The James Factor and Eternal Insecurity
Vol: 171 Issue: 2 Wednesday, December 2, 2015
One of the points raised in opposition to Omega Letter’s position on grace is that a study of the Schofield New Testament found no less than twenty-nine verses that call on us to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Further, “not one of them uses the words “Try to be perfect”, or use the term “I know this is impossible, but you should at least try”.
I agree completely with this objection, as phrased. There is no equivocation on this subject. Matthew 5:48 contains the proof text used for this objection:
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
I not only agree that there is no equivocation in this verse, without even knowing what the other 28 verses cited are, I will stipulate that none of those verses equivocate on the requirement for perfection, either.
There is no need to equivocate. A little further into Matthew, Jesus is asked specifically what it takes to achieve that level of perfection.
“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me.”
There is no equivocation here, either.
If you haven’t sold all that you have and given it to the poor and become an intinerant preacher of the Gospel, then you have not even attempted to obey the obligation to be “perfect” imposed by Scripture. If indeed perfection is mandated, then only homeless Christians are eternally secure.
One can search all over the Bible for another way to interpret ‘perfect’ but one will NOT find a statement more unambiguously clear than the statement, attributed to Jesus Christ, that begins, “If thou wilt be perfect. . .”
Luke 6:40 gives a similar definition of perfect, albeit without such specificity:
“The disciple is not above his Master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his Master.”
“And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.” (Luke 9:58)
Reading this literally, it can only have one understanding. The Master was homeless. To be ‘perfect’ — as mandated by Jesus Christ — the disciple should be also.
There is another understanding of what the Lord means by ‘perfect’ as expressed in Luke 13:32:
“And He said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.”
What happens on the third day that “perfects” the perfect Man? The Resurrection that followed His execution on the Cross. Not for His sins. But for mine.
So, by the definition of Scripture, if salvation includes the unequivocal responsibility to be perfect, then one must give up all he has, become homeless and ultimately die for the crimes of another.
That isn’t some clever way to twist Scripture. It is the ONLY definition of perfect given by Jesus Christ in response to a direct question on that specific subject. Am I taking an extreme example? I don’t think so.
If there is another definition that is different, was expressed by the Lord Himself in reply to that specific question, then I cannot find it.
Jesus, by His own assessment, was perfected when He showed the greatest love for a human being to possibly express.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that He lay down His life for his friends.”
Believing the whole Bible does not nullify teaching one finds inconvenient to a particular viewpoint. The whole Bible teaches Jesus plus nothing equals salvation.
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:21)
There is another way to obey the 29 different times that we are unequivocally admonished to be perfect besides poverty, homelessness and martyrdom. It is expressed in equally unequivocal terms by the writer of Hebrews:
“For by ONE offering He [Jesus] hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)
“Sanctified” (Greek: hagiazo) means “to make holy, to be made holy, to purify or consecrate.” Them that are sanctified are them that are made holy, purified and consecrated.
So, there are two ways given in Scripture whereby a Christian can obey the unequivocal admonition to be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.
We can sell our possessions and become itinerant preachers whose life’s goal is martyrdom. Or we can be perfected forever by our faith that Jesus did it for us.
Most people know exactly when and where they were saved and sanctified. I recall the place and I recall the message and I recall the moment I knew I was washed clean.
If there is a similarly precise point at which one can lose one’s salvation, it will help clear away a major obstacle to convincing me. Is it a particular sin? A particular series of sins? A particular period of time?
If there is a point at which one loses one’s salvation, what point is that? At which point in a Christian’s life is God finished with them?
When does God get so exasperated that He revokes His Holy Spirit and transforms the Christian back into the Jew or Gentile they had been previously?
When does the Lord decide that you are just too hard a case to save? These are important questions, since I am betting my eternity on the answers.
Let’s clear away one bush to duck behind — let’s assume that our subject was as sincere as you were when you were saved.
Let’s say our subject remembers the place, the time and the hour that their sins were washed away and they recognized the indwelling Holy Spirit.
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” (Romans 8:16)
Let’s assume that really happens and our subject experienced that joy.
But he still wrestles with sin, and oftentimes loses the battle. He still hasn’t whipped his besetting sin, whatever it is. Pick something horrible like drug addiction, just to make it even harder.
