

The key distinction is not “faith” vs. “works.” The problem with works is that works aren’t faith — and faith is where we find our salvation. Anything that is not faith cannot save. Hence, the question is not “Is X a ‘work’?” but “Is X ‘faith’?” (A bulldozer isn’t a work, but it doesn’t save. Bulldozers aren’t faith.)

Now, faith > faithfulness = loyalty = obedience=penitence. That is faith includes but is not limited to faithfulness. Faithfulness is one very important aspect of saving faith, but not the only one.

A faithful, loyal, obedient, penitent person will obey God’s will as he or she understands it. If they are taught incorrectly about how to organize the deacons, and so they organize the deacons in error, they are indeed in error but such a person is still faithful, loyal, obedient, and penitent — as messed up as the deacons may be. They still have faith — and therefore they will be anxious to learn about anything important to Jesus, including how to organize the deacons. They’ll be open to new learning on the subject because they want — more than anything — to be like their rabbi Jesus. Loyalty leads to a desire to learn more. (Fear of new learning is therefore a mark of a works salvation, that is, a false gospel.)

It’s about the heart. It’s subjective. But a heart that follows Jesus will be obvious enough, even though you and I may disagree about what obedience Jesus commands. I may insist that Jesus’ commands found in the Gospels are central to following Jesus. (It would make sense, you know.) You may find the heart of Jesus’ commands in inferences drawn from the silences in Paul’s letters. (Seems unlikely that the core commands would be found in silences, but the argument has been made often.)

How does God deal with such differences of opinion?

(Rom. 14:1-13 ESV) As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  …  3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  

7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.  10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;  11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”  12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.  13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

In other words, we may not divide over disputable matters, because it’s our hearts that will be judged. If we disagree about what we may eat or what days we may or must celebrate, we both do what we do (or refuse what we refuse) to honor God. It’s all worship. And it’s all from a heart of faithfulness, loyalty, obedience, and penitence to our rabbi Jesus. And so we are saved much more by to whom we are faithful — it must be faith in/faithfulness to Jesus — than how we believe we are to be faithful.

There are boundaries — and as we learn in Galatians, one of those boundaries is that we must trust God to save by faith, and hence not by something that is not faith, such as works. And if we insist on salvation by works, we lose our salvation.

(Gal. 5:2-6 ESV)  2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  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.

The problem with circumcision is not that it’s something done. The problem is that it’s not faith/faithfulness. Now, if you believe God insists on circumcision, you should endure circumcision for God. By all means.

But if your brother disagrees, then he is being faithful — admittedly subjectively from your point of view — by declining circumcision — and you must honor his faithful heart even if you disagree with his understanding of God’s will. Otherwise, you are not allowing him to be saved by faith in/faithfulness to Jesus. Hence, God will make him stand and you welcome him as a brother despite your disagreement. If you insist on circumcision as a matter of salvation, then you’ve redefined “faith/faithfulness” to mean “be circumcised,” which is just plain wrong.

Or you’ve insisted that someone cannot be faithful unless he gets all the commands right. Which is impossible. And so damning — even to yourself. Which is Paul’s very point in Gal 5.

The faithfulness part of faith is subjective, and that makes church a little messy, and some of us find that intellectually intolerable. We like sharp lines with no gray and no smudges. But God judges the heart — and so we must do the same.

The human heart is complex, confusing, and consternating. We like simple True-False questions. We want to check the boxes all the way to heaven. But God wants our hearts — as messy as they are.

(Ps. 7:10 ESV) 10 My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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25 Responses to 1 Thessalonians: 2:17-20

  1. Price Futrell says:

    Maybe… I found it difficult to follow the path in these passages to faith/works… It seemed to me, who knows little, that Paul is simply encouraging the readers by his referring to them as his life’s work. I as the reader of his letter would be very encouraged by this statement….to know that a man of Paul’s reputation would think of us as that important…yep, that’d encourage me quite a bit.

  2. John F. says:

    Jay: “In other words, we are saved by grace through faith, but genuine faith produces Christian love, and Christian love bears fruit.”

