Bible Studies/Salvation

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Question
Hello again Mr. Mealy, as always it is a great thing to write you.   I have been reading the John Macarthur New Testament commentary and talking to a friend who is sorta a Cavinist. I attend a Church of Christ and so of course we believe a little different.  I am really thinking deep about holiness.  The early church fathers did not believe in once saved always saved. They believed of course you had free will that you had to use the ability God gave you to live holy.  My friend and John Macarthur says a True Christian will live holy. The quote from Polycarp shows he didn't believe in eternal security. But John Macarthur says a true Christian will live holy since Christ lives in him or her. What do you think? Perseverance of the saints or conditional security?




But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: Polycarp disciple of John

Answer
Dear Josh,

There are certainly passages in the NT that assure us that believers in Jesus need not fear that they will ever be lost (e.g. John 6:37; 10:27-29;Romans 8:38-39). On the other hand, they are far outnumbered by passages that insist you must repent in your practical deeds (not just have a moment/moments of faith or feelings) in order to be saved.

If you understand that God loves and desires the wellbeing of all that he creates (Ps. 145:9), then you also understand that salvation is not from God's alleged hatred, but from your destructive ways of being (i.e. your "sins"), which alienate you from God, the Source of your life, and put you at odds with your Creator, who not only loves you, but also loves those whom you harm by your actions. As Paul says, there is no law against love, because love does no harm to the neighbor (Rom. 13:10). When we turn away from God, we pull the plug on the Life that God wishes to give us, and we become hostile not only to God, but to God's creation (Col. 1:21). It is this bi-polar hostility of ours (hostility towards God, hostility towards our fellow created beings) that we need salvation from.

Ergo, if you live in hostility towards your fellow human beings, you are not saved (1 Jn 1:6; 2:9-11; 4:20). That goes even if you have finely crafted your hostility and cloaked it in fine political or religious garb.

In my opinion, the theological paradox of eternal security dissolves the moment you admit that the universe into which we humans have been created has more dimensions than we conventionally assume. If time as a dimension is not ultimate, but one of a number of equivalent dimensions, then the tension disappears between divine foreknowledge and predestination on the one hand (Rom. 8:29) and human freedom to make eternal choices on the other hand (the concept of human beings as children of God requires that we have true agency).

Pastorally speaking, I am much more concerned that Christians might double-think themselves into the notion that a moment of passionate belief in the past (which they think of as the moment when they got "saved") gives them a never-lapsing fire insurance policy, than that Christians should have anxiety about whether they will remain in God's good graces. No one who trusts in God and entrusts themselves to God to learn the ways of love and life need fear God's rejection. This is the bedrock principle of faith. At the same time, repentance and faith (Mk 1:15; Rom. 1:5) must go together and result in a changed life in order for salvation to be achieved. When NT writers say that people were saved (esp. Paul in Eph. 2:1-10), the thing they were saved *from* was their destructive, sinful ways, and the thing they were saved *to* is behavior that pleases God (e.g. Rom. 8:1-13). Therefore repentance is an ongoing process and one must continue in it in order to be saved. There is no magic lip at the bottom of the slide that keeps backsliding Christians from falling off the upward climbing slope of salvation.

My advice to those who are worried about losing their salvation is to trust in God through Jesus and, using that trust, to renew your discipleship. Telling yourself that you can't get unsaved is a hazardous method of calming your anxieties, if your anxiety is based on chronic unrepentant sin.  

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J. Webb Mealy

Expertise

Qualified to answer questions about the New Testament, including ones that require expert knowledge of Greek, New Testament History, and New Testament Theology. Particular area of expertise is New Testament eschatology (teachings on the end of the world), the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel and epistles of John. Questions about English translations--how they are arrived at, whether they are accurate, and whether there are alternative possibilities. Textual criticism.

Experience

Have taught the Bible and New Testament to lay people for 20 years. Translator of the Spoken English New Testament (www.sentpress.com), author of After the Thousand Years: Resurrection and Judgment in Revelation 20 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). Senior Biblical Studies Editor, Sheffield Academic Press, 1990-1995.

Organizations
Instructor, Seminary of the Street, Oakland, CA

Publications
See my online publication, www.simplegospel.net, which gives an easy-to-understand but thorough introduction to the Christian Good News. See www.sentpress.com, home of the Spoken English New Testament, the most accurate available translation of the New Testament into natural contemporary English.

Education/Credentials
PhD, Biblical Studies, Sheffield, UK MA (Honors), Humanities, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY BA (Cum Laude), Religious Studies/New Testament, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

Awards and Honors
Research Paper, "Tracing the Rise of Modalism in Rome," named best graduate paper of the year, Western Kentucky University, 1981

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