Having eliminated the argument that “he wasn’t really saved in the first place” argument, the faith plus works argument is only left with the possibility that there are some people for whom the Blood of Christ is not enough.
The strongest argument, if there is one, against the doctrine of eternal security is the Book of James. I believe it the strongest Scriptural argument because it is the one most often cited.
Before going to the specifics, some background information.
Paul was an apostle called to the Gentiles because his background made him suitable to that calling. Paul was a former Pharisee who hunted down and killed the earliest Christians in the Jerusalem area.
His pedigree worked against him among the Jews who saw him as a turncoat. Paul was much more acceptable to the Gentiles. And the Gentiles didn’t have the extra religious baggage to overcome that the Jews had.
Peter and James were, respectively, the first of the twelve chosen and the Lord’s biological half-brother. That gave both tremendous credibility among the Jews.
Both understood, and presented the Gospel in the context that would best anticipate the objections an observant Jew might instinctively have.
That doesn’t mean they taught a different doctrine. It means they differed in their approach according to the context in which their audience understood the subject under discussion.
It is one thing to offer to add to the common understanding of the “Unknown God” of the Greeks. It was quite another to attempt to redefine the Jewish understanding of Yahweh as one God to include two previously-unrevealed Personalities as part of a triune Godhead.
In any case, James spends the first chapter discussing religion as the Jews understand it. James concludes the first chapter with this summary:
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)
One might argue that James is endorsing salvation by works here, except that James is addressing religion, not salvation. If religion and salvation are the same thing, then all religions must lead to salvation.
James summarizes the problem with keeping the Jewish law in the next chapter:
“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10)
Every person within earshot knew the Law, and they knew they were guilty as charged. It hardly sounds like James is advocating the keeping of the law as part of the path to salvation.
James then launches an indictment against the Pharisees and Sadducees that kept the letter of the law while defying its intent. Note that James is simply continuing the theme of the Lord’s ‘generation of vipers’ speech to the religious leaders when He likened them to whited sepulchres containing dead men’s bones.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:14-17)
Viewed apart from its historical context, one could easily conclude that James says that one is not saved by faith alone, but also by doing good works.
And if it were not for the preponderance of verses like “by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, lest any man should boast,” that conclusion could be justified.
But to justify reaching that singular conclusion expressed only by James and only in the form of a rhetorical question: “Can faith alone save him?” as a proof text, against every verse that says faith plus nothing equals salvation is an example of seeking a proof text for a pretext out of context.
Rahab the Harlot was a story known to every Jewish schoolboy. That’s why James used Rahab as an example. But read it in context. The ‘justification by works’ of Rahab the harlot was argued in the context of faith being counted for righteousness, not as wages for works received.
James is preaching to a religious system that exclusively recognized works and strict obedience to the Ten Commandments as the only path to salvation.
Yet James was also preaching that their same God had imposed that system and now He was introducing a new one. James must be understood in context. If not, one must change the ‘salvation equation’ from Jesus plus nothing to Jesus plus something and without contradicting the entire testimony of the rest of the New Testament.
It is to be remembered that the topic of the briefing that raised these objections was the understanding of the concept of grace.
Another objection contended that “grace that doesn’t change you is not grace at all.” To me, this exemplifies the confusion that arises from trying to reconcile two mutually-exclusive systems [grace and the Law] and see them as one.
The primary meaning of “Grace” (charis) as pointed out yesterday means, “gift” but can also mean acceptable, benefit, favor, joy, liberality, pleasure, thanksworthy.
Substituting the primary meaning for the actual word grace, the objection then reads, “A gift that doesn’t change you isn’t a gift at all”.
It isn’t my intention to argue that good works are not evidence of salvation. Of course they are.
And if a person has no good works at all, then he’s a pretty sorry example of humanity in the first place, let alone an example of a Christian. I’ve never personally met anyone whom I really believe never did a good work in his life.
But saying good works are evidence of salvation is not the same as saying good works arerequired for salvation.
If that were true, it would mean that the Cross was just a downpayment. Now it is up to me to keep up the installments. That doesn’t sound like a free gift.
It sounds more like the deal I made with Chrysler in exchange for my pickup truck.
Originally Published: November 20, 2009