    In the agricultural industry, there are many “fruit” inspectors, ensuring the quality and safety of the products we consume. They are “appointed” by government (sometimes a young person just out of college who is ignorant compared to those in the field with decades of first hand experience). In the church we find “self appointed” of publicly “anointed” spiritual fruit inspectors. They would proclaim that a particular “fruit” is unacceptable before God. The large problem with that is that “self appointing” or public “anointing” does not have the same authority for the agricultural inspectors. Our fellowships have been only too rank with them over time. And yet, “new ain’t necessarily true.”

  3. Profile photo of Ed Dodds Ed Dodds says:

    RE: works, 1 Cor 3 is helpful, too: RE: Fruit, it included praying for the gift of prophecy (but with love) for the edification of the congregation, enrolling widows over 60 in some circumstances, working with your hands in order to give to those in need, not withholding wages from your employees (bringing in James), making disciples (bringing in Jesus), using your talents, etc. We are being built into a temple to collectively display the shekhinah of God. We are a priesthood of believers, blessed to bless (the nations/ethnes), to intercede on their behalf (praying for all leaders). We live in courageous joy when the roaring of the seas troubles the nations (Lk 21:25; see also the US Eastern Coast).

  4. Dwight says:

    John F. What you say is true, often there are too many fruit inspectors and not enough fruit bearers, which comes from being a fruit inspector. The problem is that those that bear no fruit will be rejected by God. The Pharisee’s had built a religion of being fruit inspectors.

  5. I may insist that Jesus’ commands found in the Gospels are central to following Jesus. (It would make sense, you know.) You may find the heart of Jesus’ commands in inferences drawn from the silences in Paul’s letters. (Seems unlikely that the core commands would be found in silences, but the argument has been made often.)

    Well said! More than half a century ago when I was still a teenager, I wondered (without expressing it) why God made the IM issue so obscure. Why, I wondered, if he regarded music with such disdane, he didn’t make it clearer. Just this week, I heard a mature member of the Church of Christ express a similar thought – but who also expressed the idea pounded into all of us that since “silence forbids,” there was willingness to go along with the traditional position. Another party to the conversation stated categorically that if the church adopted IM, they’d be gone in a flash. Neither of us who questioned the tradition, established in the silences in Paul’s letters.

  6. Dwight says:

    One thing I came to realize that in the OT God was not vague. If God was against something or for something God stated his will in a command for or a condemnation against.
    This argument of silence forbids should condemn all foods that the Israelites had access to in that God stated some foods as unclean, but said nothing about all of the other foods. In this case we would strangely argue that God’s silence allows all other foods. We are woefully inconsistent with our own rules. I had mentioned wine that the Jews drank during the Passover (in which God only commanded a Passover lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs), which was never commanded, to which one said, “Well that goes without saying”, because duh you must have something to drink with your food. But this goes against the very argument of silence.
    We it appears are the modern Pharisees.

  7. Alabama John says:

    At Judgment we will stand before God all alone and answer to him for those things we have done wrong.
    God will also know what we have done right and all our circumstances that influenced our thinking and actions.
    With that in mind instead of tradition being our guide, decide for yourself your goals being seen by God.
    Many, including me do not believe everything the COC teaches and practices, but feel good about standing alone before God. We will not be able to bring up brother—– Elder so an so to tell God why I did what I did.
    Stand alone, judge alone.

  8. Gary says:

    Thank you Jay. This is an outstanding post. I do think, however, that even those who were taught and who embraced works salvation will be saved. We have many conservative forebears in Churches of Christ who lived and died believing the works based salvation that they were taught. I remember a common illustration in my youth was that salvation was like a rowboat requiring the oar of faith and the oar of works. Their Christian lives were burdened with the uncertainty of never knowing if they had done enough to be saved. Even in their erroneous thinking, though, there had to be a realization at some level that all the good works in the world could not atone for sin. Their hearts were true to Christ even if their understanding was defective.

  9. Alabama John says:

    WE must also consider if our thinking was defective so was our teaching. God in His judgment may count all those we ran off from Him against us for that teaching.
    Leaving it up to God and not making those calls ourselves against others might be wise.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    The case for the salvation of those who teach a works salvation is difficult. Paul could not be clearer that his opponents in Galatia were damned, alienated from Christ, and ANATHEMA. It’s hard to imagine stronger language. But he is generally using the strongest language for the teachers — not their victims. As to their victims, Paul says things like,

    (Gal. 5:1-2 ESV) For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.

    This is a warning, not a condemnation. But there does come a point when the warning is fully realized. The jeopardy is real.

    (Gal. 5:12-15 ESV) 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

    Again, this is language of warning, not of condemnation. Similarly, Paul speaks much more harshly of the false teachers than those being misled by them —

    (Gal. 5:10 ESV) 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.

    (Gal. 1:6-8 ESV) 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

    But the warnings are real. The danger is real. The possibility of damnation is real. Paul gives his readers the benefit of the doubt and urges them — in the strongest language possible — not to be fooled. And merely being tempted into this error is not damning. Considering the false arguments is not damning. But there will come a point when the Galatian heresy so possesses a believer that he loses his soul.

    I don’t think I can specify just when that is, but I cannot pretend that the warnings don’t apply to many of my brothers today — and I’ll not refuse to repeat what Paul says with such force just because I’m not certain just when legalism damns. It’s enough to know that it will eventually damn — and so we cannot sit by silently while so many teach a damning false gospel.

  11. John F says:

    “But there will come a point when the Galatian heresy so possesses a believer that he loses his soul.”

    So if a baptism is defective, God will still recognize the response of faith. But if the doctrine is defective in regard to the “core” of the gospel of faith, God will damn. That would seem to be the logical conclusion.

  12. Dwight says:

    In the words of Inigio Montoya “You keep using that word. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” Defective means there is a problem with its structure. There is no defective baptism, only defective people who are baptized. We might not recognize a baptism, but that doesn’t make it defective. Even those who were baptized into John didn’t have a defective baptism, even though they had to be re-baptized again into Christ. Those that are baptized without a good understanding of Christ, which is hard to understand if you believe Jesus is the Son of God and the savior, might have a defective faith, but the baptism is a simple process.

  13. John F says:

    All right, change the term defective (I believe Jay has used that term before) but the point asked is the same. Is there grace given for a poor understanding of baptism, but not for a poor understanding of doctrine? Is “legalism” the unpardonable sin? That would seem to be the implication.

  14. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    There is grace for some things but not for everything. Otherwise, we’d be Universalists. So what is within grace and what is not? Well, it’s incredibly complicated:

    (Acts 10:43 ESV) 43 “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

    So who is saved? Everyone who believes in Jesus.

    Who is not? Those who don’t believe in Jesus.

    So there’s no grace for an absence of faith?

    Precisely.

    (Jn. 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

    This is about as plain as English (or Greek) can be written. And there are dozens upon dozens of verses that say the same thing.

    Now, to unpack these thoughts, we need to consider two things (at least):

    * What does “faith” mean?
    * How does baptism fit into all this?

    Well, you can’t answer the baptism question without first knowing what is and isn’t faith.

    One of the most common mistakes made by countless commentators and preachers and bloggers is to assume a simplistic understanding of “faith” as meaning something like “intellectual acceptance that Jesus is the Son of God in the Council of Nicea sense of ‘Son of God'”. This is obviously false as the Council of Nicea is a Fourth Century thing and so unlikely to be what Peter and Jesus had in mind — not that I believe either disagrees with the Nicene Creed. I just don’t think their sense of “faith” was expressed in Fourth Century Neo-Platonic terms.

    Moreover, the notion that “faith” is mere intellectual acceptance of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God is either (a) a common misreading of the Reformers or (b) a strawman argument invented by Church of Christ preachers to ridicule the notion that faith is enough to save, because if “faith” is mere intellectual acceptance, then one could have faith and yet live a life entirely disloyal to Jesus. Therefore, it is argued, more than faith is needed. But this argument proceeds from a false definition of “faith” not taught by any serious scholar — just a few radio preachers and a few Church of Christ debaters who prefer their opponents to be made of straw.

    With me so far?

  15. John F says:

    Of course, so far … that is why I see faith as a verb as well as a noun. The core question to which you allude is: At what point does an incorrect understanding of the doctrine of grace result in damnation? Your definitions of legalism and progressive don’t always clarify. Are there some who have “progressed” beyond the reach of grace? You posit that some “legalists” are beyond grace. At what point, if any, do “progressives” reject the doctrine of the gospel and are now beyond grace.

    It is the submissive heart that finds grace . . . . all else is likely to become prideful or slavery.

  16. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    JohnF (Part 2) —

    What is “faith”?

    I’ve covered this countless times, and yet the old false definition of “faith” (see my last comment) continues to be assumed by many. Habits that we’ve held for decades are hard to break. But we can’t intelligently discuss faith without a biblical definition.

    According to Gal 3 and Rom 4, we are saved by God’s covenant with Abraham to count his faith as righteousness. Therefore, NT “faith” includes “faith” as used in Gen 15:6 —

    (Gen. 15:5-6 ESV) 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

    Now, in the Greek, “belief” and “faith” are the same word. “To believe” and “to have faith” are the same word. All arguments that try to distinguish faith from belief are nonsensical in the Greek and Hebrew.

    In Abraham’s case, “believed” means “trusted.” He trusted God to keep his promises even though they seemed physically impossible for God to keep. And his trust/faith/belief affected how Abraham lived the rest of his life. Again: it was not mere intellectual acceptance of an abstraction. He believed God would give him a son through whom these other covenant promises would be made. The rest of Genesis reveals Abraham’s submission to God in response to this promise.

    So let’s study Abraham’s relationship with God just a bit more closely. God said,

    (Gen. 18:17-19 ESV) 17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

    God reveals that he made a covenant with Abraham so that he would “keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.” Immediately afterwards, Abraham does righteousness and justice by begging for God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah.

    The point is that God intends for faith/trust to produce righteousness and justice. Faith comes first. Our faith is credited as righteousness. And then God’s relationship with us changes us so that we do righteousness and justice.

    This brings us to another meaning of “faith”: “faithfulness.” Chesed. It’s a characteristic of God in the OT and the NT. To have faith in someone is to be loyal or faithful to that person. It’s grammatically what the word means.

    It’s pointed to in Genesis. It shows up even more plainly in Heb 11 — the “Roll Call of the Faithful.” I’ve done the verse by verse analysis on this a number of times. The point is that what these OT heroes are credited for is their faith, which his expressed in terms of faithfulness.

    Notice:

    (Heb. 11:29-31 ESV) 29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

    We actually see all three elements of “faith” here. The people trusted God to keep his promises. The people were faithful/obedient to God. The people believed God to be God. All three elements of faith are repeatedly praised. Read the chapter. You can see three elements of faith intertwining throughout the verses if you look.

    In short, “faith” has three elements:

    1. Acceptance that Jesus is the Messiah and Lord.

    2. Trust that Jesus will keep his promises.

    3. Faithfulness to Jesus.

    In each case, the Greek word is pistis, although the translation sometimes differs as English uses multiple words where Greek uses just one.

    Now, as recently noted, “faithfulness” is subjective. It’s a condition of the heart. My child is obedient if he obeys what he understands my will to be, even if he is sometimes mistaken. This is why Rom 14 plainly approves contrary interpretations of the scripture by brothers in Christ. Both brothers are subjectively faithful even though at least one is in fact in error.

    On the other hand, faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Lord doesn’t leave much room for subjectivity. That is, if I don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, I’m not saved even though I sincerely believe myself correct. It’s not faith in myself that saves. It’s faith in Jesus as Messiah.

    (Matt. 16:15-18 ESV) 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

    When Peter confessed Jesus as “the Christ,” well, “Christ” is simply the Greek form of “Messiah.” Moreover, “Son of God” is the title given the Messiah in Psalm 2.

    We should also note —

    (Rom. 10:9-13 ESV) 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    Here, Paul says that the confession that saves is “Jesus is Lord,” and Paul then takes “LORD” from Joel 2:32 (“everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”), where the Hebrew for “LORD” is YHWH. That is, the confession “Jesus is Lord” was very close to “Jesus is YHWH” or “Jesus is God.” Which is very close to what most of us confessed when we were baptized.”

    Now, do I expect a babe in Christ to understand these concepts at the same level as me? No. We actually are so anxious to baptize our converts, that we rarely take the time to ask whether they have a clue as to what the confession of Jesus means! We might ask 20 questions about their baptismal theology and ask nothing about their Christology! And yet I don’t doubt that the confessions converts make are good, because in their hearts they understand that Jesus is somehow a part of God and to be honored and worshiped as God.

    Now, this being the case, there are three way to get “faith” wrong and so not have faith. You have to have all three elements to have NT faith.

    * I can reject Jesus as Lord/Son of God/Messiah. 1 John 4:2-3 damns those who deny Jesus in this sense.

    * I can rebel against the known commands of Jesus — intending to be disobedient. Heb 10:26 ff warns us against this attitude and threatens damnation to those in rebellion.

    * I can reject the promises of God and not trust him to save. I can try saving myself. Hence, Paul says that if I insist on circumcision as a requirement to be saved, then I must insist on the entire Law and thereby condemn myself. It’s not because I’m in error on circumcision. It’s because I’ve redefined “faithful” from subjective and the heart and instead insisted on particular commands — as though faith/trust/faithfulness is not enough.

    Circumcision is not a part of faith. Therefore, insisting on circumcision damns because it denies the sufficiency of God’s promise to save everyone with faith in Jesus.

  17. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F asked,

    At what point, if any, do “progressives” reject the doctrine of the gospel and are now beyond grace?

    Well, those who “progress” all the way out of Christianity aren’t progressives at all. But it does happen.

    Some deny that Jesus is Lord. They no longer seek to obey Jesus but rather obey their own moral code — political correctness or whatever. When we feel that we have the right to ignore commands that we don’t like, just because we don’t like them, we are not faithful. And we are in jeopardy of being damned under Heb 10:26 ff.

    When we refuse to grant grace to those more conservative than us (but who still have faith), we are in trouble under Gal 5. If I insist on a cappella music as a command from God, I can still be a person of faith. But if I damn those who disagree with me on the instrument, I’ve committed the Galatian heresy and may find myself damned.

    But it works the other way. If I don’t care about my brothers who worship a cappella, and consider them lost even though they don’t condemn those who disagree, then I’m the legalist. Some “progressives” are so in love with their brilliant understanding that they condemn those to their right just as readily as those on the right condemn them.

    I don’t believe that the Bible requires a cappella worship. But I don’t consider those who disagree with me are in any jeopardy of losing their salvation just because they got the instrumental music issue wrong (as I see it). But when the damn over the instrument or when my “progressive” brothers damn over instrumental error, then both sides are at risk of committing the Gal 5 heresy. It just much, much more common for the conservatives to be guilty of this particular heresy.

    Among progressives, I’m increasingly seeing a tendency to reject admitted teachings of the NT for the sake of political correctness or the spirit of the age. This is not as common as some argue, but it does happen. And this is not the same as being genuinely convicted in error on some point of Christian ethics. This particular sin requires knowing sin — and choice not to follow God’s known will.

    Hence, there are those who disagree with me on homosexual sin who are fully convinced in their own minds and not at all rebellious against God — although in error (as I see things). But there are also those who’d rather slander Paul as sexually repressed (etc. etc.) than honor his teachings. These are the ones who risk violating Heb 10:26 ff.

  18. John F says:

    And so the pendulum of condemnation swings both ways (not sexually related). I don’t know that we are THAT far apart (if we are). The real core of decision making is the view toward inspiration. God has revealed and spoken to us through Christ (Hebrews) a faith for all cultures across time (Jude – a faith delivered ONCE for all). To choose to limit the scriptures to a 1st Century culture is to state the God has left us sadly deficient — therefore WE choose what is and is not a faithful response. And therein lies the rub.

  19. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    Indeed, as I wrote 20 years ago in the Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace, you can fall off the pathway of grace in either direction. My more conservative brothers find themselves struggling with what I call “legalism”: adding conditions of salvation to faith in Jesus. Hence, they not only insist on a cappella singing (not legalism by itself) but making a cappella singing a condition of salvation (sure ’nuff legalism). This is the great sin of the 20th Century Churches of Christ and the largest reason for their many divisions.

    My more progressive brothers sometimes don’t bind what I bind; and I consider them in error but not damned unless they do so knowing that the scriptures condemn what they approve. This is not legalism. It’s rebellion. It also damns.

    (1 Jn. 4:6 ESV) 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

    The saved listen to the apostles. When we start thinking we’re smarter than the apostles, we are in rebellion and on very dangerous ground.

    Obviously, you and I may well interpret a given text differently, with both of us very much intending to be in submission to God. That is not rebellion — even though it can get under my skin. Those who are not in rebellion are generally willing to talk about their views, because one sign of submission is humility — a willingness to hear the other side out.

    Now, we must not confuse a “faith delivered once for all” with “how faith works through love in every single culture.” I mean, faith is immutable. But I don’t think the Holy Kiss is faith, nor is it an unchangeable command.

    One of the great, massive errors of the 20th Century Churches of Christ was to define anything taught in scripture as a matter of “faith.” But “faith” is “faith in Jesus” and not nearly as broad as “any command I can infer from the text, including the text’s silences.” You don’t have confess anyone but Jesus to be saved. “Faith” is not some massive body of systematic theology derived from scripture — an error the Reformers and many before them made. It’s just faith in Jesus. Nothing else is faith. Therefore, nothing else saves.

    And the path out is the same at the path in. Get faith sufficiently wrong, and you can lose your salvation. But a cappella music isn’t part of faith — not unless you make it a salvation condition. Then I guess we have to confess faith in a cappella music to be saved — which makes it idolatry.

    Does this mean some commands change in their application from time to time, place to place? Well, Paul had Timothy circumcised and refused to have Titus circumcised. Which command was he honoring? The command to make disciples. And the methods varied with the location and audience.

    Just so, I’m not sure we need to bury our dead in caves, or literally wash feet, or lie down on couches to take the Lord’s Supper, or only gather in an upper room, or have our teachers sit when they teach or read from scrolls.

    Some things change, and some things do not. There are solid, God-honoring ways of making those distinctions. And we can’t avoid it. We can disagree as to where the line is drawn but not over whether there is a line.

  20. John F says:

    Dare I say “Amen”? I have read your writings, and some arguments I do not find compelling, but I do not charge insincerity . . . we just disagree. And I would still have you in my home or buy you a cup of coffee (though maybe not the pie)! (Smiles)

  21. Dwight says:

    It is good to see agreement in thought.

  22. Larry Cheek says:

    Hebrews chapter 11 and continuing partially into chapter 12 give us a definition of faith by understanding the actions of the faithful. Not a Soul in this list was given these credits through just a verbal commitment of their belief, as is described by many evangelists. Many times we have to reteach some who have readily believed these evangelists. They really do not desire to let the scriptures be their tutor because it tears up their security blanket.

  23. dwight says:

    One of the hallmark coC beliefs is that all should be able to see the scriptures the same way…the same words…the same way. But even among many in the coC this isn’t true. We all bring ourselves and all our baggage to the table and even among the most learned we miss things. We are not HS inspired, we are seeking the light in a world of darkness and often see things dimly, but the light is to show us direction and the word of God in bold letters, not the fine print and inferences.

  24. Price says:

    @ Dwight. You’re right. And instead of finding ways to allow for some varying interpretations and applications we separate from one another. It isn’t limited to the COC but they e done a fine job of creating some two dozen different “sects” which won’t worship weith one another on Sunday. Shame

  25. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    John Stott has some interesting thoughts on 2:17 – 3:13.

    Paul returns from his digression about the Jews to his apologia for himself. His detractors were criticizing him not only for his motives and conduct during his visit to Thessalonica, but also for his precipitate departure and his irresponsible failure to return. Either he had now abandoned and even forgotten the Thessalonians, they seem to have been saying, or he was too craven to go back. So the apostle defends himself against this further calumny. If 2:1–16 is his apologia pro vita sua, 2:17–3:13 is his apologia pro absentia sua.

    Stott, John R. W. The Message of Thessalonians: The Gospel & the End of Time. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994. Print. The Bible Speaks Today.

    Stott sees a fivefold rebuttal by Paul:
    1. He had left them with great reluctance (2:17a)
    2. He had made repeated efforts to return to them (2:17b–20)
    3. He had sent Timothy to them (3:1–5)
    4. He had been overjoyed by Timothy’s good news (3:6–10)
    5. He had been praying for them all the time (3:11–13)

    I hadn’t considered the possibility that Paul was addressing criticism as reported by Timothy. Makes sense though.

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